Monday, April 26, 2010


Recent stories about Wall Street contain a recurring theme: deceit.

For example, this week the CEO of the late Lehman Brothers, Richard S. Fuld Jr., with a completely straight face swore to Congress that he’d been utterly out to lunch on the issue of “Repo 105,” a sleight-of-hand accounting procedure auditors found Lehman used to conceal its debts.

Last week, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil lawsuit charging Goldman Sachs with securities fraud and describing a scheme in which Goldman Sachs defrauded clients by selling them a mortgage investment to bet on after secretly permitting selection of its component securities by a hedge fund manager who Goldman Sachs knew planned to bet against it.

Also last week, the U.S. Senate conducted hearings on failed Washington Mutual following a report by a Senate subcommittee that found the bank’s lending operations rife with fraud, including fabricated loan documents.

This deceit illustrates that America’s largest financial institutions can’t be trusted to refrain from crashing the world economy again. In fact, when the Big Banks announced their first quarter earnings recently—Citigroup, $4.4 billion; Bank of America, $4.2 billion; Goldman Sachs, $3.46 billion; JPMorgan, $3.3 billion; and Morgan Stanley, $1.8 billion—it turned out that much of that money was made by their trading divisions, the very ones that dragged them and the U.S. economy down during the crisis in 2008. These are the same risky trading practices that cost taxpayers a $700 billion bank bailout, their savings, their jobs, their businesses.

Clearly, these bankers can’t control themselves. And the “free market” has failed to moderate their behavior. Strict regulation is essential, including re-instituting the Glass-Steagall Act and other rules that will prevent financial firms from growing too big to fail; forcing the banks themselves to pay for liquidation of big financial institutions; placing on open markets trades of those secretive derivatives that brought down AIG and that the SEC says Goldman used fraudulently; and creating an independent consumer financial protection agency to stop practices like predatory lending, usurious interest rates and hidden fees.

Congress lifted bank regulations over the past three decades, including the Glass-Steagall Act, passed after the 1929 stock market crash to reduce speculation and conflicts of interest and to prevent “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions by forbidding the combination of investment and commercial banks. Like gullible investors in subprime mortgage bonds, the politicians who reversed those rules bought the argument that the free market would regulate itself. This is the same argument 1,500 Wall Street lobbyists are using, along with millions of dollars, right now in attempts to persuade lawmakers to stop worrying their little heads about seriously regulating Wall Street.

Main Street, where foreclosures continue at a record pace and unemployment remains painfully near 10 percent, desperately needs its own 1,500 lobbyists and millions in influence dollars. It will have the power of thousands of voices at a “Make Wall Street Pay” rally April 29 in the heart of New York City’s financial district, one of several protests across the country organized by the AFL-CIO.

On Main Street the need to forcefully re-regulate to prevent another Great Recession is clear; it’s not in Washington, D.C. In fact, weakening the already-too-soft financial regulation bill proposed by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is a crusade for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose campaign coffers have received more money from security and investment firms than from any other category—$1.3 million. Like a Wall Street banker, McConnell is using deception. For example, he harped all last week that an “orderly liquidation fund” in the Dodd bill was a “bailout fund.”

It’s not. It would be created with fees on banks—not taxpayers. And it’s not for bailouts that preserve banks. It is for bank liquidation. It would pay for the orderly closing of too-big-to-fail banks. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post ridiculed McConnell’s claims, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation, described McConnell’s attacks on the bill as fraudulent.

All of a sudden on Monday, McConnell changed his mind about Dodd’s bill. Coincidentally, that was three days after the SEC filed the fraud suit against Goldman Sachs, making railing against financial reform appear not quite so politically wise to Republicans anymore. It’s all about the politics in Washington, D.C.

McConnell said he had new optimism that Wall Street reform would pass because Democrats had resumed bipartisan talks and, he said:

I’m convinced now there is a new element of seriousness attached to this, rather than just trying to score political points.

Listening to McConnell is like hearing Lehman’s Fuld, who got a $22 million bonus six months before his financial firm filed for bankruptcy, swear to Congress he knew nothing about the “Repo” accounting procedure Lehman used to conceal $50 billion in debts. Following his testimony, Anton R. Valukas, the examiner in the Lehman bankruptcy, told Congress that his investigators found a person who had discussed Repo with then-CEO Fuld and e-mails to Fuld describing it.

The problem with McConnell and his new-found eagerness to pass “bipartisan” legislation is that the Dodd bill needs to be strengthened, not weakened with compromises thrown to Senate Republicans, all 41 of whom signed a letter last week saying they’d vote against it.

Before compromises remove from this bill the power to effectively regulate, Congress needs to review what Goldman Sachs is accused of doing. Ezra Klein of the Post described it best:

Goldman Sachs let hedge-fund manager John Paulson select the subprime-mortgage bonds that he thought likeliest to explode and put them into a package called Abacus 2007-AC1. Paulson, who guessed early that the market was heading for a crash, wanted to bet against these bonds. But he needed someone on the other side of the bet. So Goldman went out and found him some suckers, or, as Goldman called them, “counterparties.” But here’s the rub: Goldman didn’t tell the counterparties that Paulson had picked the bonds. “Goldman wrongly permitted a client that was betting against the mortgage market to heavily influence which mortgage securities to include in an investment portfolio, while telling other investors that the securities were selected by an independent, objective third party,” said Robert Khuzami, the director of the SEC’s division of enforcement.

Khuzami’s description makes Goldman’s behavior sound a lot like lying.

The real economy in this country—the one that manufactures, builds and produces tangible products—can’t afford a Wild West financial economy. The real economy depends on banks to finance business expansion and everyday transactions. All of that froze in the fall of 2008 because of Wall Street’s reckless, inadequately regulated gambling.

In a speech in New York City on Thursday, President Obama reinforced that that some bankers “forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged, there is family looking to buy a house and pay for an education, open a business, save for retirement.”

Obama also referenced the issue of dishonesty when he said this in New York:

A free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it.

If McConnell-style deceit about the financial reform bill continues in the Senate, serious regulatory reform won’t happen. Half me

Sunday, April 25, 2010

TriMet bus strikes group of pedestrians, killing 2, seriously injuring a third

Police say it could be later this week before they figure out exactly what happened when a TriMet bus struck a group of pedestrians in downtown Portland late Saturday, trapping several under the bus and killing two women.

