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Month: March 2011

Hunter S. Thompson Explains Oliver North’s Role in the Iran-Contra Affair

Hunter S. Thompson Explains Oliver North’s Role in the Iran-Contra Affair

HST-1987-300x300 Hunter S. Thompson Explains Oliver North’s Role in the Iran-Contra Affair
Hunter S. Thompson 1987

U.S. Marine Corp Lt. Col. Oliver North was indicted on sixteen felony accounts stemming from his involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair.  In his testimony before a joint Congressional Committee, he admitted to lying and to shredding government documents, and he said he joined the covert Iran-Contra operation because he thought it was a neat idea.

Hunter S. Thompson followed the hearings closely and published many columns about the whole sordid affair and those involved in it.  I am posting his work now because Oliver North, who should be rotting in prison, has the gall to criticize President Obama for not obtaining approval from Congress to go into Libya.

This is from Thompson’s June 16, 1987 column published in his collected works titled Generation of Swine:

USMC Lt. Col. Oliver North will probably get 300 years – even if Ed Wilson is right – but he is too guilty and too obvious and too easy, in fact, to get off with anything less than 25 or 30 concurrent, which means he will do about three – unless he can come up with a better idea, like turning in somebody bigger.

From the moment North took the oath before congress, the American public was infatuated by the man in uniform with perfect posture and a respectful demeanor.  Hunter Thompson wrote about it in his column dated July 13, 1987:

One public opinion poll on Friday had North with a truly awesome “approval rating” of 96 to 4 percent, much higher than Ronald Reagan, Jesus or even pure cocaine.  The Iran-contra scandal that once looked deeper and dirtier than Watergate was suddenly transformed by North’s performance on network TV into something on the scale of American heroism like Valley Forge or MacArthur’s return to the Philippines…. The shameful saga of Oliver North was so heavy and strong that it caused rich men on Wall Street to weep openly and small children in Hollywood to dance and jabber with joy.

It even brought tears to the eyes of Crazy Bob. “This guy is the real thing,” he said when North went off the air on Thursday. “I want to send him a check.”

I stared at him for a long moment, then I whacked him on the side of his head. “You fool!” I said. “I’m tired of your lame Nazi gibberish.” He leaped off his stool and went into a fighting stance, but I quickly jumped back and hissed at him: “Semper Fi! Semper Fi! 269 dead boys at Beirut Airport! Two hundred and sixty-nine dead U.S. Marines, Bobby!

He stiffened, then dropped his hands.

“Yes!” I shouted. “And we know who did it, don’t we?”

“Iranians,” he muttered. “That stinking Ayatollah.”

I knew he had been in the Navy – nine or ten years in one of the super-elite SEAL units… the Marines get a lot of publicity and they look good on TV commercials, but even drill sergeants at Parris Island will admit that 99 out of 100 Marine recruits would be routinely rejected if they ever tried to qualify for the SEALS. A pencil-necked weekend warrior like Oliver North couldn’t get hired as a male nurse in a SEAL unit.

I put my arm around Crazy Bob’s shoulders and sat him back down on his stool. “And who was it, Bobby, that sold all those bombs and missiles and rockets to the Iranians?”

“Jesus Christ,” he said. “It was Oliver North, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, Charlie,” I said. “It was him – and he was well paid for it, too. Ronald Reagan called him a great American hero, and George Shultz put his arm around him and thanked him for doing good work.”

So much for Ollie mania.

Why does anyone give credence to Oliver North’s opinions today?  He belongs in prison.  Only Fox News would hire a swine like Oliver North and let him rant about what he perceives are President Obama’s abuses of presidential powers.

Who will Fox hire next?  Perhaps they can get Kerry Killinger to offer his opinions about how regulating banks is totally unnecessary.  Or maybe they could get Gary Ridgway to do a special dispatch from prison on how to pick up girls.

Oliver North Critical of Obama Striking Libya without Congressional Approval

Oliver North Critical of Obama Striking Libya without Congressional Approval

Lt. Col Oliver North, who was a key player in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages deal that supplied arms to the Nicaraguan rebels has criticized President Obama for not getting congressional approval to join the allied forces in a strike against Qaddafi in Libya.

