Monday, December 22, 2014

'Well, Mr. Potter, He Died A Much Richer Man Than You'll Ever Be.'

Sixty-eight years ago on Christmas eve, George Bailey was at the end of his rope and was about to jump off a bridge in Bedford Falls, New York. So began the beginning of the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, a movie that I never tire of seeing this time of year.
Even when I was at my most cynical, It’s A Wonderful Life was never simplistic, a label that feckless critics pasted on the George Cukor-directed film upon its 1946 debut. On one very lonely Christmas Eve, it helped me through a long night, while with every passing year its message continues to humble and inspire me.
That message reverberates even more strongly today given the horrors that seem to visit our lives with such numbing regularity: Each of us, no matter how insignificant we may seem, has the power to make a difference.  And that the true measure of our humanity has nothing to do with fame or money, but with how we live our life.
If it’s been a while since you’ve seen It’s A Wonderful Life, check your TV listings or webstream it from Netflix. If you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to do so.
Oh, and have yourself a happy holiday.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Study In Frustration & Depravity: Seven Years Of Torture-Related Posts

Kiko's House has published dozens of posts on the Bush Torture Regime over the past seven years, including -- or perhaps concluding, we shall see -- an analysis this week of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA. 

Among the highlights are:
The U.S. Of Cowardice: Still No Accountability For Torture Regime Perps (4/19/14) LINK

Why Obama Went Soft On A Dark Chapter: The Bush Torture Regime (9/17/12) LINK

Will Rummy Finally Be Held Accountable? (8/11/11) LINK

Ballad Of The Small-Dicked Man And Other Tunes From The Torture Regime Libretto (9/16/09) LINK

Prosecuting Torturers: Heads Will Roll, But They'll Be The Heads Of Scapegoats
(8/26/09) LINK 

Caught in a Big Lie, Cheney Backs Off (6/4/09) LINK

A Newspaper's Cowardice, A Smoking Gun And More
(5/13/09) LINK

Washington And The U.S. Enter Uncharted Territory As The Torture Regime Dam Breaks
(4/23/09) LINK

Obama And The Bush Torture Regime: Howcum That Smell Seems So Familiar? (4/9/08) LINK
The GOP Takes A Stand (1/24/09) LINK

Heroes of 2008: Prosecutors And Lawyers Who Protested The Bush Torture Regime
(12/3/08) LINK

Should Obama Take The Easy Way Out On Bush Era Crimes?
(11/19/08) LINK

Why Were Psychologists Behind The Curve On Torture?
(11/16/08) LINK

Seems So Yesterday (11/7/08) LINK


Opening A New Front In The War On Law (10/6/08) LINK
Why John McCain Really Wasn't Tortured (9/8/08) LINK
Guantánamo Trials: Castles Built Of Sand (8/18/08) LINK

Should Torture Regime Architects Be Tried As War Criminals?
(8/11/08) LINK

Nuremberg Gravity, Guantánamo Folly
(8/8/08) LINK

David Addington: A Patriot Or Traitor? (7/25/08) LINK

Mukasey Changes His Tune But the Song Remains the Same
(7/22/08) LINK

'The Dark Side,' Or How The War on Terror Became a War on American Ideals
(7/15/08) LINK

'What I Tell You Is Three Times True' (7/2/08) LINK

Obama And Those Bush Era Legal Skeletons (3/11/09) LINK 
The Willful Ignorance of Professor John Yoo (6/19/08) LINK

Taking a Cue From the Bataan Death March
(6/6/08) LINK

Mukasey's Dangerously Disingenuous Defense
(5/28/08) LINK

U.S. Tortured Gitmo Detainees For Beijing
(5/22/08) LINK

Another Setback For the Torture Regime
(5/14/08) LINK

Welcome To Italy, Mr. Rumsfeld. You Are Hereby Under Arrest For War Crimes
(4/25/08) LINK

Following The Torture Trail: Were War Crimes Committed?
(4/18/08) LINK

Why We Should Go Slow on Prosecuting Bush And His Torture Helpmates (4/17/08) LINK
'No Torture, No Exceptions' (3/15/08) LINK

