Saturday, December 31, 2011

In the Time of the Assassins


So here we are, hours from 2012.  Will it bring fiscal redemption, a stock market surge, the decompression of sovereign debt?  Is the rapture genuinely imminent?  For those whose chips are properly positioned?

We shall certainly see.  Meanwhile, the world we live in is becoming more and more Byzantine, literally, as in the stagnant and ominous final stages of the Ottoman Empire.  There seems to be a bomb under construction in every basement, a blade behind every arras.  Send whatever you can spare to The Department of Homeland Security.

In 2003 Tree Farm Books published a novel that anticipated a lot of this.  The Nature of the Beast came out of perhaps twenty years of mixing it up with spooks, matching wits with the gentleman spymasters who put together the early decades of the CIA -- my preparation for writing The Old Boys.  The Beast, as shocked members of my wife's family soon came to refer to the book, made its way on several levels.  It was a chase -- a recently retired senior officer from the Agency, Owen Rheinsdorf, was tasked by his patrician ex-boss, Munson Dickler, to hunt down and deal with an operative under contract to the Agency who seemed to be running amok.  The operative on whom this contract was being put out was a young -- late twenties -- socially primitive backwoods kid with a predilection for the young.  Pruitt Rumsey was a child molester. 

Still, the Agency hated to part company with Pruitt because of his uncanny inventiveness and efficiency when it came to his specialty, wet work.  Rumsey was a natural, the sort of assassin his case officer at the Agency could send out confident that the target wouldn't be a problem much longer.  An obituary was all but guaranteed inside of a month or so, usually specifying natural causes.  But Rumsey had recently been arrested and thrown into a local jail for losing control of himself with a seductive little girl, and now he threatened to talk freely unless the Agency intervened.

All this seemed startling -- over-the-top -- when the novel appeared.  It was generally ignored.  The larger theme -- the ethical consequences of a life in the shadows of uncontrolled intelligence work, nicely elaborated during the exchanges between Rheinsdorf and Dickler over the course of the narrative -- never seemed to become apparent to the casual reviewers.  But intelligence professionals understood.   "You have truly captured the dark world of intrigue and crafted a splendid plot," John Waller, himself a much-published historian and for many years the Inspector General of the CIA, wrote me upon discovering the book.

As it happened, throughout the eighties and nineties I formed close friendships with several CIA contract operators who actually took on the sort of missions at which my villain Pruit Rumsey had been so adept.  One, a mild-seeming retiree whose origins were undetectable in several languages, with whom we often overnighted in Connecticut enroute to Manhattan, encountered The Nature of the Beast as he attempted to fight off a cancer.  I got a posthumous note from him thanking me for writing the book, which he maintained he read and reread throughout his terminal months.  Somehow, it provided him a lot of comfort.

So literature can involve some unanticipated rewards.  One now presents itself.  One of the astonishing side-effects of computerization is to permit small publishers like Tree Farm Books to offer a digitized edition, either PDF or HTML format, of both The Nature of the Beast and The Old Boys directly, at a gratifying discount from the cost on Amazon.  Just go to the following variation of the Tree Farm Books site and bring your credit card.  Pruitt Rumsey will all but land in your lap.  The address: .

Good reading.  We will be in touch before long.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

On Productivity


Ho ho ho.  Tis the day before Christmas, and all through the house my children and grandchildren and all the lizards and cucarachas and fruit rats and assorted hangers-on are muttering carols as they eye the giftwrapped boxes and swig the wassail and dart out to nibble on the crumbs of fruit cake that have hit the tiles during the revels of the midday.

The holidays in Florida.  I just returned after acquiring a new cell phone, a gift from our son.  The store manager who sold it to us, a recent immigrant from Durban, South Africa, was extraordinary for his endless patience and total competence.  Clerks these days so often seem a little at a loss as to how to make change, let alone the intricacies of the warranty. 

Which leads me into the subject of the day.  I recently watched Donald Trump bitching about the time he spends grinding his teeth on his phone while some purported technician from Mumbai or the Falkland Islands or wherever attempts to talk him through a series of confusing steps that just might get his computer back on line.  Frequently in an English incomprehensible outside the Third World.  Every subscriber his own electronic repairman. There really aren't a great many issues, political, sociological, what have you, on which Donald Trump makes a lot of sense to me.  But this was one.  I am considering writing Trump in when the Republican primaries reach Florida.

The real point here is the genuine cost, in time, money, and frustration, of the supposed efficiencies many of the Great Corporations have engineered and managed to hang on us. AT&T and AOL might save money offshoring their back-up services, but what is an hour of Donald Trump's time worth?  I know I've brought this up before, but what kind of outcomes does, say, one of my publishers expect when he turns over publicity and promotion responsibilities on my latest book to some sweet, utterly inexperienced -- and unpaid -- intern with an empty rolodex and a lot of apprehension when it comes to dialing up even those individuals on whose radio and TV shows I had appeared a few years earlier, whose contact information I had long since provided.  So the calls don't get made, the opportunities are thrown away, and the new book doesn't sell nearly as well as the earlier book, which got a push from accomplished professionals.  If only, my disgruntled publisher mutters, my latest work was up to the previous book.  But at least he cut his losses in advance by economizing on staff.

What I am obviously getting at is the extent to which our companies, by adopting policies that seem to save money at the time, are undermining a respect for professionalism throughout the economy, discouraging the development of oncoming generations well enough trained -- and well enough paid -- to inherit the work load during the decades coming up, and compromising our industrial future.  These days there is virtually no push-back from the dispirited labor unions.  Our discussion across most of the political spectrum seems to be about what the rest of us can do to help the rich get richer; every year we seem to be pouring more sand into the cement on which the structure of our future is going to depend.  By permitting the lobbiests to shape our tax laws so as to give advantages to the corporations that manufacture and provide services largely overseas, we are expediting the coming economic implosion.  The law school graduate subbing as an unpaid intern in some enormous law factory  -- and sleeping on her parent's couch, and sweating her graduate-school loans -- faces quite a slog. 

Every competent parent knows that he has to invest in his children.  The time is long overdue for our leaders to understand that we have got to invest in all our children.

Let the Holidays roll!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

About Marilyn


Again, a film rumbling through the theaters triggers a blog.  Like J. Edgar, My Week with Marilyn alights on an iconic personality, a name still smouldering with our secret emotions.  The focus, of course, is Marilyn Monroe.  From the moment she wriggled across the screen as Louis Calhern's vagrant mistress in The Asphault Jungle until she literally broke Clark Gable's heart in The Misfits, Marilyn inhabited our fantasies.  Bobby Kennedy would recall his brother Jack, helpless in yet another hospital bed, jacking off to a poster of the naked Marilyn plastered across his ceiling.

The Weinstein brothers have turned reimagining the secret anguish of the English upper classes into an late-life avocation.  What surprised me was how closely the Marilyn Monroe of this film touched on the celebrity herself -- succulent, as manipulative as an empress, apprehensive to the point of neurotic paralysis yet unable to keep from indulging every vagrant appetite.  The plot here concerns the shooting of a film in England, The Prince and the Showgirl, over the course of which Marilyn's bridegroom, Arthur Miller, gives up on her and returns to Manhattan while the star toys with a good-looking young English go-for.

Marilyn off the screen first came to my attention during the nineteen-eighties.  I was digging up the history of the CIA for The Old Boys.  During the 1950s Eisenhower's crusty Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was alarmed when the new postcolonial nations of the South Pacific attempted to coordinate their policies as "neutralists" at the Bandung Conference, which Dulles dismissed as "The Dark-Town Strutters Ball."  Their leader was Indonesian President Achmed Sukarno, a swart, wiry activist in a pitju well known to appreciate the ladies.  According to several sources, the CIA arranged a romp for a Sukarno look-alike with a very energetic blond, which the Agency filmed in Los Angeles and subsequently released around the workl to discredit the disobedient Indonesian before the upcoming elections.  What was an embarrassment to the Presbyterian Dulles was one more proof of their leader's boundless vitality to the Indonesian voters, which returned him to power with a much-expanded majority.  A rumor went around the Agency that Marilyn had done the CIA a favor.

I suppose that nothing I have ever written has upset people as much as my treatment of the 1962 romance between Marilyn and Bob Kennedy in Bobby and J. Edgar.  Like everything else in that controversial book, each episode was built on very hard evidence.  Testimony by Ethel Kennedy's brother is backed up by interview and written material from Peter Lawford.  I myself spent a day with the FBI agent who accompanied Bob around Los Angeles much of that fateful summer.  The details of how Marilyn died is revealed in the important book, Double Cross, by Sam Giancana's brother and stepson.  The Los Angeles Coroner's report -- declassified recently, after forty years -- corroborates the Giancanas' insistence that Marilyn succumbed to a lethel enema.

Like incontrovertible proof that JFK died in a crossfire in Dallas, the final infatuation and murder of Marilyn Monroe elicits disbelief in many.  Americans these days operate according to the precept:  "This can't be true because I don't want it to be true."  At times readjusting reality gets to be a lot of work.  Nevertheless, over the long run, the truth turns out to be a lot easier to live with.  But this is something we are only now beginning to discover.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bill Colby -- Viet Nam Redux


Again, events have overtaken me.  My friend the astute Merle Allshouse has alerted me to the piece in the December 6 Huffington Post by Christina Wilkie.  Filmmaker Carl Colby, the son of ex-CIA Director William Colby, has produced a documentary dealing with the controversial life and -- especially -- the final moments of his father's life.  Colby disappeared in a canoe, leaving his dinner half eaten, into the Wimlico River in Maryland one evening in 1996.  Rumors circulated as to whether he had died of a heart attack, whether he had been dispatched, or whether Colby had taken his own life, an explanation Carl seems to favor.

