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.


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