Tag Archives: Ronald Reagan

Transcript of June 13 1991 October Surprise Conference

The following transcript was initially posted on pastebin, “Transcript of June 13 1991 October Surprise Conference”. Only changes to the transcript arise through the conveniences of html, with appropriate italics and embedded links. Author of the pastebin document, including transcript, is this site’s manager. Document starts after the line break.

A transcript of a conference on June 13, 1991, sponsored by the Fund For New Priorities, on Youtube as “Christopher Hitchens on Trading Weapons for Iranian Hostages: October Surprise Conspiracy (1991)” and “Christopher Hitchens on the Iran Hostage Crisis and October Surprise (1991)”. This transcript should not imply an endorsement of the conspiracy theory, only an indication that I believe it to be of interest. The theory was often relayed to be as one fostered by lunatics, but those on-stage appear sane, sound, and cautious in their assessments. On the other hand, Barbara Honegger, who hogs the floor with a long statement in the second session, is now well-known for her theories involving UFOs and 9-11 conspiracies. Ari Ben-Menashe, a source frequently mentioned by Honegger and a few others is a mysterious con man, leaving one uncertain how connected he is and when he’s conning you or telling you of actual dealings he was part of.

A 2011 profile of Ben-Menashe can be found here: “The unbelievable life of Ari Ben-Menashe” by Brian Hutchinson.

In 2014, he would register as a lobbyist in the U.S. for the breakaway Libyan province of Cyrenaica: “Notorious Canadian lobbyist signs $2M contract to promote Libya militants aiming to divide country”.

The wikipedia entry for the “Brokers of Death” arms case, involving Cyrus Hashemi, Samuel Evans, and Avraham Bar-Am is here, where charges were brought against the men for selling weapons to Iran, and then dropped when prosecutors were unable to prove that they weren’t doing so under the orders from the U.S. government: “Brokers of Death arms case”.

Contemporary articles on this strange case include “The Katzenjammer Falcon” by James Traub (New York magazine on Google Books) and “Cyrus Hashemi’s Shadow Legecy” by Christopher Byron (also New York magazine on Google Books).

The report on the unsavoury activities of the Ronald Reagan campaign, the report published by the committee headed up by Senator Donald Albosta and referred to here as the “Albosta report”, I have been unable to find anywhere on-line [edit, made on February 6th, 2018; the two volumes of the “Albosta report”, or “Debategate report”, can be found here at archive.org, courtesy of the National Security Archive]. The Joint Report of the Task Force to Investigate Allegations Concerning the Holding of American Hostages by Iran in 1980 (“October Surprise Task Force”), the report produced by the investigation which this conference hoped to inspire, is available for reading on-line by all and download by those affiliated with participating universities at the Hathitrust site.

Part of why I believe there is the possibility of truth in such astonishing allegations, despite the presence of several frauds surrounding it, is because I know that another attempt to interfere in crucial American diplomacy for the purpose of winning an election did take place and was successful. This previous attempt took place in 1968 and was Richard Nixon’s sabotage of the Paris Peace Talks. An excellent resource on this astonishing event can be found by the tenacious, diligent, and superb reporter Robert Parry: “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'”.

My own work on this interference by Nixon and his campaign, making vivid the surrounding timeline of this betrayal and its aftermath, accompanied by the relevant audio files of Lyndon Johnson discussing this treason with aides and Nixon himself can be found here: “The Treason of Richard Nixon: From Possibility to Certainty Part One” and “The Treason of Richard Nixon: From Possibility to Certainty Part Two”.

What follows is the conference transcript:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is with great interest and excitement, that we now open the formal part of today’s congressional colloquy on “An Election Held Hostage and the October Surprise”. What really happened? This conference, the latest in a series of more than sixty five Capitol Hill conferences held over the past twenty two years, under the auspices of the Fund For New Priorities [in America], promises to rival many of our previous landmark events in its importance, by bringing to the attention of the members of Congress, important issues and dangers to our constitutional democracy. As always, this conference has been brought to you under the sponsorship of members of Congress of both houses. The final list of the sponsors who have responded to the “Dear Colleague” letter which has been circulated in both houses, the letter which was written by senators Adams, Cranston, Harkin, and Wellstone…will be published at the end of this colloquy, with an edited transcript, after the conclusion, obviously, of the proceedings.

The conference is reminiscent of a conference the fund sponsored on March 7 and 8, of nineteen hundred and seventy three. That conference was chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, and assisted by his assistant Rufus Edmondson. And the conference then was entitled, “Congress Versus the Executive”. And at that time, we had seventy five members of the Senate, out of a hundred, who sponsored the conference, and we had over two hundred members of the House, who sponsored that conference. The experience of today’s conference is somewhat different, and is worth some consideration and discussion. But in any event, that conference actually led to the structuring and establishment of the Senate Select Committee on Watergate. And one of the side bits that I’m told frequently, at that conference, was Roger Mudd sitting behind the scenes, alongside me, as Ronald Berger talked at that conference, about impeachment. “It’s in the constitution, gentlemen,” and read the section on impeachment, and Roger Mudd turned to me, and behind scenes whispered, and said, pointing to the senators, who were arrayed on the panel, and the other congressmen, and the words were, “Do you think this bunch of pussycats will ever impeach that S.O.B.?” I said, “Roger,” whispering back, “March 7th is a historic day. It may not seem plausible today, but it may be in the very near future.” It took fourteen or fifteen months after that conference, for actual impeachment proceedings to begin to take place in the House judiciary committee. We have a different situation today, and we hope that we will examine these questions with as much probity, with as much care, as is required.

To serve today as moderator, we are most fortunate to have with us Dr. William Green Miller, currently president of the American Committee on U.S.-Soviet Relations. Dr. Miller happens to be uniquely qualified for this role from his academic background, he has a B.A. from Williams College at Oxford, with a specialization in Middle East Studies, and a distinguished career in consulting on Capitol Hill. Where he has served as staff director of the Select Committee on Intelligence from May 1976 to September 1981, and as staff director of the Select Committee to Study Government Operations from February 1975 to May 1976. The Church Committee, and a stint in foreign service also, from 1959 to 1967. But his qualifications for today’s conference highlight his role in November 1979, when Dr. Miller served as President Carter’s Special Emissary to Iran, in an effort to obtain the release of the hostages then held in Iran.

This mission, actually led to the release of the first group of twelve hostages from Iran. Most Americans do not even remember that today. And on this note, it gives me great pleasure to introduce Dr. Miller, and to set the tone for today’s conference, I would like to quote from the part of this New Yorker magazine’s “Talk of the Town”: “Perhaps the most disquieting legacy of Iran-Contra, in which extremely serious political crimes were exposed, and then left largely unexorcised, is a kind of pervasive moral lassitude. In which charges that the president ial election of 1980 was compromised with the help of the Iranian government evoke an almost bored reaction. It now appears that the charges wll be left to linger unanswered and uninvestigated because no one with any power, sees it to be in his personal interest to confront them.” That’s the end of the quote. We, as American citizens, cannot let this be. Dr. Miller.

This first panel, is aimed at establishing the facts that are known, about these circumstances that have been set before you. The charges, as we all recognize, are very serious, and the charges are of such gravity, that they deserve careful investigation. The people here on this first panel have been engaged in investigation from the outside. Three are journalists, and Gary Sick, on my right, is uniquely qualified to examine this question, having served in the NSC, during the time that these events took place. And as a Middle East scholar, has looked carefully into these issues, since that time. The panelists will discuss the facts as they have been able to discover them, in the course of their work. I think it will become clear that there are many things that remain to be answered. And I hope that one outcome of this panel will be to distinguish between what is known and what deserves to be known through proper investigation and either through Congress or whatever authorities are appropriate. Gary Sick has made it clear that he has not yet come to any conclusions. And it seems to me in the spirit of fairness that people who are here, are here to see what the facts are, and what is not known.

And I would like to begin, first with Gary Sick, who will lay the fact base, and then we’ll turn to Christopher Hitchens, who’s the Washington editor of Harper’s magazine, and columnist for The Nation. And then, Martin Kilian, who is the Washington correspondent for Der Spiegel, and finally, to Joel Bleifuss, columnist for In These Times. Gary, why don’t you open the session?

Well, let me just give a very brief background about how I got to where I am at this point, and sortof where I think we are, at least factually, if possible. I was perhaps one of the most reluctant people in this whole story. I was in the White House when the hostages were released. At that time, there immediately began to be rumors that something had happened, that there was some kind of a deal that was struck…I didn’t think that had happened, I didn’t believe you needed to explain the facts that way, that they could be adequately explained by Iranian internal politics and other events. And, later I wrote a book on the subject, and never even mentioned these rumors or charges. I was approached in the 1988 election when this subject began to emerge very strongly by a number of people asking me to comment on the thing, “Did I think these charges were true?” I recognized at the time that there were certainly some new allegations that were coming up, some new evidence that had to be taken account of, but basically I wasn’t prepared to say that I thought the charges were true. And, curiously enough, even after the 1988 election and all this information had come out, I submitted a book proposal to the Twentieth Century Fund, to write a book about the Reagan administration and Iran, and didn’t even mention this as a possibility to be covered in the book. However, as I started working on that book, I had felt I had to start at the beginning. And I felt that I had to resolve those issues in my own mind once and for all, because everything else that happened between the Reagan administration and Iran, was colored, if this did happen, it made a tremendous difference in the way you analyzed what came later. So, I began working on that as I was working on a number of other issues at the time.

As time went on, and certainly not just because of my own work, but certainly Marin Kilian was crucial in this…he had done far more work than I had and kept filling me in on new information as it went along, and in fact, is probably more than anyone else responsible for why I’m here. He may not like that, but that is a fact, nonetheless. But, gradually as I worked on the issue, I became more and more convinced that something happened. I was building up a detailed chronological base, and things kept falling into a pattern, that I simply couldn’t ignore. And then I began doing interviews myself, and gradually, moved from the side of those who dismissed the idea entirely to what, in my view now, and I say this in all seriousness, there really is no doubt at all in my mind, that there were meetings between the Republican campaign and the Iranians, in the course of the 1980 elections, to discuss the question of the hostages. That, to me, is no longer seriously in doubt. The question is, exactly how did it happen, and, can this fact ever be proved? And I’m not sure we’ll ever have full answers to either of those questions.

Let me outline for you, from my own perspective, based on my own research, what I think happened, and the logic of what happened, and then we can go on from there. I do believe that the people in the Reagan campaign, or the Republican campaign, really, because at the beginning of this thing, in early 1980, there were several Republican campaigns going on. You’ll recall that Mr. Bush was running against Mr. Reagan at that time, and they each had their own separate campaign staff, and I think both of them were in fact interested in this issue at the time. But there was a very deep abiding concern on the part of the Republican campaigns, that the hostage issue would be exploited by President Carter, at a key moment in the election, and upset their campaign plans. Everything else was going their way. The numbers were on their side, in terms of the economy, President Carter was viewed as badly wounded by not only the hostage issue, but a lot of other things that were going on, and I think the Republicans felt, with some justification, that it was their election. That this was going to be their time. And if you’re the campaign manager, you have to think, what do I have to worry about? What do I have to protect myself from? And I think they looked around, and one of the things that struck them, that they did need to protect themselves about, was the hostage issue. The fact that, perhaps the hostages would be released at the last second, or at a key moment, and there would be such a wave of emotional response from the American people, that it would overcome the view of Carter as not qualified, or as someone they weren’t going to vote for, and change their mind.

That, it seems to me, was the essential underlying concern that went on. From the information that I’ve been given, by sources who in fact said they were there when these things happened, Mr. Casey, who became the campaign manager for Mr. Reagan in February of 1980, within a month or two after that, probably within a month, approached some individuals, who were plugged into the Iranian circuit, and who were also, as it turns out, were providing information to the U.S. government. These were men who had been identified by the U.S. government as sources with good access into Iran, and they were providing information to us. Us, being the U.S. government at that time, about what was going on. Mr. Casey got in touch with them, and not to put too fine a point on it, they became double agents. They were working on one hand for the U.S. government, and on the other hand, they were providing information to the people in the Republican campaign. I have this from the fellow who did it. And he – his brother is dead – but he says, that’s his words, “We became double agents.” Working for both sides. That led to a major breakthrough in July of 1980. After the Republican convention, and after Mr. Reagan was nominated, Mr. Casey, I believe Mr. Casey went to Madrid, where he met, through the good offices of these gentlemen he had met earlier, he met with Mr. [Mehdi] Karroubi, who was, at that time, a member of the intimate inner circle of Khomeini, and at that meeting, they talked about the possibility of doing, some kind of an agreement, about the hostages.

Mr. Karroubi went back to Tehran, checked back with, presumably Khomeini, and about ten days later, came back, they had a second meeting, and agreed that in their view, the Iranians would hold the hostages, and make a gift of them, as Mr. Casey put it, according to this source, make a gift of the hostages, to the incoming Reagan administration. In return, for promises of political support, military equipment, unfreezing American assets, and arms. And the arms supply was to begin fairly soon, and to go on after they came into office. That was the nature of the deal, as I understand it, that was done at that time…and the, a number of things happened in the period immediately after that. One, the Iranians being good bargainers, instead of just taking the deal, came to the Carter administration and opened negotiations with us, I think, now, in retrospect, to see if we had something better to offer. Then what they’d been offered from the Republican side. We, of course, didn’t know another offer was already on the table. So, we were negotiating on the basis that we thought we were only negotiating with the Iranians, in fact there may have been a third party associated with the negotiations. We bargained rather hard, actually. And in retrospect, I must say, that it makes us look a little bit naive. We honestly didn’t want to get into a position of providing arms for hostages, as foolish as that may sound these days. We thought that was not the way it should be done, and so, we bargained very hard. They asked us for arms, we held back, we delayed, we tried to give them only partial information, we tried to get out of getting into a position of trading U.S. arms for Iranian hostages.

In the end, just before the election, President Carter agreed that we would return all of the military equipment that Iran had bought and paid for, that was in the United States, that we would return that. But that pledge was not made till very late in October; in the meantime we had been bargaining. If indeed they had had a somewhat different offer from the other side, our offer probably didn’t look very good. In any event, the negotiations went on with the Carter administration, there was at the same time a second rescue mission that was coming to fruition, that had been planned by the Carter administration, at that point there was no intention of using it, we were involved in negotiations with Iran, but the hostage rescue mission was there in case it was needed. I think the Republicans got very worried about that, and that the second rescue mission was going to be used, in late October, to reverse the situation if nothing else happened. There were a number of reasons why the Republicans had reason to begin to get nervous again, although the deal had been done. And my understanding is, that in mid-October, they had another meeting, in Paris, which was attended by Republicans, again Mr. Casey, an Iranian group and a group of Israelis, who were present, to review the deal as it stood at that time, and to make sure that things were as they were supposed to be as they came up to the final days of the election. This was about two weeks before the election.

Immediately after those meetings, which in my view took place about the 15th to the 20th of October, 1980…immediately after that, a whole series of things began to happen very suddenly. Some of the hostages were moved to different locations, as if they were suddenly afraid that a rescue mission was going to happen. There was a secret shipment of military equipment from Israel to Iran, which the Carter administration in fact learned about, and complained to Israel that they were shipping arms to Iran, and they promised not to do it again, but it came within forty eight hours after those meetings were concluded in Paris. There were a whole series of other things that happened. The Majlis, the Iranian parliament, that was charged with responsibility for dealing with the hostage issue, went into a complete stall at that point, and everything came to a halt. Suddenly, nothing could get done with regard to that, and there were a number of other things. Anyway, there was a very active period in those, really seventy two hours, after what I think were the completion of the meetings in Paris. The rest of the story you know quite well, the hostages were not released before the election, Ronald Reagan won the election, the hostages were held, detailed negotiations went on with the Carter administration that were getting no place until the fifteenth of January, 1981…at that point, the Iranians completely reversed themselves, in effect, suddenly after having bargained very, very hard with us, for months, from November to January, the Iranians suddenly reversed themselves totally, and for all practical purposes, paid us to take the hostages back. I mean, that isn’t putting too strong a point on it, that Iran suddenly agreed to bring current all of its loans, which was a terribly costly thing for Iran to do, to resolve the whole banking issue, and there were some technical aspects, but suffice it to say, Iran completely reversed itself and as you all know, on the 20th of January, we had completed all the negotiations for the release of the hostages at eight o’clock in the morning, and all of the information was in Iran’s hands, and they sat and waited until five minutes after Mr. Reagan had taken the oath of office, and at which point they announced that they had agreed to the terms that had been worked out as of eight o’clock that morning, and the hostages were released within half an hour of thereafter. As I say, this did arouse some suspicions at the time, but you could understand it as the Iranians sortof taking one last twist of the knife to Jimmy Carter, and they were quite capable of doing something like that on their own.

What we didn’t know at the time, and I haven’t learned till much later, is that there was a substantial flow of military equipment that began almost immeidately. And it’s probably not too much of an exaggeration to say that as the plane with the hostages took off from Tehran and headed to freedom, other planes were loaded and taking off from Israel going the other way with military equipment. The military equipment continued to flow for some years after that time, from Israel, and always with the knowledge of the U.S. government. This is not a supposition, this is something that high officials in the Israeli government have themselves said publicly, and the people in the U.S. government at the time, that have been interviewed on ths subject…never say that this didn’t happen. They simply say, It wasn’t me, who wasn’t responsible for the reports about these arms that were being sent from Israel to Iran. And that’s basically the structure of the story. What don’t we know about this? We don’t know a lot of things. And, my suspicion is that a lot of things are not going to be known. I regard this as a professional intelligence operation, a covert action, that was done certainly with the assitance and participation of professionals. They didn’t, I’m sure, go around leaving stray memos in their wake, I suspect there were no photographs taken of Mr. Casey sitting with Mr. Karroubi in a hotel room in the Ritz Hotel in Madrid. And so forth. I mean, so if you’re looking for a smoking gun, if that is what it takes, a transcript or a tape of the meeting, of Mr. Casey talking to Mr. Karroubi, you know, I suspect that we’re not going to find that smoking gun. There are many things, however, that we could learn that simply have not been available to individuals who have been working on this story, on their own, and with really very limited resources. Some of those things that we could learn, certainly there are…I would like very much, for instance, to simply look at the campaign records. Up until now, all of our efforts to look at the Republican campaign records have met a stone wall from Mr. Meese, who is responsible for the campaign records, and he has refused to let anybody have a peek at anything in those campaign records, which are out in California now. So that would be an interesting place to start.

