Marty Jezer

Political Flip-Flops

One of the more discouraging aspects of our American political culture is its negative attitude toward a politician's political growth, his or her willingness to rethink old positions, come to new conclusions and, in the political vernacular, perform political "flip-flops." If a candidate voted, say, for a tax hike or a tax break 20 years ago, to be considered principled he or she is expected to maintain that old position today, even though the political and economic situation that called for such a vote are no longer existent.

Although conventional wisdom designates flip-flopping as something to be criticized, I often consider it as something to be admired. The ability to look at the world afresh, learn from past mistakes, think with subtlety and nuance, and understand current events as a complexity of forces always in flux, is a superior quality -- an attribute voters should look for in all political candidates.

But even as I write this, opposing campaign staffs are scouring past voting records, looking to score a "gotcha" point by showing that their rivals have committed a flip-flop, changing their position on a political issue over time. And the mass media is primed to make these findings, however irrelevant, headline news.

This is a strange phenomenon in a country with a revolutionary past. Most of our founders began their political careers committed to the British Crown. Only as events unfolded, as the meaning of subservience vs. independence was argued all through the colonies, did opinions change -- and change and change. What was true in revolutionary times has been true throughout much of our history. People aren't born with political views. While some maintain the politics of their parents, never to challenge them or rebel, most forge their own views and continue, as they gain life experience, to politically evolve. This is a positive quality that, alas, candidates are evidently not supposed to possess.

The objective circumstances (the economy, the state of the nation and the world) that define a political issue are always in flux. How politicians respond is often subject to their political job. A governor has different priorities, needs and constraints than an official in the federal or local sphere. Legislators tend to have parochial rather than national constituencies.

As a Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson had a regional base. To maintain power, according to his biographer Robert Caro, LBJ actively courted the most racist (but wealthiest) right-wing campaign contributors in Texas. But as President with a national view, Johnson set his goal as ending poverty and healing racism. His ambition was as colossal as his ego and came crashing down with the Vietnam War. But the point I'm making is that nothing in his legislative record indicated that he was a social democrat who, once he transcended his provincial base, would fight to advance the most progressive reforms of Roosevelt's New Deal.

Another famous example of how a politician's record does not always reflect that which is uppermost in his or her heart is that of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, who was said to have affiliations with the Klan as an Alabaman youth but went on to become one of the great champions of civil liberties and human rights. Many Southern politicians who came of age before the 1960s have similar questionable pasts. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WVA), stalwart defender of the Constitution and opponent of the Iraq war, most immediately comes to mind.

Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern have gone down in history as great advocates of peace. But they were late in opposing the Vietnam War. So was Robert Kennedy. Many in the anti-war movement hated Kennedy because of his support of Senator Joe McCarthy during the 1950s. Progressives who reject an individual's ability to change deny their own political philosophy. If people can't transcend their pasts, if they are personally unable to respond to reasoned argument, why be politically active? Why demonstrate, protest, or even vote?

Good and bad legislation is often packaged in large omnibus bills. Did a legislator oppose a good idea because it was packaged in bad legislation? When it comes to voting records, context is everything. A candidate's record has to be viewed through the filter of legislative negotiation and give-and-take. No one is pure; the prism of politics is shaped by compromise. Candidates who have never held office can usually boast of pristine records. Had they served in a legislature, they'd be carrying political baggage like everyone else.

Voters should heed a candidate's record but also understand the circumstances of every questionable vote. Some flip-flops, yes, are based on opportunism and cowardice, taking the easy way out. The task of the voter is to determine the motives that brought a particular vote about. More important than the stark voting record (and in addition to issues of character) however, is the quality of how candidates think, the process by which they come to a decision, what books they read, whom they consult, their curiosity and openness to fresh and even dissident ideas, their willingness to challenge their advisors and question conventional wisdom, the range, power and subtlety of their minds.

The current political campaign will go on much too long. It promises to be negative and ugly. Citizens have to reject the clichéd charges and counter-charges inherent in simplistic political ads. A candidate's voting record must be judged with perspective. More importantly, it is his values, character, and political evolution that count; an ability and willingness to learn, change and grow over time. A public official must see the present as it really is and articulate a humane vision of the future, based not on fixed positions and ideological abstractions but upon the hard reality of people's lives.

Marty Jezer writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at

Manipulating the GNP

I suppose it's proper for the Bush administration to take full credit for the 7.2 percent rise in the Gross National Product (GNP) for the third quarter. The Clinton administration, after all, took full credit for the economic prosperity of its two terms in office.

But GNP is a questionable indicator to measure the health of the economy. The sum total of all goods and services, the GNP measures current spending without regard to social efficacy, purpose or morality. The GNP values money spent on Internet pornography on a par with money spent investing in education, housing, health care, infrastructure and national security.

Even as proof of political accomplishment, GNP statistics do not cut it. As day becomes night, the economic cycle goes through periods of expansion and contraction. Prudent government policy can flatten the cycle and, perhaps, speed a recovery, but the cycle is inevitable.

President Clinton's tax policies may have contributed to the prosperity of the 1990s but they didn't, in and of themselves, create it. Clinton raised the marginal tax rate on upper-income Americans while lowering it (with the earned income credit) for low-income working Americans. Federal tax policy became fairer and perennial budget deficits were turned into record-breaking budget surpluses -- good fiscal policy.

But the prosperity of the Clinton years rode on the revolution in information technology. And the predictability of capitalism's boom and bust economic cycle ultimately trumped the Pollyannaish punditry of Wall Street analysts who believed that the high-tech boom would last forever.

There's very little evidence to support the Republican boast that the Bush tax cuts have turned around the economy. A more likely rationale is that the economic cycle simply righted itself. After more than two years of under-consumption, data indicate the public is starting to purchase basic necessities -- cars, clothing, home appliances and furnishings.

The Bush administration cut taxes on high incomes. Phasing out the inheritance tax and cutting taxes on dividends has had no impact on most people. As W. Michael Cox, chief economist of the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas, was quoted in the 11/2/03 New York Times, "The rich don't have to put off their purchases." The third quarter economic growth represents "the consumption of the masses driving the economy."

Some middle and low-income earners received tax rebates as a result of an increase in the child tax credit and an adjustment in the tax rate for certain married couples, and these tax cuts likely encouraged consumer spending. But these tax breaks always enjoyed bipartisan support independent of Bush supply-side tax-cutting proposals.

Granted, a rising GNP is better than a stagnant economy mired in recession, but the last quarter spike did not affect the appallingly high rate of unemployment. 2.7 million jobs have been lost since March 2001 and the beginning of the recession, a disaster unmatched since the era of the Great Depression. Leonard Michael of the Economic Policy Institute ( reminds us that the Bush administration "sold its tax cut plan to Congress based on very specific claims about how many jobs it would create." It has not only failed to come close to its goals, it has continued to lose jobs. And low-wage job gains in the service economy are no substitute for lost high-wage jobs in the unionized manufacturing sector.

To be sure, George Bush is not entirely responsible for the high rate of unemployment. For that, blame the Clinton administration and those Republicans and Democrats who support unconditional principals of free-markets and free trade without regard for its effect on American workers and farmers. The Bush administration has done nothing to stop corporate America's downsizing of jobs and outsourcing of products. And the record-breaking budget deficits that resulted from its tax-cutting policies have made ameliorative job-retraining measures unaffordable.

What makes the loss of jobs so worrisome is that the problem is structural rather than cyclical. Not even the information industry, which fueled the Clinton prosperity, is immune from this trend. An article in the Boston Globe (11/2/03), "As Economy Gains, Outsourcing Surges" describes 20,000 English-speaking Filipinos answering telephones for Dell Computer, Proctor & Gamble, American Express, Citibank from offices in downtown Manila. The once booming Silicon Valley has been hemorrhaging high-tech jobs to low-wage countries like India, Pakistan, and Russia.

The GNP is a false measure of a phony prosperity and an irrelevant indicator of America's future. People who care about the future need to look beyond the GNP statistic and ask hard questions about job loss and trade and budget deficits, about increasing economic disparity as the rich get richer, the poor face crises of housing and health care, and middle-income Americans pile up credit card debt; about environmental issues like global warming that are going to cause expensive and socially wrenching dislocation as tides rise and the climate changes.

The Bush administration argues that the rich will invest their tax-breaks in economic productivity. Some will. But gas-guzzling Humvees,
tax-sheltered oil wells, second homes in Vail and Vermont, and weekends in Vegas are not going to move our country forward. Private sector investment is focused on short-term profit, not long-term planning. The private sector will not strengthen Medicare or shore up social security. On its own, it will not fund health-care, education, affordable housing, energy efficiency, infrastructure projects, and crucial areas of research and development. (The Internet, recall, was funded by government money, not private investors). And because of the Bush tax cuts, the federal government will no longer have the financial resources to fund these basic necessities.

The Bush administration can claim credit for this brief spurt of growth and even for the cycle of prosperity that may follow. But in terms of the future, Bush's tax-cutting priorities and his economic and environmental policies of privilege and greed will only wreak havoc on our economy and hardship on our society.

Marty Jezer writes from Brattleboro, Vermont, and welcomes comments at

The New Ariel Sharon?

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon stunned Israel and the world this past week by repudiating the philosophic and political assumptions of his own ruling Likud political party. By acknowledging that the Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza were in "occupied" territories that should be part of an independent Palestinian state, Sharon was embracing the position of his political rivals, the Israeli doves, and abandoning the Likud's historic goal of a Greater Israel in the biblical "holy land" from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Is this new position an authentic conversion or a tactical ploy? Is Sharon casting himself in the role of F.W. de Klerk of South Africa -- a political leader who, seeing reality, abandoned his misguided political assumptions to create a new paradigm, hopeful and humane?

