China’s Economic Growth Slows Amid Trade Battle With U.S.

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by JOE McDONALD / The Associated Press.

BEIJING — China’s economic growth slowed further in the latest quarter, adding to challenges for its communist leaders as they fight a tariff battle with Washington.

The world’s second-largest economy expanded by 6.5 percent over a year earlier in the three months ending in September, government data showed Friday. That was down from 6.7 percent for the quarter ending in July and 6.8 percent for the year’s first three months.

Forecasters expected China’s economy to cool after Beijing tightened credit controls last year to rein in a debt boom. But the slowdown has been more abrupt than expected, prompting Chinese leaders to reverse course and encourage banks to lend.

“China’s slowdown is a little sharper than expected, but basically fits our narrative for the economy,” said Bill Adams of PNC Financial Services Group in a report.

Beijing’s debt controls and “trade uncertainties” are “taking a bite out of economic momentum,” Adams said.

China’s leaders express confidence their $12 trillion-a-year economy can survive the conflict with U.S. President Donald Trump. But export industries have begun to suffer from American tariff hikes of up to 25 percent on Chinese goods.

Economic performance was “stable overall,” but “we must also see the number of external challenges has increased significantly,” said a government spokesman, Mao Shengyong.

“Downward pressure has increased,” Mao said at a news conference.

Retail spending, factory output and investment in factories and other fixed assets weakened.

Retail sales rose 9.1 percent over a year earlier in the first nine months of the year, down 0.1 percent from the first half, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Growth in factory output decelerated to 6.4 percent for the first nine months of 2018, down 0.3 percentage points from the first half. Investment rose 5.4 percent in the first three quarters, down 0.6 percentage points from the first half.

Beijing has rejected U.S. pressure to scale back industrial development plans Washington says are based on stealing or pressuring foreign companies to hand over technology. American officials worry they might threaten U.S. industrial leadership.

The conflict with Washington has prompted communist leaders to step up the pace of a marathon effort to encourage self-sustaining growth driven by domestic consumption and reduce reliance on exports and investment.

Beijing has cut tariffs, promised to lift curbs on foreign ownership in the Chinese auto industry and taken other steps to rev up growth. But leaders reject pressure to scrap plans such as “Made in China 2025,” which calls for state-led creation of Chinese champions in robotics and other technologies.

Washington, Europe and other trading partners complain those plans violate Beijing’s market-opening commitments.

Beijing has responded to previous downturns by flooding the state-dominated economy with credit, but that has swelled debt. The ruling Communist Party has told banks to step up lending, especially to private entrepreneurs who generate China’s new jobs and wealth, but has avoided a full-scale stimulus. Forecasters say it will take the measures some time to work their way through the economy.

There are signs government support is “starting to gain traction,” but “more easing will still be needed in order to stabilize growth,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a report.

“We doubt the latest pick-up in infrastructure spending will be enough to prevent the economy from cooling further in the coming quarters,” said Evans-Pritchard.

Washington has raised tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods and Trump says he might extend penalties to almost all imports from China. Beijing responded with its own tariff hikes on $110 billion of American imports but is running out of goods for retaliation due to their lopsided trade balance.

Forecasters say if threatened tariff hikes by both sides are fully carried out, that could cut China’s 2019 growth by up to 0.3 percentage points.

September exports to the United States rose 13 percent despite the tariff hikes, down slightly from August’s 13.4 percent. The country’s politically volatile trade surplus with the United States widened to a record $34.1 billion.

Chinese exporters of lower-value goods such as clothes say American orders fell off starting in April as trade tensions worsened. But makers of factory equipment, medical technology and other high-value goods express confidence they can keep their market share.

Trade accounts for a smaller share of the economy than it did a decade ago but still supports millions of jobs.

On Thursday, the Commerce Ministry promised official help for companies that have suffered due to the American import controls.

“In general, the impact is limited,” said a ministry spokesman, Gao Feng. “Governments at all levels will also take active measures to help enterprises and employees cope with possible difficulties.”

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The Rats Revolt

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

There is no American who has fought with more tenacity, courage and integrity to expose the crimes of corporate power and to thwart the corporate coup d’état that has destroyed our democracy than Ralph Nader. Not one. There is little he has not tried in that effort. He has written investigative exposés on the unsafe practices of the auto industry; published best-sellers such as “Who Runs Congress?”; founded citizen action and consumer groups; testified before countless congressional committees; written a raft of environmental and worker safety bills that were passed in Congress under the now defunct liberal wing of the Democratic Party; and, when he was locked out of the legislative process by corporate Democrats, been a candidate for president. He even helped organize the first Earth Day.

His latest assault is a fable called “How the Rats Re-Formed the Congress.” (And though at times the prose can be a bit stilted and the scatological jokes on par with the humor of the average 10-year-old—the rats crawl up out of the toilet bowls as congressional leaders are taking a dump—Nader is deadly serious about the revolt the rats engender.)

The key in Nader’s story to the citizens retaking control of Congress and the government is sustained mass nationwide demonstrations and rallies. These demonstrations, like all protests that are effective, are organized by full-time staff and steadily build in numbers and momentum. The demonstrations are funded by three enlightened billionaires. I don’t share Nader’s faith—also expressed in his other foray into fiction, “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us”—in a renegade wing of the oligarchy funding the overthrow of the corporate state, but he is right that successful movements need to be sustained, grow in size and power, have dedicated organizers and amass significant cash and resources so they do not disintegrate.

Nader writes in his new book:

Protests rise and fall in the ether for the most part. They generally don’t ripple out from the core group of concerned people who originate them. Experts on crowds attribute this to little planning, minuscule budgets, poor leadership, and the lack of focus which induces protest fatigue among the core before they make an impact. The core never convincingly answers the questions, “Just How Far Do the Majority of Our Fellow Citizens Want To Go and How Do They Expect to Get There?”

Another explanation for the lackluster showing of protest movements in this country is that American politicians, over the past twenty-five years, have learned to quietly dismiss big rallies, demonstrations, and even temporary “occupations,” because they have gone nowhere. The lawmakers never consider them when making decisions. Remember, too, that in Washington, giant rallies, such as those against the Iraq War, for the environment or for a jobs program were traditionally held on weekends when neither the members of Congress nor the journalists were around. These crowds are lucky to get a picture in the Sunday newspapers. The lack of publicity curtails any impact they might have had. The smaller gatherings, even those by Veterans for Peace, get zeroed out completely, rating at best a paragraph squib deep in the paper.

The demonstrations for the restoration of our democracy take place in cities around the country. They also see enraged citizens pour into Washington, D.C., to surround and occupy the Capitol and the headquarters of other government agencies and institutions to demand a return to democratic rule. The ruling elites become afraid.

Indeed, it is only when the elites become afraid of us that there will be any hope of destroying corporate power. Politics, as Nader understands, is a game of fear.

As Nader points out, elected officials have surrendered their constitutional power to do the bidding of corporations in return for corporate money. It is a system of legalized bribery. The consent of the governed has become a joke. Politicians in the two ruling parties are the agents of corporate exploitation and oppression, the enemies of democracy. They no longer hold public hearings at the committee level. They govern largely in secret. They pass bills, most written by corporate lobbyists, and appoint judges to protect corporations from lawsuits by those these corporations have wronged, injured or defrauded. They deny our standing in the courts. They divert money from the country’s crumbling infrastructure and social services to sustain a war machine that consumes half of all discretionary spending. They run up massive deficits to give tax cuts to the ruling oligarchs and orchestrate the largest transference of wealth upward in American history. They suppress the minimum wage, break unions and legalize the debt peonage that corporations use to exact punishing tribute from the citizenry, including from young men and women forced to take on $1.5 trillion in debt to get a college education. They revoke laws, controls and regulations that curb the worst abuses of Wall Street. They abolish our most cherished civil liberties, including the right to privacy and due process. Their public proceedings, as was evidenced in the one held for new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, are shameless political theater that mocks the democratic process.

“Congress itself is a clear and present danger to our country,” Nader writes. “It feasts on raw global corporate power and is oblivious to various fateful degradations of life on the planet.” He calls Congress “a concentrated tyranny of self-privilege, secrecy, exclusionary rules and practices.”

Nader warns that any uprising has to be swift to prevent the ruling elites from organizing to crush it. It has to capture the public imagination. And it has to have a sense of humor. He writes of the fictitious uprising in “How the Rats Re-Formed the Congress”:

A contingent from New York and New England, led by nurses and students, delivered a truck load of “Wall Street Rats” with the sign explaining that they would obviously be welcomed by the Congress that had refused to pass a Wall Street speculation tax, such a sales tax would have provided $300 billion a year that might have been utilized to provide healthcare and reduce the student loan burdens. Millions of postcards were being sent showing one giant black rat on the Capitol Dome with a sign saying, “You Didn’t Listen to Them—The People—But Now You’re Going To Listen To Us.” This was only a sliver of the corrosively critical anthropomorphism attributed to the rats and their imagined political agenda. They had become the voice of the public! Little statuettes of [House Speaker] Blamer, [Minority Leader] Melosay, and [Senate Majority Leader] Clearwater, wearing crowns upon which lolled a pompous rat, were selling like hotcakes. Poster art rose to new heights of imaginative, symbolic, and real-life portrayals of what was increasingly being called the perfidious “Withering Heights” of Washington, DC.

The calendar was filled with non-stop street action: rallies, soapbox speeches, marches, and sit-ins at zoos where the protesters said the rats should be given luxury cages as reward for their heroic takeover. The media couldn’t have enough of it. Ratings soared and increasing print, radio, and TV time was being devoted to what was making a very deep impression everywhere. Protests—across the country, red state, blue state, north, south, east, and west—were moving into mobilization stages with overdue specific demands for justice, fairness, and participation qua citizens replacing control qua wealth as the sine qua non of government functioning. And, the most ominous sign of all for incumbents: there were early indications of candidates, holding the same beliefs as the protesters, readying challenges to the lawmakers in the upcoming primaries.

Petitions were circulating on the Internet demanding the members go back to their jobs regardless of the rat infestation. Millions of workers show up every day at jobs far more dangerous. They don’t cower in fear. If they did, they would have their pay cut or be fired by their bosses. The petition pointed out that Members of Congress were getting paid while they stayed home in bed. Outrageous! These petitions contained common left/right demands—the kind that really scare politicians.

No revolution will succeed without a vision. Nader lays out the basics—a guaranteed living wage, full government-funded health insurance, free education including at the university level, the prosecution of corporate criminals, cutting the bloated military budget, an end to empire, criminal justice reform, transferring power from the elites to the citizenry by providing public spaces where consumers, workers and communities can meet and organize, breaking up the big banks and creating a public banking system, protecting and fostering labor unions, removing money from politics, taking the airwaves out of the hands of corporations and returning them to the public and ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry while keeping fossil fuels in the ground to radically reconfigure our relationship to the ecosystem.

He writes of the popular convergence on the centers of power:

Meanwhile, by car, bus, rail, plane and even by bicycles and by foot, people of all ages, backgrounds, and places continued to pour into Washington. They filled the restaurants and the motels. They usually had to find a room in a city where there were few affordable apartments but many large, under-inhabited houses whose longtime owners wanted to make some money to pay for their property taxes and repairs. So they were renting to the new arrivals.

The ways these visitors made their voices heard were quite imaginative. There was a cavalcade of horseback riders in a procession down Constitution Avenue resplendent with the signs, “Pass this …” or “Pass that …” always ending with the ominous “or Else.” One horseman was using his trumpet to raise the emotional level of the demonstration, which was fully covered in the press. Others joined the daily “resign … or else” rally going on at the backside of the Capitol while mini-demonstrations were becoming daily events in front of the White House and at other major government buildings containing departments and agencies. Even those agencies in the suburbs, such as the Pentagon, the CIA, the Patent Office, or the Food and Drug Administration, where the employees had thought they would be beyond reach, did not escape the rallying.

It is a wonderful vision. I hope it comes to pass. But even if it does not, we should try. Appealing to the ruling elites and the two corporate political parties, as well as attempting to have our voices and concerns addressed by the corporate media, which has blacklisted Nader, is a waste of time. The corporate state will be overthrown by a citizens’ revolt or we will continue to barrel toward a political and ecological nightmare. Nader dares to dream. We should too.

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Five States Where Voters Can Change the Criminal Justice System

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Naomi LaChance.

On Nov. 6, five states will vote on ballot initiatives which, if passed, will enable their citizens to attain greater accountability from police, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials. Proposals range from restoring voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, to abolishing slavery as a punishment for a crime, to reducing the punishments for drug possession. Many of these rules have roots in Jim Crow-era structural racism, and voters in these states will have a chance to change the way the criminal justice system works.

