Archive for August, 2007

Nugent is a coward, spreading the hate. why doesn’t he go to Iraq?

August 30, 2007

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Rocker not so forgiving when ‘threats’ were directed other way

Rocker Ted Nugent said trying to explain his fantasies of executing prominent Democrats that he aired in the middle of a recent show would be “like trying to explain an orgasm to a eunuch.”

In an interview on the O’Reilly Factor Wednesday night, Nugent was criticized over video from a recent concert during which he encouraged Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to “suck on my machine gun” and referred to Senator Hillary Clinton as a “worthless bitch.”

“Rock and roll is too much fun. … Trying to explain the intensity of irreverent, over-the-top rock and roll is like trying to explain an orgasm to a eunuch,” Nugent said when asked why he launched such personal attacks. “If some people don’t get it, I’m not here to help them through the quagmire.”

However, the conservative rocker was not so forgiving when “threats” were directed his way. In an appearance on Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes earlier this summer, Nugent criticized a liberal blogger who joked of plans to “shoot” him and Rush Limbaugh.

“This guy is obviously a nutcase, but he’s actually making a statement to assassinate fellow Americans,” Nugent said at the time.

The avid hunter and gun advocate said he felt like his life was threatened, and “my family is taking it very seriously.” The offending quote from the blog said, “I’ve got dibs on Rush, as soon as it’s legal and lawful to shoot him. Whoever wants Ted Nugent is welcome to him.”

“They’ve threatened to kill me,” Nugent said, referring to what he said were previous attempts on his life. “We got the files with law enforcement. This guy is obviously a nut case. But he is actually making a statement to assassinate fellow Americans.

In his concert rant, Nugent did not explicitly say he wanted to “shoot” Obama or Clinton, but it remains unclear whether the Secret Service could interpret his invitations to “suck” or “ride” his machine guns as a threat on the candidates’ lives.

Nugent said he keeps his events “PG-13” at family events like state and county fairs, and he boasted that shows on his latest tour have been selling out across the country. But he defended his right to say anything at shows not meant for children.

“At an outrageous, over-the-top, rock & roll event like the House of Blues … as long as no laws are broken and no one gets hurt, nothing is sacred,” Nugent said.

The video of Nugent’s Obama rant comes from an Aug. 23 performance at a casino in Oroville, CA. It was first posted online by YouTube user KEVDOGEDOG.

Nugent, a Michigan native who is considering a run for that state’s governor, dismissed suggestions that his comments were overly personal and inappropriate.

“To try to make a comment in a meaningful, sincere way from the rock & roll stage is really apples and grenades,” Nugent said. “… (Comedian) Sam Kinison didn’t really believe in sex with a Volkswagen Beetle. We’re talking about staged outrage.”

the technological, scientific, and environmental vision of Al Gore, our Global Environmental Ambassador

August 29, 2007

This groundbreaking invention on the part of Al Gore that could now save this world from the catastrophic affects of the climate crisis still sits in a warehouse in Maryland after being scrubbed in January 2006. As usual, “budget” is the answer for why it sits, but I believe it goes deeper than that.

Don’t know what Triana was? Not surprising, since Republicans did all in their power from the late nineties by using their partisanship and hatred for Al Gore to see it fail and keep it secret. Now it is dead, and so are some very high hopes for measuring the affects of climate change from deep space. Once again, political partisanship trumped the best interests of not only our country, but our world.

From The NY Times:

Scorched Earth

Some info on this and a link showing the technological, scientific, and environmental vision of Al Gore, our Global Environmental Ambassador.

Scripps Calls For Quick Launch Of Triana

Al Gore-Leader in Technology

Al Gore-Inventor of Triana

Triana was the brainchild of Mr. Gore literally dreamed up by him during a restless sleep in 1998. His idea was to place a spacecraft in orbit far enough away from Earth (one million miles to be exact) to get 24 hour continuous images of the entire globe which is impossible with existing satellites because they are too close.

After battling in Congress with what Republicans trashed as “Gore’s screen saver,” the $135 million project appeared to have survived their ambushes, rising costs, and scientific scrutiny. It was slated for launch early in 1999. Then it was pushed back to after 2000… Now, it will never take off, and that is truly sad especially in light of the affects of the climate crisis we are experiencing all over the world. This satellite would give us a chance to see the Earth in motion from the side of the sun in a continuous 24 hour view that would have been able to be seen on a cable channel by us (and particularly students) in order to be better prepared for catastrophic events taking place due to climate change.

Although some scientists building Triana admitted to feeling ambiguous about it originally, they claimed that Mr. Gore’s idea to observe Earth from deep space could prove to be revolutionary. The hope in launching it was to gain insight into climate change by measuring how much energy Earth absorbs and reflects into space, and to measure levels of aerosols that affect the ozone layer from around the world.

It certainly would have been not only a momentous achievement for Mr. Gore, this planet, and for our future, but also would have been a fitting payback to those like former President George Bush who dubbed Al Gore, “Ozone Man.” Of course, we all know how his idiot son felt about it. He probably couldn’t even pronounce it. I cannot for the life of me understand how people can claim to care for this planet when they would scrap such a visionary and revolutionary mission as this, yet continue to spend money we don’t have on weapons of war and death. And scrapping this entire program was done secretly, quietly, and in my view maliciously.

For besides providing ways to pick up atmospheric patterns not readily apparent to satellites that scan only one region or continent at a time, the Triana mission could have blazed a trail for more deep-space Earth observation and inspire replacement of some low-orbit satellites. It is said that Al Gore had long wondered how to get more photos like those from the Apollo moon missions when astronauts captured the first pictures of Earth as a whole from great distances. Those images had a deep effect on him as he kept a huge blow-up photo of the Earth on his White House office wall.

This is the account of how he came upon this idea:

As he tells it, he awoke from a dream at 2 o’clock in the morning, logged onto the Internet, “went to a couple of sites and figured out how to do this.” What he learned about was the orbital point called Lagrange-1 about 1 million miles away, where the gravitational attraction from the sun equals that of Earth. Satellites placed at L1 move in an orbit that mirrors the Earth’s, with our planet’s sunlit half always in view. A few probes have been sent to L1, mostly for research on the sun. But surprisingly, NASA had never seriously considered placing an Earth observatory at L1, even though it provides what scientists now say is a natural vantage point for that purpose.

He then proposed the satellite in March 1998 that would transmit continuous television images from L1 and cost no more than $50 million. He dubbed it Triana in honor of Rodrigo De Triana, the sailor who first observed the New World on Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage. NASA then announced several months later that a contract had been given for it to Valero, but it came up to swift opposition in the Republican Congress. The House of Representatives cut off funds for Triana in May 1999, in what was clearly a partisan move by people who hate science.

After that an NAS committee of 10 scientists was formed, and in the end they reported that Triana did have scientific merit. Work on it continued but then was halted, and now it will never be seen as the entire program has been scrapped by NASA. Once again because of hateful, bitter, partisan BS that has done nothing but stop the scientific advances necessary for us to peacefully explore our universe and to also warn of impending disaster as this 24 hour view would have facilitated, will it now not see the light of day. And I have not seen one Democrat stand up for Al Gore’s work on this satellite in Congress as well, and that too is sad. One reason why I don’t happen to have faith in the Washington DC beltway to truly care about this issue, even now as it needs to be cared about.

It is sad, but it is only one more action to show where Republicans in this government really stand on breakthrough advances that would give us a better understanding of our world, and others who constantly let them win…And damn them for it, because this is not about partisan political grudges, this is about saving lives.