The accident occurred just before midnight at Northwest Broadway and Glisan Street. Police found several pedestrians under the bus when they arrived.

Police Sunday identified the dead women as Jenee Hammel, 26, of Gresham, and Danielle Sale, 22, of Vancouver.

Robert E. Gittings, 22, an Idaho resident, was listed in serious condition Sunday at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. Ryan Hammel, 28, and his wife, Jamie Hammel, 23, of Portland, suffered minor injuries and were taken to local hospitals, police said. Jenee Hammel is Ryan Hammel's younger sister. No passengers were on the bus, which was out of service at the time, according to TriMet.

It's unclear whether all the victims knew one other, said Sgt. Greg Stewart, a Portland police spokesman. He also said he didn't know where they were going or coming from.

View Larger Map

The bus was westbound on Glisan as it turned left onto
southbound Broadway and struck the westbound pedestrians crossing
Broadway, Stewart said. The bus had a green light and the pedestrians
had a walk signal, he said.

Stewart said that it could be until the middle of this week or longer
until police have a better idea of what happened. He said they are
trying to reconstruct the crash scene, but that the process is complex
because of the number of witnesses. He said ultimately, the district
attorney will decide whether anyone is charged in connection with the incident.

Yuxing Zheng/The Oregonian
Only a stack of orange cones Sunday morning marked the intersection where a TriMet bus struck several pedestrians late Saturday.
Speed and alcohol do not appear to be factors, police said.

Responding fire officials found one victim already dead under the rear tires of the bus, and two possible survivors under the front of the bus,
said Lt. Rich Tyler, a Portland Fire Bureau spokesman. Fire crews used tools to lift the bus and free the two individuals from the front, Tyler
said. One of those two victims was pronounced dead at the scene, and crews transported the other victim to Emanuel.

Police identified the TriMet bus driver as Sandi L. Day, 48, who is cooperating with authorities. She was coming off a break and was driving an out-of-service bus on her way to start a new trip on the No. 9
(Powell/Broadway) route, said Bekki Witt, a TriMet spokeswoman.

Day was immediately tested for drugs, per TriMet policy, and was offered counseling, Witt said. Day has been placed on paid administrative leave while police investigate the incident. She has driven buses for TriMet since being hired in October 2007. Witt could not immediately provide more details about Day's driving history.

"Obviously, this is a terrible tragedy," Witt said. "We're supporting the Portland police in the investigation."

Authorities were on the scene until 4:45 a.m. and rerouted traffic to side streets. "There were so many witnesses, and it was a very chaotic scene," Stewart said.

Before Saturday night's accident, TriMet had been involved in 29 bus-related fatalities since 1998. Most recently, 15-year-old Austin Miller died in February 2008 after being struck by a No. 52 (Farmington/185th) bus at Southwest Murray Boulevard and Farmington Road
in Beaverton.

-- Yuxing Zheng, Rebecca Woolington

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite and the myths they perpetrate. Chomsky has done this despite being blacklisted by the commercial media, turned into a pariah by the academy and, by his own admission, being a pedantic and at times slightly boring speaker. He combines moral autonomy with rigorous scholarship, a remarkable grasp of detail and a searing intellect. He curtly dismisses our two-party system as a mirage orchestrated by the corporate state, excoriates the liberal intelligentsia for being fops and courtiers and describes the drivel of the commercial media as a form of “brainwashing.” And as our nation’s most prescient critic of unregulated capitalism, globalization and the poison of empire, he enters his 81st year warning us that we have little time left to save our anemic democracy.

“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Chomsky told me when I called him at his office in Cambridge, Mass. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”

“The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen,” Chomsky went on. “Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer, we have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election.”

“I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime,” Chomsky added. “I am old enough to remember the 1930s. My whole family was unemployed. There were far more desperate conditions than today. But it was hopeful. People had hope. The CIO was organizing. No one wants to say it anymore but the Communist Party was the spearhead for labor and civil rights organizing. Even things like giving my unemployed seamstress aunt a week in the country. It was a life. There is nothing like that now. The mood of the country is frightening. The level of anger, frustration and hatred of institutions is not organized in a constructive way. It is going off into self-destructive fantasies.”

“I listen to talk radio,” Chomsky said. “I don’t want to hear Rush Limbaugh. I want to hear the people calling in. They are like [suicide pilot] Joe Stack. What is happening to me? I have done all the right things. I am a God-fearing Christian. I work hard for my family. I have a gun. I believe in the values of the country and my life is collapsing.”


Chomsky has, more than any other American intellectual, charted the downward spiral of the American political and economic system, in works such as “On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures,” “Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and US Political Culture,” “A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West,” “Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky,” “Manufacturing Consent” and “Letters From Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda.” He reminds us that genuine intellectual inquiry is always subversive. It challenges cultural and political assumptions. It critiques structures. It is relentlessly self-critical. It implodes the self-indulgent myths and stereotypes we use to elevate ourselves and ignore our complicity in acts of violence and oppression. And it makes the powerful, as well as their liberal apologists, deeply uncomfortable.
Chomsky reserves his fiercest venom for the liberal elite in the press, the universities and the political system who serve as a smoke screen for the cruelty of unchecked capitalism and imperial war. He exposes their moral and intellectual posturing as a fraud. And this is why Chomsky is hated, and perhaps feared, more among liberal elites than among the right wing he also excoriates. When Christopher Hitchens decided to become a windup doll for the Bush administration after the attacks of 9/11, one of the first things he did was write a vicious article attacking Chomsky. Hitchens, unlike most of those he served, knew which intellectual in America mattered. [Editor’s note: To see some of the articles in the 2001 exchanges between Hitchens and Chomsky, click here, here, here and here.

Goldman Plays, We Pay

The story of the financial debacle will end the way it began, with the super-hustlers from Goldman Sachs at the center of the action and profiting wildly. Never in U.S. history has one company wielded such destructive power over our political economy, irrespective of whether a Republican or a Democrat happened to be president.

At least the robber barons of old built railroads and steel mills, whereas Goldman Sachs makes its money placing bets on people losing their homes. On Tuesday, Goldman announced a 91 percent jump in profit to $3.46 billion for the quarter, while the dreams of millions of families continue to be foreclosed and unemployment hovers at 10 percent because of a crisis that that very company did much to cause.

