This past November, I wrote about the right's semantic trickery and proposed an idea for how we could debunk and decode the conservative's Orwellian Code of encrypted language: A Republican Dictionary.
I put together a small list and asked readers to send me their own entries. Response has been overwhelming--more than 375 people have sent definitions.
I published a small sample of the entries I've received in this space earlier this month. Below I'm publishing a second batch of reader submissions to this on-going project. We're going to continue posting additional entries in the weeks ahead, so click here to suggest your contributions.
ALARMIST, n. Any respected scientist who understands the threat of global warming. (Dave Nold, Berkely, California)
ALLIES, n. Foreigners who do what Republicans tell them to do. (Gary Schroller, Bellaire, Texas)
BALANCED, adj. 1. favoring corporations (a more balanced approach to the environment.); 2. favoring conservatives (fair and balanced reporting). (Scott Davis, Grand Prairie, Texas)
CLASS WARFARE, n. Any attempt to raise the minimum wage. (Don Zwier, Grayslake, Illinois)
COALITION, n. One or more nations whose leaders have been duped, pressured or bribed into supporting ill-conceived, unnecessary, under-planned and/or illegal US military operations. (Michael Shapiro, Honolulu, Hawaii)
CONVICTION, n. Making decisions before getting the facts, and refusing to change your mind afterward. (Paul Ruschmann, Canton, Michigan)
CULTURE OF LIFE, n. A reduction of reproductive freedoms. (Sean Sturgeon, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada)
DEMOCRACY, n. My way or the highway. (Daniel Quinn, London, UK)
ECONOMIC RECOVERY, n. When three out of five software engineers who lost their jobs to outsourcing are able to find part-time work at Wal-Mart. (Rob Hotman, Houston, Texas)
ELECTION FRAUD, n. Counting every vote. (Sean O'Brien, Chicago, Illinois)
GIRLY MEN, n. Those who do not grope women. (Nick Gill, Newton, MA)
HARD WORK, n. What Republicans say when they can't think of anything better. (Brian McDowell)
HEALTHY FORESTS, n. No tree left behind. (Ron Russell, San Francisco, California)
JOB GROWTH, n. Increased number of jobs an individual has to take after losing earlier high-paying job. (John E. Tarin, Arlington, Virginia)
JUNK SCIENCE, n. Sound science. (Geoffrey King, Austin, TX)
OFFICE OF FAITH-BASED INITIATIVES, n. Christian Right payoff. (Michael Gendelman, Fair Haven, New Jersey)
OWNERSHIP SOCIETY, n. A society in which no one ever needs to own up to their mistakes or the consequences of their actions. (Sharon Gallagher, New York, New York)
PARTIAL BIRTH ABORTION, n. A non-medical term invented by anti-choice zealots that refers to a broad class of abortion procedures; employed as a first step in reversing Roe v. Wade. (David McNeely, Lutz, Florida)
POLITICAL CAPITAL, n. What a Republican president receives as a result of a razor-thin margin of victory in an election. (Joy Losee, Gainesville, Georgia)
PRESS CONFERENCE, n. A rare event designed for the President to brag about his prowess as a leader while simultaneously dodging difficult questions. (Jim Nidositko, Westfield, New Jersey)
REFORM, n. Rollback of New Deal reforms, laws, standards and social protections. (Nick Gill, Newton, MA)
RESOLUTE, adj. Pig-headed. (Paul Ruschmann, Carlton, MI)
SMALL BUSINESS OWNER, n. rich person (Michael Mannella, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
SOCIAL SECURITY REFORM, n. Leave no Wall Street broker behind. (Ann Klopp, Princeton, NJ)
STAYING THE COURSE, v., The act of being stubborn and unable to admit glaring policy mistakes; being wrong and sticking with the wrong idea regardless of the consequences. (Jillian Jorgensen, Staten Island, New York)
TAX SIMPLIFICATION, n. A way to make it simpler for large US corporations to export American jobs to avoid paying US taxes. (Seth Hammond, Goodwell, Oklahoma)
VERY CLEAR, adj. Modifier used immediately before any preposterous explanation or rationale. (Lance L. Prata, Eastlake Weir, Florida)
What do the CIA, the Pentagon and the UN have in common? They share a prescient view of the world's greatest dangers and their unheralded agreement on key issues facing the planet has received far too little attention in the media.
Since 2000, all three institutions have produced a number of valuable reports arguing that so-called soft issues like poverty, disease and climate change are endangering global stability and the future of the United States.
This rising consensus should compel US policy-makers to concede a most basic point--we need a global development agenda. It isn't a soft-headed, idealistic thing either. Unless we confront issues like poverty and gender inequality, the world will become more destabilized, increasingly violent and less secure.