Yet Another Dark Day For America (3/8/08) LINK

The Shame of Mukasey, Schumer, Feinstein, Scalia And McCain (2/15/08) LINK

Why a Constitutional Showdown Is Necessary In the Torture Tapes Scandal (1/11/08) LINK

Torture: The Day of Reckoning At Hand? (10/30/07) LINK

So What's With All the Nazi Analogies? (10/16/07) LINK

Would Jesus Have Tortured? (10/7/07) LINK

Sic Semper Tyrannis: The Blackest of the Bush Administration's Black Marks (10/6/07) LINK

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The CIA's Nonpareil 60-Year Record Of Compromising National Security

I have long advocated abolishing the Central Intelligence Agency, or as President Kennedy put it after the CIA played an integral role in the Bay of Pigs debacle, smashing it into a thousand pieces and scattering it to the winds.

The CIA survives and prospers, of course, because despite its decades-long history of monumental screw-ups, it has friends in high places: President George H.W. Bush was once CIA director, and we know all about his prodigal son.  These forces were hard at work in watering down and pushing back against the Senate Intelligence Committee's just-released report on the agency's depravities at its system of "black sites," prisons overseas where terror suspects were routinely tortured and sometimes murdered. 
The CIA has had some successes: It accurately predicted the 1967 Six-Day War in the Middle East, waged a successful cyber warfare campaign against a Soviet espionage team in the mid-1980s, and precipitated the exit of the Soviets from Afghanistan, which it then botched by failing to anticipate the rise of the Taliban
A brief list of the CIA's nonpareil record in compromising national security, something it is supposed to protect:
* The 1950 Chinese invasion of Korea.
* The 1959 takeover of Cuba by Fidel Castro.
* The 1963 Cuban missile crisis.
* The strength of and support for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong in the 1960s.  
* The 1979 ouster of the Shah, Iranian revolution and rise of the ayatollahs.  
* The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  
* The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union.
* Denying in 1990 that Saddam Hussein planned to invade Kuwait.
* The coming of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the global Islamic jihad in the mid-1990s. 
* The 1998 explosion of a nuclear bomb by India, which remade the balance of power.  
* The 9/11 attacks.
* That the pre-2003 invasion claims of Saddam Hussein that he had WMD were false.

Support For Torture Creeps Up, But Many Of Us Remain Ambivalent


Stick It Up The CIA's Ass: Please Sign This Very Worthy Petition

As I noted in this post, the terrific biopic Kill The Messenger has not exactly been a box office hit although its subject is worthy -- and timely as well because of the just-released Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA torture abuses -- and has sunk like a stone.
"This movie starts a conversation about racism, government abuse, and attempts to silence whistleblowers -- a conversation that everyone should be having in our country, and that could not be more relevant and critical to our current society," says one advocate for the film.
There's now a petition drive to get Kill The Messenger back in theaters.  Sign it, okay?

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Accountability Goes Bye-Bye As Senate Torture Report Finally Is Released

The release today of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's network of secret prisons where terrorism suspects were tortured with the approval of President Bush and his henchmen in violation of American law and the Geneva Conventions is surely one of the greatest anticlimaxes in American history, as well as the last hope of accountability for what I have come to call the Bush Torture Regime.
Virtually nothing in the 524-page summary, while scathing, is new.  Its impact is blunted because it is heavily redacted so as not to identify individual CIA officers and agents, embarrass foreign governments who rolled out the red carpet for Uncle Sam's torturers, as well as a juicy detail here and there. 
As shocking as the revelations that Americans routinely used Nazi torture techniques may have been at one time, and in the absence of evidence that torturing suspects produced valuable information, let alone lead the U.S. to Osama bin Laden, something that the Senate report notes, the steady drip-drip of magazine and newspaper articles, blog posts, International Red Cross reports, lawsuits and the occasional if rare statement by a fearless public official has blunted its impact some 13 years after the 9/11 attacks unleashed these horrors.  Remember Abu Ghraib?  Still revolted by it?  I didn't think so.
Nevertheless, the report still was stomach turning, especially in detailing the CIA's interrogation techniques, which were approved by the agency's medical staff.
Beyond waterboarding, to which many more detainees were subjected than the mere three the CIA claimed, detainees were imprisoned in small boxes, slapped and punched, deprived of sleep for as long as a week and were sometimes told that they would be killed, their children maimed and their mothers sexually assaulted.  Some were subjected to medically unnecessary "rectal feeding" -- a technique that the C.I.A.'s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert "total control over the detainee."
The report, which was compiled by Democratic staff members of the Intelligence Committee with no Republican help after its initial stages, further confirms that the CIA was beset by infighting, dysfunction and deception. The torture was so extreme at times that some CIA personnel tried to put a halt to the techniques, but were told by senior agency officials to mind their own business and carry on even after one detainee was murdered.
Forget about Bush, Vice President Cheney and the government minions who sought to put a veneer of respectability on the use of brutal interrogation techniques when, the report notes, they were completely out of the loop, then denied their use and scrambled to distance themselves from the legal jabberwocky they concocted to justify these techniques, being called to account.