It was Goldman-Vice-Chairman-turned-Treasury-Secretary Robert Rubin who pushed through the radical financial deregulation during the Clinton presidency that made the derivatives madness possible. When Bill Clinton was asked on ABC’s Sunday show “This Week” if he now regretted the advice he received back then from Rubin and his protégé Lawrence Summers, now a top Obama adviser, he responded: “On derivatives, yeah, I think they were wrong and I was wrong to take it. …”

Thanks to that bad advice, Clinton signed off on the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which categorically exempted those derivatives from any existing law or regulatory body. It was that exemption that freed Goldman Sachs and others on Wall Street to run wild in packaging collateralized debt obligations, and their attendant swaps, which turned people’s home into nothing more than gambling chips. The more suckers to be conned into those mortgage obligations, the better for the financial casino—until it had to be saved by taxpayers from spiraling completely out of control.

And it was Goldman-Chairman-turned-Treasury-Secretary Henry Paulson who engineered the Bush-era bailout that left Goldman holding the high cards. The corporation was allowed to suddenly become a bank holding company, a privilege denied Lehman Brothers, and hence eligible for TARP funding and a sharp discount in the cost of borrowing money. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, then head of the New York Fed, worked with Paulson to give Goldman the federally protected status of a commercial bank and also worked on the deal that passed taxpayer money through AIG to Goldman.


It wasn’t surprising, then, that last week Geithner formally opposed the section of a bill by Sen. Blanche Lincoln that would ban banks from dealing in swaps and other derivatives. Now that it is a bank, Goldman would have to drop that lucrative business or give up its right as a bank to borrow from the Federal Reserve as well as the protection of federal deposit insurance.
The test for serious financial reform could well be that if it’s good for Goldman Sachs, it’s bad for the country. But with scores of Goldman alums as well placed in the Obama administration as they were under Clinton and George W. Bush, it is a test the government is likely to fail as far as taxpayers are concerned. Or should we simply trust Mark Patterson, who is chief of staff to Geithner and a Goldman lobbyist for three years before he entered the Obama administration, to do the right thing for the rest of us?

Maybe he will. After all, Gary Gensler, a former Goldman partner who now heads the critically important Commodity Futures Trading Commission, does seem to have had a change of heart from his days in the Clinton administration, when he thought that bringing “legal certainty” to the trade in what turned out to be “toxic derivatives” was a great thing. The SEC civil suit is also a sign of progress. There are other positive stirrings, as in President Barack Obama’s most recent speeches, but what is needed now is a profound populist commitment among those who elected Obama to demand he throw the money-changers out of the temple of democratic governance.

Instead they are crowding in. The New York Times reported: “With so much money at stake, it is not surprising that more than 1,500 lobbyists, executives, bankers and others have made their way to the Senate committee that on Wednesday will take up legislation to rein in derivatives.” That’s the committee that Sen. Lincoln heads, and she needs the president’s support rather than Geithner’s opposition to her plan to ban banks like Goldman from trading in derivatives.

It is insulting to the spirit of populist revolt, which has been fundamental to the success of America’s grand experiment in democracy, that a fat-cat Republican-funded tea party revolt is now the vessel of popular anti-Wall Street discontent. That vessel ought to be our president, who campaigned as a champion of the common people.

TAGS: bailout bank goldman sachs henry paulson lawrence sum

Sunday, April 18, 2010

9 Myths about socialism and the USA

Nine Myths about Socialism in the US

by Bill Quigley

Glenn Beck and other far right multi-millionaires are claiming that the US is hot on the path towards socialism. Part of their claim is that the US is much more generous and supportive of our working and poor people than other countries. People may wish it was so, but it is not.

As Senator Patrick Moynihan used to say “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But everyone is not entitled to their own facts.”

The fact is that the US is not really all that generous to our working and poor people compared to other countries.

Consider the US in comparison to the rest of the 30 countries that join the US in making up the OECD – the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. These 30 countries include Canada and most comparable European countries but also include some struggling countries like Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Korea, Mexico, Poland, Slovak Republic, and Turkey. See

When you look at how the US compares to these 30 countries, the hot air myths about the US government going all out towards socialism sort of disappear into thin air. Here are some examples of myths that do not hold up.

Myth #1. The US government is involved in class warfare attacking the rich to lift up the poor.

There is a class war going on all right. But it is the rich against the rest of us and the rich are winning. The gap between the rich and everyone else is wider in the US than any of the 30 other countries surveyed. In fact, the top 10% in the US have a higher annual income than any other country. And the poorest 10% in the US are below the average of the other OECD countries. The rich in the U.S. have been rapidly leaving the middle class and poor behind since the 1980s.

Myth #2. The US already has the greatest health care system in the world.

Infant mortality in the US is 4th worst among OECD countries – better only than Mexico, Turkey and the Slovak Republic.

Myth #3. There is less poverty in the US than anywhere.

Child poverty in the US, at over 20% or one out of every five kids, is double the average of the 30 OECD countries.

Myth #4. The US is generous in its treatment of families with children.

The US ranks in the bottom half of countries in terms of financial benefits for families with children. Over half of the 30 OECD countries pay families with children cash benefits regardless of the income of the family. Some among those countries (e.g. Austria, France and Germany) pay additional benefits if the family is low-income, or one of the parents is unemployed.

Myth #5. The US is very supportive of its workers.

The US gives no paid leave for working mothers having children. Every single one of the other 30 OECD countries has some form of paid leave. The US ranks dead last in this. Over two thirds of the countries give some form of paid paternity leave. The US also gives no paid leave for fathers.

In fact, it is only workers in the US who have no guaranteed days of paid leave at all. Korea is the next lowest to the US and it has a minimum of 8 paid annual days of leave. Most of the other 30 countries require a minimum of 20 days of annual paid leave for their workers.

Myth #6. Poor people have more chance of becoming rich in the US than anywhere else.

Social mobility (how children move up or down the economic ladder in comparison with their parents) in earnings, wages and education tends to be easier in Australia, Canada and Nordic countries like Denmark, Norway, and Finland, than in the US. That means more of the rich stay rich and more of the poor stay poor here in the US.

Myth #7. The US spends generously on public education.