In December 2000, the CIA's Global Trends 2015 report warned of instability brought on by a shortage of drinking water--"the single most contested resource on the planet," as Time.com described the CIA's findings. The report also warned that nation-states would soon disintegrate, "non-state actors" like Osama bin Laden would emerge as greater threats, that populations would increase by one billion people by 2015, and that HIV/AIDS would represent a major security issue in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the former Soviet Republics. (Another CIA report issued that same year, "Global Infectious Disease Threat," estimated that by 2020 over half of all deaths from infectious disease in the developing world will be caused by AIDS, imperiling government stability, food production, health services, and even nuclear/weapons security in places.)
Some cities in the Arab world would become "impossibly overpopulated hubs of discontent, dramatically under-serviced by such basic infrastructure as drinking water and sewage," as Time.com described the CIA's Global Trends 2015 report's conclusions. "Their population is likely to be young, hungry, sick, disillusioned and very, very angry."
The CIA's report argued that we should increase foreign aid and investment, along the lines of the Marshall Plan, to close a growing divide between rich and poor, which would, in turn, reduce threats to the United States.
The CIA's findings, which remarkably dovetail with the United Nation's Millenium Development Goals, ought to be heard as a rousing call to fund the UN's development agenda--the only truly global Marshall Plan of our time. The UN's Millenium agenda--adopted in 2000--includes reducing by half those suffering from hunger; reducing child mortality for children under five by two-thirds; cutting in half the number of those without access to safe drinking water and establishing universal primary education and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases by 2015.
The statistics don't lie: UNICEF reports that one billion children are living in poverty (or every second child); more than 121 million primary school age children are out of school--the majority of them are girls; and that 10.6 million children died in 2003 before they were five of largely preventable deaths.
The global community knows how to deal with these catastrophes. By spending $150 billion dollars worldwide each year, the UN could actually meet its Millennium Goals over the next decade. (UNICEF puts the figure somewhere between $40 and $70 billion--either way, it's a paltry sum in contrast to the $956 billion spent annually worldwide on military items.)
Indeed, while the CIA and the UN may diverge on rationale and policy implications, the underlying issues in the decade ahead give credibility to the much-derided "soft" side of the global agenda. Supported by Gordon Brown, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, the UN Global Millennium Agenda offers an agenda that do-gooders as well as economists, national security strategists and CIA agents can (and should) love.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, the Pentagon tasked two futurologists with assessing long-term threats to the United States--their report, "Imagining the Unthinkable," focused on "worst-case" scenarios and actually cited climate change as a major long-term threat to US national security.
The report's co-author, Peter Schwartz, told NPR's Living on Earth that the "most extreme case would be a scenario of fairly rapid warming in the near future--the next, say, decade or so--that would in turn trigger rapid cooling. "Ultimately, we'd see 'warming' [in] Europe, parts of the northeastern United States and Canada.You'd see severe storms--more torrential rainfall--very short winters, a shift in the location of tornadoes--and 'mega-droughts.'" Conflicts over water and fishing rights would emerge, and refugees would flock to the US in greater numbers.
An even more recent report issued last fall--and authored by the Defense Science Board Task Force, an organization that advises the Secretary of Defense--raised crucial issues. The report, virtually ignored by the mainstream media, found that: "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather they hate our policies" and "American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists..." The study also concluded that US public diplomacy faces "a fundamental problem of credibility" and that US support for authoritarian regimes in the region has undermined the so-called war on terror by turning ordinary Muslims against the West.
Back in Dec. 2000, John Gannon--Chairman of the National Intelligence Council and one of the authors of the CIA Global Trends 2015 report--urged America to deal with countries that "feel they're being left behind"--thereby confronting the downside of globalization. Yet, four years have passed, and America's political leadership is doing quite the opposite: neglecting the global South and attacking the UN as outdated and useless.
While our mangled Iraq war policy is sowing hatred for America in the Middle East, American policy-makers have failed to heed the rising global consensus that poverty, climate change and the global HIV/AIDS pandemic demand intelligent and collective response and funding.
How many more reports (and threats) must appear before attacking the world's most glaring problems becomes priority number one?
In RFK: A Memoir, the finest of the shelf full of books he produced during a career that was as prolific as it was meaningful, Jack Newfield succeeded in explaining the late Robert F. Kennedy better than any of the late New York senator's many biographers. "Part of him was soldier, priest, radical, and football coach. But he was none of these," wrote Newfield, who had chronicled his subject's transition from President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's "first-brother" to presidential candidate in his own right. "He was a politician. His enemies said he was consumed with selfish ambition, a ruthless opportunist exploiting his brother's legend. But he was too passionate and too vulnerable ever to be the cool and confident operator his brother was."
With Newfield's death Monday night at age 66, there will be a search for the words to describe the late journalist. In the end, if that search is successful, it will find its way back to the words that Newfield employed to describe Kennedy.