Everybody familiar with Colby recognized that he was self-controlled to the edge of utterly cold-blooded.  As it happened, I knew Bill Colby fairly well.  The night after he disappeared I appeared on the Lehrer Show to speculate on his whereabouts. Colby had a history freighted with contradictory performances.  He ran the "Phoenix" program in Viet Nam, an initiative which resulted in the arbitrary singling out and assassination of somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 alleged Viet Cong agents, largely on hearsay evidence or to settle village feuds or eliminate prominent Buddhists.

After he came clean before the Church Committee and revealed the Agency's notorious "family jewels," Bill left the CIA and developed a law practice heavy with arms merchants and druglords.  Such clients had played a very important if carefully classified role in the later years of the Viet Nam War itself.  I would guess that they were the ones that did him in.  Nelson Rockefeller had been openly alarmed by Colby's impulse to divulge Agency secrets before committees of Congress -- to "go to confession," as the ubiquitous Henry Kissinger remarked at the time.

The recurrent allegations that Bill Colby might have committed suicide strike me as unfounded -- Colby was a devout Catholic.  The Agency had traditionally done a great deal of business with dope dealers, who supplied a lot of the financial resources stashed away in off-the-books accounts for operations the Congress would no doubt have refused to fund had they ever been disclosed.  Once, when I brought that up with Richard Helms while researching The Old Boys, he literally threw up his hands.  "Don't ask me about that," he laughed.  "You could not overestimate the amount of money we sloshed in and out of bank accounts all over the world."  The presumption was always that the gentlemen operatives at the top of the Agency were far better equipped to decide when to step in and rejigger Third-World governments than those bumblers in Congress.  It could be that his post-CIA legal clients were starting to get alarmed at the possibility that Colby might go public one more time.

The paradox in Colby's case was the fact that he was a very serious Roman Catholic.  Perhaps the extent to which Cardinal Spellman and his like pushed us into Viet Nam -- see my treatment of Vatican politics and the lead-up to the war in Bobby and J. Edgar -- justified Colby's ambiguous moral stance.  Colby personally never gave up on defending our military presence in Southeast Asia, and later wrote a book with the inimitable James McCargar, Lost Victory, to justify his conviction that we were that close to winning over those elusive Vietnamese hearts and minds.

Personally, I always found Colby likeable and a bit shy, but straighforward.  Find and read my piece in The Washingtonian on Colby and Jim Angleton (Sept., 1985, Dragons Have To Be Killed).  Both of these intractable cold warriors are very much front and center in The Old Boys, my group portrait of the first few generations of the American  intelligence community. 

I suppose that it is interesting that the media are starting to heave up these remnants of our disastrous war in Southeast Asia just as we are starting to face reality and extract ourselves from Afghanistan.  As Von Clausewitz said, "Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Goods on J. Edgar Hoover, #4


Salutations.  The Thanksgiving engorgement is winding down, a second  unseasonal blanketing of snow hit New Hampshire (along with a heavy influx of Republican aspirants), and football is getting serious.  Tremors in the stock market suggest a very long winter.

As that embattled movie J. Edgar struggles at the box office to justify its thunderous  publicity, I have a few retreating thoughts to offer about the Director and -- equally valid -- the organization he steamed together.  As I have tried to indicate, while I was pulling together source material for The Old Boys about the origins of the CIA and, later, for Bobby and J. Edgar, I spent a lot of time with veterans from both organizations.  Many ex and active CIA officers and special agents in the Bureau became friends over the course of the several decades I served on the board of the New England Chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.  Inevitably, these years of contact conditioned -- and I hope deepened -- my feeling for who these people were, what motivated them and where they drew their ethical and operational lines. I hope a lot of what I determined made its way into my no-holds-barred CIA novel, The Nature of the Beast.

When hit-and-run reviewers like David Corn accuse me of having gone "soft on Hoover" in Bobby and J. Edgar, what they actually seem to mean is that I have not totally corroborated the caricature of the Bureau's opinionated founder that seized the Left during the McCarthy era.  Hoover was in fact a complicated icon, like Robert Kennedy surprisingly emotional when it came to people he cared about, profoundly committed to preserving the status quo, and -- much more than Robert Kennedy -- respectful of the civil liberties of individuals.  He could be as ruthless as advertised when it came to maligning the likes of Martin Luther King, an activist he perceived as totally immoral, opportunistic, and perilous to the social order.  But when Richard Nixon called on his old friend Hoover to provide the storm troops for what could easily have turned into a coup, J. Edgar walked away, without a qualm. 

There is a fascinating book waiting to be written about a number of the graduates of Hoover's academy,  Bureau alumni who keep turning up to switch the tracks of history.  For example, consider the unlikely career of Guy Banister, once Hoover's Special Agent in Charge in Capone-heir Sam Giancana's Chicago.  Banister, who retired from the Bureau, breaks the surface of events the summer of 1963 in New Orleans running a private detective agency that supports Bob Kennedy's CIA-based spoiling operation against Cuba, Operation Mongoose.  Banister comes up with office space for Lee Harvey Oswald  that summer so Oswald can mount his provocative Fair-Play-for-Cuba campaign.  Giancana's primary fixer, Johnny Rosselli, stops by Banister's headquarters several times. Rosselli has been looking after odd jobs for Joe Kennedy for decades.  Banister and Joe Kennedy's accountant, Carmine Bellino -- another FBI graduate, for whom Joe arranged a White House office once JFK became president -- had shared a business partnership.  Connect the dots.

Another intriguing Bureau alumnus was Robert Maheu.  I got to know Maheu originally in 1992 when I was on the road flogging The Old Boys.  We shared a podium at the Library of Congress, and stayed in touch after that.  Maheu remembered J. Edgar fondly for having arranged a compassionate assignment for him when his mother was dying in Maine.  Once he moved on from the FBI, Maheu -- like Edward Morgan, another onetime special agent -- developed an extensive legal clientele on the fringes of the underworld.  When the CIA wanted a team of experienced assassins to bump off Castro, Maheu hooked the Agency up with Giancana, Johnny Rosselli and Santo Trafficante. Later on Maheu became briefly famous as the public presence of the pathologically reclusive Howard Hughes.  Maheu served as middleman when the mob sold its Las Vegas casinos to Hughes but kept its own operatives in charge, especially when it came to disposing of the skim.  Maheu supervised the arrangement.  Bob Maheu and Howard Hughes did not part happily.

 Hoover himself was careful to maintain the Bureau as an equal opportunity employer.  He himself dismissed the notion of a national crime syndicate until the end of the fifties.  There was a measure of cooperation between the Bureau and a number of the senior hoods, especially when it came to sharing the product of accomplished wiremen like Bernie Spindel.  Once Robert Kennedy became Attorney General the era of laissez-faire was over. 

Rest in peace, J. Edgar.  You are not forgotten.

Burton Hersh

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Goods on J. Edgar Hoover #3


Yes, again, a round with the J. Edgar movie.  I suppose I'm gnawing away on this bone because of a longstanding conviction that even a filmed interpretation of an event or an individual, even an out-and-out biopic, demands fidelity to the established body of history behind it.  In the November 14 New Yorker, David Denby notes that this film came out of a collaboration between Clint Eastwood and "the activist gay screenwriter of 'Milk.'"  That may elucidate a lot of the movie's focus on the slippery and ultimately undefined relationship between Hoover and his longtime associate director, Clyde Tolson.  But it does not explain away the pattern of gross historical misreadings, the repeated and apparently wilful ignorance of facts on which much of the plot is hung.

Last week I cited -- one example among a number -- the scene in which Hoover purportedly appeared before Attorney General Robert Kennedy and threatened to expose his brother the president as an adulterer who did not scruple to conduct an affair with a seasoned prostitute -- Ellen Rometsch in real life -- most likely an East German spy.  The affair was verifiable, I dealt with it in detail in Bobby and J. Edgar.  But it was Bobby who kowtowed before Hoover to get him to intervene with a Senate committee on the point of conducting an investigation because articles hinting at the involvement by the respected Clark Mollenhoff were starting to appear in the Des Moines Register.  Robert Kennedy in effect kidnapped Ellen Rometsch and shipped her back to Germany with an aide.  When I was writing Bobby and J. Edgar I spent a day with Bobby Baker, Lyndon Johnson's trusted sidekick, who pimped for dignitaries on both sides of the aisle, and he showed me letters from the heartbroken Ellen, back in Germany, that testified to John Kennedy's versatility as a lover.

Hoover got JFK off the hook that summer of 1963, but after that there was no more White House talk of replacing the Director.  The previous summer Hoover had answered Robert Kennedy's pleas and stepped in to confiscate the telephone records that proved that Bob had been in touch with Marilyn Monroe -- in fact, had quarreled with her in her house in Brentwood -- hours before her mysterious death.  FBI records document this. If Eastwood's screenwriter wanted genuine drama, how was he going to top that?

A late scene features J. Edgar dictating that famous letter -- "King, there is only one thing left for you to do--"
which urged King to end it all rather than accept the Nobel Peace Prize and then find himself revealed as an habitual consorter with loose -- white -- whores.  Hoover had the proof, and indeed his flunkies in the Bureau had repeatedly attempted to plant this evidence in the newspapers.  The problem was, the Kennedy brothers disliked King and his rabble-rousing as much as Hoover did, and Bob Kennedy had granted Hoover explicit permission to bug and tap the offices and motel rooms of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  All this would haunt Bobby once he ran for president.