1. Louisiana
Louisiana is the only state in which a split jury with 10 members in agreement and two in disagreement can convict someone of murder. Amendment 2 would repeal this 1898 law and require juries to render a unanimous verdict in order to convict a defendant of a felony.

The New Orleans Advocate finds that the law negatively affects black people by allowing judges to silence dissenting jurors. It additionally reports that juries in Louisiana tend to be disproportionately white—and black jurors are more than twice as likely as white jurors to disagree with a jury’s majority opinion. On average, a split jury’s decision sends a person to prison in Louisiana every five days, the Advocate reports.

“This is something that is wholly unnecessary that was born of this fusion of racism and disenfranchisement,” said Democratic state Sen. J.P. Morrell. “It’s a self-defeating, illogical position to have two jurors say, ‘we don’t think he did it,’ then prosecutors to say we met our reasonable doubt standard.”

2. Washington

Washington state’s Initiative 940 seeks to reduce police violence and hold law enforcement accountable by changing the standards by which the state prosecutes fatal shootings by police. In Washington today, prosecutors must show that a police officer acted with “evil intent” in order to convict, making it nearly impossible to prosecute law enforcement personnel for killing someone. The initiative suggests a “good faith” standard instead, allowing for greater legal scrutiny.

This initiative would require an independent investigation after a police officer kills or seriously injures a person. It also would require that police receive training in de-escalation, first aid and mental health. Finally, it would require that tribal governments be included in investigations when a member of the tribe is injured or killed.

The Seattle Police Officer’s Guild has spent $100,000 opposing the measure, according to state lobbying filings. The Vancouver, Tacoma and Spokane police guilds have given money to oppose the initiative as well.

3. Florida

Florida’s Amendment 4 would restore the right to vote to an estimated 1.6 million people who were previously convicted of a felony, with the exception of murder or sexual violence, who have completed their prison sentences, parole and probation. Today, former felons in Florida must wait five to seven years to apply to the state clemency board, which meets four times a year. The board then decides whether applicants can vote, serve on a jury or run for public office. Since Republican Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, only 3,200 people have had their civil rights restored. By comparison, from 2007 to 2011 then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist restored the voting rights of more than 155,000 people.

“Our penal system is the means by which lawbreakers are to satisfy their debt to society. To continue to punish these individuals after they have fully served their sentences seems needlessly punitive,” said Jaret Davis, an attorney in Miami. “By disenfranchising more than one million Florida residents, we make it impossible to ever truly have a representative democracy.”

“A person’s right to vote has been a political football, where–your right to vote can depend upon who’s in office and what they feel like that day. Part of the beauty of the amendment is that it sets forth a clear standard that people understand that doesn’t have to deal with whim or discretion, but will actually be an across-the-board applied rule,” said Myrna Pérez of NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice.

4. Ohio

Issue 1 in Ohio attempts to reduce the number of people who are incarcerated for low-level, nonviolent crimes. Crimes related to the possession and use of drugs, including the opioid fentanyl, a leading cause of overdose deaths, would be no more than misdemeanors. Incarcerated people would have the option to reduce their sentences through education or treatment programs.

According to analysis from the think tank Policy Matters Ohio, “Issue 1 would divert more than 10,000 Ohioans from expensive incarceration, treating them instead in the community, where they can better participate in work and family life. This would free up more than $136 million in the first year of full implementation.”

“There is so much investment in punishing people and locking them up in prison cells and so little investment in healing those people who need to transform their lives,” said the Ohio Justice and Policy Center’s Stephen JohnsonGrove.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and investor George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center have each given $1 million in support of Issue 1.

5. Colorado

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and more than a dozen state constitutions (including Colorado’s) contain a clause that allows slavery as punishment for someone who has been convicted of a crime. Colorado Amendment A would clarify that “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude.” The legislation would not affect below-minimum wage prison workers, because they do receive payment, however small. Rather, the amendment focuses on future scenarios.

According to Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado: “It would not necessarily violate our constitution for prisoners to be bought and sold for slave labor by public or private prisons, or even put on the auction block and sold as slaves to the highest bidder, as long as it could be defined as a punishment for crime. We may think that could never happen, but in the context of today’s national politics, it is hard to feel comforted just by an assumption that something will never happen.”

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Koreas Agree to Break Ground on Inter-Korean Railroad

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by KIM TONG-HYUNG / The Associated Press.

SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korea continued their push for peace Monday with high-level talks that resulted in a host of agreements, including a plan by the rivals for a groundbreaking ceremony this year on an ambitious project to connect their railways and roads.

The agreements come amid unease in Washington over the speed of inter-Korean engagement. Many outsiders believe that U.S.-led efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear-tipped missiles are lagging significantly behind the Koreas’ efforts to move past decades of bitter rivalry.

There was also controversy over a decision by South Korea’s Unification Ministry to block a North Korean defector-turned-reporter from covering the talks at the border village of Panmunjom over concerns of angering North Korea. This drew a fierce reaction from other journalists, who accused the ministry of infringing media freedoms and discriminating against North Korea-born citizens.

A series of weapons tests by North Korea last year, and an exchange of insults and threats between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, had many on the Korean Peninsula fearing war. But there has since been a surprising peace initiative, with three inter-Korean summits and a June meeting in Singapore between Trump and Kim. The U.S. and North Korea are working on plans for a second such summit.

Still, there is widespread skepticism that North Korea will disarm. And, despite the fanfare for the proposed railway and road projects, the Koreas cannot move much further along without the lifting of international sanctions against North Korea, which isn’t likely to come before it takes firmer steps toward relinquishing its nuclear weapons and missiles.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles affairs with the North, said in a statement that the government will share details from Monday’s meeting with the United States and other nations and will closely coordinate with them to avoid any friction over sanctions.

The ministry said the rivals agreed Monday to hold general-level military talks soon to discuss reducing border tensions and setting up a joint military committee that’s meant to maintain communication and avoid crises and accidental clashes.

The Koreas also agreed to use their newly opened liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong to host talks between sports officials in late October to discuss plans to send combined teams to the 2020 Summer Olympics and to make a push to co-host the 2032 Summer Games.

And the two countries will hold Red Cross talks at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort in November to set up video-conference meetings between aging relatives separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and potentially expand face-to-face reunions between them.

Monday’s talks were aimed at finding ways to carry out peace agreements announced after a summit last month between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said it was meaningful that the Koreas are getting faster in reaching agreements as their diplomacy gains traction. His North Korean counterpart, Ri Son Gwon, who heads an agency dealing with inter-Korean affairs, said “no group and no force will be able to prevent the path toward peace, prosperity and our nation’s unification.”

At the most recent summit between Moon and Kim, the two leaders committed to reviving economic cooperation when possible, voicing optimism that international sanctions could end and allow such activity.

They also announced measures to reduce conventional military threats, such as creating buffer zones along their land and sea boundaries and a no-fly zone above the border, removing 11 front-line guard posts by December, and demining sections of the Demilitarized Zone.

Moon has described inter-Korean engagement as crucial to resolving the nuclear standoff and is eager to restart joint economic projects held back by sanctions if the larger nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea begin yielding results.

However, South Korea’s enthusiasm for engagement with its rival appears to have created discomfort with the United States, a key ally.

Moon’s government last week walked back a proposal to lift some of its unilateral sanctions against North Korea following Trump’s blunt retort that Seoul could “do nothing” without Washington’s approval.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha also said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed displeasure about the Koreas’ military agreements. Kang was not specific, but her comments fueled speculation that Washington wasn’t fully on board before Seoul signed the agreements.

Trump has encouraged U.S. allies to maintain sanctions on North Korea until it denuclearizes to maintain a campaign of pressure against Kim’s government.

There also was criticism in South Korea on Monday of efforts by Moon’s government to keep North Korea happy.

Unification Minister Cho said his call to exclude North Korea-born Kim Myeong-sung from a pool of reporters covering the meeting was an “inevitable policy decision” to improve the chance for successful talks.

He said the ministry would work harder to assure that North Korea-born defectors can report on North Korea issues without restrictions. But he didn’t offer a straightforward answer when asked whether he would make the same decision in the future.

Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun earlier said North Korea did not demand that Kim be excluded from covering the meeting. Kim is a reporter for the conservative Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s biggest newspaper, which has been largely critical of Moon’s policies. The South Korean press corps covering the ministry issued a statement denouncing it for a “grave infringement of media freedoms.”

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American History for Truthdiggers: Lies We Tell Ourselves About the Old West

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Maj. Danny Sjursen.

Editor’s note: The past is prologue. The stories we tell about ourselves and our forebears inform the sort of country we think we are and help determine public policy. As our current president promises to “make America great again,” this moment is an appropriate time to reconsider our past, look back at various eras of United States history and re-evaluate America’s origins. When, exactly, were we “great”?

Below is the 19th installment of the “American History for Truthdiggers” series, a pull-no-punches appraisal of our shared, if flawed, past. The author of the series, Danny Sjursen, an active-duty major in the U.S. Army, served military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught the nation’s checkered, often inspiring past when he was an assistant professor of history at West Point. His war experiences, his scholarship, his skill as a writer and his patriotism illuminate these Truthdig posts.

Part 19 of “American History for Truthdiggers.”

See: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9; Part 10; Part 11; Part 12; Part 13; Part 14; Part 15; Part 16; Part 17; Part 18.

* * *

“They [the Sioux Indians] are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts and by no means as people.” —Gen. John Pope, in instructions to his officers during an Indian war in Minnesota (1862)

The West. The frontier. Few terms, or images, are as quintessentially Americans or as culturally loaded as these. Interestingly, the West—unlike other regions—is often defined as both a time and a place. It is also hopelessly shrouded in myth. Americans leaders, from George Washington to Donald Trump, frequently claimed that the West, the frontier, somehow defined us as Americans. It was long seen as a place of opportunity, rebirth even. If a man failed in the East, well, then, “Go West, young man,” as one Indiana newspaper declared in the popular phrase it coined.

The truth, of course, is messy. Even focusing, as we will here, primarily on the West’s most immortalized era (1862-1890), the serious historian finds a story teeming with less fact than fiction. Some have even questioned whether there is any merit in studying the West as a separate historical discipline. Still, in a series such as this, something must be said of the place and the time. Americans, after all, seem to have decided that the frontier does, in fact, define us; that the West is who we are. And so it is, for better or for worse.

Furthermore, there are many other compelling reasons to study the West, even if they do not comport with our “cowboys and Indians” cinematic image from mid-20th century movies (when the Western genre dominated the film scene). Firstly, the American West was an important “meeting ground,” where Anglo, black, native, Hispanic and Asian-Americans coalesced. Though land and wealth were the main goals of these competing factions, defining the West also became a contest for cultural dominance. The West was a place where the federal government (then much more circumscribed than now) first expanded its role and played a key part as financier, organizer, referee and lawman. Additionally, the West demonstrated the radical nature, and boom-bust cycle, of American capitalism in the starkest of ways. Finally, of course, the West of the late 19th century was the time and place where one version of Native American sovereignty ended and a new phase began. This, truth be told, was one of the great—yet complicated—crimes of the American experiment.

Myth Versus Truth: Reinterpreting the ‘West’

“Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way,” by Fanny Palmer (1868). This painting depicts a serene, empty West being “civilized” by white Americans’ hard work and technological achievements.

Americans have long mythologized the West. From Plymouth Rock, to Manifest Destiny, to the Plains Indian wars, to John Wayne on the 20th-century silver screen, it all looks the same in the American imagination. Cowboys and Indians, lawmen and villains, soldiers and savages, farmers and miners, and always, ultimately, black hats and white hats. It’s remembered for its excitement and mystique, yes, but also as a morality tale—good guys and bad guys. As always, of course, the reality is far more complex, more nuanced, more gray.

Still, it’s valuable to parse out truth from legend, fact from fiction. After all, the real West—to the extent that it can ever be defined—is so much more interesting, fascinating and wholly human. Let us, then, ever so briefly, address but a few of the defining symbols and myths of America’s shared Western past.

Gold rushes. From California to Nevada, from Montana to the Black Hills of South Dakota, the craze for precious metals became a fixture of the Western saga. The San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League bear the nickname of those who came in the first major wave of the California Gold Rush, in 1849. In the common image, any lone man could make his fortune simply by panning for gold and catching some luck. It all fits comfortably within the altogether American obsession with the so-called self-made man.