In terms of spending for public education, the US is just about average among the 30 countries of the OECD. Educational achievement of US children, however, is 7th worst in the OECD. On public spending for childcare and early education, the US is in the bottom third.

Myth #8. The US government is redistributing income from the rich to the poor.

There is little redistribution of income by government in the U.S. in part because spending on social benefits like unemployment and family benefits is so low. Of the 30 countries in the OECD, only in Korea is the impact of governmental spending lower.

Myth #9. The US generously gives foreign aid to countries across the world.

The US gives the smallest percentage of aid of any of the developed countries in the OECD. In 2007 the US was tied for last with Greece. In 2008, we were tied for last with Japan.

Despite the opinions of right wing folks, the facts say the US is not on the path towards socialism.

But if socialism means the US would go down the path of being more generous with our babies, our children, our working families, our pregnant mothers, and our sisters and brothers across the world, I think we could all appreciate it.

Bill Quigley is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. There is a version of this article with footnotes for those interested.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Sarah Palin
is a twit: There’s little doubt about that. A rich twit, yes, and a pantyhose populist to the uneducated, uninformed and ignorant masses that make up so much of the rabid right in this county.

To some, she’sRon Paul

with tits. To others, a “shot in the arm” to the tired old concepts of the sham called theRepublican Party

Mostly, however, she is a symbol of how little substance is left in politics and a monument to the stupidity of those who foolishly believe that Palin — and the phony “grassroots” Tea Party that embraces her — is real or worth the time and attention that is wasted on both.

Yes, I know, Palin was elected governor of Alaska but the 49th state has a long and shameful tradition of putting flakes in office.

The sad fact that Palin is a phenom is a sad testament to a shallow, celebrity-driven culture. Polls show more Americans interested in the fate of contestants on American Idol than issues that affect the future of this nation.

In many ways, Palin’s emergence as the face of the Tea Party “movement” is perfect: A phony organization like the Tea Party needs a phony as its superstar. The Tea Party is not the “grassroots” campaign that it claims but a front for right-wing millionaires who want to push their agenda. The Tea Party grew out of Citizens for a Sound Economy

, a fake grassroots operation set up in 1984 by David and Charles Koch
, right-wing petroleum and energy magnates. It began life in a consulting firm in Washington, not from “grassroots” activists.

Now, as Politico

reports, the Tea Party is run not by activists but by a slick, California-based Republican consulting firm who admitted in a memo that the party was a way to get rich.
Just days after the first widespread tea party demonstrators hit the streets a year ago Thursday, Joe Wierzbicki, a Republican political consultant with the Sacramento firm Russo Marsh + Rogers, made a proposal to his colleagues that he said could “give a boost to our PAC and position us as a growing force/leading force as the 2010 elections come into focus.”
The proposal, obtained by POLITICO, was for a nationwide tea party bus tour, to be called the Tea Party Express
, which over the past seven months has become among the most identifiable brands of the tea party movement. Buses emblazoned with the Tea Party Express logo have brought speakers and entertainers to rallies in dozens of small towns and big cities, including one in Boston on Wednesday that will feature former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Aided by campaign-style advance work and event planning, slick ads cut by Russo Marsh, impressive crowds and a savvy media operation, thepolitical action committee
run by Wierzbicki, Russo Marsh founder Sal Russo and a handful of other Republican operatives has also emerged as among the prolific fundraising vehicles under the tea party banner. Known as Our Country Deserves Better when it was founded during the 2008 election as a vehicle to opposeBarack Obama
’s campaign for president, the PAC saw its fundraising more than quadruple after it took the Tea Party Express public in July, raising nearly $2.7 million in roughly the following six months, compared with less than $600,000 in the preceding six months, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

This kind of activity is “business as usual” for political consultants and fake grassroots operations like the Tea Party. During my foray into the dark side of politics inWashington, I worked for a while for The Eddie Mahe Company, a top GOP consulting firm. The firm helped business and industry groups create a number of fake grassroots groups, including Citizens for a Sound Economy — which later spawned the Tea Party.

Some say Tea Party is a “real movement.”

Maybe it is. So is the movement that empties your bowels

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hope is for little kids and tooth fairies

