Monday, September 17, 2012

Thick As Thieves

                                               Drawing, Business Climate, by Tom Ferguson

John Dean, one of the white collar criminals caught up in Richard Nixon’s early 70s paranoia, at first as felon but later as informer when abandoned by his co-conspirators, has written a book, Worse Than Watergate, which goes some distance in demonstrating his rehabilitation. Halderman and Ehrlichman, the German-Americans above him in the White House hierarchy, at first used then abandoned Dean as scapecoat, hoping to end the Watergate investigation there. Once they recognized that Dean was not willing to continue the cover-up, which was ever-deepening his criminal culpability, they fired him but eventually went on themselves as lambs-to-slaughter in the house-cleaning that ended with Nixon himself. Ehrlichman’s subsequent post-prison endeavors consisted chiefly in writing crime fiction from his Arizona retreat. Some of the other Watergate conspirators took the tried and true, if drearily predictable, trod path of publicly embracing the Jesus con. Before leaving the Watergate subject proper it should be pointed out that the hounds were turned loose on Nixon not because he conducted an illegal war, violated the rights of citizens nor even for breaking the laws that brought him down. That was mere pretense. Nixon was brought to heel as lesson of what happens to someone, even someone as powerful as the president, especially someone as powerful as a president, who steps on the wrong toes. Normally, as these things go, a few underlings might be punished. There it would stop (witness the
serious crimes of Bush-Cheney or as Chomsky has stated, “No president in the 20th century would have escaped hanging if the Nuremberg Principles were truly in force.” – the statement might be applied to the current century also, without error). No, Nixon made enemies of powerful people, of the wrong class. He is quoted in Oliver Stone’s film Nixon, replying to one of his funders who is complaining about the EPA, “If you think the EPA is tough, try the IRS.” And Nixon did turn the IRS on his long enemies list, people who in one way or another slighted his fragile ego, some of whom, as just stated, were powerful members of the ruling elite.

Dean’s book states in the opening section that its intent was to raise awareness about and hopefully take the air out of the obsessive secrecy of the Bush-Cheney administration that otherwise threatened to take the air out of our democracy. The book, published in 2004, prior to the second term elections, though it failed to impact that election and also failed in its basic goal, remains relevant since that democracy we are taught to value is hardly completely safe in the hands of the Obama administration and certainly would fare even worse under the, shudder, current opposition candidate. We are offered an insight into power politics, up close, lest we succumb to the hypnotic drone of patriotism.

Nixon’s team was particularly ruthless, specializing in what came to be called dirty tricks which they used to advance their political rise, which success was not lost on subsequent politicians. Karl Rove came to the attention of the first Bush when complaints from fellow republicans about his electoral shenanigans reached his office. Calling him in for what was supposed to be a reprimand Rove ended up with a new job, hit man, his creative “shenanigans” being just what was needed in the Bush quest for power. Rove’s predecessor, Lee Atwater, had devised the shamefully racist Willie Horton ads. His credentials thus established, Rove became indispensable confidant to the younger Bush. Bag of dirty tricks in hand he helped W dispense with one of his chief rivals in the South Carolina primaries. In successive attacks the Bush camp accused McCain of being gay, adopting a “dark skinned” daughter (true but in SC apparently a dishonor), being a philanderer and of having a drug-addicted spouse. This all worked to the desired effect so why wouldn’t they continue waving the hatchet? Narrowly escaping prison Rove is presently promoting corporate speech across the country, helping to take the air out of democracy, as ever. In the contested Florida elections in 2000, Brownshirts were flown in to disrupt the vote count in Miami, intimidating and successfully preventing a re-count. They apparently will stop at nothing and they will keep a straight face as they call it Democracy. Cheney is quoted to wit: “Principle is okay, up to a certain point but principles don’t do you any good if you lose.”

