"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Forked Tongue 

I failed to mention this atrocious Rich Lowry column when it appeared last week:
Political contributions from Indian tribes soaked in gambling revenues have increased exponentially in recent years, from a mere $2,000 in 1999 to more than $7 million in 2004. But the trend has suddenly reversed. Now it’s the politicians giving money to tribes, as dozens of pols who happily took dollars from Jack Abramoff-associated tribes hurriedly return the cash or hand it over to charity.

This strange turnabout was predictable to anyone who has followed the connection around the country between wads of gambling money and sleazy practices in government. “We’re seeing what has happened at the state and local level come to Washington,” says the Rev. Tom Grey of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. It’s no accident that the Abramoff scandal hit the national GOP after it spent years catching up to Democrats in terms of battening on gambling dollars. According to the Web site opensecrets.org, Republicans got just 19 percent of Indian gambling donations in 1994. So far in the 2006 election cycle, Republicans are splitting such contributions with Democrats evenly.

Got that? Jack Abramoff isn't the problem; dishonest Republicans aren't the problem - the real problem is Indians! Of course, one can't make this argument without (a) lying, and (b) playing to racism. Observe:
Congress passed the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act in 1988 basically with the intention of letting tribes run bingo games. Armed with the opening presented by the act and with the fiction of tribal sovereignty, tribes opened casinos that allowed them to undertake the old-fashioned business of buying politicians. The growth of tribal casinos exploded. There are now 400 of them in more than half the states in the country.

Bullshit, and bullshit. To say that the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act of 1988 was passed "with the intention of letting tribes run bingo games" is simply a lie, no more and no less. And to make snide reference to "the fiction of tribal sovereignty" is offensive in the extreme.

Fortunately, there is at least one journalist with both the knowledge and the cojones to call Lowry on his crap, and that's Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial page editor Mark Trahant - himself a Native American. Unfortunately, Trahant's influence is strictly local, which is a shame because he lays the smack down with real authority in this column published yesterday:
Rich Lowry of the National Review writes that this scandal is an example of how the "Indian casino business is flagrantly detached from its original justification of letting supposedly sovereign nations govern themselves on their own land."

I was writing about the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988 -- and the new version of history is exactly backward. The fact is that a few tribes that were involved in gaming won a Supreme Court case [California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202 (1987) - Ed.] -- and Congress could not wait to roll back that victory. I remember interviewing many members of Congress who warned tribes had better "get on board" with the legislation or it would be enacted anyway. The tribes who supported the legislation saw it as a compromise, fearing that Congress would wipe out the court ruling.

Even the media saw it that way then. Here's a paragraph from The Philadelphia Inquirer shortly before the act was passed: "Gambling on Indian reservations, a booming business of bingo parlors and small casinos, would be subject to new federal and state regulation under a bill passed by the Senate last week."

Indian gaming was to be regulated. No more unregulated casinos -- and the new law would force tribes to partner with state governments for that regulatory process to work.

But the narrative of Indian gaming as a "gift" from Washington makes it easier for the discourse about the Abramoff scandal to become a blame-the-Indian story; sort of a, look what we gave the tribes, and look what they've done now....

The stockholders of tribal casinos are the tribal members -- and that means a community shares the benefits of success. A good example is the new Muckleshoot Tribal Health Center in Auburn [link supplied - Ed.].

There are some tribal casinos that are huge -- and hugely profitable. And that notion has captured the floorshow in Congress. But the vast majority of tribal casinos across the country are more important because they create jobs, not enormous profits. This is one reason why most Americans have been so supportive of the expansion of tribal gaming: We like the idea that jobs are being created on reservations (no easy task). Whether by ballot -- or more often, voting by participation -- most Americans say tribal gaming, on balance, is a good thing.

Convenient as it might be to make Indian gaming the story in the Abramoff debacle, it can only work if the facts are mangled and the Native Americans defamed (again). Lowry and his ilk should not be permitted to publish their scurrilous lies without challenge. The P-I's Trahant has done his part to set the record straight; he should not have to do so alone.

Update: Added link to Cabazon Band of Mission Indians case.




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