Reading you is like drinking those bottles full of clear liquids the night before a colonoscopy. The next day I survive the test and am told that I do not have colon cancer -- yet. Still, I am getting the test in spite of the fact that I know that my pack a day cigarette habit coupled with 12 fancy beers a day is probably gonna kill me first. I've been working for a very large corporation for the last 20 years as a print advertising designer. I am on the Endangered Species list at 58. I have been playing the consumer game for the past 45 years. I've known that the whole thing was a lie since I was 13 -- before that I lived in a world that was so monochromatic that when I heard the Beatles I thought that heaven had come to earth.
I wanted to tell you my whole story, but have decided to spare you that. I have one simple question: seeing what you see, knowing what you know, what are your recommendations for how to proceed? Because I am seeing that just drinking hard enough to not think about it is no way to live. Or is it? When the best hopes being offered are simply the offerings of another corporate lackey, how does one live?
Do trips to Mexico help?
I realize as I write this that you are not pretending to be a self-help guru for baby boomers with a guilt complex. Still, I cannot help but hope that you have some thoughts for a one-time proud hippie (I marched against the war in Vietnam in Detroit in 1968 and again against the war in Iraq in 2003) who longs to extricate himself from the accumulated bullshit of years of consumerism.
I write letters to congressmen and senators and get form letter responses -- personalized, no less. So I would like you to write me back, tell me you read what I wrote, that you got this e-mail. That's all. I will be satisfied.
Yours in hopelessness,
Yeah, we are on the endangered species list all right. But the rest of America, and maybe even mankind, is not far behind. Not that it's any consolation, of course. I have to smile at your mention of the Beatles being like heaven coming to earth. Me too!
In reply to your query, all I can do is tell you my experience. I don't know shit really. Certainly not the answers to other people's questions, especially those of such a serious nature. However, I do know my own experience. Sort of. So all I can do is share that.
You ask if "trips to Mexico help?" Because Mexico is my home for the time being, (I spend most of my time here now, and have obtained legal residency status) and only go back to the US when necessary, I'm not sure if "trip" is the right word. I rather feel that the world is my home now. Consequently, I do not know if "help" is the right word either. I no longer have any geographical goals, per se, other than I seem to be a better person in some locales than in others. I hope I am not running, because at this age running, physically or metaphorically, takes too much effort. I'd rather walk, with periodic rest stops -- such as this one in Mexico.
It took me over fifty years to figure out there is no running away, or finding some perfect life. We just exchange one set of problems for another. I ran away to the US Navy to escape a small redneck town. I ran away to the West Coast to become a hippie. I ran to homestead in Idaho on an Indian reservation, I later ran back into the straight world, mostly out of fear for financial security. And when it became personally undeniable that America had become a lonely totalistic empire, whose heart is a bank vault, and that I would not survive its enforced loneliness, masked by gunpoint cheer and state authorized messages of "hope," and loudspeakers above the workhouse extolling the "work ethic," well, it was either be somewhere else or die inside. Get a different set of problems. Some nights even sickness or hunger looked acceptable, compared to the screaming, yet silent anxiety I was experiencing. I swear it was fucking unbearable. By 2005, I was in Central America for I did not know how long.
Personally, I found that the problems I encountered every day in places like Belize (and now Mexico) somehow suited my own innate sensibilities better. I had no expectations really. Which is good because both paces would have been extremely disappointing if I had. Mainly I just wanted to give up any "advantage" I supposedly had as a citizen of the "greatest nation on earth," which was, as I said, quite literally, killing me, much as it seems to be killing you.
Beyond that, I wanted to spend the remaining 10 or 15 percent of my life doing stuff with human beings, face-to-face, asshole to belly button -- babies being born, people dying, getting drunk, worshiping their gods, experiencing joy. And I wanted to do so without any mediation by soul killing American corporate culture. I did not want "security" as Americans and Europeans perceive it, and still don't. The only way to do that is to intentionally stay pretty broke. Money is a rigged game -- you cannot win by trying to buy security. Oh, you can have the illusion of it, but the price is your soul. The entire world architecture of money, beyond basic sustenance, is a horribly corrupted -- especially since the advent of the "virtual world economy," a paper and digital racket that sucks away the people's hard earned wealth before they ever see it.
Well, I say, fuck their offerings. And screw childish "hope." Hope is for little kids and tooth fairies. The world we awaken to each morning is the only real thing there is. And if we are spiritually, morally and philosophically intact, and humble enough to feel it and love it each day, we don't need to hope some unseen force or bunch of politicos, or an "economy" or so-called leaders are gonna make it better for us. The orchids outside my doorway are blooming and my wife still loves me after all these years. A real gypsy taught me a song yesterday and Easter is in the air in Mexico. I guess that as a burned out old hippie and a writer, I cannot imagine anything else to hope for.
I truly do understand what you are saying about consumerism. I lived it too. I still have a house full of stuff in Virginia that is the biggest bane on my life. Tons of stuff -- old paintings, family documents, guitars, stuff my kids made while growing up, art and artifacts gathered from around the world in the course of a life, file cabinets full of articles I wrote for magazines and newspapers over the past 40 years. My wife and I are paralyzed over what to do with the stuff. She retires in a year or so and so still lives up there in the middle of it all. When I am there, we sip wine and savor the memories connected with acquiring those things together, the 18th Century drawings we bought together at Covent Garden in London, the love we felt in Venice. And when I am in Mexico, I understand that the freedom of my austere life here is of greater value than any of those things. Which does not keep me from missing them from time to time. But in my heart I know that, for the most part, I have beaten American consumerism (though I'll always be a sucker for good imported booze). The other thing I know for sure is that the only way for a man to "extricate himself from the accumulated bullshit" is to extricate himself. Walk away. There is no plan one can make to do so while living in the belly of the beast. The beast of American capitalism will not let you, but will encourage the belief that you can. As my webmaster Ken, who left America over a decade ago say, "The only way to do it is to just get up and do it."
Also, I believe it can still be done while remaining in America, once one rises above the "learned helplessness" that comes with being a captive of the empire. But it still entails giving up most of what you know, and more importantly, what the society around you believes is reality. It means becoming a renunciate. Giving up everything in a society that believes the very things that are destroying it are necessities. No car, no processed foods, no cell phone, few clothes, little or no technology, no media entertainments, refusal to own investments, no more than five or six hundred square feet of living space, dedicated hours each day for reflection on the little things one does to maintain one's self, such as cooking or bathing, or gardening -- but especially renunciation of technology. Technology not only carries the disease, but is its most virulent aberrator of human consciousness. In fact, even at its best, it colonizes and mutates human consciousness, just as this laptop stands between you and me, distorting our communication as much as it facilitates it. Is an exchange of digital packets between two human beings, each isolated at the end of a cybernetic node, really human communication? Of course not. (Yes, I know how much shit I'm going to get for that statement.)
Anyway, I try to limit myself to owning only one piece of high technology -- this laptop. I don't own a camera phone, or a cell phone (much to the ire of publishers, friends and some family members). To my shame, I do have a television in my little casita. I missed my wife so much at first, that I bought it just so I'd have distraction in the lonely evenings, which of course, did not work. It was a stupid American thing, an ignorant knee-jerk consumer reflex, as if the voice of Larry King were going to substitute for the words "I love you" when night falls. I'm learning all the time to beware of what is available around us.
Regarding writing congressmen, I never bother. It's just part maintaining the appearance of democracy. Everybody writes their congressmen on both sides of an intractable, polarized and deadlocked system dedicated to preserving iron fisted capitalism, no matter what happens. No matter how the vote on a piece of legislation goes down. I have absolutely no faith in the American political system. Or ultimately, in any political system for that matter. Ain't no saviors of the people up there on Capitol Hill. Just powerful men and women who don't have a clue but have plenty of ambition and ego and avenues to feed both -- with a few exceptions like Dennis Kucinich.
I am convinced we all have to find our own way, and find it alone, most likely at great cost -- that great cost being the loss of all that we thought we knew about the world. I am coming to understand that as Americans, we were born into a powerfully induced mass illusion. An infantile consciousness of "I-want-I want," which drives the machinery of war, waste and profits, and which colonizes our minds and souls from birth like a progressive disease. I say "coming to understand," because, as an American I can never truly understand. My consciousness and neurosystem are far too mutated to ever understand. But I find great relief in the effort.
And also pain. Some nights I drink, and cry inside for both the world as I have known it -- youth tasted so good -- and for the kingdom of mankind that might have been, but really never could have been. Because the kingdom is truly within each of us, never in the clamorous throng.
But in the morning the roosters crow, and wood smoke stirs in the air, and this village wakes up, and does all those ancient things decent people do in so much of the rest of the world. Old women sweep the street in front of their doorways, men uncomplainingly go in search of a day's labor, and young mothers nurse babies in the courtyards, full knowing that what they see around them is all there will ever be for them, and that the Virgin of Guadeloupe blesses each morning. Just as their mothers and grandmothers knew it. Already they are tired for the world. But not joyless.
And neither am I.
Lately, I've had a spate of emails saying how bleak and hopeless some of my writing has become, in the estimation of many readers. This comes not so much as criticism, but as observation. I am no longer taken aback by it. To me, it's simply a kind of reporting on the world as best I can.
Others ask me the best way to escape America to Belize or Mexico. How to plan a breakout from the empire to these places as I have described them. Once in a while I reply, even though I know better. Each person's conditioning and perceptions are different. And surely their experience would be different, were they to do what I have done. That's a given. In the end, all I can tell you is that you will have to act according to your own inner lights then be willing to live with the results. And even then, I'm not sure that's true. But it seems true at this day and hour, in this little stone courtyard on a hillside under a spring sky.