As recently as Monday, Cheney defended torture as "absolutely, totally justified." Republicans with a few exceptions, notably Senator John McCain, who himself was tortured for years in a North Vietnamese prison, say the report is a partisan hack job while the right-wing media machine swung into action, acting as though the report and not the torture itself was bad for America, as well as claims that the report would "alienate" America's much-needed allies.  
Bush was roused from his post-presidential somnambulance to join former intelligence officials in challenging the report's conclusions even before it was released although those conclusions are beyond reasonable dispute. And if they and Cheney had no problem with torture and actually believed it to be "humane," as the former president famously put it, why do they now have a problem with releasing the report?  Of what are they so afraid?
Meanwhile, Attorney General Holder was instructed by President Obama to consider prosecuting only those who actually tortured since its use had been approved by CIA leaders and the Bush administration.  No criminal charges were brought.
Why have I and everyone else who has closely followed the torture regime and its fallout correctly assumed that no one of consequence would be held accountable for this darkest of eras?

Because anyone who thought that Obama, having said boo about torture while campaigning for president in 2008, would denounce it after taking office was engaging in fuzzy-wuzzy liberal thinking.  For one thing, the new president understood that denouncing, let alone going after Bush and his enablers for their crimes, would scuttle any chance he had of forging a bipartisan consensus for his ambitious first-term agenda.  But even this Obama supporter is deeply disappointed at how unwilling the president has been to lay bare the regime's excesses even if stopping short of even suggesting its architects should be prosecuted.
Obama's endorsement, by his silence, of the CIA's lengthy obstruction of the Senate Intelligence Committee's release of a report without redactions is nothing less than protecting the perpetrators and legitimization of that agency's vile practices.  His defense of CIA Director John Brennan, who led the campaign to stymie release of the report while tacitly approving the rogue agency's own spying on the Senate committee, makes farcical the president's statements that he believes that the U.S. should hew to international law, including the Geneva Conventions.
America's moral standing in the world community was squandered during the Bush interregnum.  That Obama has allowed the release of a report that has been watered down by some of the perps themselves, puts that standing beyond repair.  Yes, some of the men tortured by the CIA were dangerous -- very dangerous --  but the CIA's gruesome tactics have provided a ready recruiting tool for terrorists and further exposed American soldiers, journalists and others to the enmity that our refusal to come to terms with these depravities will provoke.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Book Excerpt: 'Just Because They're Dead Don't Mean They're Republicans'