When Bush left the governorship of Texas he had his papers transferred to his father’s Presidential Library, thus circumventing Texas law and protecting the papers from public scrutiny, presumably his intent. Could there be something in there he wants hidden? As President, W performed one of those magic tricks called “signings” which changed the law around Presidential papers, making his and his father’s papers inaccessible to the public for the time that it would matter in terms of prosecution and embarrassment. Signings are equivalent to decrees put out by Royalty, given legitimacy by the failure of anyone with clout to challenge them. This obsession with hiding things was a top priority even when the stakes were trivial. A secret-for-secret’s sake, Imperial Presidency as Dean would say. When Cheney appointed an energy committee the names of the members and the minutes of their deliberations were kept secret, to the extent of going to court to protect something that surely could be found out by any enterprising reporter. Dean concludes that the over-arching purpose was to weaken the congress and resuscitate and expand the “Imperial Presidency” of Richard Nixon.

Though Bush-Cheney flagrantly attacked their campaign enemies, even making stuff up as with McCain and Gore, they would insist on “privacy” to evade questions on their own history. Bush referred to everything in his life before 1988 as his “childhood” and so irrelevant. His resume has only one item between college graduation 1975 and 1988. One writer created a timeline to show W’s rise coinciding exactly with his father’s political rise. His business creation, Arbusto, not on his resume, went through millions, going bust in 1984. His next venture, CEO of Spectrum 7, also went bust. Harkan Oil was next, an oil exploration company, bankrupt. George Soros, also with that company, stated that W’s presence on the board was soley for access to the presidential influence of his father. For this same reason W was invited to head a group to buy the Texas Rangers. He failed to round up enough investors so the baseball commissioner intervened, using his influence to snag investors for the hapless son. Once the team was bought the next step was to scam the team’s home town citizenry, bilking them for the cost of the stadium in a scheme full of falsehood that left the stadium in the hands of the owners though the town had put up most of the funding. The team owners ended up paying $60 million for a $189 million dollar stadium. W later sold his share for $14 million, on an investment of a borrowed $500,000. Mayor Green ramrodded the stadium deal through the Arlington city government and deceptive referendum, later being appointed by W to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

In June 1990 W sold his Harken stock, which he had used to collateralize the Texas Ranger loan, for $800,000. Eight days later the stock fell to half its value. An insider trading SEC investigation was headed by W’s former attorney with predictable results. The obvious conflict of interest was not raised by politico nor press. Both W and Cheney were under investigation for insider trading on 9/11/2001. Of course that little inquiry drifted away with the World Trade Center smoke. Some folks see public office as a means to get their manicured fingers on the treasury and to assure that the proper class keeps its hand on the national rudder. An obsession with secrecy is a useful habit in avoiding the rare prosecutor who might be so crass as to investigate the exalted class. It helps also to be able to appoint the Attorney General. And what AG, FBI head or Police Chief wouldn’t enjoy the authority to enter any premises, take whatever they want and never have to acknowledge it? Something the Patriot Act grants the ironically named Department of Homeland Security. The next best thing to getting your hands on the treasury is bestowing that privilege on your friends and associates with the understanding that they will scratch your back one day in return and advance your agenda at every opportunity.

Throughout his narrative Dean draws parallels between the administration he worked for and W's. Nixon was known to have “cowboys” (thugs) assault and/or remove demonstrators from his sight when the police or secret service wouldn’t or couldn’t. W was sued by the ACLU in 2003 for forcing demonstrators into so-called “free speech zones” so as not to have to experience dissent and, more importantly, keep them out of the news. These incidents are a measure of the anti-democratic values of these “leaders”. Even after making promises to the court restrictions continued under W. A manual guiding preparations for presidential motorcades and appearances was obtained in court proceedings which clearly revealed the unconstitutional restrictions. One couple settled with the government for $80,000, a nice chunk of change for them but it comes from the taxpayer not the violator so does little to curtail the behavior.

Another incident is also revealing. An Atlanta-based employee of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), frustrated by the department’s failure to pursue certain well-placed criminals, leaked the information that Michael Ashcroft, a British ‘Lord’, one of the richest men in the United Kingdom, was involved in drug money laundering. The whistleblower was identified and sentenced to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Instead of going after the criminal the justice (!) department went after the messenger. Wrong class again.