De Klerk is a relevant model. He, like Sharon, rejected the aspirations of an entire people and, in so doing, supported the disenfranchisement of the political majority. A peaceful solution in South Africa always seemed unimaginable. But, seeing reality, de Klerk helped end apartheid and transform South Africa into a multiracial democracy.

As can be asked about de Klerk's, does Sharon's transformation represent a spiritual epiphany, a Zen moment, or a divinely delivered whack on the head that has jarred him into seeing past the dated assumptions, ideological blinders, conventional prejudices, and fossilized beliefs that have long passed for wisdom in the minds of dull and unimaginative political leaders? Or does it reflect a pragmatic coming-to-terms with a changing strategic landscape; an understanding that the old politics are now outdated and the time is ripe for new directions.

Or maybe a third possibility, as cynics insist: Sharon's change is merely a façade. The old warrior -- champion of the settler movement and enemy of a Palestinian state -- is simply finessing American pressure. Sharon loves the peace process so much, Israeli comics say, that he wants to keep it going for another hundred years. Only the future will show if Sharon's transformation is deceitful or real.

An important factor to note: Ariel Sharon is a secular, not a fundamentalist, Jew. His support for Greater Israel was never biblically inspired. His main motive has always been Israeli security, which meant, in his view, keeping Palestinians weak and stateless. But like Nixon's Chinese and de Klerk's black South Africans, the Palestinians are not going to give up their national aspirations.

Whatever his reason, Sharon decided to put aside illusion and accept reality. As he explained to angry Likud legislators, "You may not like the word but what's happening is occupation. Holding 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is a bad thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy."

What's changed in the Middle East puzzle? For one, the U.S. needs to do something for the Arab world to quiet opposition to its Iraqi occupation and imperial bluster. On this, Bush faces opposition within his administration. The neoconservatives who promoted the invasion of Iraq and threaten war against Syria and Iran are notorious in their support of the Likud's Greater Israel position. How that conflict plays out will affect the pressure Bush brings to bear on Sharon, the Likud, and the Israeli settler movement.

Undermining Yassir Arafat (even though he is the elected Palestinian President) has had its intended effect. Arafat, the great prevaricator, must have driven the Israelis crazy. Whether right or wrong, Israel is nothing if not decisive. This is probably a result of the holocaust experience. European Jews who could not decide whether the Nazis represented a real danger ended up perishing in the camps. Those who acted decisively fled, many to Israel.

Arafat, as ruler, would not make a decisive decision. Nor could he formulate a positive and unifying democratic vision. The new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen), is respected, even by Israelis, as a man of his word. His promise to crack down on terrorism and exercise control of the Palestinian government no doubt gives the security-conscious Sharon a measure of confidence. Israel long accused Arafat of promoting peace when speaking in English and creating obstacles to peace when speaking in Arabic. It's significant, then, that when Abbas spoke about ending Palestinian violence, he did so in Arabic.

In attempting to stop Palestinian terrorism, Abbas faces the possibility of a Palestinian civil war and the threat of assassination. Sharon, if he is sincere, faces a similar challenge. Proponents of Greater Israel are in the streets protesting the peace process. The Israeli paper Haaretz has warned that the anger of right-wing settlers towards Sharon, a man they believed to be their defender, is similar to the anger that led to the assassination of Yitzak Rabin, another Israeli peacemaker.

The history of Middle East peace efforts should give pause even to the most intrepid optimists. Can Abbas take control of his government? Is Sharon ready to abandon the settlements, not just the supposed "illegal" ones (built, though, with the tacit approval of his government) but also the developed ones, inhabited by over 200,000 Israelis, and built in strategic areas in what Sharon now acknowledges to be Palestinian territory?

Beyond the question of Palestinian terrorism and Israeli settlements are the questions of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinians. John Podhoretz, whose parents Norman Podhoretz and Midge Dector are founders of the neo-conservative movement, insists in the New York Post that Israel will never give up Jerusalem.

Whatever the difficulties, a barrier has been broken. Ariel Sharon, the leader of the most hawkish and right-wing government in Israeli history, a sworn enemy of Palestinian statehood, has seen reality and acknowledged what is inevitable and just.

Marty Jezer writes in Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at

Bush Is Losing It

It was a bad week for the Bush administration, and it's likely to get worse. The American people are beginning to understand the folly and greed that inform its economic policy. And most of the civilized world has turned decisively against the Iraqi adventure. The great coalition that George W. Bush proposes to lead against Saddam Hussein is now a coalition of two, and British prime minister Tony Blair has lost the support of his own people, most especially members of his own Labor Party, who warn of a political revolt if Britain goes to war without a new UN resolution.

In France, 75 percent oppose Bush's policy; in Germany the number is 76, in Italy it's 61. In Turkey, a country crucial to the Administration's military effort, opposition to the war, according to the Wall Street Journal, registers at between 80 and 90 percent.

Even the Journal is wondering what's up. As staff reporter Gerald F. Seib wrote on Jan. 22, "President Bush's policy toward Iraq is in distress, and the reason is stunningly simple: His administration hasn't made a very effective public case for war with Saddam Hussein."

In the United States, confidence in the Bush Administration is evaporating, and it's no wonder. Reality is out-running the rhetoric. The Administration has announced probable federal deficits of $200-300 billion over the next two years (which many experts conclude will be higher). While Bush proposes huge tax-breaks for the wealthy, the General Accounting Office says that social security faces tax increases and benefit cuts if it is to remain solvent.

Anticipating the coming deficits, the Administration has shamelessly cut veteran benefits to what it describes as higher-income veterans. In fact, the new cut-off applies not to wealthy veterans but to middle-class veterans with annual incomes of $30,000 to $35,000.

Many states are confronted with multi-billion dollar budget deficits and will have to raise taxes, most of which will fall on working people, the middle class and the poor. In an attempt to save money for the states, the Administration is moving to limit emergency room access to Medicaid patients; i.e., to senior citizens and low income families. Is there not a pattern emerging? Slash taxes for the rich, slash services for everyone else?

Bush introduced his plan to abolish the tax on stock dividends by saying "double taxation is wrong." But, as Daniel Altman wrote in the New York Times (1/21/03), "Corporate dividends "are not the only kind of income that is taxed twice. Other taxes create a double, triple or event quintuple burden. And unlike the double taxation of dividends, which mainly affects the wealthy, the burden of other forms of multiple taxation -- sales taxes, import taxes, payroll taxes, among others -- often falls most heavily on poorer Americans."

Yes! What Bush proposes is class war.

Utilizing a Reagan-era tax loophole that grants larger business deductions to pick-ups than it does to ordinary cars, the Bush Administration, according to the Times (1/21/03), would "increase by 50 percent or more the deductions that small-business owners can take on the biggest and most expensive sports utility vehicles and pickups."

Thus, if a small business owner buys a gas-guzzling (10-11 mpg) Hummer HI, with a list price of $102,581, he or she can deduct $75,000 from the price as a capital equipment deduction. A business that purchases a gas-efficient (45 mpg) Toyota Prius with a $20,500 sticker price, can't even deduct half of that cost, even with the $2,000 deduction the government is allowing for fuel-efficient vehicles included.

In a radio address on Jan. 18, Bush declared that his tax cuts would give 23 million small business owners an average tax cut of $2,042 a year." As New York Times economist Paul Krugman noted, an "average" is a meaningless figure. If one business owner gets a tax-break of $20,420 and nine business owners get nothing, the average tax-break is $2,042, as Bush has described it. The reality, however, as Krugman pointed out, is that most business owners will get less than $500 and about 5 million business owners will get nothing. Bush's promise of a tax windfall to help the economy is a sham. And the public is catching on.

A CNN-Time poll shows support for Bush down to 52 percent, just 1 percent higher than Bill Clinton's worst showing during the era of Monica Lewinsky. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll registers Bush's support at 54 percent, his handling of the economy at 44 percent and his handling of foreign policy at 51 percent. By more than two to one, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, Americans prefer more spending on education, health care and social security than a tax cut, which 61 percent correctly perceive as benefiting the wealthy. A dwindling majority still supports a war against Iraq, but only with U.N. backing and only after the weapon inspectors are given time to do their job.

Bush could take credit for getting the U.N. to focus on Iraq and effectively containing Saddam, but he seems to be intent on war. Faced with the European demand for diplomacy, Bush had a snit fit.

"This looks like a rerun of a bad movie and I'm not interested in watching it," he declared.

Those are not the words of a statesmen or a world leader. As an American, I am embarrassed. As more and more people are coming to understand, this isn't a movie we're watching. It's real life with real consequences, and many people are going to die. A war in Iraq risks destabilizing the Middle East, invites terrorist attacks against Americans all over the world, and will encourage politically motivated attacks on civil liberties here at home.

Bush is losing it. His composure, his "good-guy" image, the debate about economic policy, the sympathy and support of the international community and, as polls indicate, the backing of the American people.

Marty Jezer's books include The Dark Ages: Life in the U.S. 1945-1960. He writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at

The Spiritual Politics of Martin Luther King

With Martin Luther King's birthday holiday coming up I've been thinking of the connection of religion with politics and the contradictions that so often result.

Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister. The organization that he helped to start and lead was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a remarkable group of Southern preachers who stood up to bombings, beatings, jailings and assassination plots to lead the struggle for civil rights. Though many of the young turks in the civil rights movement, especially in the Black Power movement that emerged after 1965, disparaged King and his fellow ministers, King, and the religious orientation that he represented, was a major force in the movement that defeated segregation and continues, to this day, to challenge, racial, social and economic injustice.