Newfield, who most of us came to know as the star reporter for New York's Village Voice newspaper from the 1960s to the 1980s, and who most recently was a regular contributor to The Nation, had many passions – from boxing to baseball to civil rights and civil liberties. But the thing I loved best about Jack Newfield was that he loved politics. When he described Kennedy as a politician, he was not dismissing the man whose majestic 1968 presidential campaign he chronicled in an up-close-and-personal fashion that put the reporter just a short distance away from the scene where that campaign – and so many of the hopes of Newfield's decade, the 1960s – were dashed. Rather, Newfield was honoring Kennedy, about whom the reporter would say, "Though it's really unknowable, I think that if Bobby had lived to be president we would have ended the Vietnam War much sooner, renewed the war on poverty; we would have had a totally different policy toward blacks than Richard Nixon had."
All of those things mattered to Newfield, whose progressive passions were never obscured by his reporter's pen and notepad. Like all great reporters, he knew that slogans like "fair-and-balanced" were merely camouflage for laziness and the lie of relativism. The point was to get at the truth. And Newfield knew that the most important arena in which to go seeking for truth, in all its ugliness and glory, was the political fray.
Newfield understood that politics ought to be a noble endeavor. Yet, he recognized that it seldom was. He had a facility for spotting both the failings of those who gave politics its bad name -- especially those of the political bosses of Brooklyn and Queens -- and the potential of those who sought to redeem the enterprises of electioneering and governing. And he saw redemption in participatory democracy; among the final articles by this veteran of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s was an optimistic report on the increasingly important role that African-American voters would play in the 2004 election.
One of Newfield's last endeavors was the editing of a pair of books of essays, American Rebels and American Monsters. Newfield was on the side of the rebels. He celebrated them when they were beating the monsters in the 1960s, and when they were frequently beaten by those same monsters in the decades that followed.
Jack Newfield saw a world of heroes and villains, and he recognized that when they battled in the political arena it was the job of the journalist to go beyond merely reporting. He understood that the search for truth led, ultimately, to the point where the journalist had to take a side. He took the side of civil rights marchers, of anti-poverty crusaders, of reformers and radicals who believed that the promise of social and economic equity would be made real if the better angels of the American experiment could only be awoken by an article or a book. And so he wrote, passionately, powerfully and with a faith in the potential of a word well chosen to change the world.
Jack Newfield defined journalism for this reporter, and for thousands of others. His passing robs the craft not just of an able practitioner, but of a man who taught the rest of us that the combination of pen and ink could produce the rarest of all commodities: truth, and sometimes justice.
In a decision that was as unsurprising as it was shallow, Time magazine picked George W. Bush as its Person of the Year for the amazing feat of winning reelection as an incumbent president. Leaving aside the fact that since WWII only two incumbent presidents have lost reelection bids, Time is rewarding process over content, style over substance.
The fact is that, with the exception of one day (November 2nd), Bush has had a terrible year. The budget deficit is the highest in our history. The dollar is in free fall. Gas prices have shot through the roof. Job creation is at a post WWII low. The tepid economic recovery has stalled. More and more children are being left behind. The country is bitterly divided. The rest of the world loathes us. Afghanistan is once again the world's leading exporter of heroin. The Iraq war, which was supposed to be a cakewalk, has turned into a quagmire. The American military is stretched to the breaking point as the casualty rate rises and recruitment falls. The Abu Ghraib torture photos are being used by al Qaeda as recruitment posters.
But Bush won, so Time magazine gave him the prize, because: "the president has reshaped the rules of politics to fit his 10-gallon-hat leadership style." It sounds like a polite way of saying, Bush proved you can be a really rotten president and still get reelected. As Texans say, the man is "all hat, no cattle." And Time fell for it hook, line and sinker.
Way off the world's radar and in continued violation of international human-rights law, on September 22 the Vietnamese Government abruptly transferred political dissident Dr. Nguyen Dan Que to Ward 5 Prison of the Public Security Ministry, an isolated and hostile hard-labor camp.
The 1995 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Laureate and the founder of the Nonviolent Movement for Human Rights, Que has spent more than 20 years in prison for political activism in Vietnam. An endocrinologist by training, Que was detained without trial from 1978 to 1988 after he criticized national health care policy. After his release, he established a democratic-rights movement, for which he was arrested in 1990 and sentenced to another 20 years' imprisonment.
An international coalition has sprung up demanding Que's release on both legal and humanitarian grounds. The groups--including the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Action Network--are calling for an international letter-writing campaign on Que's behalf.
The campaign is critical: As an emergency alert put out by the RFK Center said, "By transferring Dr. Que to a remote labor camp...the Vietnamese Government has violated his right to receive family visitations and adequate medical and psychological care, in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984, to which Vietnam is a signatory."
Click here to send a letter to Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai asking him to set Que free, click here for more background on Que's work, and click here to support the work of the RFK memorial project.
Is America better off now than it was a year ago? I'm sure everyone has a quick answer, but the Drum Major Institute's Year in Review provides you with the hard facts, evidence, and analysis to back it up.
From changes in rules governing overtime to the proposed gutting of the Community Reinvestment Act, the DMI Review offers a scathing indictment of the national Administration.
In fact, with top-level support for the outsourcing of jobs and federal inaction on the skyrocketing costs of health care and higher education, this Administration showed a staggering disinterest in reversing the squeeze on America's middle class, content to allow our nation to be divided into those with vast wealth and then everyone else.
