Hurricanes, Haudenosaunee War and 9/11’s Thirtieth Anniversary

Three Relatively Unrelated Stories for Your Perusal

By Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice 9/25/03  

On Hurricanes and Capitalism


Every now and then, like a speeding moped slamming into a brick wall, we come face to face with the warped perversity of our own society.  Nothing here is sacred – not even human life.  In our casino-like economy, all tragedies play out on the gaming table.  Hence, I shouldn’t have really been shocked last Monday as I tuned into the whorish babble of NPR.  My radio came alive just in time to catch “the numbers,” NPR’s labor-be-fucked quantitative account of the nation’s economy as simplistically reflected in the stock market. 

The big financial news was that Hurricane Isabel was coming – and at the time she was expected to strike at the heart of the American East Coast, packing a walloping knock-out punch of a wind and, perhaps, a tidal wave to boot.   Most such storms wreak their havoc in the economically less significant Caribbean basin, hence, they don’t have a big impact on “the numbers.”  Isabel, however, was different.  Over the weekend she seemed to find her direction and was heading straight for the malls and condos of the Mid-Atlantic States .

Maybe she was bluffing, but all the players muscled their fetid bodies up to the betting table none-the-less.  As the opening bell rang on Wall Street last Monday, the pigs came charging out of the gates and into the mud.  With impending doom on the horizon, insurance stocks immediately took a 2% dive as gamers fretted about huge payouts in Isabel’s wake.  But they didn’t pull their money out of the market altogether, finding some electronic mattress to stuff it under.  No.  They played their hand by moving their money into the pockets of Isabel’s perceived suitors. Someone’s loss is usually someone else’s gain, and all those damaged and destroyed homes would need to be rebuilt.  Shortly after the opening bell rang in the New York Stock Exchange, Lowe’s, a building supply retailer with a strong Mid-Atlantic presence, was up 2%.  Home Depot was up by 4%.  Ya gotta love this country.  We certainly know how to respond quickly to an emergency.

Isabel has now come and gone.  Her 140 m.p.h. winds diminished to around 105 m.p.h. by the time she made landfall, no doubt disappointing many of Home Depot’s new owners.  Subdued as she was, she still left at least 17 persons dead in her wake as substandard buildings flew apart and coastal developments built over depleted sand dunes were washed into the sea by waves.  Some of the damage was unavoidable.  But the big relatively unreported story was that much of the damage from this rather mild hurricane was quite avoidable.  As the storm moved inland and lost its steam, a lot of roofs that shouldn’t have blown off, blew away anyway – victims of shoddy construction and weak developer-friendly building codes.  And a lot of developments, built on flood plains by profit-crazed developers with the acquiescence of campaign-contribution dependent politicians, were rather predictably flooded.  Life in America , shocking as it may sometimes be, is, if nothing else, rather predictable.


Our Little War Next Door


As a small child my parents told me that the US was fighting communists in Vietnam so that we wouldn’t have to fight them here in the streets of America .  I guess it’s sort of unfair for me to remember this one errant line from an otherwise coherent set of parents – but it stood out.  As I watched the nightly horror of war on TV, I pictured Vietcong troops storming through the streets of Brooklyn wielding flame throwers and grenades.  If that was the alternative, then the Vietnam war made sense to my six year old mind.  With time, and as my older brother approached draft age, my parents and the rest of the country came to develop a more mature view of the war, joining with the anti-war majority that finally forced an end to that “conflict.”

But the old myth arguing that if we didn’t fight there, we’d have fought the Vietnam war here, still resonates in my head.  During most of my life I applied this theory to human rights struggles – thinking that the fight against injustice was always a global one.  And there’s certainly a connection between closed Endicott Johnson factories near Binghamton , New York , and Nike sweatshops in Indonesia .  If we allow the latter to flourish, as we do every time we spend our money on sweatshop booty at Wal Mart, then the former will die as living standards for workers the world over take a nose dive. 

The situation also holds true for war.  If we don’t oppose unjust wars wherever they may be, then just maybe, unlikely as it may seem, they may wind up on our own doorsteps.  In a way, my parents may have had it right back in the early 1960s, but sort of backwards.  In any event, in this age of boundless military aggression, where borders are mere lines to be crossed by speeding Humvees and sovereignty is just a word in the dictionary, war might in fact be landing at our doorstep.

The war I’m talking about seems to be brewing against the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (also known by the French name “Iroquois” or the English “Six Nations”).  Two weeks ago, in a bizarre throwback to the days of buccaneers, New York State announced that starting on October 1st, it would be collecting taxes from businesses located within the sovereign Haudenosaunee national territory.