Despite their religious and racial backgrounds, King and his fellow ministers spoke to people of all faiths -- and, just as convincingly, to people of no faith. The Christianity of the black church in the civil rights movement rarely bothered non-Christians and non-believers. Rabbis, priests and ministers marched arm and arm and committed civil disobedience together -- filling the jails together. Jews, Catholics, Protestants, atheists and agnostics, people of all creeds and color, were moved by the gospel spirit. Meeting in a black church, listening to preaching about justice and equality, and then rocking the church with gospel-tinged freedom songs, was a transcendent moment.

I know I'm not alone in saying that my participation in the civil rights movement (as minor as it was) was the defining experience of my life, a profoundly spiritual journey that shaped who I am and everything I've done after.

But here's the contradiction: Many of us inspired by the religious-based politics of the civil rights movement are, yet, the most determined supporters of church-state separation. We are also, by and large, strong opponents of the faith-based social welfare initiatives of the Bush Administration, and the power that the right-wing Christian Coalition and its theocratic allies wield in the Republican Party.

This enmity is returned by many backers of the Christian Coalition (who will not be celebrating Martin Luther King's birthday), and born-again Administration officials like Attorney-General John Ashcroft. They oppose -- and have always opposed -- the spirit and substance of what Martin King and the civil rights movement stood for. The division, it needs be emphasized, is not so much about religion as it is about politics disguised as religion. Jimmy Carter, for example, is representative of many: he's a born-again Christian who was transformed by the civil rights movement and imbibes its spirit in his humanitarian endeavors.

So here we have two polarized groups each claiming adherence to a spiritual-based politics that have little else in common except their religious grounding. What's going on?

The message of Martin Luther King, Jr., emanating from Christian teachings, was universal in its application. He and his fellow ministers never proselytized; their good news of tolerance was that wisdom and righteousness exist in other secular and religious teachings. According to King's biographer, Taylor Branch, King was inspired by theologian Walter Rauschenbusch, who taught Christianity "as a spirit of brotherhood made manifest in social ethics." King, and others in the movement, reframed that idea into the concept of a "beloved community," an inclusive vision of humankind striving together for peace and justice.

King was a superb political strategist who understood that race and class (that is, social and economic issues) could never be separated. He democratized the social gospel, transforming it from noblesse oblige, by which people find salvation by doing good deeds, into a calling to empower the powerless, to give the poor and disenfranchised not just bread, but political and civil rights, the tools to fight their own political battles.

Then King went one step further in his commitment to inclusion. When the oppressed gain their freedom, he taught, the debilitating, guilt-ridden burdens of the oppressor also would be lifted. King saw the big picture; he had his "eye on the prize." The cup of justice was both half full and half empty. He exposed political, social and economic injustice and at the same time integrated change into the process of protest.

And what of those on the religious right who mask their lust for power under the guise of public piety and pitiless authority? It's certainly not just an American phenomenon. All over the world, among Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims, are sectarian religious leaders who believe that they alone hear the voice of God and that the authority of God speaks through their temporal political passions. And so they scour religious texts for quotes condemning things they do not like -- taxes, tolerance, and other people's sexual, political, and religious choices. When it suits them, of course, they ignore basic teachings. How does one equate "thou shalt not kill," intrinsic to the Koran as well as the Judeo-Christian Bible, with terrorist attacks or with the death penalty and the planned military invasion of Iraq?

King's religion informed his principles and values. He lived the principles of nonviolence, which he interpreted not as a withdrawal from politics but as a means of infusing politics with ethics and morals. His subjects were freedom, democracy, public good and personal responsibility and empowerment. His concern was doing the right thing, not, as in the case with the religious right, of devising religious-based strategies to achieve wealth, power and domination over non-believers. As Taylor Branch put it, he "established a kind of universal voice, beyond time, beyond race." And that voice still resonates all over the world, for people who will listen.

Marty Jezer's books include "Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel." He writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at

Lessons From Mombasa

The Nov. 28 bombing of the hotel in Mombasa, Kenya and the attempt by terrorists, using a shoulder-held, portable surface-to-air missile, to shoot down an Israeli airliner filled with tourists is a significant warning. We are all endangered; not just Israelis, but people everywhere.

According to an Associated Press report from Afghanistan, American-made Stinger missiles are for sale on the Kabul black market for $200,000 each. Rockets capable of blowing up buildings sell for as little as $5,000. The CIA, which supplied Afghani fighters with hundreds of Stingers for their war against the Russians, estimates that 50 to 100 are unaccounted for. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of less-effective surface-to-air missiles, like the Russian Strela used in Kenya, are available on the international black market. Five-feet long and weighing about thirty pounds, these weapons can be hidden in a duffel bag.

Al Qaida or one of its offshoots is, evidence indicates, likely responsible for these attacks. This marginal underground movement of fundamentalist religious fanatics ("Islamic fascists" as Christopher Hitchens has aptly described them) are at war against Western culture and civilization. They themselves cannot overthrow or destroy any Western country, but by killing innocent people and sewing fear around the world they can, as they are doing in America, undermine hard-won freedoms and constitutional government.

There is nothing liberating or progressive in the politics or on the agenda of Al Qaida and other terrorist movements. It's telling that, twice now, they have been willing to sacrifice black Africans in order to kill a few Jews. The hotel they destroyed in Mombasa employed 245 people. The tourist industry accounts for 40 percent of the Kenyan economy, and if the missiles had hit the plane, it would have slammed into a densely populated neighborhood surrounding the airport. To the self-righteous zealots of Al Qaida, the Kenyan victims can no doubt be dismissed as, what the Pentagon likes to call, "collateral damage."

These are evil people: fundamentalists misusing religion to kill people of other religions and cultures. (Christian, Jewish and Hindus have similar kinds of fanatics). What's needed to stop this is international cooperation of police and intelligence agencies; strong condemnation of fundamentalist terrorism by Muslim religious and government leaders; and relentless international pressure on Israeli and Palestinians to accept a two-state solution to the Middle East crisis.

Israel's oppression of the Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza cannot be blamed for all Muslim terrorism. The bombings in Indonesia, for example, have local roots that date back at least to the 1960s and the U.S.-backed military dictatorship of General Suharto. Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians were murdered in a government-sponsored massacre of supposed leftists. Nevertheless, Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinians and the material and political support Israel enjoys from the West, complicated by the myopic, ineffectual, and morally-compromised leadership of the Palestinian resistance, is an injustice that incites Arab opposition.

Against the real threat of terrorist groups like Al Qaida, the Bush Administration's obsession with Iraq becomes even more inexplicable. For a while I thought that Bush's Iraqi policy was a cynical political ploy that he'd drop after the November election (and recharge again for the 2004 election). In this scenario, Bush would take credit for forcing Saddam to accept the UN weapon inspectors, and then move on to other issues. Well, the inspectors are in Iraq and Bush can claim victory; but the saber-rattling continues, as does the actual war build-up including, now, a call-up of reservists. Bush's bluster not only destabilizes the Middle East and encourages terrorism, but it threatens to undermine the independence and professionalism of the UN weapon inspectors. The CIA has acknowledged that Iraq has had nothing to do with Al Qaida; it has also predicted (what's obvious) that an American attack on Iraq would provoke Iraq to use retaliatory terror. Determined to start his war, Bush has responded by creating his own personal intelligence agency to provide him with the necessary "proof" to justify his policy.

You don't need a weapon of mass destruction (or a hijacked airline) to do big-time damage. One successful terrorist attack with a shoulder-to-air missile on an in-flight civilian airliner would put a damper on international tourism and air travel. Such a hit would, in addition to killing more innocent people, hurt the economies of many Western and third world countries, and, here at home, incite more Bush Administration attacks on civil liberties.

The real international threat to our peace and security comes from loosely-structured terrorist networks, like Al Qaida, that do not adhere to national borders and have no geographic or physical assets other than what can be stuffed in a shoe, pocket, a truck, a SUV, or a duffel bag. The Bush Administration should shut-up about Iraq and let the U.N. weapon inspectors do their work. Instead of unilateral bombast that is likely to lead to unilateral bombing, Bush needs to focus on international cooperation. Good police work, with on-the-ground support when necessary, is what's needed to root out terrorism. Massive bombings, with its "collateral damage", won't stop terrorism or bring terrorists to justice, as we should have learned from our bombing in Afghanistan.

The Bush Administration needs to get real. A war against Iraq is the wrong war, against the wrong enemy, at a time when the real enemy, fundamentalist religious fanaticism and terrorism, is on the offensive all over the world.

Marty Jezer's books include The Dark Ages: Life in the US1945-1960 and Abbie Hoffman, American Rebel. He writes from Brattleboro (VT) and welcomes comments at

Which Side Are You On?

All honor to those early American political leaders who would not ratify the U.S. Constitution until it included a Bill of Rights. And a special "right on" to James Madison and the others who drafted those remarkable 10 amendments, especially the first one that gives us the right of free speech, a free press, freedom of religion and "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Friday at 10:00 p.m. I board one of two buses from Brattleboro to Washington, bound for Saturday’s anti-war demonstration. We drive all night, attend the rally during the day, and then get back on the buses for the return trip to Brattleboro. I’ve never liked going to demonstrations in Washington and this is my first one since 1968. But people have to stand up and be counted.

The opponents of the proposed war on Iraq represent majority opinion. The Bush Administration and the government of Britain’s Tony Blair stand alone in the world in pushing for a go-it-alone military action. The Bush Doctrine of American world dominance, backed by overwhelming military force and a self-proclaimed right to use it whenever and wherever we like, is so abhorrent and misguided as to incite worldwide protest -- which it has!

