With the Bush Administration too often feeling the pain of its corporate
sponsors, and with the Enron scandal (so far) producing little political
fallout or legislative change on Capitol Hill, advocates of corporate
accountability have cause for frustration. (Martha Stewart is not much
consolation.) But in one area corporate critics can feel encouraged. For
several years, a small group of lawyers and labor advocates has been
trying to hold transnational companies responsible for their actions by
suing them in the United States for abetting and/or benefiting from
human rights abuses overseas. Finally, these corporation-chasers are
beginning to see signs of possible success.
In about a dozen cases, attorneys in the United States, on behalf of
villagers, indigenous people and labor leaders overseas, have filed
legal action against large corporations under the Alien Tort Claims Act
(ATCA), a law passed in 1789 that allowed foreigners to sue one another
in US courts. The law was not much used until 1979, when the family of a
17-year-old boy tortured and killed by a Paraguayan policeman
successfully employed it to sue the officer. Afterward, human rights
lawyers turned to the act as a way to address human rights violations
conducted or enabled by multinational firms.
In 1996, for instance, the Washington-based International Labor Rights
Fund (ILRF) filed an ATCA suit against Unocal, an oil and gas firm,
charging that it knowingly used slave labor to build a pipeline in
Burma. The plaintiffs included villagers who said they were forced at
gunpoint to work on the project. A federal judge dismissed the ATCA
lawsuit, arguing that Unocal did not have direct control over the
Burmese military regime, a partner in the pipeline project. That
decision is under appeal, but, in a legal first, in June a California
state judge ordered Unocal to stand trial. In that trial, in September,
the plaintiffs will argue under state law that partners in a joint
venture can be held responsible for each other's actions. That would be
a blow to Unocal. Evidence in the federal case showed it was well aware
that human rights abuses were committed by the military regime in
relation to the pipeline.
ATCA-wielding lawyers and activists have been going after corporate
malfeasance around the globe. Earlier this year, a case filed against
Shell by EarthRights International and the Center for Constitutional
Rights got a major boost. This lawsuit claims the oil company is liable
for human rights abuses committed by the Nigerian military against the
Ogoni people, who opposed a Shell pipeline. Shell repeatedly filed
motions to dismiss the case, but in February a federal judge denied
these motions and permitted the case to move into the discovery phase.
Now the plaintiffs can take depositions of Shell officials and review
Texaco was sued in New York by indigenous people of Ecuador, who charged
it with destroying their local environment by dumping a million gallons
of toxic waste into the ecosystem for two decades. The company's
actions, they claim, devastated rainforest areas, caused an increase in
cancer and other diseases and brought several tribes to the brink of
extinction. In March the two sides argued about whether the case should
be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. The court has not yet ruled. Two
years ago, residents of Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea filed a
lawsuit in San Francisco against the London-based Rio Tinto mining firm.
The plaintiffs maintained that the corporation, which took over a
company that developed a mine on the island, was in cahoots with a
government that engaged in human rights abuses and destroyed entire
villages in wiping out local resistance to the project. In March a
federal judge dismissed the lawsuit after the State Department argued
that the case could interfere with an ongoing peace process in Papua New
Guinea. But the judge said the Papua New Guinea government would have to
agree to permit the plaintiffs to file a case there.
In addition to the Unocal case, the ILRF is handling ATCA lawsuits
against Coca-Cola (for allegedly using paramilitary forces to
suppress--violently--union activity in Colombia), Del Monte (for
allegedly employing thugs who tortured union leaders in Guatemala),
DynCorp (for allegedly spraying Ecuadorean farmers and villagers with
toxic chemicals that were supposed to be dumped on coca plants in
Colombia) and the Drummond Company, a mining firm (for allegedly hiring
gunmen to torture, kidnap and murder labor leaders in Colombia). In a
case against ExxonMobil, ILRF contends that Mobil, which formed a
joint-venture natural gas project with the Indonesian government, paid
the Indonesian military for security and that these troops committed
human rights atrocities--including murder and torture--against villagers
in the Aceh province.
As these ATCA lawsuits creep forward, corporations here and abroad have
to take notice. A plaintiff's win would compel transnationals to
consider bringing their activities overseas into sync with international
human rights standards. As the Wall Street Journal noted, a
ruling against Unocal--if upheld--"could subject a long list of US
companies to lawsuits in American courts as human rights groups seek to
expand the reach of American tort law to foreign soil." Already the
Street is paying attention. "I've started getting calls from mutual fund
managers," says Terry Collingsworth, ILRF's executive director. "They
tell me that they cannot base stock recommendations on moral
considerations. But if there is a chance a company could be damaged by a
big award in a trial, its business practices overseas become quite
relevant." That is, "the markets" are watching and waiting--to see if
Third World locals screwed by transnationals can find justice in courts
far from their villages.
Inside an old courthouse in the dusty tropical town of Dili, an
exhibition documents the history of East Timor's resistance to
Indonesian occupation. Next to a grainy black-and-white photo of a
youthful man in a beard, a large inscription reads, "Our victory is
merely a question of time."
They were the words of Nicolau Lobato, East Timor's leader in the first
terrible years of war against the Indonesian invasion of December 7,
1975. Ill equipped and abandoned by all, including their Portuguese
colonial masters, the Timorese nevertheless held their ground, creating
large losses on both sides. That is, until May 1978, when Jakarta made a
successful plea to the Carter Administration for a squadron of attack
bombers and more parts and ammunition for its counterinsurgency
aircraft. Britain, under a Labour government, similarly authorized a
request for sixteen Hawk ground-attack aircraft. Used to bomb and napalm
the Timorese into submission, the escalation left 200,000 dead from war
and famine, including Lobato and most of his fellow leaders.
But in the end, Lobato was right. This May, East Timor became the
world's newest nation, the first country born in the twenty-first
century. Lobato could not have foreseen the twenty-four years of
despair, massacre, torture and disappearances that would follow the
Indonesian invasion. Or the betrayal of friends, the connivance of
wealthy nations and the paralysis of well-meaning institutions like the
United Nations. His faith in a righteous outcome is common among
Timorese: They believe that in the end, justice prevails. You just have
to give it time.
And time is something the Timorese now have: time to build a society in
their image, time to argue the minutiae of democracy, something they do
with delight--sixteen parties contested elections last year, and 91
percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. It's hard to walk the streets
of Dili and not be affected by this euphoria for openness, for
democracy, for freedom. It's everywhere: in the light of a newly
graduating teacher's eyes, the laughter of an expectant mother. And
while people are clearly poor (according to the World Bank, East Timor
is Asia's poorest country and the world's twentieth poorest), the
capital of this half-island territory, on the southeastern fringe of the
Indonesian archipelago, seems today alive with possibilities.
The danger is that this enthusiasm will be dashed against the rocks of
reality once the Timorese see how slowly grind the wheels of
development. This nation of 760,000 has a mortality rate for children
under 5 of 200 per 1,000, while malaria, tuberculosis and dengue are
endemic. More than half of the 2,400 villages have no wells or piped
water, and only one in four schools can fully accommodate students or
even functions at all. "We must have patience," says Paulo da Costa
Amaral, a onetime guerrilla fighter now running a Timorese charity in
the country's impoverished highlands. "Independence is the beginning....
there are many steps for us to climb."
Amaral is doing his share. With the help of the Australian aid
organization Austcare, his Halarae Foundation is training scores of
highland Timorese as teachers, offering microcredit to village
cooperatives and helping establish community gardens where crops can be
grown for both self-sufficiency and supplementary income. On a visit to
the impoverished but immaculately kept mountain village of Belola, near
the border with Indonesia, he is received with great ceremony, and a
village meeting is called in his honor. After daintily dressed children
complete a welcome dance, and after formalities are exchanged, people in
their Sunday best wait for a turn to speak. He hears old men lamenting
the village's lack of potable water and young women requesting sewing
machines so they can set up a garment cooperative.
A grizzled old man asks for help to rebuild the school--destroyed by
Indonesian-backed militias in the mayhem following the UN-supervised
independence referendum in 1999--and receives popular acclamation. The
village's 189 children are attending school in nearby Balibo, but they
have to walk for hours in the hot sun or in the pouring rain to get
there, dodging the perilously overloaded trucks that rumble up and down
the narrow mountain roads.
Amaral nods in understanding. He speaks eloquently of the promise of the
future and the difficulty of the present. Patience, he urges; we will do
what we can. Later, as we talk on the journey back in the foundation's
only vehicle, he shakes his head. Rebuilding a school is not the only
problem; the fledgling government would also need to commit funds for
teachers, books and other materials. There are many such villages in
East Timor, not all of them within walking distance of a school.
History has not been kind to the Timorese. After a bloodless coup in
Lisbon in 1974, Portugal began to decolonize and political parties met
openly in East Timor. But soon, tensions between largely well-off
Timorese and firebrand students who had returned from exile erupted into
open conflict. Now known to have been fomented by Indonesian military
intelligence, a civil war broke out and thousands died over a three-week
period. Portugal withdrew, and the victors--the leftist Fretilin
party--governed temporarily, while calling for Lisbon to reassert
control and complete decolonization. But Portugal appeared unwilling,
and into this vacuum stepped Indonesia. Sensing an invasion, Fretilin
declared independence on November 28, 1975. Two days later, leaders of
the defeated Timorese factions requested Indonesian intervention. The
Democratic Republic of East Timor existed for all of nine days before a
large-scale Indonesian invasion began, killing thousands and driving
hundreds of thousands into the mountains.
Luckily for the Timorese, the UN had never accepted Indonesia's
annexation of their country, a fact that was to prove crucial when, in
1997, the Asian financial crisis brought Jakarta to its knees. President
Suharto--who had ordered Indonesia's invasion--was toppled, and his
successor, in desperate need of economic aid, yielded to pressure for a
UN referendum on East Timor's future. And so it was that on August 30,
1999, 78.5 percent of the Timorese voted for independence, despite a
violent campaign of intimidation. So humiliated were the Indonesian
military and its proxy militias by the result that, over three weeks,
they laid waste to most of East Timor, destroying 80 percent of
buildings and butchering thousands of unarmed civilians. In the end,
this televised bloodbath prompted the world to act: An Australian-led
multinational force landed on September 20 and put an end to the
The territory was then ruled by the United Nations Transitional
Administration in East Timor, the first time in history the
international body has actually run a country. Led by Brazilian career
diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, it was both welcomed and cursed by the
Timorese. Welcomed for bringing peace and stability to a people who had
known little of it; for restoring burned-out homes and buildings,
repairing badly damaged infrastructure and reopening hundreds of
schools. For creating an impartial police force (a third of whom are
women), an independent justice system, for training 11,000 civil
servants (less than half the size of the bloated local administration
under Indonesian rule) and for establishing a modest but well-trained
defense force that has--along with a token contingent of international
troops--created a sense of security among a people who still recall the
unpredictable brutality of the Indonesian military and its militias.