Congress explicitly prohibited U.S. involvement in the Nicaraguan war, and the Reagan Administration ignored their order.  So now a key player in the illegal operation is criticizing President Obama for not getting congressional approval?  Yes he is… watch:

Quite frankly, it’s unparalleled in my entire experience in the military going all the way back to the 1960s.  Every president has gone to the Congress to get a resolution to support whatever it is he wanted to do. And he [Obama] doesn’t ask the Congress because he doesn’t know what he wants to do.

The guy’s got balls.  I’ll give him that but he and many other pundits on the Right are critical only when it’s not their guy running the show.  They need a little history lesson because, as the Old Viking pointed out in a response to a Bruce Ramsey column:

Congress has declared war on only five occasions; the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.

There are more than two hundred instances in which presidents have sent armed forces into hostile situations without a declaration of war. Our first intervention outside the US was an undeclared war with the Philippines with intense battles between 1899 and 1902.

The US fought 95% of the modern wars–in Korea (1950-1953) and in Vietnam (1959-1975)–without a formal declaration. Desert Storm in 1989 and our incursion into Afghanistan were and are full-blown conflicts.

We occupied Mexico’s California province in 1848 and, between 1848 and 1855, US Marines were sent to Panama to protect US lives and property. The Marines participated with Europeans in crushing the Chinese Boxer rebellion in 1900. In 1906, US Marines restored order in Cuba, which is why we still occupy Guantanamo.

In 1983, Reagan invaded Grenada to remove a Marxist dictator. US troops have been used to restore order in Haiti, Somalia, and Bosnia. All of this occurred without a formal declaration of war.

So go ahead and disagree with Obama’s decision to support the rebels in Libya trying to oust Qaddafi, but read your history books before you go spouting off about how presidents must get congressional approval before ordering the U.S. military into action.

GOP’s Fear of NPR

GOP’s Fear of NPR

It‘s all so painfully familiar.  A newly elected, Republican majority in the House of Representatives, filled with zealotry, hubris and self-righteousness, sets its sights on the relatively paltry amount of taxpayer funds (0.012% of the federal budget) that go to National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service.  It’s 1994 all over again, except that the ultra-conservative element aka the Tea Baggers within the GOP caucus is even more extreme.

To listen to these GOP ideologues, NPR and PBS are hotbeds of liberal bias.  But the question that occurs to me is: do they really believe this nonsense?

I’ve watched Jim Lehrer on the PBS Newshour for more years than I care to remember and I still can’t say with any confidence which party affiliation he holds – if any.  About the only thing I’ve learned about him from watching the Newshour is that he is a former Marine.

The same is true of any of the hosts on the many NPR news shows such as Morning Edition, All things Considered, Talk of the Nation, and Weekend Edition.  Even NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson manages to negotiate the minefield of being a regular panel member on Fox News Sunday with feline, albeit maddening, agility without betraying her political biases (poor old Juan Williams remains the lonely target of whoever the two conservatives are on the panel).

If their fiercest GOP critics actually bothered to watch PBS or listen to NPR, they would know that no issue of public policy is aired without equal time given to the conservative or GOP viewpoint.  If any of the GOP congressional dolts are in any real doubt, they should contact right-wing think tanks such as the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute, or the neoconservative Weekly Standard, to ascertain how many times in the past year their representatives have been asked to present the view from the right.

The fact is that both NPR and PBS provide the news and in-depth analysis with an almost fanatical lack of bias.  Any regular viewer or listener is likely, on the other hand, to be better informed about the key issues of the day, both domestic and international, than those who rely on ABC, CBS or NBC, with their headline-only coverage, or Fox News which is simply the propaganda arm of the right-wing of the Republican Party. 

And that may be the real rub. I don’t think it’s liberal bias that bothers Republicans, but the unmatched ability of public television and radio to present the unvarnished truth. And truth has, for a long time now, been the enemy of a GOP that embraces alternate realities, misinformation and outright falsehood.  With an informed public, how could we have had “death panels” or weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or the subliminal message that Iraqis participated in 9/11 or a thousand other lies?  Given equal time, it’s right-wing ideas that invariably come off worst and that, of course, is the problem.

