Friday, October 23, 2009
Can They Really Be That Stupid?
It is amazing how many times you can hear a tribal, state or federal official say something stupid without anyone ever challenging their ignorance. A case in point was US Senator Charles, "Chuck", Schumer (D-NY) spitting out the old tired comments on the news about how Indians have no right to sell their products to non-Indians and that the state is losing millions, perhaps even billions to our illegal sales. Oh yeah, and there is the one about how the US Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that the state could collect taxes from our sales. The worse part about false comments like these is that they are not just said by state and federal officials, they are repeated by tribal councilors and their legal counsel as well.
My question is: are they really that stupid? After all these guys are educated, in fact most of them are lawyers. So why do they misquote and misinterpret laws, court rulings and basic social, political and legal points all the time. I honestly believe that they know what they are saying is wrong.
Chuck can't really believe it is illegal for us to market our regulatory advantages to consumers out of our territories. Every town, city, county, state and country work to develop and market trade and commerce advantages. He can't possibly be saying that his people can sell to our people, but we can't sell to them. Something else must be at play here.
The Governor can't be so stupid to suggest that the state law that allows everyone in New York to have in their possession up to 2 cartons of untaxed and unstamped cigarettes, allows those people the opportunity to buy those unstamped cigarettes anywhere available but from Native retailers. The State's first black governor can't be that racist.
Surely out of all those people who keep suggesting that there exists some landmark Supreme Court decision that allows New York State to interfere with Native commerce, that someone would actually read the case (DEPARTMENT OF TAXATION AND FINANCE OF NEW YORK et al. v. MILHELM ATTEA & BROS.). If just one of the television or print journalist that keeps referring to this case would read it then perhaps he would offer the correct interpretation which is that the non-native wholesaler, Attea, lost his challenge against the State where he claimed his license to do business with Indians, issued by the BIA, superceded State law. Sorry folks, nothing to see here. No "we got those damn Mohawks and Senecas" ruling here. Just another case where a bunch of overly assimilated Indians out west were beat up in their state courts and had their cases cited in a case that, at best, references us.(See the post; Attea is Not a Landmark Case Against Indians)
The bottom line is that while NY State may tax the purchases made by its residents for use in the state, it still can't tax our sales. Let's try saying it together. The State may be able to regulate the actions of its people (the purchase or use), but not the actions of our people (the sale). But again, let's be clear; the State allows all its people to purchase up to 2 cartons of unstamped cigarettes for use in the State. The burden to remit a tax for purchases beyond 2 cartons is and always has been on the consumer. The State even has a form for it (Form CG-15). Now a logical person would assume that if a New York resident could buy 2 cartons from North Carolina or the Philippines that he could certainly stop by the nearest Native retailer for that purchase as well.
So what about that Billion dollars the State wants and needs so desperately? Well as the governor's request to the US Attorneys for a threat assessment will reveal, it doesn't matter how much they inflate a revenue leakage number. Any attempt to shut down the Native cigarette business will cost money, not make it. There is neither a guarantee nor a likelihood that even if the State eliminated reservation sales all together without a fight that any thing close to the numbers the State claims to be losing would be realized. Driving consumers to out-of-state and black market sales will surely have a much bigger negative impact to the State than anything they imagine happens on our territories. Oh how the State must long for the days when only the Mob could deliver cheap cigarettes to consumers.
Getting back to the gullibility or complicity of tribal leaders. Just as I don't think the non-native voices weighing in on this subject are that stupid, I don't think the Native ones are either. Of course the only Native voices we are allowed to be heard are the tribal government voices. These guys are so conflicted they can't help but come across as ignorant. On one hand they want to kiss ass for a Casino in the Catskills. On the other they are trying to validate their existence as legitimate government officials by proving they can assert authority over their people. Their own self loathing will not allow them to admit the obvious; that they are powerless. The beauty of our sovereignty is that we are born with it. We don't win it in an election or have it granted to us by the federal or state government. Not one of these tribal councilors has the courage to say that every business on our land is a Nation business. Every Native retailer operates as a sovereign entity because our sovereignty is not vested in the state nor does it exist as a common right but rather an individual birthright. This simply doesn't seem sophisticated enough for tribal officials. They want to be just an Indian version of those who are trying to harm us. But the reality is that all the rhetoric from these guys means nothing. It is the People that the State is scared of. It is the People that will shut the Thruway down. It is the People that will block bridges. And it will be the People that will stand toe to toe with the police if the State tries to force its will on our territories. I doubt Jim Ransom or Barry Snyder will rank very high as a threat to the State. And certainly their attorneys, Dale White and Rob Porter will be looked at more as assets and team players of the State, definitely not a risk to them.
So what is going on here? Is it really just a case of these guys trying to repeat something enough times to make it appear true or is it all just posturing for something else? The other thing that Chuck mentioned the other night was how so many other "tribes" have entered into agreements with the states. If the States really had the right to shut us down why would they want a compact? I think it is too easy to jump to the conclusion that a Catskill casino is at the root of much of this. Gaming certainly has played a role in shifting control of our land and people to the states, but gaming isn't the end game; the control is. I believe that the Mohawk and Seneca People have been the symbol of resistance, not only for Native people in the US and Canada, but world wide. The fact that neither US law nor their enforcers can reconcile our existence is a significant thorn for them. There are plenty of those "tribes" that drank the Kool-aid and entered all kinds of compacts. While they spent the last few years regretting that decision our territories continued to fight and maintain a strong private sector economy. Perhaps they should be asked how things have worked out for them. In spite of the fact that gaming compacts were leapt at in Mohawk and Seneca territories, the State still has not been able to control the people, not even by proxy through the tribal councils. For those of us that have been at this for a long time we see a constant effort by the State and their tribal counter parts (although I question how counter they really are to the State) to wheel and deal. By doing so the tribal councils get more authority and power over Native People and their land(and often more wealth) and the people lose more distinction as Native people. The State gets revenue and that control they so desperately seek, albeit through the tribal councils. I have no use for any so-called tribal leader that would suggest to the people to let them handle it. That this is a Nation to Nation issue. Or that these compacts are proof or some kind of expression of the "Nation's" sovereignty. This is about our freedom. The Mohawk and Seneca People can't allow themselves to be manipulated into becoming a symbol for concession. Too many others count on us. There is a reason why New York hasn't been able to get tax compacts agreed to. Because we never gave authority to anyone to sell us out. We need to keep it that way! I don't think any of these guys are stupid enough to believe what they are saying is true, but I do believe they are stupid enough to think they know what they are doing.