Nixon illegally invaded Cambodia and mislead the public into believing he had a plan to end the Vietnam War, which ended after he left office in disgrace, under terms that could have been had many years and lives earlier. W & Company committed truly impeachable offenses when they lied about WMDs to get us into Iraq, another illegal war and pursued a military solution in Afghanistan to a police problem of terrorism. To a them/us football mentality of course there was little recourse which simply meant the public was not difficult to manipulate by unscrupulous, dare I say, sociopaths? I do dare. Unfortunately Obama, apparently a football fan also, like Johnson before him, bought into the lesser of Bush's illegal wars. Some claim he resisted the Iraq exit, dragging his feet meeting obligations forced on W by the Iraq government.

When the perfectly reasonable congressional inquiry into 911 began to be discussed W & Co. attempted to block it. When that proved not feasible the next best step was to stack it with cronies in key positions, which they did, making for a final commission report that lacked credibility. The likely reason for opposing an investigation was to hide ineptness. A bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission had after all submitted a report, prior to 911, calling for a laundry list of anti-terrorist action that was ignored by the administration which seemed to rather prefer to hang out awaiting an incident they could exploit for their own agenda. That agenda can be found in the writings of the neo-con group, Project for the New American Century, which essentially called for U.S. world hegemony, benevolent of course to “democracy” and free markets – the latter the real value, the former thrown in for window dressing. The writers of this document, which originated with Cheney when he was Secretary of Defense in the early 90s, were populating the administration when the incident their writings cited as being necessary for their plan to gain acceptance came to be… 911 was thus exploited with a vengeance. The alternative “conspiracy theories” around 911 cannot be laid to rest without a credible investigation.

Dean's book contains many more horrendous and surprising details about government malfeasance when it is taken over by ideologues. Who was it said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”… Jefferson I think, but the documentation of contempt for democracy brought to light in Dean’s book is a good argument in support of that contention. We would be wise to follow it and not allow jingoist rhetoric and patriotic display to distract us from the task.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Nuclear Roulette

The new president of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) came through Atlanta recently, speaking at the Unitarian Universalist Church (some would dispute whether UU, as it is called, is a real church since belief plays little or no role – the “great undecided” some chide). The lecture was in honor of the late Ed Arnold, former Executive Director of PSR/Atlanta and a long-time, much loved Atlanta activist. PSR concerns itself with multiple issues: Climate Change, POPs (persistent organic pollutants), Gun Safety and, if that is not depressing or Quixotic enough, Nuclear Warheads, Proliferation and Energy. The latter was the focus of President Ira Heflin’s remarks.

Doctor Heflin would have us know that there is NO… repeat, NO… ZERO safe level of radiation, that ALL radiation causes cancer (not to mention stroke, heart disease and lowered IQ) and that radiation is leaked into the environment, the life system upon which we depend, at every stage of the nuclear process. Obviously nuclear bombs release radioactivity which was done with devious abandon and false assurances of safety, during open-air testing in the 40s and 50s. But long before we reach that stage we have uranium mining (frequently on indigenous land of course) and transportation, both actual and potential release opportunities. The normal function of nuclear plants involves the routine release of more radiation and of course accidents add to the toxic mix. Can you say Chernobyl? Three-mile Island? Fukushima? And many lesser or unknown “events”. This applies to reactors and weapons projects which the powers that be and industry would have us believe are as different as apples and oranges. Well, there are differences – one is for energy, one is for, well, what are nuclear weapons for? Intimidation (um, seems to fit some definitions of terrorism, as for example the U.S. Army’s)? Mass suicide? In any event this difference is mitigated by the fact that the first, energy, was originally a cover for the second, a screen behind which the horrors of Dr. Strangelove could be developed. Energy still serves this function, the “peaceful atom” as they like to call it, but it has also grown into a lobbyist-heavy industry which, like the poor ego, desires to grow and perpetuate itself. Maybe the cancer cell is a more apt analogy since it, when successful, eventually kills its host.