I would like very much to look at Mr. Casey’s diaries, travel records and the like, I think we might learn a great deal. And obviously, if this isn’t true, if it’s…that’s where we’re going to find out it isn’t true. We need to have hard documentary evidence that says either Mr. Casey was missing on those days, or he did travel on those days, or he didn’t. And if he didn’t, let’s find out about it. I think that…but we have to look at the records. A simple denial – “I think he was around all that week” – is not really enough to take care of the issue. It’s more serious than that. There are flight records, we know the tail numbers of some of the aircraft that were involved in these operations. I would like very much to have access to FAA records that would identify those. I would like to have passports subpoenaed, of certain individuals to see what the stamps are on certain dates of travel. There are tapes that were made of Mr. Hashemi, Cyrus Hashemi, who was working as I say, in fact as a double agent, his office was bugged during a good part of that period. That is now known for sure, he was indicted later on the basis of those tapes. Where are the tapes? I would love to know what Mr. Hashemi was saying in his office and on his telephone during that period of October 1980. We’ve not been able to get our hands on those tapes. There are a number of places one could look. Is that going to solve all of our problems or answer all of our questions? Probably not.

But we’re never going to be able to answer even the basic questions until we look at the material that is presumably available and can only be gotten through a subpoena. So, I will end my lengthy opening statement.

Thank you, Gary. [applause] Christopher Hitchens, as a journalist could you…add to the structure of the fact situation, and really address the question from the point of view of a journalist of what kinds of information you think to be important to know, for the public to know.

There’s a terrible character in a Moliere play called Monsieur Jordan who’s appalled later to discover late in life that he’s been speaking prose his entire career. I find I’ve been writing about the October Surprise often without knowing it. Since 1984, when I got interested in the belated discovery that there had indeed been an attempt to destabilize President Carter’s re-election effort, and that one of the fruits of that destabilization was the presence in the Republican camp of his presidential papers. In other words, we learned in 1984 that in rehearsing for his debate for President Carter, Governor Reagan rehearsed in the same way as President Carter did. That’s to say by reading President Carter’s briefing book. In other words, there’s prima facie evidence for some skullduggery. The word used for the practice by David Stockman at the time was “filching”. Other, more evasive words were used by alternatively amnesiac Mssrs. Casey and Baker, who said they had got the book from the other one.

A very unsatisfactory inquiry was set up by Congress, without subpoena power, without public hearings. Speaker O’Neill was so anxious on behalf of the Democratic Party that the American electorate forget the name “Jimmy Carter”, that he helped to ensure that the inquiry went nowhere. But a professor at an American university here that I became friendly with at the time, John Bansoft, demanded that there be a Special Prosecutor, and took the matter to Judge Harold Green, of this jurisdiction. I decided to quote [for] you what Judge Green said, in replying to the hysterical campaign mounted against the proposal for an investigation of Debategate, by the then Attorney General. Judge Greene accused the Attorney General of utterly misunderstanding the Ethics in Government Act, and criticized the notion, established in prima facie evidence in the investigation of Debategate, and I quote from the judge, “that there had been an information gathering apparatus, employed by a presidential campaign which uses former agents of the FBI and the CIA.” That was the judge in upholding the subsequently defeated motion for a Special Prosecutor. Now, I just kept my files on the Debategate matter, which was successfully thwarted and derailed as an investigation, and then read them again once I was able to read the Iran-Contra testimony. In other words, I read the two of them against one another. It’s a course of action I recommend to people who are interested in this hypothesis, because it makes the following supposition thinkable: all the evidence found by the Albosta Committee, that investigated the theft of President Carter’s papers, showed that the Republicans were principally worried about the President’s diplomacy in relation to Iran. That they’d set up under the chairmanship of Ed Meese and Bill Casey, what they themselves termed an October Surprise Committee. That they’d hired some acting, some former, and some serving, agents of the Central Intelligence Agency and other military organizations, to monitor airports, airfields, other centers, to see what movement there might be in relation to Iran. And to report back. That they had established moles, somewhere, we still don’t know where, within President Carter’s national security apparatus.

Then…that’s all on the record from the first thwarted inquiry. From the second derailed inquiry, the Iran-Contra inquiry, we learned there was another unsolved matter which was, when did this Iran-Contra connection begin? In other words, when did the Iranian bit begin? In the hysterically deceitful press conference that he gave in November of 1986, Attorney General Meese sent everyone haring down the opposite road, the road that led towards Nicaragua, and towards the future. And blocked any attempt to ask the question, when did your covert military relationship with Iran begin? Because if that question was to be asked…if, for example, it was to be established that weapons were going to Iran in 1981, it couldn’t very well be argued that they were going to trade for hostages. Because there were no hostages in ’81, in Tehran, and in ’81, there weren’t any yet in Beirut. Nor, at that stage, was it even argued by the Republicans that there were any moderates to deal with in Tehran. In other words, the usual alibis wouldn’t do. So, this question, in other words, could not be asked. And it was intriguing and sometimes entertaining to see the lengths to which that question was avoided. As I say, put that question together with the evidence of funny business in the 1980 campaign, that was already on the record, and you had a working hypothesis. Which I first printed in 1987.

Now, when people want to change the subject in this country, especially if they want to discredit a witness, or a hypothesis, the easy recourse is to the words “conspiracy theory”, about which I want to say a little. Unless you want a total moral and intellectual relativist, who believes that all facts have the same weight, and convey the same values, life is impossible without theory. There must be, in other words, the mind must attempt to explain arrangements of fact. The usual convenience term used here is “hypothesis”. If my hypothesis was true, that there was a thread linking the Debategate inquiry to the Iran-Contra inquiry, and that it would have taken the form of a bargain, made covertly, between the Reagan campaign and the Ayatollah…if it were true, I’d need to find evidence in two places. There’s no such evidence at the time. But the two places I’d need to find it, would be in the fall of 1980, and in the spring of 1981. I’d have to find evidence that there had been meetings between Reagan campaign people and envoys of the Ayatollah, in the fall of 1980. And I’d have to find evidence that there’d been arms traffic between the United States and Iran in early ’81. Didn’t have any such evidence at the time, so I confined myself to saying that this was a hypothesis. It’s in precisely those two places that all the evidence has since surfaced. Very largely due to the efforts of Martin Kilian and Gary Sick. But many others too. And I think it warrants one in saying, not that there is insufficient evidence, but that there is appallingly too much evidence. That this sort of skullduggery took place. I myself am very impressed by the quantity and the quality of the evidence. Since I’m speaking in a personal capacity, I can drop the polite conditional tone that’s been adopted since our proceedings began this morning and say, I certainly have no doubt whatever, of what happened in that case, and I am impressed as Gary Sick is in another connection, by the way all evidence that turns up, all evidence always points in the same direction.

In other words, if there is a conspiracy, the evidence is taking part in it. The facts are conspiring. And I’m certainly impressed when facts conspire, as they do in this case. Now, I mustn’t overrun my time, but I thought one could summarize by saying what we knew, and what we speculated. Was there an attempt to destabilize the Democrat re-election campaign in 1980? Yes there was. That can be stated beyond doubt. Was it the Iran hostage crisis that provided the weak link for that destabilization? The answer to that is yes. Was that fact known consciously by the Republican campaign operatives? Yes, it was. Whatever might have been the outcome of the 1980 election, we know from their internal discussions that they believed that only a hostage release could save President Carter from defeat. In other words, the state of mind, the Mens Rea, is important. Was there undisclosed contact between Reagan envoys and Iranian envoys in that period, the answer is undoubtedly yes. Did both sides after 1981 behave as if they had made a secret understanding of arms for hostages, except in reverse? Yes. The answer is that they did so behave as if they’d come to a secret understanding. Now, was there sabotage of the hostage rescue mission or missions? I would say, we are not certain. Did Reagan know? A question people can’t even bring themselves to ask. Did the president know? You notice people think, “Oh, let’s not go into that.” My answer is, of course it’s impossible to prove cognition with Reagan, that’s already been demonstrated. I have the feeling that it probably was done without his knowledge or consent, and I also have the feeling that the later theory, that untruthfully stated, that he had not been told and did not know, and which he had been and did, of the Iran-Contra diversion, was probably evolved as the cover story in case they were caught in 1980. I think there are elements of that cover story were used for a later scandal with only partial success.

Was the current president of the United States and leader of the free world in any way directly or personally involved? We can’t be clear about that, we can be clear that some of his subordinates in the world in which he was best qualified, that is to say, the world of secret intelligence and covert operations were closely concerned, and we do have an unbroken record of lying by the president when he is asked about the meetings he has attended where either arms or hostages are discussed. If you look up Theodore Draper’s history of Iran-Contra, I forget the exact page numbers, but there are three pages which handily summarize and condense the number of occasions on which the president has lied flat out about his participation in meetings where an unconstitutional arms for hostage trafficking was discussed. In other words, a presidential denial of the sort that we recently had from George Bush carries for this purpose, for the purpose of any intellectually serious investigation, no weight at all. As Gary Sick says, and I’ll close on this point and hand it over to Martin, all the fresh evidence does have the uncanny faculty of fitting the hypothesis that I and some others have been advancing since 1987 and if it were true, it would explain why it is that this Republic occasionally, rather more often than is comfortable, needs to convene its Congress into special sessions in order to find out sometimes what the government is doing, and sometimes who the government is. If we are to be relieved of this distressing necessity in the future, it would be as well that we acted with more respect to the recent past. Thank you. [applause]

Martin Kilian.

I want to keep my remarks very short, so you people have enough time for questioning. And I think what I might do, is just give a short rundown on how this started, and where it is, and the promises and the problems of it, because there certainly are problems with it. I started working this two and a half years ago, and after a while it appeared to me probably the problem of getting this story home in the U.S. were almost overwhelming. So, we decided, by we I mean the magazine [Der Spiegel], because I have the backing of my editors for that, we decided to go around in Europe a little bit. And in the fall of 1988, early December ’88, I was about to throw the towel in. Because I felt that the information we had at the time, people like Richard Brenneke and others, there might be something to it, but it wasn’t good enough. There were also glaring contradictions, there were people who obviously lied to us, and so it didn’t amount to much. And I think at this point I probably would have given up if it hadn’t been several trips to Europe…lo and behold, in Europe we found several people who gave us rather detailed descriptions of what had happened in the fall of 1980. The problem with them was, that they were not willing to go on the record. One of them, as a matter of fact, was severely threatened, and at least as he told us, and he refused to talk with us anymore.

But, talking to an intelligence official, a former intelligence official in France, talking to a German arms dealer who was very, very intimately connected to the Iranian leadership, I came to the conclusion that either something indeed had happened in the fall of 1980, or it was a conspiracy of lying. Some kind of disinformation campaign to besmirch or smear American officials who had been in the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1980. Now, even after two and a half years, I can’t rule out that a lot of what people have been telling me and a lot of other people is not true, but if you take all what we have, I think you have to be really, really paranoid to believe that there are witnesses and informants on three continents popping up over two and a half years, that all of them are supposed to be lying or all of them are disinforming.

Let’s get into the hard facts. The facts we have, and I want to expand on one thing which neither Gary nor Chris have mentioned, we do know about the meeting on October 2nd, 1980, between Mr. Allen and Mr. [Lawrence] Silberman and Mr. McFarlane. I believe Richard Allen, that he wasn’t going there to do any monkey play, but: I think it would be very important to know why Mr. McFarlane importuned Mr. Allen to come to this meeting; I would like to know why a then Senate Arms Committee staffer brought an Iranian to a meeting of two high ranking Reagan campaign officials and I would like to know what they really talked about. Perhaps Mr. McFarlane could clear this up. And it’s up to him perhaps to answer that.

The second hard fact we have is that yes, there was an intelligence operation against Jimmy Carter. There’s no doubt about it, we have the Albosta Committee report. The third hard fact are the weapons. And I think it’s not just weapons from Israel. I do think you see a pattern of private or semi-private arms dealers in Europe, in 1981 and following, shipping arms to Iran. It is very possible that even those operations were connected to something which might have happened in the fall of 1980. The other thing is, we went to a former high ranking German official, who told us that starting in 1981, stuff out of NATO’s stores was shipped out of area. The Germans had to be notified of this; as treaties require, but they did not want to know what happened to the stuff. We were talking big numbers of material. And have a pick: it was either shipped to Angola, Afghanistan, or Iran, or all three of them. The fourth fact, and that is the most interesting one, and nobody has talked about that…in late July, 1980, Richard Nixon was in London. And the London Sunday Telegraph reported that Mr. Nixon at that time tried to get British ex-commandos to help him free the hostages in Tehran. Now, when the Sunday Telegraph, in a very nice story, approached the Nixon people about this, Nixon’s spokesperson first said, “We neither confirm nor deny it.” Later, they denied it. I think they’re not telling us the truth. I think Mr. Nixon was there; I think he talked about the hostages with British officials, and I think it should be asked by the Congressional panel if it ever comes to pass, what the ex-president was doing there.

One more point, about George Bush. I never really thought George Bush was in Europe. I think it’s a non-starter. I might be wrong. But: the question is not whether the President was in 1980 in Paris. The question is whether people in the Reagan-Bush campaign met in Paris, Madrid, Zurich, Rowley, Frankfurt, with Iranians. And I hope that we will have more in the next six to eight months. I think we have to be very patient. And I am prepared, I am still prepared at this late date, that the whole thing is nothing but a huge disinformation campaign, but it would be hard, I would be very hard pressed to believe that. Thank you.

Joel Bleifuss, please.

In 1980, private citizens connected with the Reagan Bush campaign made a deal with representatives of the Ayatollah Khomeini to delay the release of fifty two American hostages held in Iran until after the election, in order to insure that Carter would not win the election with a last minute release of the hostages. In return, the campaign guaranteed the delivery of weapons and spare parts that Iran desperately needed for its war against Iraq. For four years I’ve been writing about this, using the adjective “alleged” to preface the word “deal”. But let’s not kid ourselves, I firmly believe it happened. Read through the nine hundred and eighty six page collection of documents and news clippings that David Marx has compiled you that is at the front door. Or read the two thousand four hundred and thirteen Albosta report on the theft of President Carter’s briefing books prepared by the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service. Those two thousand four hundred and thirteen pages provide some details of an intelligence operation that entailed, in addition to the theft of President Carter’s briefing books, the creation of two October Surprise groups within the campaign. One of those groups, headed by William Casey, included Richard Wirthlin, Pete Daley, and Ed McGarrick. The other, which was headed by Richard Allen, included Fred Eckel, John Layman, and Admiral Thomas Moorer. On page fifty seven of the report, the Committee describes how it was informed that, I quote, “highly placed member of the U.S. intelligence committee [community], with links to the Reagan-Bush committee, leaked to the press about a deal being negotiated in October 1980, between Carter and Iranian president, Bani-Sadr, that would have traded hostages for spare parts.” At least in part. The report goes on to say, that the committee looked into this allegation, but decided not to publish the results of that inquiry because it could not discover the identity of this highly placed member of the U.S. intelligence committee.

In light of the current charges, perhaps staff reports from the Albosta investigation should be resurrected. And on a speculative note, perhaps the relevant congressional committees should now probe the actions during 1980 of two highly placed members in the U.S. intelligence committee who worked in the Carter White House, and went on to see their careers prosper in the Reagan and then Bush administrations. Robert Gates, who in 1980 was the top aide to CIA director Stansfield Turner, and Donald Gregg, who is the CIA liaison to the National Security Council. The affidavits in volume two of the Albosta report are also of interest. There you will find an outbreak of collective memory loss similar to that which plagued those who brought this country Watergate and Iran-Contra, from Richard Allen to Margaret Tutwiler, to George Will, who you will remember prepped Reagan for his October 28th debate with Carter, no one has been able to recall how the Carter debriefing books found their way out of the White House, and into the hands of public citizen Ronald Reagan. The question now before Congress, is whether in addition to stealing Carter’s briefing notebooks, this cabal of would-be presidents and their friends stole the 1980 election.

A good number of people claim knowledge of a series of October meetings in Paris, where details of the deal were worked out. Among those who are alleged to have been at that meeting are William Casey, George Bush, and Donald Gregg, at the time, a U.S. official, a man who would later express interest in re-supplying the copters. These meetings are alleged to have taken place two weeks before what was a very close election. So, one would expect the campaign records would be able to explain where campaign manager Casey and vice presidential candidate George Bush’s days in question. The Bush Administration tried to explain just that last year when the Justice Department charged Portland arms dealer Richard Brenneke with making false declarations in court. In the fall of 1988, Brenneke had testified before a federal judge that he was present at a Paris meeting where details of the deal were being hammered out. The U.S. attorney prosecuting Brenneke last year sought to prove Brenneke was lying, providing alibis for Casey, Gregg, and Bush. But the government failed to come up with satisfactory alibis for all three and in the end, the jury unanimously found Brenneke not guilty. Gregg, in fact, left his ambassador’s residence in Seoul, South Korea, and went to Portland as a government witness. Gregg told the court that he was on Bethany Beach, Delaware, and offered as proof photos of him and his family basking in the sun. The problem for Gregg is that according to U.S. Weather Service satellite photos, it was cloudy that weekend.