Podemos ver el mundo con ojos de fría y un corazón caliente.
In art and labor,

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Democracy and Domestic Violence

By Joe Conason

When the Department of Homeland Security released a cautiously worded report on the potential dangers of right-wing extremism last April, the talk-radio wingnuts and certain Republican lawmakers went into spasms of indignation. Clearly, that report had been conjured up by White House Democrats to smear conservatives. (Actually, the nine-page document was commissioned by the Republican administration of George W. Bush.)

“There is not one instance they can cite as evidence where any of these right-wing groups have done anything,” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners.

A year later, we know that Limbaugh was wrong (again). Up in northern Michigan, the Hutaree militants were collecting weapons and ammunition—and allegedly plotting the assassination of law enforcement officers with the same kind of roadside bombs and projectiles used by terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. The difference is that those groups claim to be Muslim; the violent extremists over here prefer to be known as Christian.

We also know that the recent outbreak of window smashing against Democrats in the aftermath of the passage of health care reform can be traced to a militia activist from Alabama. He justified urging those attacks on his website as a warning that America is on the brink of mass violence. It is a theme he has promoted for more than a decade, dating back to the militia movement of the Clinton years, when he authored a pamphlet titled “Strategy and Tactics for a Militia Civil War.”

Now, nobody is likely to apologize to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the actual victim of a smear by those who claimed she was trying to intimidate those who call themselves conservative. But while the Hutaree conspiracy charges are very troubling, as was the window-smashing spree, there are still more disturbing signals from the far right.


One of the men arrested in the Hutaree group used the screen name “Pale Horse” when he posted material on militia websites. Having attached himself to the Hutaree and other militia outfits, he was apparently obsessed with gruesome child murders and serial killing. Under his pseudonym, Pale Horse circulated a YouTube video last year that advocated an armed militia march on Washington:
“A peaceful demonstration of at least a million—hey, if we can get 10 million, even better—but at least one million armed militia men marching on Washington. A peaceful demonstration. No shooting, no one gets hurt. Just a demonstration. The only difference from any typical demonstration is we will all be armed.”

Now Pale Horse’s plan—or something very similar—may actually occur on April 19, the anniversary of the first shots fired at Lexington and Concord and, perhaps not coincidentally, of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building by Timothy McVeigh.

Militia websites are currently promoting a “Restore the Constitution rally” at two locations in northern Virginia where the marchers can legally carry firearms. They plan to “muster” at Fort Hunt National Park, about 12 miles south of the nation’s capital, and then travel in “small convoys” to a park near Reagan National Airport, just over the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. This will let them “step up to the edge” with their weapons, as the organizers put it.

Although the militia marchers are acting within their rights, their intentions seem not terribly far from those of the window smashers. Among them there may well be groups and lone nuts whose seditious plans resemble those of the Hutaree. As the militias enact Pale Horse’s fantasy, they appear determined to intimidate every American who disagrees with their interpretation of the Constitution and their rancorous hatred of the president and the Democratic Party.

So, perhaps Napolitano can take some satisfaction from the fresh evidence that her critics were wrong and that the report on right-wing extremism was, if anything, too mild. Neither she nor any other official in government should be deterred from exposing the extremists who threaten public security and constitutional democracy, regardless of ideology.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


By Robert Parry
March 31, 2010

Washington’s conventional wisdom for explaining the intensity of Republican obstructionism toward President Barack Obama breaks down one of two ways: either it’s a philosophical disagreement over the role of government or a desperate need to stay in line with a radicalized right-wing base.

But there is another way to view the GOP political strategy, as neither principled nor reactive to the rantings of Tea Partiers, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. It is that the Republicans are following a playbook that has evolved over more than four decades, to regain power by sabotaging Democratic presidents.

In this analysis, the Republicans believe they can reclaim the lucrative levers of national authority by making the country as ungovernable as possible while a Democrat is in the White House, essentially holding governance hostage until they are restored to power. Then, the Democrats are expected to behave as a docile opposition “for the good of the country” (and usually do).

The “destroy Obama” game plan tracks most closely with Newt Gingrich’s strategy for undermining Bill Clinton 16 years ago. But today’s strategy also traces back to Richard Nixon’s sabotage of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968 and Ronald Reagan’s October Surprise gambit against President Jimmy Carter’s Iran hostage negotiations in 1980.

In all four cases – covering the last four Democratic presidencies – the Republicans did not behave as a loyal opposition but rather as a single-minded political enemy that viewed the White House as its birthright and Democratic control of the Executive Branch as illegitimate.

During the first years of Clinton’s presidency, leading Republicans, such as Sen. Bob Dole, actually denounced President Clinton as a “pretender.” They noted that Clinton gained the White House with less than a majority of the popular vote (because of the third-party run of Ross Perot).

Rather than accept Clinton as a legitimate president, the Republicans unleashed their newly minted right-wing media machine (much of it having been assembled during the Reagan-Bush-41 years with the help of conservative foundations and right-wing media moguls).

