Jed Morey’s Blog

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Building a Rock Wall on Long Island

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I’m building a wall. Not in the figurative or symbolic sense, but an actual, solid masonry wall in my backyard, simply because there isn’t one there. A perfectly logical endeavor in a heat wave. Until this point my hands have been useful for typing, forming a fist to shake madly at the heavens and guiding utensils from plate to mouth in what is commonly referred to as eating. Never have I been accused of being handy, making my latest pursuit slightly quixotic to those who love me.

Upon learning of this latest quest, my friend Johnny Gallo immediately understood the anodyne meaning behind it. It was Johnny whose quiet inspiration prompted me to turn my dream of a backyard vegetable garden into a reality by offering encouragement, with a measured degree of sarcasm, and the necessary tools to get started. I have written before of his stoic, old-school character, which explains why he showed up one day with a tamper, trowel, level and well wishes as I began excavating the area that will someday be framed by this wall.  

Johnny instinctively knew my undertaking was, as he referred to it, therapy. It’s why he demurred when our wives implored him to partake in my madness, lest I mutilate myself in the process. He simply said, “Let the man be.”

Part of the insanity that my profession breeds is an incessant preoccupation with how things work, or more often than not, why they don’t. In this instance, constructing a secure and level foundation has my mind drawing the inevitable comparisons to the global economy, which is collapsing under its own weight.

Even my diminutive contribution to our home landscape requires careful planning and assiduous attention to detail, particularly to the foundation. The foundation itself changes slightly, however, with every layer of dirt that is uncovered. Like anything built to be sustainable, it’s what is below the surface that is most important to the future. You cannot plaster over pieces of our infrastructure without properly incorporating or eliminating them altogether. Consider the living—or dying—case study that is Detroit. Public officials there are contemplating, and in some cases already executing, a plan to raze enormous tracts of blighted development with the realization that a barren landscape is perhaps better than a crumbling one.

There is little doubt our current economy must be rebuilt and history may or may not provide the answers and insight we seek. For better or for worse, the financial markets in the post-bailout period are acting as opiates and somehow shifted from being leading to lagging indicators. Bankers and traders are surrounding the hookah and inhaling the smoke being burned by Congress and the Fed, engaging in what my friend Peter Klein from UBS calls “interest rate euphoria.”

In theory, low interest rates encourage lending and, as a result, growth. But our interest rates are so low the banks have been playing the ultimate arbitrage game by taking cheap money from the government and investing it in securities with a higher yield. And despite the decade-long data from Japan, who handled their enduring recession in precisely the same manner without success, we continue to blithely walk the same path. At some point, interest rates must rise and federal dollars must be put to some use other than filling bankers’ coffers.

Nevertheless, the administration is in a no-win position. We will never know whether or not we avoided a total cataclysm in the months following the banking collapse in late 2008. Perhaps we did. It’s hard to argue with the logic that the combination of stimulus dollars and miniscule interest rates staved off a second Great Depression. Even if this is the case, we are simply extending the pain and laying the groundwork for a deep and long-term recession.

Perhaps the most positive sign to come from the White House recently was President Obama’s decision to make a $2 billion investment into two huge solar manufacturers in the United States. Generating this level of interest in micro-renewable technology will put more than just the manufacturing companies to work; it will have a ripple effect to the building trades and ultimately benefit the residential market.

Everywhere, that is, but here on Long Island.

The one gigantic, jagged rock in our foundation that makes it impossible to build anything sustainable and participate in the renewable energy revolution is the debt load that drowns our local utility. Until our federal and state elected officials come to the realization that forward movement is impossible as long as we are hamstrung by the $6 billion albatross that is Shoreham, we are destined to tread water, or worse.

Biotech, pharmaceuticals, medical research and information technology are all sectors of our local economy poised for explosive growth. For years, business leaders and elected officials have been calling for a renaissance in these areas, but have been stymied by the intractable high cost of living. While school taxes receive the majority of our ire, the fact is our primary export is the talented youth we educate on the Island; the trick is to create a job market and economic climate that encourages them to stay. Working on a plan to reduce the Shoreham debt over the next decade will help level the playing field to attract companies to the region and allow LIPA to encourage and finance residential investments into renewable technologies. Perhaps we can dream so far as to close one of our inefficient, belching gas plants on the Island and even imagine the day LIPA is no longer necessary.

Should we continue to ignore this debt on Long Island, our foundation will remain insecure. And while America may indeed succeed in establishing a new foundation and build a new wall we can be proud of, Long Island may find itself on the other side of it.

Written by jmorey

July 8, 2010 at 9:28 pm

What’s In A Name?

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Over the past two weeks, my inbox has been jammed with comments related to an “Off the Reservation” column regarding the Republican Party. One of the more humorous e-mails begins with “off the reservation doesn’t begin to describe where you are.” Some pose the question as to the origin of the column title, which I have yet to fully explain within these pages. A little clarification is in order.

The eagle soars with the American, Iroquois and Canadian flags at Akwesasne

The majority of the observations in this column are political or environmental and Long Island-centric. But a personal mission is to highlight and, when necessary, advocate for issues related to American Indians. The title “Off the Reservation” refers to the land mass located outside of reservation territory, or if you prefer, the United States of America. As a true American mutt, the most significant percentage of my heritage is Mohawk and I have found the Indian cultural perspective an interesting lens through which to view the world, our nation and this little Island of ours.

Predictably, most of the pushback regarding the title comes from Indians who happen across the column online and take issue with the derogatory nature of the phrase. Once explained, they are extremely forthcoming in expressing their frustration at how the “white media” covers Indian issues. It’s hard to disagree. Much of what I read about Indian life in non-native publications is woefully devoid of context. Virtually nothing is straightforward in Indian country, no matter where the territory is located. Every tribe, every reserve and every generation is different, complicated. To get inside the heads of America’s indigenous population is a perspective-altering experience that opens the mind to how insane our world has become.

Perhaps this is due to the keen understanding they have of their past and current circumstances. While our culture moves in nanoseconds, Indian culture is stubbornly and beautifully rooted in tradition; a tradition that presupposes land is free to roam on, Earth provides all we need for life and embraces us again in death. The notion that we are not independent of our environment but merely a small part of the ecosystem is the only prevailing thread I have discovered among the tribes I have met with. It is why there is little wonder most Indians have gotten on terribly in so-called modern life. They are confounded by restrictive borders and an increasingly poisoned Mother.