As for Bush’s alibi, you can take your pick. The Paris meetings are said to have taken place on October 18th and 19th, 1980, perhaps October 20th. During that weekend, two weeks before what was a very close election, candidate Bush disappeared from public view for twenty hours. Enough time to jet to Paris, attend a meeting, and jet back. Just hypothetically, where was George? Bush administration has been working overtime to provide an alibi, but these overeager efforts apparently have not been co-ordinated. In the fall of 1988, Republican presidential campaign workers explained that Bush spent these unaccounted hours at the Chevy Chase country club on private business. That story was supported by a heavily redacted Secret Service report that said that Bush was at the club with unknown parties. In May, 1990, at the Brenneke trial, where this report again surfaced, the Justice Department offered two Secret Service agents as witnesses to explain Bush’s whereabouts, with unconvincing lackluster testimony, the two had trouble making their case. On October 22nd, 1991, a few days after Gary Sick’s piece appeared in the New York Times, and Robert Parry’s Frontline documentary aired on PBS, Vice President Quayle was asked on Detroit’s ABC affiliate where Bush was that weekend in October. Quayle said he didn’t know, but that he promised to get back to the station with an answer. The next day, the Vice President’s office faxed a Bush itinerary which stated that on Sunday October 19th, Bush spent all day at home at Washington without a Secret Service escort. On May 8, the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Kovitz provided a third Bush itinerary for his lost weekend. Kovitz wrote, “Sunday, Washington D.C. Lunch with Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and Mrs. Stewart. This alibi originates with the Secret Service which several months ago provided that information to the Government Accounting Office. Apparently, brunching with the Supreme Court Justice looks more presidential than an overnight visit to a Washington country club with private parties unknown.

Further, the brunch with the Stewarts cannot be confirmed; the Judge is dead and his wife suffers chronic memory loss. Also, on May 8, Jerry Sepper weighed in with a fourth alibi: he reported Bush was at home with the Secret Service escort, unlike the previous Quayle alibi which said the Secret Service wasn’t present. Pepper wrote, quote: “The Secret Service says he awoke at about six thirty Sunday, had lunch at his Washington home, and spent the day there preparing a speech for the Zionist Organization of America in Washington.” The three other brief points to be considered that have been brought up before: something happened between October 11 and October 22 which caused Iran in its on-going negotiations with the Carter administration to drop the demand that would have linked the release of hostages to the guarantee that the U.S. would supply Iran with spare parts that it desperately needed for its war with Iraq. The hostages, as it has been said, were released moments after Reagan was sworn in. And U.S. arms started flowing into Iran immediately thereafter.

Did this deal take place? The allegations should at least be investigated with the same thoroughness and, I would say, more that was given the Reagan-Bush campaign’s theft of the Carter briefing books. I believe these allegations raise a number of serious questions, and I’ll mention two. There is a question as to how this 1980 arms for hostages deal is affecting the Middle East peace process. It is alleged that Israel was the middleman in the arms deal. Is Israel using its knowledge now of this affair to influence the Bush administration’s negotiations? Intelligence Newsletter of Paris reports that when Israeli Prime Minister Shamir was in Washington last year, he presented Bush with two files, one of which contained information on what George [Bush] knew and when he knew it. But that concern is perhaps a political one. There is a second, and I think, broader philosophical question about what- and that involves what is the job of Congress? To borrow half a metaphor from Virginia Woolf, does the U.S. Capitol represent the cranium of a constitutional democracy? Or, merely an exalted lid that is keeping some pretty nasty stuff from spilling into the public view? [applause]

We have about twenty minutes for questions from the floor. And I’m sure the panelists would be happy to address any issues here.

Before you do that, we’re joined by Senator Wellstone, one of the initiating sponsors. Senator Wellstone has an interest in this as one of the initiating sponsors, he’s been here for a few minutes, do you have anything you wanted to say to our assembled gathering before you have to leave, Senator Wellstone?

I think I’ll just let the discussion go on, I’ve just been very interested in what’s been said, and I do find myself in very strong agreement with the sentiment that’s been expressed here, which is there should indeed be hearings and a real investigation. It’s such an important question. You don’t need to pre-judge the answer, but it’s an important question, that goes to the very heart of the kind of questions that should be researched. So, I’m here as a supporter of this gathering today. [applause]

Would you identify yourselves when you ask questions.

…staff of the Foreign Relations Committee. I wonder if Gary Sick would be willing to describe the perspective from inside the White House…in, I guess it was September or October of 1980, when it appeared that there was going to be a release of the hostages. President Carter delivered an early morning press statement and then apparently it happened thereafter.

The date I think…the question as I understand it is, an event that took place in the White House at a point when President Carter made an early morning announcement, that certain things were going to happen, and then they didn’t happen. You said September, in fact, I believe the date you’re referring to is April 1st, 1980, that was before the rescue mission…but it was during the primaries. In fact, it was the morning of the Wisconsin primary, and this event has lived on in the mythology of the time. In fact, William Casey cited that, the events as he understood them of April 1st, 1980, as one of the reasons why he was convinced Carter would misuse the hostage issue to his own benefit. And what happened on that morning, is that President Carter had given the Iranians a deadline. He said that they were supposed to move the hostages into the care of the government, away from the hostage takers, away from the students, by the end of March. That date ran out. And Carter was prepared on the end, the day before, to make a statement. He was prevailed upon, and I was in that meeting, especially by Secretary Vance, to please hold off, because we had information that Boni-Sadr was going to make a speech the next day in which he would in fact announce that the government was going to take custody of the hostages. Carter hesitated, because he had put things off many other times, and he was always being accused of wishy-washy behavior, and he finally said, “Alright. I’ll see you here in the morning at five o’clock. At the Oval Office, and we’ll see.” What he had to say. Five o’clock in the morning is what, uh, noon or thereabouts in Tehran. Noon to one o’clock. We all re-assembled at five o’clock in the morning in the Oval Office, on the morning of April 1st…Bani-Sadr’s speech was, in fact, coming in, in bits and pieces, from the FBIS that was transmitting, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, that was translating the speech, and in that, Bani-Sadr, in fact, did say the words that he said he was going to say, that is, that if the United States fulfilled certain responsibilities, the hostages would, in fact, be moved to the custody of the government.

Carter then, according to the rules of the game, was supposed to reply in some form to say, “OK, we’ve got a deal.” Carter put out a statement that morning, which was carefully worded, which said that he saw this as a positive sign, a move forward, and certainly welcomed the idea of the hostages being moved into the care of the government and away from the others, and that the United States would take positive note of this…something to that effect. That was, of course, on the morning of the Wisconsin primary. And, Carter won the Wisconsin primary handily. And, part of, as I say, what I consider as someone who was at the meeting, part of the mythology is, that this whole thing was cooked up by Carter to use the hostages to win the Wisconsin primary. That this was all done on that basis. That was not my impression, looking at it from the White House point of view, but in many cases, your impression from the inside was less important than the impression from the outside, and certainly the media, I think 100%, felt that this was manipulation of the hostage issue for political benefit and that has lived on, in the time. But that’s my recollection of what it looked like from the inside.

…there’s a relationship between that, what transpired subsequent, which was they were not transferred to the government, and the other negotiations that were going on with the Republican campaign.

I don’t think so. My impression is that Khomeini, in effect, vetoed subsequently the speech that Bani-Sadr had made. Bani-Sadr had made this promise, within a few days Khomeini publicly vetoed that, said that was not what was going to happen, and the hostages were not turned over in fact to the care of the government, and that led to Carter’s decision to launch the rescue mission. And that decision was taken within a week after that April 1st announcement, which was then vetoed, turned around, and that’s when Carter decided to go with the rescue mission. Which took place on the 24th. I don’t think it had anything to do with what was going on in the Republican campaign at that time. Except, as I say, it shaped attitudes for Mr. Casey, certainly. And he’s on record as saying that this was a deciding moment for him, in seeing how Carter would abuse the system and manipulate the system for his own political benefit.

Question here.

Given the rivalry, the continued rivalry between radicals and pragmatists in Tehran, why, in your opinion, have we not heard more from the Iranian side of this? Other than Mr. Karroubi.

The question is, in view of the competition between rival factions in Tehran, why haven’t we heard more about it from the Iranian side. I can’t go into elaborate detail in this case, but I do believe, in fact, that the reason we’re hearing about Madrid, which after all was something we didn’t know about…eight months ago, none of us really knew about any meetings in Madrid. We had some inklings that there had been meetings elsewhere, but it was very fuzzy and very vague. And from my point of view, the new information about those meetings, which put a beginning on the story in effect, and a sort of structure for the thing, wasn’t a last second business that was cobbled together in October just before the elections, but in fact, there was a beginning to this story, and there was a certain logic and structure to it, was one of the things that made me change my mind about this whole issue, that I finally reluctantly said, you know, this…the reason why that information suddenly became available, in my view, is because of rivalries in Tehran. Where people who had been told to keep their mouth shut, previously, were suddenly let to be known that they could talk about this issue to some degree. And I really genuinely believe that that’s why we got the information on the Madrid meeting. So in that sense, they have. Otherwise, there has been dead silence. They have not published the story, in the Iranian papers…you gotta remember, this is dynamite in Iran also. Because it indicates that certain factions who may be at each other’s throats now, but who were united at that time, were colluding with the United States and Israel, at a time of high ideological fervor. And while the hostages were being held. That is something they have to be very very careful about. Talking about publicly in Iran. I think what we’ve seen is, the Iranians have allowed other people to speak on their behalf. And that that’s what we’re getting in terms of these sources.

Question here.

…for The Independent. Two questions for Gary Sick. In your famous op-ed piece, you said that you hadn’t made your mind up about whether President Bush was there. I wondered if your mind had changed in either direction. And secondly, as to the overall October Surprise theory, what piece of evidence would, do you think now needs to come out in public, which would either prove or disprove, and how would that happen? Who’d be in a position to release that?

Let me be very brief. I have not changed my mind, I’m exactly where I was before, and I think Joel Bleifuss did an excellent job of laying out, it’s not so much that I believe George Bush was in Paris, I mean I would be prepared to believe in a moment he wasn’t, it doesn’t make any sense. It would be a stupid thing for him to do, it would be extremely risky. What keeps me from coming to that conclusion is the fact that Bush’s story keeps changing all the time. This should be the easiest thing in the world to prove. All you have to do is pull out the Secret Service records and say, here’s where he was, that’s it, let the people on the team be interviewed, that’s the end of the game. That’s the end of the story. They’ve never done that. And I simply can’t understand why. If they really want to lay this to rest, they haven’t done it. Where are the documents, where are the facts? This is nothing secret. Secondly, what is it that needs to be known? Well…I’ve been working on this, as has, other people have, certainly Martin has, for the last two years or more. Putting together little bits and pieces of information. I do not operate on the basis that there is going to be a sudden revelation from heaven, the skies will open, everything will become clear. That is not the way this story works. It’s put together in little bits and pieces, like a large mosaic, and we’ve got quite a little bit of the landscape identifiable in that mosaic right now. But there are large gaping holes. I don’t think they’re going to be filled in by one single piece of information.

Yes, the lady here.

Yes, Barbara Honegger, the author of October Surprise. I would like to know, Gary, what specific dates if we have them, these Madrid meetings happened on, because as you know, this is really the one significant new piece of information that was not already published in my book in 1989.

The dates for the meetings in Madrid…unfortunately, there’s some other people doing research on this, and I can’t steal their material, at this point. Let me be somewhat more general than I would like to be, but it really is someone else’s information, and I simply have to respect that at this point. I would say, from the 25th to the 29th of July, and from the, let’s say the tenth to the fifteenth of August. And that in those time periods, there were in each case, probably two different meetings. So they would have a meeting one day adjourn, and have a meeting the next day, and then they would go home. And then come back later, and have another set of, a dual set of meetings. That’s my understanding at the moment…

Can you identify any individuals, as you have already, besides Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Casey?

There are allegations…I have…my basic rule of thumb on identifying individuals who are involved, is that I want to have at least two, and I would prefer to have three different sources, before I make any public statements. And I don’t have that as yet.

May I re-phrase it then? Without giving the names, how many individuals in addition to Mr. Casey, from the Republican camp, or Republican sympathizers and also on the Iranian side in addition to Mr. Karroubi numbers?

In the meetings themselves, for which I have an eyewitness, Mr. Casey was accompanied by two individuals.

…you say somebody else’s information, is that somebody from Congress, Congress side who’s investigating-

No, it’s not.

-or is it some media?

It’s media.

Question here.

Was Mr. Karroubi accompanied by anyone?

Yes. Mr. Karroubi was accompanied by his brother Hassan, who shows up in the Iran-Contra affair later on, and he was also accompanied by a couple of revolutionary guards.

Question here.

Harvey Wasserman, from the Columbus Free Press. A lot of the speculation has centered on whether or not George Bush actually went to Paris, and I think it’s been demonstrably, or well-stated, that that may ultimately be a red herring. It seems inconceivable that such negotiations could have gone on, between the Reagan-Bush campaign, and the Iranians, without George Bush knowing about it. Whether or not he went to Paris, but I have a question and a quick follow-up. Isn’t it possible that the Iranians, who many people believe, that they believe the real power in the U.S. did lie with the CIA, and therefore would have rested with George Bush, who was its former head, isn’t it possible that in order to seal this arrangement, they would have demanded George Bush’s personal presence, if not in Paris, then perhaps meeting with Mr. [Mohammed Ali] Rajai in New York, or some other personal contact with George Bush at some point along in the negotiations? And I have a quick follow-up.

I mean, I think one might as well take that as your statement. I mean, yeah, that seems…there’s reason to that, I’d only add to it, it ought to be born in mind that American democracy wasn’t the only loser in this affair. That by dealing directly with the hostage takers and with the people around Khomeini, in effect a great blow was dealt at the one chance of representative government in Iran as well. Bani Sadr government was badly undercut by this process of negotiation. So it adds to the rather large mountain of debt that we owe the Iranian people for past and present interventions in their internal affairs.

…people who’ve said that they were at these meetings, that Bush’s presence was required, because, you know, he would sortof lend weight to the negotiations and they wanted a commitment from somebody who would be in power.

The follow-up is, of course the Carter administration did make a failed attempt to rescue the hostages and did discuss a second one, this would be for Mr. Sick. My understanding is that both Oliver North and Richard Secord were involved in one or both of those operations. Could you discuss that please?

To the best of my knowledge, Richard Secord was not involved in the first, he was the Deputy Commander of the second, and was the man who was primarily responsible for putting it together. Oliver North, if he was involved at all, he was a very young officer at the time, I’ve been told by people, and I simply cannot verify this, I’ve not personally verified the information, that he was in a unit that in fact was deployed to Turkey during the first rescue mission in case it was needed. I’ve been told that, I have absolutely no hard evidence of it, and I make no claims of it. If so, he was very much on the fringes of the operation. As far as I know, neither Secord nor North were involved in the direct planning or execution of the first rescue mission.

May I comment on that?

No, she’s had- You’ve had far too many-

There’s another questioner beside you.


I’d like to state more briefly the question that ended the original press conference, there is this, this ominous undertone to this, about there being sortof two governments here in the United States, there are two alternative explanations of that, one is that all you had was the Reagan-Bush campaign group that was getting ready to be the government anyhow, but there’s this other group of covert operation experts that were inside the Central Intelligence Agency, that had been removed from government, that President Carter has referred to in his Village Voice interview. What do you understand, Mr. Sick and any of the other panelists, to be the relationship, if any, between that group of disgruntled CIA covert operations specialists and this entire operation, that took on the tone of a covert operation?

Well, let me say this, from my understanding, and again, I’m speaking only on the basis of fragmentary evidence that when Mr. Casey became director of CIA, that in many cases he felt that to run a proper intelligence organization, you shouldn’t just use the people inside the organization who can be identified under light cover in embassies and things of the sort, but that you should have them under deep cover, in other words, they should not be directly affiliated with the agency, and some of those people as I understand it correctly, did in fact end up in rather interesting jobs, places, later on, where, presumably they could act outside the realm, again of, not only of possible penetration by the enemy, but also, penetration by Congress. So, if these people were not actually working for you, you don’t have to account for them, and they don’t have to be subject to Congressional oversight. Now, I’ve heard convincing evidence that that happened in certain cases, I can’t name a list of twenty people, we do know that some of those people showed up again in “The Enterprise” [the name of the group involved in getting money for the Contras by selling weapons to Iran], in the Iran-Contra affair, and they did. So I, to me, it’s not difficult at all to believe that some of those people who were removed from the CIA, ended up coming back, working for the campaign, perhaps working off the books for Mr. Casey, and showing up again in covert operations here and there. That was their profession, they were good at it, and they probably wanted to get back in the game again. So, that doesn’t surprise me. I do, as I say, and I’ve said before, I do part company with you, in the sense that these people constitute a second government that is somehow making policy for the United States.

I’d just like to make a comment on your comment about Richard Secord, if I may. And that is that I have with me published sources that I will give you after the meeting, that Mr. Secord was in fact involved with the logistical arrangements for the [unintelligible] Egypt site. In the Desert One operation.

Question here.

…Zeitung. Did any body of you during the long investigations, come across any piece of information that might be, in one way or the other, important to the assessment of Robert Gates?