In the opening pages of William Kennedy's Roscoe: A Novel, Felix Conway, the éminence grise of the fabled Albany, New York, Democratic machine, advises Roscoe Conway on how the game is played.  It is 1945:
"How do you get the money, boy? If you run 'em for office and they win, you charge 'em a year's wages.  Keep taxes low, but if you have to raise 'em, call it something else.  The city can't do without vice, so pinch the pimps and milk the madams.  Anybody that sells the flesh, tax 'em.  If anybody wants city business,, thirty percent back to us.  Maintain the streets and sewers, but don't overdo it.  Well-lit streets discourage sin, but don't overdo it.  If they play craps, poker, or blackjack, cut the game.  If they play faro or roulette, cut it double.  Opium is the opiate of the depraved, but if they want it, see that they get it, and tax those lowlife bastards.  If they keep their dance halls open twenty-four hours, tax 'em twice.  If they run a gyp joint, tax 'em triple.  If they send prisoners to our jail, charge 'em rent, at hotel prices.  Keep the cops happy and let 'em have a piece of the pie.  A small piece.  Never buy anything that you can rent forever.  If you pave a street, a three-cent brick should be worth thirty cents to the city.  Pave every street with a church on it.  Cultivate priests and acquire the bishop.  Encourage parents to send their kids to Catholic schools, it lowers the public-school budget.  When in doubt, appoint another judge, and pay him enough so's he don't have to shake down the lawyers.  Cultivate lawyers.  They know how its done and will do it.  Control the district attorney and never let him go; for he controls the grand juries.  Make friend with millionaires and give 'em what they need.  Any traction company is a good traction company, and the same goes for electricity.  If you build a viaduct, make the contractor your partner.  Whenever you confront a monopoly, acquire it.  Open an insurance company and make sure anybody doing city business buys a nice policy.  If you don't know diddle about insurance, open a brewery and make 'em buy your beer.  Give your friends jobs, but at a price, and make new friends every day.  Let the sheriff buy anything he wants for the jail.  Never stop a ward leader from stealing; it's what keeps him honest.  Keep your plumbers and electricians working, and remember it takes three men to change a wire.  Republicans are all right as long as they're on our payroll.  A city job should raise a man's dignity but not his wages.  Anybody on our payroll pays us dues, three percent of the yearly salary, which is nice.  But if they're on that new civil service and won't pay and you can't fire 'em, transfer 'em to the dump.  If you find people who like to vote, let 'em.  Don't be afraid to spend money for votes on Election Day.  It's a godsend to the poor, and good for business; but make it old bills, ones and twos, or they get suspicious.  And only give 'em out in the river wards, never uptown.  If an uptown voter won't register Democrat, raise his taxes.  If he fights the raise, make him hire one of our lawyers to reduce it in court.  Once it's lowered, raise it again next year.  Knock on every door and find out if they're sick or pregnant or simpleminded, and vote 'em.  If they're breathing, take 'em to the polls.  If they won't go, threaten 'em.  Find out who's dead and who's dying, which is as good as dead, and vote 'em.  There's a hell of a lot of dead and they never complain.  The opposition might cry fraud but let 'em prove it after the election.  People say voting the dead is immoral, but what the hell, if they're alive they'd all be Democrats.  Just because they're dead don't mean they're Republicans."
Do you think things have really changed all that much?

From Roscoe: A Novel © 2002 by William Kennedy

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Review: The Secret History Of Getting High In America (My Own Included)

With the War on Drugs happily destroying lives 43 years after Tricky Dick coined the term, while marijuana legalization takes hold in saner climes, it seemed appropriate to republish this 2009 post.  Besides which, current events make me want to puke.
I first took LSD in 1968 before going to see Yellow Submarine at the cinema in the small town where I went to college. Red windowpane blotter acid, to be exact. My roommate and I stayed through the second showing and then the midnight showing, and in a coda to an evening that remains as fresh today in what is left of my mind as it was 40 years ago, it had begun snowing as we sat transfixed in the theater. There was about three inches of the stuff on the ground as we slogged home up the middle of Main Street, adding to the surreality of an evening that in one fell swoop changed forever how I looked at life.

Long story short, psychedelics enabled me to be more humble, more appreciative of the interactions between people and nature, and happier. As well as making me a felon.

Over the next decade I tripped perhaps 100 times on LSD, mescaline, peyote and psilocybin mushrooms, but mostly on MDA, more about which later. I tripped while holding down important jobs, although never on the job, made a fair amount of dough, won awards and was a doting son to parents whose attitudes about recreational drugs were . . . um, liberal. I tripped while snorkeling off the Seven Mile Reef in the Florida Keys, atop a 13,000 foot mountain in the Colorado Rockies, at a fair number of Grateful Dead concerts (natch) and in a crowded hospital emergency room where I took a friend who split open his head while playing in an acid-soaked game of volleyball.