The racial insensitivity of the phrase “Off the Reservation” rarely, if ever, occurs to non-Indians. But for Indians, it’s as intolerant as having an Indian as the mascot for a sports team. It would seem crazy to root for the New York Jews, Indianapolis Caucasians or Washington Negroes, but we’ve got the Braves, Indians and Redskins. There’s probably a few pissed-off Swedes and Danes out there that think new grandfather Brett Favre isn’t much of a Viking either.

I’m of two minds about the wave of political correctness that has washed over us. On one hand, 10 years in the catering/restaurant business taught me to celebrate diversity and that stereotypes exist for one profound reason—they tend to be partially accurate. But elaborating on cultural idiosyncrasies is only safe in the purview of comedians. On the other hand, if uttering a particular word or phrase requires you first look over your shoulder, you probably shouldn’t. Still, I’m amazed at how flip most people are when referring to Indians.

Last weekend my wife and I met up with friends from New Jersey and two other couples we had never met. At some point over dinner the conversation turned to someone they know who was acquitted from shooting and killing an Indian near a reservation in New Jersey. None of them looked over their shoulders when declaring “there are no real Indians,” “they’re all black these days” and “they live like animals anyway.” None of them looked over their shoulders when uniformly concluding, when it comes to protecting reservation territory, “those people are crazy.”

They’re funny that way. At least that’s the way it seems over here. You know, off the reservation.

Written by jmorey

April 8, 2010 at 1:12 am

Republican Party (1856 – 2010)

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GOP Pelosi Image

Here you go, kids: Thinking about becoming a Young Republican? Log onto http://www.gop.com today to find out more about hate mongering and propaganda!

I don’t care much for the health care bill or the process it went through, but I applaud the intent. Rather than dissecting the bill I would like to offer a quick message to the Democratic Party. Then, if you don’t mind, I would like to speak privately with my party, the Republican Party.

Democrats—please refrain from referring to this bill as an “overhaul” of the system. While it is indeed reform, it doesn’t cure the inherent flaws in the system. No, I haven’t read all 2,500 pages of the bill yet, but cutting Medicare reimbursements and treatment options, while increasing public access to pharmaceuticals, goes against my beliefs. I’m also incredulous at the Congressional Budget Office’s suggestion that this will reduce the deficit. Please don’t insult American intelligence. Having said that, providing the opportunity for 32 million Americans to visit a doctor for the first time outweighs any issues I have with this bill. Just call it a start, not an overhaul.

Here you go, kids: Thinking about becoming a Young Republican? Log onto http://www.gop.com today to find out more about hate mongering and propaganda!

Now onto my dear fellow Republicans. (And to the guy who clips out my column and scribbles ironically, “Hey Asshole, don’t you know any better words?” whenever I curse, the answer is yes. But today I just can’t seem to find them.)

Republicans are shouting and spitting like a bunch of fucking hyenas as they clamor for face time in the media. They’re filling our inboxes, vandalizing our social networking profiles and polluting the airwaves with venomous messages rebuking the Obama Administration over health care. HEALTH CARE! My fellow Republicans are tearing this nation apart over providing medical care for those less fortunate. Not bank bailouts, war, or wasteful pork spending— Health care. Really?

The behavior among elected Republicans and the dimwitted TV pundits who are whipping America into an absolute frenzy is the worst thing about this bill and has led me to question my long-standing affiliation with the Republican Party. For a moment, I thought it was me; that maybe I had changed and lost touch with Republicanism. So, in seeking to refresh my recollection of what this party stands for, I logged onto the GOP home page.

What I found was as pathetic as it was cartoonish. A complete embarrassment. The site opens to a fiery red screen with Nancy Pelosi, fists and teeth clenched in a fit of rage against a backdrop of flames, with the words “Fire Pelosi” in bold letters emblazoned on the screen. This buffoonery doesn’t torch Nancy Pelosi—it’s Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Abraham Lincoln who are torched by the flames of dissent and hatred that now embody this once-great party.

Going deeper in the site only serves to highlight the confusion within the GOP. It lists the accomplishments of the Republican Party since its inception and its own core values of today. It proudly claims responsibility for freeing the slaves, establishing Howard University and outlawing the Ku Klux Klan. It touts Republican leadership in writing the 19th Amendment, passing two civil rights acts and ending racial segregation in Little Rock. The list spans two centuries of achievements such as these and others that today seem more in alignment with the Democratic Party, like establishing Yellowstone National Park, building the federal highway system and authoring welfare reform.

This is the party I belong to.

But the current “platform”—if you can call it that—lists only six ideals. The power of the individual, voluntary giving, limited government, low taxes, less regulation and national strength. That’s what it says, but what it practices is hate, because hate sells when the chips are down. Well, here’s the newsflash: The strong Republican individual who enjoyed low taxes, limited government and less regulation didn’t voluntarily give a hand to the 32 million people under eight years of Bush Jr., four under Bush Sr. and eight under Reagan. And the eight under Clinton? We Republicans killed health care then too. So, no. The “voluntary giving” portion of the agenda hasn’t worked.

This bill is what we get for not doing something sooner. Now the Republican Party is calling for true health care reform and vowing to still kill this bill? NOW? Too bad, so sad. Too little, too late. Everything that is wrong with this bill is the fault of every loser in office with an (R) next to his or her name.

From the realm of beyond ridiculous comes the conservative movement. The growing number of so-called “Tea Party” activists are hunting their own, outing those they call Republicans In Name Only, or “RINOs.” They have taken their vituperative agenda to the streets, hurling racial epithets at democratic lawmakers and preaching angry messages to Fox’s ravenous cameras. Television ratings and voter ire are feeding off one another and creating a vortex of hatred that has gone viral and beyond.

There is nothing grand about this old party that preys only on the enmity of the populous. There is nothing admirable or principled about fear mongering. Where are the inspired solutions that made this party great?

I’m calling it. I hereby officially pronounce the Republican Party dead. The GOP died suddenly on March 23, 2010 from a diseased mind and heart. It was 154 years old. The son of Ronald Reagan, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and great-grandson of Abraham Lincoln is survived only by bastard stepchildren who have squandered the family fortune and sullied its good name.

 A plague on all of your tents, I say. I renounce my allegiance to those who cloak themselves in the shroud of Republicanism without understanding what it means to be so. I stand firmly by the glorious list of accomplishments from which these whores have divorced themselves and await the day a new breed of Republicans rediscovers the true meaning behind the core values of this party. Until then you have lost my vote of confidence and, more importantly, my vote. When you do return to your collective senses and stand for something other than hatred and dissent, I will be there, because a real elephant never forgets.