I’ve talked to former Israeli intelligence official, named Ari Ben-Menashe, and he has talked about Gates in connection with 1980. And being involved in this deal. And that’s the only source I have on the record for this. And I think it’s sortof published speculation at this point. But I think it’s something that could be investigated. And it’s also…it is apparent, I think, that there was somebody in the Carter White House who was passing information on to the Republican Party. And it would seem that Gates would be one person that could be looked into.

Mr. Sick, what about the tapes? You mentioned the tapes, and you haven’t elaborated on that, could you please?

Could you identify yourself?

Yeah, my name is Herbert Quinde with the Executive Intelligence Review. The publication associated with Lyndon Larouche.

Basically, what I said about the tapes is what I know about the tapes. That is that I do know that Cyrus Hashemi’s office was bugged, starting as early as October, 1980, that he did business out of there, with his brother and, certainly with the U.S. government, and also presumably with other people, during that period of time, that he was subsequently indicted by Rudolph Giuliani, in 1984…for illegal arms sales, based on evidence dating back to 1980 and 81 and those tapes. And the tapes, to the best of my knowledge, have never been seen since that time. So I…that’s basically what I know.

I think the FBI at one point had said the tapes had been lost, because at one point we were trying to get access to them.

Portions of the tape are in the court record, from the case…the Hashemi case. From that sting operation in ’86.

Identify yourself, please.

…Center for Responsive Law. Gary, you mentioned that arms were practically leaving as the hostages were coming back. Do we have any hard evidence that any arms were going in, before the Turkish plane was downed in July of ’81?

Only the word of people. I have no manifests, I do have some contract data, which looks…real. Involving an Iranian that I know independently to have been a real name of an individual involved in procurement that was signed with an Israeli arms dealer in July of 1981. There, however, is a lot of testimony from individuals about, and many of these senior Israelis, who will not go on the record unfortunately, with this. That the arms shipment started much earlier than that. There is, in fact, an allegation that will remain to be seen, that in fact, there were some arms shipments, in addition to the one airplane shipment that we know of in October, of 1980, from Israel, which looked very much like a sortof gesture of goodwill. That this is sortof sealing the deal that was done in October 15th to the 20th. That in addition to that, there may have been other deliveries even earlier, before the inauguration, as further evidence of that. But that again, remains very speculative, it’s on the basis of a single source and I feel very uncomfortable talking about it, because my rule of thumb has been, throughout this, that since these people are talking to us, are many cases themselves, dubious, unreliable people, that you simply don’t go with a single source. I like to have two or three, before I’m prepared to make an allegation, and in this case, I have only one source.

You say that’s between the election and the inauguration?

That’s right.

We have time for one more question. Here?

David McMichael. With reference to Mr. Ben-Menashe, Joel, if I recall my conversation with him correctly, he said up through, at least, September of 1980 at the various meetings, there had been the working assumption both of the Israelis and the Iranian representatives, that the objective was somehow to deliver the hostages into the custody of the Republican campaign representatives. And, in fact, arrangements had been made, to deliver them in Karachi, by sometime early in October. And that they were very surprised to learn that the decision had been made by Mr. Casey that they were in no case to be delivered. But it also raises the further question of, except perhaps for pettiness, of why the delay after the election, when no further electoral purpose could be served by holding the hostages…is anyone prepared to comment on that?

Yeah. I think it [unintelligible] the point, how complicated the story altogether is. It’s true, not just Mr. Ben-Menashe, also others have said that the Republicans’ first goal was to get these hostages out. Using Karachi as a point of departure. Now, I think one of the problems that people who investigate this story have had to deal with in the last two years, is that it is a terribly complicated thing. It’s not like a very straight line and I think there were setbacks, there were changes of mind, I think there were reverses, and I even wouldn’t rule out, that you had competing factions within the election campaign, within the Reagan-Bush campaign team. And I think what Mr. Ben-Menashe said about the Karachi connection, would make a lot of sense. Except for one point: how would they have explained to the American public in July of 1980, that all of a sudden, they got the hostages out, while the president, Jimmy Carter, did not get them out? There were very grave political questions associated with this. And, if he’s right, if Mr. Ben-Menashe is right, about the Karachi thing, it would be very interesting to know why it never came to pass.

I want to thank our panelists for coming here today, and laying out the facts as we know them, and what is not known. We’ll proceed now to the next panel on-

We’re going to have a quick change of scene, if we may. Morton Halperin, Marcus Raskin, please come forward. [applause]

This second panel will look at the issues that have been raised, from separate perspectives. Mort Halperin will begin with a constitutional view, Professor Beisner from American University will present the view of a historian. Mark Raskin will look at it from the point of view of a long time policy practitioner and student of American policy, and ethics / morality. And Tom Blanton will look at the issue from the point of view of the record. As a active member of the National Security Archive, he’s in a position to give an evaluation of the data that’s available and to address the question of what Congress, if it involved itself, would be likely to find. So, if Mort Halperin would begin.

Thank you, I’m pleased to be here. I also need to say that, as I’ve explained to the organizer of the conference, I had a prior commitment which could not be changed, so I will have to speak and then leave, and I mean no disrespect to my fellow panelists, whose views I would certainly like to stay and hear, and join in the conversation about, so I regret that. I think it is worth noting, that this conference is being held on the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times. An event which began to educate the American public to a fact which also underlines this meeting. And that fact is, that we have permitted in this country something which should not be permitted in a democratic society, and which our constitution is designed to prevent. Namely, we have permitted a secret government. A government that both functions in secret and then is allowed to keep its history secret.

The startling thing about the Pentagon Papers is that it revealed that what we had been told about the war was not what had happened. To remind you just of one of the most, and for me, the most startling revelation…namely, that the South Vietnamese government in 1965 did not ask the American government to intervene militarily. In fact, it was bitterly opposed to the American military intervention. But we had told the South Vietnamese government that unless they allowed American troops to come into Vietnam, we would cease all our support. And that in fact, not only did they have to allow the troops to come in, but they had to pretend to ask for them. So, the American public was told that there was this urgent request from the South Vietnamese government which we were responding to, to help a free people, as we always call our allies. As we now call the Kuwaitis. To help a free people, and that we had to do it. We learned from the Pentagon Papers, that this was simply a lie. That they did not want us in, that we had insisted upon coming in, and there were many other fundamental falsehoods that we learned about only from the Pentagon Papers. I think we need to insist, certainly now that the Cold War is ending, and that the primary justification for the secret agencies, for the secret government, and for the secret history, the primary justification for that, the Cold War, has come to an end abroad. We need to start insisting that the legacy of the Cold War at home…be lifted. And that the United States be restored to the democracy that our founders meant it to be, that we celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the Bill of Rights, we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, that we celebrate the end of the Cold War abroad, by restoring democracy at home. And that means ending secret agencies. It means that the Congress must insist that the intelligence agencies of the government, the NRO, the National Reconnaissance Office, whose very existence is still supposed to be secret, the CIA’s functions, the National Security Agency’s functions, that these be made public. And that their budgets be made public. But that also that the history become public. That we not be dependent on a Daniel Ellsberg to give us the Pentagon Papers, that we not be dependent on a Gary Sick to dig and dig, until he begins to come up with evidence of a possible October surprise. But that the government be required to make the history of what’s happened to us public in a much more timely fashion then is now going on.

Now, as we sit here, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is marking up a very, very modest proposal. It is a proposal that for the first time, statutorily sets out the standards for the publication of the diplomatic history of the United States. Which is released thirty years after the event. And as we know, the entire advisory committee to the State Department resigned. Because the State Department was putting out a volume of what took place thirty years ago, which left out all the key documents, and which gave no indication that it had left out all the key documents, and therefore, they resigned in protest. Congress is now seeking to change things. The Senate last year unanimously voted a set of rules, they are now before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and we have a letter from the State Department, announcing that any procedures that Congress will impose on the release of these documents is unconstitutional, and violates the president’s prerogatives in foreign affairs. And the president is, as he now seems to do with any bill that shows any life in the Congress of the United States, is threatening a veto of this legislation, on the grounds that the president’s legal adviser has told him that this will jeopardize the constitutional prerogatives of the president.

Now, you all remember the famous story of the crowds in Philadelphia who were gathering outside the hall where the constitution was being written in secret. And the great fear was, that they were in fact creating a monarchy. And the crowds in Philadelphia were fearful as the constitutional convention went on in secret, longer and longer, that what they were going to be confronted with, was the creation of a new monarchy. And as the constitutional convention finally ended, the great hero of the convention, as far as the people were concerned, Benjamin Franklin, came out. And the people gathered around him, and they shouted “What is it? What is it?” meaning, was it a monarchy? And Franklin looked at them and said, “It’s a republic, if you can keep it.” And I think that message needs to be directed to two places. First of all, we need to try to find a way to persuade George Bush, if not Boyden Gray, that it is a republic, and that we intend to keep it. They seem to think that in fact it is a monarchy, in which the president, and not the congress, decides what information we will have about how our government functions. And second of all, we need to direct that message to the Congress. Because the Congress has been unwilling to take on the president on the issues of government secrecy.

Let me just suggest a few simple steps I think the Congress ought to take, so that we do not need to meet five years from now, and ten years from now, and twenty years from now, to wonder again what has been done in the name of the United States in secrecy by our secret government. Congress ought to enact this very simple and very modest proposal about the diplomatic history of the United States. It ought to make the budget of the intelligence community and the functions of those agencies public, and ought to legislate the rules and procedures on which they operate. It ought to amend the Freedom of Information Act, so that it can become an even more effective tool than it is, for the release of information relating to national security. And Congress needs to make it clear in its oversight functions that it will not permit a secret government to operate in the name of the United States without our knowing about it. This is a republic, it is a constitutional democracy, it was built on a series of checks and balances, and it was built on the fundamental principle that the people have a right to know what their government is doing, to judge what the elected officials are doing, at the ballot box and in communications with the president and the executive branch, and we need to say, that as the Cold War ends abroad, that we will free ourselves to restore our democracy at home, in which we have a right to know what is done and a right to judge the officials of the government by knowing fully what they did in our name. And those are the principles I suggest should inform us as we look at the facts of this particular case. Thank you. [applause]

I’d like to turn to Marcus Raskin, Distinguished Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Thank you very much. I have several points which really are a follow-up to what Mort Halperin has said. And that really goes to, I think, the case, finally, but then using the case as a way of re-thinking or re-structuring our own federal government. One way of reading American history is to take the Constitution and say, well, the Bill of Rights to the Constitution and the Preamble, are the democratic sections. And with the constitutional body, that is, internal workings of the constitution really represent the “how a government is to operate”. With the constitutional struggle which has existed in the United States since its inception, was between a republic and a democracy. In the 18th century, a democracy was not quite that popular. Indeed, it was viewed as something very dangerous by a number of people within the United States and in different parts of the world. And the republic, on the other hand, reflected the idea that the well-born and the propertied and the whites, males, should in fact govern. And that the whole struggle then, of the American constitution and the whole struggle in relation to that constitution, and to the character of the society is going to be, whether or not we could indeed be a democracy. And so, every step of the way, the Bill of Rights was used as an instrument. In the preamble, it was used as an instrument to develop inclusivity. To change the nature of what the governing structure was going to be. To include people, rather than exclude them. To include women. To include minorities. Et cetera. And that all of those reflected the historic struggle within the United States, for at least a hundred seventy five year period.

Now, simultaneous to this, by the end of the Second World War, something else began to happen. That was, that the United States found itself having an empire. And of trying to figure out how to run that empire. And so it began the process of re-organizing government itself. Re-organizing government came indeed to become what I term the national security state. The national security state meant, that there would be neither war nor peace, that there would be loyalty, in fact, not to the people as a whole, but to organization. To the organizational structure, that there would be secrecy, in which secrecy would dominate the character of what the basic system of government would be. And that those who became witting to that system would in fact be the ones who’d run the action.

So, in effect we had over the course of a period of time, from 1947-48 on, was the slow erosion of a democratic process in the following way: not that democracy ceased, or not that the republic ceased, but each became more and more a fig leaf for the actual ways that the government operated. That the way the government operated, was basically through and with the national security apparatus. And that apparatus included the Central Intelligence Agency, it included the National Security Agency, the CIA, significant aspects of the Department of Defense. And that each of those, in fact, had no legitimacy from Congress. That is to say, there were no public hearings in many cases. That the budgets, for example, of the CIA and the National Security Agency, were voted in secret, without any sort of understanding of the bulk of Congress where those monies were to go and how they would in fact be used. So this was the framework going into the 1980 election. The election was that this country was involved in neither war nor peace, that we were involved in constant conflict. That the government itself, that is the national security state itself, was involved in numerous covert operations over a forty year period. That coming in, therefore to the election, it was assumed this was indeed the way business was to be done. That the United States itself found that it would operate to suborn elections in different places in the world if it didn’t like the way the character of that election was going.

So finally what began happening is that this method was turned onto ourselves. And in 1980, what we began seeing was, as that national security state system began to come apart, a little bit, as a result of the end of the Vietnam war, as a result of Watergate, as a result of the Carter election, it meant that new notions of the possibility of governing in a new way, came to the fore, but also it meant that those people who were disturbed about the transformation of the national security state and greater control over operations, were indeed very very concerned, and very upset, about that direction.

Casey played an important role in this regard, as I would argue did several members, or two members of the National Security Council staff. Indeed, what we’re talking about here, is really in terms of what several people have spoken, several of the people here have been members of the National Security Council staff. So, at least to that extent, we know whereof we speak. The direction then, which occurred in 1980, for that election, meant two things, one is the re-assertion of the national security state. Pushing forward greater defense budgets and also, having a new system which before was only used sparingly in my view. It was used, but only sparingly. And that was contract officers who were assets of the CIA, who in effect would receive contracts to be in business by themselves, for the purpose of carrying out activities of the American government. In the 1980 election, it was critical to win that election on the part, both of the Republicans and Democrats obviously…Reagan was behind, it was said, by two percent in the polls of that time. And so that election became critical, and what here was important: was to find that way of winning the election, and so here what was used was those groupings within the national security state establishment who had served at one time, as people who could make all sorts of contacts, in order to upset the usual direction of that election possibly. This had been done earlier, in 1968, as well. Where the Republicans attempted to undercut President Johnson, and indeed, also that election, by making contact with South Vietnamese representatives in order to get the South Vietnamese to stop the possibility of the United States not bombing during that period.

So, here we are. We know pretty much what the facts are. Can this be made public in such a way as to change the direction of the country? And to begin the process of dismantling the national security state? This case can begin to do it. For it goes to a fundamental element of democracy, which is election. The election by the people. And if it is shown that this election was indeed polluted, indeed it will open the possibilities of a glasnost within the United States. It will open up the possibility of saying what indeed does the CIA do? Where are its records, what does the National Security Agency do? Are its records to be made, and should they be made public? And so forth and so on. And in that process, we will then be able to begin to talk through what the character of a modern democracy should be. And the character, in my view, of a modern democracy, has to be predicated on openness and on fairness, and non-pollution of elections. Either our own, or of other nations as well. So that means that the rules of the game which we want to apply to ourselves, we will have to accept in application to other nations as well. Thank you very much. [applause]

I’d like to turn to Professor Beisner, historian from American University.

I’d like to speak briefly about some things that seem to me, in this story that are both commonplace on the one hand and rare, on the other. And then briefly suggest significance of some of the events historically. What I see as commonplace in this story, or a part of the story that is commonplace, is the close connection between foreign policy and politics. There’s absolutely nothing new in that, in our history at all. And it’s become increasingly commonplace, since about the 1940s. Since the World War Two era, I think. And I think largely for two reasons, one of which is very encouraging. The first reason is simply the growing importance of international affairs in the United States, that is the growing participation of the United States in world affairs, and so the issues come up much more. Whereas you can have campaigns nearly a century ago, or more than a century ago, in which it simply would not be an issue. The encouraging part is, it seems to me, that compared to a century ago, or seventy five years ago, and to some degree on some issues, even yet today…a century or so ago, the public at large had very little interest in foreign affairs, very little knowledge about foreign affairs, and the U.S. government was able to make policy most of the time in a kindof public opinion and political vacuum.

Now there are qualifications to that at certain times of course. But from the 1940s onward, presidents, their administrations, members of Congress and so forth, have become increasingly aware that there is a public out there that cares about diplomatic and military issues, and they need to be concerned with. And as that concern has grown, the temptation to play politically with diplomatic events has grown, I think. But the normal situation, what again has been fairly commonplace in a lot of elections, it seems to me, has been cases of the incumbent manipulating events to his advantage. So that we have, we could get arguments about all of these, but let me just briefly mention some…we have Truman in 1948, for example, in the quick recognition of Israel, and on another kind of issue, pre-empting the right with a very hard line against the Soviet Union, helping him get elected in 1948. We have Johnson in 1964 withholding far more belligerent plans in Vietnam so that he could picture Richard [sic] Goldwater as the crazy man. We have Johnson, excuse me, the Johnson administration then at the very end of the 1968 campaign trying to produce negotiations on the Vietnam war in order to help get Humphrey elected. We have Nixon in ’72, along with Kissinger also playing all kinds of games with respect to Vietnam negotiations in order to affect the ’72 elections.

So this is very commonplace. And I have not heard anything today indicating that Carter would have passed up such an opportunity in 1980, either. And apparently there were some potential October surprises in the decisions to allow arms already purchased by Iran to be delivered to Iran. As Mark has indicated, another common, or fairly common phenomenon in the last fifty years, has been U.S. action affecting the elections of other states. And a reverse example of that, which I might want to mention, since I’ve been brought here as a historian, I think it’s my duty to mention something at least two hundred years old. Or nearly two hundred years old. An extreme rarity in American history, was the effort by the government of France, in 1796, to elect a president. Making every attempt it could, to get Jefferson elected in the expectation, an inaccurate one, that a Jefferson administration would be far friendlier to a revolutionary France, than an Adams administration would be. And they failed in that attempt, but not for lack of trying. What we have heard described today, and what we’ve all read about, over the last few years, that may have happened in 1980…if it did happen, is a rarity. In this case, I cannot play the normal historian’s role of declaring everything commonplace and something we’ve always seen.