A very short history lesson seems to be in order here.  The Haudenosaunee were never conquered by the United States, England, France, or the Netherlands – the European powers who over the years laid claims to the land adjacent to the contemporary Haudenosaunee land base.  End of lesson.  Yes, the US launched what is now a well documented genocidal war against the Haudenosaunee, burning crops and brutally killing every native person they encountered, including pregnant women and infants – but in the end the Haudenosaunee still survived.  And so did the sovereign Haudenosaunee land base, radically diminished as it may be.  Within the borders of that land base, however, exist internationally recognized sovereign nations surrounded by US and Canadian territory.  Historically, this is an inspiring tale of survival against extraordinary odds.  Legally, it’s a simple story of sovereignty.

If I seem to be dwelling on the word sovereignty, it’s intentional.  It’s the key to this ridiculous story.  No matter how dire New York ’s financial circumstances may be, we cannot start charging sales tax in Fort Erie , Ontario , not even to Americans.  Likewise, no matter how protectionist local businesses want the state to become, it can’t collect taxes in France , China , Russia – or in the Seneca Nation (One of the six Haudenosaunee nations).  End of story. 

The federal government, not the state government, can charge import duty on items such as cigarettes and gasoline – but to do so means setting up and staffing a more official border.  The feds, for all of their recent gallant efforts to militarize the Niagara River and protect us against the Canadian peril, such as it may be, would rather not point attention to our little border with the Haudenosaunee. Obviously the US hoped over the centuries that it could have been ignored into oblivion.  But it’s still there, as the current casino controversy demonstrates.

For the Haudenosaunee, sovereignty is a life or death issue for their nation and their culture.  Hence, they will no more easily allow American forces to enter their nation and seize money from the tills of their businesses, than would Norway, Japan or any other nation on earth.  By attempting to tax sales in a foreign nation, New York is also attempting to establish international policy.  And the international policy the state seems to be emulating, is the might-makes-right international-law-and-conventions-be-damned policy of the Bushistas. 


9/11 Thirty Years Later


There’s been a lot of recent noise commemorating the second anniversary of what’s become known as “The Attack on America .”  And there’ll be a lot more noise and flag waving next year as presidential candidates vie for the title of “most patriotic,” with dueling visions of police states, and hopefully, true 9/11 investigations as our national tragedy turns three.  Lost in all this shuffle is the other September 11th national tragedy – that being the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Chile and installed a brutally repressive dictatorship in that country. 

Recently declassified US government documents show that the Chilean coup, like much of the terrorism that has plagued independent-thinking third world governments for decades, was in fact manufactured right here in the good ‘ol USA. 

According to the documents, President Nixon ordered the CIA to undermine the Chilean economy, cause chaos in that country, and hence, keep socialist president-elect Salvatore Allende from being inaugurated in 1970.  When that effort failed, the Nixon administration, with Henry Kissinger as point person, began a more intense destabilization campaign.  The then secret Nixon administration argument for regime change in Chile centered not on the argument that the Allende government represented any sort of physical threat to the US , but that it represented the threat of a good example, as a nation that successfully fought off domination of its economy by US multinational corporations.  According to a classified report by President Nixon made to his National Security Council, “Our main concern in Chile is the prospect that [Allende] can consolidate himself and the picture presented to the world would be his success.”  This, incidentally,  was the same threat the Sandinistas presented in Nicaragua a decade later.

In an effort to doom the popular Chilean government, CIA Director William Colby, according to a recent report in The Nation, devised and executed a covert operation.  That operation funded and organized Chilean opposition groups, created an anti-Allende propaganda operation in Chile , fomented internal political dissent in the Chilean government and attempted to destroy the Chilean economy.  When these efforts failed to unseat the democratically elected government (Allende being a president who actually won his election), records now show, the Nixon administration resorted to orchestrating a military coup.  With this action, the US overthrew a democratically elected government and installed and supported what would become one of the hemisphere’s most brutal anti-democratic dictatorships – but one that would be friendly to US corporate interests.  That dictator, General Pinochet, ordered the murder of at least 3,100 Chileans and the torture of thousands more while shutting down the congress, the free press, universities and all opposition political parties. One year later, the US State Department reported that the new American-supported  Pinochet government was “militaristic, fascistic, tyrannical and murderous.”  Way to go USA .

In the future, let’s try to remember the past. 


Dr. Michael I. Niman’s previous articles are available online at

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