Big Tobacco and US Government Seek to crush Indian Cigarette Trade

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Press Cigarette Cover

Cover Image from the Long Island Press cover story

Tucked away along a waterway in Mastic, Long Island is Poospatuck, the smallest Indian reservation in New York State. It means “Where the water meets” and is home to 400 enrolled members of the Unkechaug tribe of Native Americans. It’s difficult to discern where exactly the reservation begins and ends. There are no visible signs to guide your way, no glow from a towering casino to mark the spot. Once you happen upon Poospatuck, however, there’s no mistaking you have arrived.

Large billboards advertising native-brand cigarettes adorn the façades of several homes converted to tobacco shops and traffic moves briskly in and out of parking areas. People are finding their way here for one reason only: cheap cigarettes.

Harry Wallace is the elected chief of the Unkechaug Nation who has found himself at the center of one of the largest controversies facing Indian nations today. He is also the owner of Poospatuck Smoke Shop, a bustling retail enterprise nestled in a wooded area deep within the reservation. Hanging boldly from the deck of the quaint wood shop on Wallace’s property is a sign that reads “Sovereignty Yes, Taxes No.”

Behind the shop is an office where Wallace conducts the business of his enterprise and the tribe. On the right side of the office is a wall of legal books that remind visitors that Wallace is not just an entrepreneur but a lawyer, a skill that has proven vital to the survival of Poospatuck. As I enter, he is talking to his staff and admits to being slightly irritable due to a strict diet and having recently kicked the caffeine habit.

“I’m trying to take care of my health,” he says.

Poospatuck Smoke Shop

A front view of the Poospatuck Smoke Shop, owned by Unkechaug Chief Harry Wallace.

Wallace was recently diagnosed with diabetes, one of the most common diseases plaguing Native Americans. This affliction makes him a statistic. Harry Wallace hates being a statistic.

Born in Flushing, Queens, Wallace lived there until his grandmother’s house burned down, forcing his family to move to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As a kid he would make frequent trips to Poospatuck and recalls a beautiful place.

“People built their own homes and kept the powwow grounds in good shape,” he remembers. “They had socials and there was this old dock with rowboats and you could actually swim in the river.”

In the early ’70s, Wallace got what was then a rare opportunity for a financially supported college education at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. This chapter in his life would change him forever and connect him with his heritage in a way he never conceived of before.

As it turns out, the Dartmouth years provided as much education as they did turbulence, as Wallace was at times confronted with blatant racism. “I ran into a conflict the first day I got there,” he laughs, recollecting a fight stemming from a racist comment made by a football player.

After college, Wallace moved back to Brooklyn to start a family and received his law degree from New York Law School. He began practicing law in New York City in 1983, which he did for nearly 10 years before returning to Poospatuck.

“My mother asked me to,” shrugs Wallace. “She said, ‘We need your help to take care of our land.’”
Upon his return he describes finding only “desolation.”

Gone were the pristine waters of his youth, sullied, he says, by industry and the refuse from duck farms at the mouth of the canal that Poospatuck lies adjacent to. The shellfish were gone and many of the residents who had existed on a marine economy had fallen into abject poverty; not an unfamiliar condition on reservation land throughout the country. Time and natural resources had run out for the inhabitants of this tiny reservation until the most unlikely of scenarios provided a dubious light at the end of a dark tunnel.

“It’s cigarettes, man.”

Because so many states have driven up the cost of cigarettes due to tax levies, they are cheaper to purchase from retailers on Indian reservations who don’t recognize government taxes on retail tobacco. The disparity has led to an economic boon that is creating newfound wealth and generating badly needed funds in some of the most poverty-stricken areas of the country.

But not everyone is happy about the burgeoning success of Native Americans. Many state and federal elected officials feel as though they are being cheated out of sorely needed tax dollars and anti-cancer advocates claim that tobacco consumption hasn’t decreased as a result of taxes; demand has merely shifted toward the unregulated Indian marketplace. Ironically, the biggest threat to the native cigarette industry may actually be from the cigarette companies themselves.

With the Great Recession as the backdrop to this unfolding drama, the stage is set for a David versus Goliath battle between Indian Country, the US government and Big Tobacco.

The price disparity between cigarettes available from reservations and traditional American-based retailers is at an all-time high. A carton of Marlboro cigarettes, the most popular brand in America, will run the consumer as much as $95 in New York City (NYC), where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has initiated an all-out war on smoking. The same carton costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $43 at a Native American-owned smoke shop on reservation land. This is the result of so-called “sin taxes” applied by state and local governments who use the additional tax to balance budgets and discourage consumption for public health reasons. While retailers and local municipalities have cried foul for several years about the inequity of cigarette pricing, it wasn’t until recently that these cries reached a fever pitch.

But the rise of the Native American tobacco entrepreneur has also contributed positively to the overall economic conditions on some reservation territories. The burgeoning Indian cigarette trade is having the ironic effect of creating tribe-funded public welfare systems that address health issues such as diabetes, drug addiction and heart disease that have crippled Native Americans.

The stunning growth of the Indian tobacco trade has drawn the ire of some powerful people and corporations, and together they are collaborating with remarkable efficiency to wage an epic political and economic war against Native American tribes. The cast of characters involved in the battle is like something out of the movie The Insider. Senators, governors, congressmen and women, local politicians, the U.S. Postal Service, Homeland Security and the mayor of Gotham are all playing key roles in targeting the native Indian tobacco trade. But it is Big Tobacco that is controlling the game and moving these powerful interests around the chess board like a master.

Don’t Tread on Us

New York State (NYS) is ground zero for the attack on the native cigarette trade. On one end of the spectrum, the 55-acre Poospatuck reservation is being called a bootlegger’s paradise and is a defendant in several high-profile lawsuits from neighboring municipalities. At the other end is this highly organized and extremely well-funded Seneca Nation, located on three territories in upstate New York. If Poospatuck is a minor league ball team in this scenario, then the Seneca Nation is the New York Yankees. Both tribes are fighting enormous, yet entirely different, political battles.

Chief Harry Wallace

Unkechaug Chief Harry Wallace is spearheading the fight to save the native cigarette trade on the Poospatuck Reservation

Despite the differences in size and resources, both nations cite the same reason for why the US government, at any level, is forbidden from interceding in their affairs: sovereignty. To understand sovereignty, it is helpful to think of these nations not as territories within US borders, but as geographically and politically independent nations far away. In every instance the theory of sovereignty is invoked by Native Americans, imagine it being invoked by leaders of small nations abroad instead of in your backyard.