The kind of, if this indeed occurred, if this indeed occurred…and we have an opposition party affecting foreign policy in an extremely important area, in order to affect the election, if this occurred the way it did…the only precedent that I can think of at the moment that is similar to that, has also just been mentioned by Mark, and that was the effort of the Republican party in 1968 to torpedo any last minute Vietnam settlement, by contacting the Vietnamese, South Vietnamese government, and encouraging that government, successfully, to hold back from the Paris negotiations that were just opening at that time. I don’t for a moment believe that that action prevented a peace settlement in Vietnam in 1968. I think that was unlikely to happen any time soon. But it was a crucial intrusion into diplomacy by private parties and in secret.

The meaning, the significance of all of this, it seems to me, it is probably too early to tell. Somewhat narrowly, again I’m skeptical despite some of the figures that have been mentioned, that the Reagan campaign intrusion into the Iran situation in 1980 decided an election. I doubt, it would take some extraordinary analysis to even make the case that that made a difference in Reagan’s election. It’s quite clear that the Republican campaign group, however, thought that it would. There are some other interesting, fairly narrow, if significant, historical issues, however, that become more understandable now, as we hear the story of 1980. One is the story of the behavior of the Reagan National Security Council. Which seems to be continuous with the behavior of the Republican campaign organization in 1980. As others have mentioned, and I won’t belabor the point here, the whole Iran-Contra issue looks different now, given the perspective that the situation gives us.

There’s some broader issues as well. I’ve recently been doing some reading in the history of U.S. relations with Iran in the Truman administration. And I have just, in fact, the last few days been reading in that volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States series that has been so excised. It’s a fascinating volume, it covers the U.S. relations with Iran and other states in the near East, from 1952 to 1954. There’s some crucial documents in it, but absolutely no reference whatsoever to the fact that the CIA played a fairly important role in Iran in 1953. But I bring it up here also as a way of indicating how I think what we’ve heard today suggests that this country has never understood with whom it’s dealing, in Iran. I think the Carter administration efforts demonstrate that. The Reagan campaign people probably demonstrated that. And as far as I can see, Harry Truman and Dean Acheson did not understand Iran either, although they…Acheson seems to have understood Iran better than the British did. But Acheson’s concern in the 1952, ’53, ’54 volume, has very little to do with Iran, it has very little to do with Islam, it all has to do with the Soviet Union. It’s that we have to act in such a way in Iran in order to prevent it falling into the hands of quote the commies end quote, which is actually state department telegramese, and not quite as pejorative as it sounds. But the language you use.

I think we also have further evidence today, which is pretty obvious, that presidents concerned about re-election will always worry about how a diplomatic or military situation might affect their re-election. Whether it’s in a campaign year, or one or two or three years away from the campaign year. I simply regard that as a given, and I’m not sure that there’s absolutely anything that can be done about it.

Somewhat facetiously, but not entirely, I’d like to say also that listening, reading much of what’s come out over the last year or so, reading the packet that you’ve received today and I got a copy of yesterday, and listening to the investigative journalists who spoke earlier, seems to me in part, today, we’ve been treated to sortof a legacy to Izzy Stone. I mean, I felt a number of times that Izzy Stone should be here, but there are people carrying on the role, obviously. Finally, I’d like to say one other thing. One of the things that I’ve been convinced of over their years, studying diplomatic history…and not without ambivalence…I stand before you as an ardent middle roader. And so, ambivalence comes naturally to me. And one of the things that I’ve become convinced of over the years, is that, in a constitutional democracy, foreign policy is bound to be carried out in such a way that’s messy. And that’s the word that’s often used when this issue is commented on. Now, what I’ve felt ambivalent about over the years, very often is, is that really what we want? And those of you who’ve read and listened to George Kennan, for example, over the years, know how deeply in the souls of people like Kennan, lie the wish to get rid of the public and to get rid of some of the difficulties involved, in the messiness involved in practicing foreign policy. In a republic.

But the last ten years…and this issue along with Iran-Contra, especially, have convinced me that we can hardly have messier attempts at conducting foreign policy, then we have received when people make an effort to conduct that policy outside the channels of constitutional democracy. So the issue is probably not a nice, neat, clear-cut foreign policy conducted undemocratically versus a messy democratic foreign policy. I’m not quite sure that the conclusion is that foreign policy is always messy, but it’s clear that an attempt to get around the bounds set by the American constitution and law, is likely to make the situation even worse. Thank you. [applause]

Thank you, professor Beisner. The last panelist is Tom Blanton, who is Deputy Director of the National Security Archives.

I was asked onto this panel today to discuss essentially whether and how a congressional investigation should take place. As to these issues around the hostages in 1980 and the election campaign. But mine is a very small voice, actually, when compared to distinguished panelists that we’ve heard from today, and as compared to Representative Derrick and his seventy five colleagues who signed a letter requesting a congressional investigation and, I guess, especially compared to the voices of the former hostages who’ve requested such an investigation. So I’d like to limit my remarks really to three basic points. One of which is the historical context for the calls for a congressional investigation. Second, is the specific ideas as to where Congress might go and what it might find. And third is to comment generally on what may or may not be achieved by a congressional investigation. First, just on the historical context. As I’ve gone over the past couple weeks through the, literally hundreds of press clippings, through the mailings that Barbara Honegger has kindly sent me over the years, through the various books by Bani-Sadr, Gary Sick’s book, the books by the negotiators who ultimately did get the hostages out, I was struck that I came across a call for a congressional investigation which, to my knowledge is the very first call for a congressional investigation of the release of the hostages…it was actually made by a prominent American while the hostages were still being held. And I’d like to read it to you today, because I think, in many respects, it could become the epigraph for our on-going efforts to see an investigation occur. And let me quote:

“I think it is time for us to have a complete investigation as to the diplomatic efforts that were made in the beginning. Why they have been there so long. And when they come home, what do we have to do in order to bring that about. What arrangements were made? And I would suggest that Congress should hold such an investigation.” Quote unquote. That was Ronald Reagan. On October 28, in the presidential debate with Jimmy Carter. I think he was right. I agree with this distinguished American. There should be an investigation.

Let me just suggest a few points about what Congress could look for. And might find. And in this regard I must admit I’ve been scooped somewhat, and I recommend to everyone that they visit their local newsstand and get a copy of this week’s issue of The Nation magazine. David Corn has written an excellent article summarizing much of these leads and issues under the title, “Leads Congress Should Pursue”. And I recommend it to everyone considering an investigation, or continuing an investigation. But let me just go down a few of the key records that different speakers have already alluded to, that may help resolve this issue one way or another. First of course, the campaign records from the Reagan-Bush campaign of the fall of 1980 which are apparently in the custody of the Reagan Library Project in California, and Edwin Meese, the former attorney general has the say over whether anyone can gain access to those. I think obviously from what Gary Sick said on the first panel, it’s going to require something on the order of a subpoena to get into those. But in those papers should be things like appointment books and phone logs and a variety of records that may or may not show, were there actual meetings, were people in the office, were Republican members of that campaign talking to Iranians and so forth. And that’s certainly an imperative, and it’s clear from the efforts of journalists and so forth, that the fact that they haven’t been able to get access to those materials is in itself a recommendation for a congressional investigation. Second, of course, would be William Casey’s personal papers. As far as I know, only one researcher has been allowed access to Casey’s personal papers dating from the 1980 period, that was Joseph Persico, for his biography of Casey. I recommend it to you not for what it says about the October surprise, because it doesn’t say very much, it discusses it very briefly, and I think less than a page, but for the context of Casey’s life and Casey’s operations, I think very essential for any informed judgement on this matter.

Apparently, Persico went through the personal papers, about twenty to thirty boxes worth, at Casey’s house, here in Washington, with the permission of Casey’s widow, while writing his biography of Casey. He found no appointment books and no phone logs, and he could not conclude from the evidence available to him whether or not those still existed or whether those had already been shipped off to the Hoover institution, which is, as I understand it, the ultimate repository of the Casey materials. Again, I suspect because these are under the control of the family, it will require a subpoena to gain any further access to those materials.

Further, we now have the new evidence of the last several months, is really in the form of a series of interviews, many of them on videotape , many of them on audiotape, many of them in notes, by some very credible researchers. The crew who put together the PBS Frontline piece, Robert Parry and others, Gary Sick and others…again, those are very useful as tips for investigators, but to have them become a real core public record of this story, they need to be under oath, and they need to be taken in some official proceeding. Again, an argument for an official congressional investigation.

Further, Gary Sick this morning recommended a couple of other “record sets”, if you will, that should be gone after. Things like the flight records, because they do have tail numbers from a variety of these witnesses that they have interviewed. Passport records, customs and immigration and so forth. And the tapes from the sting operation that Cyrus Hashemi was part of, the celebrated [Samuel] Evans-[Avraham] Bar-Am case, that ultimately was dropped in New York. That, by the way, did pick up [Manucher] Ghorbanifar in its wide net, at the time, in ’86. Again, this material may need to be subpoenaed because there’s almost no other way to avoid the privacy considerations and so forth, that might prevent it from being obtained. I think the most sensitive area of all, of records that haven’t been discussed yet today, which may be the most illuminating, or the least illuminating, depending on what you come up with, are the communications intelligence. The regular intercepts, monitoring of worldwide electronic communications by the National Security Agency. Clearly, in 1980, that monitoring had to have been a major focus of the entire U.S. intelligence community. This was the primary issue of the day, clearly they would have been monitoring as best they could any communications to or from the Iranian foreign ministry in Tehran. Clearly they would be attempting to monitor any communications to or from various embassies, particularly in places like Paris, where there was a significant Iranian exile community, and where Khomeini himself had spent some time, while in exile. Clearly they would have been attempting to monitor the Iranians with whom they were negotiating. For instance, [Mirza Sayyed Mohammad] Tabatabai [one of the leaders of the Iranian revolution], what is it, the brother of the wife of Khomeini’s son, who was ultimately one of the key mediators with the Algerians in the ultimate Carter negotiations. Clearly they would have been attempting to track people like [Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani, maybe Karroubi, who was after all a member of the parliament, and apparently the leader of a hardline faction which they were clearly worried about, which preached time after time against any negotiations with the great Satan. And they would clearly, I believe, have been attempting to monitor at least any dealings of the various arms dealers, ex-patriots, and others, who were attempting to make contacts between the U.S. government and the Iranians. Various reporters have said to me over time, that they know of as many as a hundred such contacts by would-be dealers, most of which never came to anything, but they did exist, and the records of those contacts, the electronic intercepts of phone calls, of cables, of radio transmissions, and so forth, would have clearly been a major focus of U.S. investment and monitoring and clearly, I think this is the major area which recommends a congressional investigation, because there is effectively no way, for journalists, for historical researchers, and even in many respects, for attorneys in court cases, because the court cases would be forced to be dropped. The government has a power under the Classified Information Procedures Act to force the dropping of various prosecutions, on the basis of state secrets.

Clearly a congressional investigation is, in effect, the only practical method for getting at those super secret, above top secret communications intercepts, which are so sensitive that, I think in the 1980s, only on a couple of key occasions, particularly in the downing of the KAL 007, has the U.S. government officially released any of these intercepts. Clearly, it can be done when it serves certain purposes of the administration, but in this case, it would require not only a subpoena, but congressional investigators with code word clearances and so forth. But obviously, it should be a major area to focus. And then I’ll refer you to David Corn’s article for other general discussion of these record systems, now let me move on to point three, which is, what are we likely to find out? What may or may not be achieved?

What we may find out from, if we actually get a hold of these records, is whether or not the meetings actually took place. The communications intercepts may show whether there was a deal or not, in the sense that you presumably have conversations, dialogues, back and forths, reportings, and so forth, that may convey some of the substance of those discussions. But from the personal records, the appointment books, the phone logs, the credit card records and so forth and so on, you can only conclude whether the meetings actually took place. That may be enough, in itself, that would be a scandal. And I would just remind people of that, while you’re chasing George Bush and other folks, just the mere fact of top campaign officials meeting with representatives of foreign governments, and discussing something as sensitive as the hostages, is in itself a highly questionable activity. And Gary Sick and others have proved this to their satisfaction. So, just in closing, it’s unclear how far even a congressional investigation with subpoenas to go towards resolving the issue of whether there was a deal or not. They may only be able to resolve whether there were meetings or not. But there has to be a major attempt to create a public record. Because without that public record, we’re all going to continue to be dependent on the kinds of anonymous sources, unsourced information, hearsay information, that is very troubling, to any investigator, certainly a total documents fiend like myself and the National Security Archives staff, who’ve been very strongly agnostic on this whole question, simply because of the almost complete lack of that kind of hard documentation and its dependence on interviews and sources. We’re not reporters, if we were reporters, those sources, as Gary Sick and Robert Parry and others have demonstrated, are plenty good enough to go and get it in a newspaper. The point now, I think, is that congress, internally at least, is debating whether to hold…right now, they’re in the course of an informal staff proceeding. What congressman Derrick referred to as the equivalent of a grand jury type investigation, prior to bringing an indictment. To see whether or not the evidence warrants the bringing of an indictment, the mounting of an official investigation.

That’s all well and good, and I was especially encouraged that congressman Derrick said that they would come to a decision on whether to proceed, he estimated in the next two weeks. I would be greatly surprised if that occurred, but the point, I think, fundamentally, is that if proceedings are kept informal, if proceedings are held in secret, say in the various intelligence committees, of the House and the Senate, then you’re guaranteed to have no resolution of this story one way or another. A caution: even if you do have a formal investigation, with subpoena power, you’re not guaranteed to know whether or not it actually occurred. But if you don’t have an investigation, you’re guaranteed never to know. So, in conclusion, I just want to echo what Moorhead Kennedy said earlier, which is just simply, as a citizen, for the health of the democracy, for the public’s right to know, there should be a formal official investigation with subpoena power, to pull all of this evidence together for all of our sakes. Thank you. [applause]

We have time for questions, comments. Yes, please, would you-

Sarah McClendon, McClendon Independent News Service. I’d like to know why you’re so naive to think we’d get anywhere with Congress, if they did have an investigation, when they don’t answer subpoenas, like Gonzales is trying to get the Federal Reserve Board to come forward with the records on banks and can’t get it, time after time, and when they also stopped the Iran-Contra hearings and told them not to go back beyond a certain period because the FBI, because if they did, they’d have to take out a president.

You’re absolutely right. I have no confidence that they’re going to get to the bottom of this thing, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. I mean, I think if you’re in your business, or if you’re in my business, you’re a hopeless optimist. Why do you keep going out there writing stories every day and try to tell the people what’s going on in the government, if you don’t believe that it has…you gotta do it, even just for it’s own sake. Even if it doesn’t result in the truth ever essentially emerging.

Well, I’ve got four or five scandals that the Congress committees “are looking into” and they keep on looking into them, and they don’t do a damn thing about it.

Well, you’ve got your finger on a major point, which is, one of the key reasons why Congress is so reluctant to investigate this story, is that to investigate it and to find out the truth will uncover the fact that a number of committees and subcommittees of Congress have been derelict in their duty in terms of tracking exactly this set of issues. I think you have some high level members, for instance, of the Iran-Contra committees who are not interested in going back over the ground, part of which was covered by them, because it will show their own failures in that investigation. So I think that’s part of the picture. Another part of the picture is, of course, partisanship, that the Republicans are not interested in opening this can of worms. But, fundamentally, it comes down to a matter of will. And what you write, and the documents I come up with, and what everyone else here talks about and writes and puts out in the public domain, either will help generate enough momentum to have an official investigation, or it won’t.

Question here.

…[unintelligible], Action Information Bulletin. Given the track record of the national security apparatus, and with great professionalism, in destroying and disappearing documents and other materials, that relate to its operations…if you remember, of course, Richard Nixon’s own secretary, with her foot, disappeared three minutes of critical tape. If you remember the fact that during the Iran-Contra hearings, Tom Polgar, longtime CIA officer, acknowledged that massive numbers of documents were not released, or provided to the committee. My point here is to suggest, is it not in order to, as we speak here today, to go to court, to consider going to court, to get a court injunction that would lay down the basis that the government cannot disappear or destroy the relevant documents that have been listed here today as being needed.

I think it’s a very good idea.

I might also add, if I may, on behalf of The Fund for New Priorities, holding sessions such as this one today, is part of the democratic process, and the people’s right to know. We’ve done this for twenty two years, not as well as we’d like. But your participation, the press’s participation, the American citizenry, concern about this issue, is the way in which Congress will respond. Without that kind of national pressure, and we’re a very small group even in this hearing room today, but we have the responsibility, and we have the democratic right to know. And more organizations, more individuals clambering for democracy, for knowledge, for the kind of recommendations that Mort Halperin made on this panel, will provide the grist, if you will, the ability to put some spine in some of our congressmen, and put the responsibility where it belongs. Absent that kind of pressure, if we didn’t do even the thing we did in March of ’73, I don’t know whether the Senate Select Committee on Watergate would have ever come to be. The thing we didn’t do, by the way, in Iran-Contra, was to have an adequate public hearing, and an adequate demand and pressure from our own group, and to that extent we plead guilty that we didn’t do enough, and the press didn’t do enough, and the people didn’t do enough. I’ve a letter from Arthur Liman, who was supposed to be on the panel, because I’d criticized Arthur Liman’s handling of his role in Iran-Contra. And he says in the letter that I have, excusing himself from coming to this, because he had to go to a bar association meeting on minorities, we wanted to present the questions we had to Arthur Liman today. But it’s an aroused and concerned citizenry, it’s an aroused press if you will. The media has been on this only in a limited way. And Sarah McClendon and everyone else should be on this. We had people talking, why isn’t it covered more adequately, and Hitchens has been working on it, and Kilian has been working on it, and they’ve been marginalized, and Barbara Honegger has been working on it, and the Christic Institute has been working on it, and it’s all, well, that left-wing or fringe group or that other group. And they’re just rattling around again. But the American people, if they know what’s going on, if they hear what’s going on, and they call their congressman and say, as Butler Derrick just said, we have a concern. And then you will see more than seventy five. We don’t have the atmosphere that we had in 1973 and the concern that we had.