But it's also been cursed for its mind-numbing bureaucracy, which sees
so many initiatives repeatedly delayed or never completed. For the
incongruence of air-conditioned Range Rovers roaring past dirt-poor
households, or senior officials on fat pay-packets bickering loudly with
Timorese waitresses about their restaurant bills. Or the sight of a
young UN worker thundering down the streets on an imported
Harley-Davidson motorbike, earning in one year more than a Timorese
family might hope to see in a lifetime. "There have been many, many lost
opportunities," admitted one senior French-speaking UN official who was
heading home. "The waste has been phenomenal, the bureaucracy is at
times unbelievable. There's so much more we could have done. But I have
to keep telling myself, there's so much we've achieved, too. You've got
to understand, the UN has never done this before."
For the Timorese, it will be a challenge to run their own affairs: Many
basic skills are lacking, and their only role models are a lackadaisical
Portuguese administration, a corrupt and bloated Indonesian bureaucracy,
followed by a process-obsessed and expensive UN technocracy. "We've
certainly seen how not to do it," joked one young Timorese official in
the new government. Luckily, many of the estimated 20,000 Timorese in
the diaspora for a quarter of a century--largely in Australia and
Portugal--have returned, bringing not only Western degrees but Western
sensibilities. This not only means a taste for cafe latte and cable
television but expectations of impartial justice, an intolerance of
corruption and an understanding of individual rights and responsible
Exiles are certainly well represented in the power structure: Prime
Minister Mari Alkatiri was a high-ranking Fretilin official who escaped
to Mozambique, where Justice Minister Ana Pessoa Pinto--an exiled law
student--became a judge. Agriculture Minister Estanislau da Silva was a
research agronomist in Australia, and Foreign Minister José Ramos
Horta--a Nobel laureate and for many years East Timor's resistance
spokesman abroad--taught international relations in Sydney.
Time has also mellowed the leftist fervor of Fretilin (Revolutionary
Front of an Independent East Timor), which emerged from a UN-supervised
election last year with fifty-five of the eighty-eight seats in the new
Parliament. Despite Fretilin's dominance, Alkatiri has formed a cabinet
with members from minor parties as well as independents. And the onetime
radical is now often seen networking with potential investors or
officials of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
Seventies-era talk of nationalization is gone. The US dollar is the
national currency, and revenue from the new offshore oil and gas fields
in the Timor Gap will (for the first few years) be banked rather than
spent, and the government plans to run deficit-free budgets.
But it would be a mistake to see East Timor as a client state of
neoliberal think tanks: In the first years of independence, education
and healthcare will consume 48 percent of spending. Thanks to a cleverly
negotiated aid program that is top-heavy at the start (until the big
offshore oil revenues kick in), East Timor will begin life
debt-free--something few nations can claim. It's as if the government is
determined to leverage its oil and gas windfall--estimated at $6 billion
over twenty years--to create a self-sustaining economy.
What is remarkable is how priorities were set. The government's National
Development Plan is a laudable manifesto stretching twenty years, aimed
at lifting the nation out of poverty and creating a sustainable economy
based on crops like organic coffee and services like ecotourism. It was
drafted after consultations involving 40,000 people in more than 500
towns and villages across the country. Asked to name the top priorities,
respondents listed education (70 percent), health (49 percent) and
agriculture (32 percent) as the top three, followed by the economy,
roads, poverty, water and electricity.
Launching the plan, former resistance leader Xanana
Gusmão--elected the country's first president in April--said that
no other nation "has had the wisdom or faith in its people to ask these
questions. No other nation has consulted the people so widely and so
systematically. This is something unique that we all, as Timorese,
should be proud of." Alkatiri called it "a common vision for development
and the eradication of poverty."
Not all is rosy: Political leaders worry about Fretilin's dominance in
Parliament, accusing it of bulldozing initiatives and paying lip service
to democracy. The World Bank, while supportive of the National
Development Plan, is critical of the lack of a timetable. Activists
criticize the new government's unwillingness to push for the prosecution
of Indonesian military officers guilty of atrocities in East Timor
during the mayhem of 1999. But both Gusmão and Alkatiri prefer to
focus on rebuilding bridges with Jakarta and its new president, Megawati
Sukarnoputri. They even convinced her to attend the independence
celebrations, despite the fact that wounds over the loss of East Timor
have yet to heal.
All in all, it is easy for visiting Westerners to find fault. One
foreign journalist criticized the new nation for bankrolling its $1.3
million independence celebrations with corporate donations. Others saw
it as a master stroke; instead of diverting much-needed money from
health or education, the government chose to lean on corporations and
wealthy nations keen for good relations. It seems East Timor really is a
In reiterating his vision for the Middle East--two states living side by
side in peace and security--George W. Bush failed to lay out a viable
path for reaching this essential goal. Israeli commentators agreed that
Bush's long-delayed speech, in which his support for a provisional
Palestinian state was so hedged as to be nearly meaningless, could have
been written by Ariel Sharon. David Landau wrote in Ha'aretz:
"Yasser Arafat, the seemingly immortal leader of the Palestinian
national movement, was politically assassinated" by the US President.
Thus, Bush brushed aside a democratically elected leader while calling
for more democracy, simplistically made Arafat the problem and his
removal the condition for a solution, and opened a rift with US allies.
The plan--favored by the pro-Sharon hard-liners in the Administration,
led by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld--is a victory for political
expediency, but it does nothing to disempower the extremists on both
sides. To have any chance of damping down terrorist violence, Washington
had to offer the Palestinian people some hope of statehood, of control
over their collective future. But Bush failed to call for an immediate
withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank and gave Sharon a green
light for reoccupation, thereby endorsing the continuation of a failed
policy. For Israel's military incursions do not stop, and indeed foment,
suicide bombers' atrocities, as Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin
Ben-Eliezer pointed out. And if, as seems likely, the latest operation
also fails, it will breed more violence and drain not only the
devastated Palestinian economy but Israel's--itself nearing collapse.
While Bush was right to call for the withdrawal of Israeli forces to
pre-intifada lines and for a halt in settlement building, he left those
actions to be accomplished in some vague middle distance after violence
is ended--meaning whenever Israel decides to de-occupy. For the long
term, Bush urged an end to the cruel occupation and the creation of a
democratic Palestinian state. But the vision he offered is so
conditioned, set so far in the future and so vulnerable to American and
Israeli interpretations that it offers little incentive for moderate
Palestinians--such as the more than fifty intellectuals who recently
called for a halt to suicide bombings--to risk their lives trying to
curb the radical elements of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Arafat's leadership has been corrupt and autocratic; democratic reforms
in the Palestinian Authority are needed. But what hope can those
Palestinians committed to reform have when Israeli tanks are rumbling in
their streets, their institutions and infrastructure are shattered,
their compatriots under house arrest?
Bush did not even mention the international conference the Saudis and
other nations requested to spur final-status talks. He said nothing
about how the international community is to be mobilized to help the
Palestinians achieve reforms. If he had made the bold gesture history
demanded of him, he would have set a clear timeline for Palestinian
statehood and called for an end to the Israeli invasion, dismantling of
settlements, insertion of international forces and a firm US and
international financial commitment to Palestinian nation-building and
reform, including efforts to insure that the elections now set for
January are free and fair. Instead, he temporized, and so, more Israelis
and Palestinians will die.
Even as campaign finance reformers celebrated the long-awaited passage
of the McCain-Feingold bill this spring, they cautioned the public not
to assume the fight for reform was over. "This bill will only thwart the
special interests for so long," Senator McCain himself predicted.
"Twenty years from now, they will have figured out other ways to get around it, and another
couple of senators will be fighting to break the endless cycle of
corruption and reform." While McCain-Feingold is a significant
legislative accomplishment that will help to plug the gaping soft-money
hole in the existing system, these reformers explained, there are still
gaps through which private money can exert undue political
influence--and the fight to close them is just beginning.
This is the way campaign finance reform has worked since the first piece
of remedial legislation was passed in 1907--a cycle of public outrage,
stopgap legislation and new forms of abuse, prompting further outrage.
Lasting solutions have so far proven elusive--in large part because of
the Supreme Court's 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling that campaign
spending limits are unconstitutional. So reformers are stuck fighting
with more or less the same tools they've always used: contribution
limits, voluntary spending limits, public financing and full disclosure
of funding sources.
The limited effectiveness of these tools has prompted two Yale Law
professors, Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres, to offer a radical rethinking
of the problem. Ackerman--who last attracted public notice with his book
The Stakeholder Society, in which he proposed to eliminate
chronic economic injustice by giving every young American adult a stake
of $80,000, financed by an annual wealth tax--and Ayers clearly have no
qualms about tackling big problems. Their new book, Voting With
Dollars, starts with a simple and seductive question: If the old
reform tools aren't working, why not try new ones? Rather than imposing
increasingly complicated contribution and spending limits, they suggest
removing them. Rather than relying on bureaucracies to distribute public
funds to candidates, they say, let the voters do it directly. And rather
than mandating complete disclosure of politicians' funding sources, they
propose keeping such information completely secret--especially from the
At the core of Ackerman and Ayres's proposal is what they call the
"secret donation booth." Like votes, the authors argue, campaign
contributions should be made anonymously. That way, private interests
could not influence elected officials with their money, because there
would be no way for a contributor to prove that he had given money to a
candidate. (So as not to discourage citizens of average means from
donating modest amounts by denying them the ability to take credit for
their gifts, Ackerman and Ayres permit the government to confirm that a
donor has given up to $200.)
Just as the introduction of the secret ballot in the late nineteenth
century put an end to the then-common practice of vote-buying, the
authors assert that the implementation of a secret donation booth (in
actuality, a blind trust administered by the FEC) would eliminate
influence-buying. Sure, John Richman might claim he's given a million to
Jane Candidate, but such unverifiable talk is cheap, and politicians
will attach to such assurances the same minimal weight they attach to
promised votes. Once that avenue of political influence is closed off,
Ackerman and Ayres reason, donors interested solely in the corrupting
power of their contributions will have no reason to pour their money
into politics, and private giving will be left to those few donors
motivated by pure political ideology.
To make up for the funds that would be lost once this private money
leaves the system, Ackerman and Ayres propose that the government give
every registered voter fifty "Patriot dollars"--money they'd be able to
put toward whichever federal candidate, national political party or
interest group they wanted, simply by going to their local ATM. Based on
voter participation numbers from the 2000 election, Ackerman and Ayres
calculate that the Patriot system would infuse $5 billion into a federal
election cycle, dwarfing the $3 billion that was spent in 2000. Thus,
they reason, Patriot dollars would not only insure that viable
candidates had enough money to fund their campaigns but would also make
them dependent on funds from, and thus more responsive to, the
electorate as a whole.
So far, so good. And there's more: In addition to the secret donation
booth and the Patriot system, "voting with dollars" would produce two
compelling side effects.
First, by giving each registered voter fifty Patriot dollars to spend on
the election, citizens would be encouraged to inform themselves earlier
and more thoroughly about issues and candidates, so as to make the best
use of their allocation. This heightened civic engagement would likely
translate into higher voter turnout and a consistently better-informed
electorate--what Ackerman and Ayres call "the citizenship effect."
Second, by avoiding all spending limits, a common plank of more
traditional reform platforms, "voting with dollars" would not run afoul
of the Supreme Court, which famously ruled in Buckley that "the
concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our
society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly
foreign to the First Amendment."