In Britain, Blair faces serious opposition even within his own Labor Party. Though the Bush Administration won the endorsement of Congress, many congressional supporters, like Senators Kerry, Daschle and Feinstein, have expressed disquiet. This is not to excuse their votes; given their criticisms, it represents a collective act of cowardice and an abrogation of leadership that they will surely regret.

In this vacuum of leadership, a coalition calling itself ANSWER (for "Act Now to Stop War & End Racism), composed of a myriad of anti-war and progressive organizations, has come together to plan this demonstration. The right wing, when it rallies in Washington, does so with a unitary voice and a singular focus that Vladimir Ilich Lenin would have admired.

The anti-war movement, on the other hand, speaks with many, and often contradictory, voices. I’m grateful that ANSWER took the initiative in calling this demonstration. But most people going to Washington will not have heard of the organizations in the ANSWER coalition and will likely disagree with the rhetoric of some of the speakers. No matter! Like me, they’ll be protesting out of their own personal politics and outrage.

Americans have been marching on Washington to petition for a redress of grievances for more than 100 years. In 1894, during one of America’s cyclical economic depressions (this one brought about by corporate corruption, stock market speculation, low farm prices and non-livable wages -- sound familiar?), unemployed workers, led by Jacob Coxey and thus dubbed "Coxey’s Army," marched on Washington to demand federal funding for public works. Coxey was arrested and the marchers were dispersed.

It took 40 years and FDR’s New Deal for the idea of public job creation to become public policy. Public investment, except for war, has little support within the current administration. Those of us rallying in Washington on Saturday, Oct. 26, embody the spirit of Coxey’s Army.

The 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have A Dream Speech," was a defining moment for the civil rights movement. But it took nonviolent sit-ins and civil disobedience, people putting themselves into dangerous situations, to win legal civil and voting rights for all African Americans.

The Vietnam War saw numerous anti-war demonstrations in Washington. Some included civil disobedience. A few, especially the later ones, were compromised by splinter-group violence. Demonstrators who come to a nonviolent march or rally and commit acts of violence are doing the work of agent provocateurs no matter what their intention.

Great speeches and inspiring moments are rare at demonstrations. In 1966, at a rally in front of the White House, Carl Oglesby, the new and then unknown president of Students for a Democratic Society, gave an oration titled "Let Us Shape The Future" that galvanized the audience, brought people cheering and to their feet. In it he made the distinction between corporate liberals who serve the corporate state and humanistic liberals who profess higher ideals. The details of the speech are bound up in history, but Oglesby’s distinction directly addresses the problems of the Democratic Party today.

The only other inspiring moment I remember was at the Washington Monument in 1969 when Dr. Spock, the beloved baby doctor, and Pete Seeger led more than a million people in John Lennon’s "Give Peace A Chance." The astonishing size of that demonstration had a profound effect on government policy, encouraging wavering politicians to decisively break with the Vietnam policy of the Johnson Administration.

A huge turnout at tomorrow’s demonstration could have a similar effect. That’s the main reason I’m going: to be a number. If there are enough of us in Washington, politicians may be emboldened to say what they’re thinking.

My first anti-war demonstration was a 1965 march down New York’s Fifth Avenue to protest the war in Vietnam. I had already written members of Congress and my then liberal hero, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Now it was time to act. The New York newspapers had red-baited the parade, claiming it had been organized by Communists. It was very uncomfortable, that first time, publicly protesting the policies of my country. But I knew we were in the right, and I felt emboldened by our numbers.

"Which side are you on"? an old labor song asks. You study an issue, discuss it with people you trust, question the assumptions of both the advocates and the dissenters, consult your conscience and then, when you make your decision, you act.

That’s what the patriots who pushed for and conceived the Bill of Rights were thinking. Americans have the right to dissent, directly to our government. Protest is patriotic, and this protest, most especially this protest, is essential for the soul and safety of the country.

Marty Jezer's books include “Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel.” He writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at

A Defining Moment For the Democratic Party

When the press began leaking news of the Bush administration's then secret plan to attack Iraq, I began thinking that, at least on the federal level, liberal and leftists, with a welcome mat for moderate Republicans and Democrats, have to band together to clobber the Bush Republicans in the 2002 and, especially, the 2004 elections. But then as the Democrats remained silent against the administration's imprudent warmongering, I began to think, if the Democrats don't have the guts to stand-up against what is probably the most ridiculous and dangerous foreign policy initiative in American history, then who needs them? What is their purpose?

Polls indicate support for a war against Iraq but only with the consent of Congress and the support of the United Nations. When people are asked if "taking out" Saddam is worth American casualties, support dwindles. Polls show that rank-and-file Democrats are wary of war if not dead-set against it. The public is taking the testimony of administration critics seriously. When retired military leaders, like General Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded Operation Desert Storm, and General Wesley Clark, who commanded the Kosovo operation, warn against the Bush policy, there's reason to listen.

To be sure, congressional Democrats are in a difficult position. Iraq has pushed Bush's disastrous economic policies off the agenda. If the Democrats oppose the war, Bush can attack them, as he already has, as unpatriotic and soft on terror.

But the Democrats need not have walked into that trap. From the very beginning they let the Bush administration get away with a self-serving definition of terrorism that implicates every country that opposes U.S. policies. They could have been more outspoken about the war in Afghanistan, insisting that the administration put resources behind police work, humanitarian aid and nation-building. They could have factually traced Bush's Iraqi obsession to positions taken before Sept. 11 that had nothing to do with Al-Qaida.

The administration has tried all kinds of arguments to rationalize a pre-emptive strike on Iraq and none of them have been convincing. Speaking for the administration, Condoleezza Rice is recycling the claim that bin Laden and Saddam are in cahoots. This time she may be right. One result of Bush's unilateral fixation with Iraq is to unite extremist Muslims into a multilateral anti-American movement.

Will the Democrats speak out to expose this folly!

Opposing the administration does not necessitate going out on a limb and calling for, say, unilateral disarmament. All the Democrats need to do is insist that if Bush has a grievance with Iraq because it is violating U.N. resolutions, he should go to the U.N. and get U.N. backing for any military action. Military action should be the last resort and, not as the Bush administration advocates, the first option.

This is not a particularly bold initiative. All it insists upon is that the Bush administration adhere to international law and the stated ideals of our own diplomatic tradition. A pre-emotive strike, what the Japanese did to us at Pearl Harbor, is morally wrong. The Bush Doctrine, which would give the U.S. the right to unilaterally attack any country or remove any government that displeases a President, is fascism. It's also a litmus test of patriotism. Every American should stand up and oppose it.

Bush-backing Republicans will, of course, try to fudge the issue. In Vermont, Republican candidate Bill Meub is attacking Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders, who is a critic of Bush's unilateralist policy, for undermining the war on terrorism. But the Bush policy that Meub supports would fracture the multinational effort to track down terrorist networks. It's not the critics of the Iraqi war, but its supporters, who are undermining the war on terrorism. TV images of bombs falling on Baghdad will serve Al Qaida as a recruitment poster for future terrorists.

Some Democrats have spoken up against the Bush Doctrine. (In Vermont, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy has joined independents Sanders and Jim Jeffords as war-critics). But the Party, as an oppositional force, remains disunited. Presidential aspirants Richard Gephardt, John Edwards, Joseph Lieberman continue to shill for the Bush administration and have probably disqualified themselves as presidential contenders. John Kerry and now Al Gore have spoken up. But they have to go further. They, or others, will have to show leadership and, like Senators Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening of the Vietnam War era, make it the issue. An attack on Iraq is not in the nation's interest.

Vermont's governor Howard Dean has been a big surprise. He not only has demanded that Bush get U.N. backing, but he has had the guts to criticize the self-serving politics that inform Bush's foreign policy. Dean, if he sticks to his guns, may emerge as the Gene McCarthy of the 2004 election. One thing Vermonters know is that he can be stubborn (even if not always for the right reason). His support of civil unions was right, however, and also courageous. Under attack from right-wing homophobes, his defense of civil unions was eloquent and unwavering.

In the last week, more Democrats have spoken up against Bush's rush-to-war policy. Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, West Virginia's Robert Byrd, California's Dianne Feinstein, Michigan's Carl Levin, Ohio's Dennis Kucinich, and others give one hope. But what we need is party leadership. They need to see themselves not as individual dissidents but as opposition leaders with a party behind them.

The Bush administration talks about a regime change in Iraq, I'd like to see a regime change in Washington. For the Democrats this is a defining moment. If they stand united and strong against the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive strikes and unilateral military action, they will rally people behind them. If they cave in to the administration's demagoguery, it'll be 1968 all over again and they will lose their party.

Marty Jezer writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at

Sneak Attacks and American Aggression

Growing up in the Bronx in the years after the Second World War, there was a game that boys used to play in the schoolyard. One boy would walk up to another (usually smaller) boy and say, "Let's play Pearl Harbor."

Then he'd grab the kid by the crotch and shout, "Sneak attack!"

Make no mistake about it -- if we launch a unilateral attack on Iraq, it would be the moral equivalent of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This time, however, we'd be the "Japs." In the eyes of the world, we'd be the aggressor nation.

To be sure, the idea for such an attack is no longer secret. But that's only because opponents of an attack inside the Bush Administration leaked the plans to the New York Times. Subsequent articles in the Times provoked the current discussion.

If it were up to the Administration, the idea of attacking Iraq would still be a secret. We'd wake up one morning to televised pictures of Baghdad being bombed and anti-American demonstrations throughout the world.

Is an attack on Iraq something we want to be responsible for as a nation? I agree with Texas Republican Dick Armey who, early in August, said,

"If we try to act against Saddam Hussein, as obnoxious as he is, without proper provocation, we will not have the support of other nation states who might do so. I don't believe that America will justifiably make an unprovoked attack on another nation. It would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation."