The reality was uglier and less satisfying. Mining was an important factor in the West. Miners flooded remote areas faster than farmers. Their presence could cause trouble—as when miners set up settlements in places white people had never before inhabited, often provoking Indian wars. Most importantly, the essence of mining captured the extractive nature of Western culture. In the end, though, only a tiny percentage of miners struck it rich. Mining turned out to be complicated and increasingly technological. The individual panner of gold often arrived too late, after the surface gold had been captured, and found that his mining method was outmoded and inefficient. Soon enough, the power shifted to corporations, and most miners worked for a lowly wage in dangerous, dismal conditions.

By the late 19th century, many mine owners were Easterners who had never set foot in the West. They simply added investments in mining to their complex financial portfolios. Miners weren’t strictly rugged individualists, either. Indeed, few American industries lent themselves so easily to a Marxist analysis of class struggle. Miners unionized, led strikes and sit-downs and battled (often fatally) with federal troops or National Guardsmen. Seen in this light, the Western miner’s condition bears striking similarity to that of Eastern factory workers.

There were legitimate socialists and revolutionaries among the miners. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), or “Wobblies,” had a strong presence in the mine shafts. The reaction of conservative mine owners and bought-off lawmen was often vicious. In Bisbee, Ariz., hired vigilantes supported by a local sheriff rounded up 1,186 striking copper miners and supporters, forced them onto rail cars and shipped them over the border to New Mexico. Two were beaten to death.

Overall, the horrid social condition of miners couldn’t have been more different from the Jeffersonian Western ideal of the small, independent farmer setting roots in the soil. Thomas Jefferson, in fact, would have been horrified by the sight of these dirty wage slaves toiling their days away and engaging in debauchery at temporary mining camps at night, totally untethered to place or agriculture. Furthermore, a good number of the miners weren’t Jefferson’s idealized white men at all: They were Irish Catholics or, worse still, Chinese immigrants. Still, in other ways, mining was a defining Western experience, involving all the key factors of real Western life: class, race, chance and federal largesse.

Railroads. The “iron horse” steam engine traversing the plains is one of the iconic images of the West. The railroads embodied civilization as much as raw technological advance. Yet contrary to their clean, straight, parallel lines on maps, the railroads were a complicated, inefficient industry. First of all, although Chinese or Irish workers were seldom in the iconic (staged) photographs depicting the meeting of intercontinental lines, they constituted the vast majority of railroad workers. Many thousands died constructing the rail lines that connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

“Joining the Tracks for the First Transcontinental Railroad, Promontory Point, Utah,” May 10, 1869. This photograph by Andrew J. Russell did not show any of the many Chinese workers involved in the construction.

The corporations that built the railroads were more interested in profit than quality craftsmanship and often had to double back to improve dangerously feeble tracks. The railroad entrepreneurs usually weren’t up-by-the-boot-straps individualists either. Rather, the railroaders were extraordinary recipients of federal largesse—what we might call corporate welfare. The federal government subsidized the construction of the transcontinental lines with cash and enormous land grant subsidies. In many cases, a railroad received 200 square miles of adjacent land for each mile of track completed. Thus, despite the supposed “free land” granted to willing pioneers by the 1862 Homestead Act, it was actually the railroad companies that owned much of the best (and most valuable, due to its proximity to transportation) land in the West. Where possible, the corporations engaged in speculation and sold the land at a handsome profit.

Railroaders were often highly corrupt, plaguing and embarrassing the Grant administration (1869-1877) in scandal after scandal. They bribed politicians, set up subsidiaries that robbed the taxpayer and hired vigilantes to intimidate striking workers or nearby Indians. The railroads, as beneficiaries of generous federal welfare, weren’t always in tune with supply and demand. Lines sometimes were overextended and had to be abandoned in part because they proved unnecessary and unprofitable. Companies sometimes ran lines into arid areas (like western Kansas) that were hard to settle. Railroad supply, by the late 19th century, had far outstripped citizen demand, but the federal dollars kept rolling in. As the historian Richard White wrote, eventually “empty railroad trains ran across deserted prairies to vacant towns.” However, one thing the railroads did do was affect the future layout and prosperity of townships and cities. Existing settlements unlucky enough to lay distant from a rail line or station eventually withered away, and as a result so-called ghost towns dotted the West. Conversely, a simple bribe from a local politician might motivate railroaders to place a previously unplanned stop in a town. Indeed, the railroads—as much as the later federal highways—defined the geography of the Western landscape.

Rugged Self-Sufficiency. One of the more persistent myths holds that Westerners were all hardy individualists, opposed to federal intrusion and beholden to no one. Though still pervasive, such a description strikes the serious historian as farcical. From start to finish, Western territories, states and citizens were among the largest recipients of federal aid. Indeed, when not accusing the federal government of some slight or infraction, Westerners were constantly clamoring for more federal aid. It was in the West, in fact, where the federal government first meaningfully inserted itself into Americans’ daily lives. A Western region was organized into a territory—under the direct control of a federal governor—before it was, eventually, accepted as a new state. This could happen almost immediately, as in the case of California, or take 64 years for states like Arizona and New Mexico.

Still, regardless of when their regions reached statehood status, Westerners were reliant on the federal government. They desired, and expected, loans and aid for enterprise and transportation, soldiers for protection (and conquest of Indians), and surveyors to organize and distribute (cheaply!) the land. Politically, though the Western states complained (then as now) of powerlessness, the reality couldn’t have been more divergent. Blessed with massive lands, precious natural resources and comparatively few people, Western states still had two senators and at least one congressional representative in the House. Indeed, a state like Wyoming—which still has roughly the population of New York City’s least populated borough, Staten Island—has the same number of senatorial representatives as the 30-times-larger state of New York (in terms of residents). Then and now, the West was actually proportionally overrepresented in Washington.

Well into the 20th century, the West received federal assistance disproportionate to its population. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 provided for generous leasing of federal land to Western ranchers, and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal created many federal work projects in the Western states. In fact, during the New Deal, Wyoming received, on a per capita basis, three times the average amount of direct federal financial assistance given to states. So much for rugged independence.

Independent Family Farmers. The vision of the independent, small family farmer was the ultimate Jeffersonian ideal of future Western American prosperity. And, though millions of small farmers would settle the West, corporate agro-business or land speculation was just as often the agricultural norm. Real estate—more than gunfighting or Indian fighting—was the dominant force in the American West. With all that “open” land, settlement, squatting and speculation became the name of the game. Moreover, in the minds of many Americans, there was never enough land—though, interestingly, the West still hasn’t “filled up.” Americans of the day feared that the United States would run out of land and end up like Europe, crowded and riven by the class structures that develop in the absence of well-distributed land ownership.

Though just about all Western land was technically owned by the central government, few settlers were willing to wait on federal speculation, division and allotment. Many simply followed the notion “first in time, first in right” and squatted on available lands. (For the government, using the Army to remove them rarely seemed viable.) Wealthy speculators turned a pretty profit by buying large tracts of the cheap land from the federal government and then selling it to smallholders. From large-scale speculation and massive private landholdings it was but a short step to the 20th-century mechanized agro-business that has driven so many family farms into insolvency.

Nor did farm settlement always make sense. Much of the land west of the 98th meridian is semiarid, and rainfall in these areas (western Kansas and Nebraska and eastern Colorado, for example) was insufficient to support agriculture. By the early 20th century hundreds of thousands of these settlers failed and retreated eastward. This explains why many towns in western Kansas had a higher population in 1880 than in 1980. Only through analysis of this mix of failed irrigation, land squatting and high-finance speculation can one begin to understand the byzantine and poorly planned nature of Western settlement. Seen in this light, it becomes understandable that many native tribes struggled to understand white notions of “property.” It hardly made sense to Anglo Americans; why should it seem natural for a pre-Columbian civilization?

Ranchers and Cowboys. There is no more romantic myth in the American West than that of the cowboy. Indeed, the image of the cowboy has come to define the place and time—so much so that men and women in the American South and West still wear the purported clothing styles of the cowboy. So, just who were these cowboys and where did they come from? Well, the first were Spaniards, and then Mexicans. It was the Spanish who brought the cattle that cowboys would drive to market in the New World. Indeed, the styles of the cowboys came from Hispanic clothing and culture. Consider the Spanish loanwords that entered the American lingo and mystique of the cowboy: lasso, rodeo, ranchero.

Still, the cowboy on horseback driving cattle from Texas to Kansas City (or some other railroad town) had a heyday of little more than two decades. The beef industry, like farming, was quickly mechanized, and by the end of the 19th century the era of the cattle drives was mostly over. Ranching became rather corporate, and the true conflict was usually not between cowboys and rustlers but between ranchers and nearby small farmers. It is important to remember that the cowboy of our imagination was not on the Western scene for long and that he didn’t always look or act the way we imagine. There were black cowboys, many Mexican cowboys (they had invented the business), and, new studies show, there was a fair amount of homosexuality practiced in these all-male communities. If it is thus, one wonders why, precisely, it is the image of the rugged, white American cowboy that has stuck in the collective national psyche. That it is so might tell us more about the American present than the past.

Gunfighters. The showdown in the dusty street at high noon between two men with six-guns—an outlaw and a sheriff—is one of the great melodramas of the West, especially as depicted in film. The clock strikes noon, each man quickly draws his weapon, and the fastest gun wins! Exhilarating. But, sadly, inaccurate. Cattle-town newspapers and other primary sources make no mention of such duels in the streets. Violence was rampant in the West, of course. Indeed, the murder rate in Dodge City, Kan., was about 10 times that of today’s New York City, and the less well-known mining town of Bodie, Calif., had a rate some 22 times the NYC rate. Still, less than one-third of the victims died in actual exchanges of gunfire. More than half were unarmed, often shot in the back and at a close distance. This was murder, not the martial chivalry of the imagination.

Another interesting point is that many of the romantic outlaws we remember today—such as Jesse and Frank James and John Wesley Hardin—were far less Robin Hood and far more racist than most modern Americans know. Many of these men were unreformed Confederates, angry at the government and ready to do violence to blacks. The James brothers had ridden with Confederate guerrilla leader William Quantrill and his raiders during the Civil War and were probably involved in Quantrill’s attack on Lawrence, Kan., in 1863, in which more than 150 residents were killed. Hardin, perhaps the most prolific killer of the era, thought of himself as a victim—a victim of “bullying negroes, Yankee soldiers, carpetbaggers, and bureau agents” in his native Texas. Most of these fabled outlaws were coldblooded killers and unreconstructed Southern bigots.

The End of Native Sovereignty: Four Phases of an American Tragedy

“It is very hard to plant the corn outside the stockade when the Indians are still around. We have to get the Indians farther away in many provinces to make good progress.” —U.S. Army Gen. Maxwell Taylor, comparing Vietnamese to American Indians in 1965

“Indian Country.” The term has become a military shorthand for any “wild,” “unconquered” region the U.S. Army attempts to “secure.” The Army and the native peoples of America maintain a strange relationship and kinship to this day. Think of it as the ultimate love/hate relationship. Indian fighting, after all, is what the U.S. military mostly did in the periods between the nation’s few major wars in its first century or so. At present, all helicopters in the U.S. Army inventory—Iroquois, Apache, Blackhawk, Chinook—bear the names of tribes or leaders the U.S. government once fought and conquered. This author served in modern-day “cavalry” (reconnaissance) units, where each Friday formation meant donning vintage Stetson hats and riding spurs. Each cavalry unit’s flag, or guidon, sports dozens of streamers commemorating battles fought long ago with Native American tribes and bands.

The relationship between the modern U.S. Army and its former Indian foes actually mirrors the complexity of the late 19th-century clash of these two forces. The Army was often brutal and bloodthirsty. So, too, were many Indians, though they lacked the capacity to exterminate large numbers of whites in the same way. Then again, the real danger to the Native Americans usually came not from soldiers but from white civilian settlers and vigilantes—and in these cases the Army was sometimes used to protect (however imperfectly) the Indians from pioneer encroachment. One way to frame the era from 1862 to 1890 is as a broad counterinsurgency waged by the Army across a large expanse filled with myriad actors and pursuing the ever-changing, often muddled policies of the U.S. government.

The real problem for the Indians was this: The U.S. never formulated a permanent Indian policy that would guarantee native sovereignty, and never had either the will or capacity to separate the settlers and natives. Unsurprisingly, given the choice between protecting natives and appeasing settlers, the government erred on the side of the white man. In broad strokes, U.S. government policy toward the Indians of the Great Plains and Far West went through four phases in the 19th century: removal from lands east of the Mississippi; concentration in a vast “Indian territory” between Oklahoma and North Dakota; confinement to much smaller “reservations” on part of that land; and assimilation of the Indians into white American-style farming and culture, through the allotment of even smaller, individual tracts of barren land. The natives lost at every step, and their territory shrunk with each new phase. Still, the Indians remained active agents during this period, winning victories, suffering defeats, fighting each other, and, often, allying with the U.S. Army. It was a complicated, tragic battle for the Native Americans of the American West.