But before we move on we might mention one final source of radiation: nuclear waste. The entire nuclear plant is essentially radioactive at the end of its “useful” life, along with irradiated fuel rods and plutonium all of which is toxic, highly dangerous, for, oh say, a million years, a lot longer than recorded history. After over 60 years of fooling with this sexy technology no one has any idea what to do with its persistent un-sexy leftovers for the duration necessary. It is said that dysfunctional persons care little about the consequences of their behavior, developing convincing, at least to themselves, rationalizations to justify whatever it is they want to do. Could that possibly apply to this topic? Just as weapons development was slipped in behind the “peaceful atom”, another little scheme of the sociopaths is to “recycle” plutonium. Now doesn’t that sound nice? Recycle. This will get rid of, it is implied, our plutonium problem but look closer, behind the veil, and we find not all the plutonium “recycled” by burning as fuel in nuclear reactors would be used, or can be used, and the process of separating out the plutonium, called reprocessing before they switched over to recycling to capitalize on the prestige of that word, is an extremely “dirty” business involving highly toxic chemicals which must also be disposed/contained for long periods. The French thought this one up since they are highly addicted to nuclear power, having foolishly invested in it to the tune of 60 plants in that relatively tiny country. Why would they do such a thing? Why would Japan build nearly the same number on an earthquake fault? The sociopaths claw their way to power whenever they can, where they can then pursue their projects without the pesty obstacles of conscience, or concern for consequences.

So long as there are nuclear plants producing the key ingredient for nuclear weapons, plutonium (Pu), there is the threat of proliferation. Of course what Pu already exists will take 250,000 years! to decay into a harmless substance so you can see we have a long-term problem here. We should note that plutonium did not exist until we (they) created it in reactors, sort of a pandora’s box kind of pathology. How do we keep this stuff safely stored and out of the hands of terrorists for those kind of time-frames? Hell, how can we even be assured that the stuff won’t be completely forgotten, like some Mayan ruin waiting to be discovered? You probably intuit the answer, we don’t frikkin know!

Given these facts, would persons wanting to create more of this deadly material be considered sane? On top of this ambiguity is the instability of accidents, if they can be called that, and of course the targeting of these convenient sites by those who, though they lack the expertise, materials and funding to build first rate nukes themselves, do possess the fanaticism necessary to want to use them. They might settle for blowing up, setting fire to or crashing airplanes into nuclear plants that, with great precision, can be called pre-positioned nuclear devices. Continuing the tradition of the Berrigan Brothers, a group of church activists recently infiltrated a nuclear site, easily reaching the most sensitive areas undetected, eventually searching out security personnel to surrender to. Who should be charged here, the infiltrators or the security personnel? Or perhaps those responsible for the greater decision to build these mad cauldrons, whether you think of them as sociopaths or not.

Speaking of craziness: the arsenals of the U.S. and Russia remain on hair-trigger alert, launch-on-warning, despite the cold war having ended nearly 20 years ago. Dr. Heflin was asked at his talk what rationale is used to justify this insanity in the higher reaches of our government and he suggested that, to know that, we must go there and ask.

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that the U.S. Senate, in its great wisdom, has refused to ratify, and that M’sseurs Bush-Cheney pronounced not in U.S. interests (and which Obama apparently has no time for outside of speeches), was crafted to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons by extracting promises to not develop them by those who haven’t yet, in exchange for promises from those who do have them that they (we) will get rid of them. Since a nuclear war, even a small one, stands a very good chance of creating nuclear winter and ending our great experiment with civilization, how is preventing the spread of nukes not in U.S. interests? Dr. Heflin would probably urge us to take this question to our representatives up there in the higher reaches of our democratically, sort-of, elected government. Leading local groups working to help deliver this message are Nuclear Watch South -, Women's Action for New Directions (WAND) and

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ten Years, Standing for Peace

  Any Army, 1984 Tom Ferguson, oil on canvas (detail)

Surveying aspects of the past – slavery, child labor, oppression of women and workers, war, colonialism, environmental degradation, corruption, nepotism, racism, oligarchy, patriarchy, fascism – one can hardly ignore the injustice of one’s own time and Standing For Peace is one avenue of resistance.”