These revelations are brought to you courtesy of my conscience. After all, it would be kind of hypocritical to come off as a teetotler in reviewing This Is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America, a recently published gem of a book by Ryan Grim. So sue me.

As Grim notes, drugs are a bellwether of American society. We work harder than people in any other first-world country and when it comes to drugs we party harder. We're more than twice as likely to smoke pot than Europeans and four times as likely to have done coke than Spaniards. We also ingested a whole lot more acid, but while that drug is still available in many countries, it has all but disappeared in the U.S. More about that later, too. Figure out who is doing what drugs where and you can learn as much about the U.S. as you can pouring over unemployment figures, housing starts and new car sales.

"Little tells us more about the state of America," Grim writes, "than what Americans are doing to get high."

When it comes to drugs, Americans are different in another way, too: Our relationship with them is twisted. While our leaders piously proclaim that drugs are perdition in a powder, tablet or rolled cigarette, we and often they are always looking for ways to get high.

At no time has that been more obvious than with the advent of the alcohol temperance movement in the 1870s which had an element of fear mongering not unlike today's D.A.R.E. program. While the enormously successful Women's Christian Temperance Union persuaded a goodly number of Americans to forswear their beloved whiskey and beer, that it in turn led to a spike in the use of assorted drug-infused nostrums, including cocaine kits complete with syringes, and an epidemic of opium use through products like laudanum. Some scholars believe that by the end of the 19th century Americans were using more opium on a per capita basis than the Chinese.

It should have come as no surprise that Prohibition in the 1920s led to a spike in marijuana and heroin consumption, but politicians nevertheless were shocked.

Another transition occurred in the late 1970s when the U.S. began spraying Mexican marijuana crops with Paraquat, a carcinogenic chemical that killed the plants unless they were quickly harvested. The tainted pot made American smokers sick, sent prices skyrocketing, jump started a domestic marijuana cultivation industry that grew substantially more potent weed, and prompted Mexican growers to switch to cocaine smuggling.

A result was that the American market was flooded with Colombian marching powder at bargain basement prices. Use doubled and then quadrupled by the end of the decade, hooking a generation of younger men and woman with an enthusiasm that Grim calls "positively 19th century" who had been content to smoke pot.

Politicians were once again shocked. Just shocked.

In hindsight, the disappearance of LSD in the USA at the dawn of the new millennium is easy to figure out, as well as a good illustration of Grim's view that tracking drug use is a most excellent window into society.

It is not that beginning around the year 2000 people were growing out of psychedelics in large numbers as I and my fellow children of the Sixties did as our waistlines grew and we settled down. The steep drop-off in acid arrests and acid-related emergency room admissions occurred more or less simultaneously in all large American cities. The culprits, if you can call them that, were:

* The arrest of a single individual who made perhaps 95 percent of all the acid consumed in America in an underground laboratory in an abandoned Atlas missile silo in Kansas.

* The demise of the Grateful Dead as a touring band at whose concerts dealers and users had met for nearly 30 years. The slack was somewhat taken up by followers of the band Phish, but it also soon stopped touring.

* The end of massive raves after police began targeting the LSD and Ecstasy-soaked events and threatening the sponsors with lengthy prison terms.

Albert Hoffman, the Swiss chemist who invented LSD, called it "medicine for the soul," and while that sounds snobbish or elitist or something, it stands pretty much alone as a drug in that its mind-altering powers are enormous even in tiny does of a mere 20 micrograms (that's 20 thousandths of a gram) but there is no such thing as a lethal dose and sustained usage actually weakens its effect, which makes it impossible to become addicted to. Just ask Timothy Leary. (Grim writes in the last chapter that acid began making a modest comeback in 2007.)

As Grim notes, those mind altering powers make LSD a sort of ultimate subversive drug, which is why it has so little appeal to people who are drawn to sledgehammers like cocaine, methamphetamine and pharmaceutical narcotics, which don't blow minds but do destroy them. These are the hard drugs of choice for millions of Americans and the focus of much of This Is Your Country on Drugs.