As is suggested in Bobby and J. Edgar, Hoover himself was far too adroit to dictate a letter like the one he is shown composing in this movie, urging suicide on King.  The chief of counterintelligence at the Bureau at the time, Ray Wannall, told me that Hoover's Assistant Director for Domestic Intelligence, William Sullivan, had caught that duty.  At that stage Sullivan could be depended on whenever the skies were darkening, most notably during the exposed hours after JFK's assassination, when Hoover was determined to cover the Bureau's tracks.

What I am attempting to suggest here is that the truth about Hoover is a lot more intriguing than anything that made it into this mottled movie version.  Read and find out.

Burton Hersh

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Goods on J. Edgar Hoover, #2


OK, you can exhale, here it is.  My reading on the heavily ballyhooed J. Edgar film out of the Clint Eastwood monolith.  Saw it last night, the first screening once it was released around here.

I guess you'd have to call my verdict mixed.  What I liked best was the effort by the producers to deal with Hoover's life in a serious manner, not present a Hollywood caricature of him solely as a cross-dressing sex freak with a machine-gun delivery obsessed with hunting down nonexistent Communists and making Martin Luther King's life as ugly as possible. Throughout my career I have known well hundreds of FBI veterans, competent and dedicated people, lawyers usually, and I have never known any of them to bad-mouth their controversial founder.  Researching Bobby and J. Edgar I spent days at a time with insiders from Hoover's inner directorate, from Deke DeLoach to Courtney Evans to Ray Wannell.  The picture I got from them was of a frequently troubled boss utterly dedicated to his organization and its men, something of a pushover, who deployed associate director Clyde Tolson to crack the whip or fire agents when Hoover couldn't find it in himself to bear down too hard.  At least a little of this comes over in this movie.

What I liked least was the structure of the movie itself.  It really is hard not to suspect that the producers were overtaken by their release date, and picked whatever had any dramatic coherence off the cutting room floor and spliced it in willy-nilly.  Much of the detail is sloppily researched. An extended takeout on the Lindberg kidnapping in the thirties is interrupted by a face-off between Hoover and Attorney General Robert Kennedy the summer of 1963, during which Hoover pushes paperwork at the startled Kennedy confirming evidence of a liaison in California between JFK and an East German hooker under the control of the Stasi.  (This actually happened, although not in California, and it was Bobby who went to Hoover over the matter to get the FBI director to use his enormous clout with Congress to head off a Senate investigation of the president -- conf. Bobby and J. Edgar.)

In the film, once the yelling subsides, the entire incident is left to hang there and the action returns to the thirties and the apprehension of Bruno Hauptmann, the alleged Lindberg kidnapper.  The uneven adoption of a variety of cinema-verite and arbitrary docudrama techniques, stitched together by voice-over, helps confuse the proceedings. This sort of chronological jumping around happens repeatedly; for somebody unfamiliar with at least the outlines of Hoover's career the result has to be gathering disorientation.

What holds the film together is the progression of the inchoate love affair between Hoover and Clyde Tolson.  This is nicely handled.  How far the two of them went is still a matter of dispute; the scene in which Hoover blurts out that he has been going to bed with Dorothy Lamour in Los Angeles was born and died, I suspect, in the screenwriter's imagination.  Forever a little panicked about Hoover's propensity for blackmail, Bob Kennedy assigned the head of his Organized Crime Section, William Hundley, to bug Hoover's home and office and catch him off base.  "We tried to prove that Hoover was homosexual," Hundley told me.  "That was all bullshit.  You can never be sure, you know what I mean, but I think he was some sort of a eunuch."

Hoover's performance added up to a lot more that a chronic outbreak of right-wing phobias.  When heavy-industry instigators behind the Liberty League and the German-American Bund approached Major General Smedley Darlington Butler to lead a coup against Franklin Roosevelt, Hoover had his people infiltrate the plot and break it up.  Thirty years later, when a resurgent Ku Klux Klan threatened to terrorize the South and undermine the recently enacted Voting Rights Act, Hoover's FBI tore the Klan apart.  I have often reflected that, had there been an FBI in place in Germany to keep the Brownshirts under control, Hitler would never have made it.

In a fundamentally vapid and poorly informed review of Bobby and J. Edgar in The New York Times in 2007, the staffer for Mother Jones, David Corn, concluded that "Hersh goes soft on Hoover toward the end."  He may have had something there.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Goods on J. Edgar Hoover, #1

Dear Countryclients,

The drums are beating, closer every day, and within a week or so the Clint Eastwood saga, J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover will burst across our movie screens.  As it happens, along with Robert Kennedy, the high-powered, cold-blooded founder of the FBI carried a lot of the essential action in my controversial 2007 book Bobby and J. Edgar.  Joe Kennedy was almost always within earshot, usually on the telephone.

My double biography is still in print.  Details as to how exactly Marilyn Monroe died and who orchestrated the shooting of Jack Kennedy, and how, have sustained the buzz.  The book recently moved up from #40 to #20 nationally in the Biography and Memoir category in the Amazon system.

With Bobby and J. Edgar coming back onto cycle I thought it might be a good time to contact the current publisher of the book, Basic Books, and volunteer to help out with whatever publicity the firm thought might be appropriate to spur sales.  The president there got right back, promised to do whatever he could, and headlined the book in his company's current release to bookstores.

This response was noteworthy because it was so unusual.  Publishing today is moribund, barely twitching at its most exalted moments.  Most of the important houses have been gutted of competent staff.  Replying to my publisher at Basic Books I unloaded -- with characteristic diplomacy -- my urgent concerns.  I started out by pointing out what a shell game most publishers were playing with agents and writers.  "The result of all this for writers," I pressed on,"since many agents have become quite cavalier when it comes to tracking down [royalty] specifics and sending along checks, has been to make a difficult profession impossible. The mid-list talent that ultimately supports the industry and produces the durable classics is in the process of giving up wholesale.  It is obviously in the process of being replaced by underpaid reporters and marginal academics engaged to research 'hot' subjects and then turn over their notes to purported editors, often hired at starvation wages from outside the house, who produce the mediocre manuscripts now flooding the outlets. The increasingly alienated reading public finds the results unreadable and will not buy books, for good reason.  Starving out genuinely talented professional writers can only eventuate in the extinction of publishing itself."

All this was venting, of course, but it was also an effort to alert a responsible executive in an increasingly troubled industry as to how it felt from the point of view of that shrinking cadre of committed  literary professionals whose world is drying up around them.  Perhaps the dinosaurs will go last.  But they'll go too, and soon.

More on Bobby and J. Edgar shortly.



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Interest Rate Game


Back from our semiannual resettlement frenzy.  My ruminations this week keep returning to the bad behavior of banks, everywhere and here, which are without a doubt gumming up the arteries of commerce world-wide.  Beneficiaries of the greatest public bailout so far, bankers at every level seem determined to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past by crippling the future.

The NY Times today -- October 25 -- points up the fact that banks all over the country, "flooded with cash," hate to lend it out, pay almost no interest, and indeed are talking about charging worried citizens for storing their savings. Easier for the bankers to park the cash in government securities, collect the difference, and spend the afternoon on the golf course.

That certainly reflects my experience recently.  Seven years ago I signed on to buy a house our son lives in.  My credit rating being top grade, I became the owner of record although he made the down payment and has been making the monthly payments without fail.  With interest rates down, this seemed like a good time to remortgage the property.  I went to our friendly neighborhood bank in rural New Hampshire and broached this possibility.  I had maintained and paid off several mortgages with this bank without incident. 

The portly local bank president heard me out and made a counterproposal.  If I would lock up an amount somewhat in excess of the mortgage I was requesting in a non-interest-bearing account only the bank could invade for the life of the new mortgage, I might secure a marginally reduced mortgage balance for my son.  These terms seemed preposterous -- there would be substantial closing fees and the rest rolled in -- and so I dropped the project, immediately.  During the next few months I discovered that several contacts -- one a recently retired senior executive with a Fortune 500 corporation, another a Houston oil billionaire -- had substantially the same experience with local bank officers.  Give me your watch and I'll tell you the time, as the Polish punch line goes.

We are a nation that has traditionally lubricated its economy with affordable credit. When credit dries up the economy implodes.  During the 1920s, as I pointed out in my CIA history The Old Boys, the determination in Germany by Hjalmar Schacht and his fellow wizards to outsmart the British and the French by making reparations payments in wildly inflated Marks led quickly to the impoverishment of the middle class and the takeover by Hitler.  Whether you hyperinflate an economy or starve it of ready capital, it is the productive, hard-working middle class that suffers first.  Start-ups never get started; promising youngsters never make it to college. Our collective future darkens.

Every new president makes mistakes, but let's review Barack Obama's inclination to protect his flank by positioning spokesmen for Wall Street at the top of his economic management team.  In the Oct. 31 issue of Time Joe Klein points out that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner blocked the overdue effort to break up Citibank (where his Clinton-era predecessor and patron Bob Rubin had gotten a special sinecure with an astronomical paycheck for eliminating the Glass-Steagall provisions which had protected commercial banks from the opium dreams of investment banking since the New Deal).  Geithner stepped on the nomination of the reformist Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Ex head of the National Economic Council, Larry Summers, had prevented the government from regulating the terrifyingly volatile multi-trillion-dollar derivatives market when he was Secretary of the Treasury late in the Clinton Administration.  With reformers like these in charge, it's really no wonder that the economy continues to ride the rollercoaster.

With clown after clown emerging from the jalopy of Republican politics, sane voters are going to have very little choice in 2012.  The best we can hope for is Obama Redux.  Let's hope enough lessons have been learned by then.