In theory, then, "voting with dollars" has lots of appeal. It's a fresh
approach to an old problem; it promises to reinvigorate a tired
electorate; and it's Supreme Court-proof. Not satisfied with a theoretical discussion of their proposal,
however, Ackerman and Ayres devote the bulk of their book to describing
what their reform would look like in practice. And this is where they
run into trouble.
To be sure, many of their implementation mechanisms are impressively
well-researched and carefully crafted, and at first they make it seem as
if "voting with dollars" just might work. To prevent a donor from
getting around the anonymity of the donation booth with an unusually
large contribution, for example, the authors propose to enter large
contributions into a candidate's account in random amounts at random
intervals, according to a special "secrecy algorithm." That way, the
donor couldn't simply tell the candidate to expect his account to
increase by a certain amount on a certain date, and then claim the
credit. (Ackerman and Ayres would bar what they call "stratospheric"
contributions to eliminate amounts too large to be hidden even by their
secrecy algorithm.) A donor would also be unable to prove he'd
contributed by flashing around a canceled check made out to the blind
trust, since all contributions would be revocable for a five-day period,
giving the donor no way to prove he didn't simply ask for his money back
the next day.
In spite of these intricate measures, however, there are a few reasons
Ackerman and Ayres's implementation scheme is fatally flawed. First, no
matter how refined your secret donation booth is, candidates will always
be able to figure out where their money's coming from. For proof of
this, one need look no further than our current voting system. Even with
the secret voting booth, candidates use polling, voter registration
rolls, demographic data and a host of other increasingly sophisticated
tools to figure out with eerie precision who's going to support them,
and they target their campaigns accordingly. Similarly, while a secret
donation booth would prevent politicians from knowing precisely how much
money each individual or privately funded PAC is giving, candidates
would still have a pretty good idea of who their big donors were likely
to be, and they'd still grant those likely donors uncommon access--a
politician's most valuable resource. Even if the secret donation booth
had been in place during the 2000 election, for instance, George Bush
would still have asked Ken Lay for fundraising help (by, say, organizing
a fundraising dinner--a permissible activity under Ackerman and Ayres's
paradigm, as long as there's not a per-plate charge). And Ken Lay would
still have been invited to meet with Dick Cheney's energy task force
once the pair was in the White House.
Then there's the problem of independent expenditures. Ackerman and Ayres
are sharply critical of McCain-Feingold's attempts to rein in such
electioneering, calling the act's restrictions on such spending in the
months leading up to an election an "important weakness" that "restrains
free speech." (Because of arguments like this, these restrictions are
widely held to be the most vulnerable part of McCain-Feingold. In June
the FEC barely rejected a proposal that would have significantly
weakened the act's independent expenditure restrictions, and upcoming
court challenges target these restrictions as well.)
And yet, independent expenditures are a significant obstacle to any
attempt to reduce private money's role in politics, as they allow any
individual or interest group with money the chance to make an end run
around the regulated campaign finance system. Conventional attempts to
curtail these expenditures may not solve the whole problem, limited as
they are by the First Amendment, but they're better than the unregulated
alternative that Ackerman and Ayres propose. In their reform scenario,
independent "issue" campaigns that do not explicitly endorse a
candidate--according to the Court's limited definition of express
advocacy, which focuses on certain "magic words" such as "elect" and
"vote for"--would be unregulated. In other words, organizations would be
free to fund "issue" ads whose timing and content are obviously intended
to help a particular candidate, as well as to publish the identities of
their contributors and the magnitude of their support, as long as those
ads didn't explicitly tell you how to vote. One can only imagine that in
the anonymous "voting with dollars" world, this opportunity to claim
credit for expenditures clearly designed to help a particular candidate
would be all the more alluring. And yet the only remedy Ackerman and
Ayres offer is their statute's "swamping control," which would increase
Patriot allotments in the next election cycle whenever private spending
skewed the national Patriot/private ratio below 2 to 1. Other than this
after-the-fact correction, Ackerman and Ayres offer no barriers to
prevent private money from flowing to such unregulated channels.
In the end, Ackerman and Ayres's paradigm is handicapped by its
Court-centered approach. The authors chide traditional reformers for
painting Buckley v. Valeo as the primary roadblock to reform,
saying that such a view is both counterproductive, because the Court is
unlikely to reverse Buckley anytime soon, and wrong, because
Buckley upholds such fundamental constitutional principles as
free speech. By embracing Buckley, they argue, their approach is
more pragmatic and more principled. And yet, its legal pragmatism
notwithstanding, "voting with dollars" does not confront the central
injustice of the current system: the exorbitant influence of big money.
In focusing solely on ending the potential for quid pro quo
corruption--the one aspect of campaign finance that the Court has
consistently shown itself eager to regulate--Ackerman and Ayres downplay
the degree to which private money controls politics even without such
blatant dealmaking. The truth is, as long as politicians are dependent
on private money to finance their campaigns, monied interests will play
a disproportionately large role in setting the political agenda. This is
why traditional reformers have chafed at Buckley's narrow
definition of corruption, and it's why they continue to advocate
solutions that use a combination of disclosure laws, limits and public
financing. At its core, the campaign finance reform movement is about
more than simply putting an end to under-the-table deals between wealthy
individuals and unscrupulous politicians. It's about opening up the
electoral system, so that people without networks of wealthy friends
will be able to wage viable campaigns for public office, and won't be
beholden to private interests once they get there. While Patriot dollars
are a good step in this direction, they don't go far enough. Without
contribution and spending limits, the public financing offered by
Patriot dollars would quickly be drowned out by the torrents of private
money flowing into the system.
For all its shortcomings, Voting With Dollars deserves credit for
pushing reformers to rethink some of their cherished assumptions about
what works, and what's desirable. However, by refusing to consider more
standard approaches to reform like disclosure, contribution limits and,
in particular, voluntary public financing systems like those currently
in place in Maine and Arizona, Ackerman and Ayres have boxed themselves
into an unworkable system. Ultimately, Voting With Dollars'
radical approach to campaign finance reform would expand big money's
role in politics, rather than insulate democracy from it.
Historians have made much of the ways that the social protest movements of the 1960s unsettled the morals of the dominant culture, but it is often forgotten that activists themselves were sometimes jarred by the new sensibilities as well.
The capital unscrupulously pumped from poor neighborhoods by way of
predatory loans whizzes along a high-speed financial pipeline to Wall
Street to be used for investment. "It's about creating debt that can be
turned into bonds that can be sold to customers on Wall Street,"
explains Irv Ackelsberg, an attorney with Community Legal Services in
Philadelphia who has been defending clients against foreclosure and
working to restructure onerous loans for twenty-five years.
Household-name companies like Lehman Brothers, Prudential and First
Union are involved in managing the process of bundling loans--including
subprime and predatory--into mortgage-backed securities. They often
provide the initial cash to make the loans, find banks to act as
trustees, pull together the layers of financial and insurance
institutions, and create the "special vehicles"--shades of Enron--that
shield investors from risk.
Four securities-rating agencies--Moody's, Standard & Poor's, Duff
& Phelps and Fitch--provide bond ratings for all of Wall Street;
before assigning the acceptable rating that will draw investors, they
assess the risk firewalls constructed by the securitizing company. It
becomes a complex matrix of financial operations designed to generate
capital and minimize risk for Wall Street with the unwitting help of
borrowers. "This whole business is about providing triple-A bonds to
funds that you or I would invest in," says Ackelsberg. "The poor are
being used to produce this debt--what you have is a glorified
Ackelsberg and his colleagues frequently find themselves struggling
through a tangle of companies to find a party legally liable for remedy
when a client is in foreclosure due to a bad loan. Often the company
that originated the loan doesn't actually own it but, rather, is acting
as a servicing agent--assuring the cash flow to a securitization trust.
Frequently shifting ownership also complicates attempts to create
accountability: In one case, United Companies Lending, once hired as a
trust by Lehman Brothers, went bankrupt; EMC Mortgage Corporation, a
wholly owned subsidiary of Bear Stearns, placed the highest bid for the
right to service the outstanding loans and collect the servicing fees.
Sheila Canavan, a Berkeley-based attorney who recently won a settlement
that will pay out some $60 million to the plaintiffs in a fraud lawsuit
against First Alliance Mortgage, says, "The industry and lawyers make it
as complicated and arcane as they can so people don't understand." They
also, she adds, want to distance themselves from the frontline predators
who hawk the loans.
Government-sponsored mortgage lenders Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Ginnie Mae
(GNMA) have long bundled conventional loans--in the 8-percent range--to
create mortgage-backed securities. During the mergers and acquisitions
boom in the mid-1990s, when banks began absorbing subprime lenders, Wall
Street caught on to the potential of bunching subprime mortgages,
including predatory loans. "The banks realized that this was a
moneymaker," says Shirley Peoples, a social research analyst for the
Calvert Group, an investment fund specializing in socially responsible
lending. "They put a legitimacy on it, but it still is what it is."
"Wall Street, since it got into securitization, needs product, needs
mortgage loans to pull together," says Canavan. The securities are then
aggressively marketed, she says. "The Wall Streeters go around the
country, pools of loans are sold to institutional investors, pension
And while it looks as if the lenders themselves set up the difficult
loan terms, Canavan says that Wall Street encourages the gouging
practices. The big financial institutions fronting cash for predatory
loans have information on the loans' interest rates and know very well
what it takes to trap borrowers into those rates. They also build in
incentives for dubious practices: "The loan originators are compensated
with late fees," Canavan says, by way of example. "They're going to make
sure payments don't get there on time, that they get lost or, as the
industry says, 'drawered.'"
It's tough for a mutual fund investor to know whether investment dollars
are going toward supporting a predatory loan scheme. The investor who
knows the names of the biggest offenders may be able to detect them in a
prospectus, but many times the information is not included or the names
of the companies change. Socially responsible funds such as Calvert and
organizations like the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
have been meeting face to face with banking interests to probe their
policies and positions on bundling the predatory loans. And many in the
industry argue that a rash of bankruptcies and financial failures has
pressured the industry to reform.
But not all consumer advocates buy that.
"These companies come and go," says Ackelsberg, "but the residue of
their abusive activity remains because the mortgage loans are still out
It's easy to rephrase Tolstoy's opening to Anna Karenina so it
describes junkies, who all share an essential plot line: Who and how to
hustle in order to score. But in the world of postwar jazz, Charlie
Parker gave junk an unprecedented clout and artistic aura. Bebop, the
convoluted, frenetic modern jazz he and Dizzy Gillespie, among others, formulated, demanded intense powers of
concentration. Bird played so far out of nearly everyone else's league
that his heroin habit seemed to explain his godlike prowess. So heroin
became an existentialist response to racism, to artistic rejection, a
self-destructive way of saying Fuck You to mainstream America's 1950s
mythologies. Parker warned everyone from young Miles Davis to young Chet
Baker away from smack, but few heeded him. In 1954 Davis weaned himself
from a four-year addiction; in 1988 Baker died after decades of living
in Europe as a junkie, found in the street below his Amsterdam hotel
window. (Did he jump? Was he pushed?)