At the same time, the Year in Review highlights the success of local organizations and policymakers from both parties to expand access to affordable prescription drugs, stall the steady encroachment of big-box mega-stores into middle-class communities, raise the minimum wage, and provide entry for immigrant children to attain a higher education--all of which the President would not do.
The DMI 2004 Year in Review also offers its take on the best and worst in public policy, a recap of the 2004 national election (how divided are we, really?), a 2004 Injustice Index (the real state of the union, by the numbers), report recommendations, a highlight of efforts on the frontlines in five states (from California's struggle against Wal-Mart to Washington, DC's struggle for taxation with representation), and more. Click here to download and circulate the full report.
Just weeks after the election, President Bush nominated White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to be the next Attorney General of the United States.
Given his role in numerous Bush Administration attacks on civil and human rights as White House chief counsel, his selection is being met with widespread opposition. More than two dozen civil rights and human rights groups have raised what they call "serious concerns" about the nominee, largely over his efforts to support the White House in its attempts to override the Geneva Conventions on torture. (The groups include Amnesty International USA, Human Rights First, Global Rights and Human Rights Watch.)
The Senate confirmation hearings on Gonzales are approaching, and though people have been expecting a relatively easy confirmation, you never know how things turn, and his hearings are an opportune time to raise concern about the direction in which he intends to lead the Justice Department.
So contact your elected reps and urge them to question Gonzales thoroughly on his troubling history before putting his confirmation to a vote.
Click here to send a letter to Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter, who are expected to lead the Judiciary Committee through the hearings, click here to read and circulate David Cole's Nation editorial on why Gonzales is the wrong choice, and check out the People for the American Way's excellent site for related resources.
The crowd at the Democratic Party's annual dinner in western Wisconsin's Vernon County was large, loud and longing for a little partisan passion.
Far from feeling beat down by the November presidential election result, the more than 100 rural Democrats who gathered in small city of Viroqua this week were ready to fight against the war in Iraq, against economic policies that favor big business over working people and family farmers and against the warping of the public discourse by a media that is more concerned about Scott Peterson's conviction than the future of Social Security.
Unfortunately, they couldn't find many reflections of their grassroots passion in the current leadership of the Democratic Party. The sense that the time had come for a fresh face was palpable.
When I met with the Vernon County activists – most of whom were Democrats but some of whom were interested Greens and independents – their response to my suggestion that the county needs a real opposition party was immediate and enthusiastic.
These rural Democrats even had a suggestion for the who should lead that opposition. And it wasn't Hillary Clinton or John Edwards. When I was describing what a serious opposition party would stand for at this moment in history--starting with an absolute rejection of the war in Iraq and empire building and going on to a passionate defense of civil liberties and a willingness to stand up to multinational corporations--a bearded fellow in the crowd shouted, "We've got someone who can do it--the only senator who voted against the Patriot Act: Russ Feingold."
The crowd cheered.
And they aren't alone. While it might be predictable that Wisconsin Democrats would be excited by the prospect of their just-reelected senator seeking the presidency, the buzz about a possible Feingold for President campaign in 2008 is growing nationally.
Hotline, the online bible of inside-the-beltway political junkies, just featured a commentary in which the editors suggested that Wisconsin's junior senator – who has been outspoken in his criticism not just of the Patriot Act but of the war in Iraq and the corporate free-trade agenda -- could be a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. Noting that, against serious opposition, Feingold ran more than 140,000 votes ahead of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in Wisconsin, a source told Hotline, "He just accomplished an impressive victory in a heartland swing state in a year that wasn't so kind to (Democrats)." The source went on to suggest that Feingold "will be looked at as a new voice for the party as it moves forward."
Over at www.mydd.com, a popular Democratic website, political writer Chris Bowers observes, "Feingold is in an odd position. Even though he has won three terms in the US Senate, he actually is still known as a "reformer" and an "outsider," due in no small part to the constant repetition of the "McCain-Feingold" legislation in the national media. Because of this reputation, among all Democratic Senators, except perhaps (newly-elected Illinois Sen. Barack) Obama, I think he would be the best bet to capture the non-ideological reformers that I believe are a key to future Democratic success."
The interest in a Feingold candidacy has even sparked the development of a "Russ Feingold for President" Internet forum.
So will Feingold run? The man is not without ambition. He thought about seeking the presidency in 2004, but backed off before the contest really got started.
As the jockeying begins for 2008--and, make no mistake, the jockeying has begun--it is a safe bet that Feingold will again ponder a run. And with the unsolicited support that he's getting from his home state and elsewhere, he might well be inspired this time to do more than just explore a candidacy.
Gary Webb is dead.