Removal. This was the policy of President Andrew Jackson. In 1830, he pushed through the Indian Removal Bill, which forced the five so-called “civilized” tribes to vacate their lands and move west of the Mississippi, and promptly ignored the Supreme Court when it objected on constitutional grounds. He and his successor, Martin Van Buren, went so far as to use the Army to evict the tribes at bayonet point and march them—in the infamous “Trail of Tears”—into modern-day Oklahoma. Thousands of Indians died, but the majority of white Southerners (who took over the land) cheered the presidents’ decisions. This was supposed to be a permanent Indian territory, a vast expanse into which the Native Americans would now be concentrated—and sovereign—in perpetuity. It was, of course, not to be. In an early sign of what was to come, when the five “civilized” tribes made the mistake of allying with the Confederates—from whom they expected more freedom and independence—the U.S. government made them pay: It subsequently confiscated half their lands. Indian territory would shrink and shrink as the years passed.

Concentration. During the period of concentration (roughly 1848-1873), the Indian wars never actually ceased. Miners, settlers and sometimes the Army violated supposed native sovereignty and moved onto the land. Furthermore, some tribes and bands refused to accept the white man’s overland trails and railroads running through their regions and attacked men and women on the roads. So the wars continued, brutally, even if the fiction of the vast Indian territory technically continued.

In 1862, a Sioux uprising in Minnesota, precipitated by crop failure and game reduction, resulted in the deaths of some 500 settlers. President Abraham Lincoln ordered the rebellion put down. The militia and Army suppressed the Sioux, captured hundreds, executed 38 and moved the rest to Dakota territory (into Indian country). In 1864, Col. John Chivington attacked a village at Sand Creek, Colo., during a war with the Cheyenne tribe. The massacre of some 200 Indians (75 percent of them women and children) should have come as no surprise, since Chivington had announced his intentions beforehand: “I have come to kill Indians and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians.” It is notable that Chivington’s men were local volunteers, not regular Army soldiers, and carried the hatred for Indians common to local settlers. The Sand Creek massacre only further inflamed the Plains in war, a state that was almost perpetual until 1878.

The most horrific and genocidal Indian experience came in California, which, because of the Gold Rush, never truly implemented a concentration or confinement policy. The whites wanted all of these rich Pacific lands. Here the 150,000 natives of California were pushed through a truncated version of all four phases in a span of only 12 years. The federal commissioners attempting to broker a treaty in 1851 made clear their expectations: “You have but one choice, kill, murder, exterminate, or domesticate and improve them.” Miners, ranchers and militia murdered thousands, and many more perished from diseases brought by the Gold Rushers. By 1860, only 30,000 California Indians (out of 150,000) remained alive—a record of extermination unparalleled in our troubled history with Native Americans—though, interestingly, few Americans remember this campaign today.

Many in the U.S. Army, too, were full of contempt for the natives. The senior commander in the West, Gen. Phillip Sheridan (of Civil War fame), declared in 1868, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” The Sioux tribes under Chief Red Cloud had given the Army a run for its money from 1866 to 1868, defeating just about every force sent against them in the Dakota territory and Montana. Eventually, the U.S. government agreed to destroy its regional forts and signed the Fort Laramie Treaty, which promised the Black Hills of South Dakota and other sacred lands to the Sioux and Cheyennes in perpetuity. Fort Laramie was one of the last treaties signed by the U.S. government with a sovereign Great Plains tribe. That time was passing. The end of war in 1868, in retrospect, was but a truce, during which the settlers and U.S. Army paused briefly but did not give up their hunger for Indian land on the Plains. The great chief Sitting Bull of the Sioux learned that lesson early and proclaimed that “possession is a disease with them [white men].”

The notion that the United States—or more accurately its settlers and prospectors—would actually yield the land between Oklahoma and North Dakota to a so-called concentration of Indians was, in hindsight, baseless. The government always wanted to own all the land between prosperous California and the Missouri River limit of settlement. Besides, land-hungry settlers and speculators had no intention of following federal Indian policy anyway. They knew the Army had too few soldiers to police the entire frontier, and that it would be relatively easy to cross the Missouri, find a plot in Indian territory and squat on the land. Would the federal Army have the will or capacity to protect Indians from the settlers? It was never likely.

Sen. Stephen Douglas of Illinois, a fierce advocate of a transcontinental railroad through Indian land, captured the common feeling and dispelled any lingering idea of a permanent Indian land. He noted, years before the Civil War, that “the idea of arresting our progress in that direction [West] has become so ludicrous that we are amazed. … How are we to develop, cherish and protect our immense interests and possessions on the Pacific, with a vast wilderness 1,500 miles in breadth, filled with hostile savages, and cutting off direct communication. The Indian barrier must be removed.” There was, rumor had it, gold and other precious minerals—in addition to millions of acres of fertile land—in that 1,500-mile breadth of Indian territory. Neither settlers nor federal officials were willing to follow the concentration policy and let the Indians be: “Progress,” as always, seemed to demand expansion. Some other method of Indian control would have to be found.

Confinement. The answer, many federal officials eventually decided, must be to confine the natives to shrunken parcels of land, known forever as Indian reservations. This strategy was in direct contradiction and contravention of earlier legal treaties signed with various native tribes and, along with the westward wave of settlers after the Civil War, made Indian war almost inevitable. There was always a fine line between concentration and confinement—both constricted the Indians to certain lands, but the reservations were generally smaller and far less rich in minerals and arable land. Various actors, and branches of government, led the transition from concentration to confinement on the “rez.”

In 1870, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the power to “supersede or even annul treaties” with Indian tribes. This ruling essentially destroyed the previous system of Indian affairs and emboldened settlers. Soon afterward, Congress followed the court’s decision, making any future treaty-making with the Indians illegal. The tribes were not, the text of legislation read, “to be acknowledged or recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power.” Next came the ubiquitous settlers. After the “boy general” hero of the Civil War, George Armstrong Custer, led his 7th Cavalry on a “reconnaissance” expedition into the sacred Black Hills, he almost assured a new gold rush by publicizing the news that “from the grass roots down it was ‘pay dirt.’ ” Within two years, 10,000 miners were in the new town of Deadwood in the Black Hills. Unsurprisingly, miners were attacked by Sioux warriors who refused to countenance their presence.

The exhausted and scandal-ridden Grant administration decided to end the “Indian problem” once and for all. In what he declared his new “Peace Policy,” President Ulysses S. Grant ordered that all Great Plains tribes and bands no later than Jan. 1, 1876, move onto the truncated reservations outlined by his government or be considered “hostile.” Grant knew, of course, that this would mean a war. He probably expected one and had convinced himself that a final showdown was necessary.

“The Battle of the Greasy Grass” (the Little Bighorn) by Kicking Bear (1898). It depicts the slaughter of the U.S. cavalrymen at an Indian village.

Jan. 1 came and went, and nearly 10,000 Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho still roamed the Northern Plains. The Army moved in, and once again Custer was in the lead. Following his aggressive, often reckless (if courageous) instincts, Custer divided his force into three parts and converged on the huge combined native village near the Little Bighorn River in southeast Montana. He should have followed orders and waited for reinforcements. He didn’t. On June 25, 1876—just a week before the nation’s centennial celebration—thousands of warriors under Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull quickly overwhelmed and destroyed Custer and his wing of 250 or so troopers. The news of Custer’s “Last Stand” shocked the nation and entered the American mythology as a “gallant” defeat on par with the Greeks at Thermopylae or the Texans at the Alamo.

Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and other chiefs quickly split up. They knew that the defeat of Custer meant that the full force of the Army would now be unleashed upon them. They were right. Thousands of troops converged and waged a brutal “scorched earth” campaign during a brutally cold winter. Starving, outnumbered and exhausted, within a year most Indians withdrew to their reservations. Crazy Horse was the last to surrender and was subsequently bayonetted to death in an alleged escape attempt. Sitting Bull led his followers into Canada, where they were given some sanctuary, but within a few years they returned to their reservation because of food shortages. It turned out that Custer’s “Last Stand” was really the last stand of the sovereign Northern Plains tribes. That day’s victory by the Indians ultimately ushered in their final removal to reservations.

Assimilation and Allotment. The seeds of forced assimilation of Indians and conversion (into farmers) had long been planted in the Anglo mind. As early as 1859, an annual report of the Bureau of Indian Affairs noted, “It is indispensably necessary that [the Indians] be placed in positions where they can be controlled and finally compelled by sheer necessity to resort to agricultural labor or starve. … There is no alternative to providing for them in this manner, but to exterminate them.” Ironically, when the new policy of assimilation and allotment (of land plots to individual Indians) came to pass in the 1880s, it was ushered in by white Easterners who called themselves “Friends of the Indian.”

A 1911 poster of the U.S. Department of the Interior depicting a Native American and offering “surplus” (confiscated) Indian land for sale. The transfer of millions of acres resulted from the Dawes Act of 1887.

These men—and many women—believed that Indians must be converted from hunters who held land in common into white-style farmers and property owners. If they weren’t thus transformed, the “reformers” believed, the natives would become extinct. One reformer, Carl Schurz, wrote that “[civilizing them] which once [seemed] only a benevolent fancy, has now become an absolute necessity, if we mean to save them.” The signal achievement of the Assimilation and Allotment phase was the Dawes General Allotment Act (1887), which broke reservations into multiple tracts to be allotted to individual Indians, ostensibly for farming (which was often impossible due to the choice of barren, arid lands for reservations). The kicker was this: The millions of acres left over would then be open for sale to whites.

The Indians themselves, of course, were barely asked what they preferred. When they were, a majority of Indian tribes opposed the allotment policy. The resulting land cession was disastrous. In 1887, Indians held 138 million acres. Over the next 47 years, 60 million of those acres were declared “surplus” and sold to whites. Other lands were desperately sold off by Indians or ceded to the government for much needed cash. By 1934, the Indian tribes held only 47 million acres.

There was also a cultural component to the new phase of “Indian policy”: assimilation. Consider what followed to be “cultural imperialism.” Indian children were sent to distant Eastern boarding schools—most famously the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania—where they were taught in English alone, were told their parents’ ways were backward and were forced to wear American-style clothes and hairstyles. The women were dressed in Victorian dresses and taught piano, the boys drilled in uniform as military companies. The secretary of the interior summed up the policy: “If Indian children are to be civilized they must learn the language of civilization.” Clearly, he meant a more holistic transformation than the simple learning of English. Tribal life was upended.

At left, three Sioux boys upon their arrival at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, circa 1900. At right they are shown later with clothing and haircuts in the style of whites.

The tragic last hurrah of Indian independence came in 1890. A Paiute holy man in Nevada preached a new sort of (nonviolent) religion. If Indians gave up alcohol, lived simply and traditionally and danced a certain slow dance, the Great Spirit would return them their lands and white ways and implements would disappear. By the time the belief reached the Northern Plains and the Sioux tribe, it had garnered a slightly more militant message and spread widely among the hopeless and despondent tribe. The “Ghost Dance” terrified whites and Indian agents, and when a band left the main reservation to dance on the Badlands of South Dakota, the U.S. Army sent in the ubiquitous 7th Cavalry Regiment (no doubt yearning for vengeance). Tribal police were sent to arrest Sitting Bull at his home, and in violence that followed, Sitting Bull and more than a dozen other men—both policemen and supporters of the chief—were killed.

The cavalrymen then set out in the winter snow and surrounded the Ghost Dance band along Wounded Knee Creek. The soldiers began disarming the Sioux when a gun went off. A massacre ensued, and the soldiers fired four new machine guns down into the encampment. One hundred forty-six Indians were killed, including 62 women and children. It was more massacre than battle. Twenty-five soldiers were killed, most of them probably shot in crossfire from their own forces. As a tragicomic if instructive coda, the U.S. Army—desperate to depict the incident as a “battle”—awarded no fewer than 20 Medals of Honor to the troopers at Wounded Knee. They have never been rescinded.

Looking back, what happened to the natives of America seems so inevitable. But was it? Could not the United States have settled for just a bit less expansion and allowed a permanent sovereign Indian Territory to develop along its own chosen lines? Couldn’t reservations have been placed on more fertile land? And, furthermore, could not those yet smaller reservations have stayed in Indian hands rather than been “allotted to whites”? Of course. There existed alternative options at every step of the way.

Ultimately, the U.S. government always lacked the will and capacity to protect Indian sovereignty. It’s an old story, really—something President Washington had predicted. In 1796, he wrote, “The Indians urge this [policing of a line between whites and natives]; The Law requires it; and it ought to be done; but I believe scarcely anything short of a Chinese Wall or a line of troops will restrain Land Jobbers and the encroachment of settlers.” The tale was basically the same from 1796 to 1890. The Army was rarely large enough to create that “line of troops,” and the government was never willing to meaningfully use the military resources that existed to evict white Americans.