Grim links the American love affair with getting high to our go it alone-ness and may overstate that case, but he has a point when he writes that the decision to get high is a personal one:

"Ask a fan of LSD about drugs and he'll generally tell you that done responsibly, a regimen of recreational mind alteration aids one in living an examined life. But drug use has consequences for others, too, be they the children of the neglectful user or the doctor who handles highs gone wrong. The battle between common good and individual liberty has long defined the American story, and it has always been fought especially hard over inebriation of any kind."

This is where another American trait -- hypocrisy -- shifts into overdrive.

A little speed is okey dokey if it helps you stay awake for a big exam or a bombing run over Afghanistan and you're not doing it while ogling biker chicks around a bonfire. Using prescription pain killers like Darvocet, OxyContin and Percodan are okey dokey despite the high potential for abuse and addiction, but using medical marijuana to ease the nausea from chemotherapy is wrong even though no one has ever overdosed on the evil weed.

Grim traces the roots of this double standard to the early twentieth century as the ingestion of drugs sold by pharmacists under the guise of medicinal use declined significantly. This opened the door to Big Pharma, which was just as powerful then as it is today, and pushed successfully for federal bans on opiates and cocaine without a doctor's prescription. The message was that rogue pharmacists were taking advantage of Americans' weakness for drugs while doctors would always have their best interests in mind. Of course.

At the same time, a well-organized illicit drug trade emerged and the street use of drugs rose. Not coincidentally, it was the lower class -- notably urban blacks and poor whites and not the upper class -- who were to feel the heat.

In 1968, another Rubicon was crossed when President Johnson, hard on the heels of LSD being outlawed, officially made drug use a law enforcement issue rather than a public health issue. There would be no turning back, and Grim notes that as a result of Ronald Reagan's subsequent War on Drugs Without End, today five times as many drug offenders are warehoused in prisons as are treated for addiction.

Methamphetamine, known in its illegal form as crank, crystal, speed, tik and dozens of other nicknames -- is routinely shoved down the throats of millions of American schoolchildren in the form of Ritalin and taken by millions more adults under a variety of prescription drug monikers so they can work harder, stay up longer, lose weight or, heaven forbid, just get legally high.

But there are shocks and alarums and then some if the users are speed-freak bikers or bored teenagers in a small Midwestern town.

Prohibitions against illicit drugs while underregulating licit drugs inevitably creative the very conditions that make prohibitions ineffective.

"Attempts to disrupt the drug supply face all kinds of problems because that supply is a product of a decentralized market," Grim writes of the cocaine trade, although it applies to meth, as well. "The easiest market players to go after domestically are small-time dealers, and the easiest on the world stage are small-time farmers. In both cases, those who bear the brunt of the penalties are the lowest-level personnel of an operation."

Meanwhile, mandatory sentences for drug trafficking have caused a perverse backlash in the War on Drugs.

Ecstasy enforcement is a good example. It costs a dealer in the Netherlands $200 per trip to recruit a courier to smuggle in 30,000 to 40,000 Ecstasy pills. If the smuggler is caught, the five-year-mandatory sentence will cost taxpayers at least $100,000 to imprison the perp, while it costs the dealer $200 to find another courier.

"Extrapolate this disparity across the spectrum of the drug war," notes Grim, "and we begin to see how relatively small players are able to confound the multi-billion dollar efforts of the world's only superpower."

While I never participated in any of the raves that were so popular in the 1990s, I looked on with at horror at Salem Witch Trials-esque campaign against them because of the prevalence of Ecstasy at these musical mob scenes.

By the time that the media meat grinder was done with the drug, it had become a depravity provoking, crime inducing and suicide causing hallucinogenic bogeyman. I knew differently. Ecstasy is MDMA, which is virtually a twin of MDA, the mildest of psychedelics and my trip of choice lo those many years ago.

Back in the day, MDA was known as the Love Drug because it (like Ecstasy/MDMA) is such a gentle high. I never hallucinated while using it, nor apparently do most users, and its chief characteristic is the warmly positive feelings it provokes. Unlike LSD and most other trips, MDA has a tactile quality. Doing acid didn't move me to want to make love, while doing MDA and making love went hand in hand.