He was the journalist who wrote a famous--or infamous--1996 series for the San Jose Mercury News that maintained a CIA-supported drug ring based in Los Angeles had triggered the crack epidemic of the 1980s. On Friday, the 49-year-old Webb, who won a Pulitzer Prize for other work, apparently shot himself. His "Dark Alliances" articles spurred outrage and controversy. Leaders of the African-American community demanded investigations. Mainstream newspapers--including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times--questioned his findings. And nearly a year after the pieces appeared, the Mercury News published a criticism of the series; Webb was demoted and soon left the newspaper. Two years later, he published a book based on the series.
Webb's tale is a sad one. He was on to something but botched part of how he handled it. He then was blasted and ostracized. He was wrong on some important details but he was, in a way, closer to the truth than many of his establishment media critics who neglected the story of the real CIA-contra-cocaine connection. In 1998, a CIA inspector general's report acknowledged that the CIA had indeed worked with suspected drugrunners while supporting the contras. A Senator named John Kerry had investigated these links years earlier, and the media had mostly ignored his findings. After Webb published his articles, the media spent more time crushing Webb than pursuing the full story. It is only because of Webb's work--as flawed as it was--that the CIA IG inquiry happened. So, then, it is only because of Webb that US citizens have confirmation from the CIA that it partnered up with suspected drug traffickers in the just-say-no years and that the Reagan Administration, consumed with a desire to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, allied itself with drug thugs.
As the news of Webb's death circulated across the Internet, some of his fans took the opportunity to demand that I issue a posthumous apology to him. Why? Because I had been critical of his series and book. But my criticism was different from that of the mainstream press. I maintained he had overstated the case and had not proven his more cinematic allegations. But I also credited him for forcing the issue and prodding the CIA to come clean. No one at the Times (New York or Los Angeles) or the Post managed to do that. And though there were problems with Webb's work, it is a pity that he was so brutally hounded.
His death is a dark end to a dark story.
For those of you who want more details on Webb, below I have posted some of my previous comments on him and his "Dark Alliance" work.
An excerpt from Gary Webb's 'Dark Alliance' Ignored by Dailies
By Cory Zurowski
August 20, 1998
...Scant coverage of stories showing links between CIA-backed jungle patriots and drug trafficking is old news, says David Corn, The Nation editor and New York Press columnist who reviewed "Dark Alliance" for the Washington Post and said the book "has flaws," but also called it "an important piece of recent history."
"Over 10 years ago, [AP reporters] Bob Parry and Brian Barger did a bunch of stories about the government and Contra drug dealers," says Corn. "[Senator] John Kerri's subcommittee that came out a few years later also had evidence connecting the Contras and drugs. In both instances, it was treated as too unbelievable to be mainstream by the Washington press corp. They took and printed what the government wanted and didn't think there was any basis to look anymore into the subject.
"I assume the alternative press is covering this because they're doing their jobs. They're looking into subjects the mainstream media has ignored or hasn't caught onto yet ... If the Washington Post or New York Times had done their job back in the '80s, we wouldn't be talking about this now."
When you're done reading this article,visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent entries on the possibility Senator Joe Lieberman will take over the Department of Homeland Security and The New Republic's new loyalty test for "decent" liberals.
From The Washington Post, August 8, 1998
Following a Trail of Powder
By David Corn
Reviewed: Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, by Gary Webb, Seven Stories, 548 pages, $24.95
In the 1980s, the CIA-backed contra rebels in Central America hobnobbed with drug-dealers, and the Agency and the Reagan administration, obsessed with ousting the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, looked the other way. This is absolutely undeniable. In this past March, Frederick Hitz, then the inspector general of the CIA, testified publicly to Congress that the CIA did not "cut off relationships with individuals supporting the contra program who [were] alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking." Yet his startling admission received practically no notice from official Washington and the national media, which instead were consumed with details (real and imagined) of L'Affaire Monica.
But when the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 ran a three-part series exposing links between contra associates and the Los Angeles crack trade in the 1980s, the major media did pay attention; they assaulted the articles written by reporter Gary Webb. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times each ran pieces critical of Webb's work. The Webb stories were hard to ignore, for they had ignited a firestorm. On black talk radio, hosts and callers decried a supposed conspiracy in which the CIA midwifed the birth of the crack industry. On Capital Hill, members of the Congressional Black Caucus called for investigation. The Mercury News web site, on which the series had been posted, received millions of hits. Webb had begat a national media event.
It had all begun in the summer of 1995, when Webb received a tip from the girlfriend of a drug dealer. Her honey was being tried, and a chief government witness against him was Danilo Blandon, a Nicaraguan who managed his own cocaine ring in California. In court proceedings, Blandon had claimed he had gotten into the coke business to raise money for the contras. Webb started investigating. He soon had evidence that Blandon and his partner Norwin Meneses -- a prominent contra supporter in California with an extensive criminal past in Nicaragua -- had supplied cocaine to "Freeway" Ricky Ross, a pioneering crack kingpin.
The lead paragraph in the Webb series was a shocker: A Bay Area drug ring had "funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency." Webb noted that the contras were in league with "Uzi-toting 'gangstas' of Compton and South-Central Los Angeles" and that the drug dealers "met with CIA agents" while raising money for the contras via drug sales. The articles implied that Blandon was directly wired to the CIA and that Blandon and Meneses had been protected from prosecution because of their usefulness to the CIA.