I mention this now because of the reports from thousands of scientists, the IPCC, the NAS, the UN, and many other scientific reports that have now given the window of our planet’s sustainability not long before it closes. And this was the one tool we could have had to not only gauge that damage, but use to work quicker to mitigate it.

Personally, I think Congress should work to redeem themselves and bring Triana up to the forefront again in light of the damage done to this planet by the climate change we are responsible for. I think that since we can always find money when it comes to waging wars of aggression, we damn sure can come up with what is needed to launch this satellite that will aid us in our quest to reverse the damage we have done.

Shame on Congress for turning their backs on this clearly out of partisan political rancor. We are now reaping the whirlwind for it.

The Next War Draws Nearer

August 29, 2007

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The Next War Draws Nearer

DEPARTMENT  BY Scott Horton PUBLISHED August 23, 2007

Hardly a week passes in which I don’t get a message from someone within the great bureaucratic wasteland on the Potomac about the Bush Administration’s latest schemes relating to war against Iran. Now we’re going through another one of those periods in which the pace is quickening and the pitch is becoming more intense. I continue to put the prospects for a major military operation targeting Iran down as “likely,” and the time frame drawing nearer. When will Bush give the go ahead? I think late this year or early next would be the most congenial time frame from the perspective of the war party. Some of the developments that go into my call:

  • Labeling the Revolutionary Guards as ‘Terrorists.’ Last week the Bush Administration floated the idea that it would schedule Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (an official part of the Iranian government) as a terrorist organization. This is related to the Administration’s propaganda drive to portray the Revolutionary Guard as deeply engaged in training terrorists in Iraq. (Iran is deeply engaged in outfitting and supporting factions loyal to it in Iraq, as is Saudi Arabia and other states.) Of course, the Revolutionary Guards answer directly to Supreme Leader Khamenei, so in taking this position, the Bush Administration is essentially saying that it has decided to ditch an initiative that focuses on skirting Ahmadinejad by going directly to Khamenei—that is, it is limiting its diplomatic options, yet again. No real surprise there, since it’s clear—notwithstanding statements from Condoleezza Rice about the exhaustion of diplomatic approaches—that the White House (read: Dick Cheney) places no store whatsoever in a diplomatic effort for Iran.
  • Preparation for a ‘Dirty War’? The branding of the Revolutionary Guard as terrorists raises troubling prospects with respect to targeting and military operations in Iran. Based on prior Bush Administration postures (adopted with respect to the Taliban, and units of Saddam Hussein’s military), it would mean that they are denied Geneva Convention protections in the coming war and could be treated to “highly coercive interrogation techniques” (i.e., torture) if captured. In sum, it looks like the Bush Administration is busily preparing for another “dirty war.”
  • Costing for Ground Operations in Iran. In the last two weeks the Department of Defense has begun pushing regular contractors very aggressively for “unit costs” to be used for logistical preparations for reconstruction and ground operations in a certain country of West Asia. In the last week, the requests have gotten increasingly harried. And what, exactly, is the country in question? Iran.
  • ‘There Will Be an Attack on Iran.’ Former senior CIA analyst Bob Baer has a piece in the current Time Magazine called “Prelude to an Attack on Iran.” Baer also sees a quickening pace and an increasing likelihood of a sustained military assault on Iran, driven by the Neocons. Baer develops the scenario, showing how the Revolutionary Guards will be portrayed as terrorists, they will be linked to armor-penetrating projectiles used in Iraq, and this will be taken as a pretext to wage a war against Iran. He quotes an Administration official who says these explosive devices “are a casus belli for this Administration. There will be an attack on Iran.”
  • Bolton Wants Bombs in Six Months. John Bolton appeared on Fox News and was asked a question based on Bob Baer’s report. Bolton “absolutely hopes” it is true that bombs will start falling on Iran within six months.
  • The Predictable Role of Fox News. Fox News is intimately intertwined with the Administration’s propaganda machine, as a study of its coverage of the run-up to the Iraq War shows (and similarly, its decision to all but pull the plug on more recent coverage of the dismal situation in Iraq). Producer Robert Greenwald has done a terrific summary of how Fox News continues a propaganda build-up to support military action against Iran which closely parallels what it did for its masters in the run-up to the Iraq War. Catch the video here.

To invoke Vietnam was a blunder too far for Bush

August 27, 2007

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To invoke Vietnam was a blunder too far for Bush

The Presidents’s crass comparison between Iraq and war in south east Asia was the most ludicrous misreading of history

Christopher Hitchens
Sunday August 26, 2007
The Observer

How do I dislike President George Bush? Let me count the ways. Most of them have to do with his contented assumption that ‘faith’ is, in and of itself, a virtue. This self-satisfied mentality helps explain almost everything, from the smug expression on his face to the way in which, as governor of Texas, he signed all those death warrants without losing a second’s composure.It explains the way in which he embraced ex-KGB goon Vladimir Putin, citing as the basis of a beautiful relationship the fact that Putin was wearing a crucifix. (Has Putin been seen wearing that crucifix before or since? Did his advisers tell him that the President of the United States was that easy a pushover?)

It also explains the unforgivable intervention that Bush made into the private life of the Schiavo family: leaving his Texas ranch to try and keep ‘alive’ a woman whose autopsy showed that her brain had melted to below flatline a long time before. Here is a man who believes the ‘jury’ is still ‘out’ on whether we evolved as a species, who regards stem cell research as something profane, who affects the odd belief that Islam is ‘a religion of peace’.

However that may be, I always agreed with him on one secular question, that the regime of Saddam Hussein was long overdue for removal. I know some critics of the Iraq intervention attribute this policy, too, to religious motives (ranging from messianic, born-again Christian piety to the activity of a surreptitious Jewish/Zionist cabal: take your pick).

In this real-world argument, there is a very strong temptation for opponents of the war to invoke the lessons of Vietnam. I must have written thousands of words attempting to show that there is absolutely no analogy between the two conflicts.

Then, addressing the convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars last week, the President came thundering down the pike to announce that a defeat in Iraq would be – guess what? – another Vietnam. As my hand smacks my brow, and as I ask myself not for the first time if Mr Bush suffers from some sort of political death wish, I quickly restate the reasons why he is wrong to join with his most venomous and ignorant critics in making this case.

1) The Vietminh, later the Vietnamese NLF, were allies of the United States and Britain against the Axis during the Second World War. The Iraqi Baath party was on the other side.

2) Ho Chi Minh quoted Thomas Jefferson in proclaiming Vietnam’s own declaration of independence, a note that has hardly been struck in Baathist or jihadist propaganda.

3) Vietnam was resisting French colonialism and had defeated it by 1954 at Dien Bien Phu; the real ‘war’ was therefore over before the US even landed troops in the country.

4) The subsequent conflict was fought to preserve an imposed partition of a country striving to reunify itself; if anything, the Iraqi case is the reverse.

5) The Vietnamese leadership appealed to the UN: the Saddamists and their jihadist allies murdered the first UN envoy to arrive in Iraq, saying that he was fit only for death because he had assisted in securing the independence of East Timor from Indonesia.

6) Vietnam never threatened any other country; Iraq under Saddam invaded two of its neighbours and declared one of them (Kuwait) to be part of Iraq itself.

7) Vietnam was a victim of chemical and ecological warfare; Iraq was the perpetrator of such illegal methods and sought to develop even worse nuclear and biological ones.

8 ) Vietnam neither sponsored nor encouraged terrorist tactics beyond its borders; Iraq under Saddam was a haven for Abu Nidal and other random killers and its ‘insurgents’ now proclaim war on Hindus, Jews, unbelievers and the wrong sort of Muslim.