The economic extremes that Poospatuck and Seneca Nation represent are as divergent as their take on the nature of sovereignty and the legal rights associated with it. For its part, Poospatuck is not federally recognized as a reservation, but it is recognized by NYS. Chief Wallace of Poospatuck believes that the fact the Unkechaug never sought federal recognition is perhaps an even greater claim of sovereignty than any agreement could possibly provide.

“The BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] cannot confer sovereignty,” scoffs Wallace. “All it was, all it is and continues to be, is an agency that manages funds. This whole notion of sovereignty was created as fiction during the Nixon administration. You cannot confer sovereignty, you can only recognize it.”

Conversely, the Seneca believe their sovereign rights are superior to other tribes who are federally recognized because Seneca territories in western New York are protected by what is known colloquially as the Buffalo Creek Treaty of 1842. The treaty explicitly states that the “lands of the Seneca Indians, within the State of New York” are protected from “all taxes.” For the Seneca people this is impenetrable language and the basis of their claim of total sovereignty and independence.

But as one quickly learns from reporting on Indian issues, nothing is absolute in Indian Country.

Chief Wallace believes that the Seneca stance may have deleterious repercussions on Poospatuck’s assertion of sovereignty. “When we negotiated with the state in the past we had a unified coalition with the League of First Nations,” says Wallace. “Most of the Indian Nations were a part of that coalition. That unified front is not there today.”

Robert Odawi Porter, the senior policy advisor and counsel to the Seneca Nation, offers a slightly different viewpoint. “We’re still united with other nations in the state but our constitutional government is what sets us apart. We’re a stronger and more functional government.” Then he carefully adds, “There are times that our advocacy is common.”

NYS Senate Hearing on Tobacco Taxation

Tribal members from all over New York gather at the State Senate hearing at Manhattan Community College.

Standing together at this time may be more important than ever before, as impending federal laws and mounting legal challenges against these nations have everyone running for cover, leaving the tribes to defend their economic rights on their own. Even a representative from the New York Civil Liberties Union said that Native American issues are “not our area of expertise” and declined to comment on the issue.

As to why no organizations or individuals are likely to come to their defense, it’s simple. As Chief Wallace says, “It’s cigarettes, man.”

The Long and Winding Trail

Because cigarettes have such a deservedly unsympathetic role in modern society, it’s no wonder there is little support for any cigarette retailers. Questions of fairness and free enterprise fly out the window due to the simple fact that cigarettes kill people. Even still, Wallace is incredulous at the attack on the Native American smoke trade for reasons beyond the economic peril it places them in.

“They’re the ones that turned a Native American sacrament into a carcinogen,” he says in disgust.

When America declared itself free, indigenous people were herded like animals onto isolated areas of the burgeoning nation. Stretches of remote desert lands and parcels nestled in the secluded woodland areas became homesteads for Native Americans. Their numbers were decimated and the survivors were humiliated. Yet, in the beginning, there was still food to eat and some freedom to move about. But the influx just kept coming.

Says Porter: “Personally I don’t think it sunk in with our people that the usage of our land was so severely restricted. We weren’t used to lines being drawn on a map.”

Over time, a sea of white faces pushed deeper and deeper into the country—slowly at first, then like a dam bursting, they rushed through the forests and across the plains. Pretty soon they were everywhere. They brought machines and ushered in the Industrial Revolution. Gradually, the skies turned gray, the waters turned brown and the earth lay fallow.

This part of the story took 400 years. The next part took much less time.

Native Americans became like prison inmates adapting to life on the “inside.” By the mid-20th century the Native American population living on reservation land was among the poorest on Earth. The game was long gone and the earth and seas were poisoned. Fast food, low-wage jobs and hustling were part of the daily routine. If you stayed, you hustled. And you probably drank. If you were a woman, there was a one-in-three chance of being raped in your lifetime.

This was life on “the res” and for many tribes, it still is.

JC Seneca

JC Seneca

For the most part, reservations are rural ghettos, forgotten wastelands with few opportunities to get ahead. This concept of “getting ahead” in America usually starts very simply. Find a job. Buy a home. Take out a home equity loan to start your business. As the business grows, you have the option of paying off that loan and securing business financing. But this is precisely where the Indian economic dream ends.

Because reservation land cannot be owned by anyone, the land and any structure on it cannot be leveraged. Put simply, if it cannot be repossessed, you can’t take out a loan on it. Therefore, even the most industrious Indian entrepreneur has been unable to tap into the source of financing that is behind nearly every great American story of growth and industry.

As an attorney, Chief Wallace was able to make a living practicing in New York City and save enough to open a business on the reservation. He credits his business savvy to this experience, saying, “I always worked for myself as a lawyer and not in a firm.” But expanding his business was more challenging. “I have tried many times to get credit. When [lenders] realize they can’t secure my building, the conversation always ends there.”

Then along came the ’80s and, for some tribes, everything changed.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 articulated a one-size-fits-all approach to establishing gambling on Indian lands. For some tribes gambling brought indescribable wealth. For others it was marginally effective. For most it had little impact because their remote locations made it nearly impossible to draw large enough crowds to ensure profitability.

Other tribes, particularly in western states, found economic success by exploiting the natural resources beneath reservation lands. In one of the more ironic twists of fate, the barren lands turned out to be more resource rich than anyone would have anticipated. But just as selling cigarettes and running casinos present moral challenges, blasting apart the earth to retrieve fuel for an increasingly industrial world presents an ethical challenge to a population long considered to be stewards of the environment. But when faced with third-world poverty and few prospects for a better life, you do what you have to do.

Of all the paths that lead out of poverty, selling cigarettes became by far the most consistent and profitable trade for most reservations.

Tobacco Wars: In the Trenches

In January 2009, NYS Assemblyman Michael Benjamin (D-Bronx) floated a bill to remove “the Poospatuck Indian Reservation from being recognized as an Indian Tribe in NYS.” Benjamin introduced the legislation “in response to a New York Times investigation of the Poospatuck Indian tribe, which seems to be nothing more than a criminal enterprise.” When I visited Wallace late last year, he had choice words for Benjamin, calling him “a political hack whose premise is based on newspaper articles. You don’t deserve the seat you hold. No wonder the state is fucked up if you’re indicative of the talent that emanates from that office.”