Webb had a helluva story. But he botched parts of it. He produced little evidence that the Blandon-Meneses ring raised "millions" for the contras or that Blandon was linked to Langley. Consequently, newspapers that had neglected the contra-drug story in the 1980s now devoted much space to debunking Webb. Eventually, the editor of the Mercury News ran a column widely seen as a retraction, and Webb left the paper.
But Webb had committed a highly useful act. He had kicked open an old trunk and discovered it full of worms -- real worms, ugly and nasty. He kept on investigating and produced a book that reflects the positives and negatives of the original series. In Dark Alliance, he fleshes out the drug operations of Blandon and Meneses, and he provides more evidence of their close association to the contras. (Meneses, for example, paid for early contra support events in California.) Webb also places this ring alongside other well-substantiated examples of contra-drug connections: a Honduran general convicted of selling cocaine to finance a murder plot who was supported by Oliver North and other Reagan officials; drug dealers winning U.S. government contracts to supply the contras; the National Security Council plotting with Manuel Noriega, the drugged-up strongman of Panama; the CIA interfering with a major drug prosecution that could reveal contra drug-dealing and embarrass the agency.
Webb reminds us that the Reagan-approved contra program attracted lowlifes and thugs the way manure draws flies. He guides the reader through a netherworld of dope-dealers, gunrunners, and freelance security consultants, which on occasion overlapped with the U.S. government. He entertainingly details the honor, dishonor and deals among thieves. (Sometimes the book reads like a hard-to-follow Russian novel, with a large cast of characters in a series of intricate episodes.) All in all, it's a disgraceful picture -- one that should permanently taint the happy-face hues of the Reagan years.
Again Webb has trouble chasing the money and fails to thoroughly document how much dirty cash Blandon and Meneses steered to the contras. Was it as little as $80,000 or so, as CIA investigators claim Blandon told them? Or was it millions that were instrumental to the survival of the contras, as Webb implies but does not prove? Was Blandon's drug business originally set up as a cash-for-contras enterprise, as Webb depicts it? That's what Blandon has asserted. But there is evidence, as Webb notes, that Blandon may have been a drug entrepreneur years before he hooked up with Meneses. If so, that would cast doubt on his I-did-it-for-the-contras tale and make that claim sound more like an after-the-fact justification.
There are other problems with Webb's account. His threshold of proof is on the low side. In one instance, he passes on -- seemingly with a straight face -- the allegations of a drug dealer who claimed Vice President George Bush met with (and posed for a photo with) Colombian dealers to craft an agreement under which the traffickers could smuggle coke into America if they supplied weapons to the contras. And Webb is indiscriminating in his use of the term "CIA agent," making it appear as if Blandon and Meneses were dealing with James Bond-like officials of the CIA, when actually their contacts were Nicaraguan contras on the Agency payroll.
This may seem like hairsplitting. But it's important when evaluating the CIA's culpability. Webb demonstrates that the Agency collaborated with contras and contra supporters suspected of smuggling narcotics. But were Blandon and Meneses in cahoots with the Agency? The evidence only shows they were part of a dark community with which the CIA was merrily doing business. Another fuzzy point in the story is how Blandon and Meneses both ended up on the government payroll as snitches. Webb strongly hints this was due to their contra work.
But, again, the picture is too murky to come to any firm conclusions other than there was something funny about the government's relationship to this pair.
The book has flaws, but Webb deserves credit for pursuing an important piece of recent history and forcing the CIA and the Justice Department to investigate the contra-drug connection. Alas, the Justice Department has been sitting on its report for months. The CIA released one volume that maintained the Agency was not connected to Blandon and Meneses. But the report confirmed there had been a symbiotic relationship between drug dealers and the contras and that the CIA had ignored that. A second volume -- one with a broader view of the contra-drug mess -- is now being suppressed by the Agency.
With this book, Webb advances his newspaper series and supplies more muck to make a decent citizen cringe. While exploring this covert territory, Webb took a few wrong turns. But he succeeded in pushing a sleazy piece of the CIA's past into public light. The gang at Langley is still resisting coming clean, and these unholy alliances remain in the dark.
By David Corn
June 5, 2000
A few weeks ago, the House intelligence committee released a 44-page report that declared the CIA had nothing to do with the rise of crack in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Why did the Agency need to be exonerated of such malfeasance? Because a controversial 1996 San Jose Mercury News series by reporter Gary Webb exposed a group of California-based Nicaraguan drug-dealers who in the 1980s had supported the Nicaraguan contra rebels battling the leftist Sandinista regime. The contras, of course, had been a pet project of President Ronald Reagan and the covert cowboys he put in charge at the CIA. The headlines on the Mercury News pieces suggested that this particular band of contra backers shared responsibility for triggering the crack wave that wreaked havoc on inner-city communities across the nation. "America's crack plague has roots in Nicaragua war," read the day-one headline. "Shadowy origins of 'crack' epidemic," read the next day's. "Role of CIA-linked agents a well-protected secret until now." Thousands rushed to read the stories on the newspaper's website. The phonelines at black radio talk shows lit up. Members of Congress, particularly those in the Congressional Black Caucus, demanded answers from the CIA. (Even today, the CIA says that its recruitment of African-Americans suffers because of these stories.) The CIA director at the time, John Deutch, felt obligated to attend a town meeting in Watts to deny the charges.