Armey's historical memory is a little warped, however. The United States has waged unilateral and unprovoked wars a number of times in its history, and American presidents have ordered military action without the approval of Congress. The invasion of Grenada was one such instance. So was the 1961 invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. But the plans for Iraq take brazenness to a dangerous level. A Middle East conflagration is one probable outcome.

We can learn something from the Bay of Pigs debacle. It too was supposed to be secret but, as with Iraq, government critics leaked it to the New York Times. To its confessed regret, the Times sat on the story. As a result, neither the American people nor Congress, in any official capacity, knew that an invasion was pending. Without public discussion, the CIA came to believe its own self-serving propaganda. President Kennedy approved the invasion on the basis of CIA assurances that the Cuban people would welcome the invaders and themselves overthrow the Castro government. Sound familiar? Beware of government intelligence briefings that reinforce government ambitions. The Cuban people never rebelled, and Castro, who knew an invasion was coming, stopped it at the beachhead.

Fidel Castro is no Saddam, despite Bush's nonsensical attempt to tar him as a terrorist. Successive U.S. governments have more or less opposed Castro for ideological reasons, not because he has weapons of mass destruction or threatens Miami. Earlier this year, when the Administration accused Castro of building biological weapons, the accusation went no further than the day's headlines. False accusations and dubbing opponents "evil" do not justify a war of aggression. So far, Bush's argument for "taking out" Saddam consists of ad hominem name-calling. This is schoolyard stuff. Just because Bush can't goose Saddam (and perhaps avenge his father) is no reason to set Iraq afire.

Public pressure has forced Bush to at least promise to go before Congress. I take this with a grain of salt. Remember the Tonkin Resolution? Congress approved an open-ended escalation of the war in Vietnam because the North Vietnamese supposedly attacked American naval ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. We now know that the attacks never happened and that President Johnson knew it was a lie.

A Congressional debate would be useful. I would like to know when Saddam became the modern-day Hitler that Bush says he is. Was it when he used chemical weapons against the Kurds and Iranians with our political support and military assistance? Was it after Senator Bob Dole went to Baghdad to cut a deal for oil and proclaimed Saddam (even after he had used those chemical weapons) "a leader to whom the United States can talk."

Saddam is a brutal dictator, no doubt; and he may or may not be building dangerous weapons. As Noam Chomsky, a leading critic of American foreign policy, says, Saddam "is as evil as they come....No one would want to be within his reach. But fortunately, his reach does not extend very far."

Iraq is not a U.S. problem. His weapons cannot reach America. Nor is there any evidence tying him to Osama bin Laden. Saddam is a problem for the Middle East and for his own people. Bombing people in order to save them, which is how the U.S. proposed to help the people of Vietnam, is not likely to win the support of the Iraqi victims. The United Nations recognizes Saddam as an international outlaw. It's U.N., not American, weapon inspectors we want back in Iraq. It's U.N. resolutions, not American laws, that Saddam is flouting.

Without U.N. backing, without sufficient evidence to win support from our allies, the United States has no right to go to war against Iraq. If Bush starts a war without congressional backing, he ought to be impeached for violating the U.S. Constitution. And any member of Congress who votes for war without U.N. backing ought to be voted out of office, no matter what his or her party.

Marty Jezer's books include "Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel" and "The Dark Ages: Life in the U.S. 1945-1960." He writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at

Patriotism and Dissent

When I was in college, taking a required two-year military course in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, I wrote a column for my campus newspaper criticizing the compulsory nature of ROTC. I was thereupon ordered to show myself at ROTC headquarters to meet with the captain who headed the program. He gave me a short lecture about patriotism and military service and sent me away with one final question: "Did your father serve in the military?" The question confused me, but I saluted him smartly, mumbled my answer, and departed his office. What was he implying, I wondered. Is military service a measure of one's patriotism and credibility?

I wish that I could reverse time and relive that moment. Now I have the proper answer. "Did Dick Cheney serve?" I'd shoot back. "Or Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle?" referring to the Bush Administration's two leading advocates of bombing Baghdad. "Was John Ashcroft ever in the military? Or GOP congressional leaders Trent Lott, Tom DeLay, Phil Gramm, Dennis Hastert or White House guru Karl Rove or Newt Gingrich or Russ Limbaugh?" Each of these worthies was eligible to serve in the Vietnam-era military, but none did. And how about John Wayne and Ronald Reagan of my father's generation, both of whom fought World War II in Hollywood backlots but, in defiance of fact, stand as symbols of the World War II "greatest" generation.

In many states and on the national level, military service is used as a political weapon, aimed by political right-wingers with hawkish views at liberal or left-of-center doves who are critical of our foreign policy and opposed to our country's military interventions in other countries.

It's an old and despicable political gambit that has succeeded in stifling debate about America's military and foreign policy. Politicians who protested the Vietnam War are vulnerable to personal attack if they've not done military service (remember how the right-wing attacked Bill Clinton on this subject). Right-wingers, however, get a free ride. They can spout-off in favor of war without ever having to explain their lack of military service.

One result is that men and women with public histories of protesting war are rarely consulted about foreign policy -- not by the media and not by the government. Very few doves, except in the black community, are ever elected to national office. Draft resisters who stood up for their principles are very rarely asked to comment on public policy.

From the get-go, policy discussions are biased towards people with hawkish views. Most people now agree that the war in Vietnam was a mistake and that the critics of the war were largely right. But the critics of that war are still very much marginalized in America's political culture. Those who were wrong about Vietnam are still making policy. Alternative viewpoints are rarely heard.

It's not just a matter of right and wrong policy decisions, however. Military service or the lack thereof does not automatically make a politician wise. John McCain and John Kerry both served in Vietnam but disagree about Iraq. McCain, to his credit, has spoken up in behalf of Vietnam War protestors serving in government. But he's an exception. To the Bush Administration, obsessed as it is with fighting a cultural and political war against the activists of the 1960s, hawkish views are patriotic and those who disagree are immediately vulnerable if they've not done military service. I owe the research for this article to Steven Fowle, a Vietnam veteran who edits The New Hampshire Gazette. He has compiled a list of politicians and public opinion leaders who advocate war but never served in the military. His web site is called "The Chickenhawk Database" <>>. Fowle's definition of a "chickenhawk" is a "public person" who advocates or fervently supports "military solutions to political problems" and who has "personally declined to take advantage of a significant opportunity to served in uniform during wartime." That description describes, as listed above, some of the most prominent right-wing and neoconservative hawks advocating attacking Iraq. The list also includes other prominent politicians and media pundits. (Fowle notes that his use of the term "chickenhawk" has nothing to do with the Vietnam memoir "Chickenhawk" by Robert Mason, a Vietnam vet).

The chickenhawks advocating a war with Iraq did nothing illegal in avoiding the Vietnam war, it should be said. The Vietnam draft was discriminatory in terms of race and class. Student deferments, notes from a friendly doctor, or the support of a sympathetic draft board provided a legal means of draft avoidance. But Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle and their cohorts were pro-war. They still are. In Iraq, as in Vietnam, they're pleased to have other Americans do the fighting.

Yes, we need a full-blown debate about Iraq, not only in the Congress, but in the media, in schools, and in local communities. (Something to think about: If we still had a draft, there'd be massive opposition to a war in Iraq all over the country, and young people would be leading it). Alas, I doubt if we'll get the kind of discussion that is needed, one that explores the merit of the problem from all perspectives and seeks peaceful alternatives to military conflagration. Neither Congress nor the mainstream media is going to give veteran doves a respectful hearing. Those who advocate a multilateral diplomatic solution to the problems of Iraq, terrorism, and the Middle East but who did not serve in the military will not be part of it. Those who advocate a war against Iraq will have center stage; the chickenhawks among them will not have to justify their lack of military service.

Marty Jezer writes from Brattleboro and welcomes comments at By way of disclosure, I was classified as IY (eligible for service in a national emergency) in 1963. I began protesting the Vietnam War in 1964 and was an organizer and advocate of draft resistance for the duration.

Beating Up the Press

When you don't like what's in the news, attack the media.

When people are passionately involved with the stories in the news, as they are over the Middle East, the media takes a beating. Those who are sympathetic to the Palestinian side believe intensely that the media is pro-Israeli. And until recently, this has been obvious, with Arabs generally caricatured as cartoon villains. But now partisans of Israel are accusing the media of becoming pro-Palestinian.

Should a reporter smile at Arafat and then ask Sharon a hard-ball question, then that's taken as evidence of a deliberate distortion. Should a story describe the Palestinians as having a legitimate grievance, then the reporter, or the paper, is accused of an anti-Israeli bias. A group of rabbis in New York have even called for a boycott of the New York Times.

Criticism of the press is commonplace, but the current brouhaha also reflects a technological revolution that is changing the relationship between journalism and the public. I'll get to that later.

Israel has long gotten a free pass from the American media. The narrative of Israeli existence has been defined by certain core themes: the survivors of the holocaust; the biblical claim to the holy land; a brave and heroic people making the desert bloom; the only democracy in the Middle East in which Arab citizens are free to vote and practice their religion. This is the Israel of the American media.

There is another side, of course; one that is rarely presented. This story includes the use of terrorism by some of the leaders of the (now) ruling Likud Party; the forced removal of many Palestinians from their land; the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank with accompanying military checkpoints and installations; the inadequacies of the bold, but (in retrospect) insufficient Camp David "land for peace" offer; Ariel Sharon's deliberate provocative visit to the Temple Mount; the misery of Palestinian existence under Israeli occupation; Israel's complicity in the current carnage.