Role Reversal: The Anglicization of the Southwest and California

Just who were the “immigrants” in the American Southwest and Pacific Coast? Today, there is an easy, if inaccurate, ready answer: the Mexicans. Yet in truth, a Hispanic and mestizo population and culture preceded Anglo-American conquest (1848) by some 250 years. Furthermore, Native American peoples had themselves been conquered by the Spanish in the late 16th century and antedated European rule by perhaps 10,000 years. What’s more, native peoples had fought each other for the land throughout the continent’s settled history. This wider view certainly complicates the traditional American political attitudes of our own day and raises as many questions as answers.

As should by now be clear, the West was never truly empty—no matter how often the artists of the period romantically depicted it as such. One of the strongest and most embedded communities was that of the Hispanic and mestizo descendants of the Spanish invasion. Spain permanently entered the American Southwest as early as 1598, with Juan de Oñate’s conquest of New Mexico from the Pueblo Indians. And yet, to watch a classic film, or to read an old Western dime novel, is to erase these Hispanic and mixed-race peoples from the story of the West. They were neither the cowboys nor Indians, soldiers nor native warriors, of the traditional tale. They don’t fit. That this should be the case is fascinating, if tragic. The people we now call Mexicans, Mexican-Americans or Hispanics were present and effusive through the entire “classic” era of the American West. Let us remember their story.

The original (Hispanic) residents of California and the Southwest were promised their private landholdings would be protected under the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, created at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. It was not to be. Swindlers, settlers and hustlers tricked or bullied thousands of Hispanics off their land in the decades following the war. It wasn’t enough that the Yankees had conquered half of Mexico, the residents complained; now their lands were forfeit too. During the California Gold Rush, a Civil War veteran and forty-niner wrote in the Stockton Times that “Mexicans have no business in this country. The men were made to be shot at, and the women were made for our purposes. I’m a white man—I am! A Mexican is pretty near black. I hate all Mexicans.”

Yet, New Mexico, for example, remained majority Hispanic into the 20th century (which may help explain why it was not admitted as a state until 1912), but even there Hispanics held minimal political or economic power. In fact, they divided among themselves as many Hispanics sought to “Europeanize or ‘whiten’ themselves,” by claiming Spanish, rather than native, descent. This, some thought, would protect them from the worst of white infractions, though it didn’t always work. The victims of lynching, it turns out, were not limited to Southern blacks. Mexicans were often extrajudicially murdered for alleged crimes or just to “encourage them to stay in their place.”

Still, Mexicans weren’t erased from the Southwest. They were needed as agricultural laborers—then and now—just as blacks were in the Old South. Nativists (anti-immigration advocates) fought the local planters (who needed the labor), fearing that migrating Mexicans might “reverse the essential consequences” of the Mexican-American War. Racial lines hardened throughout the 20th century, and in 1930 the U.S. census form added a separate classification of Hispanics as “Mexican.” Before then Hispanics fell under the category of “white.”

Culturally, the Hispanics often found themselves erased by or amalgamated within an Anglo Texan or Californian society and mythology. In the process, northern Mexico became the Southwestern United States; cowboys became homogeneous and white, Indians became a savage red. There wasn’t much identity left for those in between.

Whether in the 19th century or today, the border between the U.S. and Mexico has been little more than a legal and social fiction. Like the Indians, the Hispanics of the Southwest had been conquered, but never truly erased. Texas and California were once northern Mexico. Which raises salient questions today: Are “undocumented” Mexican immigrants “illegal intruders,” or rightful residents of “Occupied America”?

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Historians often described this period in Western history (1862-1890) as another type of Reconstruction—something similar to what was attempted in the post-Civil War South. There are indeed parallels: a military presence, violence, federal impotency, citizen apathy and racism. Still, the analogy falls short. It is problematic to compare Indians to recently freed slaves or to former Confederates. In the end, the U.S. government abandoned the freedmen and turned power back over to the Confederates within a dozen years. In the West, conversely, few attempts were made to “reconstruct” or restrain the land-hungry settlers, and the government actively backed (and abetted) the invaders. Furthermore, the Indians permanently lost their land—and for what crime? The Confederates had seceded, thereby committing treason, and received but 12 years of light punishment. Indians had adhered to treaties more faithfully than whites and were rewarded with banishment, theft, war and at times extermination.

The legacy, and tragedy, of the American West is with us still. As a classroom exercise on the heels of the 2010 census, I often ended my lesson on this topic at West Point with a slide listing five of the poorest U.S. counties. Then, I’d circle four—Buffalo, Todd and Shannon in South Dakota and Wade Hampton in Alaska—and ask the students what these counties had in common. They are all Indian reservations, of course, or places with major Native American majorities. Buffalo County holds the Crow Creek reservation; Todd, the Rosebud Sioux; Shannon, the Pine Ridge Sioux; and Wade Hampton a population that is 92 percent Eskimo. These counties, each filled with thousands of tragic individual stories, are living relics of our past; of each phase of the U.S. government’s calamitous Indian policy—first, removal, then concentration, followed by confinement to the reservation, and, finally, hopeless forced assimilation. Think on it: Within just a few hours’ drive of swanky downtown Denver, and just a few hours’ flight from hipster enclaves in New York City, there are veritable monuments of American crimes and human suffering: our semi-sovereign, mostly impoverished Indian reservations.

To visit one is to experience the past within the present. Disembark your plane in a crowded metropolitan center and take the long drive. You may cruise past federally owned ranch lands, through federally subsidized mega-farms, past long-abandoned mine shafts, through ghost towns that the railroads bypassed; stop for fuel where a man in a Stetson fuels his luxury pickup truck. Keep driving, past failed family farms that ran short of water on the arid plains, through strip mall after suburban strip mall; through a town with a vaguely Spanish name and past an oil rig. Finally, when the conveniences of modern life seem almost to have vanished, see the passing sign: “Entering [insert tribe] Reservation,” and proceed. You may feel as though you’ve left one world for another, but it is not so: All that you passed is the West—the legacy, the charm and the tragedy.

We are Americans: It is our complex inheritance.

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To learn more about this topic, consider the following scholarly works:
• Robert V. Hine and John Mack Faragher, “The American West: A New Interpretive History” (2000).
• Jill Lepore, “These Truths: A History of the United States” (2018).
• Patricia Nelson Limerick, “The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West” (1987).
• Richard White, “The Republic for Which it Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896” (2017).

Maj. Danny Sjursen, a regular contributor to Truthdig, is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, “Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.” He lives with his wife and four sons in Lawrence, Kan. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his new podcast, “Fortress on a Hill,” co-hosted with fellow vet Chris “Henri” Henrikson.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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American History for Truthdiggers: Lies We Tell Ourselves About the Old West

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Maj. Danny Sjursen.

Editor’s note: The past is prologue. The stories we tell about ourselves and our forebears inform the sort of country we think we are and help determine public policy. As our current president promises to “make America great again,” this moment is an appropriate time to reconsider our past, look back at various eras of United States history and re-evaluate America’s origins. When, exactly, were we “great”?

Below is the 19th installment of the “American History for Truthdiggers” series, a pull-no-punches appraisal of our shared, if flawed, past. The author of the series, Danny Sjursen, an active-duty major in the U.S. Army, served military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught the nation’s checkered, often inspiring past when he was an assistant professor of history at West Point. His war experiences, his scholarship, his skill as a writer and his patriotism illuminate these Truthdig posts.

Part 19 of “American History for Truthdiggers.”

See: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9; Part 10; Part 11; Part 12; Part 13; Part 14; Part 15; Part 16; Part 17; Part 18.

* * *

“They [the Sioux Indians] are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts and by no means as people.” —Gen. John Pope, in instructions to his officers during an Indian war in Minnesota (1862)

The West. The frontier. Few terms, or images, are as quintessentially Americans or as culturally loaded as these. Interestingly, the West—unlike other regions—is often defined as both a time and a place. It is also hopelessly shrouded in myth. Americans leaders, from George Washington to Donald Trump, frequently claimed that the West, the frontier, somehow defined us as Americans. It was long seen as a place of opportunity, rebirth even. If a man failed in the East, well, then, “Go West, young man,” as one Indiana newspaper declared in the popular phrase it coined.

The truth, of course, is messy. Even focusing, as we will here, primarily on the West’s most immortalized era (1862-1890), the serious historian finds a story teeming with less fact than fiction. Some have even questioned whether there is any merit in studying the West as a separate historical discipline. Still, in a series such as this, something must be said of the place and the time. Americans, after all, seem to have decided that the frontier does, in fact, define us; that the West is who we are. And so it is, for better or for worse.

Furthermore, there are many other compelling reasons to study the West, even if they do not comport with our “cowboys and Indians” cinematic image from mid-20th century movies (when the Western genre dominated the film scene). Firstly, the American West was an important “meeting ground,” where Anglo, black, native, Hispanic and Asian-Americans coalesced. Though land and wealth were the main goals of these competing factions, defining the West also became a contest for cultural dominance. The West was a place where the federal government (then much more circumscribed than now) first expanded its role and played a key part as financier, organizer, referee and lawman. Additionally, the West demonstrated the radical nature, and boom-bust cycle, of American capitalism in the starkest of ways. Finally, of course, the West of the late 19th century was the time and place where one version of Native American sovereignty ended and a new phase began. This, truth be told, was one of the great—yet complicated—crimes of the American experiment.

Myth Versus Truth: Reinterpreting the ‘West’

“Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way,” by Fanny Palmer (1868). This painting depicts a serene, empty West being “civilized” by white Americans’ hard work and technological achievements.

Americans have long mythologized the West. From Plymouth Rock, to Manifest Destiny, to the Plains Indian wars, to John Wayne on the 20th-century silver screen, it all looks the same in the American imagination. Cowboys and Indians, lawmen and villains, soldiers and savages, farmers and miners, and always, ultimately, black hats and white hats. It’s remembered for its excitement and mystique, yes, but also as a morality tale—good guys and bad guys. As always, of course, the reality is far more complex, more nuanced, more gray.

Still, it’s valuable to parse out truth from legend, fact from fiction. After all, the real West—to the extent that it can ever be defined—is so much more interesting, fascinating and wholly human. Let us, then, ever so briefly, address but a few of the defining symbols and myths of America’s shared Western past.

Gold rushes. From California to Nevada, from Montana to the Black Hills of South Dakota, the craze for precious metals became a fixture of the Western saga. The San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League bear the nickname of those who came in the first major wave of the California Gold Rush, in 1849. In the common image, any lone man could make his fortune simply by panning for gold and catching some luck. It all fits comfortably within the altogether American obsession with the so-called self-made man.

The reality was uglier and less satisfying. Mining was an important factor in the West. Miners flooded remote areas faster than farmers. Their presence could cause trouble—as when miners set up settlements in places white people had never before inhabited, often provoking Indian wars. Most importantly, the essence of mining captured the extractive nature of Western culture. In the end, though, only a tiny percentage of miners struck it rich. Mining turned out to be complicated and increasingly technological. The individual panner of gold often arrived too late, after the surface gold had been captured, and found that his mining method was outmoded and inefficient. Soon enough, the power shifted to corporations, and most miners worked for a lowly wage in dangerous, dismal conditions.

By the late 19th century, many mine owners were Easterners who had never set foot in the West. They simply added investments in mining to their complex financial portfolios. Miners weren’t strictly rugged individualists, either. Indeed, few American industries lent themselves so easily to a Marxist analysis of class struggle. Miners unionized, led strikes and sit-downs and battled (often fatally) with federal troops or National Guardsmen. Seen in this light, the Western miner’s condition bears striking similarity to that of Eastern factory workers.

There were legitimate socialists and revolutionaries among the miners. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), or “Wobblies,” had a strong presence in the mine shafts. The reaction of conservative mine owners and bought-off lawmen was often vicious. In Bisbee, Ariz., hired vigilantes supported by a local sheriff rounded up 1,186 striking copper miners and supporters, forced them onto rail cars and shipped them over the border to New Mexico. Two were beaten to death.

Overall, the horrid social condition of miners couldn’t have been more different from the Jeffersonian Western ideal of the small, independent farmer setting roots in the soil. Thomas Jefferson, in fact, would have been horrified by the sight of these dirty wage slaves toiling their days away and engaging in debauchery at temporary mining camps at night, totally untethered to place or agriculture. Furthermore, a good number of the miners weren’t Jefferson’s idealized white men at all: They were Irish Catholics or, worse still, Chinese immigrants. Still, in other ways, mining was a defining Western experience, involving all the key factors of real Western life: class, race, chance and federal largesse.