Burton Hersh

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jobs #3


The autumn deepens.  The official unemployment levels refuse to budge, while effective unemployment -- people who have given up looking for work, recent college graduates who have simply moved in with the folks and are holed up until better times -- these totals are estimated to approach 25%.  Our economy is stagnant, especially manufacturing.

The blame is commonly attributed to outsourcing, to automation, to the computerization of one white-collar profession after the next.  And this explains a lot -- we are undergoing some kind of technological shift comparable with what went on during the mid nineteen-twenties, when nationwide electrification and the spread of mass-production techniques made millions of laborers, fresh off the farm, unnecessary.  The Great Depression resulted, an agonizing slump it took World War II to remedy.

Now, under constant pressure to crank up "productivity," the great corporations which dominate our industry have moved very quickly to exploit the automation, global computerization and robotic methodologies currently available to create prosperity -- for the corporations -- without paychecks for the workers.  In industries like autos foreign manufacturers have established plants here with the understanding that there will be two-tier wage levels, with a handful of unionized workers and the rest compensated at little better than minimum-wage levels.  When a foreign firm took over a manufacturing facility in North Carolina to avail itself of the trained workers in the area, advanced automation made it possible to operate the company with 500 employees at a site that had previously employed thousands.

Moonstruck with numbers, we seem to be so preoccupied with how many workers are back on some kind of statistical roll that we are ignoring whether a middle-class wage will result as well as what kind of performance the rest of us can expect from our swelling but underpaid working population.  One device that has become increasingly popular is the exploitation of "interns," recent students in the colleges and graduate schools who cannot get any kind of paying job and find themselves conned into sucking up their own living expenses while contributing their skills to a variety of enterprises, from law firms to newspapers, which are pleased enough to get the help for nothing.  Time Magazine estimates that there are now millions of willing if naive youngsters in this expanding Intern Nation.

The problem with paying people little or nothing is that you are likely to get what you are paying  for.  As most of us can testify, attempting to get your computer back on line struggling with an incoherent menu or spelling out each word to some hapless clerk in Bangladesh whose English is shaky can gut an afternoon.  Recently, when a book of mine came out and the publicity chores fell to an intern, I found that she was unable, over months, to make an effective connection with a single one of the several dozen radio or TV or book festival producers with whom I had recently worked successfully and whose names and contact information I had supplied.  With time running out, within a few days I called them all and got onto every show.

What has been happening -- to the internet subscriber and to me -- is that the company or the publisher has in effect been saving money by taking on zombie employees, backloading the responsibility for normal commercial functions onto the customer or -- in my case -- the writer.  Publishers are forever wailing that books don't sell.  One central reason they don't sell is that the talented, well-connected editors and publicity people who knew and were trusted by media producers are mostly out, replaced by unpaid Valley Girls with better things to do.  The reader has been abandoned.

You can replace somebody with somebody else or -- in some cases -- something else.  But you cannot replace somebody with nobody.  What we are headed into is an economy slipping beneath the waves from chronic unemployment and a lot of understaffed corporations that won't be able to compete in the long run.
Ten years from now, there may not be any Wall Street to Occupy.




Sunday, October 9, 2011

Another Date With Hitler


First, sorry to have missed a week.  A quick trip to commiserate with the survivors of my high school class followed -- immediately, too immediately -- by our semiannual trek down or up the Eastern Seaboard ate up the days.  But we are resettled and brimming over.  Bring your mops!

It has become a commonplace on the right to accuse the leadership on the left, especially when pocketbook issues come up, of approximating the tactics -- if not presenting the apparition, the Antichrist himself -- of the risen Hitler.  Posters of Barack Obama have been circulating for some time representing our angular, tawny president with a toothbrush mustache, a manifestation of the Evil that will consume your children and drain your bank accounts.

Somehow the temperate Obama seems to provoke this sort of hallucinated attack, no doubt an outbreak of the vestigial racism that haunts our politics.  But in a way it might be time to pay a little attention to the historical forces that actually did thrust a hysteric like Hitler into control of a desperate society like Weimar Germany and opened the way to the worldwide catastrophe that followed.

Hitler's assumption of power was a fluke, the consequence of a fateful, hair-brained decision by his predecessor as Chancellor, von Schleicher, to drum into power this joke leader of a fading political movement -- the Nazis never exceeded 37% of the popular vote -- and give the shrill little demagogue the opportunity to destroy himself.  Von Schleicher and his Junker colleagues miscalculated badly; Hitler installed Hermann Goering as the Minister of the Interior, let loose his Brownshirt army, and grabbed total control in a Germany too culturally and economically depleted to resist.

I myself arrived in Central Europe, after years of contemplating German history from a university setting, as a Fulbright Scholar in 1955 and spent the next six years in the region living, soldiering, and writing.  Much of post-war Germany was rubble still -- not only East Berlin and Dresden but entire neighborhoods of Frankfurt and Munich.  I lived for some months with a typical German family -- to keep his job, the father had become a Nazi Party member, and fought in both World Wars. Later, in the military myself, I rented a flat from another family of onetime Nazi functionaries. These people, and many others, turned into lifelong friends. 

What kept coming through as I came to know these survivors was what they had been through.  In the aftermath of World War I their world had collapsed.  Unemployment was universal; the Allied reparations policy and the depredations of bankers in New York and London had forced economic technocrats like Hjalmar Schacht to water the Reichsmark until virtually everybody's savings were worthless.  In pre-1914 Germany, the cultural and scientific center of Western thought, a mood of tolerance and respect for the contributions of citizens of every background was expected.  Walther Rathenau, a Jewish economist, had run the finances of the country for the Kaiser. Hitler's own father, a mid-level bureaucrat in the Austro-Hungarian tax collection bureaucracy, had nothing but contempt for anti-Semites, whom he considered declasse.

All this is leading to my historical point.  Bad luck, bad judgement, a lost war and atrocious economic management had led within comparatively few years to the utter erosion of the middle class and fed the rise of the Nazis.  A rich, modernist society characterized by tolerance, invention, and prudent economic management had collapsed internally and produced the sustained nightmare from which my generation has been attempting to recover ever since.  Obama is no Hitler.  But unless we begin to deal with the crisis we face, and replace the short-sighted, greed-driven expectations which activate so many of our citizens with a genuine willingness everywhere to sacrifice and rebuild, our prospects are dimming every day.  We are much closer to imploding than most of us realize.

The new Hitler waits in the wings.

Burton Hersh     

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Vapors of Camelot


Today's subject is delicate.  We will be dealing here with friends, intimate history, how reality is lighted, or obscured.  You'll get the picture.

Last week excerpts from the tapes of a fairly extended interview Jacqueline Onassis gave Professor Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. in 1964 made it onto network television.  The drumbeat of publicity leading up to this feature on ABC indicated that this premature release of many of the tapes was the price Caroline Kennedy was willing to pay if the network would refrain from airing the miniseries on the Kennedys it had already scheduled.  The miniseries ultimately made it onto a secondary cable channel.  While tiptoeing around most of the more contested issues -- Vietnam, Cuba, the unconstitutional tactics of Bob Kennedy's Get-Hoffa Squad -- the miniseries did touch on a surprising amount of heretofore protected information -- how sick Jack Kennedy really was, his tendency to clutch in a crisis, his heedless and politically suicidal womanizing.  Like Joe Kennedy and Jackie Onassis before her, Caroline Kennedy seems to understand instinctively how important it remains to calcify the abiding mythology, to blow the right publicity trumpets.

Well before the Schlesinger/Onassis interview aired there were leaks in the media suggesting potential bombshells.  The Texas oil wildcatters were behind the assassination of JFK.  Lyndon Johnson had a hand.  Having investigated and projected in my controversial book Bobby and J. Edgar my own very detailed treatment of who actually gunned down President Kennedy, and why, I hoped for something new.  But when the hour came these rumors appeared to be unfounded.  Such potentially loaded observations by Mrs. Onassis had obviously been censored out.

I felt for Arthur Schlesinger.  I knew Arthur well; he had been a teacher of mine while I was an undergraduate at Harvard.  For perhaps thirty years, once I began to research the CIA for The Old Boys, I never visited Manhattan -- and I was there often -- without having lunch with Schlesinger, who had served in the OSS and knew the intelligence pioneers well.  Arthur had been recruited as an adviser in the Kennedy White House-- his advice was almost always good but very rarely listened to -- and afterwards he became an important source and a close friend of Robert Kennedy, whose biography he wrote.  Robert Kennedy and His Times was an inspired performance.  But in it Good Bobby was everywhere, and Bad Bobby -- on whom I later lavished a lot of attention -- was nowhere in sight.  Arthur's devotion to the Kennedy crowd ultimately cost him a lot of reputation among historians. At our last lunch he asked me, rather timorously, what I thought of Evan Thomas' biography of Bob.  Thomas' book was capable if quite restrained in its attention to Robert Kennedy's faults -- certainly compared with Bobby and J. Edgar later on.  From what he had heard, Arthur said, he could not bring himself to read the Thomas biography.

For all his legendary prickliness, Arthur Schlesinger had fallen in love with a myth. His passion cost him.  As long as we continue to evade and classify the elements of our own unfolding history, it will cost us.

Burton Hersh

Saturday, September 10, 2011

About 9/11


A national calamity is never an easy subject, supercharged as it invariably is with loss, frustration,
and the haunting awareness that somehow the whole thing might have been headed off.  I am old enough to remember Pearl Harbor, an event which gutshot our national self-confidence and rerouted our destiny.