But people like Benjamin are more of an annoyance than the gathering storm of deadly serious lawsuits that Poospatuck finds itself defending. In 2009, Judge Carol Amon of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York issued a ruling requiring Poospatuck to pay taxes on all cigarettes sold to non-natives from reservation smoke shops. Amon essentially ruled that Poospatuck could not claim protection as a sovereign entity.

With the Amon decision on appeal, the tribe caught a break shortly thereafter when Judge Kiyo Matsumoto, also of the Eastern District, issued a vastly differing opinion on a separate suit brought by Gristedes. Matsumoto found that the Unkechaug people of Poospatuck met the burden of proof of establishing that they are legally recognized as a sovereign tribe by federal standards. Although this is different than federal recognition by the BIA, for Poospatuck it is just as powerful and has provided temporary cover. While Wallace is confident that the judicial system will ultimately clear Poospatuck of the immediate hurdles, the fight is taking its toll.

Through it all, NYC and NYS assert that Poospatuck is little more than a weigh station for cheap, untaxed and unstamped cigarettes that are being sold in massive quantities off the reservation. The state, during the waning days of the Cuomo administration, crafted legislation to establish a couponing system that would track these sales and require reservations to pay taxes on all cigarettes sold to non-native customers. Any cigarettes sold to enrolled members of the tribe would be exempt from the tax. The New York tribes were up in arms, having not been consulted on the matter, and argued that any law passed by a foreign government such as New York that is not recognized and adopted by the tribes themselves is unenforceable.

The Pataki administration attempted to enforce the regulations, known as 471-e, in 1992 and 1997. Both attempts were met with angry throngs of organized and armed Indians who blockaded the NYS Thruway, held up traffic and burned tires in protest, ending in a standoff with state troopers. Wishing to avoid further conflict, the Pataki administration instituted a policy of forbearance, which basically acknowledges that although New York deems the law to be valid, without tribal consent there is no clear and official method of enforcement, and the issue was dropped.

Desperate to close a rapidly expanding budget deficit yet anxious to avoid similar conflict, NYS Gov. David Paterson sent a letter last September to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, inquiring as to the level of support NYS could expect if it decided to pursue visiting a coupon program on Indian reservations.

It was the last line of the letter, which was leaked almost immediately, that provoked strong interest in several channels and brought the debate back to the front lines. In it, Paterson wrote: “I would be grateful if you would please review this matter and provide me with your assessment as to the likelihood of violence and civil unrest should the Tax Department begin the implementation of Tax Law 471-e. Furthermore, I would appreciate your operational commitment to help mitigate any disturbances that might occur in each of your Districts if implementation were to occur.”

Tribes throughout New York saw this as a shot across the bow and all eyes shifted to the Seneca Nation.

Richard Nephew

Richard Nephew, co-chair of the Seneca Nation of Indians Foreign Relations Committee

With the state running out of money, Mayor Bloomberg on the offensive in court and unrest among the tribes, the state legislature turned its focus to the tribes’ booming cigarette trade. In October 2009, the Senate Standing Committee on Investigations chaired by NYS Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Nassau) held a hearing to determine the extent of the loss in tax revenue to New York. In a spirited session before a packed room of Indians from nations across New York, the panel attempted to nail down an answer, which proved to be nearly impossible.

According to the testimony of William J. Comiskey, the deputy commissioner in the Office of Tax Enforcement, the department estimates “that if all cigarette transactions conducted through Native American merchants with non-Indians were properly taxed, New York would collect additional state revenue of approximately $220 million. Because complete compliance is not likely, the actual number achievable would be less.”

Eric Proshansky, from the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, zeroes in on the Poospatuck Reservation in his testimony claiming that the deliveries to Poospatuck “amounted to a $155 million tax loss in 2007 alone, for the State alone.” He then concluded that “if those cartons replaced sales in the City, as the evidenced proved that many of them did, that amounts to City tax loss of up to another $155 million in 2007 alone.”

Steve Rosenthal, former tobacco retailer and frequent testifier at tobacco hearings, estimated the annual loss of tax revenue to NYS to be approximately $1.6 billion.

For his part, Proshansky is largely critical of the Paterson administration, stating that the “failure of the State of New York to enforce the laws with respect to reservation sales is directly responsible for the loss of many billions of dollars that rightfully should have gone into the public treasury.” He went on to say that, “It hardly seems like good public policy to leave so much lawful tax money in the pockets of bootleggers.”

Richard Nephew of the Seneca Foreign Relations Committee dismisses the city’s claims altogether. “Long before the Indians started selling cigarettes there was a black market of cigarettes heading into New York City,” Nephew tells the Press. “They’re just utilizing us as scapegoats.”

Yet with all of the talk about numbers of cartons and billions of dollars lost to reservations, the city and state are reluctant to talk about how much is lost to bordering states and states as far away as North Carolina due to lower state tax penalties. For all of the attention that focuses on Indian reservations there is no discussion of requiring other states to curb the sale of tobacco to New York residents. Theoretically, if it abided by the same regulation, it is attempting to pass with respect to Indian reservations, then NYS should be sending state troopers into Pennsylvania demanding the records of all tobacco transactions to New Yorkers and payment thereof. This, of course, is never going to happen.

Up In Smoke?

The hearing began to head down a slippery slope when the panel brought JC Seneca, Tribal Councillor for Seneca Nation, up to testify. During the question and answer period, NYS Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) said it was only fair that the New York tribes share the burden of the financial crisis, sending the crowd and the Seneca members into a frenzy. Sensing the growing anger of the attendees and referencing the conflicts during the Pataki years, Golden tried to strike a conciliatory note with JC Seneca, saying he didn’t seem like the type of person that would resort to violence. Seneca simply replied, “Then you don’t know me very well.”

Not wanting to agitate the situation further during the hearing, the committee members turned their attention to the governor’s representative. But Peter Kiernan, counsel to Governor Paterson, refused to take the bait when pressed aggressively by the committee. Reluctant to engage either the legislature or the tribes present, Kiernan offered testimony that included language like: “A US dollar spent on an Indian reservation in New York is a dollar put into motion in the New York State economy. Every time that dollar is re-spent or invested is good for New York.”

But with Gov. Paterson barely holding onto his office, there is blood in the water. On March 2, NYS Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) called for full compliance and the revocation of the forbearance policy and went as far as to call Gov. Paterson “a willing and active partner in a longstanding travesty that has hurt legitimate businesses and robbed billions from our state.”

In a statement issued exclusively to the Press, Seneca’s Richard Nephew fired back, saying: “It should occur to some that we are heading into an important election year for New York State politicians. I believe this is largely politics being played out for the public. Paterson, Klein, Kruger, Golden and others may be blowing their own brand of smoke, engaging in political theatrics against the backdrop of New York’s economic crisis.”