Railroads. The “iron horse” steam engine traversing the plains is one of the iconic images of the West. The railroads embodied civilization as much as raw technological advance. Yet contrary to their clean, straight, parallel lines on maps, the railroads were a complicated, inefficient industry. First of all, although Chinese or Irish workers were seldom in the iconic (staged) photographs depicting the meeting of intercontinental lines, they constituted the vast majority of railroad workers. Many thousands died constructing the rail lines that connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

“Joining the Tracks for the First Transcontinental Railroad, Promontory Point, Utah,” May 10, 1869. This photograph by Andrew J. Russell did not show any of the many Chinese workers involved in the construction.

The corporations that built the railroads were more interested in profit than quality craftsmanship and often had to double back to improve dangerously feeble tracks. The railroad entrepreneurs usually weren’t up-by-the-boot-straps individualists either. Rather, the railroaders were extraordinary recipients of federal largesse—what we might call corporate welfare. The federal government subsidized the construction of the transcontinental lines with cash and enormous land grant subsidies. In many cases, a railroad received 200 square miles of adjacent land for each mile of track completed. Thus, despite the supposed “free land” granted to willing pioneers by the 1862 Homestead Act, it was actually the railroad companies that owned much of the best (and most valuable, due to its proximity to transportation) land in the West. Where possible, the corporations engaged in speculation and sold the land at a handsome profit.

Railroaders were often highly corrupt, plaguing and embarrassing the Grant administration (1869-1877) in scandal after scandal. They bribed politicians, set up subsidiaries that robbed the taxpayer and hired vigilantes to intimidate striking workers or nearby Indians. The railroads, as beneficiaries of generous federal welfare, weren’t always in tune with supply and demand. Lines sometimes were overextended and had to be abandoned in part because they proved unnecessary and unprofitable. Companies sometimes ran lines into arid areas (like western Kansas) that were hard to settle. Railroad supply, by the late 19th century, had far outstripped citizen demand, but the federal dollars kept rolling in. As the historian Richard White wrote, eventually “empty railroad trains ran across deserted prairies to vacant towns.” However, one thing the railroads did do was affect the future layout and prosperity of townships and cities. Existing settlements unlucky enough to lay distant from a rail line or station eventually withered away, and as a result so-called ghost towns dotted the West. Conversely, a simple bribe from a local politician might motivate railroaders to place a previously unplanned stop in a town. Indeed, the railroads—as much as the later federal highways—defined the geography of the Western landscape.

Rugged Self-Sufficiency. One of the more persistent myths holds that Westerners were all hardy individualists, opposed to federal intrusion and beholden to no one. Though still pervasive, such a description strikes the serious historian as farcical. From start to finish, Western territories, states and citizens were among the largest recipients of federal aid. Indeed, when not accusing the federal government of some slight or infraction, Westerners were constantly clamoring for more federal aid. It was in the West, in fact, where the federal government first meaningfully inserted itself into Americans’ daily lives. A Western region was organized into a territory—under the direct control of a federal governor—before it was, eventually, accepted as a new state. This could happen almost immediately, as in the case of California, or take 64 years for states like Arizona and New Mexico.

Still, regardless of when their regions reached statehood status, Westerners were reliant on the federal government. They desired, and expected, loans and aid for enterprise and transportation, soldiers for protection (and conquest of Indians), and surveyors to organize and distribute (cheaply!) the land. Politically, though the Western states complained (then as now) of powerlessness, the reality couldn’t have been more divergent. Blessed with massive lands, precious natural resources and comparatively few people, Western states still had two senators and at least one congressional representative in the House. Indeed, a state like Wyoming—which still has roughly the population of New York City’s least populated borough, Staten Island—has the same number of senatorial representatives as the 30-times-larger state of New York (in terms of residents). Then and now, the West was actually proportionally overrepresented in Washington.

Well into the 20th century, the West received federal assistance disproportionate to its population. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 provided for generous leasing of federal land to Western ranchers, and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal created many federal work projects in the Western states. In fact, during the New Deal, Wyoming received, on a per capita basis, three times the average amount of direct federal financial assistance given to states. So much for rugged independence.

Independent Family Farmers. The vision of the independent, small family farmer was the ultimate Jeffersonian ideal of future Western American prosperity. And, though millions of small farmers would settle the West, corporate agro-business or land speculation was just as often the agricultural norm. Real estate—more than gunfighting or Indian fighting—was the dominant force in the American West. With all that “open” land, settlement, squatting and speculation became the name of the game. Moreover, in the minds of many Americans, there was never enough land—though, interestingly, the West still hasn’t “filled up.” Americans of the day feared that the United States would run out of land and end up like Europe, crowded and riven by the class structures that develop in the absence of well-distributed land ownership.

Though just about all Western land was technically owned by the central government, few settlers were willing to wait on federal speculation, division and allotment. Many simply followed the notion “first in time, first in right” and squatted on available lands. (For the government, using the Army to remove them rarely seemed viable.) Wealthy speculators turned a pretty profit by buying large tracts of the cheap land from the federal government and then selling it to smallholders. From large-scale speculation and massive private landholdings it was but a short step to the 20th-century mechanized agro-business that has driven so many family farms into insolvency.

Nor did farm settlement always make sense. Much of the land west of the 98th meridian is semiarid, and rainfall in these areas (western Kansas and Nebraska and eastern Colorado, for example) was insufficient to support agriculture. By the early 20th century hundreds of thousands of these settlers failed and retreated eastward. This explains why many towns in western Kansas had a higher population in 1880 than in 1980. Only through analysis of this mix of failed irrigation, land squatting and high-finance speculation can one begin to understand the byzantine and poorly planned nature of Western settlement. Seen in this light, it becomes understandable that many native tribes struggled to understand white notions of “property.” It hardly made sense to Anglo Americans; why should it seem natural for a pre-Columbian civilization?

Ranchers and Cowboys. There is no more romantic myth in the American West than that of the cowboy. Indeed, the image of the cowboy has come to define the place and time—so much so that men and women in the American South and West still wear the purported clothing styles of the cowboy. So, just who were these cowboys and where did they come from? Well, the first were Spaniards, and then Mexicans. It was the Spanish who brought the cattle that cowboys would drive to market in the New World. Indeed, the styles of the cowboys came from Hispanic clothing and culture. Consider the Spanish loanwords that entered the American lingo and mystique of the cowboy: lasso, rodeo, ranchero.

Still, the cowboy on horseback driving cattle from Texas to Kansas City (or some other railroad town) had a heyday of little more than two decades. The beef industry, like farming, was quickly mechanized, and by the end of the 19th century the era of the cattle drives was mostly over. Ranching became rather corporate, and the true conflict was usually not between cowboys and rustlers but between ranchers and nearby small farmers. It is important to remember that the cowboy of our imagination was not on the Western scene for long and that he didn’t always look or act the way we imagine. There were black cowboys, many Mexican cowboys (they had invented the business), and, new studies show, there was a fair amount of homosexuality practiced in these all-male communities. If it is thus, one wonders why, precisely, it is the image of the rugged, white American cowboy that has stuck in the collective national psyche. That it is so might tell us more about the American present than the past.

Gunfighters. The showdown in the dusty street at high noon between two men with six-guns—an outlaw and a sheriff—is one of the great melodramas of the West, especially as depicted in film. The clock strikes noon, each man quickly draws his weapon, and the fastest gun wins! Exhilarating. But, sadly, inaccurate. Cattle-town newspapers and other primary sources make no mention of such duels in the streets. Violence was rampant in the West, of course. Indeed, the murder rate in Dodge City, Kan., was about 10 times that of today’s New York City, and the less well-known mining town of Bodie, Calif., had a rate some 22 times the NYC rate. Still, less than one-third of the victims died in actual exchanges of gunfire. More than half were unarmed, often shot in the back and at a close distance. This was murder, not the martial chivalry of the imagination.

Another interesting point is that many of the romantic outlaws we remember today—such as Jesse and Frank James and John Wesley Hardin—were far less Robin Hood and far more racist than most modern Americans know. Many of these men were unreformed Confederates, angry at the government and ready to do violence to blacks. The James brothers had ridden with Confederate guerrilla leader William Quantrill and his raiders during the Civil War and were probably involved in Quantrill’s attack on Lawrence, Kan., in 1863, in which more than 150 residents were killed. Hardin, perhaps the most prolific killer of the era, thought of himself as a victim—a victim of “bullying negroes, Yankee soldiers, carpetbaggers, and bureau agents” in his native Texas. Most of these fabled outlaws were coldblooded killers and unreconstructed Southern bigots.

The End of Native Sovereignty: Four Phases of an American Tragedy

“It is very hard to plant the corn outside the stockade when the Indians are still around. We have to get the Indians farther away in many provinces to make good progress.” —U.S. Army Gen. Maxwell Taylor, comparing Vietnamese to American Indians in 1965

“Indian Country.” The term has become a military shorthand for any “wild,” “unconquered” region the U.S. Army attempts to “secure.” The Army and the native peoples of America maintain a strange relationship and kinship to this day. Think of it as the ultimate love/hate relationship. Indian fighting, after all, is what the U.S. military mostly did in the periods between the nation’s few major wars in its first century or so. At present, all helicopters in the U.S. Army inventory—Iroquois, Apache, Blackhawk, Chinook—bear the names of tribes or leaders the U.S. government once fought and conquered. This author served in modern-day “cavalry” (reconnaissance) units, where each Friday formation meant donning vintage Stetson hats and riding spurs. Each cavalry unit’s flag, or guidon, sports dozens of streamers commemorating battles fought long ago with Native American tribes and bands.

The relationship between the modern U.S. Army and its former Indian foes actually mirrors the complexity of the late 19th-century clash of these two forces. The Army was often brutal and bloodthirsty. So, too, were many Indians, though they lacked the capacity to exterminate large numbers of whites in the same way. Then again, the real danger to the Native Americans usually came not from soldiers but from white civilian settlers and vigilantes—and in these cases the Army was sometimes used to protect (however imperfectly) the Indians from pioneer encroachment. One way to frame the era from 1862 to 1890 is as a broad counterinsurgency waged by the Army across a large expanse filled with myriad actors and pursuing the ever-changing, often muddled policies of the U.S. government.

The real problem for the Indians was this: The U.S. never formulated a permanent Indian policy that would guarantee native sovereignty, and never had either the will or capacity to separate the settlers and natives. Unsurprisingly, given the choice between protecting natives and appeasing settlers, the government erred on the side of the white man. In broad strokes, U.S. government policy toward the Indians of the Great Plains and Far West went through four phases in the 19th century: removal from lands east of the Mississippi; concentration in a vast “Indian territory” between Oklahoma and North Dakota; confinement to much smaller “reservations” on part of that land; and assimilation of the Indians into white American-style farming and culture, through the allotment of even smaller, individual tracts of barren land. The natives lost at every step, and their territory shrunk with each new phase. Still, the Indians remained active agents during this period, winning victories, suffering defeats, fighting each other, and, often, allying with the U.S. Army. It was a complicated, tragic battle for the Native Americans of the American West.

Removal. This was the policy of President Andrew Jackson. In 1830, he pushed through the Indian Removal Bill, which forced the five so-called “civilized” tribes to vacate their lands and move west of the Mississippi, and promptly ignored the Supreme Court when it objected on constitutional grounds. He and his successor, Martin Van Buren, went so far as to use the Army to evict the tribes at bayonet point and march them—in the infamous “Trail of Tears”—into modern-day Oklahoma. Thousands of Indians died, but the majority of white Southerners (who took over the land) cheered the presidents’ decisions. This was supposed to be a permanent Indian territory, a vast expanse into which the Native Americans would now be concentrated—and sovereign—in perpetuity. It was, of course, not to be. In an early sign of what was to come, when the five “civilized” tribes made the mistake of allying with the Confederates—from whom they expected more freedom and independence—the U.S. government made them pay: It subsequently confiscated half their lands. Indian territory would shrink and shrink as the years passed.

Concentration. During the period of concentration (roughly 1848-1873), the Indian wars never actually ceased. Miners, settlers and sometimes the Army violated supposed native sovereignty and moved onto the land. Furthermore, some tribes and bands refused to accept the white man’s overland trails and railroads running through their regions and attacked men and women on the roads. So the wars continued, brutally, even if the fiction of the vast Indian territory technically continued.