Until the current uprising, the American media generally presented the inspiring side of Israel's history. The Palestinian side was under-reported. Because the daily conditions of the Israeli occupation were rarely described, the Palestinians became invisible, out of sight and out of mind. In a world saturated with breaking news, what is not news is non-existent. Terrorism alone has gotten them attention.

The Palestinian story is now being reported, but because balanced reporting is so new in this area, partisans of Israel take it as a decisive shift towards the Palestinian perspective. But the presence of new satellite TV technology and the spread of the Internet has blown open the narrow bounds of the pro-Israeli narrative. For the first time, the Arab world has its own independent television stations. The Western press may be barred from the Israeli incursions, but the Arab world is viewing the battle scenes as the Palestinian experience. The West, in other words, has lost its monopoly -- its ability to frame a story -- over TV journalism. The consequences of this are staggering. Sharon may win the military battle on the ground (though in terms of long-term Israeli security, his strategy is more likely to bring catastrophe), but in the Arab world, the Palestinians are winning the propaganda battle.

The Internet is also changing the way people get news. Until the 1960s, the public got the news that was handed to it, by mainstream newspapers and network television. Radical publications, presenting an alternative reality, were marginal. A technological revolution that lowered the cost of offset printing enabled underground (alternative) newspapers to be mass-produced. Dissident journalists who couldn't get their views into the mainstream media now had access to a popular medium. But this revolution was rather modest. Editorial boards still screened what got published. Readers familiar with the medium knew the political position of each paper.

The Internet revolution has diminished the screening process. Readers now have instant access to the international press, think tanks, and special interest and propaganda web sites on every subject. I sit at my computer and get instant news updates from Yahoo Full Coverage. I read on-line newspapers from all over the world. I read compendiums of political thinking across the political spectrum. My inbox is flooded with Israeli and Palestinian pleadings, each claiming that their side is wholly in the right and the other side is all evil. In my Internet discussion groups, the controversy rages.

What to make of all this information, more than I can ever read or use? There are a select group of journals and journalists whom I absolutely trust, even if I disagree with their overall perspective. Some of the propaganda is useful in understanding what one side or the other is up to. I found it shameful that Israeli web sites slandered the Palestinian moderate, Sari Nusseibeh, as soon as he got some press coverage. One Zionist web site went so far as to claim that Nusseibeh, a man who has spoken out against Palestinian terrorism and joins Israeli peace activists in joint speaking engagements, was a spy for Iraq. Just as offensive are the Arab web sites accusing Israel of committing massacres and genocide. A people whose principle political weapon has been the murder of innocent civilians praying, dancing, shopping or dining has no right to wear the mantle of victimization. In recent weeks I've received dozens of messages from activists in the West Bank with horrid stories of Israeli atrocities. I honor their commitment but suspect their reporting.

The starting point for all journalists, no matter what their ideological bent, is to get the facts, to be seekers of the truth. Government press officers lie and so does the opposition. Writers who whitewash the facts in order to present their side of a story don't do anyone any good, least of all their own followers. People and countries that believe their own propaganda make policy out of delusion. There's nothing inherently honest about being in the middle, but journalists in this particular conflict who don't have both sides in their vision aren't getting the full story.

Marty Jezer's books include "The Dark Ages: Life in the U.S. 1945-1960" and "Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel." He writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at

Playing the Anti-Semitism Card

Among the many responses I’ve received for my columns on the Middle East two stand out. A number of non-Jews, in person and by e-mail, have told me, "You write what I believe, but I’m afraid to speak out. I’m afraid to criticize Israel because people will think that I’m anti-Semitic."

A second response, spoken by an acquaintance whom I respect for his decent, liberal values, was more unsettling. "I’m starting to feel anti-Semitic," he said without any suggestion of irony. "It is disgusting what Israel is doing to the Palestinians."

"Anti-Semitism is not the issue," I replied. "It’s not Jews attacking Palestinians, it’s Israelis. Many Jewish people, myself included, share your disgust."

But maybe anti-Semitism is an issue, a subtext of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that no one wants to talk openly about. In the cauldron of the times, anti-Semitism has become an accusation, a weapon, a way of silencing critics of Israel without having to listen to their arguments. And when used against Palestinians, it’s a way of denying their aspirations and ignoring their grievances.

Anti-Semitism exists, but to extract its meaning it has to be put into perspective. Under Hitler, the German people murdered millions of European Jews. But today most Germans are friends and allies of Jews and of Israel. As a Jew, I still feel a gut wariness whenever I meet a German. But I also feel elated. That we two, German and Jew, can interact empathically fills me with hope. The history of modern Germany is proof that people can change, that ancient feuds and tribal bloodbaths need not dictate humanity’s future. Blacks-whites, Hutus-Tutsis, Bosnians-Serbs, even Arabs and Jews: We shall overcome.

Anti-Semitism exists in the Arab world. Increasingly, Arabs couch their opposition to Israel in the anti-Semitic rhetoric that originated in Europe. But is anti-Semitism driving the Palestinian resistance? Or is the Middle East conflict simply a battle over land, two peoples with a historic claim over the same territory? For centuries Jews lived amongst the Arabs of the Middle East. Coexistence was never easy and during World War II many Arab leaders gave verbal support to the Nazis. But Zionism, the movement for a Jewish state in Palestine, was a European phenomenon; Middle Eastern Jews did not look to the biblical holy land for security and life’s meaning. After the holocaust the logic of Zionism could not be denied. European guilt assured Israeli statehood. But it was the Palestinians who bore the brunt. And they were not consulted.

Supporters of Israeli policy in Israel and America, rarely acknowledge this. They speak of the conflict with the Palestinians in terms of Arab anti-Semitism, and in the context of the holocaust and Jewish survival. Rarely mentioned is the historic record of Israeli provocations: the occupation of the West Bank, the military checkpoints, the continuous expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory.

Anti-Semitism in America, except on the margins of society, rarely includes overt acts of violence and discrimination. It is usually more subtle, expressed politically in the belief that the United States is a Christian nation or, among evangelical and some other fundamentalist Christians, that Jews cannot find salvation unless they accept Christian dogma. People have an absolute right to religious belief, but once it enters the political arena, it opens itself to critical comment.

On April 15, an Israeli Solidarity Rally brought speakers from all across the political spectrum. One speaker was Janet Parshall, a national talk show host who is a director of the evangelical Christian National Religious Broadcasters and the spokesperson for the Family Research Council, an anti-choice, homophobic front-group for right-wing Republicans whose web site promotes tax cuts, bashes liberals, and says nothing about Israel. But at the Solidarity Rally, Ms. Parshall enthusiastically identified herself with what she considered the cause of the Jews and drew cheers attacking the idea of "land for peace." "We will never give up the Golan," she announced. "We will never divide Jerusalem," she declared.

Jewish organizations that uncritically support Ariel Sharon in the name of security for Israel are avidly courting the Christian right. A headline speaker at a recent meeting of AIPAC (the influential American-Israeli Political Action Committee) was Republican House Whip Tom DeLay who drew applause for calling the West Bank by its biblical name, "Judea and Samaria," and for stating that Israel should not give any land back to the Palestinians. Delay’s politics are anathema to most American Jews, but all that can be overlooked, or so it seems, for his support of Israel. On his web site, Delay boasts of his 100% support for the positions of New American Magazine, the house organ of the John Birch Society. He has also publicly said, according to USA Today, that Christianity offers the "only viable, reasonable, definitive answer" to the questions of life. Note the word "only." No other religions are in the game.

What then is one to conclude about this new Jewish compact with the most reactionary elements of American society? It seems to me that right-wing Christians are happy to support a new crusade to drive Arabs from the Holy Land, and that they’ll cheer the killing of Palestinians down to the last Jew. But don’t expect Jewish warriors to be granted salvation. As the fundamentalist Christians describe it, heaven is off-limits to Jews; unless, of course, we Jews convert to their right-wing theology and denounce the religious legitimacy of our own Jewish faith.

In the context of American politics and religious culture, the Jewish organizations that demand uncritical support of Ariel Sharon have embraced organizations most closely reflective of anti-Semitism itself. For the sake of solidarity with Israel they’ve allied themselves with religious organizations most problematic for Jews. Supporting Sharon is bad enough. An alliance with the religious right is a second mistake.

Marty Jezer's books include biographies of Abbie Hoffman and Rachel Carson and The Dark Ages: Life in the United States, 1945-1960. He writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at

A Time for Tolerance?

The television was showing a video screen close-up of one of the World Trade Center towers crumbling. It's a video that, like the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination, is going to be etched in our history.

As it collapsed on office workers, police, firemen and other rescue workers, Dan Rather on CBS observed that "this is the new face of war." But it's not. Crumbling buildings, smoke, dust, rubble, fire, sirens, casualty figures in the thousands is new only for the United States. Politics aside, for the people of London and Hamburg, Hanoi and Tokyo, Belgrade, Baghdad, Beirut that's what an air-attack on civilians looks like.

But what is new about this "war" is that it's not country against country or even people against people, which is bad enough. What happened here almost surely was that a small group of angry fanatics were willing to commit suicide and kill thousands of innocent civilians for the purpose of making a political statement, a statement of hatred and revenge.

War, it's been said, is diplomacy by other means. But this is not diplomacy, even in its most violent sense. What distinguishes terrorism from war is that war has a purpose, however immoral or wrong. Terrorism doesn't seek to advance the strategic position of the terrorists or even seek to improve their place in the world. It's simply lashing out. The joy for the terrorist is in the destruction, not the political gain.