Oklahoma-born and California-bred, Baker had one amazing artistic gift:
He could apparently hear nearly any piece of music once and then play
it. He intuitively spun melodies on his trumpet with a tone critics
compared to Bix Beiderbecke's, and spent his long and unbelievably
uneven career relying on that gift and coasting on his remarkable early
breaks. In 1952 Charlie Parker played with him in LA, giving him instant
cachet. When Gerry Mulligan hired him for the famed pianoless quartet
that is the quintessential white West Coast Cool band, it made him a
jazz star. After a drug bust broke the group up, Baker began singing;
his wispy balladeering and Middle American good looks gave him entree to
a broader public. During his early 1950s stint with Mulligan, he
unbelievably beat Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie to win critics'
and fans' polls; his first album as a vocalist, which featured "My Funny
Valentine," got him lionized on the Today and Tonight
shows and in Time. From there on, his life took on a downward
bias within a junkie's relentless cycles.
Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker aims to synthesize
all the information about the trumpeter and try to interpret him within
the broader contexts of popular culture. Author James Gavin had access
to unpublished autobiographical notes and interviews with Baker's
erstwhile memoir collaborator Lisa Galt Bond, and also draws extensively
on books like Jeroen de Valk's Chet Baker: His Life and Music and
Chet Baker in Italy; he apparently scoured archives for
interviews, profiles, pictures and video and audio materials as well,
stirring in dollops from Bruce Weber's overripe 1989 movie about Baker,
Let's Get Lost. Gavin has tracked Baker across Europe and
America, distilled the wildly divergent attitudes toward him and his
work, and attempts to make a case for what endures while not flinching
from calling clunkers. He confronts black jazzers' resentment of Baker's
playing: Most heard him, with excellent reason, as a paler, milder Miles
Davis, yet he won polls and looked like he was making big money. As
Gavin points out, Baker's lilting lyricism and even his demeanor owed
almost everything to Davis's, but Baker wasn't raking in sales like Dave
Brubeck, though he was churning out streams of highly variable product.
In fact, Gavin explains the popularity of the sappy Chet Baker With
Strings album, the trumpeter's bestselling 1954 disc (which sold an
uncharacteristic 35,000-40,000 copies the first year), by comparing it to popular contemporary mood music--an apt and telling linkage.
Gavin's discussion of that record strikes one of his leitmotifs, Baker's
charismatic visual appeal:
William Claxton's cover photo was so dreamy that record shops all over
the country put the LP on display. Claxton showed Baker at his peak of
beauty, staring out wistfully at the session, cheek resting against his
horn's mouthpiece.... Many of the buyers were young women with little
interest in jazz, who bought the LP for its cover. They were surprised
to hear music as pretty as Baker was.... It was his looks, more than his
music, that the Hollywood crowd cared about.
He's shrewd about Baker's singing:
[Record producer Dick] Bock listened in alarm as [Baker] struggled to
sing on key, pushing the session into overtime.... Baker's dogged
persistence didn't impress the musicians, who were reduced to
near-invisible accompanists, tiptoeing behind his fragile efforts....
But as people stared at the cover and listened to Baker's blank slate of
a voice, they projected all kinds of fantasies onto him.... Baker became
the first jazz musician to attract a strong homosexual following.
Gavin is quite good at debunking longstanding myths about Baker, many of
which Baker started himself. He didn't beat out loads of trumpeters to
play with Bird in LA; a studio pianist, not Parker, hired him. It's
highly unlikely Bird told East Coasters like Davis and Dizzy Gillespie
that "there's a little white cat on the coast who's gonna eat you up."
For Gavin, this self-mythologizing is a key to Baker's recessive, almost
invisible character: "Just as he discovered how to seduce the camera
lens into depicting him in make-believe terms, he learned to glamorize
the truth into a fairy tale of romantic intrigue."
Naturally, the biographer seeks the man behind the layered tales. Here
Gavin circles a black hole, because Baker was, as one witness after
another testifies, nearly completely unrevealing. He didn't read, or
speak, or otherwise express: He was "cool." Longtime junkiedom only
hardened this character trait into manipulative blankness. So Gavin
looks at Baker's doting, pushy mother and his violent failure of a
father, checks out Baker's high school beatings for being a pretty boy,
intimates that Baker's brief and harsh version of heterosexual sex may
have covered for repressed homosexuality, and links him to the waves of
rejection, from the Beats as well as Hollywood types like Marlon Brando
and James Dean, rippling the 1950s. It's suggestive, though not
necessarily convincing, since unlike other jazzers--Davis and Charles
Mingus, for instance--Baker had no real contact with or interest in
other artistic subcultures.
Baker's critical reputation kept crashing after the Mulligan quartet
disbanded in 1954, and his drug use continued to escalate after that
time, when his heroin addiction began. By 1966, he had hit bottom: He
was badly beaten, probably because he ripped off a San Francisco drug
dealer, and his upper teeth had to be pulled. His embouchure wrecked,
his career, already smoldering, looked like it was finally in ruins. He
worked in a Redondo Beach gas station and applied for welfare. Against
the odds, record-label head Bock bought him dentures, and for more than
a year he worked--probably harder than he ever did before or after--to
rebuild something of the limpid trumpet sound that once made girls
In 1959 he had relocated to Europe, where he stayed for the rest of his
life (except for a couple of brief homecomings) to avoid prosecution for
drug busts. Inevitably, he got busted in Europe instead. Gavin rightly
notes that the Europeans, especially the Italians, adopted Baker as a
damaged genius, an artist in need of understanding and patronage. It
didn't help. His trajectory careened mostly down; upward bursts of
musical lucidity flashed against a churn of mediocrities and an
ever-more-snarled life. His talent languished: He never expanded his
musical knowledge, nor did he really learn to arrange or compose or even
lead a band. He relied on producers and agents to direct his musical
life; he didn't bother conceptualizing his own creative frameworks. He
always demanded cash payments--no contracts, no royalties--on his
endless scramble to score. And as women revolved through his life or
fought over him and were beaten by him, he tried a few bouts at detox
but compressed even further into a junkie's two-dimensionality. By the
time he died, most American jazz fans thought he was already dead.
For this last half of his book, Gavin, even buoyed by research, swims
upstream against the cascading flow of a junkie's essential plot line.
For decades Baker is mostly chasing drugs, screwing anyone within reach,
tumbling downward creatively and personally, and alternating
manipulatively between victim and abuser. Except as a voyeur it's hard
to care, especially since, with exceptions I think even rarer than Gavin
does, Baker's music was generally worthless. Junk didn't make him a
musical superman; it simply drove him to make fast, sloppy recordings
with under-rehearsed bands, playing horn that was so unpredictable in
quality it could sound like an abysmal self-parody. Sympathetically
balanced as he tries to be, even Gavin can only cite a handful of
ex-sidemen as Baker's musical legacy of influence. Instead, he depicts
Baker as a kind of cultural icon rather than a cultural force.
It is one of history's ironies that Baker was resurrected after his
death by a film made shortly before it. Bruce Weber, a fashion
photographer famed for his homoerotic Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren ads,
has a sharp eye for the scandalous, and decided to make Let's Get
Lost when he saw Baker at the trumpeter's brief fling at an American
comeback in 1986. He fell for what an associate described as "beauty
that looked kind of destroyed." Weber bought him a French beatnik
wardrobe from a Paris designer, and paid him $12,500 for a performance
that Gavin describes: "eyelids sagging, slurring his words, all but
drooling.... Unless he got what he needed, [Weber's assistant] said, 'he
wouldn't have sat still a minute for us.'" The documentary refired
interest in Baker among boomers and Gen Xers, who responded to the
bathetic junkie glamour of his apparent frailty, personal and artistic,
just as their 1950s avatars had. Reissues of Baker's albums on CD have
gathered mass and sales since.
Which leaves us with Baker's mysterious death, long haloed by a host of
theories. Gavin rejects accident, reporting that "the window [of the
hotel room] slid up only about fifteen inches, making it difficult, if
not impossible, for a grown man to fall through accidentally."
Dismissing speculation that Baker might have lost his room key and tried
to climb the hotel's facade, Gavin says it's unlikely he could have gone
unnoticed on such a busy thoroughfare. He dismisses homicide, as did
Baker's remaining friends and the Dutch police, and concludes that Baker
was shooting his favorite speedballs and committed a sort of
passive-aggressive suicide by "opening a window and letting death come
to him.... [He] had died willfully of a broken heart."
That's a pretty sentimental final fade for a hard-core character like
Baker, who for all Gavin's determined nuance ultimately seems less rebel
than junkie. Maybe Gavin should have pondered Naked Lunch. Then
he might have ended his book with, say, Steve Allen's take, since Allen
was one of the many Baker burned: "When Chet started out, he had
everything. He was handsome, had a likable personality, a tremendous
musical gift. He threw it all away for drugs. To me, the man started out
as James Dean and ended up as Charles Manson."
"How long do I have?" James Pierson asked, trying to maintain eye
contact with the man behind the desk.
"Three months, eleven days, seven hours and forty-three minutes,"
David Barnett said.
"Well, it's now the afternoon of August 19, 2010," Barnett said. "We're
advising people not to wait until the very last day. December 31 is a
time when there can be a certain amount of New Year's Eve chaos at
hospitals, and that could put the death certificate over until next
year, or at least muddy the waters if there's a question that ends up in
court. So, getting it done in 2010, if you're being prudent, means
getting it done before December 31, or three months, eleven days, seven
hours and forty-three minutes from now."
Pierson swallowed. He found the phrase "getting it done" off-putting.
Finally, he said, "I don't suppose there's a chance that this could be
"Well, in theory there's always a chance," Barnett said. "The Democrats
could come back after recess and announce that they've changed their
minds, and, despite everything they've said in the nine years since
2001, they're going to make the repeal of the inheritance tax permanent,
but I don't think it would be wise to count on that happening."
"So it's now or never is what you're saying?" Pierson said.
"Well, it's this year or never. Look, under the provisions of the
original law, the exemption has been raised and the rates lowered every
year for the past nine years. It would have been shortsighted to die in
order to take advantage of any of those tax reductions, because this
year the tax is gone altogether. But the law still has its sunset
provision: It fades away on December 31, 2010, unless it's renewed. So,
given the Democratic majorities in both houses and the current deficit,
it's likely that starting January 1, 2011, the estate tax will be the
same as it was before the rates started coming down. From a tax
liability standpoint, there is no alternative to taking advantage of
this window of opportunity."
"Look, Jim," Barnett said, "Why are you in the business you're in?"
"Because the company had enormous paper losses that saved me a bundle in
taxes and the only thing it actually owned was shares in some airliners
that we depreciated the hell out of before we fobbed them off on some
bush airline in Central America."
"And why do you drive the vehicle you drive, even though the dozer
attachment makes it difficult to park in any space smaller than the
Wal-Mart parking lot?"