The catastrophes at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon ten years ago have developed into another such turning point. The effect was so tremendous that almost the entire society lost sight of the fact that we had been subject to what was essentially a fluke.  A handful of educated Saudis and Egyptians had slipped into the United States, taken flying lessons, and highjacked several airliners by threatening their crews with box-cutters -- box-cutters! --  unless they agreed to fly these commandeered passenger planes into designated targets.  Like the limpet bomb stuck onto the side of a U.S. Navy destroyer from a fishing boat or the Third-World embassy bombings, all this was very low-tech, dependent on a lot of luck and an absent-minded adversary.

Worse, we had the intelligence capability to anticipate 9/11. An Al Qaeda planning session in Malaysia had been penetrated by the CIA.  The FBI had picked up on several of the highjackers and one of its senior agents was convinced that he knew the target.  But interagency cooperation was sloppy or nonexistent, and the attackers brought it off.

Attempts by Al Qaeda since -- the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber -- would suggest how bush league Bin Laden and his operatives have remained all along.  Certainly our National Security apparatus has tightened up -- and bulked out to an amazing and perhaps self-defeating extent.  No doubt the worst consequence of 9/11 has been the justification it has seemed to offer our opportunity-seeking industrialists and politicians to pursue our involvement in the Middle East, the projections of power which attracted the attention of the Al Qaeda fanatics in the first place.  Ever contemptuous of reality, Richard Cheney and his following of right-wing fanaticists kept insisting, incorrectly, that Saddam Hussein was behind the attack, and before long would be turning over weapons of mass destruction to his charges.  An aroused if poorly informed Congress went along, and we plunged into the orgy of pointless conquest and senseless nation-building that has been sapping us ever since.

Today we mourn the losses of a decade ago.  This is the moment to consider the lessons we might have learned.


Burton Hersh

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How We Stumble into Wars #2


E-mails have poured in after last week's blog, when I attempted to lift the doormat before all the facts that induced the Kennedy administration to risk its reputation over Cuba could scurry out of sight.  This week I  intend to point up factors that tempted Jack Kennedy to light the fuse on what had been a minor CIA advisory presence in Saigon.  My friend Nick Natsios served as the Agency station chief there during the Eisenhower years, so I had access to many of the details.

The sequence of events that actually led us into the quagmire of Viet Nam is laid out in Chapter 21 of my book Bobby and J. Edgar, and follows the narrative developed by Col. L. Fletcher Prouty, who served as Kennedy's head of special operations -- active spookery -- for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  As Prouty saw it, Kennedy was under heavy pressure to support the million or so Viet Namese Catholics who with U.S. help fled Ho Chi Minh and had been forced into leadership positions in the villages of South Vietnam by the Diem regime.  Diem himself was a family friend of the Kennedys during the years he awaited his moment in a monastery in Maryland and a protege of Cardinal Spellman. Once the indigenous Buddhists began to revolt, President Kennedy ordered the 16,000 helicopter troops into South Viet Nam and our national nightmare was upon us.  Vatican politics, never really acknowledged.

What we had done was to attempt to force our will on one element of what began as a civil war.  We have been attempting a similar form of intervention periodically ever since, playing favorites among the clans and tribes of the Middle East, and we have lost every time.  By that I mean -- we as a nation.  We as interested corporations -- Brown and Root, which built Cam Ranh Bay, to become Halliburton, to morph into KBR, which built billions and billions of dollar's-worth of airfields and dependent-housing-quarters that we are abandoning now in Iraq -- we as corporations made out beautifully.  Our surviving children and grandchildren can deal with the costs. 

My pal and patron of many decades, John Fry, the godfather of the modern ski movement in America, responded to last week's blog with a hard-headed appraisal of what we have taken on in an e-mail that begins:  "..the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and has another 6000 bases in the United States...."  according to the 2003 Base Status Report.  This itemization omits installations such as Camp Bondsteel on Kosovo, built and maintained by Kellogg, Brown and Root, as well as "bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan."

All this while Medicaid benefits are about to be cut back and class sizes in the ghettos are ballooning.

All the best, as always,

Burton Hersh

Saturday, August 27, 2011

How We Stumble Into -- And Out Of -- Wars


This week I hope to provide a few sidelights on what exactly triggers our decisions to make war and make peace and how we deal with the consequences.  This approach was suggested by a piece by Robert Dallek in the current Newsweek, The Untold Story of the Bay of Pigs. The demons at The National Security Archive recently managed to tug loose part of the Agency's own treatment of this grotesque debacle.  When I was interviewing preparatory to writing The Old Boys I talked at length to Lyman Kirkpatrick, ex-CIA Inspector General, whose private and extremely scathing analysis of this historic debacle had started to leak.  I was already putting in dozens of hours overall with Richard Bissell, ex-CIA Chief of Operations and the primary planner of this historic setback, and he was unstinting when it came to blaming himself. See Chapter Twenty-One, The Last True Blowoff, in The Old Boys.

What I did not know, and would not pick up on until I was deep into the research and interviewing behind  my controversial treatment of the back-door Kennedy administration, Bobby and J. Edgar, was the extent to which the interests and prejudices of the Kennedy family itself contributed to its obsession with Cuba.  Once, queried as to his hesitation to support Jack Kennedy as a presidential candidate -- was it his Catholicism? -- , Harry Truman cracked: "It ain't the Pope, it's the Pop!" 

He meant, of course, Joseph P. Kennedy, whose gangland affiliations and propensity to put his pocketbook first --  as Ambassador to Great Britain Joe had speculated against the wavering Czech currency while England was trembling and Hitler's armies were marching into Prague -- were notorious in political circles.  Before Castro came into power Joe Kennedy reportedly maintained serious holdings in Cuba, from the Casino at the Hotel Nacional to the Coca Cola franchise for Havana.  During the runup to The Bay of Pigs, Joe had gotten involved personally in helping secure bases around the Caribbean at which the ill-fated 2506 Brigade could train, at one point hosting General Anastasia Somoza, the brother of the dictator in Nicaragua, in his Manhattan offices.

Even after the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs the administration's determination, at any cost, that Communism would not survive "ninety miles from our shore" inspired one foolish gamble after the next.  Mafia bigwigs were paid off to murder Castro. A fruitless campaign of sabotage and propaganda against the island directed personally by Robert Kennedy, Operation Mongoose, ultimately came to nothing, although at great expense. The Soviets moved their missiles in as our threats turned defeaning.  The Kennedys were apparently preparing another assault by disenchanted Cubans, "C-Day," when JFK was gunned down, two developments not unconnected.  Perhaps when the Agency finally releases the last volume of its institutional workup of the Bay of Pigs we'll know our own history better.  It's only been fifty years.

Many years later, at a series of dinners in Moscow with several of the top generals in the KGB, I would discover how dangerous that game had become.  These officers were on the planning staff that was gaming the Soviet response if -- as our Joint Chiefs urged Kennedy -- we had simply obliterated the Soviet missile launching pads in Cuba.  The Russians all assured me that their military was under orders to take out all the cities of our East Coast with their Bison Bombers and atomic weaponry should we attack Cuba. Perhaps Jack Kennedy -- and Robert Kennedy -- performed their most enduring service in office by standing up to Curtis LeMay and the Strategic Air Command.

A lot of the pressure on the Kennedy brothers came out of the anti-Communist hysteria of the time.  The Republican Right, whipped up by treacherous blowhards like Senator Joseph McCarthy -- a protege of Joe Kennedy and a suitor for a time of his daughter Eunice -- had continued to castigate the Truman Administration for "Losing China."  Nobody wanted to "lose Cuba" or, shortly, Viet Nam. Yet what seems most remarkable about these costly and pointless adventures is how fast our ruling circles -- and almost all our citizens --  forget.  Fifty years have passed, and Castro's delapidated regime is still in place, largely ignored here.  Viet Nam -- Communist Viet Nam -- is one of our most valued trading partners.

Again:  Why are we in Afghanistan?  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Jobs #2


Salutations.  As perhaps a few of my readers may remember, it has been my intention with this blog to chew away on subjects rarely dealt with in the media -- "What's Left Out" -- , and that hasn't changed.  I am returning here for one last -- I hope -- attempt to deal with what is only too hot a topic these days, Jobs, because it is so important and because a number of you have gotten back to me, mainly on e-mail, to agree with -- and challenge -- whatever conclusions I reached.

It seems to me that the intractability of the jobs numbers is the consequence of a number of rising trends and unattended if highly exploitive practices which now characterize what's left of our economy.  It is much trumpeted that the American corporations are doing very well despite the recurring recession.  This is attributed to their advances in "productivity."  But productivity, examined day by day, is achieved by firing employees in America and replacing them with machines or much cheaper workers overseas.  As the principal executive at Bain Capital, Mitt Romney specialized in profitably downsizing the work force in companies he and his partners bought out.  What might we expect from a Romney presidency?

But there are larger elements in play.  Howard Schultz, the head of Starbucks, noted on the air recently that there are now nine million Americans working in manufacturing and thirty million working for the government, local and federal, from mail carriers to four-star generals.  If this isn't de facto socialism, where would we find it?  As is increasingly noted, the result has been that the trade union movement has largely collapsed, the judiciary and the Congress is increasingly corrupted, and special interests continue to hollow out the laws and mythologize the easily verifiable -- Global Warming -- to our inevitable disaster.