Yesterday's attack should put an end to the illusion that isolationism is a viable policy. Unless we want to shut down all our airports, stop trade, and cut ourselves off from the world, we are part of the world, hence vulnerable. There's no place to run, no place to hide. The only way to deal with conflict this side of war is to engage, talk, negotiate, and negotiate some more.

Reports indicate that Osama bin Laden had warned, a week earlier, of a planned attack. The State Department took precautions but how could they have anticipated this kind of attack?

The French News Agency quoted a spokesman for the radical Islamic Jihad movement as saying that the attacks were a consequence of United States policy in the Middle East. He condemned the attack, as did Yasser Arafat.

I know what people are saying: this is no time for namby-pamby pacifism, no time for talk about tolerance, human rights, brother and sisterhood. A part of me is saying that very same thing. But I also hear a voice inside me saying that this is precisely the time to talk about tolerance and moderation.

If it was an Arab or a Muslim group that is responsible for this atrocity (and at this point there is only circumstantial evidence), it is not all Arabs or all Muslims. Just as in Oklahoma City it was not the extreme right-wing that destroyed the federal building, it was fanatic. It will do us no good to take revenge or urge revenge on one group of people for the crime of a miniscule group that might look or even, in broad ideological or religious way, think like them. It will simply let the true culprits get off and encourage more hatred, vengeance and barbaric terrorism.

Happy Birthday Louis Armstrong

One of the most delightful myths of American music is that the great jazz trumpet player and gravelly-voiced singer Louis Armstrong was born on July 4th, 1900. Actually, he was born on August 4th, 1901 but that fact wasn't uncovered until after he died, when biographers started raking over his life. The July 4th story, fostered by Armstrong himself, was based on the birth date on a phony draft card he used as a teenager in order to play music in New Orleans clubs.

Myths call attention to essential truths. The story of George Washington chopping down his father's cherry tree is a biographer's invention. So is his admission, "I cannot tell a lie." It never happened. But the myth tells us something about George Washington's character. Historians agree: it was sterling.

Similarly, no matter what the fact of Louis Armstrong's date of birth, he was our country's twentieth century, July 4th baby, a musical genius who brought joy to the world and changed the course of American music and entertainment.

Armstrong's importance rests on three propositions. As a young trumpet player in the 1920s he expanded jazz from an harmonically and rhythmically-circumscribed music into a creative performers art. As a singer, he was the inspiration for Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and every other great pop singer. Finally, he was the world's most beloved entertainer, an ambassador of American culture to the world.

Armstrong's jazz reputation rests on a series of records he made between 1925 and 1928: his Hot Five and Hot Seven sessions. On these records, Armstrong's extended solo improvisations took center stage, expanding jazz's emotional and musical language. Discovering space in syncopation, he made the music swing. Scholars have analyzed Armstrong's solos on these records, but it's enough to listen to them. Potato Head Blues, Cornet Chop Suey, Struttin' With Some Barbecue, Heebie Jeebies and the magnificent West End Blues are all available on CD reissues, as are his later albums, Louis Armstrong "Plays W.C. Handy" and "Plays Fats Waller," which are works of genius.

Jazz would have gone in the creative direction that Armstrong took it even without him. Generation after generation of brilliant jazz improvisers have pushed against its creative borders. But it was Armstrong who first and most brilliantly uncovered the possibilities of the music. As Miles Davis once said, "You can't play anything on the horn that Louis hasn't played -- I mean even modern."

Before Armstrong started singing, there were great black blues singers (Louis Armstrong accompanied the greatest of them, Bessie Smith, on some of her records), and white belters (like Al Jolson) who tried to imitate them. But pop crooners, like the sweet, lame-voiced Rudy Valley, stuck to the written music as in the European classical tradition. Armstrong brought his jazz innovations to popular singing, allowing the vocalist to personalize the music, to interpret a song as he or she wished. He was not the first singer to scat (that is, sing nonsense syllables for words), but he was the first jazz or pop singer to explore the full emotional range of the voice. He used it as if it was a horn, going deep within himself to capture the essence of a song.

Armstrong's musical ear and lyric sensibility were unerring. When songs were trite, as they so often were, he enhanced them with gentle mockery and then made them his own with brilliant musicianship. With good material -- tunes by Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, the Gershwins, and Handy and Waller - - he was definitive. His collaboration with Ella Fitzgerald rank with the best of Sinatra as the authoritative interpretations of the great pop standards. Queen Ella, with her crystalline voice, swooped and soared. Armstrong responded in gruff staccato. Ella had the "chops," as Louis might have described her voice, but Armstrong's singing and trumpet playing was pure joy and musical genius.

Louis Armstrong saw himself as an entertainer as well as a jazz musician and singer. We picture him handkerchief in hand, wiping sweat off his brow, jiving and mugging. He was often criticized for not taking his music seriously and degrading his art. Detractors accused him of playing an "Uncle Tom," acting like a buffoon to please white audiences. There is an element of historic truth in that charge. All minorities learn to clown (think of Jewish comedians) in order to protect themselves from the majority's hostility, and Armstrong, living in a Jim Crow world, had something to fear.

But Armstrong's humor was as authentic as it was universal. Like his music, it welled up from in him. There was no shame in his jive, no dishonor to his mugging. Armstrong was always observant. He always carried a typewriter when touring, and his writings (see Louis Armstrong In His Own Words; Oxford, 1999), make apparent the self-awareness that informed his life as an entertainer. Growing up in an impoverished Southern apartheid environment where, as he put it, violence "danced" all around him, he understood the importance of his artistic vision, knew whom to emulate and whom to hold as role-models. He believed in himself and his ability to bring people together. The man people called "Dippermouth," "Satchmo," "Louis," or "Pops" was perfectly self-actualized, conscious of his prowess, true to his talent.

So happy birthday "Pops" even if July 4th is not your real one. On Independence Day, let's play some Louis Armstrong along with the National Anthem. Louis Armstrong was a true native son, the great liberator of American music.

Marty Jezer is a freelance writer from Brattleboro, Vermont. He welcomes comments at

Thank Corporate Cash for China Vote

Thanks to support of House Republicans, President Clinton won passage of the House bill giving China most favored nation trading status. Unfettered, market-driven, corporate dominated free trade is what Clinton has wanted most from his presidency. He passed the North American Free Trade Agreement with the support of 39 percent of the House Democrats. For China, his support dwindled to 35 percent. When it comes to economic policy, Clintonian Democrats -- a minority in the Democratic Party -- seem more and more akin to mainstream Republicans. But it's money, not ideology, that binds them. Both sides worship at the alter of corporate campaign contributions.

Corporate America spent big for this bill. So did labor, but, as always, it lacked the financial resources to have real clout. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the 200 corporate members of the Business Roundtable spent about $10 million in advertising to promote the Clinton initiative. This expenditure came on top of the $58 million members of the Roundtable contributed to the Republican and Democratic parties this year. Citibank, for example, gave both parties $231,000 in soft money; $100,000 of which went to the fundraising arm of House Democrats to encourage support for the bill.

In actual purchasing power the value of a campaign contribution is double the investment. Implicit in any contribution is the threat that money given to one candidate can be withdrawn in the next election and given to the candidate's opponent. In other words, Citibank gave the House Democrats $100,000 for the China bill. If that money goes to House Republicans in the next election cycle, the differential in campaign resources between what the Democrats lost and the Republicans gained is $200,000. That's why money has become the currency of American politics. As Representative Gene Taylor, a Democrat from Mississippi who voted against the China bill, asked in the New York Times, "Have you ever seen big money lose?"

The China vote was determined by money, not merit. Proponents argued that unregulated free trade with China would help bind the U.S. and China together in the realm of economics and politics. The lure of exports and financial investment may temper some aspects of Chinese policy, but don't expect Chinese leaders to simply give up on their own "great power" ambitions. The Clintonians may believe the Eisenhower-era hokum that what's good for corporate America is good for America, but the Chinese leaders have interests of their own. Trade with the United States is not going to inspire China to let Tibet go.

Clinton and his Republican allies also argued that the bill agreement will open China to American markets. And that's really hokum. The American trade deficit with China is already larger than it is with any other trading partner. We import more than we sell for the simple reason that the Chinese don't make enough money to buy American products.

What free trade is about, in the current economy, is the export of American capital and jobs, not the export of American products. American corporations want to invest in China -- and other third world countries -- because labor is cheap and there are no environmental regulations. American corporations, including financial institutions like Citibank, will prosper from the "Open Door" to China. But American workers -- and the communities in which they live -- will suffer as corporations export manufacturing jobs to China. The evidence is all around us. Go to Wal-mart and check out the number of products, often made by American companies, that are manufactured in China.

The battle over trade will continue even if the Senate approves the House-passed legislation. Proponents will attempt to marginalize the opposition. But opponents include not just environmentalists and the AFL-CIO. They include the Catholic Church, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, Jesse Helms and Pat Buchanan. Who has a popular majority? We'll never know. Big money owns presidential candidates Bush and Gore who both favor the Clintonian position of corporate dominated international trade.

I admit to being uncomfortable with some of my political bedfellows. Helms and Buchanan oppose free trade with China because they don't like foreigners. Their idea of an isolationist America -- our shores shut to foreign trade, foreign culture, and foreign ideas -- is anathema to our roots as a nation.

With Jesse Helms and Pat Buchanan opposing the China initiative, one needs to be clear about why he or she objects to Clinton's globalization strategy. Globalization is here to stay and trade between nations ought to be encouraged when conditions are right. But corporate boards, and politicians who get their money, should not be allowed to dictate the form of the debate. It's not trade that we're against; it's who makes the rules of trade -- and who benefits by its international flow. Labor unions, farm organizations, human rights and environmental groups, as well as representatives from communities who stand to gain or lose from international trade, all ought to have a place at the table where trade agreements are made.