"Because we can write it off as farm equipment, of course," Pierson
"This is my point," Barnett said. "You've always run your life according
to what makes sense from a tax-liability standpoint. You have a vacation
condo in Louisiana, where you exist in what amounts to a steam bath all
summer, because it's in a development that juts out into the gulf and we
figured out how to depreciate it as a shrimp boat. You and Margaret
tried to time the birth of your children for late December to get an
extra year's deduction. You've planted a lot of weird-looking trees so
we could have your backyard declared an experimental forest and take a
$14,000 loss every year, not to mention deducting what you pay the kid
to mow the lawn. I'm just your tax consultant, Jim. But it seems to me
that if you don't take advantage of the 2010 window, you wouldn't be
"I'd be alive, of course," Pierson said. "There's that."
"But don't you see: You'd just be living for the government," Barnett
said. "Just because you live past 2010, 50 percent of your estate will
go right into Uncle Sam's pocket. What's the point?"
"Fifty percent!" Pierson blurted out--and then, before he realized what
he was saying, added, "I'd sooner die than give the government 50
"Exactly!" Barnett said.
Pierson was silent for a while. Then, his voice still tentative, he
said, "Have you been making any suggestions about method? When you said
'window of opportunity' a moment ago..."
"No, no," Barnett said. "What we're recommending is a high-quality
hunting rifle. It's dependable, easy to operate and almost certain to be
completely undamaged by the incident, so that it can be passed on in
mint condition to the heirs--who, of course, would pay absolutely no
inheritance tax on it."
"A high-quality hunting rifle would be rather expensive," Pierson said.
"I don't suppose..."
"Yes, we believe that under a loophole in a rider to the Reserve Officer
Training Act, as rewritten in 1978, we have a way to deduct it," Barnett
said, "as long as you register your cellar as an Alternate Emergency
Munitions Collection Point."
Pierson nodded his head silently, and then said, "I wouldn't imagine..."
"Yes," Bartlett said. "We believe we've figured out a way that your
heirs could depreciate the hunting rifle."
"Over ten or fifteen years?"
"Six years," Bartlett said, beaming with pride.
"Six years!" Pierson said.
"Wow!" He nodded his head again, slapped his hands on his knees, and
stood up. Then he said, with new resolution in his voice, "That settles
Agnostic's what he was, had always been.
He'd never prayed a prayer, confessed a sin.
He's thinking, though, if Martha goes to jail,
On Sundays henceforth he will never fail
To be in church. In fact, forevermore,
He'll be in synagogue the day before.
It's not as if this man's the sort of pill
Who wishes fellow human beings ill.
But he's convinced: If Martha takes the fall,
There is a God in heaven after all.
The end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments of
the past century, but we would not have succeeded without the help of
international pressure--in particular the divestment movement of the
1980s. Over the past six months a similar movement has taken shape, this
time aiming at an end to the Israeli occupation.
Divestment from apartheid South Africa was fought by ordinary people at
the grassroots. Faith-based leaders informed their followers, union
members pressured their companies' stockholders and consumers questioned
their store owners. Students played an especially important role by
compelling universities to change their portfolios. Eventually,
institutions pulled the financial plug, and the South African government
thought twice about its policies.
Similar moral and financial pressures on Israel are being mustered one
person at a time. Students on more than forty US campuses are demanding
a review of university investments in Israeli companies as well as in
firms doing major business in Israel. From Berkeley to Ann Arbor, city
councils have debated municipal divestment measures.
These tactics are not the only parallels to the struggle against
apartheid. Yesterday's South African township dwellers can tell you
about today's life in the occupied territories. To travel only blocks in
his own homeland, a grandfather waits on the whim of a teenage soldier.
More than an emergency is needed to get to a hospital; less than a crime
earns a trip to jail. The lucky ones have a permit to leave their
squalor to work in Israel's cities, but their luck runs out when
security closes all checkpoints, paralyzing an entire people. The
indignities, dependence and anger are all too familiar.
Many South Africans are beginning to recognize the parallels to what we
went through. Ronnie Kasrils and Max Ozinsky, two Jewish heroes of the
antiapartheid struggle, recently published a letter titled "Not in My
Name." Signed by several hundred other prominent Jewish South Africans,
the letter drew an explicit analogy between apartheid and current
Israeli policies. Mark Mathabane and Nelson Mandela have also pointed
out the relevance of the South African experience.
To criticize the occupation is not to overlook Israel's unique
strengths, just as protesting the Vietnam War did not imply ignoring the
distinct freedoms and humanitarian accomplishments of the United States.
In a region where repressive governments and unjust policies are the
norm, Israel is certainly more democratic than its neighbors. This does
not make dismantling the settlements any less a priority. Divestment
from apartheid South Africa was certainly no less justified because
there was repression elsewhere on the African continent. Aggression is
no more palatable in the hands of a democratic power. Territorial
ambition is equally illegal whether it occurs in slow motion, as with
the Israeli settlers in the occupied territories, or in blitzkrieg
fashion, as with the Iraqi tanks in Kuwait. The United States has a
distinct responsibility to intervene in atrocities committed by its
client states, and since Israel is the single largest recipient of US
arms and foreign aid, an end to the occupation should be a top concern
of all Americans.
Almost instinctively, the Jewish people have always been on the side of
the voiceless. In their history, there is painful memory of massive
roundups, house demolitions and collective punishment. In their
scripture, there is acute empathy for the disfranchised. The occupation
represents a dangerous and selective amnesia of the persecution from
which these traditions were born.
Not everyone has forgotten, including some within the military. The
growing Israeli refusenik movement evokes the small anticonscription
drive that helped turn the tide in apartheid South Africa. Several
hundred decorated Israeli officers have refused to perform military
service in the occupied territories. Those not already in prison have
taken their message on the road to US synagogues and campuses, rightly
arguing that Israel needs security, but that it will never have it as an
occupying power. More than thirty-five new settlements have been
constructed in the past year. Each one is a step away from the safety
deserved by the Israelis, and two steps away from the justice owed to
If apartheid ended, so can the occupation, but the moral force and
international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current
divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary
move in that direction.
Southern Exposure, which somehow looks--even in its third decade,
in the twenty-first century--as if very advanced high school students
had just stapled it together and put it on your doorstep (that's a
compliment...The Nation strives for that effect, too), is still
doing a fine job on its old beat: investigating the strange mix of
culture and corporatism that has made the South what it is today. By
extension, every issue poses the same basic question: What exactly is
America? In looking at the South in great detail over many decades,
Southern Exposure has begun to propose, although not explicitly,
First, America is a place that advocates equality but thrives on
inequality. In the 2002 Spring and Summer issue, which is subtitled "The
South at War," James Maycock has published a piece on the black American
soldier's experience in Vietnam--especially for people who did not live
through the civil rights movement and that terrible Southeast Asian
conflict, this piece will be riveting. "I'm not a draft evader,"
declares one African-American draftee on reaching Canada. "I'm a runaway
America is also a place where the Marlboro Man has not abdicated, as
Stan Goff shows in his gonzo essay on Vietnam and American masculinity
(in fact, it has crossed my mind that all those ads may have been psy-ops prep for George W. Bush's ascendancy). And last, America is a
place that loves the Army. In its useful and unassailable roundup on the
Southern states and the war industry, Southern Exposure comes up
with important facts. The dollar amount of military contracts to Florida
companies alone last year amounted to $15.2 billion. The military, of
course, is a good place to have your money right now. For example,
Florida's education budget was slashed by 4.2 percent last year while
the stock of Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, two of the largest companies
with investments in Florida, were up 25 percent and 40 percent,
respectively. Nutshell portraits of thirteen states provide a real sense
of the give and take between politicians, the military and the job
market, and population in places where the military chooses to spend.
Note also: Of the top twenty-one cities involved in military production
in 2001, excepting Hartford, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Seattle, every
city on the list is in the South or in California. According to
Southern Exposure, 66 percent of the weapons sold to Israel under
the Foreign Military Sales program were produced in the South. The South
has helped situate America in the world today; that puts it in a unique
moral position. But after reading this issue of Southern
Exposure, one really wonders: Do most Southerners care?
After reading about B-29s and F-16s and macho men and Hellfire
missiles made in Orlando--of all places--I was happy to read a few
magazines that go to other extremes. Of the two big yoga magazines
available on the newsstand, Yoga Journal is the yogis' Vanity
Fair, and Yoga International is their Real Simple. We
can dispense with the latter except for the pretzel-position pictures,
but Yoga Journal is a very good niche magazine--good niche
publications take their subject and use it expansively, as a jumping-off
point. The June issue has an excellent and anthropologically important
piece by Marina Budhos on how yoga practice in the West, especially
among Americans, is changing the age-old practice in India, the
Americans behaving like cargo cultists in reverse.
Budhos found that many of the Indians in an Indian ashram (where, by the
way, the hatha yoga teacher was "a really tough Israeli") were attending
because they "were interested in teaching yoga as a career." Many of the
foreigners were simply having yoga fun on vacation--although, as I have
discovered while doing the tortoise position, the word "yoga" and the
word "fun" should never be used in the same sentence. Daniel Ghosal, an
Indian-American, says the Americans who come to India for yoga are seen
by the Indians as "kind of 'cracked.'" Indians don't think of yoga as a
social trend. "The lighting of candles and all that," Ghosal says
dismissively. "To Indians, it's just yoga."
"The Path of the Peaceful Warrior," by Anne Cushman, is also an amusing
piece. In it--after lighting a fire with newspapers in which she sees
headlines about terror and anthrax burning away, and after "folding into
the silence and surrender of a deep forward bend" (that's classic yoga
writing; you just have to push past it)--Cushman proposes a "Yogic
Battle Plan for the War on Terror." I suppose it's better than beefing
up your naval program at Newport News...
The first step: "Stop." I like that. That should be the entirety of an
Op-Ed piece on the Middle East crisis.
There is also "Contemplate death." Under that weighty heading, Cushman
includes this nice aperçu: "The American government's
instruction to 'Be on high alert, yet go about your ordinary life' may
have struck many people as all but impossible, but that paradoxical
injunction is actually...a core yogic practice." (Don't tell Rumsfeld!)
Under "Look Deeply," Cushman cites Tricycle editor James
Shaheen's remark that bin Laden was "inadvertently speaking the Buddhist
truth of interdependence when he said, 'Until there is peace in the
Middle East, there will be no peace for Americans at home.'" "Practice
nonviolence" is another step in the yogic battle; "take action," the
last. By the end, Yoga Journal is beginning to sound like the
editors of Southern Exposure.
Earthtimes, the monthly environmental and social paper
spiritedly edited for twelve years by the effervescent Pranay Gupte, is
folding up shop after July for lack of funding. As Gupte said in a
farewell note to colleagues: "Undercapitalization is always bad for
business; zero capitalization is worse. Since my basement press is
beyond repair, I can't even print rupee notes any longer to sustain
Earthtimes." That's Gupte and the tone of Earthtimes,
too--in moments of pain and crisis, a quiet, self-deflating, sustaining
So far this year, US diplomats have secured the removal of Mary
Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights; José Bustani, head
of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; and Robert
Watson, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They were
ousted because they weren't doing what Washington told them to do.