In 1862, a Sioux uprising in Minnesota, precipitated by crop failure and game reduction, resulted in the deaths of some 500 settlers. President Abraham Lincoln ordered the rebellion put down. The militia and Army suppressed the Sioux, captured hundreds, executed 38 and moved the rest to Dakota territory (into Indian country). In 1864, Col. John Chivington attacked a village at Sand Creek, Colo., during a war with the Cheyenne tribe. The massacre of some 200 Indians (75 percent of them women and children) should have come as no surprise, since Chivington had announced his intentions beforehand: “I have come to kill Indians and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians.” It is notable that Chivington’s men were local volunteers, not regular Army soldiers, and carried the hatred for Indians common to local settlers. The Sand Creek massacre only further inflamed the Plains in war, a state that was almost perpetual until 1878.

The most horrific and genocidal Indian experience came in California, which, because of the Gold Rush, never truly implemented a concentration or confinement policy. The whites wanted all of these rich Pacific lands. Here the 150,000 natives of California were pushed through a truncated version of all four phases in a span of only 12 years. The federal commissioners attempting to broker a treaty in 1851 made clear their expectations: “You have but one choice, kill, murder, exterminate, or domesticate and improve them.” Miners, ranchers and militia murdered thousands, and many more perished from diseases brought by the Gold Rushers. By 1860, only 30,000 California Indians (out of 150,000) remained alive—a record of extermination unparalleled in our troubled history with Native Americans—though, interestingly, few Americans remember this campaign today.

Many in the U.S. Army, too, were full of contempt for the natives. The senior commander in the West, Gen. Phillip Sheridan (of Civil War fame), declared in 1868, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” The Sioux tribes under Chief Red Cloud had given the Army a run for its money from 1866 to 1868, defeating just about every force sent against them in the Dakota territory and Montana. Eventually, the U.S. government agreed to destroy its regional forts and signed the Fort Laramie Treaty, which promised the Black Hills of South Dakota and other sacred lands to the Sioux and Cheyennes in perpetuity. Fort Laramie was one of the last treaties signed by the U.S. government with a sovereign Great Plains tribe. That time was passing. The end of war in 1868, in retrospect, was but a truce, during which the settlers and U.S. Army paused briefly but did not give up their hunger for Indian land on the Plains. The great chief Sitting Bull of the Sioux learned that lesson early and proclaimed that “possession is a disease with them [white men].”

The notion that the United States—or more accurately its settlers and prospectors—would actually yield the land between Oklahoma and North Dakota to a so-called concentration of Indians was, in hindsight, baseless. The government always wanted to own all the land between prosperous California and the Missouri River limit of settlement. Besides, land-hungry settlers and speculators had no intention of following federal Indian policy anyway. They knew the Army had too few soldiers to police the entire frontier, and that it would be relatively easy to cross the Missouri, find a plot in Indian territory and squat on the land. Would the federal Army have the will or capacity to protect Indians from the settlers? It was never likely.

Sen. Stephen Douglas of Illinois, a fierce advocate of a transcontinental railroad through Indian land, captured the common feeling and dispelled any lingering idea of a permanent Indian land. He noted, years before the Civil War, that “the idea of arresting our progress in that direction [West] has become so ludicrous that we are amazed. … How are we to develop, cherish and protect our immense interests and possessions on the Pacific, with a vast wilderness 1,500 miles in breadth, filled with hostile savages, and cutting off direct communication. The Indian barrier must be removed.” There was, rumor had it, gold and other precious minerals—in addition to millions of acres of fertile land—in that 1,500-mile breadth of Indian territory. Neither settlers nor federal officials were willing to follow the concentration policy and let the Indians be: “Progress,” as always, seemed to demand expansion. Some other method of Indian control would have to be found.

Confinement. The answer, many federal officials eventually decided, must be to confine the natives to shrunken parcels of land, known forever as Indian reservations. This strategy was in direct contradiction and contravention of earlier legal treaties signed with various native tribes and, along with the westward wave of settlers after the Civil War, made Indian war almost inevitable. There was always a fine line between concentration and confinement—both constricted the Indians to certain lands, but the reservations were generally smaller and far less rich in minerals and arable land. Various actors, and branches of government, led the transition from concentration to confinement on the “rez.”

In 1870, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the power to “supersede or even annul treaties” with Indian tribes. This ruling essentially destroyed the previous system of Indian affairs and emboldened settlers. Soon afterward, Congress followed the court’s decision, making any future treaty-making with the Indians illegal. The tribes were not, the text of legislation read, “to be acknowledged or recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power.” Next came the ubiquitous settlers. After the “boy general” hero of the Civil War, George Armstrong Custer, led his 7th Cavalry on a “reconnaissance” expedition into the sacred Black Hills, he almost assured a new gold rush by publicizing the news that “from the grass roots down it was ‘pay dirt.’ ” Within two years, 10,000 miners were in the new town of Deadwood in the Black Hills. Unsurprisingly, miners were attacked by Sioux warriors who refused to countenance their presence.

The exhausted and scandal-ridden Grant administration decided to end the “Indian problem” once and for all. In what he declared his new “Peace Policy,” President Ulysses S. Grant ordered that all Great Plains tribes and bands no later than Jan. 1, 1876, move onto the truncated reservations outlined by his government or be considered “hostile.” Grant knew, of course, that this would mean a war. He probably expected one and had convinced himself that a final showdown was necessary.

“The Battle of the Greasy Grass” (the Little Bighorn) by Kicking Bear (1898). It depicts the slaughter of the U.S. cavalrymen at an Indian village.

Jan. 1 came and went, and nearly 10,000 Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho still roamed the Northern Plains. The Army moved in, and once again Custer was in the lead. Following his aggressive, often reckless (if courageous) instincts, Custer divided his force into three parts and converged on the huge combined native village near the Little Bighorn River in southeast Montana. He should have followed orders and waited for reinforcements. He didn’t. On June 25, 1876—just a week before the nation’s centennial celebration—thousands of warriors under Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull quickly overwhelmed and destroyed Custer and his wing of 250 or so troopers. The news of Custer’s “Last Stand” shocked the nation and entered the American mythology as a “gallant” defeat on par with the Greeks at Thermopylae or the Texans at the Alamo.

Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and other chiefs quickly split up. They knew that the defeat of Custer meant that the full force of the Army would now be unleashed upon them. They were right. Thousands of troops converged and waged a brutal “scorched earth” campaign during a brutally cold winter. Starving, outnumbered and exhausted, within a year most Indians withdrew to their reservations. Crazy Horse was the last to surrender and was subsequently bayonetted to death in an alleged escape attempt. Sitting Bull led his followers into Canada, where they were given some sanctuary, but within a few years they returned to their reservation because of food shortages. It turned out that Custer’s “Last Stand” was really the last stand of the sovereign Northern Plains tribes. That day’s victory by the Indians ultimately ushered in their final removal to reservations.

Assimilation and Allotment. The seeds of forced assimilation of Indians and conversion (into farmers) had long been planted in the Anglo mind. As early as 1859, an annual report of the Bureau of Indian Affairs noted, “It is indispensably necessary that [the Indians] be placed in positions where they can be controlled and finally compelled by sheer necessity to resort to agricultural labor or starve. … There is no alternative to providing for them in this manner, but to exterminate them.” Ironically, when the new policy of assimilation and allotment (of land plots to individual Indians) came to pass in the 1880s, it was ushered in by white Easterners who called themselves “Friends of the Indian.”

A 1911 poster of the U.S. Department of the Interior depicting a Native American and offering “surplus” (confiscated) Indian land for sale. The transfer of millions of acres resulted from the Dawes Act of 1887.

These men—and many women—believed that Indians must be converted from hunters who held land in common into white-style farmers and property owners. If they weren’t thus transformed, the “reformers” believed, the natives would become extinct. One reformer, Carl Schurz, wrote that “[civilizing them] which once [seemed] only a benevolent fancy, has now become an absolute necessity, if we mean to save them.” The signal achievement of the Assimilation and Allotment phase was the Dawes General Allotment Act (1887), which broke reservations into multiple tracts to be allotted to individual Indians, ostensibly for farming (which was often impossible due to the choice of barren, arid lands for reservations). The kicker was this: The millions of acres left over would then be open for sale to whites.

The Indians themselves, of course, were barely asked what they preferred. When they were, a majority of Indian tribes opposed the allotment policy. The resulting land cession was disastrous. In 1887, Indians held 138 million acres. Over the next 47 years, 60 million of those acres were declared “surplus” and sold to whites. Other lands were desperately sold off by Indians or ceded to the government for much needed cash. By 1934, the Indian tribes held only 47 million acres.

There was also a cultural component to the new phase of “Indian policy”: assimilation. Consider what followed to be “cultural imperialism.” Indian children were sent to distant Eastern boarding schools—most famously the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania—where they were taught in English alone, were told their parents’ ways were backward and were forced to wear American-style clothes and hairstyles. The women were dressed in Victorian dresses and taught piano, the boys drilled in uniform as military companies. The secretary of the interior summed up the policy: “If Indian children are to be civilized they must learn the language of civilization.” Clearly, he meant a more holistic transformation than the simple learning of English. Tribal life was upended.

At left, three Sioux boys upon their arrival at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, circa 1900. At right they are shown later with clothing and haircuts in the style of whites.

The tragic last hurrah of Indian independence came in 1890. A Paiute holy man in Nevada preached a new sort of (nonviolent) religion. If Indians gave up alcohol, lived simply and traditionally and danced a certain slow dance, the Great Spirit would return them their lands and white ways and implements would disappear. By the time the belief reached the Northern Plains and the Sioux tribe, it had garnered a slightly more militant message and spread widely among the hopeless and despondent tribe. The “Ghost Dance” terrified whites and Indian agents, and when a band left the main reservation to dance on the Badlands of South Dakota, the U.S. Army sent in the ubiquitous 7th Cavalry Regiment (no doubt yearning for vengeance). Tribal police were sent to arrest Sitting Bull at his home, and in violence that followed, Sitting Bull and more than a dozen other men—both policemen and supporters of the chief—were killed.

The cavalrymen then set out in the winter snow and surrounded the Ghost Dance band along Wounded Knee Creek. The soldiers began disarming the Sioux when a gun went off. A massacre ensued, and the soldiers fired four new machine guns down into the encampment. One hundred forty-six Indians were killed, including 62 women and children. It was more massacre than battle. Twenty-five soldiers were killed, most of them probably shot in crossfire from their own forces. As a tragicomic if instructive coda, the U.S. Army—desperate to depict the incident as a “battle”—awarded no fewer than 20 Medals of Honor to the troopers at Wounded Knee. They have never been rescinded.

Looking back, what happened to the natives of America seems so inevitable. But was it? Could not the United States have settled for just a bit less expansion and allowed a permanent sovereign Indian Territory to develop along its own chosen lines? Couldn’t reservations have been placed on more fertile land? And, furthermore, could not those yet smaller reservations have stayed in Indian hands rather than been “allotted to whites”? Of course. There existed alternative options at every step of the way.

Ultimately, the U.S. government always lacked the will and capacity to protect Indian sovereignty. It’s an old story, really—something President Washington had predicted. In 1796, he wrote, “The Indians urge this [policing of a line between whites and natives]; The Law requires it; and it ought to be done; but I believe scarcely anything short of a Chinese Wall or a line of troops will restrain Land Jobbers and the encroachment of settlers.” The tale was basically the same from 1796 to 1890. The Army was rarely large enough to create that “line of troops,” and the government was never willing to meaningfully use the military resources that existed to evict white Americans.

Role Reversal: The Anglicization of the Southwest and California

Just who were the “immigrants” in the American Southwest and Pacific Coast? Today, there is an easy, if inaccurate, ready answer: the Mexicans. Yet in truth, a Hispanic and mestizo population and culture preceded Anglo-American conquest (1848) by some 250 years. Furthermore, Native American peoples had themselves been conquered by the Spanish in the late 16th century and antedated European rule by perhaps 10,000 years. What’s more, native peoples had fought each other for the land throughout the continent’s settled history. This wider view certainly complicates the traditional American political attitudes of our own day and raises as many questions as answers.

As should by now be clear, the West was never truly empty—no matter how often the artists of the period romantically depicted it as such. One of the strongest and most embedded communities was that of the Hispanic and mestizo descendants of the Spanish invasion. Spain permanently entered the American Southwest as early as 1598, with Juan de Oñate’s conquest of New Mexico from the Pueblo Indians. And yet, to watch a classic film, or to read an old Western dime novel, is to erase these Hispanic and mixed-race peoples from the story of the West. They were neither the cowboys nor Indians, soldiers nor native warriors, of the traditional tale. They don’t fit. That this should be the case is fascinating, if tragic. The people we now call Mexicans, Mexican-Americans or Hispanics were present and effusive through the entire “classic” era of the American West. Let us remember their story.