Perhaps in an effort to show strength during a troubled time, Gov. Paterson reversed his stance in recent weeks, proposing a new set of regulations that would essentially choke the supply to reservations located in New York.

Included in the regulations are exact calculations for how many cigarettes would be allowed to be delivered to reservations from certain state-approved wholesalers. The law calculates Poospatuck, for example, would only be allowed to take delivery of 8,100 packs of cigarettes every quarter. The calculations are based upon the number of enrolled members each tribe reports and the theoretical consumption on Indians who live on the reservation. Sales of any other tobacco in the state that is not through these approved retailers would be strictly prohibited and the manufacturers would then bear the burden and risk losing the ability to do business in New York.

This proposal is currently in the public comment period and will most likely be met with several reservation-based challenges for the courts to untangle once again. But in a state with as many problems as New York right now, these efforts are child’s play compared to what is taking place on the federal level.

Gods and Generals

There is impending doom for the tribes in federal legislation that seeks to curtail the growing Indian cigarette trade, known as Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act of 2009 (PACT). It’s an act that has the support of almost every sitting politician in America today. The act itself would prevent retailers from mailing cigarettes purchased by catalog or on the Internet through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Private delivery services such as United Parcel Service and Federal Express already have voluntary bans in place to prevent bulk mail order purchases of tobacco, but the USPS operates under no such agreement. Cancer organizations and elected officials are supporting PACT for the obvious reason of protecting public health by cutting off part of the cigarette supply chain, but there is another unlikely supporter of this bill: Big Tobacco.

The growing cigarette trade on tribal lands was never much of a concern to the multi-billion dollar tobacco industry until Native American retailers began manufacturing and promoting native-owned brands. Brands such as King Mountain and Seneca (unrelated to the tribe) have gained a tremendous following and begun encroaching on Philip Morris’ territory by gaining market share. This phenomenon has turned the relationship between Big Tobacco and Indian smoke shops on its ear. As the tobacco industry and US government combine efforts to attack Indian cigarette sales, the dispute between Big Tobacco and Indian Country grows by the day. Wallace has already banned all Philip Morris products and claims to have felt only a minimal impact to his gross sales.

As this relationship erodes, Philip Morris has ratcheted up its lobbying effort to support the government ban on shipping cigarettes through the mail. It’s a stance that on the surface seems confusing, but the tobacco industry is no stranger to the upside of paradox.

One of the most notable examples was the effect of the cigarette advertising ban on television and radio imposed in 1970. Due to the ban on broadcast advertising, the major tobacco companies at the top of the industry were able to protect their positions because a new entrant to the market was unable to effectively advertise its brand to a broad audience. Indeed, the advertising ban has contributed to freezing these positions in a time capsule with companies such as R.J. Reynolds (Camel), Lorillard (Newport) and worldwide leader Philip Morris (Marlboro) maintaining levels of market share domestically.

A more recent example was in 1998 when it appeared as though Big Tobacco might be dealt a significant blow. Under pressure from several states with massive pending lawsuits against them, Big Tobacco entered into a landmark agreement known as the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). Under the terms of the deal, the tobacco companies would fork over $200 billion over a 20-year period to 46 states that enjoined in an action against the major tobacco companies. The states who received this money were then supposed to put the funds to good use toward health care and anti-smoking initiatives. In return, the tobacco companies would be indemnified from future claims against them.

Instead of Big Tobacco’s wallet being negatively impacted by the MSA, the opposite occurred, with the tobacco manufacturers simply hiking the base price of cigarettes to a level that covered the payments to the states while receiving full indemnification against future claims.

Big Tobacco’s ability to display contrition and a willingness to address public health concerns while reaping huge rewards as a result of this behavior provides a useful context in which to understand its support of the PACT Act. The only businesses affected by the ban on cigarettes in the mail are the native retailers who have exploited the tax disparity issue and reinvested into native-owned brands. By targeting this methodology, Big Tobacco gives the appearance of cooperating with the government, showing a concern for public health and eliminating competition for market share.

Native American entrepreneurs in turn became victims of their own success.

The last remaining step in the process, or nail in the coffin, is to guarantee passage of the PACT Act. So Big Tobacco tied it to an issue that most elected officials would never argue with: Terrorism.

Terrorism and Tobacco

In April 2008, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) issued a report titled “Tobacco and Terror.” The report attempts to draw a straight line between the sale of untaxed cigarettes on Indian reservations to non-Native Americans and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. In it, King wrote: “It is possible for these Arab networks to rely on suppliers in lower tax states such as Virginia and North Carolina as well as Hezbollah-linked front companies in various free trade zones around Latin America. However, sources told the committee that in NYS the smuggling networks rely primarily on access to the Native American Indian reservations for tax-free cigarettes—for obvious financial reasons.”

King’s primary evidence is “a North Carolina based operation that forwarded a total sum of $100,000 to Hezbollah in 2000.” Before 9/11. Based upon this data, the report arrives at the conclusion that: “In just two months of illicit cigarette trade operations, a motivated terrorist cell could generate sufficient funds to carry out another September 11th-style attack, in which operational costs were estimated to be $500,000.”

That’s a pretty sensational conclusion from the evidence proffered in this report. But it may be all the fuel necessary to provide the impetus to pass the PACT Act. The link to terrorism has many, including Chief Wallace, concerned beyond the impact of this bill. “National Security interests,” he says, “may play a part in taking the rest of our land.”

PACT has seen relatively few bumps along the road to passage—quite a feat given the climate of severe partisanship that currently chokes Washington. The key to this lies in the main body of the bill authored by U.S. Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-WI), which says: “We can no longer continue to let terrorist organizations exploit weaknesses in our tobacco laws to generate significant amounts of money.” With that, Kohl closed the loop begun by King by linking the Altria (Philip Morris)-backed bill to prevent mail- and Internet-order tobacco retailing. Seneca Nation saw this coming.

“When Peter King came out with his report,” sighs Seneca’s Porter, “that was the brush that all Indians were painted with. Those types of propaganda are hard to fight against.”

JC Seneca was, however, not impressed with the new strategy. “We’ve been fighting terrorism since 1492. The issue is sovereignty. To protect what we have today like what our ancestors fought for.”