NPR and PBS are national treasures of which all Americans should be justly proud; the only real pity is that every American doesn’t tune in.  In providing an unparalleled blend of news and culture, NPR and PBS serve us well indeed, and are worth every penny of tax-payer funding they receive.

But not for Republicans; for them it is the ignorance of Americans that is truly bliss.    

Krugman Coins my New Favorite Word: Ignoramitocracy

Krugman Coins my New Favorite Word: Ignoramitocracy

In a post about how the Republicans exist to oppose all Democratic policies and all Obama’s highly qualified agency appointments, Paul Krugman has come up with a word that describes perfectly the Republicans ideal form of government:  Ignoramitocracy.

Part of what’s going on here is simply opposition for the sake of opposition. But as Pollack says, the underlying problem is that anyone with actual expertise and any kind of public profile — in short, anyone who is actually qualified to hold a position — is bound to have said something, somewhere that can be taken out of context to make him or her sound like Pol Pot. Berwick has spoken in favor of evaluating medical effectiveness and has had kind words for the British National Health Service, so he wants to kill grandma and Sovietize America.

So what lies down this road? A world in which key positions can only be filled by complete hacks, preferably interns from the Heritage Foundation with no relevant experience but unquestioned loyalty.

And there you have it.  Anyone who actually has the education, skills, and moxie to take on a demanding government job can’t have the job, because simply knowing what should be done might destroy the whole charade that  Republicans put in place during the Bush years:  Idiot puppets controlled by idiot masters on behalf of their moneyed masters.

Japan’s Nuclear Reactors have Poisoned the Water Supply

Japan’s Nuclear Reactors have Poisoned the Water Supply

From a story in today’s New York Times about the poisoned water supply:

Radioactive iodine detected in the capital’s water supply spurred a warning for infants on Wednesday and the government issued a stark new estimate about the costs of rebuilding from the earthquake and tsunami that slammed into the northeast of Japan this month. Ei Yoshida, head of water purification for the Tokyo water department, said at a televised news conference that infants in Tokyo and surrounding areas should not drink tap water. He said iodine-131 had been detected in water samples at a level of 210 becquerels per liter, about a quart. The recommended limit for infants is 100 becquerels per liter. For adults, the recommended limit is 300 becquerels.

Outside Tokyo the government said it had found radioactive materials at levels exceeding legal limits in 11 vegetables in Fukushima Prefecture, the Kyodo news agency reported. Shipments of the affected vegetables from there ended on Monday.

On Wednesday Prime Minister Kan also suspended shipment of raw milk and parsley from neighboring Ibaraki Prefecture, Kyodo reported.

So we know the nuclear power plants near Sendai, Japan were unsafe following the 9.0 earthquake.  So what can we expect for the future of nuclear energy production in the United States?  Read this week’s edition of This Modern World, and find out.

TMW-Nukd-Free-Mkts-fr-5-6 Japan's Nuclear Reactors have Poisoned the Water Supply

Capsula at SXSW and they Have a New Album

Capsula at SXSW and they Have a New Album

If you are in Austin, Texas tonight as I write this and you are lucky enough to find a way into the Red Eyed Fly, then you are watching Capsula live, and I am not.  (I am watching the Washington Huskies play the Georgia Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament).

I’ve posted about Capsula before, and I picked their 2009 album Rising Mountains as the best album of 2009.  They have a new album out called In the Land of Silver Souls that is available on CD in Europe, but not yet in the U.S.  You pod people can buy it on iTunes though.

It’s halftime now and I have a few minutes, so what I am going to do is watch Capsula live from last year’s SXSW on my Macbook.  Go ahead, join me…

They really are the best punk band in the world today.

If you want to know more about their new album, I highly recommend that you visit Tulip Frenzy and read all about it.  I have added Tulip Frenzy to the blogroll, because after reading a few pages, I can tell that the author and I like a whole lot of the same music, and he is a much better music writer than I am.

WaMu Execs Killinger, Rotella & Schneider Sued by FDIC

WaMu Execs Killinger, Rotella & Schneider Sued by FDIC

My wife and I were eating dinner at our favorite Seattle restaurant a few months after Washington Mutual collapsed.  The chef/owner came out to chat with us during the meal, and WaMu came up as a topic of conversation.  Our friendly Italian chef told us that what he thought Kerry Killinger needed was “a tune up.”  I said, “a tune up?”  He says, “yeah a tune up.  You know… like with a baseball bat.”