The news media, driven by scare stories from the DEA and the occasional incident in which an Ecstacy user predisposed to flip out on just about any kind of drug did just that, could not have gotten the story more wrong.

Take my multiple personal experiences and those of my friends and multiply them by a thousand or so people packed into a sweaty ballroom or warehouse for a rave and it makes the crowds at a professional football game seem downright hostile. No matter. A drug that beyond it's benign feel-goodness shows tremendous promise, as do other psychedelics, in the treatment of alcoholism, drug dependence, personality disorders and even cancer can land a user in jail.

Is America a great country? Or what?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

This Article Is About The Song 'Alice's Restaurant Massacree,' But 'Alice's Restaurant Massacree' Is Not The Name Of The Article, Just The Song

In the 47 years since Arlo Guthrie recorded "Alice's Restaurant," the 18-plus minute song has become a Thanksgiving Day tradition -- and an ode to a simpler time even if its subtext is the Vietnam War.
If you haven't heard "Alice's Restaurant," then you probably don't know that it's not really a song, but rather an 18-minute monologue with a little singing at the beginning and end, as well as some ragtime guitar picking.  The subtext to the subtext is that back in the day, American boys could avoid being drafted to fight in the controversial and deeply immoral war if convicted of a crime, in Guthrie's case, littering -- leaving garbage at a quaint New England village's dump when it was closed.  The song . . . er, monologue was an enormous countercultural hit in the late 1960s. 
We have been listening to "Alice's Restaurant" courtesy of the wonderful Helen Leicht for many years at noon EST on Thanksgiving Day on WXPN-FM in Philadelphia.  Tune in here and enjoy!

Lewis Baltz (1945-2014)


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Give Some Nostalgia This Holiday With A Signed Copy Of 'There's A House'

Need a unique gift for that literate special someone who was around for the 1970s but can't remember a danged thing about them? Want a way to gently break
to your grandkids, grumpy boss or probation officer what was really going on back in the day?
We're offering signed copies of THERE'S A HOUSE IN THE LAND for $12 each, which includes a refrigerator magnet-worthy postcard from the beyond memorable September Book Signing & Snakegrinder Reunion at the Blue Crab Grill in Newark, Delaware, and postage is included.

Here's how to get yours: Send us a check or money order made out to the author with a note to whom you want the book signed and your mailing address.  Orders for multiple copies are welcome, but there are only a limited number so don't procrastinate.
Here's our mailing address:
There's A House
c/o Shaun Mullen

338 Poplar Valley Road West

Stroudsburg, PA 18360-7293
If you'd prefer to give Kindle editions as gifts, click here
We aren't L.L. Bean, so orders must be received by December 15 to guarantee holiday delivery.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Dark Alliance & A Lasting Shame: Remembering Reporter Gary Webb