Magazines, such as The American Spectator, and newspapers, like the Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal, spread ugly rumors about the Clintons, while radio talk show hosts, such as Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy, filled the airwaves with hours and hours of Clinton-bashing.

In Congress, House Republican firebrand Gingrich whipped his party into line against Clinton’s top legislative goals. For the first time, every Republican voted against the federal budget, which included tax increases to rein in the deficit that had surged to unprecedented levels under Reagan and George H.W. Bush (41).

Meanwhile, the escalating anti-Clinton media assault drew in the Washington Post and the New York Times, which were determined to prove they could be tougher on a Democrat than any Republican and thus to shed once and for all the “liberal media” label.

By 1994, the Whitewater “scandal” about an obscure Clinton real-estate investment had become front-page news and a Republican-controlled judicial panel had picked former Reagan-Bush-41 appointee Kenneth Starr to head up an aggressive investigation into the Clintons’ personal finances – and later into their private life.

Back on Capitol Hill, Gingrich's “revolutionaries” rallied – and railed – against Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated health-reform bill.

‘Black Helicopters’

Across the countryside, the harsh language in Congress and the ugly accusations from talk radio fed into a right-wing paranoia. Armed militia groups began forming to resist the threat of “one-world government” and its “black helicopters” arriving from the United Nations to strip away American liberties.

Every day, Americans were confronted with a level of disorder in their political system that they had not seen in decades – and President Clinton took most of the blame for the government disarray.

Having covered CIA destabilization campaigns in Third World countries, particularly Nicaragua, I was struck by the similarities. In the 1980s, the Reagan-Bush-41 administrations destroyed Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista revolution by systematically making the country ungovernable via a combination of economic dislocations, political/media propaganda, and paramilitary activities.

Finally, in 1990, Nicaraguan voters – faced with a choice of electing the U.S.-financed candidate Violeta Chamorro or suffering a continued U.S. economic embargo and a resumption of attacks by U.S.-supported contra rebels – opted to accede to Washington’s desires and voted for Chamorro.

By the second year of the Clinton administration, it seemed something similar was occurring in the United States, in part, because the Reagan-Bush-41 administrations had left behind not only a capacity for “information warfare” in the Third World but a domestic version of that propaganda infrastructure.

Documentary evidence from Reagan’s presidential library now shows that the overseas and domestic propaganda machines were built simultaneously as Reagan’s CIA Director William Casey recruited conservative foundation executives like Richard Mellon Scaife to help finance these activities.

Casey also put a senior CIA propagandist, Walter Raymond Jr., into Reagan’s National Security Council to create an inter-agency propaganda bureaucracy and to oversee its operation. [See’s “How Reagan’s Propaganda Succeeded.”]

Another major accomplishment of the Reagan administration was the creation of the National Endowment for Democracy, which on the surface was intended to finance pro-U.S. political/media entities around the globe.

But NED had another side. Since many of the NED-funded organizations were based in Washington – and since the NED bureaucracy was dominated by neoconservatives – NED, in effect, became a permanent funding mechanism for the neocon community in the U.S. capital.

Ironically, NED, which currently has a $100 million annual budget, may have done more to influence the course of the United States than any of the countries it has targeted for “democratization.” NED funding explains why Washington’s neocons have remained so influential despite their involvement in so many policy disasters, such as the Iraq War.

Even when the neocons find themselves adrift during brief periods out of power, many of them remain afloat with the help of NED grant money. They can hang onto a financial life-preserver tossed from some institute that benefits from the federal funding.

That way, the neocons can continue writing op-eds and books, while weighing in on TV talk shows and at conferences that shape U.S. government policies.

These political/media mechanisms dating back to the Reagan years may have been originally designed to protect the political flanks of a Republican administration, but it turned out they could be put to use just as effectively for offense as for defense.

When Clinton managed to wrest the White House from the Republicans after 12 years of Reagan and Bush-41, the GOP realized that it could well shorten its time out of power by savaging the new President and creating chaos to undermine his political power and his popularity.


In February 1994, I attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington and was stunned to see the array of Clinton-hating paraphernalia, including slick videos suggesting that Bill Clinton was a mass murderer and semi-nude photo-shopped images of Hillary Clinton. (Some of the anti-Clinton propaganda was being financed by the same right-wing foundations that had collaborated with Reagan and Casey.)

By early fall 1994, the anti-Clinton hysteria was sweeping the country, though Democrats were mostly oblivious to its ferocity. Shortly before the 1994 elections, I had dinner with a savvy Democratic operative at the Monocle restaurant on Capitol Hill and told him that it looked to me like the Democrats would lose both the House and the Senate.

He responded that I might be right about the Senate but that there was no way the House would fall to the Republicans. A few days later, however, that was exactly what happened.

While the Democrats were slow on the uptake, the Republicans definitely “got” what was happening and why. In celebration, the Gingrich “revolutionaries” made Rush Limbaugh an honorary member of the new Republican congressional majority, hailing him as their “national precinct captain.”

Though today’s conventional wisdom holds that a big difference between 1994 and 2010 is that Gingrich had a positive message in his “Contract for America,” that analysis misses the point that it was the tearing down of the Clintons – represented by Limbaugh’s daily tirades – and the impression of national disarray under Clinton that were key to the GOP victory in 1994.

In the years that followed, the anti-Clinton hysteria would have other consequences. On April 19, 1995, right-wing militia fanatic Timothy McVeigh detonated a bomb at the Oklahoma City federal building killing 168 people. Limbaugh and others who had stoked the fires of paranoia would angrily deny any suggestion that they had contributed to the catastrophe.

Despite Clinton’s reelection in 1996, the Republicans did not give up their determination to destroy him. In 1998-99, they instituted impeachment proceedings that sought to oust him from office for lying about his extramarital sex life. Though Clinton survived a Senate trial, he and his family were humiliated and Republicans were energized to restore the Reagan-Bush dynasty by putting George W. Bush into the White House, even if he did lose the popular vote to Al Gore.

The same two elements – tearing down a Democratic president and creating a sense of political havoc – are again at the center of Republican strategy, except that today the GOP is even better placed to carry out a repeat than the party was in 1994. Then, there was no Fox News dominating the cable TV ratings and the right-wing media was far less developed than it is today.