PACT has already passed the House with unanimous support from all of New York’s Congressmen and women. The U.S. Senate version lists Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, as co-sponsors. While Schumer recently opened the door to listening to the Seneca Nation, which would be most affected by the bill’s passage, Gillibrand has remained publicly silent on the issue. This has Indian Country enraged and crying foul at Gillibrand’s much-touted ties to Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, who Porter alleges to be the one “banging the drum” for the passage of PACT. According to a New York Times report, while an attorney, Gillibrand represented Philip Morris in a sensitive case and as senator she has taken in tens of thousands of contribution dollars from the tobacco giant.

But another Times article this week indicates that the Senecas have been actively lobbying elected officials with some measure of success. According to the report, “two or three Democratic senators” are trying to stop the bill. But with the PACT Act being shopped as an anti-terrorism bill, time may be running out for New York’s Indians.

The Inevitable Conclusion

The past 20 years have brought a sense of optimism and independence to Native Americans, who have begun to create infrastructure on reservation land and become, in some cases, a vital part of the economic engine in the regions they exist within. In western New York, according to the Seneca Annual Report, the Nation “operates a $1.1 billion economy that employs more than 6,300 people, Seneca and non-Seneca.”

As the Seneca economy grew over the past two decades, it poured funds back into areas like health care and badly needed projects. Seneca’s Richard Nephew takes a shot at the U.S. government, saying: “We’re a government that provides for our people,” moreover, “we’re not emptying people’s pockets.” Porter likewise adds, “We have what Americans are fighting for: top-to-bottom health care.”

JC Seneca cites the problem New York has in losing big business to other regions of the country and wonders why politicians, particularly an upstate official like Gillibrand, wouldn’t want to work together with the Seneca people. “We’re not a company that’s going to pack up and head out of state.”

Though not on the same scale, Chief Wallace also argues that Poospatuck has increasingly contributed to the local economy.

“We approved fuel oil for our seniors from a local company,” he says proudly. “We spent $1.8 million on home improvement with approved contractors through the [Suffolk] county. We spent about $200,000 hooking up water to municipal services. Put drains in, improved powwow grounds and purchased a new building.” Wallace points out that a local contractor was chosen to construct a new community center at the heart of the reservation.

Perhaps most impressively, the leaders of Poospatuck created a fund that last year gave every household $15,500 toward home improvement. The funds had to be made payable to an approved third party home improvement contractor to ensure that they went exclusively toward construction and beautification. Tribal members call it the “fifteen five.”

Wallace Wilson, a 29-year-old member of the tribe who works for Chief Wallace, says: “The impact of the fifteen five was a complete change. Just last year it was a dump.”

In New York, the new regulations proposed by Paterson would restrict the flow of cigarettes to reservations while the PACT Act will block Indian retailers from fulfilling cigarette orders through the mail. If the US government is successful in clamping down on the cigarette trade on reservation lands, then this brief encounter with prosperity will most likely come to an unceremonious end. An economic noose is being gradually slipped over Native Americans, who are being quietly led to the gallows, as they have been so many times before. Under the executioner’s mask is the tobacco industry, preparing to pull the lever and release the floor beneath them.

But the tribes have vowed that they won’t go down without a fight. “There are two paths we can go on,” states JC Seneca. “Diplomacy or controversy and confrontation. They want controversy and confrontation? They’ll get it.”

Should the tribes find themselves on the losing side of the battle, they may be forced back into another prolonged era of poverty and hopelessness. The resulting job losses and increased dependence upon social services and welfare may have the ironic effect of forcing the states to pick up the tab.

The only winner here is Big Tobacco, able to once again manipulate the public and our politicians at will to maintain dominant market share. Their products are addicting to people and their power is intoxicating to politicians, because, as Wallace so aptly puts it: “It’s cigarettes, man.”

Hot For Teacher

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"Hey lady, hold this freakin' apple so I can reach that donut in my bag."

Remember when you were little and you saw one of your teachers somewhere other than school? It was as though a mythical creature had somehow come to life; a great Greek statue breaking free from its marble casing and descending from cloud covered cliffs to walk among us at the local grocery store or deli. We placed them high upon a pedestal as a community and as children we believed them to be divine.

Like everything else in America, the backlash against the teacher has officially begun. More than likely it began right here on Long Island. Unbelievable taxes, bloated school budgets and a recession will do that. It is no longer taboo for parents to speak out at school board meetings and decry the increase in teacher compensation and perks. The arguments against highly compensated teachers are becoming familiar and parents are beating the drum feverishly across Long Island. Summers off, shorter work hours and paid time off are driving a wedge between the people who rear our children and those who educate them.

But the growing anger against the teacher is misplaced. Our ire should be pointed at the teacher unions and at ourselves as parents.

Workers everywhere are beholden to the people they represent and, in the case of unionized workers, they are beholden also to the union that represents them. Teachers have an even higher reporting structure: Our children. Over the past couple of decades the teacher unions have acquired tremendous power; a power that has grown gradually but has finally reached the tipping point.

Teachers used to be financially under-compensated while working, but well taken care of in retirement. Over time the unions have whittled away at this notion and created an environment where teachers have incredible job security, and are well compensated during both their work lives and their retired lives. Today, everything seems to favor the teacher who has become the beneficiary of hard bargaining over many, many years. Like everything in life, this has come at a cost. It has placed parent against teacher, school board against union and left the students in the middle; now it has also cast the educator as the enemy.  

A dear friend of mine, who is an elementary school teacher (and will remain nameless) provided some extremely enlightening context to this debate in a way that only a teacher can. She agreed that some compensatory elements have gone too far and that the unions have unfairly positioned the teachers against the public. The union has also created an atmosphere of fear in which teachers are afraid to speak out. But she noted, with scores of examples from her recent classes, that teaching itself looks nothing like it used to.

Our children are entering school woefully unprepared for life outside of the home. Many lack focus and energy as a result of poor diets and lax routines such as firm bedtimes and family meals. A good deal of incoming elementary students are unruly and challenge the most basic of authority, rebelling at the slightest instruction. Many are slovenly, lack proper hygiene and are devoid of any manners. Our teachers are then subjected to parental tirades asking why our children aren’t performing better, achieving more and accepting discipline.

Every year we send our children to school with more issues than ever before. Our kids are lethargic so we demand more physical education instead of putting the Nintendo in the drawer and sending them outside to play on the weekends. They are obese so we crack down on school lunch programs instead of teaching our children to make healthier choices or, heaven forbid, packing them a lunch. We fill them with prescription drugs and high fructose corn syrup, allow them to sit in front of a TV or computer screen for seven hours a day and demand a teacher’s aide, more time for tests, less home work and special attention in the classroom when they underperform. At the same time we demand higher levels of achievement from our kids and make them take three languages, two instruments, a sport for every season, community service and a resume building internship. We divorce one another, yell in the home and allow them to watch adult programs and play violent video games; then we wonder why bullying exists.