9) There has for years been a ‘people’s war’ fought by genuine guerrillas in Iraq; it is the war of liberation conducted by Kurdish fighters against genocide and dictatorship. Inconveniently for all analogies, these fighters are ranged on the side of the US and Britain.

10) The Iraqi Communist party and the Iraqi labour movement advocated the overthrow of Saddam (if not necessarily by Bush), a rather conspicuous difference from the situation in Indochina. These forces still form a part of the tenuous civil society that is fighting to defend itself against the parties of God.

11) The American-sponsored regimes in Vietnam tended, among other things, to be strongly identified with one confessional minority (Catholic) to the exclusion of secular, nationalist and Buddhist forces. The elected government in Iraq may have a sectarian hue, but at least it draws upon hitherto repressed majority populations – Kurds and Shias – and at least the American embassy works as a solvent upon religious and ethnic divisions rather than an inciter of them.

12) President Eisenhower admitted that if there had ever been a fair election in Vietnam, it would have been won by Ho Chi Minh; the Baath party’s successors refused to participate in the Iraqi elections and their jihadist allies declared that democracy was an alien concept and threatened all voters with murder.

13) The Americans in Vietnam employed methods (‘search and destroy’; ‘body count’) and weapons (napalm, Agent Orange) that targeted civilians. Today, those who make indiscriminate war on the innocent show their hand on the streets of Baghdad and are often the proxies of neighbouring dictatorships or of international gangster organisations.

The above list is by no means exhaustive, but will do, I think, as a caution against any glib invocation of historical comparisons. One might add that among the results of the Vietnamese revolution was an admittedly crude form of market socialism, none the less wedded to ideas of modernisation; a strong resistance to Chinese expansionism (one excuse for Washington’s invasion); and a military expedition to depose the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.

I cannot see how any self-respecting Republican can look at this record without wincing and moaning with shame or how any former friend of the Vietnamese can equate them with either a fascist dictatorship or a nihilistic Islamist death-squad campaign. And now Bush has joined forces with anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan in making the two struggles morally equivalent.

It is true that the collapse of the doomed American adventure in Indochina was followed by massive repression and reprisal, especially in Cambodia, and by the exile of huge numbers of talented Vietnamese. But even this grim total was small compared to the huge losses exacted by the war itself. In Iraq, the genocide, repression, aggression and cultural obliteration preceded the coalition’s intervention and had been condemned by a small but impressive library of UN resolutions. Thus, the argument from ‘bloodbath’, either past or future, has to be completely detached from any consideration of the Vietnamese example.

Bush made his speech just as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a distinguished socialist and humanitarian, visited Baghdad and embraced some Iraqi and Kurdish freedom fighters, such as President Jalal Talabani, the leader of a party that is a member of the Socialist International. It takes a special kind of political and moral idiocy to choose such a moment to wax nostalgic for America’s inheritance of a moribund French colonialism in Indochina. If one question is rightly settled in the American and, indeed, the international memory, it is that the Vietnam War was at best a titanic blunder and at worst a campaign of atrocity and aggression.

But not all the ironies are at Bush’s expense. Change only the name of the analogous country and it becomes fairly clear that in Iraq we are fighting not the Vietcong, but the Khmer Rouge, as the Vietcong eventually had to do on our behalf. The logic of history is pitiless and Bush is not the only one who will find this out.

· Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author of God Is Not Great

“Bobby Kennedy died believing his brother’s killers had not been found”

August 27, 2007

“Bobby Kennedy died believing his brother’s killers had not been found”

Chasing Assassins

by Guest Columnist, Matthew Stevenson

A review of Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, By David Talbot, Simon & Schuster,478 pages

When President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas in November 1963, his younger brother Robert, then the U.S. attorney general, was having lunch at his home in northern Virginia. As recounted in Brothers, David Talbot’s stirring and troubling history of Bobby’s descent into the underworlds of conspiracy, word of the shooting reached him when J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, telephoned. In a monotone, Bobby’s nemesis and wily subordinate said: “I have news for you. The president’s been shot.”

Hoover had long resented the intrusions of the 37-year-old attorney general into the lair of the FBI. Despite his rank in Washington’s civilian chain of command, Hoover had regarded the brothers Kennedy as just another couple of bootleggers on whom to run a file and maintain a stakeout. Of November 22, Talbot continues: “Twenty minutes later, Hoover phoned again to deliver the final blow: ‘The president’s dead,’ he said and promptly hung up. Again, Kennedy would remember, his voice was oddly flat—‘not quite as excited as if he were reporting the fact that he had found a Communist on the faculty of Howard University.’” In the first of many messages that the assassination delivered to Robert Kennedy, this one from Hoover pointed out that the lifeblood of the attorney general’s political power had ebbed away in one of Parkland Hospital’s emergency rooms.

That November afternoon, between his shock, grief, and anger, Bobby Kennedy worked the phones. His political life in Washington had been spent either running his brother’s campaigns or investigating the grassy knolls of the Mafia, corrupt labor unions, and what an earlier attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, had called the Red Menace. He was on familiar ground. He spoke with Roy Kellerman, the Secret Service agent who had been in the limousine with the president. He spoke with Dave Powers and Kenneth O’Donnell, political aides to President Kennedy who were in the car behind the president’s when it rolled into Dealey Plaza. All of them used the words “ambush” or “a flurry of shots” to describe what had happened. Talbot writes: “O’Donnell and more than one Secret Service man would tell Bobby the same thing that day: They were caught in crossfire. It was a conspiracy.”

That evening, Bobby met Air Force One on its return from Dallas. He accompanied his brother’s body and widow to Bethesda Naval Hospital for what would turn out to be the most controversial autopsy in American history. Even before the assembled doctors bungled determining whether the President had been shot in the front or the back, Bobby had decided that it “was not a ‘he’ who had killed his brother—it was a ‘they.’” In Talbot’s most memorable phrase in a book of disturbing conclusions, the attorney general had become “America’s first assassination theorist.”

Just to be clear, Robert Kennedy never attended an annual gathering of assassination buffs or speculated about “Umbrella Man” or “Badge Man” or the “Three Tramps.” He did unleash his own investigative hounds, including the capable Walter Sheridan, who within 48 hours reported that Jack Ruby had received “a bundle of money” from Chicago mobsters with links to Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters union boss whom Bobby had tried for years to throw behind bars. Talbot writes: “Later, Kennedy would remark when he saw Ruby’s phone records, ‘The list was almost a duplicate of the people I called before the Rackets Committee.’” Talbot also concludes that both Jacqueline and Bobby believed JFK had been killed by “a large political conspiracy … Perhaps there was only one assassin, but he did not act alone.” They never suspected Castro or the Russians.

Talbot, founder and former editor in chief of Salon.com, thinks clearly and writes well. His narrative style makes for compelling reading, bringing to life historically complex subjects such as U.S.-Cuban foreign relations. Talbot is good at rendering dialogue, pithy in describing the long cast of shady characters, and capable of capturing history either in vignettes or still life scenes set around otherwise drab conference tables. Best of all, his prose is easy to visualize. While the book is a biography of Robert Kennedy and his response to the assassination of his brother, along the way Talbot concludes that more than three shots were fired in Dallas, that President Kennedy was the victim of a plot, and that government agencies like the CIA and FBI had their own, self-serving reasons for pinning the rap on a lone gunman—in this case, Lee Oswald.