The FDIC won’t be going after Kerry Killinger with a baseball bat, but they have sued him and his to partners in crime for as-yet-to-be-disclosed amount.  The Seattle Times reports:

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. alleged Seattle-based WaMu lost billions of dollars due to negligent actions by Kerry Killinger, WaMu’s former CEO; Stephen Rotella, former chief operating officer; and David Schneider, former president of WaMu’s Home Loans division. The suit also names Killinger’s wife, Linda, and Rotella’s wife, Esther, claiming they participated in transferring assets into trusts where they would be out of creditors’ reach.

The FDIC sought more than $900 million from the executives in private negotiations preceding the lawsuit, a source familiar with the matter said. It has a $125 million settlement with WaMu’s outside directors pending approval in bankruptcy court.

The FDIC suit says it intends “to hold these three highly paid senior executives, who were chiefly responsible for WaMu’s higher risk home lending program, accountable for the resulting losses.”

The FDIC also asked the court to freeze certain assets, including bank accounts and homes of the executives, pending a trial.

The lawsuit portrays Killinger as the architect of an aggressive growth strategy that involved generating high volumes of risky home loans, juicing short-term profits to boost his pay but exposing the bank to potentially catastrophic losses.

WaMu’s top credit officer warned Killinger that the bank was “putting borrowers into homes that they simply cannot afford,” according to the complaint. He’s unnamed in the complaint.

Rotella stripped the bank’s central risk-management group of its independence and authority, the suit alleges. Both Killinger and Rotella were heard to deride risk managers as “checkers checking checkers,” according to the suit.

WaMu’s strategy brought short-term rewards for the top executives. From January 2005 to September 2008, they collectively received more than $95 million in compensation, according to the lawsuit.

In August 2008, as WaMu’s finances spiraled downward, Killinger and his wife transferred their homes in The Highlands just north of Seattle, and Palm Desert, Calif., into irrevocable trusts. The lawsuit says the purpose was to “hinder, delay or defraud” existing creditors and those who Killinger feared might come after him.

I realize that the lenders are not the only ones to blame for the sub-prime mortgage fiasco.  The whole mess started with both parties making deals based on the ridiculous notion that home prices could only go up.  I knew that was wrong, and I knew enough about economics and the laws of supply and demand to know that when millions of people bought houses they should have known they couldn’t afford, something bad was bound to happen.  Add to that the false income claims made buy home buyers – their lies often encouraged by the lenders – and you had a recipe for disaster. 

I don’t know how savvy the average buyer was, but anyone encouraged by a lender to make false claims about their income and/or assets (Countrywide comes to mind) should have been very skeptical about the deal they were about to make.  So blame on falls on both sides; however, the difference between what happened to the officers in charge of the lending institutions and the people who signed the ill-fated mortgages was HUGE. 

From what I’ve read, people like Kerry Killinger, his wife, and his mendacious business associates walked away from the meltdown with many millions of dollars in their pockets; whereas the borrowers, who may or may not have lied about what they could afford, ended up with underwater mortgages and payments they couldn’t make.  The borrowers lost big time, while the guys at the top who orchestrated the whole scam remained multi-millionaires.

So the FDIC going after Killinger and his ilk is a step in the right direction.  I would love to see all of them forfeit their millions and do some hard time in a real prison, but I doubt much will come of it.

Diane Arbus, Photographer

Diane Arbus, Photographer

Diane-Arubs-by-Allan-Arbus Diane Arbus, Photographer
portrait by husband, Allan Arbus

Diane Arbus was born in New York City on this day in 1923.  She and her husband Allan started a commercial photography business in 1946.  She quit the business in 1956 and started using a twin-lens Rolleiflex camera that produced square images with great detail.

This 1962 photograph of a child in Central Park holding a toy hand grenade is one of my favorites.

Childwithhandgrenadedianearbus Diane Arbus, Photographer

Go here to view a selection of her works.