And what passes for investigation in Washington began. The CIA's inspector general examined the allegations of the "Dark Alliance" series. The Justice Department did the same. Not surprisingly, the CIA's own gumshoes -- and those of Justice -- pronounced the CIA not guilty of complicity in the crack explosion. Webb's series had its problems. He had unearthed a good tale of contra drug involvement, but he had not uncovered a definite link between the Agency and these dealers, and his suggestion that this one drug outfit was instrumental to the birth of crack epidemic was far-fetched. Now, the House intelligence committee, nearly four years later, has seconded the verdicts of the CIA and the Justice Department: "The committee found no evidence to support the allegations that CIA agents or assets associated with the contra movement were involved in the supply or sale of drugs in the Los Angeles area."
But the case is not closed -- that is, it should not be closed. The spies' overseers in the House -- the people who keep an eye on the CIA for the rest of us -- also confirmed, in a quiet fashion, the real dirty secret of the CIA: that during the contra war, the Agency worked hand-in-cloak with persons it had reason to believe were smuggling drugs. In a report released in late 1998, the CIA inspector general acknowledged that the Agency, obsessed with its contra mission, had on a number of occasions collaborated with suspected drug-runners. This should have been a scandal in itself. The report provided the details of several examples. It also noted that the "CIA did not inform Congress of all allegations or information it received indicating that Contra-related organizations or individuals were involved in drug trafficking." Put more bluntly: the CIA had covered up the contra-drug connection. A CIA official who served in Central America told the inspector general, "Yes there [was] derogatory stuff [on the contras] ... but we were going to play with these guys." Webb had gotten near this truth. In the middle of the just-say-no Reagan years, a federal agency had indeed struck a "dark alliance" -- not the one Webb had depicted, but one as disturbing. This revelation, though, received scant media attention; most news coverage echoed the CIA's self-exoneration regarding the crack charges.
The House intelligence committee investigation repeats the pattern. The bulk of the report is directed at disputing the crack allegations. But toward the end there is understated recognition that scandalous CIA activity did happen: "As described in Volume II of the CIA IG report, under various circumstances, the CIA made use of or maintained relationships with a number of individuals associated with the Contras or the Contra-supply effort about whom the CIA had knowledge of information or allegations indicating the individuals had been involved in drug trafficking."
Now why does the House intelligence committee have nothing else to say on this front? It preferred flogging Webb one more time to examining the real skulduggery. Moreover, the committee interviewed several senior CIA managers, and these people insisted they could only recall only one single report of contra-related drug-dealing. But with the CIA inspector general having determined there had been many such instances, it's plausible (make that, likely) that these CIA officials did not speak truthfully to the committee. Did the committee's report address this contradiction and the possibility CIA officials had once again withheld information from Congress? Not at all. And the House's report registered barely a blip in the national news media.
When the CIA released the IG report that acknowledged the contra program had been tainted by drugs, Frederick Hitz, then the inspector general, said the study was merely a start: "This is grist for more work, if anyone wants to do it." A year and a half has passed since then, and it is clear that no one in government has the desire to pursue this topic. The House intelligence committee is positioned to do so. But it is more concerned with bolstering the CIA than in providing an independent and thorough look at this ugly piece of recent history. Al Gore could raise the issue -- as a reminder of what happened the last time Republicans controlled the CIA -- but then he would have to explain why his administration has shown no inclination to hold the Agency accountable. George W. Bush is hardly able to complain about lackadaisical oversight of the CIA. When the spies were hobnobbing with suspected drug runners, they were doing so to implement the pro-contra policies of the Reagan-Bush White House. (And the CIA headquarters is now named after George the Elder, who was a CIA director in the 1970s.) It's in no one's interest in Washington to make a stink. The CIA is permitted to slither off. This is not a cover-up; it's a look-away. Reagan and Bush's CIA made common cause with suspected drug thugs and ... no big deal. Nevertheless, it will be worth keeping this nasty episode in mind, for when the ailing Reagan expires, the media hoopla will overflow with praise of the Old Man. Yet nothing that happened in Bill Clinton's Oval Office was as untoward as what went on in Reagan's CIA.
When I read last month that James Rowse--the chairman of Veryfine Products Inc., the juice bottling concern, had died, I thought of how this man's life embodied a much more enlightened era in the history of American business.
When Kraft purchased Rowse's company in early 2004, Rowse set aside $15 million in proceeds that he then distributed to his company's workers. He ensured that all of Veryfine's 400 employees would keep their jobs, and that those with a minimum of 20 years experience would receive an extra year's pay.