Talbot bases many of his own conspiracy conclusions on the observations of the two close aides to the president: “O’Donnell and Powers, both World War II veterans, distinctly heard at least two shots come from the grassy knoll area in front of the motorcade. But when they later told this to the FBI, they were informed that they must be wrong. If they did not change their story, it was impressed on the men, it could be very damaging for the country.” Even so, Powers still told the Warren Commission: “My first impression was that the shots came from the right and overhead, but I also had a fleeting impression that the noise appeared to come from the front in the area of the triple overpass. This may have resulted from my feeling, when I looked forward toward the overpass, that we might have ridden into ambush.” Indeed, few, if any, of the witness statements from those in or near JFK’s car confirm any of the conclusions of the Warren Commission.

Though the narrative core of the book is Bobby’s personal journey to the heart of an American darkness, the title also refers to the men surrounding Jack and Bobby. The words come from Shakespeare, who described those who fought alongside Henry V at Agincourt: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” To develop the bonds of such New Frontiersmen as Robert McNamara, Ted Sorensen, Richard Goodwin, Dave Powers, Ken O’Donnell, Walt Sheridan, and many others, Talbot weaves into his story numerous interviews with surviving “brothers.” If they are dead, he meets with their widows or children. These encounters add a personal plumb line to an otherwise dispassionate account. For example, the widow of Special Agent Kellerman tells Talbot her husband died “always accepting that there was a conspiracy.”

Talbot admires the “good” Bobby Kennedy, the one who sought “newer worlds” and quoted Aeschylus. He has reservations about the “bad” Bobby, who fronted for Sen. Joseph McCarthy and stalked “enemies within.” Talbot writes in the author’s note that he was “a 16-year-old campaign volunteer for Robert Kennedy when he was shot down in Los Angeles. For me, aggressively pursuing the hidden history of the Kennedy years was an attempt to find out where my country had lost its way.” Talbot does share with the conspiracists the sense that America’s decline and fall begins with the coup d’etat in Dallas and that the whitewash of the Warren Commission can be read as submission to men who would be kings, if not hit men.

According to Talbot, the black hole of the Kennedy presidency—the vortex down which Jack and Bobby are pulled—is the paramilitary failure at the Bay of Pigs, on Cuba’s southwest coast. In April 1961, three months after the Kennedys rode into Camelot, several thousand so-called Cuban freedom fighters, trained and equipped by the CIA, attacked the Cuban shore. According to the logic of the half-cocked invasion, once ashore the rebels were to be greeted as liberators and march on Havana, where they would topple Castro’s revolution. The Eisenhower administration had produced the low-budget thriller, but left it for airing during the new president’s prime time.

In turn, for John Kennedy the Bay of Pigs reaffirmed everything he suspected about military incompetence—something he may have witnessed firsthand on lonely patrols among the choppy waters around the Solomon Islands during World War II. He might have devoured James Bond novels and bought into the myths of the Green Berets, but he also had qualities, in the words of social critic Paul Fussell, of a “pissed-off infantryman,” a junior officer who thought the military brass had conducted the war to gloss their reputations—at the expense of those at the sharp end. Kennedy had little love for Castro or the Cuban revolution, but his personal after-action account of that battle was to conclude that the more dangerous foe was his own government’s militarism. Talbot describes JFK raging after the Bay of Pigs: “I have got to do something about those CIA bastards.” Later JFK said about the Army: “They always give you their bullshit about their instant reaction and split-second timing, but it never works out. No wonder it’s so hard to win a war.”

The Bay of Pigs debacle may have ended Kennedy’s confidence in the Joint Chiefs and their intelligence brethren, but it did not cover the family’s political side bets that Castro-baiting was a way to carry Florida’s electoral votes. Jack thought of Cuba as a “good, safe menace” to be exploited for political gain. He assigned Bobby to monitor Operation Mongoose, yet another back channel tuned to a frequency that might somehow overthrow Castro’s regime, partly with the help of Mafia assassins. One reason, according to Talbot, that Bobby never took his conspiracy investigations too far publicly was the chance that they might have revealed not just his role in the CIA’s Cuban adventures, but the cooperation of the same mobsters whom Bobby had devoted his career to investigating. In an interview, former Kennedy Justice official Nicholas Katzenbach tells Talbot: “I think the idea he could be responsible for his brother’s death might be the most terrible idea imaginable.”

One tragedy of the Kennedy assassination is that while one part of JFK’s administration is prosecuting and deporting gangsters, other bureaus of the same government are recruiting exactly the same hit men to whack Castro. Indeed, Talbot concludes that one incentive for the mobsters to play Cuban games was the hope that it might earn them immunity from Robert Kennedy’s prosecutions. But its consequence was to align two rogue elements that hated the Kennedy administration—the anti-Castro wolf pack and the Mafia—and place them under the loose leadership of the CIA, which had its own elements that despised the president.

In a further tragic irony, after the Bay of Pigs, Jack had assigned Bobby to rein in the darker impulses of the CIA, where he would stop many mornings on the way to the Justice Department. Bobby, whom Adlai Stevenson nicknamed “the black prince,” was atop the house of cards in which both kings and jokers were wild.

According to Talbot, the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 collapsed the deck. In exchange for the withdrawal of the Russian warheads, Kennedy pledged not to invade Cuba and decommissioned missiles in Turkey. Ironically, the confrontation brought Kennedy closer to Khrushchev, because both of whom felt themselves hostage to militarism. But it severed any civil relations the president had with certain intelligence and military circles. Air Force Gen. and Joint Chief Curtis LeMay said: “We had a chance to throw the Communists out of Cuba. But the administration was scared to death [the Russians] might shoot a missile at us.” Talbot develops this thesis: “For those militants who were part of the massive juggernaut organized to destroy the Castro regime, the peaceful resolution of the missile crisis was a betrayal worse than the Bay of Pigs.” The rogue elements, which Bobby and Jack thought could be maintained at a slow boil for political purposes, were suddenly steaming. Talbot concludes: “The assassination conspiracy against Castro—a three-headed Gorgon featuring the CIA on top, flanked by the Mafia and its Cuban accomplices—was again in motion.” Little wonder that on November 22, 1963, Bobby Kennedy called one of his own Cuban conspirators and said accusingly: “One of your guys did it.” Talbot adds that RFK might well have said: “One of my guys did it.”

Reading about the assassination, I sometimes get the feeling that chartered buses were shuttling gunmen to Dallas because, by November 1963, so many diverse elements saw their survival in Kennedy’s demise. “In the weeks preceding Dallas,” Talbot writes, “he was informed of two serious assassination plots against him—one in Chicago and the other in Tampa. We can now conclude that Kennedy was, in fact, being methodically stalked in the final weeks of his life.” Talbot describes many of the groups harboring murderous grievances, such as a New Orleans mobster, Carlos Marcello, whom Bobby Kennedy was trying to deport: “Marcello told his visitors that he had made up his mind that President Kennedy had to go, but his assassination had to be arranged in such a way that a ‘nut’ would be set up to take the blame—‘the way they do it in Sicily.’”

Talbot also delves into Kennedy family history to explain how some of these confrontations had evolved, writing about Joseph Kennedy Sr.’s liquor dealings with the mob and Bobby’s later crusade against racketeering: “In his role as the scourge of organized crime, Bobby had found a way to combine his father’s raging will with his mother’s religious purity. But Joe Kennedy knew how dangerous an enterprise this was.” Talbot interviews the author Gore Vidal, who was related to Jacqueline Kennedy and was a friend of Jack’s: “The tragedy was Joe Kennedy getting a stroke,” Vidal said. “He could have settled the problem with the Mafia in two minutes.”

Because Robert Kennedy was not a witness to his brother’s killing, he did not testify before the Warren Commission, officially called The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, which emphasizes the extent to which Lyndon Johnson handpicked its members and dictated its conclusions. Publicly, Bobby accepted its findings. Privately, he agreed with the thoughts of his Harvard roommate. Ken O’Donnell called the Warren Commission “the most pointless investigation I’ve ever seen.”