Kill the Messenger is currently playing at mostly empty theaters, which is a pity, because it's an important movie about a real-life story: A reporter who becomes the target of a vicious smear campaign that drives him to suicide after he exposes the CIA's role in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into Southern California.  That reporter is Gary Webb, played on the big screen by Jeremy Renner of The Bourne Legacy fame.  This is what I wrote in December 2007 about Webb's expose and investigative journalism in general, with a few embellishments and a new footnote added:
I worked with a goodly number of great investigative journalists over the years, men and women who risk career, life and limb to get the story, and I can say with some satisfaction that this bunch usually did.
But beyond the glamor of the Woodward and Bernstein portrayed by Redford and Hoffman in All the President's Men is a dark side: Investigative reporters and their editors can be an intensely jealous lot, and except for the biggest stories (like the Pentagon Papers, Watergate and the My Lai Massacre) rival papers are more apt to ignore an investigative story than mention it in their own pages, and sometimes even dump on it.
This brings me to one of the greatest investigative coups and most shameful episodes in modern American journalism -- the August 1996 publication of "Dark Alliance," a three-part series by reporter Gary Webb (above) in the pages of the San Jose Mercury News and what then transpired.
I didn't know Webb professionally, although I did spend an evening with him drinking beer and listening to a zydeco band at a music club while attending a conference for investigative reporters and editors. But I knew him by reputation to be an ace reporter, so it was no surprise when the Mercury News rolled out his extraordinary series linking the CIA and Nicaragua's Contras to the crack cocaine epidemic in South Los Angeles in the 1980s.
As Nick Shou wrote in 2006 in a long overdue Los Angeles Times piece (link not available):
"Most of the nation's elite newspapers at first ignored the story. A public uproar, especially among urban African Americans, forced them to respond. What followed was one of the most bizarre, unseemly and ultimately tragic scandals in the annals of American journalism, one in which top news organizations closed ranks to debunk claims Webb never made, ridicule assertions that turned out to be true and ignore corroborating evidence when it came to light."
Many reporters had tried to unravel the connection between the CIA's anti-communism efforts in Central America and drug trafficking, a lynchpin of the Iran-Contra Scandal during the Reagan administration, and I led a team of reporters in the late 1980s trying to do just that.  (The CIA also had been deeply involved in heroin trafficking in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.)  But Webb was the first to provide a solid link between the spy agency and the U.S. crack cocaine market in the 1980s by detailing the relationship between two Contra sympathizers and narcotics suppliers, Danilo Blandon and Norwin Meneses, and L.A.'s biggest crack dealer, "Freeway" Ricky Ross.
Wrote Shou:
"Two years before Webb's series, The Los Angeles Times estimated that at its peak, Ross' 'coast-to-coast conglomerate' was selling half a million crack rocks per day. '[I]f there was one outlaw capitalist most responsible for flooding Los Angeles' streets with mass-marketed cocaine,' the article stated, 'his name was Freeway Rick.'
"But after Webb's reporting tied Ross to the Nicaraguans and showed that they had CIA connections, The Times downgraded Ross' role to that of one 'dominant figure' among many. It dedicated 17 reporters and 20,000 words to a three-day rebuttal to 'Dark Alliance' that also included a lengthy musing on whether African Americans disproportionately believe in conspiracy theories."
The New York Times and Washington Post joined the L.A. Times in attacking Webb for a claim that he never made — that the CIA deliberately unleashed the crack epidemic on black America.  This controversy overshadowed the central focus of the series, which was that the CIA was knowingly dealing with people who were feeding the U.S. crack epidemic.  The papers also found a number of errors in the series while unsuccessfully trying to undercut that central focus.
At first, the Mercury News defended the series, but after nine months, its executive editor wrote a letter to readers that tepidly defended "Dark Alliance" while acknowledging the errors. As Webb had feared, the letter was widely misperceived as a retraction, and he publicly accused the paper of cowardice.  In return, he was exiled to a remote news bureau, resigned a few months later and left journalism.
Depressed and broke, Webb killed himself eight years later. The final indignity was the brief obituaries that the L.A. Times and New York Times published which dismissed him as the "discredited" author of the series.
Let me be clear: As terrific as the "Dark Alliance" series was, I do not believe Webb found the smoking gun, just a lot of smoke, although very important smoke it was.  But setting the record straight on "Dark Alliance" is important for another reason.
Investigative reporting is a dying field. It is dying because too many newspapers have become controversy averse, while others cannot justify assigning a reporter to chase potentially litigious stories for months on end when there is no guarantee that they'll ever see the light of day and every guarantee that they'll piss people off. 
In chasing down reports that the CIA was using out-of-the-way airstrips in Northeastern Pennsylvania to fly in shipments of cocaine to raise money for the Contras, I was driven to Birchwood-Pocono Air Park by a government insider turned informant on a cold winter day in 1988.  This, it turns out, is where state trooper killer Eric Frein was apprehended late last month after a 48-day manhunt.

Despite over a year of digging, my colleagues and I never amassed enough evidence regarding the Poconos angle -- some smoke but no smoking gun -- to justify writing a story.
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The original "Dark Alliance" series can be found here. Meanwhile, journalist Eric Umanski aggressively covered the CIA-Contra-crack connection for Mother Jones and asserted here in a 1998 story that the connection was well established long before "Dark Alliance."