The original (Hispanic) residents of California and the Southwest were promised their private landholdings would be protected under the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, created at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. It was not to be. Swindlers, settlers and hustlers tricked or bullied thousands of Hispanics off their land in the decades following the war. It wasn’t enough that the Yankees had conquered half of Mexico, the residents complained; now their lands were forfeit too. During the California Gold Rush, a Civil War veteran and forty-niner wrote in the Stockton Times that “Mexicans have no business in this country. The men were made to be shot at, and the women were made for our purposes. I’m a white man—I am! A Mexican is pretty near black. I hate all Mexicans.”

Yet, New Mexico, for example, remained majority Hispanic into the 20th century (which may help explain why it was not admitted as a state until 1912), but even there Hispanics held minimal political or economic power. In fact, they divided among themselves as many Hispanics sought to “Europeanize or ‘whiten’ themselves,” by claiming Spanish, rather than native, descent. This, some thought, would protect them from the worst of white infractions, though it didn’t always work. The victims of lynching, it turns out, were not limited to Southern blacks. Mexicans were often extrajudicially murdered for alleged crimes or just to “encourage them to stay in their place.”

Still, Mexicans weren’t erased from the Southwest. They were needed as agricultural laborers—then and now—just as blacks were in the Old South. Nativists (anti-immigration advocates) fought the local planters (who needed the labor), fearing that migrating Mexicans might “reverse the essential consequences” of the Mexican-American War. Racial lines hardened throughout the 20th century, and in 1930 the U.S. census form added a separate classification of Hispanics as “Mexican.” Before then Hispanics fell under the category of “white.”

Culturally, the Hispanics often found themselves erased by or amalgamated within an Anglo Texan or Californian society and mythology. In the process, northern Mexico became the Southwestern United States; cowboys became homogeneous and white, Indians became a savage red. There wasn’t much identity left for those in between.

Whether in the 19th century or today, the border between the U.S. and Mexico has been little more than a legal and social fiction. Like the Indians, the Hispanics of the Southwest had been conquered, but never truly erased. Texas and California were once northern Mexico. Which raises salient questions today: Are “undocumented” Mexican immigrants “illegal intruders,” or rightful residents of “Occupied America”?

* * *

Historians often described this period in Western history (1862-1890) as another type of Reconstruction—something similar to what was attempted in the post-Civil War South. There are indeed parallels: a military presence, violence, federal impotency, citizen apathy and racism. Still, the analogy falls short. It is problematic to compare Indians to recently freed slaves or to former Confederates. In the end, the U.S. government abandoned the freedmen and turned power back over to the Confederates within a dozen years. In the West, conversely, few attempts were made to “reconstruct” or restrain the land-hungry settlers, and the government actively backed (and abetted) the invaders. Furthermore, the Indians permanently lost their land—and for what crime? The Confederates had seceded, thereby committing treason, and received but 12 years of light punishment. Indians had adhered to treaties more faithfully than whites and were rewarded with banishment, theft, war and at times extermination.

The legacy, and tragedy, of the American West is with us still. As a classroom exercise on the heels of the 2010 census, I often ended my lesson on this topic at West Point with a slide listing five of the poorest U.S. counties. Then, I’d circle four—Buffalo, Todd and Shannon in South Dakota and Wade Hampton in Alaska—and ask the students what these counties had in common. They are all Indian reservations, of course, or places with major Native American majorities. Buffalo County holds the Crow Creek reservation; Todd, the Rosebud Sioux; Shannon, the Pine Ridge Sioux; and Wade Hampton a population that is 92 percent Eskimo. These counties, each filled with thousands of tragic individual stories, are living relics of our past; of each phase of the U.S. government’s calamitous Indian policy—first, removal, then concentration, followed by confinement to the reservation, and, finally, hopeless forced assimilation. Think on it: Within just a few hours’ drive of swanky downtown Denver, and just a few hours’ flight from hipster enclaves in New York City, there are veritable monuments of American crimes and human suffering: our semi-sovereign, mostly impoverished Indian reservations.

To visit one is to experience the past within the present. Disembark your plane in a crowded metropolitan center and take the long drive. You may cruise past federally owned ranch lands, through federally subsidized mega-farms, past long-abandoned mine shafts, through ghost towns that the railroads bypassed; stop for fuel where a man in a Stetson fuels his luxury pickup truck. Keep driving, past failed family farms that ran short of water on the arid plains, through strip mall after suburban strip mall; through a town with a vaguely Spanish name and past an oil rig. Finally, when the conveniences of modern life seem almost to have vanished, see the passing sign: “Entering [insert tribe] Reservation,” and proceed. You may feel as though you’ve left one world for another, but it is not so: All that you passed is the West—the legacy, the charm and the tragedy.

We are Americans: It is our complex inheritance.

* * *

To learn more about this topic, consider the following scholarly works:
• Robert V. Hine and John Mack Faragher, “The American West: A New Interpretive History” (2000).
• Jill Lepore, “These Truths: A History of the United States” (2018).
• Patricia Nelson Limerick, “The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West” (1987).
• Richard White, “The Republic for Which it Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896” (2017).

Maj. Danny Sjursen, a regular contributor to Truthdig, is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, “Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.” He lives with his wife and four sons in Lawrence, Kan. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his new podcast, “Fortress on a Hill,” co-hosted with fellow vet Chris “Henri” Henrikson.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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Trump Says Climate Change Not a Hoax, Could Be Temporary

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is backing off his claim that climate change is a hoax but says he doesn’t know if it’s manmade and suggests that the climate will “change back again.”

In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday night, Trump said he doesn’t want to put the U.S. at a disadvantage in responding to climate change.

“I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a hoax. I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s manmade. I will say this: I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs.”

Trump called climate change a hoax in November 2012 when he sent a tweet stating, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He later said he was joking about the Chinese connection, but in years since has continued to call global warming a hoax.

“I’m not denying climate change,” he said in the interview. “But it could very well go back. You know, we’re talking about over a … millions of years.”

As far as the climate “changing back,” temperature records kept by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that the world hasn’t had a cooler-than-average year since 1976 or a cooler-than-normal month since the end of 1985.

Trump, who is scheduled on Monday to visit areas of Georgia and Florida damaged by Hurricane Michael, also expressed doubt over scientists’ findings linking the changing climate to more powerful hurricanes.

“They say that we had hurricanes that were far worse than what we just had with Michael,” said Trump, who identified “they” as “people” after being pressed by “60 Minutes” correspondent Leslie Stahl. She asked, “What about the scientists who say it’s worse than ever?” the president replied, “You’d have to show me the scientists because they have a very big political agenda.”

Trump’s comments came just days after a Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a warning that global warming would increase climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth. The report detailed how Earth’s weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if the world’s leaders could somehow limit future human-caused warming.

Citing concerns about the pact’s economic impact, Trump said in 2017 that the U.S. will leave the Paris climate accord. The agreement set voluntary greenhouse gas emission targets in an effort to lessen the impact of fossil fuels.

On a different topic, Trump told “60 Minutes” that he’s been surprised by Washington being a tough, deceptive and divisive place, though some accuse the real estate mogul elected president of those same tactics.

“So I always used to say the toughest people are Manhattan real estate guys and blah, blah,” he said. “Now I say they’re babies.”

He said the political people in Washington have changed his thinking.

“This is the most deceptive, vicious world. It is vicious, it’s full of lies, deceit and deception,” he said. “You make a deal with somebody and it’s like making a deal with — that table.”

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Maine’s Radical Universal Home Health Care Proposition

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Naomi LaChance.

A group of progressives in Maine have proposed a radical new solution to providing medical care for an aging, rural population. Question 1, a measure on the ballot in November, proposes universal home health care for all Maine residents, to be paid for by a tax on people making more than $128,400 a year. Opponents of the proposal say that the program would be too costly; supporters say it could radically change the lives of people living with disability or serious illness.

Eligibility for the program would depend on daily needs, rather than on a medical diagnosis. Maine residents who cannot complete at least one “daily living” activity, such as bathing, cooking or walking, would be able to receive help in a variety of forms.

More than 27,000 people may be eligible for the program, with seniors making up less than half, at 13,100, according to an analysis by the University of Southern Maine. According to another study by the university, half of Maine residents older than 75 have a disability.

“I’ve never had people cry signing a petition and tell me how much something like this would have changed their lives,” Kevin Simowitz, political director for Caring Across Generations, told Kaiser Health News. The Maine People’s Alliance, a grassroots organization that works on a variety of progressive issues, collected 67,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. The group has spent $343,166 in support of Question 1, according to the most recent state campaign finance data.

“In our rapidly aging state, too many seniors are being forced from their homes, and too many people with disabilities can’t get the care they need,” said Miri Lyons, a Maine resident and former home care worker and family caregiver for a child with a disability. “Home care for all will fix that. It’s a guarantee that if you need help staying in your home, you can get it.”

Two ballot question committees—Mainers for Homecare and Caring Majority—have spent $233,567 and $61,158 respectively supporting the measure. It has been endorsed by the Maine AFL-CIO, the Maine Small Business Coalition and Justice in Aging.

Maine industry groups largely oppose the measure, saying it would adversely affect the state’s overall economy. Opponents say the measure is too expensive and take issue with the proposed income tax, which would affect the top 3 percent of people living in Maine, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

“This bill is not about caring for our seniors. It’s about selling a scheme to our seniors and people with disabilities, funneling money to union bosses and driving highly paid professionals, like doctors and engineers, out of Maine,” No on Question 1, a political action committee (PAC), says its on website. The PAC receives the majority of its funding from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Bankers Association PAC and the Maine Association of Realtors.

The Maine Bankers Association PAC has spent $50,000 opposing the ballot measure. The Retail Lumber Dealers Association of Maine PAC has spent $5,000 and Restaurateurs for a Strong Economy has spent $500 in opposition, according to state campaign finance data. The National Federation of Independent Business Maine PAC has spent $4,000 against the measure.

No on Question 1 has spent $58,791 against the ballot measure. The group’s treasurer, Diane Johanson, formerly was a lobbyist for the Maine Tourism Association, which opposes the measure as well.

Mike Tipping, communications director for the Maine People’s Alliance, said that large donors like the Maine Association of Realtors and the Maine Bankers Association PAC profit when the elderly have to move out of their homes and into nursing homes. He called the spending against the measure “absolutely disgusting.”

Critics say that Question 1’s emphasis on pay for caregivers, as well as a stipend for family caregivers, is too costly, but supporters say a raise is crucial.

“I work full time and make eleven dollars and fifty cents an hour. Starting pay at my company is minimum wage. I rely on food stamps and Section Eight to keep my son fed and housed,” said Maddie Hart, a home care worker in Maine quoted on the Maine People’s Alliance website. “My work is challenging, dangerous, and skilled. Home care workers deserve to be paid enough to support our families. This referendum will help get us there.”

“I think it makes common sense to make sure that elders, veterans and disabled folks can stay in their homes,” Peter Vondell, a disabled Marine veteran, wrote in the Sun Journal. “No one wants to live in a dismal, sterile medical facility, I know I don’t.”

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Bernie Sanders: Trump Adviser’s Climate Denial is ‘Dangerous’

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Jake Johnson / Common Dreams.

Appearing on ABC‘s “This Week” just moments after President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser and noted Wall Street stooge Larry Kudlow dismissed a new United Nations climate report showing that the world must cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 to avert global catastrophe, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) denounced the White House for its “dangerous” rejection of climate science and slammed Trump for working hand-in-hand with Big Oil to make “a bad situation worse.”

“The comments a moment ago that Larry Kudlow made are so irresponsible, so dangerous that it’s just hard to believe that a leading government official could make them,” Sanders told host George Stephanopoulos after Kudlow—a fervent climate denier—accused the U.N. of overestimating the severity of the climate crisis.

“What the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said is that we have 12 years—12 years to substantially cut the amount of carbon in our atmosphere or this planet, our country, the rest of the world, is going to suffer irreversible damage,” the Vermont senator continued. “We are in crisis mode and you have an administration that virtually does not even recognize the reality of climate change and their policies, working with the fossil fuel industry, are making a bad situation worse.”

Far from taking even the smallest steps toward mitigating carbon emissions and developing a clean energy system that is necessary to avert planetary catastrophe, Trump has worked relentlessly during his first two years in office to free massive oil and gas companies to unleash dangerous pollutants at home while undermining international efforts to confront the climate crisis.

Asked about the IPCC’s dire assessment of the next several decades if immediate, ambitious, and systemic action is not taken to drastically reduce carbon emissions, Trump appeared to indicate that he has never heard of the IPCC.

“It was given to me and I want to look at who drew it,” Trump told reporters. “You know, which group drew it, because I can give you reports that are fabulous and I can give you reports that aren’t so good.”

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