Among the many flaws in the composition and mandate of the Warren Commission, the most glaring is that the committee lacked investigative powers. It was at the mercy of the CIA and the FBI to conduct its investigation, and both organizations had a lot to hide. The CIA, for example, refused to reveal the extent to which it had collaborated with organized crime to try to assassinate Castro. Nor did it reveal the files it had on contacts with Lee Oswald, dating to his time in the Soviet Union. Likewise, the FBI had similar interests and files on Oswald’s bizarre movements and affiliations. Talbot writes: “In the days following the assassination, [CIA Director John] McCone would conclude that there had been two shooters in Dallas, in striking contrast to the official version of the crime of a lone gunman, which was being ardently promoted by Hoover and the FBI.” In their own ways, for their own institutional reasons, both agencies preferred cover-up over truth in answering the question that National Book Award novelist, Don DeLillo, raises in Libra: “Who arranged the life of Lee Harvey Oswald?”

Despite being “one of the first—and among the staunchest—believers in a conspiracy,” Robert Kennedy did little to encourage those challenging the lone-gunman orthodoxy. He had little time for New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who was, according to Talbot, “shining light on a crucial corner of the conspiracy—a world of zealous CIA plotters, Cuban expatriates, far-right militants, and mercenaries, where President Kennedy was considered a traitor.” Bobby’s gumshoe, Walt Sheridan, did not trust or like Garrison, who placed Oswald, during the summer of 1963, in the company of such Camp Street lowlifes as Guy Banister and David Ferrie. Bobby may also have resented Garrison for disrupting Kennedy’s grand plan, to go public with his conspiracy conclusions only after he had become president. In turn, Garrison could never understand Bobby’s reluctance to join forces and track down the assassins. “If they killed my brother,” Garrison said, “I’d be in the alley waiting for them with a steak knife, not sitting at the Kennedy Center watching a ballet with them.”

Robert Kennedy, like other conspiracists, did not believe that his government could ever tell the truth about JFK’s assassination. Hence his decision, according to Talbot, to seek the presidency, in part so that he could mobilize the full powers of the executive branch to chase assassins. Nevertheless, when he was finishing his term as attorney general and later in the Senate, Robert showed little passion for bringing government power against those he privately suspected of complicity in the crime. (His initial timetable was to run in 1972, nine years after Dallas.) Talbot writes wistfully that had Bobby reconciled even a little his hard feelings toward Lyndon Johnson, and had the two men worked together, it might have been possible to come closer to the truth about what happened in Dallas. Talbot believes Johnson had too many conflicts of interest to delve deeply into the assassination. The murder—in his home state, in his presence—had made him president of the United States. Talbot speculates that Johnson now faced the prospect that the truth might force his hand to confront Russia or Cuba with nuclear weapons. Better, in that case, to have Earl Warren round up a usual suspect.

As admirable and articulate as I find Talbot’s writing and sense of history, on a personal level I wish I did not have to confront the conclusions in Brothers. I was 9 years old when President Kennedy was killed. I had seen him in person a month before and found it difficult to reconcile the memory of his bright red hair and wide smile with the grainy images of sudden death beamed up from Dallas. Similarly, I was 14—about the same age as Talbot—when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Several months before he was shot, I had met him in a small group, the only boy in a group of League of Women Voters. He took a few minutes to chat with me about school and sports. I got the news of his shooting on my bedside radio one hot summer morning, as I was dressing for school. Since then, I have never needed to be reminded of either assassination.

After the deaths of the two Kennedys, I managed to steer clear of various assassination theories. I own few of the 2,000 books on the events in Dallas. Without a lot of facts, I accepted Oswald’s lone-gunman guilt as an article of faith, though if ever asked about the Warren Commission, I compared the probability of its conclusions to that of the Immaculate Conception. I managed, nevertheless, to avoid dwelling on the SBT (Single Bullet Theory or the so-called Magic Bullet), Hoover’s evidence of a second Oswald, the strange CIA disinformation of David Phillips, or the congressional transcripts of gangland’s Santos Trafficante’s testimony. I did, however, visit Dallas on occasion, and sometimes drove through Dealey Plaza. I went to the Texas School Book Depository Museum, inspected the sniper’s lair of scattered boxes, and imagined the sight lines of a Grassy Knoll Shooter. The visits to Dealey Plaza made me think Oswald could never have killed Kennedy from his depository window (it’s a long way, over trees, into a moving a car), but that a fatal shot from the knoll lined up both with autopsy forensics, the Zapruder film, and eyewitness testimony.

With Talbot’s book in hand, I have also been forced to think about his conclusions and, by extension, those of the thousands of conspiracists: If more than three shots were fired in Dallas, then the president was attacked by at least two gunmen, and thus was the target of a concerted effort to overthrow the head of government. Further, if the Warren Commission whitewashed evidence of rebellion, then the U.S. has been living for almost 50 years on the stage sets of democracy, unwilling to confront such banana republican principles as the belief that electoral happiness can be found with a warm gun.

A subtext in Talbot’s argument is that John Kennedy was killed for his opposition to the militarism that led to Vietnam, Granada, Iran-Contra, and finally the Sunni Triangle of Iraq. Obviously the mixed record of JFK’s foreign policy—with its deployment of special forces and covert operations in places like Indochina and the Caribbean—contradicts the thesis that Kennedy was killed only because he believed in pacifism. But it is impossible to read Talbot’s account of the Bay of Pigs or the Cuban missile crisis and believe that JFK would have given the Joint Chiefs a blank check in Vietnam. He quotes a 1954 statement that Kennedy made on intervention: “I am frankly of the belief that no amount of American military assistance in Indochina can conquer an enemy which is everywhere and at the same time nowhere, an ‘enemy of the people’ which has the sympathy and covert support of the people.”

The fact that I am loitering with skepticism near the Grassy Knoll or reviewing the confessions of E. Howard Hunt and James Files does not mean I am ready to blame JFK’s death on the mob, the CIA, Lyndon Johnson, anti-Castro elements, J. Edgar Hoover, Clay Shaw, right-wing extremists, or Lee Oswald. (Sadly, we need all the government documents and yet another investigation, with the most modern forensics. This time the Internet guys can run it.) At the same time, Talbot’s book has let me embrace the empiricism of the conspiracists, who bring to the democracy something absent in the Warren Commission: common sense and inquiring minds. It’s too bad their energy cannot be harnessed to understand the murky shadows of the USA Patriot Act, the budget deficit, the war in Iraq, and Social Security’s impending bankruptcy.

Matthew Stevenson is a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine. His books can be purchased at Odysseusbooks.com. He is the cohost of The Travel Hour, a radio program.

Bin Laden wanted US to invade Iraq, author says

August 26, 2007

By Tony Jones

Posted Fri Aug 24, 2007 8:04am AEST
Updated Fri Aug 24, 2007 8:32am AEST

Osama bin Laden told Abdul Bari Atwan he wanted to “bring the Americans into a fight on Muslim soil”. (Reuters)

As coalition troops continue to die on Iraqi soil and the US Government’s military spending on the war bleeds into billions of dollars, a new book says that not only could this have been avoided, but it was all predictable, as long as you had read the Al Qaeda manual.

Abdul Bari Atwan is one of the only Western journalists to have interviewed Osama bin Laden, spending three days with him in the mountains of Afghanistan in 1996.

He is the editor-in-chief of the London-based Arabic newspaper, Al-Quds Al-Arabia, and the author of The secret history of Al Qaeda.