I’m Harvey Wasserman, author of a history book called Harvey Wasserman’s History of the United States, along those lines, a group of us will be meeting at two o’clock at 122 Maryland Avenue to make sure that this story continues. I want to take strong issue with Mr. Beisner as a fellow historian. I thin it’s very clear that had the hostages been released, when President Carter thought they were going to be released, and had his deal gone through, that Carter would have won the election. I don’t believe it was just Republican paranoia. The polls showed it, and their polls, Richard Wirthlin’s polls, showed a shift of ten percent, in the public opinion, which was more than enough to give this election to Jimmy Carter. The election was much closer in 1980 than people remember in terms of the popular vote. I think it’s also very important, when we discuss this event, to keep it in historical perspective. This is one of the major shaping events of the twentieth century. There are very few events you can point to, that very clearly turn the course of American politics. The assassination of John Kennedy, the manipulation in 1968 of the Vietnamese thing, and really beyond that, you almost have to go all the way back to the sinking of the Lusitania, which brought the United States into World War I.

And I bring that up for a very specific point. When Woodrow Wilson was president in 1915, a vast majority of the United States opposed getting into World War I, and the Germans sank the luxury liner, the Lusitania, charging that it was carrying British arms, from New York to London. The British strongly denied it, and Woodrow Wilson went along with them. Seventy years later, deep sea divers went down to the Lusitania, and in fact, found many tons of weapons that were going from the United States to Great Britain. So it may very well be that the United States got into World War I on the basis of a lie. And World War I was a major shaping event in American history. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. We now have a situation in 1980, where the American public had a choice between a moderate liberal Democrat and an extreme right wing Republican. We all know what happened in the 1980s, and we all, I think, can go back and take strong questioning about what the 1980s might have looked like, had Jimmy Carter been re-elected, as opposed to Ronald Reagan. The world would have been very different, not only in the 1980s, but probably for an entire generation to come. So I think it’s very important that people keep in perspective the enormity of the impact of what we’re talking about here. This was not a small event. And I think Ms. McClendon’s point is very well taken. We, in no way shape or form, can trust a congressional investigation. A congressional investigation cannot be an end to this situation. It cannot be a major victory if Congress decides to investigate this deal in 1980. Because aside from the historical impact, there is, as I think you’ll agree, no precedent for a strong case to be made against a sitting president for having committed treason. And essentially we are talking about treason here. The idea of an opposition campaign, negotiating sub rosa, with a foreign government to delay the release of hostages, if that isn’t treason, I don’t know what is. And we’re talking about the current and the former president of the United States involved here, there really is nothing of that magnitude in the history of this country. And I hope people will keep that in mind as we proceed, because it really dwarfs anything that this congress or any future congress, in many ways any past congress, is probably willing to deal with. And I think Mr. Paperin is exactly right, that people, as a whole, are going to have to deal with this issue. [applause]

Yes, I’d like Marcus Raskin to expound a bit more on the point that you were making. It seems that the point that you’re making is fundamentally more profound, than that which is being acknowledged by most of the speakers and the questioners. That whereas most of the people are talking about some element in the Republican party establishing negotiations, somehow with a foreign power to win a particular election, your point, at least if I heard it correctly, is fundamentally different. That this was, in fact, a counterstrike, against the entire concept of democratic government in the United States by elements of a national security state. That had been formulated since 1947, with the passage of the National Security Act. Now, if that is the constitutional reality that we’re dealing with, it seems to me that we have to define it properly, in order to define the nature of what the congressional investigation has to be here. Could you, in fact, clarify your point? And am I right in hearing what you’re saying?

Alright, I think there are two elements to it. The first element, is that starting with the end – and here Professor Beisner will know far more than I – but starting with the end of the Second World War, it was taken for granted that the United States could intervene in other people’s elections. Now, we had of course done that consistently in South America and in Latin America. But what we needed at that point in the early and late 1940s, was a new apparatus. And that apparatus was one which assumed that we were running a worldwide empire. You can call it the free world, you can call it what you want, but the assumption was that there were things we could do, which were so-called “legitimated” because we had power. But there was no real internal legitimation in the country for those things. The legitimation really didn’t come from Congress, except in the most broad way. For example, there is no place in the laws which says that covert operations should be conducted by a part of the American government. Yet it’s the case that covert operations go on. And the meaning of covert operations, in fact, is that you’re breaking the law of another country. That’s why you do it covertly. You’re trying to get their secrets, you’re doing all sorts of things, whether blackmail or secrets, or whatever it is, that’s why you’re conducting a covert operation on that level. And also you’re conducting it because you don’t want to go through congress because it would be publicly debated within the United States, and indeed in that sense, an elitist notion is, that a small grouping of people know better than others, that this is the way things should go on. This is the way politics should be conducted, in an international sense.

Now that has come to be known as the legitimate way of doing business in American society over the forty year period. And I would argue that that’s illegitimate. That that in itself, that national security state apparatus has to be dismantled. Now, in the context of that illegitimate system, came another illegitimate system. And that illegitimate system was, it came at various stages. Groupings of people who went out on their own to do various sorts of enterprises, which you know very well about. Other groupings of people organizing businesses, proprietaries for the CIA, to be used as fronts for other activities of the CIA, as if they were individual businessmen, not responsible to the CIA. But beyond that, came to be something that occurred in 1980 which is so profound. And that is the return of the possible fixing of an American election. Now, subjectively, from the point of view of Casey, his view is, look, Carter is an interloper. He tried to get rid, and indeed was successful at getting rid of part of the CIA. Stansfield Turner is an interloper, although god knows he isn’t, but indeed that is the perspective that Casey was taking, and indeed Casey was a man who’d been involved with secret operations since the second world war, and since the OSS, since OSS days. So, his perspective is, look, these people have indeed disturbed the orderly way of doing business by the United States, over this period of time. They were indeed, in the 1980s, if Carter had his way, who knows what might emerge with regard to the CIA. There was indeed, under Carter, much heavier controls over covert operations. As you know, as soon as Casey came in, with Reagan, they removed the controls over the covert operations. There had been a committee established, an oversight committee established in the White House, which no longer had that particular oversight responsibility over covert operations. So, a very great deal changed at that point.

Now, what does this mean? It means, in effect, you have a governing structure which is illegitimate, which it uses either the Republic or the Democracy, the rhetoric of Democracy or Republic, but operates on its own. And it operates in a framework of controlled legitimacy. That is, self-enforced legitimacy, indeed various people here have been part of it. Halperin had been part of it, I had been part of it, Sick had been part of it, and it operates in the context of rules and regulations which are self-imposed. But they’re not responsive to Congress per se, or to the public, per se. That system has, in my view, to be dismantled. Secondarily, came out of that system…a criminal system. And the criminal system is the one that we’re talking about here. Which now goes to the point, can you not only fix other people’s elections, but can you fix the elections at home? And in that sense, Wasserman’s comments are very important. I’m not here to talk about traitorous activity of the president, nor do I know enough to even begin to make such a charge. But it is clear that elections over the course of a forty year period have been fixed by the United States abroad. And that those people who undertake to do that abroad, have no problems doing that home. [applause]

A couple of points with regard to the press. Ms. Katherine Graham, owner of the Washington Post company, made her post Iran-Contra pilgrimage to Langley in November of 1988, and stated in a speech there, that democracy flourishes when government can keep its secrets. Point two, the Frontline program referred to, Mr. Angelo Codevilla, who is the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staff member referred to anonymously, previously…declared there on, and was identified as an informal consultant to the Republican campaign Committee, and in fact did deliver from his privileged position, information to that committee. That’s a heavy duty felony. To which he has openly admitted. Has any prosecution gone forward? Has any charge been made against him? Point three, and my last one…with regard to secrecy…there is currently a private lawsuit under way in federal court in Baltimore. Maxwell versus First National Bank of Maryland. This case involves, I will not go into the details, some charges relating to a CIA front company, which was a client at that bank. The plaintiff, Mr. Maxwell, in his private suit, for damages against the bank for wrongful discharge…was in charge of that account. In late December, the Justice Department, that oxymoron, presented an affidavit signed by the director of Central Intelligence, Mr. William Webster, in support of its motion, that Mr. Maxwell, a private citizen, who had never entered into an official relationship with the United States, never signed any secrecy agreement, by reason of the doctrine of absolute state secrecy, is to be prevented at any time in this proceeding, from referring to Associated Traders Corporation, to the Justice Department, to the FBI, or to the CIA, for fear of grave danger to the national security of the United States. These three points, I submit to you, illustrate where we are, on a very direct, important, and human level. Thank you. [applause]


I had a question for Tom Blanton, I think it would be best…on the congressional investigation. And that is, what evidence is there beyond the assurances that Butler Derrick gave this morning, and the seventy five signers of this letter, that this quasi grand jury proceeding is really taking place, that something serious is happening on the part of the democratic leadership. I mean, who is the staff in charge, how many staff people are working on this, what are they doing, what letters have been written, what requests have been made…to the administration, and to Meese in California, to the other types of records you’ve talked about. Do you see or hear any of that being done on any sort of timetable…and I guess a related question, on the Senate side, is there any indication at this point, that the intelligence community and the work up to the Gates nomination hearings plan to pursue any of these issues in that forum?

To answer your first question, I really can’t answer it. You have to ask congressman Derrick. I’m not privy to those discussions, I’ve not attended any of those meetings, I couldn’t even name all the, you know, what committees have contributed staff to this operation, but you should check with the house leadership, and I’m sure you have much better sources on the hill than I do. On the-

My concern is, in checking with the leadership, the answers to those sorts of questions are quite vague, and they’re not, they’re not reassuring to a reporter, that something is happening. And I think perhaps Butler Derrick may have conveyed a different impression when he talked about a grand jury proceeding, that something is really going on here.

Yeah, he certainly conveyed a different impression I hadn’t heard before, which is why I remarked on it, and I would recommend that you talk to him, the notion that in two weeks they would decide is, I think, news. On the second question, I have no indications about what the Senate intelligence committee is or is not looking into, just some references in the media that four or five staff members are working full-time, compiling a briefing book on Gates. We’ve compiled one at the National Security Archives, and everyone’s welcome to come get a copy of. We’ll charge you for it, but that’s to cover our costs. But I have no notion other than that, about what they’re looking into.


Barbara Honegger, the author of October Surprise. What I’d like to add here is some very specific data, some facts, people ask me, where are the smoking guns. And we’ve, Tom Blanton has listed a number of the documents that need to be subpoenaed, and the kinds of documents, and the kinds of sources that need subpoenas, once we get subpoena power, whether it’s in a class action suit, which is my hope, frankly, on the part of the fifty two hostages or some good subset of them, or whether there’s a congressional hearing or investigation with subpoena power and under oath testimony. Just a couple of the highlights, and I’m on the record, going to say, here, that while I’m in Washington over the next two days, I am going to compile from my own five year research, and being the author of the only book on this subject, which I have available here, for those who would like to see it…published in 1989, and I should add that the day my book was published, May 12, 1989, the Bush Justice Department chose to sue one of the key witnesses, self-proclaimed eye witnesses, Richard Brenneke, on that precise date. That is not a coincidence. My book is important. And you should read it.

Now, in the book, there are references to a number of smoking guns and in the three years since I have written the book, I have on a daily basis continued this research, full-time. Just some tips of the iceberg, of some of these smoking guns. Half of which are contained in the book, and half of which are not. I pledge here that I will make a list of all thirty seven of them. There are audiotapes. We know where they are, they have to be subpoenaed. And I will make that list available to the individuals in the Congress that I happen to personally know, including Spencer Oliver, the chief counsel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including Mr. Robert Torricelli, and his assistant, Rick Frost, including Mr. Butler Derrick and his assistant, Michael Harrison, who is there today. And a whole list of the individuals I have been assured have been working on this quote grand jury unquote, they will have this list of smoking guns before I leave Washington on Saturday. And this list of smoking guns, I will make available to the press, in whatever way I can, if and only if, the decision is made by this so-called staff level investigation in the House of Representatives, not to go forward with subpoena power, and I will make the full list available to the press. You will see in a moment the problem with the dilemma and the trade-off of making the full list available to the press now, is that people have a way of dying very quickly, if they know something. The epilogue to my book, which I call “A Kinder, Gentler Nation”, is a list of some thirty individuals who have either been assassinated, assassination attempts on their life, and I add in that list, Mr. Brenneke himself, also Houshang Lavi, now deceased, who is the self-acknowledged individual, an Iranian arms dealer who has said that, on videotape, in an interview I arranged for him…that he personally at the October 2nd meeting, that Richard Allen, Lawrence Silberman, the judge who has now let Oliver North off the hook, not coincidentally, and also Mr. Robert McFarlane. Not coincidentally, later at the center of Iran-Contra. These three men have acknowledged publicly, having been at the October 2nd 1980 meeting in the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel, with, they say, an Iranian, maybe an Egyptian, well, that man has come forward, his name is Houshang Lavi. There were two attempts on his life. He is now deceased from a heart attack. I presume that was of natural causes. But: just some examples of the highlights, smoking guns, that are going to be on the list of thirty seven that I will give to these members of the staff level investigation. The surprising one that has not yet been mentioned here today, was actually mentioned on the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, on November 7th, 1986, by none other than Richard Allen himself, one of the participants of the meeting with Mr. Houshang Lavi on October 2nd, 1980. That October 2nd, 1980 meeting is one of the hard data points that we have. And Misters Allen, Silberman, and McFarlane want you to believe that nothing happened there.

I have a tape recorded interview with Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe, whom we know, was a former Israeli intelligence agent, who was in a position to know at the time, later a top assistant to Mr. Shamir himself. He is right now, as I am speaking to you, in Australia writing a book on October Surprise for release in five languages, this November 1991. So, it will not be long before his entire story is out in his own words. However, in a tape recorded interview with him, I have the transcript in my possession with me here today, he has stated that to his personal knowledge, as part of what he called the “Ora Group” in Israel, six members were critical in that group; there was a total of approximately ninety two billion dollars in U.S. and other Western arms that were brokered by the Israelis to Iran, over the period of the Iran-Iraq war. We are talking twice the entire estimated forty billion dollars that it costs the United States and all of our allies to fight the recent Persian Gulf war. Now, this Ari Ben-Menashe is very important. He is also, in a tape recorded interview with me, personally present at this – hard fact – October 2nd 1980 meeting with Allen, Silberman, and McFarlane, and he has stated in a taped interview with me, that Mr. Houshang Lavi, now deceased, two assassination attempts against his life, was working for Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe and Israeli intelligence at the time. Mr. Houshang Lavi happened to be Jewish and Iranian. Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe happens to be Jewish and born in Iran. And you will see in the revised edition of my book that this is a very important connection, the Jewish-Iranian connection.

In any case, the tip of the iceberg, in terms of a hard data point we need to subpoena, is that this very man, Richard Allen, who we know was at this meeting…and Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe has also now identified the two Iranians at the meeting, that Houshang Lavi would not name for me, except to say one of them was a doctor. I had asked him, “Was it Dr. Cyrus Hasehmi?”, he said, “No, I guarantee you it is not.” Now Mr. Lavi is deceased. But Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe is now stated on tape that the individual, the doctor at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel meeting, with Allen, Silberman, McFarlane, and according to Ben-Menashe, Ben-Menashe himself and Lavi, was a Dr. Om Ghomshei, who I’ve checked with Bani Sadr, he is the former president of Iran, he has checked that, he came back to me through his translator, his english translator, one week ago in writing, and he said Mr. Ghomshei, Dr. Ghomshei, is a very important figure who is close to Mr. Mehdi Kashani. Well, Mr. Kashani in my tape recorded interview with Ari Ben-Menashe, as having been Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe’s number one core contact in Iran, for the arms for hostages deals. So, this is a critical meeting, it’s not what Richard Allen said, I happen to disagree with Martin Kilian, that he agrees with Richard Allen, I do not believe Richard Allen. I think that it was a very important, substantive meeting, I do not believe that it just happened in the lobby, there were at least five or six individuals that we can identify already, as acknowledging having been present. And as a result of that meeting, there were certain understandings that were made. Richard Allen, a participant in this hard fact October 2nd 1980 meeting, with Lavi and presumably also Ben-Menashe, and Dr. Ghomshei of Iran, and Ghomshei’s aide, who is still not identified by name, this same Richard Allen, on the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, on November 7th 1986, stated to a nationwide television audience, that he Richard Allen, then the first national security advisor to President Reagan, on Reagan’s first full day in office, that was January 21st, 1981, that he, Allen, turned to Reagan, presumably in the Oval Office or somewhere close there, in the White House certainly, said Mr. Reagan, “There’s a fifty-third hostage…” Or a fifty-fourth hostage. “..who is still being held in Iran. Her name is Cynthia Dwyer, and she happens to be the wife of one of my former college buddies.” Well, Mr. Allen put out on MacNeil-Lehrer that the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, turned to him on January 21st 1981 and said, “You call or let us call the Iranians, call Iran and tell them that the deal is off, unless she is also released.” Well, there is a tape recording in the White House Situation Room basement made of all calls to foreign officials, especially heads of state…

Can I ask you, you’ve got very important thing to say, and they’re people who want to talk with you about it…we have a few minutes, and there are a few more questions. With your indulgence. Question here. Thank you.