In the line of fire now are UNRWA, the agency that for more than fifty
years has fed and educated Palestinian refugees, and its head, Peter
Hansen; and Secretary General Kofi Annan, once lauded by US Jewish
organizations for opening doors for Israel. Both cases are egregious
examples of blaming the victim.
At the time of Israel's takeover of Jenin, Hansen condemned the refusal
of the Israel Defense Forces to allow ambulances and relief workers into
the camp. He also protested the Israeli use of UNRWA schools as military
posts and interrogation centers and the destruction of the agency's
clinics. Around the same time, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres invited
Kofi Annan to send in investigators. This suggestion was
enthusiastically moved in the Security Council by US ambassador John
Negroponte. Israel promptly announced that it would not accept Robinson,
Hansen and UN Special Representative for the peace process Terje Roed
Larsen as investigators. Then it made it clear that it would not
cooperate with anyone sent by the Secretary General.
By then, Annan himself was under fire. Within a month of becoming
president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
Organizations, Mort Zuckerman was assailing him and Hansen and declaring
that "UNRWA is the godfather to all terrorist training schools, notably
in Jenin." AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, joined in with a press release
headed "Camps of Terror," alleging that "as the sole agency mandated to
manage the Palestinian refugee camps, UNRWA has effectively turned a
blind eye toward terror activities within the camps.... Inside the
camps, where 99 percent of UNRWA's staff is comprised of locally
recruited Palestinian refugees, food storage facilities and warehouses
have become depots for ammunition and explosives to be used in terror
attacks against Israelis."
That led to a joint call by Tom Lantos, ranking Democrat on the House
International Relations Committee, and Tom DeLay, the GOP whip, for
Congressional hearings on UNRWA, with a suggestion of ending US funding,
which pays for a third of UNRWA operations. Jumping on the bandwagon,
Republican Eric Cantor of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism
repeated the allegations.
Hansen has pointed out that the agency's sole responsibility is
education, health and feeding the refugees: It has never administered
the camps or maintained any police force. He added that from 1967 on,
"We have not received from the Government of Israel any complaint
related to the misuse of any of our installations in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip.... Since October 2000 to-date, and even though hundreds of
UNRWA staff have been detained and subsequently released, the Israeli
authorities have never provided any information or lodged any complaint
with UNRWA concerning the official or private activities of any UNRWA
There is a very real fear that Lantos & Co. will soon demand
Hansen's head as the price for continued UNRWA funding. He was recently
reappointed to another term, but so was Bustani just before he got the
boot. Also in his first year of a second term is Kofi Annan, who is
about to produce a report on Jenin mandated by the General Assembly.
Even Israeli government lawyers admit that the IDF breached
international humanitarian law in Jenin, which was why Israel changed
its mind about allowing the inquiry. People close to the Secretary
General are beginning to worry that he will come under increasing attack
in the same spirit of vilifying the messenger, and that the Likud-tinged
alliance with the Christian and conservative right will revive the old
attacks on the UN.
So far, the State Department has been defending UNRWA on Capitol Hill,
and Colin Powell has a close rapport with Annan. But it remains to be
seen how long this outpost of lucidity can hold against the faith-based
foreign policy follies of the rest of the Administration and many
members of Congress.
There are perfectly respectable reasons to disagree with, dislike or
distrust Jesse Jackson. His flaws as a human being are pretty well-known
at this point. Some feel his politics are driven by ego. He certainly is
prone to poetic puffery, as much disposed to allegorical tales in which
he plays Good Shepherd as was Ronald Reagan. He's cheated on his wife.
Most notoriously, Jesse Jackson's credibility as leader of anything like
a rainbow coalition was profoundly shaken by his "Hymietown" remark. I
am among those who distrust him as a result of that one statement,
profuse apologies notwithstanding. But if I distrust him, I distrust him
no more or less than the legions of other politicians who have made
racist, sexist or anti-Semitic comments and then apologized as though
they were children playing "words can never hurt you." I distrust Jesse
Jackson no more than I distrust Jesse Helms or Robert Byrd or Pat
Robertson. I distrust him no more than George Bush or John Ashcroft for
being so cozy with the anti-miscegenist, anti-Catholic Bob Jones
University (even as I also distrust the Catholic Church for its own
history of anti-Semitism). I worry about him exactly to the same extent
that I worry about those members of Congress who have spent their long,
complacent lives as members of country clubs that discriminate against
Jews and blacks and women.
In other words, while Jesse Jackson may have his problems, they can
probably be summed up in a paragraph. Kenneth Timmerman's book
Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson takes that one
paragraph and reworks it for well over 400 pages. While it is important
to document and acknowledge the shortcomings of public figures, it is
also important to maintain a sense of proportion. In reality, Jackson is
imperfect. In Timmerman's rendition, he is a bloated monster of evil
impulses and global appetites, a "dangerous fool," "a David Duke in
black skin" who "drifts off into mumbo-jumbo" "like a Halloween ghoul"
while "mau-mauing" corporations that "think it is cheaper to buy
protection" from the "race industry" he has purportedly milked dry.
The distance between the real Jackson and Timmerman's gargoyle is
inhabited by myth, stereotype, unsubstantiated accusation, illogic and
careless innuendo. It is a world in which the least mundanity of Jackson's existence is milled into
malevolent disguise. Even Martin Luther King Jr.'s death is described as
an event that "set him free. With King dead, Jackson could become his
own boss." If Jackson is an opportunist, he is not this heinous a one,
and nothing in the substance rather than the innuendo of this book says
otherwise. Yet the innuendo playsagainst a backdrop of slapdash
thinking, angry talk-show hosts, thoughtless prejudice. It plays to what
many in the majority of this society think they already know--how else
could such a carelessly contentious book make it onto the New York
Times bestseller list for more than a month?
In the real world, Jackson is paid for his advocacy, for his attempts at
conflict resolution and for his speaking. He is a skilled fundraiser for
a variety of nonprofit organizations. His salary, fees and contributions
are paid, quite straightforwardly, by constituents and supporters. One
may honestly disagree with what he advocates or about whether he's an
effective negotiator or is wise in his beliefs. To resent that he is
paid at all is a tendentious and indirect way of expressing that
disagreement, but that's the essence of what Timmerman seems to mean
when he uses the word "shakedown." In Timmerman's world, Jackson's
entire relation to money is one of "profiting,"
"profiting-at-the-expense-of" and "profiteering."
Yes, Jackson has been investigated a number of times for mishandling
funds, particularly during the setup years of Operation PUSH and
Operation Breadbasket. But despite numerous FBI investigations, despite
frequent IRS audits and despite intense media scrutiny, none of his
enterprises have ever been implicated in anything beyond the usual
scope--promptly corrected--of what all businesses, including nonprofits,
face in the course of accounting for their poor investment decisions,
particularly when those decisions are made by inexperienced and
disorganized administrators like Jackson. Nevertheless, even after
Jackson hires good accountants and smart financial counselors, Timmerman
refers to him as "still just a street hustler" who benefited from the
"most friendly of audits" and whose "scandalous" accounting practices
would surely have resulted in some sort of criminal action had not the
FBI's investigation of him been "shut down during the early months of
the Carter administration." That Timmerman is referring to the notorious
COINTELPRO operation, which disparaged the reputations and disrupted the
lives of so many civil rights leaders, is never made explicit.
To Timmerman, Jackson's every last tic is a deceit. Jesse Jackson is
wrong when he wears shorts and sandals--too déclassé and
inappropriate. He's wrong when he wears suits--too expensive and
self-indulgent. He's a fraud because his "black buddies" give him a
nice, large house in which to raise his family--a "fifteen room Tudor,"
mentioned so many times that to say Timmerman is obsessed with it might
be too kind. The house is in a nice neighborhood--how inauthentic! His
children go to private schools, graduate from college and turn out
well--how hypocritical of him to complain about opportunity for blacks!
His son is elected to Congress--what "dynastic" pretension!
There is a deep streak of class resentment running through this book.
Jackson is disparaged in the classic language of resentment toward the
bourgeoisie or the nouveau riche: He is demeaned for his grammar, for
his manners, for his conspicuous consumption. I think this class bias
accounts for Timmerman's irrational anger whenever Jackson moves beyond
what Timmerman deems his place in the social order. Jackson is painted
as too ignorant and lower class to play with the big boys; yet too
flashy and profligate to make political claims on behalf of the poor.
When Newsweek praises his children as "poised, proud and living
antidotes to inner-city despair," Timmerman snorts that "Jesse Jackson
with his three houses, his flush bank accounts, his first-class travel,
his lucrative friendships with foreign dictators...was as close to inner
city despair as the Beverly Hillbillies were to poverty."
Similarly, any use of economic leverage, including boycotts, is seen as
nothing more than "bullying," the surest sign of someone who'd rather be
staging a riot. Jackson's attempts to convince businesses to "provide
jobs and award contracts" to minorities is redescribed as making them
"pony up." Peaceful boycotts become racial extortion--as though
African-Americans have an obligation to shop till they drop, as though
free enterprise did not include the choice of taking one's business
elsewhere. It is an oddly unbalanced insistence, particularly since
Timmerman seems to feel that free enterprise includes the right of
businesses not to hire or serve any of those supposedly extortionist
When Jackson joins the board of General Motors, he's not working within
the system, heaven forbid, he's just "working" it. Indeed, General
Motors itself is indicted for putting him on its board, for being in
craven complicity with his "plundering." "For the scare-muffins who
still dominate many Fortune 500 companies, it has become cheaper to toss
bones to Jesse than to contest him in the court of public opinion,"
writes Timmerman, and quotes T.J. Rogers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductor,
who refused to "pony up" to Jackson's concerns about hiring patterns:
"My advice to other CEO's? Why don't you grow a pair of balls? Or if
you're a female, whatever is the female equivalent."
Shakedown is flawed even more by racialized animus than by class
bias, however. "Uncle Jessie," as Timmerman calls him on several
occasions, wants "not just equal opportunity, but equal results."
Shakedown purports to be filled with proof that Jackson and his
"cohorts" have "more than." They are described not merely as lying,
cheating and stealing but as possessing much more than they deserve,
however they came by it. Every last car any member of the Jackson family
ever owned--his son's wife's BMW, for heaven's sake--is listed and
ridiculed, every last exotic make, size of engine, price paid, with a
rundown of features including vanity plates and whether the tires were
radial or whitewall.
There is nowhere offered in this book a chance that Jackson has a
humanitarian bone in his body, no chance that he adheres to principles
or beliefs. Jackson is not even a real minister, according to
Shakedown, but a "seminary drop-out" whose "church" (always in
quotes) is nothing more than a front for his "poverty pimping."
Anything Jackson is associated with becomes just too stupid or too
dangerous to respond to or take seriously. And so Jackson is described
as drawing up a "hit list" of corporations. In a passage astonishing for
its old-style Confederate paranoia, Timmerman worries that Jackson's
"inflammatory words" protesting the outcome of the 2000 election "were
dangerously close to a call for insurrection." Even Al Gore is depicted
as plotting with Jackson in hopes of "unleashing a massive outpouring of
'rage' in black communities across America." (Rage, too, is always in
Whether one likes Jackson or not, reading Shakedown one gets the
sense that Timmerman dislikes him for much more than his bad traits--and
that's where the popularity of this book becomes truly troubling.