ABC TV’s Lateline presenter Tony Jones interviewed Mr Bari Atwan on the program last night.

TONY JONES: When you met bin Laden, he told you that his long-term plan was to “bring the Americans into a fight on Muslim soil”. That must have sounded like madness at the time, but now we have Iraq.

ABDUL BARI ATWAN: It seems Osama bin Laden had a long-term strategy. He told me personally that he can’t go and fight the Americans and their country. But if he manages to provoke them and bring them to the Middle East and to their Muslim worlds, where he can find them or fight them on his own turf, he will actually teach them a lesson. It seems the invasion of Iraq fulfilled Osama bin Laden’s wish. That’s why the Americans are losing in Iraq, financially and on a human basis, and even their allies, including Australia, are really losing patience, losing money, losing personnel, losing reputation in that part of the world.

TONY JONES: When bin Laden told you this back in 1996, the only thing he had that was close to what he was talking about was [former US president] Bill Clinton’s intervention in Somalia. Bin Laden was evidently extremely disappointed the Americans had pulled out?

ABDUL BARI ATWAN: Yes. He told me, again, that he expected the Americans to send troops to Somalia and he sent his people to that country to wait for them in order to fight them. They managed actually to shoot down an American helicopter where 19 soldiers were killed and he regretted that the Clinton Administration decided to pull out their troops from Somalia and run away. He was so saddened by this. He thought they would stay there so he could fight them there. But for his bad luck, according to his definition, they left, and he was planning another provocation in order to drag them to Muslim soil.

And it seems President Bush did not actually give him a lot of hard work to plan for this. Immediately after the bombardment of Afghanistan – which actually destroyed 85 per cent of Al Qaeda infrastructure, personnel, deprived them of a safe haven – after that huge success against Al Qaeda, President Bush made terrible mistakes when he sent his troop to invade Iraq, one of the most difficult countries to be invaded, to be occupied, the worst land for democracy, human rights. And we can see the outcome.

The Iraq invasion

TONY JONES: As you say, the September 11, 2001 attacks were to draw America to the Middle East. It appears that Al Qaeda’s strategists actually anticipated the invasion of Iraq, and you write that they contacted bin Laden and actually got hundreds of Al Qaeda operatives onto the ground before the invasion to start preparing for the insurgency.

ABDUL BARI ATWAN: I believe Al Qaeda had no [previous] connection at all with Iraq. Because they considered Saddam Hussein a non-believer, atheist, he was secular. So they would not dare to go to Iraq because Saddam Hussein was against Islamic radicals. He considered them a threat to his presidency, to his country.

But after the Americans invaded Iraq, Al Qaeda was prepared for that. Immediately, they sent hundreds of people through the Syrian border, through the Turkish border, Iranian border, to go and set up bases in Iraq. Iraq is a safe haven for Al Qaeda because it has about 50 million pieces of arms. It has about five million tonnes of ammunition left by Saddam Hussein regimes and also the Sunni community, which was deposed from power by the American invasion, and they were actually very, very frustrated, very humiliated. So it was the best environment for Al Qaeda to set up its bases there.

That’s what we are seeing now. Al Qaeda is very strong, Al Qaeda is now expanding. We used to have one Al Qaeda in Tora Bora and Afghanistan, now it is like a monster, it is like Kentucky Fried Chickens, actually, opening branches everywhere in the world. We have Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, which is regrouping again; Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is very active; Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, which managed to destabilise the country there; Al Qaeda in Europe, and we saw what happened in Madrid in London; Al Qaeda in North Africa now, which is very, very active. I think this war against Iraq gave Al Qaeda a huge opportunity to expand, to recruit more people under its fold.

‘Handsome, soft-spoken, modest’

TONY JONES: I want to take you back now if I can to 1996 when you were spirited into the caves at Tora Bora into the Al Qaeda headquarters in Afghanistan. I want to know how bin Laden appeared to you. This was before the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001, but he was responsible for a number of serious terrorist attacks at this time, including in Somalia. Did he appear to you as a sort of menacing figure?

ABDUL BARI ATWAN: To be honest, I was shocked to see him for the first time. I expected him to be more radical, fiery, arguments, a very radical, ugly character. But to be honest, when I said I was shocked, I found a very handsome man, very tall, soft-spoken and trying to be very modest. He was very modest, eating very little food and very basic things, wearing very basic clothes. Not significant at all. I thought, maybe I will have a very big meal, very luxurious dinner with one of the most wealthy men in the Arab worlds or the Arabian Peninsula, in particular. But actually the dinner was rotten cheese and fried eggs and fried potato and very sweet tea.

So when I said I was shocked, [it was] because he wasn’t the Osama bin Laden I expected, he wasn’t the man who was supposed to be a new phenomena which will revive the Islamic caliphate. Just a basic, ordinary person and he is not even charismatic. I met a lot of people, Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, Colonel Gaddafi and other Arabs, radical Palestinians, but Osama bin Laden was a different breed, as I said – very soft-spoken, very modest, very humble and even his education wasn’t great at that time.

TONY JONES: This austerity, this simplicity, this is one of the things that draws his followers close to him. You write it was like stepping into the past, that most of his commanders had taken the names of obviously long-dead historical conquerors or commanders of the Islamic conquests.

ABDUL BARI ATWAN: Yes. Arab or Muslim people are really feeling humiliated, because of this dictatorship all over the Muslim world – corruption, defeats, domination by those in power. So some of the Muslims go back to the glory days of early Islam, or the early Islamic era. That’s why Osama bin Laden and his people are always glorifying that Muslim past, early Islamic history. That’s why they have the names of those great conquerors in that part of the world.

He wanted to imitate the Prophet Mohammed. They were humble, simple, and living a basic, austere way of life. Maybe this is the origin of his charisma. That’s why the people around him, they adore him, they consider him something different. He can be a Buddha or a violent Buddha, the one who actually gave up everything, wealth and money, to live this basic life. Who could be also Ghandi, but again a violent Ghandi, who actually distributed his wealth to the poor people. That’s why they actually like him. That’s why they believe in him.

And he rejected a lot of offers from his country, Saudi Arabia, to go back. He told me, he rejected more than $450 million in order to go back and live there and continue his business activities. When his followers hear these kind of stories, they consider him as a saint, as somebody, a monk, a pope or someone like that. So that’s why he’s actually very influential among certain frustrated young people in the Muslim world.

California Considers Hemp Pilot Program

August 25, 2007

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From The Largest Minority:

The United States is the only industrialized nation where hemp is not an established crop, much to the delight of oil, coal, and chemical industries which benefit from the ban.

Cultivation of hemp is currently illegal under US federal law thanks to the lobbying of the aforementioned groups. The California Narcotic Officers’ Association has testified that the passage of such a bill would only make law enforcement more difficult because farmers might hide illegal marijuana in their legal hemp fields. I could be wrong, but it seems like this association is either admitting that they’re too incompetent to do their jobs correctly, or they’re making the case for the legalization of marijuana so that they’re not forced to make the distinction. Either way, I say let the layoffs begin.

Toke Like a Girl

August 21, 2007

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There’s no Spicoli for women, but there is Fiona, a 30-something suburban schoolteacher.

I‘m sitting in a coffee shop, sipping apple juice with a suburban schoolteacher who’s wearing running shorts and polar fleece on a chilly summer day.

This teacher’s students and the students’ parents might be startled by today’s agenda: Teach is headed to a guy’s house to do bong hits. And not just any bong hits. This teacher’s dealer has a gravity bong—an often-homemade jug bong that delivers a more intense hit; gravity bongs can be taller than some people. Teach is also going to buy some weed.