My name is Robert Boehm, from The Fund for New Priorities and also the Center for Constitutional Rights. The point I wish to make is that, to emphasize the important constitutional aspects discussed by Morton Halperin, and to add a further point: and that is that the operations of the CIA, as they have existed almost from the beginning, are themselves really unconstitutional, because the constitution requires that all appropriations made of funds for the government must be appropriated by Congress and by nobody else. And must be revealed in the budget. Well, actually the CIA operation is not separate at all, is not voted on separately by the Congress, but is, consists of monies given to the CIA by various other agencies. So there is no real way in which the Congress can even know how much the CIA has been getting. As a matter of fact, at one time, Senator Kennedy ventured a guess that it ran perhaps five billion dollars. Actually, the funds expended for the CIA and other intelligence agencies now have been publicly admitted to be approximately thirty billion dollars. Now, this continuing violation of the constitution is something that invites, I think, the attention of legal scholars. Actually, it was presented in court, in a very well-known case, Harrington against the government. Congressman Michael Harrington raised this issue, and brought it to the attention of the courts. Unfortunately, the circuit court of appeals in, I believe, Massachusetts, ruled that he did not have standing to sue. It’s really hard to justify the decision of that time, because it would seem to me that a Congressman has every important interest in knowing how the funds that Congress votes are expended. But the court held against him on it, and other constitutional lawyers were afraid to bring the matter to the Supreme Court because they were afraid it would also give a bad decision. However, I think the issue is still very much alive and I think it’s something that should be investigated and that it should play a role in the deliberations of people who want to bring out, prevent secrecy in government.

Time for one more question. Alright. Well, I think that brings us to an end. I want to thank our panelists who have spoken here today. In very different ways they have made a plea for a formal investigation to be made by an appropriate committee of Congress. Particularly concerning charges made in connection with the so-called October Surprise. The panelists have outlined what they know, what they don’t know, and what needs to be known. They’ve also given us some sense of the constitutional issues, the historical context, and some sense of the practical politics involved. And from what we’ve heard today, it seems to me that the charges and allegations by any reasonable standard are very serious. They affect the reputation and integrity of some of our leaders of both parties, our government, and its process. And I am sure that most Americans want to believe in the integrity and openness of its leaders, its government, and its processes. I certainly do. But these allegations are so serious that they deserve to be examined. The truth or falsity of them determined, and the necessary judgements made in a fair, just, and thorough and authoritative way, and the Congress is an appropriate way to do that.

Thank you. I’d also like to close with a vote of gratitude to the staff who works so hard in preparing this. We have our west coast director David Marks, we have Washington staff in the form of Robert Van Devere, and Bill Anderson, and all the other members of the Fund, I want to thank the panelists, I want to thank Moorhead Kennedy and Barry Rosen and the other hostages, for the role that they’ve continued to play in a very important democratic process. As I said before, we will have a follow-up in the form of videotapes available. This is the commercial part, the Fund for New Priorities is a tax exempt educational organization, we raise money from the people. And we need help to distribute the materials to hold these conferences. Any contributions should be sent to The Fund at 171 Madison Avenue, New York, 106. Our office in Washington is 202675239. I would also like to add a correction or an apology to Barbara Cohen, who called, somewhat furious, with a statement I made earlier, a statement that attempted clarification of my remarks…is that she was not able, or she did not feel comfortable with moderating this panel today. And I said I would make such a statement as a clarification of the remarks that I made earlier in the day.

Did she say why she wouldn’t feel comfortable?

You’ll have to call her with regard to that. I got this by telephone message, I’m making the apology public, she said she’d come down here, and, what was the statement Eleanor? I can’t recall. “Make a condemnatory statement for what my earlier remarks,” I’m trying to clarify them, to the extent that I know…I misconstrued them or misrepresented them. In any event, I want also to call your attention to the fact that MacNeil-Lehrer tonight will have, I think, a few of our panelists participating in the MacNeil-Lehrer Hour…we have, I think have been taped, I know we have been taped by C-Span, so I know we’ll have the videotapes available, I think we were covered by other networks, and to the extent that we’ll have the materials available, we will do so. We will also have an edited transcript [not the same as this transcript on pastebin at URL http://pastebin.com/kWkuBq9D which is by the uploader] and again, thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen, very much. [applause]

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“Janet my daughter, your prayers are going straight into my spam filter.”

From “The swift death of ReaganBook, the Facebook for patriots” by Colin Lecher:

The site requires no proof of identity (or semblance to reality) to log in, which becomes immediately obvious: everyone seems to be either using real names, the names of famous conservatives, or the names of famous conservatives paired with sex acts. Some are earnest; some are parody. Neither of these are instructive or valuable. The only worthwhile accounts are the ones that can’t be parsed. Someone with a Captain America avatar invites people to talk about guns; Margaret Thatcher leaves more than 700 comments on an innocuous status. There is an eagle crying, several photos of Jesus. Someone with the user name SATAN! SATAN! SATAN! pokes me. A photo of a monkey in a bubble bath is posted, and no one seems sure what side this person is on. Everyone is confused and angry with everyone else.

Janet Porter, president and founder of conservative group Faith2Action, started ReaganBook. Her posts began as quiet calls to arms for conservative causes, but as the situation spiraled out of control, she became frantic: “MY SINCERE APOLOGIES FOR THE VILE CONTENT. THIS WILL BE REMEDIED IN A MATTER OF MINUTES.” Below her, “Lord God” commented: “JANET MY DAUGHTER, YOUR PRAYERS ARE GOING STRAIGHT INTO MY SPAM FILTER. PLEASE TEXT ME FOR QUICKER RESPONSE.”

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Conor Friedersdorf: An Almost Irrelevant Man

(I offer this introductory note on December 1st, 2013: I wrote this in a rush of great anger, and have avoided revisiting it because I have no desire to re-experience that anger. I apologize for any issues of spelling or grammar that are extant due to lack of revision. I offer that apology, and no other.)

(Almost all supporting text and links, are done through footnotes, so a reader might quickly see the title of the article, as well as immediate supporting information, without having to hover or click on a link.)

A post prompted for a simple practical reason: over the next few months there will be a number of significant fights, the most important over gun regulation, and it will be valuable to perhaps give context to some intellectual partisans. I settle on Conor Friedersdorf first, because he is often perceived as someone outside of the traditional partisanship of left and right, a man devoted entirely to reason and honest discourse, and his opinions are often presented and re-circulated in this context, perhaps the most notable, “Why I Refuse To Vote For Barack Obama”, where his argument that his objection to the president’s abuse of executive power prevented him from further supporting the president, and why he was voting for Gary Johnson. He was perhaps the most high profile dissenter, that I know of, of voting for either major party this past election. No doubt, if he makes any pronouncements on any legislation on guns, or actions taken against the NRA, he’ll have equally lofty pronouncements, and they may well carry equivalent weight. For this post, I did my best to read everything written by him in The Atlantic from the past year and a half, with the purpose to both honestly inform, to provide a solid background of his work, as well as bluntly tactical: I do think providing such past context will demonstrate that Mr. Friedersdorf is clearly an ideological writer, cleaving first and foremost to libertarian priorities then the facts of any problem, and this will destroy some of the moral weight of his pronouncements. Further: I think the prominence of Friedersdorf as perhaps the only ideological radical in any centrist, mainstream publication, by which I mean a man who looks at every problem almost solely through the perspective of ideology, demonstrates something of the larger media context now, of what views are allowed to be radical, and what radical views a magazine might point to as a demonstration that it has a diversity of views.

I hesitated with writing this piece, as I am too often consumed with animus, and I do not think the world needs any more of it. The position of reader and a professional writer such as Mr. Friedersdorf, at this present time is one almost designed to generate this mutual feeling. The writer must produce endless content to satisfy the demand of perpetual, unending appetites. He is assailed in comments for reasons of ideology and technical flaws, which further distances the writer from the reader – rather than being able to imagine an ideal reader, they very clearly meet the unideal reader. The best, most convenient format for mass content is the authoritative think piece, an analysis or opinion on some current subject, and the attitude of such pieces, as opposed to journalism or fiction, ends up being a variation of “I will tell you what is the proper attitude according to my expert analysis”, and this itself creates an alienation between reader and writer, a teacher lecturing pupils. The reader expresses anger at the writer in the comments, and this further distances writer from reader, intensifies the feeling of isolation between the two, and reinforces the lecture posture, a well-behaved instructor telling the huddled masses what’s what. That one is lectured to on political issues only intensifies one sense of powerlessness – political institutions will not respond, and now you will be told how you are to blame, how your dissent is wrong, how you should all do with less by a writer who has a great deal more. I have been guilty of this as much as many, never issuing violent threats, but often replying angrily to the writer, out of the indignity of being lectured to, of being treated as a moral inferior, a less knowing creature – all these things. My most recent angry replies were to Mr. Friedersdorf’s blog post where he eulogized Ron Paul’s departure from Congress, and to one of his posts on the Newtown massacre. If I had greater strength of character, I would make some attempt at apology, but I lack it. I am to some degree a broken man: were I a landscape, I would be a frozen lake on which a broken rainbow casts its light, this prismatic line almost entirely an intense, bloody red, the other colors almost entirely greyed out. I wish simply to win certain fights, most notably on gun control – not for the purpose of humiliating anyone on the other side, including Mr. Friedersdorf, but for the material and social benefits of such fights. My post title is partly malign and partly not: I believe Mr. Friedersdorf to have relevance, but on a much more restricted, more partisan spectrum than assumed.

I will be very critical of Mr. Friedersdorf, so I will first praise him: as a journalist, he often conveys the attitude of a respectful and diligent listener. He did not observe #OWS from afar and cast judgement, but actively engaged with them1. When the legislative council handed down its points, he quoted them in full, gave each individual dissent, and did not just summarize them dismissively2. He spoke with equal respect to RNC delegates, treating them not as primal creatures who might be the source for quick caricatures, but simple folk, and by simple, I do not mean uncomplicated, but not as political ideas clothed in human skin3. He gave a thorough, diligent description of police brutality incidents that took place at #OWS, possibly the only thing of its kind in a centrist publication4. He gave equal attention to such incidents that took place at UC Davis5. His description of torture practices during the Bush administration and the effects of drone warfare are uncompromising and consistent, again one of the more radical, on-going critiques to appear in such a publication6 – Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, of course, writes on this subject as well, but less frequently, and more focused on journalism centered on specific instances, with Friedersdorf’s only equivalent in this regard Glenn Greenwald, formerly of Salon, now of The Guardian.

He describes as a libertarian, with his writing not devoted to any specific ideology7, but his concerns almost entirely map onto libertarian ones with regard to the coercive power and size of the state: an end to the drug war, gay marriage, the intrusive power of the NSA, the war on whistleblowers, the president not consulting congress for the libyan war, an end to federal subsidies for agriculture, greater sovereignty for individual states, the unconstitutionality of health care reform, entitlement reform and the debt burdens of greedy public sector unions.

At no point is an issue brought up that might not involve the libertarian concern for a smaller, less intrusive state. For instance, I would argue the most pressing issue of the last four years has been the level of unemployment and the amount of people who have dropped out of the workforce out of despair, and the poverty accompanying this lack of work. I think it is possible to write about this, raising the issues of why there is work lacking in that area, easily, in a manner that the impetus for writing on the problem is not a state or free market solution, but the urgency of the problem itself. One focuses on the issue not because there is a solution that your partisans could provide, there may be neither, but because the problem demands to be looked at. What is striking in Mr. Friedersdorf’s work, is that despite this long-term crisis, there is barely any mention of such poverty or unemployment, unless as it relates to size of the state issues. There are two pieces on how mandatory licensing keeps the unemployed from selling goods and services8, there is a post on how the drug war most directly affects the poor9, and a post on the possibility of financial compensation for organ donors10. There’s also a piece calling for an austerity budget, despite Paul Krugman calling such a move a disaster, and despite the horrific effects it would have on unemployment and the poor, for the simple reason that such budget cutting should not be put off11.

Were you to ask me in this past year the most pressing issues an american family would encounter over the next fifty years that overlap with state involvement (though this does not preclude private market involvement), I would put down energy projects and carbon taxes to deal with global warming; gun control; campaign finance regulation and reform; banking regulation and reform; runaway state legislatures passing xenophobic bills on self-deportation, gays, and muslims; runaway state legislatures passing bills restricting abortion and contraception; infrastructure repair and high speed rail; increased or more effectively targeted federal education subsidies; student debt relief; a rise in my state’s pollution and cutback in its services because of industry deregulation, a refusal to raise income taxes, along with low taxes and giveaways for any company that moved to the state. When Mr. Friederdorf gives an imaginary anecdotal list, they include your father being killed by a drone strike, getting beaten down by a cop, being deported after the NSA listens in on a phonecall, poor language skills due to low quality public sector teachers, and OSHA over-regulation of halal meat12.

There is, in fact, a hostile attitude towards relief of any kind in these difficult times, other than calling for an end to the war on drugs. Mr. Friedersdorf, a man who describes growing up in an upper-middle class Orange County neighbourhood, travelling to Europe and around the world, attending undergrad and grad school, does not quite speak from having known a life of need. He appears to mistake his life and those close to him for everyone else’s, writing of the possibility in “large parts of america” of being able, on a pure whim, to quit one’s job, borrow $100,000, and spend a year studying journalism13. His description of a typical grad student is someone who supports themselves at the Kennedy school of government by being a summertime yoga instructor14. The possibility of student debt relief is dismissed in his only post on the subject, “Pandering to a Privileged Class”: with the example of the Obamas cited as the only example. Here were two people at the top of their class, from excellent schools, who ended up at choice law firms. Yes, they had some difficulty paying their student bills starting out, but why should such people in such choice circumstances get relief? Aren’t most students with outstanding student loans like them? Money available for possible student relief should instead be spent on full scholarships15. To hand out money for student debt relief, according to Mr. Friedersdorf, in “a country with impoverished immigrants and struggling high school dropouts and hard-pressed single mothers” is perverse. This group, those in such need, are never addressed again by Mr. Friedersdorf. One can only assume they will be helped by the end of the drug war and being able to sell food on the streets.

The constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act is brought up, and Mr. Friedersdorf explains why it’s reasonable for some to view it as unconstitutional16. He never otherwise brings up the issue of medical bills or what should be done about health costs. He states why he thinks women’s contraception should not be covered under the government plan: doing so would be unfair to those who don’t use such contraception, such as lesbians, or those who don’t use it as much as the sluttier sluts (yes, dear reader, those are my words, not his)17. He gives no mention of why women should be singled out for this exceptional treatment, nor of any of the wide variety of people who, through various lifestyle choices, may incur higher health care costs than others18. He is deeply critical of catholic institutions being coerced to purchase contraception against their values – though he writes of an obvious distinction between a catholic affiliated institution and others, he gives no basis for why such an institution should have a right not to distribute such contraception (even though its employees may want it), while a business run by a fervent catholic does not have such a right (“Federal Court Rules That Hobby Lobby Is Not Exempt From Obamacare’s Contraception Mandate”, by Amanda Peterson Beadle), or whether catholic hospitals with or without government funding, should be able to refuse to provide contraception to rape victims, as Linda McMahon advocated in her 2012 governor’s bid (“Linda McMahon: Catholic Hospitals Should Be Allowed To Deny Emergency Contraception To Rape Victims” by Aviva Shen)19. These points, that lesbians should have to pay for contraception, and that catholic institutions should have to buy it, are cited as examples of liberal intolerance for values different from their own, comparable to those who refuse to let gay couples get married20. That these might be examples of something else, an intolerance of women exerting certain rights is not considered. There was no war on women, he re-assures us. There are simply some politicians who are pro-life, and some who had sound economic reasons for not subsidizing women’s contraception, and the democratic party exploited women’s fears over this21.

The growing income gap, the other major story of the past two years, gets only incidental mention. That there are different classes is conceded, but it is not, despite what Charles Murray says, defined by the beer they drink – “sometimes [it’s] Charles Murrayesque elites who ought to step outside their self-imposed confines, other times it is the white working class that ought to do so”22. We are lectured on the folly that successful commerce builds on, or can be said to be dependent in any way with public projects, that, yes, an entrepreneur can claim to build something entirely apart from society, as the same public resources are available to everyone, the successful entrepreneur and everyone else23. When Mitt Romney says that he doesn’t care about poor people, Friedersdorf assures us that very rarely do politicians care about poor people. This is bad, and it would be good if it were different, but meanwhile, we should give Romney credit for speaking so honestly – “shouldn’t we prefer a political discourse where forthrightness of that kind isn’t treated as a fault?”24 The irrationality of the statements of the “47% tape” are addressed, but never how such callousness might influence Romney’s policies towards the poor and dependent25. We are also assured, without evidence, that Obama says equally contemptible things about his supporters behind closed doors – in a rather sloppy and dishonest misreading, this tape is described as equal to Obama’s “clinging to guns and religion” speech26. This rather astonishing moment when the class divide waas laid bare, does not bring about any discussion of the divide or any remedies. In his piece, “Why I Refuse To Vote For Mitt Romney, his lack of fiscal conservatism is brought up, but the man’s policies towards the middle class and the less well off go entirely unmentioned27.