Timmerman can't stand anyone who's ever shaken Jackson's hand. He
despises the civil rights "establishment." He hates Bill Clinton, the
Chicago Theological Seminary, African and African-American leaders of
every political stripe, hippies, bleeding hearts and the NAACP. Just for
extra wallop, every chapter or so he lumps them all together with Lenin,
Castro, Hitler, Stalin, socialist "plants," radical "functionaries,"
card-carrying members of the Communist party as well as motley others
"who are, unquestionably, enemies of the United States."
Jackson's closest friends are, according to Timmerman, members of the
Arab League, Louis Farrakhan, Yasir Arafat and Chicago street-gang
members. No matter that some of those gang members bullied Jackson,
engaging in true extortionary tactics; or, more poignantly, were kids to
whom Jackson tried to extend his ministry of social action. The fact
that some gang members were neighbors and family members, or the fact
that numbers of them ended up in jail, including Jackson's own
half-brother, is never evidence of the stresses, the sad scripts, the
human loss of ghetto life; in this book, they're all just part of
"Jesse's World." Based on association alone, street toughs become his
accomplices, his cohorts, his henchmen. Timmerman writes that Jackson
"boasted of his ties to the gangs: 'I get a lot of them to go to
church.'" Boast it may be, but it is not the ordinary or fair
understanding of "ties" to gangs. To describe it so implies something
more sinister, suggests much more.
Indeed, Jackson's mere family relation to Noah Robinson, his
half-brother and a gang member doing hard time, is like a bone that
Timmerman can't stop gnawing. It gets told and retold every few pages.
His no-good, murderous, jailed gang member of a brother. Ten paragraphs
later, Robinson is resurrected, still murderous, still jailed and still
working overtime as Jackson's "link" to gang life.
Similarly troubling is Timmerman's description of Jackson's association
with Jeff Fort, the jailed head of the Blackstone Rangers--none other
than the same Jeff Fort who recently made news as leader of the gang
with which the FBI says José Padilla, the alleged "dirty bomb"
conspirator, once hung. Indeed, Shakedown's appendix contains a
1983 wanted poster of Fort, then on the run from a narcotics charge. The
sarcastic caption reads: "The 'Reverend' Jackson's Best Pupil." Beneath
Fort's picture is the following legend: "Jackson--a seminarian dropout
who never even had his own church or congregation--" (perhaps the
twentieth time Timmerman repeats that) "claims to have 'baptized' Jeff
Fort in their early days together. Perhaps Fort should have sought the
services of a real 'Reverend.'"
This kind of indictment by suggestion occurs in almost every sentence of
the book. In one particularly troubling chapter, Timmerman tries to
implicate Jackson in funding Al Qaeda by something resembling "six
degrees of separation": In early 1999 Jackson negotiated a settlement
between Deutsche Bank and Kevin Ingram, one of the bank's top five
executives, who claimed he'd been fired because of his race. Ingram, who
never saw Jackson again, was arrested two years later for brokering a
sale of weapons on behalf of an Egyptian neighbor of his. The would-be
buyer was a Pakistani national, who, Timmerman implies, represented the
Pakistani military. Since September 11, "federal investigators have been
interrogating Ingram...about possible ties between the ultimate buyers
of the weapons in Pakistan and renegade Saudi terrorist Osama bin
Laden." Why? Apparently Ingram was once spotted in Sierra Leone by a
Florida diamond dealer who said as much while he was being questioned by
federal investigators regarding unrelated fraud charges. What's that got
to do with anything? Well, Libyan, Hezbollah and bin Laden operatives
are known to have traded diamonds in Liberia. Liberia, you ask? Hey,
Sierra Leone and Liberia are right next door to each other... What has
this got to do with Jesse Jackson? Ah. That goes back to President
Clinton (who, as the spawn of Satan and first American President ever to
have traveled to any part of sub-Saharan Africa, is dismissed by
Timmerman as having gone "on safari"). Clinton sent Jackson along as
part of a State Department team that tried and ultimately failed to
negotiate a peace in the diamond wars between Liberia and Sierra Leone.
As Timmerman leads readers down this tortured trail, Jackson's
"race-baiting tactics" in Ingram's case against Deutsche Bank give the
illusion of him being directly tied to Al Qaeda's illicit trade in
diamonds, a trade that has "flourished under the Lomé Accord
Jackson negotiated on behalf of the State Department."
In an era when our vast, unspecified war against terror has been used to
justify detaining José Padilla, an American citizen arrested on
American soil, in a military brig with no charges and no lawyer, one
does begin to worry about what those vague Al Qaeda and Blackstone
Ranger "links" will bring down upon inner-city Chicago and other
communities already so beleaguered by careless suspect profiling. At a
time when due process is fast being shelved as quaint and improvident,
one only hopes that criminality and political heresy will be measured in
some other forum than Timmerman's overwrought court of public opinion.
In an era when politicians and talk-show hosts speak openly of
assassinating a broad range of America's enemies by way of "pre-emptive"
strategy, one worries about Timmerman's recurring theme of Jackson's
alignment with those enemies; of Jackson's affairs being a matter of
national security; of Jackson as threat to the stability of America's
political and corporate culture. Indeed, Timmerman notes ominously, "No
flags or patriotic banners are found at Jackson's PUSH meeting held
September 15, 2001, just four days after the terrorist attack on the
United States. But there was room for a gigantic portrait of himself."
John Ashcroft recently asked us to trust that the days of J. Edgar
Hoover are gone forever; I would like to imagine that he means it. But
who needs Hoover if Timmerman's book reflects a national backlash
rushing to fill the breach? If Shakedown represents anything like
a popular or dominant view not just in the country but specifically in
the intelligence community (and Timmerman does thank "many" in academia,
law enforcement and intelligence "who have asked not to be named"), we
are in deep, deep trouble. This is a paranoid book, an ignorant book, a
book that posits aggressive disrespect for an immense spectrum of
African-American concerns as some sort of brave moral stance. It is a
book that takes us right back to the 1950s and argues, in effect, that
the South was right about that Negro problem. Indeed, I suppose there's
really no need to read this book at all--one could just go see Birth
of a Nation and wallow in all that panic about insurrection and
uppity, overdressed black politicians who, as D.W. Griffith put it,
"know nothing of the incidents of power."
Call me a Nervous Nellie, but will FBI and CIA agents, with their
expansive new powers, be as subject to mocking and stereotyping black
people as the careless Mr. Kenneth R. Timmerman? To put it another way,
if the FBI and CIA see each other as enemies, do testy, overdressed,
big-spending people of African descent even stand a chance against a
popular culture so racially freighted?
If this book were not selling like hotcakes and if we were not at war, I
might just feel sorry for Timmerman. I'd tell him to get out and make a
few more black friends, maybe take a Democrat to lunch. Let him find out
for himself that we're not as scary as all that. I'd urge that course, I
guess, even for those white Americans whose sympathies are ostensibly
closer to my own--perhaps people like Ward Just, a novelist who in
reviewing Stephen Carter's new book, The Emperor of Ocean Park,
in The New York Times Book Review wrote about his discomfort in
attending a birthday party that Vernon Jordan gave for President Clinton
on Martha's Vineyard:
More than half were African-American, not one of them known to me by
sight; I mean to say, no entertainers or sports figures. They were
lawyers and business supremos and academics, and many of them had houses
on the island.... Introductions were made, but the names flew by. I had
never been in an American living room where the paler nation was in the
minority, but that did not seem to matter on this occasion, everyone
jolly and conversational, very much at ease. But I was inhibited, in the
way a civilian is inhibited in a room full of professional soldiers,
listening instead of talking, trying to see beneath the skin of
This fear of black social life, the perceived unknowability of it, has,
I worry, become one more blind spot that endangers our national
security, to say nothing of our national unity. There are so many white
people who have still never been to a black home and have never had a
black person to theirs. Of course, there are lots of black people who
have never been much beyond the ghetto. But in general, I think black
people have an overwhelmingly better sense of white people as just plain
old human beings than the reverse. It's impossible not to: Black people
work in white homes, white stores, white offices. If we are
professionals, we can go days without even seeing another black person.
I'd never be able to say at a cocktail party, "Who's that wonderful
white entertainer? Oh, you know the one." And everyone there would have
such a narrow range of reference that they'd all answer in unison, "Oh
yeah, Steve Martin. He's great."
And so I keep wondering about who is reading Shakedown in such
energetic numbers. Who finds it necessary to buy into the frisson
of such hyperbole? Is it possible that the ability to maintain such a
fevered sense of besiegement about Jesse Jackson, of all people, is
related to the gibberishly panicked response of the police officers who
shot Amadou Diallo in that frenzy of bullets in 1999? Are Timmerman's
readers challenged to reflect upon the blind righteousness of the
officers who assaulted Abner Louima two years before that--do they
wonder where Louima would be if he were assaulted now? It should be
remembered that Louima, a noncitizen, was initially mistaken for someone
who had committed a minor crime. Would we ever have known of his plight
if he'd been whisked into a detention center with no trial, no charge
and no lawyer?
Do Timmerman's readers really write off all the disparities of black and
brown life in America--from housing to healthcare, from schooling to
employment--as simple market choices? Do they have a clue of the social
resentment so many blacks endure--yes, even well-educated and wealthy
black people? Sometimes it is in the little things: I do not fully
understand, for example, why Vanity Fair felt it necessary, in a
recent interview, to describe black philosopher Cornel West as not just
extremely knowledgeable but rather "besotted" with knowledge. Sometimes
it's in the large things. When Bill Cosby's son Ennis was murdered while
changing a flat tire on his Mercedes some years ago, Camille Cosby
wondered aloud where his killer, a vehemently racist young Ukranian
immigrant, had learned to so hate the sight of a black man driving an
Does Timmerman's book bring us any closer to acknowledging how many
times more dangerous those traditions of resentment have become when
political approval ratings soar with talk of ultimate control, of
official secrecy, of necessity, of accident and of disappearance?
How terrifying for black and brown people when a highly dangerous but
nevertheless very small network of terrorists are to be hunted down
based not only on specific information but by employing broadly
inaccurate assumptions about our race, our religion, our national
origin. Who betrays whom when sweepingly invasive surveillance
guidelines are embraced by commentators across the political
spectrum--from Alan Dershowitz to George Will, from Charles Krauthammer
to Nicholas Kristof. Who betrays whom when Timmerman's brand of vulgar
overgeneralization spreads like a poison across the globe, insuring that
whatever the final shape of our brave new world, some of us are doomed
to catch hell from all sides, consigned to a parallel universe, figured
as the enemy within--indeed, the enemy "wherever."
There is a fable about the lion that eats the lamb because the lamb has
offended him with some imagined trespass. "But I didn't do it," protests
the lamb. "Well," sighs the lion, "it must have been your brother"--and
digs into his dinner.
CLUELESSNESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS
Jefferson Valley, NY
When I took my copy of The Nation from my mailbox today, I was
appalled at the cover showing George W. Bush, in hunter's garb, over the
caption "Clueless?" The Nation has long been a debater of ideas,
home for such writers as Christopher Hitchens, Gore Vidal and Jim
Hightower. This cover is a personal attack on the President of the
United States and does little to debate his policies. They're certainly
open to debate, but they are the product of the President and a group
that includes Ms. Rice and Messrs. Powell, Cheney, Rumsfeld and
O'Neill--not a "clueless" bunch at all. Let's debate policies, political
philosophies and economic theories and leave personal ridicule to
JOHN F. MCMULLEN
I am shocked and dismayed at the glaring copy-editing/proofreading
error on your cover. The question mark after "Clueless" is such an
egregious mistake it is hard to find words to express my dismay. After
all, if anyone at The Nation has even the smallest shred of a
doubt that Shrub is clueless...well, there's no hope; we're doomed.
Cartoon fans might appreciate a different caption on your June 10
cover: "Be vewy quiet. I'm hunting tewwowists."
An alternate caption might be: "George W. Fudd: 'Is that you, Osama,
you wascawwy Awab?'"
Thank you for the picture of King George II attired for the hunt. It
joins the collection of pictures of people like Jerry Falwell, Pat
Robertson and Ronald Reagan on my dartboard. I took the liberty of
deleting the question mark following the word "clueless."
St. Cirq Souillaguet, France
Your amusing cover picture of a clueless Bush was a great success in
our village, reflecting as it did a widely held French opinion of the
man. One neighbor went further: "If it's true that your President has an
80 percent approval rating, should one then assume that a majority of
your citizens are equally dimwitted?" I was unable to answer.
SUN, WIND & WIRES
Liberty Hill, Tex.
Matt Bivens's excellent "Fighting for America's Energy Independence"
[April 15] and the ensuing "Exchange" [June 17] covered many important
bases but requires a post-mortem.
The idea of a 110-by-110-mile solar field in Nevada providing all our
nation's electricity is seductive, but it ignores the fact that unless
generation is located near the consumers, you need wires to transmit it.
West Texas has the nation's largest wind farms, with plenty more
capacity. The problem is that the people who want to use that
electricity live in Dallas, 500 miles away. Transmission constraints,
not economics or politics, have slowed the growth of wind energy.
Building high-voltage power lines where people live is problematic; the
financial and political challenges of moving tens of thousands of solar
megawatts from Nevada to, say, New York, are daunting to the point of
The big green solution includes a combination of commercial-scale
renewable power (primarily wind and geothermal), decentralized clean
energy (mainly rooftop solar and stationary fuel cells, with the excess
sold back into the grid) and the three-legged stool of conservation,
efficiency and demand response. A staggering percentage of generation
plants are built solely to accommodate demand on midsummer weekday
afternoons. Demand response, or peak load management, teaches us that
the availability (not to mention cost) of electricity isn't always the
same. California's legendary rolling blackouts are largely a result of
inefficient use of the grid and can be avoided if consumers shift their
consumption away from the peaks. People have learned to make phone calls
and plane trips off-peak; we can use electricity the same way. This
relieves wire congestion and delays the need for new power plants,
accelerating our charge to the day when clean energy is overabundant.
Paul Wattles is correct that getting electricity down transmission
lines would make it impractical to power America on solar electricity
harvested across 12,000 square miles in Nevada. I never meant to suggest
we try. My observations that Nevada could gather enough sun to power
America--and that the Dakotas and Texas alone could also produce enough
windpower to do that--were purely illustrative. The point is that our
nation is rich in wind and sun, the technologies to harvest them are
finally here and working, and yet we aren't moving forward as smartly as
we could--in part thanks to our government's bizarre insistence on
showering huge subsidies on oil, gas, coal and nuclear power while
giving tiny sums to renewables and sniffing that they aren't "market
Some of the best winds are remote from population centers, and
new transmission lines can cost more than $1 million per mile.
Electricity gets wasted when sent long distances down such lines, and
stringing new lines is unpopular--people don't want to live near them.
And wind and solar power are intermittent--churning out wattages
only when the sun shines or the wind blows.
So these are all challenges--and it's striking how many of those
challenges are finessed by the hydrogen fuel cell. Wind- or
solar-generated electricity can now be stored as hydrogen (by using that
electricity to "zap" water, which releases hydrogen). John Turner of the
National Renewable Energy Laboratories observes that hydrogen made from
the sun or the winds could be trucked or pipelined out of remote areas
at a lot less cost and a lot more efficiency than hanging new power
lines. A Dakota-to-Chicago hydrogen pipeline, anyone? Unlike
transmission lines, it could even be buried.
Finally, I accept much of Wattles's "big green solution," but one small
quibble: I'm all for more efficient air conditioners; I'm less enamored
of training people to turn them off when it gets hot. Like berating
people who drive gas-guzzling SUVs, it's a distraction and a political
nonstarter. People have indeed learned to make phone calls
off-peak--i.e., when it's inconvenient. But they don't like it! So why
focus on it as the solution, when there is a much more positive
vision--one that has room for an emissions-free hydrogen-fueled SUV?
Yes, even one with a flag on it.
'JEWS FOR JUSTICE'--SOME THOUGHTS
"Hear, hear!" to Michael Lerner's "Jews for Justice" [May 20]--the
best opinion piece I've read on the Middle East morass, and the only one
brave enough to admit that Jews are themselves mostly to blame for the
recent surge of anti-Semitism around the world--at least insofar as they
participate, support and/or remain silent about Israel's arrogant,
apartheidlike policies. It makes me especially sad and angry that in
their eagerness to placate the conservative Jewish lobby, the most
prominent Jewish voices in American public life today (Dianne Feinstein
and Joseph Lieberman) refuse to recognize this, instead going blindly
forward with their We-Are-a-Victimized-People and Israel-Can-Do-No-Wrong
stance. I thank God nightly that my ancestors immigrated to America.
I suggest Rabbi Lerner move to Gaza and see how much "love" he will
get from the Palestinians; or maybe he should move to Syria and share
the "love" the other Arab countries have for Jews. He can preach "love"
and equal treatment there, if they let him.
New York City
No one can quarrel with Rabbi Lerner's call for a Jewish voice to
speak out for justice for Palestinians (and Israelis). But he is not
correct in saying that there have been no pro-Israel alternatives to
AIPAC, no organized voices that would speak out for the end of the
occupation and the violence, for a Palestinian state as well as for
security and acceptance for Israel.
There are such voices. One is Americans for Peace Now. APN has
been working hard for this agenda for many years, at the grassroots
level, in Washington and in Israel, with a very large coalition of peace
activists there. They speak to the US Jewish community, they speak to
other Americans, they speak to Palestinians and they speak to power. New
voices mean new strength for this agenda, so welcome to the Tikkun
Community. But they are not voices in the wilderness.
ROSALIND S. PAASWELL
I am delighted to read some constructive ideas on the Israel/Palestine
quagmire. As Rabbi Lerner proposes, a good place to start is with a "big
stick" wielded by an international effort to impose some separation and
order. However, I also think a "carrot" is essential to effect a change
of mind. I propose a Marshall Plan for Palestine--a model for the Middle
East. They need democracy, schools, infrastructure, small business
financing--all the basics for a progressive, prosperous country. When
there is prosperity for all, reasonable people don't want to rock the
boat. The religious fanatics would become increasingly irrelevant. Peace
in the area would thus be reinforced. The United States should lead the
effort, as we have much to gain. We'd be the good guys for a change.
I have never felt the urge to respond to anything I've read on the
Internet, but I want to show my admiration and gratitude to Michael
Lerner. His is about the only sane and objective Jewish voice on the
Israeli-Palestinian crisis I've heard. More power (and media outlets) to
you for recognizing the suffering of and injustices done to the
Palestinians. It really hurts to see so many turn a blind eye to the
root cause of the violence. As an Arab-American I am heartened to read
this article and hope that it reaches Jewish and non-Jewish Americans
and helps them realize the moral obligation of the United States to help
solve this crisis.
Although I admire Michael Lerner's courage (I understand that he has
been getting death threats) and strongly agree with his opposition to
Israel's armed occupation of the Palestinian territories, I regret that
he seems unwilling to face the most difficult moral dilemma presented by
the state of Israel and its very disturbing history, which must be
resolved by both Jews and non-Jews. Is there any moral justification for
supporting a state that is fundamentally dedicated to the welfare and
power of one religion and its believers over all others? Is there any
moral justification for supporting a state that has repeatedly invaded
its neighbors, killed thousands of nonbelligerents, destroyed housing,
agriculture and civil infrastructure and confiscated the land and
property of others without compensation? Is there any moral
justification for supporting a state that has repeatedly violated
international law and UN resolutions while scorning world opinion and
humiliating the leadership of the United States, without whose aid it
would not exist? Finally, is support for Israel truly an expression of
solidarity with fellow Jews or is it a profound betrayal of centuries of
Jewish tradition, from Hillel to Einstein, which has always celebrated
human dignity, justice and peace?
MARVIN A. GLUCK
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It is not often that a Democratic primary for a US House seat representing rural Alabama is big news in the United States -- let alone abroad. But the defeat of US Rep. Earl Hilliard, D-Alabama, in Tuesday's primary election runoff made headlines around the world. While voters in Selma and Tuscaloosa may have thought they were simply choosing between an aging veteran of the civil rights movement and an energetic challenger born the same year that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, analysts around the world were reading the results for signals about the character and scope of the debate over US policy regarding the Middle East.
"Mideast Was Issue In Democratic Race," read the Washington Post headline. "Mideast Fires Up Alabama Runoff," declared the Washington Times. "Mideast Conflict Comes To 'Bama," reported CBS. A National Review editor went so far as to declare the primary contest "a sideline skirmish in the war on terror." Overseas, Al-Jazeera's website described "The Middle East Conflict in Alabama's Seventh." The mass-circulation Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz thought enough of the story of Hilliard's defeat to publish an analysis that cited the result as one explanation for why President Bush's recent stances regarding the Middle East peace process have been so sympathetic to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"To understand the political background to Bush's speech, it's worth taking a look at the Web site of the US Federal Election Commission," noted an analysis by Akiva Eldar for Ha'aretz. "Look for contributors to Artur Davis, a black lawyer who won the Democratic primaries in the 7th Congressional District in Alabama on the day of the speech. Davis beat his rival, the 60-year-old, five-term Earl Hilliard, who is also black, by a 56-44 percent vote. Here are some of the names from the first pages of the list of his contributors: there were 10 Cohens from New York and New Jersey, but before one gets to the Cohens, there were Abrams, Ackerman, Adler, Amir, Asher, Baruch, Basok, Berger, Berman, Bergman, Bernstein and Blumenthal. All from the east coast, Chicago and Los Angeles. It's highly unlikely any of them have ever visited Alabama, let alone the 7th Congressional District.
<& "$_basedir/include/icaps.imhtml", style=>$icapstyle, letter=>'"A' &>rguing with intelligence, a massive array of facts and a sly wit, Sifry claims that our two-party system is a 'duopoly' that decisively dictates national politics through control of federal money and does not reflect the views or needs of many Americans." --Publishers Weekly, on
Micah L. Sifry's
Spoiling For a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America.