“When I buy from him I get an eighth and he smokes me out,” teach tells me, “so I get, you know, the bonus round.”

The only thing more remarkable than teach’s drug use is teach’s gender. Fiona is that rarest of species—a female stoner.


Smoking pot is a guy thing. Guys are the ones who deal, buy, and smoke. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated that adult males were 50 percent more likely to have smoked marijuana in the last month than females. (Alcohol use showed only a 12 percent difference.) All illegal drugs show this approximate divide between the sexes (except illegally obtained prescriptions—women use those in substantially higher numbers).

Why don’t women smoke pot as much as men? Marijuana isn’t like other illicit substances; it’s more accessible than most drugs and safer than cigarettes or alcohol. A joint is not a crack pipe.

Are women scared of being out of control? Maybe, but if that were the case, wouldn’t women drink less than they do? Maybe women are scared of getting arrested—pot is harder to sneak than pills. But women don’t take prescription drugs to get a feeling of euphoria (you know, high), but to cover up for a lack of confidence or to lose weight, according to the Associated Press. And smoking pot definitely does not help you lose weight.

Perhaps the obstacle to female toking is a fear of looking lazy. Getting stoned is, in effect, a great way to relax. Men are allowed to be lazy—being stoned is part of their farting, pajama-wearing, video-game-playing pantheon of acceptable male relaxation techniques. Since Jeff Spicoli made his debut in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and continuing into the entire oeuvre of director Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), stonerdom is an accepted part of modern maleness. Their sloth is even kind of adorable.

But modern women are not allowed to be lazy, adorable stoners. Women have to go to college (which they’re now doing at higher rates than men), and then get their careers going quickly, before their biological clocks run out. Then they have to have kids and take them to all of their activities. There is no time for women to be slovenly and relax—and if women do relax, it has to be at a gym.

One of feminism’s original goals to subvert traditional male and female roles. So how come pot culture, which one would expect to be receptive to the feminist message, has changed so little?


Thirty-five-year-old Fiona (her name has been changed to protect her stonerdom) has been a teacher for ten years. She and her boyfriend spend about $120 to $160 a month on pot, an expense that’s figured into their household budget.

“There’s such a focus on achieving things and gaining materialistic things,” says Fiona, “that people have this view of people who smoke pot as Deadheads or hippies.”

Fiona is no hippie. In fact, she has her life completely together: She drives an almost-paid-off 2005 model car, lives in one of Seattle’s nicer neighborhoods, and even paid off her student loan in a year. She also plays in a regular Ultimate Frisbee game. (Ultimate Frisbee is for jocks these days, not hippies.)

“My parents were hippies, and I was always embarrassed of how they smoked pot when I was growing up because I went to Catholic school,” she says in an even tone, pushing her red hair out of her face as she speaks. “They tried to grow it but the cats would always eat it.” She didn’t start smoking weed until high school—and she did it to rebel against school administrators, not her parents.

Now she says she smokes weed pretty much every night, and on the weekends she smokes more than once a day. “I have to be on my game when I am at work, but it’s very stressful, so I come home and I just want to relax and chill out at my house.”

Smoking pot helps her mellow out after work, but it also helps her with her job. She reflects on problems she had that day: “Sometimes [smoking pot] helps me to be creative in my problem solving.”

But it’s not all about her professional life. “A lot of girls drink to be social, and when you smoke pot, you’re kind of in for the night.” But when Fiona goes out, she’ll smoke weed before she starts drinking. When attending a recent Daft Punk concert, she smoked a little pot before she went into the venue: “It definitely helps deepen my appreciation of music.”

* * *

Women, of course, aren’t supposed to smoke pot and then go drinking at Daft Punk concerts. They aren’t supposed to turn to pot to help them with work.

A woman’s role in pot culture? Like the case of this year’s Hempfest poster, women are supposed to be cartoonish sexpots who cater to men (guess that’s Hempfest’s demographic) or sympathetic poster children for medical marijuana.

And when a woman does smoke weed on film, she’s not generally a cute, bumbling, child like Apatow’s male characters. She’s a girl who is in trouble, a girl with low self-esteem, or a hippie-redux character. Even Kim Kelly (Busy Philipps) in Apatow’s television series Freaks and Geeks smokes pot because she’s troubled, not because she’s a regular girl. The message? Men can handle pot. Women smoke pot when they can’t handle their lives.

Fiona believes that media images have a lot to do with why so few women smoke pot, but says that fear of weight gain also plays a large role. “You get the munchies, you know?” says Fiona. “A lot of girls wouldn’t want to sit on the couch and eat chips all night.”

With all this social pressure on women not to be stoners, the gender divide is not surprising. Every aspect of getting stoned is banned from women’s psyches—relaxing, eating, and feeling pleasure. It’s reminiscent of old-school ideas about female sexuality—orgasms aren’t ladylike so why would women want to have them?

But women should ignore that sexist Hempfest poster, and, like Fiona, hit Hempfest this weekend. (It’s August 18 and 19 at Myrtle Edwards Park with five stages of music and speakers and brownie vendors galore.) They should also feel free to upend stereotypes all year long and, like Fiona, put their feet up after work and take a long toke from a gravity bong. recommended

For more information about Seattle Hempfest and a full schedule of musicians and speakers go to www.hempfest.org.

aspool@thestranger.com

PAUL KRUGMAN: It’s a Miserable Life

August 21, 2007


Last week the scene at branches of Countrywide Bank, with crowds of agitated depositors trying to withdraw their money, looked a bit like the bank run in the classic holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

As it happens, Countrywide’s customers were overreacting. True, the bank is owned by Countrywide Financial, the nation’s largest mortgage lender — and mortgage lenders are in big trouble these days. But bank deposits up to $100,000 are protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Old-fashioned bank runs just don’t make sense these days.

New-fashioned bank runs, on the other hand, do make sense — and they’re at the heart of the current financial crisis.

The key to understanding what’s happening is taking a broad view of what constitutes a bank. From an economic perspective, a bank is any institution that offers people liquidity — the ability to convert their assets into cash on short notice — while still using their money to make long-term investments.

Traditional banks promise depositors the right to withdraw their funds at any time. Yet banks lend out most of the money depositors place in their care, keeping only a fraction in cash. The reason this works is that normally a bank’s depositors want to withdraw only a small proportion of their money on any given day.

Banks get in trouble, however, when some event, like a rumor that major loans have gone bad, leads many depositors to demand their money at the same time.

The scary thing about bank runs is that doubts about a bank’s soundness can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: a bank that should be safely in the black can nonetheless fail if it’s forced to sell assets in a hurry. And bank failures can have devastating economic effects. Many economists believe that the banking panic of the early 1930s, not the stock market crash of 1929, was the principal cause of the Great Depression.

That’s why bank deposits are now protected by a combination of guarantees and regulation. On one side, deposits are federally insured, and the Federal Reserve stands ready to rush cash to troubled banks if necessary. On the other side, banks are required to keep adequate reserves, have adequate capital and make conservative loans.

But these guarantees and regulations apply only to traditional banks. Meanwhile, a growing number of unregulated bank-like institutions have become vulnerable to the 21st-century version of bank runs.

Consider the case of KKR Financial Holdings, an affiliate of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, a powerhouse Wall Street operator. KKR Financial raises money by issuing asset-backed commercial paper — a claim that’s sort of like a short-term C.D., used by large investors to temporarily park funds — and invests most of this money in longer-term assets. So the company is acting as a kind of bank, one that offers a higher interest rate than ordinary banks pay their clients.

It sounds like a great deal — except that last week KKR Financial announced that it was seeking to delay $5 billion in repayments. That’s the equivalent of a bank closing its doors because it’s running out of cash.