In a recent email, Scott Klinger, co-director of the Responsible Wealth project at United for a Fair Economy in Boston, cited other examples of enlightened business leadership. One of his favorites, he said, is Bob Kierlin, founder and recently retired CEO of Fastenal, an Ohio-based public company.
As Klinger wrote, Kierlin took justifiable pride in the fact "that many other employees made more than he did, but he paid employees' stock options personally out of his founder's stock. Kierlin also eschewed the palatial lifestyle...preferring to drive a few hours to visit customers, stay at budget motels, and, much to the chagrin of many colleagues, share a room with associates."
Rowse and Kierlin are exceptions to the rule. We live in times when morality is disdained in corporate boardrooms. The social compact that rested on the idea that honest labor deserves a living wage has all but disappeared.
The Bush Administration and Republicans in Congress have formed an alliance with rapacious CEOs to foster an anything-goes atmosphere. Labor is devalued, fair play is dishonored and greed and corporate ethics have become synonymous. (Is it any surprise that in the 2004 elections, the largest corporate PACs favored Republicans over Democrats by a ten to one margin?)
It was recently disclosed that pharmaceutical giant Merck established a golden parachute for its 230 senior executives so if the company is bought, managers would be able to walk away with three years in salary and bonuses. And three years after the Enron debacle, business groups are fighting a pitched battle with state employee pension funds against reforms which would make future corporate looting of employee pensions much more difficult.
Part of "the problem," as Klinger sees it, "is the stories that corporate executives tell themselves about their worth, relative to the rest of their colleagues. The ‘star culture' has invaded many large company cultures. Executives are convinced that their work is what creates shareholder value and other employees are commodities to be acquired at the lowest possible cost."
Klinger and Responsible Wealth co-director Mike Lapham "lay responsibility for the growing divide between workers and executives largely at the feet of Congress." Congress has refused "to require stock options to be counted as expenses in corporate earnings reports." It has "allowed lavish executive pay in the hundreds of millions per CEO to be deducted as a ‘reasonable' business expense from companies' taxes."
Meanwhile, Congress hasn't even held a vote to raise the minimum wage--stuck at a mere $5.15 per hour since 1996. "Since that time, they've raised their own salaries seven times and doubled the pay of the President," Klinger pointed out.
Moreover, between 1970 and 2001, the top 100 executives' median income increased from 35 times the average worker's salary to 500 times what the average worker makes. In 2003, Bank of America cut 5,000 jobs from its payroll, while its CEO Kenneth Lewis took home $37.9 million.
Things are likely to get worse before they improve. The Bush Administration recently floated a proposal that would cut taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains and give additional tax breaks to big business. At the same time, the White House wants to eliminate federal tax deductions of state and local income taxes and to forbid businesses to deduct the value of health coverage from their tax bills. (Enacting the last change will be "the quickest way to create millions of uninsured people," John Irons, a tax and budget analyst at the Center for American Progress, says.)
Changing the culture of greed and re-establishing a social compact that values work will require serious changes in key policy areas. First, Klinger says, "We need different people on corporate boards. The people responsible for overseeing executive pay are the very same people who themselves are receiving excessive pay."
Second, the SEC should follow through on what it "proposed a year ago, opening up the corporate director election process by allowing shareholders to put forth competitive slates." The idea became "the most commented-on proposal in the history of the SEC, receiving more than 10,000 public comments, over 90 percent of which were in favor. But, "the SEC has yet to issue a final rule because of behind-the-scenes belly-aching from corporate lobbyists," who are threatening to sue the Commission. ("The Soviet Union," Klinger adds, "used to put up one candidate for each elected office and it was thoroughly excoriated for it. Today's corporate elections are no different, and yet we are told this is good governance.")
Third, "the public should no longer subsidize unlimited executive pay." Our laws state that corporations are allowed to "deduct ‘reasonable business expenses,' so let's define what that means," says Klinger. "The Income Equity Act, introduced in the last several sessions of Congress, would allow corporations to deduct for tax purposes corporate pay up to 25 times the pay of the lowest-paid workers. Corporations could continue to pay whatever they wished, but shareholders would have to pay the full cost of huge pay packages."
It's also important, Lapham argues, to understand--and change--the fact that "we live in a winner-takes all society, where individual achievement is honored and concepts like teamwork and community are generally ignored. There is a myth in our society that certain individuals are smarter, more motivated, get up earlier, work harder, take risks…and thereby create wealth all by themselves…We often come across successful individuals saying with a straight face ‘I never got any help from anybody.'"
Such an idea, he says, is absurd. "This attitude discounts the role of society in helping create wealth." It discounts "the role of public education" and "public infrastructure - roads, bridges, airports, etc...What about the role of government in maintaining a legal system and a system of contracts that makes business possible?" If America can form a different answer to the wealth-creation question, it "would lead to radical changes in pay structure, tax policy and health care policy."
It would also go a long way to reclaiming the ideals of hard work and fair play that James Rowse fought to make into reality.