Meanwhile, entire professions have disappeared overnight.  Outside the mansions of the superrich the category of backup work that once occupied millions of people -- maids, cooks, personal assistants -- has largely disappeared.  Clerical jobs have also thinned out -- even the most exalted communicate by e-mail, I myself carry on direct running exchanges on the internet with individuals who range from CEOs of giant corporations to a Saudi prince.  Old ladies wear electronic alert buttons around their necks and let their paid companions go.  Jobs, millions of jobs.  Joe Nocera opened a NY Times column on August 16 by observing that, during the 2008 financial crisis, German companies instituted a program known as Kurzarbeit, short work, and government subsidies helped by supplementing the workers' paychecks.  Imagine getting that one by the Teabaggers.

Special favors are destroying the federal revenue stream. To pump up profits for a handful of corporations we have diverted or cut off the revenue flow we will have to have to support the entitlements programs on which most Americans depend.  Trillions of uncollected tax dollars are sequestered in corporative accounts overseas, where they have shipped American jobs, while their executives engage in tantrums in the press, demanding another Bush-era "tax holiday" so they can repatriate the money and fatten their own remuneration packets.  Because this works for a handful of exporters, our tariff level vis-a-vis China is two percent, while the Chinese exact an eighteen percent tariff on American goods, which provides them a lot of cash with which to pile up American bonds.  The Koch Brothers continue to observe from the wings, writing checks and applauding.

Down in the American street, millions are washing into poverty.  One neighbor of mine, a roofer, has been so devastated by brutal property taxes and his effectively unregulated insurance requirements that he has given up his business.  He staved this off for a few years by picking up an adjustable-rate subprime mortgage on his house, but inevitably the interest rate was jacked up until it approached twenty percent and he is awaiting foreclosure.  His family has fallen apart, and there is no way out. Multiply his case by millions.

Meanwhile, we attempt to inflict what we call civilization on the angry tribesmen of Afghanistan at the American taxpayer's expense.  A trillion-dollar stealth fighter-bomber program we have been pursuing for decades has produced a plane that is unflyable.  But there is not going to be enough money in the federal treasury before long to continue with Medicaid.  What will be left to defend?

But you get the idea.  Cheers!



Saturday, August 13, 2011



First, and emphatically:  I'm no economist.  I've looked at the ideas of a good many economists over the years, from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman, and anybody who has immersed himself in contemporary history as I have can't remain completely oblivious to the underlying economic shifts, the tectonic plates which underlie the frenzy of politics.  Still, look elsewhere for professional comment.  For what they're worth, here are my ideas.

We may be passing -- and faster than we can deal with the upshots -- from one era during which certain economic arrangements kept things reasonably stable into another, a time when the implicit longstanding social and financial tradeoffs simply will not work going forward.  As a species we have done this before, as when we developed from migrating hunter-gatherers into farmers and ranchers, or feudal landlords into mercantilist adventurers.  Now -- riding on the explosive science and technology which are the great achievements and challenges of our time -- we may be attempting to contend politically with profound changes for which the old procedures are largely irrelevant, like people struggling to deal with a massive earthquake by passing a municipal ordinance.

The politics of our time is based on the interaction of different interest groups who elect public officials or influence public officials to give them the handouts they want. Everything we are fighting over -- the entitlement programs, subsidies for the oil boys, a bloated military and intelligence community and the constant itch to "project power" and rebuild other people's countries -- comes out of that.  Here in the United States we are living in the hollowed-out remains of a gigantic industrial and financial colossus that emerged from World War II, much of which we have relocated offshore or turned over to automated machinery.  Even in the white-collar professions, ambitious graduates get out of law school and find that the only jobs available are as unpaid interns, while underpaid clerks on the internet in New Delhi deal with the discovery research which once justified the American firms in taking on new associates.  Soon advanced computer programs will replace the flunkies in India. 

This sort of thing leaves a permanently underemployed and fast deteriorating middle class in America to find whatever existence it can on our economic margins, too often demanding public assistance. Because of radical advances in medicine our citizens are living perhaps twenty years longer -- assisted by expensive medical procedures -- and running up Social Security and Medicare obligations for the government.  Many trillions are now projected.  The fantastic profits resulting from these technological breakthroughs and the exploitation of world markets has drifted almost entirely into the hands of the most fortunate 5% -- some say 1% -- of our citizens, the most venal of whom utilize it to propagandise the susceptible masses, grab off more favorable treatment by their intimidated government, buy the Supreme Court, and stifle even the suggestion of a more equitable taxation pattern.

Liberal boilerplate, I know.  But all this is moving us toward revolution, quite possibly some sort of collectivist nightmare very few of us really want.  If radical change comes, the billionaires will go first.  Before that happens, perhaps we should think this through.  Why not a permanent, federally funded jobs program to rebuild our collapsing infrastructure and backstop the economy?  FDR did it. Why not a thirty-hour work week, like -- shudder! -- France?  If machines are increasingly doing the work, shouldn't the average citizen benefit to some extent?  There is quite probably a reason why the societies of Northern Europe -- which have let the public-private equation evolve while we have paralyzed our own political progress -- are excaping the current financial meltdown.  Not very long ago we went to the moon.  Today our bridges are collapsing.  When will we summon up the nerve to stop cannibalizing our young?



One last thing.  The reader who wanted me to validate a Ted Kennedy quote can reach me on my internet address,  I will reply.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

When Populism Goes Feral


Having neglected this blog to a certain extent while attacking the last chapters of the novel that has been throttling my summer the way a terrier does a rat, I hope to catch you all up now.  It's time to elaborate on my earlier elaborations.  Run for the exits, now, before the second paragraph heaves into view!

It may be that I was a little bit on edge about being termed a "lefty."  This was partly because I'm not, but it was also partly because I have spent a fair amount of time drifting around in societies ostensibly organized around "socialist" principles.  Starting in the nineteen fifties I began to drop into, cultivate friendships inside, hitchhike through, and in general draw my own conclusions  about what were called at the time the "Iron Curtain" communities.  These came to include East Berlin, Poland, East Germany, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and -- this was after the Berlin Wall came down -- Moscow, which I was invited by several ex-KGB generals to visit as an intelligence journalist.

Very little I ran into persuaded me that pure socialism -- that is, communities in which, as Karl Marx put it, the government alone owned and operated the 'means of production,' (factories, mines, etc.) -- had much of a future, there or here.  What I kept encountering was unbelievable environmental degradation and pervasive thought control, police states with terrified and unproductive and increasingly restive populations.  "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work" was one prevalent explanation for the pitiful standard of living.

A section of the novel I just finished takes place in Cuba, which gave me the first opportunity to think about this fossilized remnant of what was once an egalitarian dream since dealing with the forces behind JFK's botched invasion of the island in Bobby and J. Edgar.  To understand what day-to-day life in the Pearl of the Antilles is about take a look at Havana Real by Yoani Sanchez, an gutsy and penetrating stay-behind  in rotting Havana.  Before Castro, under Fulgencio Batista, as Ben Corbett has written, "Soldiers shot and killed humans as if they were rodents.  The dinner conversation revolved around which politicians should be assassinated."

Nether Cuba holds much of an attraction, at least for me.  Both demonstrate what happens when one interest group in the population, whether an entrenched bureaucracy or a coalition of dominant property-holders, assumes all power and rules a society exclusively to advance its perceived immediate interests.   Reality gets blocked out -- Hitler was Stalin's soulmate in 1940, and Tea Party candidates like Michele Bachmann characterize global warming as a "hoax."

Only genuine pluralism, whether economic or political, in which competing ideas and interests can keep the process engaged enough to permit at least a minimum of truth to leak into our media, can give our flagging democracy a chance at survival.  Right-Wing think tanks are pushing model legislation on dumbed-down state governments which would outlaw collective bargaining and install right-to-work laws in much of the country.  What is left of the American labor union movement -- the historic counterpart to the corporate lobbying Leviathan -- is already a remnant, beaten to its knees and acceding to "two-track" contracts that undermine its surviving membership.  Wherever outsourcing isn't practical, robots do the heavy lifting.  The chairman at General Motors was pleased to point out the other day that labor costs have fallen to10% from  25-30% of the cost of most completed vehicles.

Where is this taking us?  Where are the jobs and the consumers supposed to come from?  Where will the middle class have gone?

If you know, by all means let me hear.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Socialist America


Again, another mile or so on the slow slog toward rationality.  I have just finished my electrifying new novel, so I am free to lecture you helpless victims about matters that ought to be obvious at this point.  Therefore:

Not long ago my wife's adventurous step-brother, John Townsend, commented on the way I bristled at being termed a "leftie" by Steve Mumford by suggesting that I had probably overreacted.  He himself was a little concerned that the Republican Hard Right was calling Obama a "socialist."  Socialism, after all, is anathema to the American Way.

As the astute Fareek Zakaria noted in a recent Sunday morning commentary on CNN, the fact is, federal agencies have always played a major -- very often a dominating --  role in America's economic development. From the first Land Grant and Homesteading Acts to the Louisiana Purchase to the underwriting of the transcontinental railroad to herding the Indians onto reservations to picking a fight with Mexico so we could acquire the Southwest to taking over heavy industry during both World Wars -- both times putting Bernard Baruch in charge -- to overseeing the production of the aircraft carriers and B-17s that destroyed the Japanese Navy and the Nazi industrial capacity (taking out Peenemunde alone ended German ball-bearing production, and grounded the Luftwaffe) -- all government initiatives and control, all vital to our survival and development.  More recently the Manhattan Project provided our Cold War atomic defense structure, NASA landed us on the moon, federal research produced the internet, the National Institute of Health has come up with most of the real breakthroughs in modern medicine.  And as for education, etc....