Ed Markey Ridicules the Republicans’ Attack on Science

Ed Markey Ridicules the Republicans’ Attack on Science

This week citizens of the world witnessed the powerful Japanese earthquake and disastrous tsunami that followed.  It was a shocking lesson in the physical sciences of gravity, motion, and plate tectonics.  Republicans haven’t repudiated the findings of scientists in these fields because they can see that, although scientists can’t yet predict when earthquakes will occur, they can predict the devastating results.

Republicans can’t see the the harmful buildup of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and, because they can’t see it, they choose to ignore it even though the global community of atmospheric scientists agree that the rapid and continuing buildup of carbon dioxide will warm up up the earth and cause disasters all around the globe.

Republicans are so dismissive of the scientific findings that the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), approved a bill to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules on climate pollution that would curtail the buildup of harmful gases in our atmosphere.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) spoke at the hearing to draft the anti-science bill and became my new political hero when he mocked the willful ignorance of Republicans with this statement:

Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to a bill that overturns the scientific finding that pollution is harming our people and our planet.

However, I won’t physically rise, because I’m worried that Republicans will overturn the law of gravity, sending us floating about the room.

I won’t call for the sunlight of additional hearings, for fear that Republicans might excommunicate the finding that the Earth revolves around the sun.

Instead, I’ll embody Newton’s third law of motion and be an equal and opposing force against this attack on science and on laws that will reduce America’s importation of foreign oil.

This bill will live in the House while simultaneously being dead in the Senate. It will be a legislative Schrodinger’s cat killed by the quantum mechanics of the legislative process!

Arbitrary rejection of scientific fact will not cause us to rise from our seats today. But with this bill, pollution levels will rise. Oil imports will rise. Temperatures will rise.

And with that, I yield back the balance of my time. That is, unless a rejection of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is somewhere in the chair’s amendment pile.

Watch the video.

Let’s start deficit reduction by eliminating the Double Irish and Dutch Sandwiches

Let’s start deficit reduction by eliminating the Double Irish and Dutch Sandwiches

For the past year or so the business magazines have discussed the way in which U.S. corporations use offshore shells to dodge some $60 billion in U.S. corporation taxes each year.  The most prevalent strategy has earned the sobriquets “Double Irish” and “Dutch Sandwich” because they rely on the laws of Ireland and its relationship with the Netherlands.  I developed a schematic or pert chart to make it clear to myself

It works like this.  Company 1, an American corporation–Microsoft is one of them–sets up a separate company (company 2) in an offshore tax haven such as Bermuda or the Cayman Islands.  That company is licensed to conduct all overseas sales.  Actually there is no one in that office.  It’s a paper fiction and a law firm performs “corporate administrative services”.

Company 3 is set up in Ireland as a wholly owned subsidiary of Company 2 and is licensed by company 2 to sell the products and services of Company 1.  Company 3 pays royalties and fees to company 2 but they are untaxed by Ireland, the Caymans, or the U.S.  What company 2 retains in its tiny office could be taxed by Ireland at 12.5% but Ireland has an arrangement with some European countries that permits payments between Irish and companies in selected European countries to be untaxed.  The money that remains with the Irish office (company 3) is taxed at 2.4%.

Company 4, a Dutch company receives the payments from Company 3 and immediately sends them to Company 2.  (Remember, no corporate taxes in Bermuda or the Caymans.)  The stop in the Netherlands is no longer than a plane landing and departure.  There is no office and no staff, just a forwarding service.  The Netherlands has 13,000 such entities.

When the money gets to company 2 it just stays there and is taxed only if sent to company 1.  But company 1 rarely does that.  It uses the money for overseas expenditures or for certain investments or it just draws interest.  More important the corporation has dodged millions of dollars in U.S. taxes.

It gets worse.  In 2004 the GOP Congress enacted a one-time exemption that permitted companies to bring their money “home” at an effective tax rate of 5.3% instead of the standard 32%.

Next time a Tea Party adherent proposes a deficit-reducing budget cut that is designed to bring pain to the most helpless among us, tell them you will take them seriously when they have eliminated this travesty.

For a perspective on this practice, take a look at this Bloomberg article, “U.S. Companies Dodge $69 Billion in Taxes with Global Odyssey.”