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Letters to the editor

March 5, 2004 | Page 8

OTHER LETTERS BELOW:
Targeting Native rights in California
The Super Bowl ad CBS wouldn't run
France's racist ban on the hijab
A plan to reduce democracy

Cracking down on dissent

Dear Socialist Worker,
Near universal disgust forced Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri to halt his plan for a state homeland security bill more damaging to civil liberties than even Attorney General John Ashcroft's USA PATRIOT Act. A press release from the governor made the ridiculous claim that his "Act Relating to Homeland Security" is necessary to protect Rhode Island from terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.

In a state where 6,000 people are forced to live without heat, the idea that we need legislative protection from nuclear weapons is simply a cover-up of the real issues facing ordinary people. Terrorism, though, was nearly an afterthought in this legislation. This law was about cracking down on our right to dissent.

Carcieri hoped to revitalize unused and clearly unconstitutional First World War-era laws which make it a felony to "willfully speak, utter, print or publish any language" meant to "incite, provoke, or encourage" a "defiance or disregard of the constitution or laws of Rhode Island or of the United States."

Advocating even the most peaceful act of civil disobedience would be a felony punishable by 10 years in prison. Furthermore, Carcieri's definition of "terrorism" is so vague (action to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population" involving a "violent act") that it could have easily been used to hand out life sentences to striking workers trying to keep out scabs.

Carcieri's quick retreat suggests that he initially thought he could get this monstrosity passed without any fuss. This is an impressive oversight, considering that many Rhode Island cities have already passed resolutions condemning the comparatively milder USA PATRIOT Act, and that fully one-in-four Rhode Islanders live in an anti-PATRIOT Act cities. Carcieri, though, will likely try later to pass a slightly milder bill, and so we must take his first attempt as a warning: Our civil liberties will not be safe without a fight.

Alden Eagle, Providence, R.I.

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Targeting Native rights in California

Dear Socialist Worker,
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (a.k.a. The Gropernator) is proposing that California place a tax on Indian gambling casinos. He claims that the tribes that operate these casinos should pay their "fair share."

This prompted Anthony Miranda, chairman of the California Indian Nations Gaming Association, to recently comment: "Tribes are governments. Governments don't tax other governments." He then added: "From our perspective, the governor's concept of 'fair share' is amusing and troubling. It clearly shows that he doesn't understand a very simple fact: that the state does not pay a single dime in compensation to the tribes. Nothing."

Miranda is right on both counts. These tribes are sovereign nations, most of whose land was stolen from them in the 19th century. California's first governor, Peter Burnett, declared, "A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races until the Indian races become extinct."

There were 150,000 Indians in California in 1848. By 1860, ten years after California became a state, there were only 30,000 left. As one historian put it, the survivors were "pushed into the rocks." They were forced into remote areas where the land was unsuitable for farming or for anything else.

That's why the tribes have turned to operating casinos: it's the only way our society allows them to support themselves. Schwarzenegger's talk about the tribes paying their "fair share" is rank hypocrisy.

Some of the governor's advisors are pushing for a ballot measure that would allow racetracks and card rooms to have slot machines. According to the Los Angeles Times, "The prospect that he might embrace [the ballot measure] could be used as leverage in coming talks with the tribes."

Socialists should oppose this cynical ploy. California's state government is trying to extort money from the Indian tribes to clean up a fiscal mess created by the state's own corrupt political leaders.

Evan Kornfeld, Los Angeles

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The Super Bowl ad CBS wouldn't run

Dear Socialist Worker,
Brad Ward's letter about the Super Bowl half-time show (SW, February 20) left out the biggest scandal of all: CBS's censorship of MoveOn.org's "Bush in 30 seconds" advertisement.

The homemade ad, which criticizes George W. Bush's economic policies, was paid for by thousands of individual donations and was going to run during halftime--until CBS decided it was "too controversial." Instead, CBS chose to run an ad produced by the White House Office of Drug Policy.

To view MoveOn.org's ad, visit http://www.bushin30seconds.org.

Matt Nichter and Andrew Villiesse, Madison, Wis.

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France's racist ban on the hijab

Dear Socialist Worker,
Thank you for your article ("The racist hypocrisy behind the hijab ban," February 20) about the ban on Islamic headscarves being worn in French public schools. I think it's both racist and sexist to tell women of any religion or culture what they can and cannot wear. While it's sexist to force women to wear something like the burqa, it's equally sexist to ban them from wearing any particular thing for no good reason.

As far as the law is concerned, a headscarf or any piece of clothing should be considered just that--a piece of clothing or an accessory that they have no business either enforcing, nor banning. Not only do I think that the ban is not a step forward for women, but I think that it is a perfect example of modern-day sexist paternalism.

We women of all different colors, shades, religions, etc., should band together internationally against this absurd attack on our freedom.

Lisa Baker, Upland, Calif.

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A plan to reduce democracy

Dear Socialist Worker,
I was present on Monday January 26 at a meeting organized by the Uniformed Services Council of Harlem, to discuss the proposal of the 125th Street Business Improvement District (BID) to put surveillance cameras on 125th Street in Harlem, at a cost of $800,000. Representatives from the BID, the NYPD, the comptroller's office and the District Attorney's office were invited to be present at this meeting, but they did not even answer the invitations.

Due to the fact that the invited speakers did not show up, the discussion was opened up to the 41 people attending. Several audience members spoke about their concerns with the question of who the cameras are protecting, and who are they criminalizing.

Audience members asked, "Are we so worried about our youth that we need to monitor them with cameras to protect ourselves, or can we say that this is a problem of the system that creates these conditions in the first place?" They also spoke of how "the whole camera thing might be good in the movies, but when it comes down to it, it's people that matter. They can do the same thing to you that they did to the civil rights leaders of the 1960--identify you as a threat, single you out and take away your civil rights."

The lack of representation by the BID and the NYPD brought more distrust of the real reasons behind the cameras. As one person commented, "When the police and other agencies don't care to show up, and they are supposed to be the backbone of our community, what does that say?" The last speaker, Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union, summed things up: "You can put a camera on every corner, and while you will certainly reduce crime, you will also reduce democracy!"

At the end of the meeting, a vote was taken, and 36 of the 41 present said "no" to the cameras. I think it is very important that we get involved in these local struggles because of the systematic repression that they fight--as well as building the confidence of ordinary working class people to fight back.

Paul Grohman, New York City

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