It would be hard to find a society this side of the old Iron Curtain in which governmental initiatives and collusive management have played a larger part historically.  By far the greatest beneficiaries of this overwhelming involvement of the public sector have been the lions of private industry, where the utilization of a wealth of patents and the enormously lucrative contracts and the world-wide protection of  both the American military and the intelligence services -- which have regularly functioned as collection agencies for threatened American corporations -- have produced generation after generation of augmented profit.
This arrangement goes back a number of generations.  In The Old Boys I went into detail as to how all this destroyed working democracies in Nicaragua and Iran, the sort of toxic collusion that Dwight Eisenhower was referring to in his late-day warnings about the intent of the "military-industrial complex." The stacked-up profits this strategic alliance have produced have increasingly been protected from federal taxes in foreign tax havens. Heavy federal subsidies have gone to influential companies, from coal and oil to airlines to agribusiness.  Jobs -- at first blue-collar and increasingly white-collar -- have gone off-shore by the millions.  A system of loopholes, lobbyists, and a stacked federal court has evolved to protect these privileges.

As the government's recent response in rescuing the banks and the auto companies would suggest, the protections of a Socialistic society will be extended automatically to the special interests after they have blundered into insolvency.  The rest of us -- prepare for legislated pauperization.  What little the "entitlements" have promised is on the legislative chopping block. The Trade Union Movement in America is all but destroyed.  Part of the Second World already, it's going to be a fight for us to hang onto even that.

Have I cheered you up?

Burton Hersh

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Embedding and Coopting


It had been my intention to fire one of these things into the blogosphere no more often than every week or ten days, tops.  Also, I hope to deal in subjects, ideas, not personalities.  I focused in one blog not long ago on the distinguished and courageous journalist Dexter Filkins not to defame him in any way, but rather to suggest that his years as an "embedded" reporter for The New York Times prevented him from asking the large questions -- especially about the economics underlying our occupation of Iraq -- which might have helped his readership (and his editors) better comprehend the rationale behind our involvement.  Free of The Times, Filkins judges our involvement in the area as a disaster of "mismanagement."

That is certainly a start. Even now the motivations that pushed us into that feckless project are becoming clear enough -- we went into Iraq because it looked like easy pickins on the ground, because important players in our military-industrial complex were running out of work and needed a secure base in the Middle East, and because there was all that oil.

If that sounds like leftie talk to students of this blog, what can I say?  A couple of times recently Steve Mumford has dressed me down for impugning the integrity of our brave journalists. Mr. Mumford, I discover on Google, was himself an embedded artist in Iraq, a painter of recruiting-poster-style renditions of street scenes and battle tableaux during our years of embroilment. Having been himself embedded, Mr. Mumford is no doubt qualified to speak for others on whom such unavoidable limitations have been imposed.  I welcome his input.

But to dismiss my observations as the sputterings of a "leftie" suggests that Mumford has skipped his homework.  I have been an independent writer and journalist my entire professional life.  Independent politically and independent intellectually.  I've been under attack from the left for going after the Kennedy family in Bobby and J. Edgar by suggesting that they cherished Joe McCarthy (Eunice almost married him) and going "soft on Hoover" (David Corn in the Times).  Right-wing commentators -- and the Agency itself -- were infuriated by my insistence in The Old Boys that the Eisenhower-era CIA was duped unceasingly by the KGB, which planted virtually every scrap of information about the Sovier Union on which the Agency based its appraisals.  In fact, Dick Helms was my source for a lot of that, and James Jesus Angleton remained a friend until the day he died.

Mumford suggests that I am "surprisingly thin-skinned" about "the term 'leftie'; I didn't call you a commie after all.'"  I suppose; I didn't call Mumford a Nazi, which no doubt covers me with glory.  As far as I am concerned, that is not the point.  Mistakes are mistakes, on every level.  At the recent Republican candidates' debate almost every participant pushed to get out of Afghanistan, faster.  Ron Paul -- who has the credentials -- wanted to clear out yesterday.  This is about initiatives, not labels.

Good luck to all of you in August,


Monday, July 25, 2011

Why Are We In Afghanistan -- #2


Back at it.  I am in what might very well turn out to be the last week of drafting a new novel, and so am a bit preoccupied with that.  Still, a number of you have responded to my remarks about our involvement in Afghanistan and the reportage by the esteemed Dexter Filkins, so let's do another round.  This is an important subject.

My St. Petersburg friend, the legendary educator Merle Allshouse, observes about my having remarked that Filkins avoided answering my questions about who profited from the oil liftings in Iraq throughout the war and who will inherit the fifteen or sixteen massive airports we are about to leave behind with the comment  "Yes, and sometimes it takes a lot of courage and maturity to say 'I don't know....'" The point is, I wasn't questioning Filkins' courage.  I was questioning his enterprise.  After stumbling into a war which Vice President Cheney assured us we would be able to underwrite out of the proceeds from selling the oil in the region, it would seem to me that an alert reporter might wonder how that was panning out.  Even if his editors in New York weren't asking.

As another of my correspondents, Bob Dardenne, points out, even "The NYT has shown itself to be quite capable of towing the party line -- the lead-up to the Iraq war, for example, biting, as did most mainstream media, on the WMD issue and later apologizing for it."  Too true, and to be respected, except for the fact that all through the leadup to the invasion international inspectors were combing out Iraq and not finding the weaponry we preferred to imagine existed.there.  My own CIA contacts certainly thought the WMD claims were bogus at the time.  Where were the American media?

Another reader, Steve Mumford, opens cheerfully by asserting that "I think your reasoning is simplicistic, and I assume that you have never worked as an embedded journalist yourself."  He feels that reporters cannot get it right "all the time."  While I have never been "embedded," I did spend several years in the military running a mobile radio station in the tripwire system along the Czech border and translating NATO documents during the fiercest years of the Cold War.  I worked with journalists and German functionaries regularly, and ultimately had a long career myself as a magazine journalist.  To maintain that journalists are justified in avoiding asking embarrassing -- to Washington -- questions because the work is dangerous or because they can't be everywhere at once begs significant issues.  Neither Ernie Pyle nor I.F. Stone were ubiquitous, yet both homed in on problems in such a way as to compel public solutions.  Mr. Mumford concludes that he "tires of lefties casually dismissing the courageous and difficult work of reporters" as "morally compromised because they were embedded."  Who said anything like that? To dismiss someone with whom one disagrees as a "leftie" is as telltale as dismissing a conservative critic as a "fascist."  The term reveals all you need to know about the writer.

Another good friend, Richard Cummings, attributes our current embroilment to the fact that "After the Russians were forced to withdraw, America did nothing to help rebuild the country, which led to civil war." There is no doubt some truth to this.  The larger question -- which the polls suggest Americans are now prepared to answer -- is whether any appropriate amount of military or "nation-building" effort in many, many parts of the third world is going to accomplish much more than bankrupt us and leave us with hundreds of thousands of terribly damaged youngsters to nurse at public expense through the rest of their lives.  Can we afford this?

Best to y'all.  Keep writing.


Thursday, July 14, 2011


And Countrywomen.   And Countrydogs and Manatees and Cockatoos and anybody else interested.  I always use Countrymen as a generic term.  It means:  You All.

My subject for today is the working press, its importance to us all as well as its increasing vulnerability and sometimes its foibles.  I expect to focus here on one significant member of our Establisment of Scribblers, the much-celebrated newsman Dexter Filkins.

A little background first. For a number of years Filkins covered the Near East for The New York Times, especially the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a lot of what we were able to discover about what was actually going on in that tortured corner of the world we found out through Filkins.  A brave and comparatively independent-minded reporter, Filkins was regularly "embedded" with our forces in the region, and a great deal of his reporting dealt with the stresses and triumphs and repeated acts of bravery that characterized our grunts on the ground. Filkins was also able to find his way among wartorn Iraqi civilians, especially in the villages, and his best reporting offers dozens of vignettes full of snapshots of their lives, their gutted houses and destroyed careers and hopelessness about the future.  Many of his most astute observations made it into his very effective book of essays, "The Forever War."

While he was working for the Times, and needed Department of Defense accreditation to get anywhere near the action, the tone of Filkins' reporting was, for the most part, affirmative.  Upending Sadam Hussein was justifiable, our military on the ground and their commanders in the Pentagon knew what they were doing, this would be a long slog but no doubt a necessary one.  Embedded once more in Afghanistan, Filkins kept a sharp eye out but beat the mandatory drum. 

Now, liberated finally from the policy guidelines of the Times, Filkins has moved over and become a staff writer for the somewhat less establishment-obligated New Yorker.  Filkins wrote the opening bit in the recent July 4, 2011 Talk of the Town. Paragraph by paragraph his observations amount to a litany of the hopelessness of our predicament, summing up the rotten prospects of a hopeless enterprise and concluding by quoting Obama's statement that "These long wars will come to a responsible end."  "That's an appropriately tortured construction for two badly managed occupations," Filkins concludes.  "As a prediction for Afghanistan, though, it seems more like a prayer."

I lay this out not to emphasize particularly that Filkins has moved over from the boosters to the jackals but rather to suggest how the system seems to work.  To be embedded is to be closed off, obligated, expected to tow the propaganda line.  Moreover, it implies that the focus of one's reporting will remain on subjects and approaches satisfactory to the military-industrial propaganda mill.

I am reminded of all this reminiscing about my own two recent brushes with Filkins.  It happens that I am a member of the Tampa affiliate of the Council on Foreign Relations.  Filkins has a close friend in the Bay area, and twice -- in 2007, I believe, and 2010 -- he has been generous enough to address our group.  He is an off-the-cuff speaker, personable but inclined to stick to his subject.  After both presentations I had the chance to ask him questions.  In 2007, with the overall military situation in Iraq under control, there were reports that three million barrels of oil a day were being lifted in the southern oil fields there.  Who was doing the lifting, I asked, and where was the money -- oil was approaching the $100-a-barrel  price, which suggested a $300,000,000 daily gross for somebody -- where was all that money going?