The lack of parental discipline and common sense child rearing sends children to school behind the eight ball. As the publisher of a newspaper that aggressively advocates for children with special needs this may seem like a counterintuitive argument. Yet this phenomenon has placed an undue burden on the special needs resources in our schools and threatens to sap badly needed attention to children who truly suffer from developmental disabilities.  

If we as parents want the right to yell and scream at school board meetings then it’s time we stop vilifying teachers. Have the unions gone too far and added fuel to the fire? Absolutely. Common sense must be restored to negotiations regarding teacher compensation and benefits. But if we continue as a society to abdicate the role of parent and place the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of our teachers then we shall reap what we sow.

Written by jmorey

March 4, 2010 at 1:39 am

The Soul of Glen Cove

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I live in Glen Cove, one of Long Island’s two cities. Our mayor has a familiar last name but is still a relative unknown outside the city. His name is Ralph Suozzi.

Being in the public eye is part of the job of any elected official, but the vast majority of responsibilities heaped upon local politicians are for the most part mundane and thankless. Like every great local politician Ralph knows the names of all the cops and firemen, every teacher in the district and the local restaurant owners. The tools of his trade are like so many other mayors across the nation—helmets and shovels to break ground, oversized scissors to cut ribbons, and proclamations to reward citizens for outstanding service to the community. Behind it all, though, politics can be an ugly business; one in which many politicians eventually crack and lose their sense of self, or worse yet, their humanity.

This is not one of those stories.

During the snowstorm that besieged the Island last week, the mayor’s wife, Jane Beckhard-Suozzi, was home when she heard a familiar voice on the answering machine in the background. It was Reb Irwin Huberman from Congregation Tifereth Israel, the conservative temple in town. He was calling to let them know that a local woman and member of the congregation, Patricia Workman, had passed away in her apartment the night before.

In a city of more than 30,000 people, death is no stranger. What made this call different was the fact that Pat, as most people in town knew her, had no family. She was a child of Glen Cove. “The city adopted her,” said Ralph. “She had her own challenges in life and needed help from assorted people in the community and people rose to that.”

Pat led a troubled life. Her piercing blue eyes and ever-present smile belied a lifetime of hardship many of us cannot even dream of. The pressures of her past and a diseased mind plagued her existence. And yet, through it all, she had a smile for everyone she saw.

Jane described the flurry of phone calls and e-mails between Reb Huberman, his congregation and community leaders. “Help was sort of a central theme of her life,” says Jane. “She needed help and she gave help.” Word of Pat’s passing spread quickly through the city, as did the realization that her next of kin was not a person, but an entire city. As Reb Huberman reached out to community members to raise funds for a dignified service, Mayor Suozzi cleared hurdles to ensure that the process wouldn’t be delayed unnecessarily.

By 1 p.m. the following day, more than 100 people had gathered at Dodge Thomas Funeral Home in Glen Cove to honor the life of Patricia Workman. Of all the duties expected of a local public servant, attending funerals is a must. As her husband rose to address Pat’s adopted family members, Jane said it suddenly struck him that this was the “first time they had been to a funeral when there wasn’t someone there saying, ‘Thank you for coming.’ So Ralph had everyone turn to the person next to them and say, ‘Thank you for coming.’”

 Pat deserved a better life on this earth. In the end, the community she adopted gave her the peaceful and loving conclusion that her smile and spirit warranted. “The community we know as Glen Cove is the people,” reflected Ralph. “Their personalities, their hearts, the history they all bring. It just has a soul of its own that we’re all a part of. It’s a generational soul. We collectively watch out for each other.”

Written by jmorey

February 25, 2010 at 12:49 am

Michelle Obama: Let’s Move

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If only America knew the period on the exclamation point is a Big Mac

First Lady Michelle Obama is leading the charge against obesity in the United States by establishing a program titled “Let’s Move.” It’s a government-sponsored effort to establish a public/private partnership that encourages America to work together and get our young people moving and eating right. The First Lady even went so far as to convince her husband to sign a memorandum that organizes a committee to hold meetings in order to come up with a report that talks about obesity. “A 90 day plan to allow optimal coordination,” I think is how the President put it.

 If you sense sarcasm dripping from these words like Special Sauce oozing over the sides of two all-beef patties then there’s a prize in your Happy Meal. It’s not that I have a problem with ceremonial gestures—publicity and good form are part of any positive initiative—it’s just that we are so far afield from pure and beneficial food sources in this country that any attempts to regulate America’s diet are destined for failure.

 Advocating for clean, slow food has been part of the Long Island Press mission for years, which makes criticizing an anti-obesity program difficult and counterintuitive. But examining this matter closely provides a window into how the Obama administration approaches serious issues and why so many initiatives are failing.

We have attacked the banking meltdown by continuing to throw money at banks instead of addressing the rampant deregulation that allowed the crisis to spiral to unprecedented depths. The administration and Congress attacked the healthcare plan by proposing that more people receive insurance instead of streamlining the process of administering care and preventing more people from falling ill. Even Secretary of State Clinton is spanning the globe and putting her fingers in the dam instead of establishing a discernible foreign policy for this administration.

“Let’s Move” as a concept is as wonderful as bailing out banks, reforming healthcare and chasing the Taliban but it adopts the same systemic principle of attacking symptoms rather than root causes. When it comes to childhood obesity, no amount of additional pressure on the school districts will put the toothpaste back into the tube.

My father in law always preaches that it matters little who is in charge at the top because it’s the bureaucrats who really run everything. If the Obama administration wants to shift the food paradigm in this nation, it needs to understand why Americans no longer relate to our food supply. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) determines what food is grown and how it’s used in this country, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determines what ingredients and chemicals are allowed in our food. I will refrain at this point from exhaustively pointing out how these two agencies are more responsible for poisoning the American food supply and contributing to childhood obesity than any other influence. I would only encourage anyone, everyone, to read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

 The point is that we have guns aimed again at the parents and teachers when Sesame Street is brought to you by McDonald’s. Obesity, like the financial meltdown, high insurance premiums and war, is merely a symptom of failed policies. Michelle Obama need look no further than the bureaucratic administrations her husband now controls to find the root cause of obesity in America. Instead of asking the schools to serve better food, we need to make better food available.

Written by jmorey

February 10, 2010 at 6:51 pm