Though the Republicans can’t say that Obama wasn’t legitimately elected (he won with 53 percent of the vote and a record 66.8 million ballots), the Right has questioned his legitimacy in other ways, such as the spurious claims that he was born in Kenya despite his Hawaiian birth certificate.

The Tea Party crowd also has decried him as some Islamic-terrorist-loving, America-hating communist, socialist or Nazi – if not the anti-Christ. A popular Tea Party poster shows Obama as a white-faced Joker, the sociopathic character from the latest Batman movie.

With funding from corporate and other right-wing interests, the Tea Partiers also have done their best to create political chaos.

Last summer, Tea Party activists disrupted “town hall” meetings on health care, and this spring, they forced Democratic members of Congress to run a gauntlet of insults and other abuse as they walked to the Capitol to vote on health-care reform – scenes reminiscent of white racists shouting at black students at Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

High-Level Encouragement

The organized chaos even entered the Congress itself, as Republican lawmakers cheered protesters on – and at times acted like them.

Last year, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, shouted “you lie” at Obama during a presidential address. During the health-care vote, Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, yelled “baby killer” while Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, was speaking against a Republican motion to stop the bill by requiring revised anti-abortion language.

Republican leaders also engaged in apocalyptic rhetoric, with House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio declaring that passage of health-care reform would lead to “Armageddon,” a religious reference to the end-times battle between a warrior Jesus and the anti-Christ.

In the days after the health-care vote, the disruptions did spill over into violence, with bricks thrown through the windows of Democratic offices and death threats made against members of Congress. Some militant Tea Partiers vowed to stage an armed rally near Washington.

Though Boehner and a few other Republican leaders finally criticized acts of violence, others continued to wink at the unruly behavior or shift the blame onto the Democrats for talking about it.

"It is reckless to use these incidents as media vehicles for political gain," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, criticizing Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Democratic National Chairman Tim Kaine for "dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon."

For her part, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin defended her advice that her backers should “reload” and her decision to put crosshairs on the districts of endangered Democrats, saying the references had nothing to do with violence. She blamed the controversy on “this BS coming from the lame-stream media, lately, about us inciting violence.”

Amid these mixed messages, right-wing extremists now appear to be shifting from aggressive words and disruptive protests to going operational.

On Monday, FBI agents arrested nine alleged members of a Michigan-based Christian militia group, called Hutaree, charging them with a plot to kill a police officer, bomb the funeral and touch off an armed uprising against the U.S. government. The Hutaree see themselves as at war with the anti-Christ.

Despite the growing specter of political violence, the Republicans appear set in their determination to foment as much disruption as possible between now and the November elections, and thus reap expected gains, with hopes that they can win back the House and Senate and then further neutralize Obama.


While some Washington pundits see the Republicans as captives of the extremism on the Right – unable to dismount a dangerous tiger – the counter-analysis would be that the GOP and the Tea Party/militia crowd are just two parts of the same political movement, one inside the system and the other outside, but both working toward the same goal, a restoration of Republican/Right control of government.

In their view, only then would political comity and governmental normalcy be restored, because the Democrats always seem eager to get along and do what’s necessary to make government work.

To refer back to the Nicaragua comparison, the GOP’s inside-outside game is like Nicaragua’s pro-U.S. “internal opposition” operating as a non-violent political arm while the U.S.-funded paramilitary contras wreaked havoc in the countryside, both with the goal of removing the Sandinistas from power.

And as long as this “make-the-political-system-scream” strategy continues to work, it is probably unrealistic to expect the Republicans to disavow it. Washington power and the money that comes with it are so intoxicating that the political risks appear well worth it, especially if Democrats and the American Left don’t have the means or the courage to stand against abuses by Republicans and the Right.

That pattern of acquiescence by the Democrats and the Left dates back to the emergence of this Republican anything-goes strategy more than four decades ago. As audiotapes at LBJ’s presidential library make clear, Johnson was aware of Nixon’s pre-election sabotaging of the Paris peace talks in 1968, but remained silent to avoid risking damage to Nixon’s presidential legitimacy.

Similarly, Jimmy Carter and other leading Democrats, such as former Rep. Lee Hamilton, were aware of substantial evidence that Ronald Reagan’s campaign secretly undercut Carter’s efforts to win the release of 52 American hostages held in Iran in 1980, but the Democrats have chosen to look the other way.

Hamilton, who prides himself on his “bipartisanship,” led a congressional investigation into the Iran-hostage “October Surprise” mystery in 1992, but refused to pursue late-developing evidence pointing to Republican guilt even after his chief counsel, Lawrence Barcella, asked for an extension because so much new information was pouring in by the end of 1992.

Barcella told me later that Hamilton simply ordered the inquiry brought to a close with its finding of Republican innocence. Much of the new evidence implicating the Republicans was then stored away, including a Russian intelligence report confirming secret meetings between Republicans and Iranians. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege]

For his part, ex-President Carter appeared more concerned about the danger of being accused of sour grapes than learning anything new about how the Republicans sank his presidency.

In 1996, while meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat, Carter reportedly raised his hands into a physical stop position when Arafat tried to confess to his role in the Republican maneuvering to block Carter’s Iran-hostage negotiations.

“There is something I want to tell you,” Arafat said, addressing Carter at a meeting in Arafat’s bunker in Gaza City. “You should know that in 1980 the Republicans approached me with an arms deal [for the PLO] if I could arrange to keep the hostages in Iran until after the [U.S. presidential] election.”

Arafat was apparently prepared to provide additional details and evidence, but Carter raised his hands, indicating that he didn’t want to hear anymore.

The Pattern Continues

So, the Republicans have never been made to pay a political price for their scheming to undercut sitting Democratic presidents -- and to grease the GOP’s route back to power. Whenever a Democrat is in the White House, the Republicans believe they are free do whatever they want to block him from solving national problems, making him look weak and ineffectual.

That was true of Johnson, Carter, Clinton and now Obama.

This GOP strategy is pursued even if it tarnishes the international image of the United States or if it undermines national security, even if it means more than 20,000 additional U.S. soldiers dying in Vietnam, or 52 American hostages facing longer captivity in Iran, or the likes of Timothy McVeigh feeling empowered to blow up a federal building.

The strategy continues even if it raises the current threat level against President Obama and Democratic lawmakers. The strategy continues because it works.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to

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