He didn't really know, Filkins was free to admit.  That was not something his bosses in the Times newsroom had asked him to look into.

By 2010 Filkins was based in Afghanistan.  Iraq was winding down, we were pulling out.  Filkins was quite straightforward about decrying the shifting and increasingly treacherous deal-making that characterized the Karzai regime -- a reflection of State Department leaks to keep the pressure up on the Afghan president.  I asked about Iraq.  We had built, according to the papers, fifteen city-sized bases in Iraq with mile-long runways to accommodate the supertankers and heavy bombers the Pentagon seemed to think we would require in the region.  These installations cost the American taxpayer billions, probably hundreds of billions of dollars.  Once we had withdrawn, which individuals or government entities in Iraq were going to wind up with these enormously valuable properties?

Filkins didn't know.  That wasn't in the playbook either.

I am taking the opportunity to dig into all of this not to embarrass Filkins, who is one of the best of his breed, but to suggest how our system manages the news and accordingly invites terrible initiatives and reckless decisions every one of us has to pay for later. We don't ask the right questions until it is too late. 



Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why Are We In Afghanistan?


President Obama's announcement last week that we would be drawing down perhaps 10,000 of our regular military in Afghanistan by the end of the year started me thinking back about how we got involved there in the first place.  Predictably, the Republican warhawks who see after the interests of the military-industrial complex were outraged that we would break and run like this and attacked the president who, after all, himself mandated the "surge." They had already forgotten that it was Obama who ramped up this war after taking office, adding most of the roughly 150,000 U.S. military currently in-country.  To these ought to be added the perhaps 100,000 "advisers," mostly highly paid ex-military who constitute a very heavy drain on our deficit-plagued budget.

The problems anybody was going to face in Afghanistan were never a mystery around Washington.  An ex-State Department professional reminisced to me once about his time in Kabul during the years of the Russian occupation. Languishing in his hotel one rainy Sunday, he was invited by his Afghan counterpart to join a party and watch the afternoon's entertainment.  A woman supposedly taken in adultery was being held in a compound in one of the suburbs.  At the appointed hour, this diplomat and his colleagues were scheduled to stone the woman to death.

There remains a cultural disjunction between Afghan society and ours. There was a great deal of celebrating around Langley at the outcome of "Charlie Wilson's War," the CIA-managed effort to drive the Soviets and their brutal policies and their Hind armored helicopters out of Afghanistan with Stinger missiles and Agency- trained insurgents.  It has been largely forgotten since that the cadre we trained up included Osama bin Laden and Gulbudin Hekmatar, no doubt the two most ingenious and damaging gadflies we have had to contend with ever since.

Once the Soviets had cleared out of Afghanistan a contingent of CIA professionals moved in and installed a government in Kabul controlled by the Northern tribes.  This meant the Pashtun majority were largely denied much of a voice in their own governance.  A power vacuum opened up, with the potential for a civil war.

I recently chatted for a while with a general from Tajikistan.  He attributed the rise of the Taliban to the repeated efforts during the nineteen-nineties by an oil consortium led by Unocal to negotiate the construction of a north-south pipeline through the mountains of Afghanistan to transport the petroleum being discovered in the oil-rich territories of the newly independent Muslim nations along Afghanistan's northern borders -- the "Stans" -- directly south without having to contend with the harrassing policies of Russian bureaucrats.  This initiative never worked out, but, while preparing to exploit this valuable concession, the oil companies enlisted the poppy-growing Taliban Mullahs and warlords and instructed them in the rudiments of modern guerilla warfare in hopes that they would work out as mercenaries willing to protect the envisaged pipeline. The Taliban leaders moved on to occupy the power vacuum and made common cause with the Pakistani Secret Service, the ISI, which intended to exploit them as a buffer against the Indian forces to the east.

How we are to be expected to forward our national purposes inside this snake pit of ancient animosities has never been explained to the American people.  Al Qaeda is long gone. Afghanistan's corrupt President Karzai, openly negotiating with the Taliban,  has recently accused the U.S. forces of functioning as "occupiers," and invited us to leave.  We ought to take his good advice, and quickly.

Best to you all,

Burton Hersh

Sunday, June 12, 2011



I had intended to let this blogger format settle in a little bit before tiptoeing into the minefield of the JFK assassination. But last night, watching a two-hour History Channel rendition of the purported facts surrounding the shooting of John Kennedy, I found myself yelling back again and again at the television screen, not behavior I generally indulge.  Plainly, my time had come.

What I objected to was a simplified rendition of the Warren Commission conclusions, abetted by a confident-sounding voice-over stream of commentary intended to pick off any critics who might have threatened to unsettle the conventional presentation over the years. It may be that the History Channel producers were attempting to make amends for treatments of the events their own producers let slip into the programming during years past -- public funding is harder and harder to get.

I remember one very controversial episode built around a sort of Walpurgisnacht party at Clint Murchison's estate outside Dallas the night before the assassination at which Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, and Richard Nixon all supposedly celebrated the imminent demise of the Kennedy administration.  Within weeks the History Channel was compelled to repudiate that one.  Then there was the recent soap-operatic series on the Kennedys that was aborted recently when Caroline Kennedy and Maria Shriver weighed in in time.  Too much reality there, starting with the presentation of an indecisive JFK incapacitated by drugs and illness much of the time, controlled by his father, and struggling to reestablish his manhood by running amok among the ladies.

Certainly the current Warren Commission apologia ought to propitiate the keepers of the whitewash.  Even within its own body of statements the documentary is full of contradictions. For example, the narrator states early that Oswald had time to get off three shots, the first of which missed and chipped a curb.  The next two purportedly passed through the president's neck and back from behind.  Later on, when it has become plain that even these apologists will have to deal with the fact that Kennedy's brains were blown away, a fourth shot, a supposed entry wound, is identified at the crown of the president's head. There is no mention of the testimony of Kennedy's surgeons at Parkland Hospital and later during his autopsy in Bethesda that he sustained an entry wound in the right front temple that blew out much of his brain and the top of his skull, which Jacqueline Kennedy is seen scrambling after in the Zapruder footage.

There really isn't much point in developing too thoroughly the contradictory evidence here, all of which I laid out in the text -- and backed up in the notes -- of my 2007 book Bobby and J. Edgar.  Minor points, like the fact that the Dallas police found no evidence of powder burns on Oswald's hands and cheek, evidence that he might possibly have fired a weapon. Or the FBI's inability to get the loose old mail-order Mannlicher-Carcano rifle Oswald supposedly used to fire straight.

What bothered me particularly was this documentary's repeated efforts to discredit expert witnesses, like Notre Dame Professor Robert Blakey, who conducted the U.S. House of Representatives investigation into the assassination and concluded that there had been several shooters -- a conspiracy -- and that the Mafia played a major role.  One of Blakey's top investigators, Edwin Lopez, is presented in seeming agreement with the Warren Commission, when in fact Lopez subsequently published a book in which he asserted that there was indeed a conspiracy in which CIA operators were involved and that Blakey was conned by the CIA into omitting Agency records from his investigation.  In his own subsequent book, Blakey suggests that this might have been the case.  Perhaps most insulting of all to the responsible historian is the attempt here to present the experienced mid-level mob operative Jack Ruby as a "police character," in Hoover's words, who murdered Oswald on impulse.

A lot of time has passed. If we own anything, it is our history. When can we reclaim it?

Burton Hersh


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Updating The New Reality


First, sorry that almost two weeks has elapsed since I provided fresh clues as to what has been happening to our country beneath the establishment-directed media blitz throughout the recent decades. We managed our semiannual relocation -- to New Hampshire for the summer -- and had to bring the entire operation, including the internet hookup -- up to speed.  Wearing, especially the afternoon of sparring with folks in New Delhi.

One bounty even these early postings has provolked is messages from friends old and new in response to what I wrote.  For example, my old pal Judge Peter Kilborn, who was in the military during the fifties, has contributed his immediate reminiscences as to how close we did come to jumping into the Hungarian revolution during the Eisenhower era.  Another friend, the writer and legal scholar Richard Cummings who produced the outstanding biography of Allard Lowenstein, points out that after a nod from Ike the fledgling CIA bumped the aged premier Muhammad Mossagedh out of power in Iran to protect the interests of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, predecessor to BP, and set in train the events which have produced the reign of the Ahatollahs.  A year later the Dulles brothers engineered a revolution in Guatamala to protect the properties of United Fruit, a client of John Foster Dulles' law firm.  Hundreds of thousands ultimately died and only in recent years has that battered country begun to recover.

In fact, I dealt with both of these geopolitical travesties in great detail in The Old Boys. The point worth making here is that, ugly as these incidents were, neither sucked us into a major conflict. As with Ronald Reagan, who backed us out of Lebanon after the marine barracks in Beirut was bombed, at the presidential level a sense of proportion was maintained.  While researching The Old Boys I spent several afternoons with Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of Teddy and himself a historian -- he taught at Harvard as a young man.  Kermit was full of regret at the results the Agency had often produced in the Middle East; he himself had squeezed Nasser into power in Egypt as well as destroying a functioning democracy in Iraq.  The CIA's traditional role as a collection agency for Western special interests has regularly induced our intelligence services to boost proteges we would ultimately regret and have to deal with, from Fidel Castro to Noriega to Osama bin Laden.  When you start climbing under the covers internationally you had better make sure you are not embracing a Gorgon.

Musings on a Wednesday morning.  Best to you all,