The above quote came from an activist when asked why she joins the weekly Stand For Peace at 14th and Peachtree in Atlanta, Fridays noon to 1pm. The tenth anniversary of the Stand was celebrated Friday August 24th. The Stand began when members of Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition (GPJC) attempted to meet with Senator Zell Miller, whose office in Colony Square overlooked the corner there. Their purpose was to dissuade him from voting for the invasion of Iraq. Instead of meeting with his constituents the good senator had them arrested when they refused to leave without a meeting. He of course supported the war and was in fact famous, or infamous, as a Democrat, in speaking at the Republican convention in support of the reigning Bush/Cheney clique. His speech was noticeably nutty though, embarrassing even the oligarchs who were exploiting him.

Deciding to Stand For Peace at that corner until the war ended, the initial reception given the anti-war activists from passing traffic was quite hostile. Stereotypical hardhat-types drove by in their pickups holding forth the universal sign of disapproval, “Half a peace sign” one of the standers liked to quip. 

Varying degrees of polite conversations were had with the lunch-time foot traffic, sometimes involving raised voices, usually from the “pro-war” factions. One of the standers was proud of his status as a veteran, and dissenter, of the Vietnam War and usually waved a large U.S. flag, determined to reclaim from the chickenhawks this symbol of freedom (a surprising number of the most enthusiastic warbackers in the Bush administration had avoided the opportunity to serve in the Vietnam war, including Bush himself, Cheney and many others). A shout from a passing vehicle, “Support the president!” was immediately met by this vet with an incisive, “Support the Constitution!” A hard hat stopped at the light and mocked the protestors. Someone pointed out that he was driving a gas guzzler, bringing obliquely into the discussion the prime motivation for the war, oil. “I can afford it.”, responded the driver, missing the point completely, unknowingly advancing the anti-war position. Apparently the three ‘R’s from the first Earth Day, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, had not yet reached the owner of the obscene hummer. Another passerby insisted that, in response to 911, “We’ve got to kick butt.” The analogy apparently fell on deaf ears, that when someone commits a crime we don’t bomb their neighborhood we go after the culprit, and that, unfortunately, not all culprits can be caught and brought to justice. Kicking the butts of people totally unassociated with the 911 attack, rather than exacting revenge is itself a further injustice. This passerby insisted, rather than admit to logical inconsistency, that the neighborhood bombing would be perfectly appropriate. They bombed us, therefore we can bomb them. To tweak an old saying, logic is the first casualty of war. The Hatfields and the McCoys are alive and well, and still killing each other.

An interesting footnote: black citizens were early on generally far more supportive, way ahead of their white counterparts. Dylan’s line from his song about Joey Gallo’s imprisonment comes to mind,

     “His best friends were black men ‘cause they seemed to understand,
       what it’s like to be in society, with a shackle on your hand.”

Gradually, over time, the ratio of support to opposition reversed so that during the tenth anniversary gathering speakers had a hard time being heard above the “honking for peace” coming from Peachtree Street. In contrast to Zell Miller’s calling in the police, Representative John Lewis emotionally renewed his pledge that, “I will not vote one dime for the war machine!” Would that this view were more prevalent in our corporate-owned and ideologically skewered congress. Joseph Lowery also spoke, with the contagious good humor that he brought to his appearance at Obama’s inauguration and with the authority this ethical man, who has opposed injustice with a consistent and courageous vigor, brings to every issue he encounters. The presence of these stellar civil rights heroes was felt as a huge compliment by the veteran standers.

The Stand For Peace continues Fridays at noon, many of the participants in a quandary of supporting as the lesser of two evils the current administration which, though having moved to end the involvement in Iraq (the illegal involvement), inexplicably continues a senseless war in Afghanistan, the longest in U.S. history, and pursues Wikileak’s Julian Assange and the patriot soldier Bradley Manning, while allowing war criminals from the previous administration to skate free. The close-knit by now Stand For Peace activists, after the Stand, usually adjourn to the Colony Square food court for continued discussion of the issues of our day, over lunch. WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions, Georgia), overseen by the inestimable Bobbie Paul, is the primary standard bearer of the Friday action these days who of course invite other concerned citizens to join them.