Yes, such negotiations will be inefficient. Democracy is unwieldy but there is more to human endeavor than getting the trains to run on time. The China trade bill, like the agenda of the World Trade organization, puts corporate profits in command and subjugates the complexities of human existence to the demands of the marketplace. Fair trade needn't mean isolationism or protectionism. There are ways of facilitating international commerce that minimize harm to people and communities. Economic justice, sustainable development, and environmental awareness, should be a principle trading demand.

Marty Jezer is a free-lance writer who lives in Brattleboro, Vermont. He welcomes comments at

Jack-Boot Globalizers

The American proponents of globalization and free trade have good arguments to make in behalf of granting China permanent normal trade relation status (what used to be called "most-favored" nation status). At least they sound good until you look at the historical record.

Free trade, as the globalizers hype it, would bring countries like China into the free world's marketing orbit. Free markets, they say, create free political institutions. Capitalism, their argument goes, is a prerequisite for democracy. Giving China most-favored nation status would advance the human rights of the Chinese people. Human rights: that's what free trade is about. Hah!

The evidence tells us that capitalist free markets exist quite well under totalitarian conditions where human rights are routinely violated. When the U.S. helped overthrow the elected socialist government of Chile, free markets triumphed. So did torture chambers and death squads. Throughout Latin America and in Iran, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere, military dictatorships -- installed and maintained by American military might -- imposed free market "jack-boot capitalism."

There have always been two aspects to international trade. One is the flow of goods, the second is the flow of money, financial capital. In the past these flows were restrained by national considerations. Corporations were nation-based, not multinational; and trade primarily meant the flow of goods, not the flow of capital. After the second world war, this country dominated. Our planes, textiles, TV sets, shoes, sporting goods, cars and tires flooded the world. But within our country, industry tended to locate where wages were lowest.

Over time, American corporations abandoned America's productive capacity. If it was cheaper to make shirts in low- wage, non-unionized factories in South Carolina than it was to make them in fair-wage unionized shops in Brattleboro, Vermont than industry abandoned its factory in Brattleboro and relocated in South Carolina. And if it's cheaper to make shirts in China than it is in South Carolina that hello Shanghai, bye bye Carolina.

The U.S. waged the Cold War because communist countries banned American investment. Now, in the post-Cold War era, countries welcome American (and other foreign) investment. Even supposedly communist countries like the People's Republic of China, foreign investment is welcomed, usually in joint partnership with government entities.

It is easier to move financial capital than it is to move workers. Under the free market laws of the global economy, financial capital will flow to areas of low-cost production. That is why American multinational corporations are so intent on opening China to American investment. There are profits to be made by building factories in China. The destruction of America's manufacturing base is not a concern to them. When you go into Wal-Mart and buy products made in China, chances are the company that sold the Chinese product to Wal-mart is an American-based multinational corporation.

Globalizers frame their arguments in terms of human rights in order to avoid discussing their indefensibly selfish and self- interested economic ambitions. Human rights are not a factor on the globalization, free market, free trade agenda though it should be. The CEOs investing in China are wheeling-and dealing with government officials. What they all want is a free market to make money, not a free society or a real democracy. With political freedom comes free speech, a demand for labor unions, worker rights, and environmental protection. Most CEOs oppose these demands at home. Why should we think they'd promote them in China?

The so-called debate about free trade and globalization is a shuck. The large TV networks are owned by multinational corporations that have a vested interest in unfettered globalization. The media describes the opposition as tree- hugging, luddite, granola-heads plus the AFL-CIO, which is described as being concerned with maintaining its membership base. (As if the corporations promoting globalization are not concerned with their bottom-line, but have only the good of humanity in mind). What the media doesn't tell us is that most European countries oppose giving China favored-nation trading status. Europe also favors strong international environmental and labor regulations, something that proponents of free trade in the United States (rhetoric aside) determinedly oppose.

The AFL-CIO does not oppose free trade, as pundits tell us. "We all recognize that globalization is here," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has said (See The question he raises is who is going to set the international rules for globalization. "We want to have workers at the table when trade deals are negotiated," Sweeney has said. "You're not going to see these deals being done behind closed doors." The rules of international trade should safeguard environmental protection, the right of workers to join unions, and basic human rights, he has said.

The China issue is symbolic of a much larger issue that, along with ethnic, racial, religious and tribal hatreds, will define the politics of the current century. The issue is not globalization which, like computer technology, is here to stay. Rather it's about joining economics with political democracy: who sets the rules of the international economy. Both here and abroad the majority of people have no say in the new economy. The Globalizers in America -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- want to turn power over to a few huge multinational corporations. These corporations are quite content dealing with foreign governments that are corrupt and nondemocratic.

Fair trade is an issue that trade unionists, environmentalists, human rights activists, consumers, and ordinary citizens who care about their hometowns should rally around. Globalization is a big concept, but it affects local communities. I have only the vaguest notion of what a global economy based on principles of fair trade would look like, but I know that what the jack-boot globalizers are pushing for is destructive to people and community.

Marty Jezer is a free-lance writer from Brattleboro, Vermont and author of the biography, Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel. He welcomes comments at

Thinking About Amadou Diallo

Amadou Diallo, a young man from the African country of Guinea, immigrated to the United States believing that this was the land of opportunity. Like many immigrants before him he settled in the Bronx and earned his living as a peddler.On the night of February 4, 1999 four undercover police accosted Diallo in the doorway of his building with drawn guns. They flashed their badges, shouted that they were cops, and ordered Diallo to put his hands up. For reasons we do not know, Diallo reached into his pocket to pull out his wallet. The cops, thinking he was drawing a gun, began firing. In the space of seconds they fired 41 shots at the innocent and unarmed man. Nineteen of them struck Diallo and, almost instantly, killed him.That's the story as we now know it. We also know that the police thought Diallo resembled a rapist that they were looking for in the neighborhood -- i.e., the rapist, like Diallo, was black. Oddly, the police were able to see well enough to believe Diallo resembled the rapist, but were not able to see well enough to distinguish Diallo's wallet from a gun.We are left with two questions. Why did the police accost Diallo and why didn't Diallo obey the police and raise his hands?The answer to the first question is racial profiling which begins with racial stereotyping. I'm reminded of comedian Buddy Hackett's old "Chinese waiter" routine in which a waiter in a Chinese Restaurant brings won ton and egg drop soup to the wrong customers. In frustration, he exclaims, "funny thing about you white people, you all look alike."The difficulty of identifying individuals across our country's racial divide is not limited to cops. We tend to see skin color first; then, and only if we choose, do we see each other for whom we are. To Hackett's waiter, white people look alike. To many blacks, Asians and whites look alike. To many whites, cops or not, blacks or Asians look alike. There is no greater challenge for the people of this country than to break these stereotypes.Racial profiling is a product of racial stereotyping. Police, especially those patrolling in big city anti-crime units, tend to see individuals as "perpetrators" before they see them as human beings. Blacks, especially, are viewed this way. The Bronx cops spotted Diallo and, because he was black, were poised to shoot without giving him any benefit of a doubt.The police neither invented racism nor set the conditions in which it flourishes. They, more than any other citizens, risk their lives on the fissures of society's breakdown. Our racist history, our economic inequality, our senseless drug laws, our refusal to put resources into helping the urban (and rural) poor has created a social pathology that ill-trained police officers are sent out to patrol. As individuals, the four police officers are probably no more or less racist than anybody else. In the assumption behind their racial profiling, they reflect society and represent us.Why, then, didn't Amadou Diallo simply raise his hand at the police command? I can think of any number of reasons. Four men approaching you with guns drawn -- when you yourself know you've done nothing wrong -- are to be feared rather than trusted. As an immigrant, Diallo was possibly accustomed to officials requesting that he show his papers. Reaching for his wallet might have been an attempt to be forthcoming. If that was the case, the police shot a man who was not only innocent but was trying to cooperate with them.There's another possible theory. Diallo apparently was a person who stuttered. As one who also stutters I know how difficult it can be to talk fluently when under pressure, as Diallo was in this situation. It's conceivable -- though this is just speculation on my part -- that Diallo, ashamed of his speech, didn't want to stutter in front of the police and so went for his wallet to provide them with printed identification. Or, he may have been fearful that the police would mistake his verbal difficulty for an act of hostility (those of us who stutter often confront this misperception). I've spoken to many people who stutter and they all agree that they might have done what Diallo did in a similar situation: reach for identification rather than give it verbally.Does this make folks who stutter targets for police? Not if they are white. The police would not assume, as they did with Diallo, that a disfluent white person -- or any white person -- would be pulling a gun from his pocket. They'd have the patience, and the motive, to see the wallet.There's no getting around it. Diallo was murdered -- in the court of public opinion if not in the court of law -- because of the color of his skin.There's so much that needs to be done in this society to honor Diallo's dream of becoming part of the American mosaic. A new multi-dimensioned war on poverty would be a beginning but not enough. As much as we need programs, we need imagination, the imagination to walk, if only for a moment, in the shoes of people we see as "other."I address this to white folk like myself. How would we feel as a person of color approached by cops with guns drawn? How would we feel walking in our own neighborhood knowing that we fit a profile that puts us at risk of being stopped and searched? How would we feel being on vacation knowing that we could never be sure how we'd be received by a waiter, shopkeeper, innkeeper ... or police officer. (Maybe we'd not go on vacation, but stay at home).We talk about being one nation indivisible, but we don't come close. White people in this country are all children of immigrants who, most of them, started out like Diallo, hopeful and poor. But Diallo was a black man and that's why he's dead. Murdered by four white men supposedly upholding "law and order."