The problems at KKR Financial are part of a broader picture in which many investors, spooked by the problems in the mortgage market, have been pulling their money out of institutions that use short-term borrowing to finance long-term investments. These institutions aren’t called banks, but in economic terms what’s been happening amounts to a burgeoning banking panic.

On Friday, the Federal Reserve tried to quell this panic by announcing a surprise cut in the discount rate, the rate at which it lends money to banks. It remains to be seen whether the move will do the trick.

The problem, as many observers have noticed, is that the Fed’s move is largely symbolic. It makes more funds available to depository institutions, a k a old-fashioned banks — but old-fashioned banks aren’t where the crisis is centered. And the Fed doesn’t have any clear way to deal with bank runs on institutions that aren’t called banks.

Now, sometimes symbolic gestures are enough. The Fed’s surprise quarter-point interest rate cut in October 1998, at the height of the crisis caused by the implosion of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management, was similarly a case of providing money where it wasn’t needed. Yet it helped restore calm to the markets, by conveying the sense that policy makers were on top of the situation.

Friday’s cut might do the same thing. But if it doesn’t, it’s not clear what comes next.

Whatever happens now, it’s hard to avoid the sense that the growing complexity of our financial system is making it increasingly prone to crises — crises that are beyond the ability of traditional policies to handle. Maybe we’ll make it through this crisis unscathed. But what about the next one, or the one after that?

Offshoring and Free Market Ideology

August 18, 2007

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China is not the Problem

By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

At a time when even the Wall Street Journal has disappeared into the maw of a huge media conglomerate, the New York Times remains an independent newspaper. But it doesn’t show any independence in reporting or in thought.

The Times issued a mea culpa for letting its reporter, Judith Miller, misinform readers about Iraq, thus helping the neoconservatives set the stage for their invasion. Now the Times’ reporting on Iran seems to be repeating the mistake. After the US commits another act of naked aggression by bombing Iran, will the Times publish another mea culpa?

The Times editorials also serve as conduits for propaganda. On August 13, a Times editorial jumped on China for “irresponsible threats” that threaten free trade. The Times’ editorialists do not understand that the offshoring of American jobs, which the Times mistakenly thinks is free trade, is a far greater threat to America than a reminder from the Chinese, who are tired of US bullying, that China is America’s banker.

Let’s briefly review the “China threat” and then turn to the real problem.

Members of the US government believe, as do many Americans, that the Chinese currency is undervalued relative to the US dollar and that this is the reason for America’s large trade deficit with China. Pressure continues to be applied to China to revalue its currency in order to reduce its trade advantage over goods made in the US.

The pressure put on China is misdirected. The exchange rate is not the main cause of the US trade deficit with China. The costs of labor, regulation and harassment are far lower in China, and US corporations have offshored their production to China in order to benefit from these lower costs. When a company shifts its production from the US to a foreign country, it transforms US Fross Domestic Product (GDP) into imports. Every time a US company offshores goods and services, it adds to the US trade deficit.

Clearly, it is a mistake for the US government and economists to think of the imbalance as if it were produced by Chinese companies underselling goods produced by US companies in America. The imbalance is the result of US companies producing their goods in China and selling them in America.
Many believe the solution is to force China to revalue its currency, thereby driving up the prices of 70 per cent of the goods on Wal-Mart shelves.

Mysteriously, members of the US government believe that it would help US consumers, who are as dependent on imported manufactured goods as they are on imported energy, to be charged higher prices.

China believes that the exchange rate is not the cause of US offshoring and opposes any rapid change in its currency’s value. In a message issued in order to tell the US to ease off the public bullying, China reminded Washington that the US doesn’t hold all the cards.

The NYT editorial expresses the concern that China’s “threat” will cause protectionist US lawmakers to stick on tariffs and start a trade war. “Free trade, free market” economists rush to tell us how bad this would be for US consumers: A tariff would raise the price of consumer goods.

The free market economists don’t tell us that dollar depreciation would have the same effect. Goods made in China would go up 30 per cent in price if a 30 per cent tariff was placed on them, and the goods would go up 30 percent in price if the value of the Chinese currency rises 30 per cent against the dollar.

So, why all the fuss about tariffs?

The fuss about tariffs makes even less sense once one realizes that the purpose of tariffs is to protect domestically produced goods from cheaper imports. However, US tariffs today would be imposed on the offshored production of US firms. In the era of offshoring, corporations are not a constituency for tariffs.

Tariffs would benefit American labor, something that the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Republican Party would strongly oppose. A wage equalization tariff would wipe out much of the advantage of offshoring. Profits would come down, and with lower profits would come lower CEO compensation and shareholder returns.
Obviously, the corporate interests and Wall Street do not want any tariffs.

The NYT and “free trade” economists haven’t caught on, because they mistakenly think that offshoring is trade. In fact, offshoring is labor arbitrage. US labor is simply removed from production functions that produce goods and services for US markets and replaced with foreign labor. No trade is involved. Instead of being produced in America, US brand names sold in America are produced in China.

It is not China’s fault that American corporations have so little regard for their employees and fellow citizens that they destroy their economic opportunities and give them to foreigners instead.

It is paradoxical that everyone is blaming China for the behavior of American firms. What is China supposed to do, close its borders to foreign capital?

When free market economists align, as they have done, with foreigners against American citizens, they destroy their credibility and the future of economic freedom. Recently the Independent Institute, with which I am associated, stressed that free market associations “have defended completely open immigration and free markets in labor,” emphasizing that 500 economists signed the Independent Institute’s Open Letter on Immigration in behalf of open immigration.

Such a policy is satisfying to some in its ideological purity. But what it means in practice is that the Americans, who are displaced in their professional and manufacturing jobs by offshoring and work visas for foreigners, also cannot find work in the unskilled and semi-skilled jobs taken over by illegal immigrants. A free market policy that gives the bird to American labor is not going to win acceptance by the population. Such a policy serves only the owners of capital and its senior managers.

Free market economists will dispute this conclusion. They claim that offshoring and unrestricted immigration provide consumers with cheaper prices in the market place. What the free market economists do not say is that offshoring and unrestricted immigration also provide US citizens with lower incomes, fewer job opportunities, and less satisfying jobs. There is no evidence that consumer prices fall by more than incomes so that US citizens can be said to benefit materially. The psychological experience of a citizen losing his career to a foreigner is alienating.

The free market economists ignore the fact that a country that offshores its production also offshores its jobs. It becomes dependent on goods and services made in foreign countries, but lacks sufficient export earnings with which to pay for them. A country whose workforce is being reallocated, under pressure of offshoring, to domestic services has nothing to trade for its imports. That is why the US trade deficit has exploded to over $800 billion annually.

Among all the countries of the world, only the US can get away with exploding trade deficits. The reason is that the US inherited from Great Britain, exhausted by two world wars, the reserve currency role. To be the reserve currency country means that your currency is the accepted means of payment to settle international accounts. Countries pay their oil import bills in dollars and settle the deficits in their trade accounts in dollars.

The enormous and continuing US deficits are wearing out the US dollar as reserve currency. A time will come when the US cannot pay for the imports, on which it has become ever more dependent, by flooding the world with ever more dollars.

Offshoring and free market ideology are turning the US into a third world country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one-quarter of all new US jobs created between June 2006 and June 2007 were for waitresses and bartenders. Almost all of the net new US jobs in the 21st century have been in domestic services.

Free market economists simply ignore the facts and proceed with their ideological justifications of open borders, a policy that is rapidly destroying the ladders of upward mobility for the US population.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com