The only mention those in the working class and the service industry get is through pieces lamenting the expense and power of unions28. They are blamed entirely for the bankruptcy of California – that effects of Proposition 13 are never brought up, nor the loss of tax revenue through the loss of federal defense work29. I do not suggest that Proposition 13 would necessarily be the sole culprit, only that it is given no mention whatsoever. The difficulties of the middle class are never made the specific focus of a post either, though attempts to claw back revnues from the very wealthy, such as Eduardo Saverin, who give up their american citizenship to avoid paying taxes, are given two posts30. A related middle class issue, such as debt collection practices against those who got credit cards and now make onerous payments at post-teaser rates, is never given notice.

I make this lengthy overview to make clear that Mr. Friedersdorf’s perspective is not entirely our own. He is like a man who sees certain spectra of light very well, and is entirely blind to others. He notes immediately, and is outraged, by drone killings and illegal wiretapping; the hunger, the poverty, the desperation in his own country do not appear to exist. That his reader might have had a very different life, with student debt, hospital bills, great difficulty finding work, seems to go unnoticed as well – the assumption is that you are of the same social class as he. Discussing one of Charle Murray’s ideas, he says “the conceit is that America’s ruling class, including journalists like me and cosmopolitan readers like you, exist in a cultural bubble.” As if having a curiousity to read, for ideas, for argument, that would cause you to read The Atlantic could necessarily be linked to one social and economic class.

This affects his approach to his work on drone warfare and executive overreach, which is good, though also limited, I think, by viewing it in the context only in ideological terms. It is extraordinarily repetitive, and I think unnecessarily so. The key points – that the libyan war was unauthourized by congress, the secret kill list, the war on whistleblowers, wiretapping – are reiterated over and over again, an example of the hubris of Obama in his seizure of such great executive power31. Despite his stating that he is a jaded man, Mr. Friedersdorf presents this as a manichean issue. Obama was good when he ran for president, then he acted badly when he took over the executive, the implication that executive power itself corrupts. Mr. Friedersdorf never gives us any hint or insight as to what may have happened – executive powers simply corrupt32. That Obama may have attempted the surge in Afghanistan because of the possibility of providing some secure protection for Afghans from the taliban after american forces leave is never brought up. That Obama may have wanted to stay in Iraq longer so that there would be time for certain native institutions to develop allowing for the Sunni and Kurd minorities to have some possibility of safety is never said. I am not saying those reasons are necessarily valid, or that they couldn’t be countered – I am saying that they go entirely unmentioned. Mr. Friedersdorf says that he is against absolutist thinking, but his thinking here is absolutist – Obama said he would begin the pull-out from Afghanistan at a certain date and he didn’t – this is a broken promise. He makes this same approach in another area which I find troublesome – he condemns Obama for not closing Guantanamo, though it is well-known that the president did make such an effort, and that the congress, especially the republicans, immediately reacted to this, often in the most reactionary and hysteric terms. There is nothing wrong with Mr. Friedersdorf arguing for closure despite this factor, but, as far as I can tell, he does not ever mention congress’s part in this, ever33.

It is when Mr. Friedersdorf argues in favor of two political candidates, first Ron Paul, then Gary Johnson, in reaction to these policies that my ire rises. He considers Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and the entire republican primary field except for Jon Huntsman and Johnson to be unacceptable, for reasons of fiscal policy and the war state. He considers the policies of Barack Obama utterly amoral, quite likely illegal, and questions the moral calibre of any person who accepts Obama given his policies in this area34. Leaving aside the racism of Ron Paul for the moment, an obvious, major obstacle that would keep many from supporting Ron Paul would be his utter destruction of the social safety net35. Mr. Friedersdorf never brings up issues of unemployment relief or medical bills in any part of his blog, and he doesn’t bring them up here – they simply do not exist. Where for many of his readers this would be a difficult balance – however much they want the drone program to end, can they afford to have the floor for their wages threatened? what if things suddenly go very wrong for their chronicly ill sister? would there be any medical relief whatsoever under a Paul administration? – these are of no concern to Mr. Friedersdorf, and he does not appear to expect such issues to be raised. After all, we are all cosmopolitans, members of America’s ruling class. Those anxious voters have nothing to fear, argues Mr. Friedersdorf – Paul will successfully end the drug war and overseas commitments, while his more extreme ideas related to gold and the fed will be stopped by congress36. Those who have seen how easily republicans eviscerate the social safety net, while affirming a strong defense and family values at home, may well believe that Mr. Friedersdorf has things very much the wrong way around. This one of the only times he touches on the extraordinary negative economic impact a Paul presidency might bring about – he usually prefers to repeat over and over the morality of Paul’s small state vision and the amorality of Obama’s security state. He has better things to think about than the evisceration of the safety net, and he does not expect his readers to think about it either.

A brief aside: this utter indifference to the social welfare of the most vulnerable of society is not exclusive to his enthusiasm for Ron Paul, but continues with his son, Rand Paul, as well. Rand is often celebrated in Mr. Friederdorf’s posts for his brave stands against the TSA, the surveillance state, and the war state37. Though Friederdorf extols “reason” and “civilized discourse”, he does not seem to make mention of when Rand compared the U.S. government to Nazi germany, when he compared the upholding of Obamacare to Dred Scot, or when he repeated claims about the National Weather Bureau stockpiling ammunition38. When Rand talks about how the Kentucky mining industry should be able to regulate itself, after he receives contributions from coal companies such as Murray Energy, which coerces its workers into donating to the company’s chosen candidates, and those same mines collapse and kill miners after numerous safety violations, don’t expect it to be mentioned39. When Rand blocks disaster relief, blocks relief for disabled and elderly refugees, or, most egregiously, Rand stops passage of a jobs for veterans bill because he didn’t get something he wanted, it will not be noted by Mr. Friederdorf40. A photo of a maimed veteran is useful as a show of anti-war piety, but when it comes to getting work for them, that has nothing to do with libertarianism, or the smaller state: they’re not cosmopolitans, they’re not part of america’s ruling class, and they can go fuck themselves.

We can now transition to the period where Paul’s racist newsletters were re-discovered, the public made well aware of their contents. Even if Paul was in some way responsible for the vile content of these newsletters, Mr. Friedersdorf argued, his desire to end the war on drugs, drone warfare, and other executive excesses made him the morally superior choice to Barack Obama. There was a small intellectual game being played here – any person who took over the executive while the drug war was on-going, while the war in Afghanistan was going, etc. became less moral than any man outside who sought the presidency and claimed they wished to end those policies, as the executive’s hands immediately became stained with the blood of the dead41. This rather cheap intellectual game might be played by anyone – a member of the KKK, a rapist, a pedophile, Charles Manson – might all claim moral superiority to the president, according to this calculus, because they had not killed as many people with their bare hands as had died from drones or the Afghan war. It is a cheap game, and a simple-minded one. That such newsletters might indicate the pathology of a disturbed man, and such a figure should not be anywhere near the power of the presidency went unmentined – the machinery of government itself, its ability to inflict war and coerce, was seen as an unconscionable evil separate from those who might take charge. As before, the effect of Ron Paul’s policies on the safety net was never brought into the calculus.

After this debacle, Mr. Friedersdorf’s attention now shifted to the libertarian candidate in the general election, Gary Johnson. Again, the music was the same as before: those who supported Barack Obama were morally compromised because of his war state policies, as opposed to those who voted for Johnson, who, as Mr. Friedersdorf reiterated again and again, would end drone warfare, would close Guantanamo Bay, would finally stop the process of endless wars.

This is where we might look more in-depth at Gary Johnson, who is far less known to the general public than Ron Paul. Mr. Friedersdorf wrote an early profile of the man, “The Zen of Gary Johnson”, and I excerpt its essence here:

Gary Johnson, 58, served as governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, ousting an incumbent by a 10 point margin, and handily winning reelection four years later. In his first months in office, he vetoed outright almost half of all bills brought to his desk in order to cut spending. He announced his support for legalizing marijuana in his second term, becoming the highest ranking politician in the US government to take that controversial position.

We’ve got differences, but he’s a successful two-term governor, a fiscal hawk, and almost alone in advocating an end to America’s unaffordable wars (drugs, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya). He seemed like a younger Ron Paul with executive experience and without the gold obsession or racist newsletter baggage.

“You’ll never go wrong by telling the truth. Never. I told my cabinet, it’s going to be the truth. If any of you get yourselves in a situation, that we’ve made a mistake or whatever, I don’t want us to ever make the statement that we can’t comment because of legal restraint. We all need to comment. We all need to tell the truth all the time. And we’ll let the lawyers catch up with the truth.”

“Letting the lawyers catch up with the truth” may be the most radical anti-establishment position in contemporary American politics. Would a president who actually always told the truth be a fantastic success? A dangerous failure? Personally, it’s a gamble I’d like to take.

I don’t think this deviates from the overall tone of the full piece. No further details of his governorship of New Mexico are given. I should note here that several times Mr. Friedersdorf chastises others for the sycophantic or sentimental attitudes towards the current president42.

This, however, is not the only profile of Johnson that was written. A far fuller, more complex, more disturbing, and far, far better one was put together just before election day by Marc Ames, for the Not Safe For Work Corporation: “The Gary Johnson Swindle and the Degradation of Third Party Politics”. Mr. Ames, along with his erstwhile associate Matt Taibbi, and the bete noir of The Atlantic, Moe Tkacik43, are to my mind, far truer radicals than Mr. Friedersdorf, critical of the president’s security state policies, as well as the disgusting abandonment of the worst off in society. They are of a very different sensibility than my own, but I greatly appreciate them for the same reason Lincoln praised Grant: they fight.

“Swindle” gives Johnson’s background fuller detail*: he cut taxes, cut social program spending, took a very hardline attitude towards crime, including drug related crimes, and promised to veto any bills that involved new spending for drug treatment centers. The major achievements cited by Johnson during his presidential run (none of the following are mentioned in the Friedersdorf profile) include cutting welfare spending by 30%, privatizing half the state prisons, and allowing non-union labor to be used in public construction. A notable public project was the widening of a New Mexico highway which ended up costing the state over $350 million dollars, requiring the governor to borrow the money through a federal bond. This project, again, goes entirely unmentioned in both “The Zen of Gary Johnson” or any subsequent writing by Mr. Friedersdorf on the man. The only specific legislative point mentioned is that, yes, in his second term, Johnson decided to legalize marijuana, though, again, unmentioned in Mr. Friedersdorf’s profile – he refused to give blanket pardons to anyone serving drug convictions in New Mexico jails.

More interesting than Johnson himself are the campaign associates this profile brings up. They include Maureen Otis, the woman heading “Our American Initiative”, the nonprofit backing Johnson, a figure with close ties to the hard-right anti-immigrant Minutemen movement, and who ran a company, “American Caging”, involved in minority vote suppression. Another associate, Jim Lacy, was involved in dirty tricks in California elections, sending mailers featuring pictures of liberal icons such as Robert Kennedy mixed in with conservative names so as to confuse democrats into voting republican. Lacy also backed minutemen groups, produced birther propaganda, and was involved in lawsuits to get Obama to release his birth certificate. There’s also Joe Hunter, a spokesman for anti-immigrant group “Utahns For Official English”, which managed to make english the only official language of the state. Rouding out the group behind Johnson was Roger Stone, a dirty trickster who started out with Nixon, and has helped various republican presidential candidates in the murkier, dirtier parts of a campaign. One achievement was his organization in 2000, of the Brooks brother riot, which disrupted the presidential vote count in Miami44.

More significantly, in 1980, he was involved in getting Roger Anderson, that year’s third party candidate on the ballot in New York, thereby splitting the democrat vote between Anderson and Carter, handing the state’s electoral votes to Carter. A similar strategy may have been planned in 2012 as well, with the democratic vote split between Obama and the pot-friendly Johnson, handing vital state votes to Romney. Though this story is well-sourced, none of this is mentioned, even simply to refute it, in Mr. Friedersdorf’s writing on Johnson.

This leads to other relevant details that I found through this excellent piece by Mr. Ames, none of which get mention by Mr. Friedersdorf in his writing on Johnson. Remember: he stresses again and again that the reason he can vote for a clean conscience for the libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is for his record on drones, closing Guantanamo, and an end to belligerence overseas. He cites the use of drones in Pakistan as his top dealbreaker in “Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama”.

I quote his endorsement of Johnson from that piece:

There is a candidate on the ballot in at least 47 states, and probably in all 50, who regularly speaks out against that post-9/11 trend, and all the individual policies that compose it. His name is Gary Johnson, and he won’t win. [the link goes to a short profile of Johnson by The Atlantic‘s Molly Ball – it also contains none of the details of the Ames piece] I am supporting him because he ought to. Liberals and progressives care so little about having critiques of the aforementioned policies aired that vanishingly few will even urge that he be included in the upcoming presidential debates.

The following clips that I use here were all available, on the web, easily available for everyone to examine and make mention of.

Here is Johnson in an interview on Fox News with Andrew Napolitano. It deals with Guantanamo Bay.

NAPOLITANO: Governor, should we close Guantanamo Bay? Should they be either tried in federal district courts, or returned to their countries, or should we keep it open, and leave them uncharged for the rest of their lives?

JOHNSON: Well, when president Obama didn’t close Guantanamo Bay, and that was one of his promises, I really looked into the issue, and I had a lot of prominent libertarians tell me, if it weren’t for Guantanamo that we would have to create that situation somewhere else. So, I’ve kinda been sold on the notion that this is something we have to have whether it’s…if it’s not Guantanamo, it’s going to be somewhere else…that these are enemy combatants, and not U.S. citizens, I’ve been wooed over to the side that there’s a reason for keeping it open.

Now, Johnson in an interview with Jamie Weinstein of the Daily Caller,“Gary Johnson’s strange foreign policy”, on Afghanistan policy, drone strikes, and some very confused thinking on Iran:

Libertarian Party presidential contender Gary Johnson has been portrayed as an anti-war candidate, but that isn’t quite so clear.

Johnson sat down with reporters and editors from The Daily Caller last week, generously providing his time to answer any and all questions, no matter how difficult or ludicrous.

But when pressed on foreign policy topics throughout the interview, Johnson gave answers that didn’t always seem to add up and were often, at best, unorthodox positions for a man who has been painted as a non-interventionist.

Johnson said that while he wants to end the war in Afghanistan, that doesn’t mean he would necessarily stop drone attacks against terrorists in Pakistan or Yemen, even though he believes they create more enemies than they kill.

“I would want leave all options on the table,” Johnson said.

But if Johnson plans on leaving Afghanistan, how does he plan to leave the option of a drone campaign against al-Qaida elements in Pakistan on the table?

“So now you have the U.S. bases that exist in those areas, do we shut down those military bases? Perhaps not,” he suggested, taking an odd position for a supposed anti-war candidate.

“I would completely withdraw our military presence,” he further expounded. “Does withdrawing our military presence from Afghanistan mean that we would still have a base open in Afghanistan if they allowed us to keep a base open? Perhaps.”

On Iran, Johnson said that if “Iran launches a nuclear warhead they can be assured that they will no longer exist.”

“None of their country will be left to stand and that will be from Israel,” he said, confident that the threat of nuclear retaliation would prevent the Islamic Republic from using any nuclear weapon it obtained.

Johnson went on to say that he doesn’t think Iran has seriously been engaged diplomatically. So what would Johnson say that hasn’t been said to get Iran to reconsider developing a nuclear weapon?

“Look, ‘Don’t develop a nuclear weapon,’” he proffered.

You don’t think that’s been said, TheDC asked?

“’So if we open up trade with you all, we’d like to be a trading partner,’” he added.

Seriously, you don’t think that has been put on the table in negotiations, TheDC asked?

Johnson then pivoted and suggested that there wasn’t any evidence that Iran was developing, or ever wanted, a nuclear weapon.

“Am I not correct in saying that Iran has never voiced that they are developing a nuclear weapon, nor do they have any intention of using a nuclear weapon against the United States?” he asked.

“That’s never actually been voiced. I don’t know where that has come from, but it hasn’t been from Iran.”

So if he doesn’t believe Iran is developing a nuclear weapon or has any intention of developing a nuclear weapon, why is he even suggesting negotiations? Shouldn’t we just open up trade with Iran without asking for anything in return in that case?

“I would be in that camp,” he conceded.

Finally, with regard to ending wars overseas, here is Johnson on a Fox News panel shows, outflanking Obama on the right, arguing for a strike team to go into Uganda to kill Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. He argues this is different from Libya, because Kony is committing genocide. Like Charles Krauthammer, a guest on the panel, I am unable to understand the distinction between the Libyan rebels being wiped out and what’s taking place in Uganda. I should emphasize that these are simple interviews, and that Mr. Friedersdorf felt that Paul Ryan made clear that he was not qualified to be president based on his performance at a VP debate: “The VP Debate Cinches It: Paul Ryan Is Unqualified to Step In as POTUS”. Ask yourself while reading this, in terms of coherence and focus, how different this is from anything Herman Cain has ever said:

FOX NEWS GAL: So the president’s said that he’s sending a hundred troops to Central Africa, to combat the LRA, Joseph Kony. Would you support this if you were president? Is this something you would do?

JOHNSON: You know, in thinking about this, he signed legislation…Congress authorized that this is what needed to take place…he signed that legislation as president. If I were president, and I signed that legislation, I would have had an action plan ready to go immediately. From all appearances, this really does seem to be genocide. I mean, this really seems to be…these are really bad actors, a finite number of fighters…whatever that number is, I don’t know if I’d be sending advisers there, as immediately as after signing the legislation, sent a strike force to wipe them out.

KRAUTHAMMER: That’s very non-libertarian of you.

JOHNSON: Well, I’ve always said that genocide is something that none of us want to stand by and watch happen. From everything I can ascertain from this situaiton, this does qualify for genocide.

KRAUTHAMMER: What about the Qaddafi threat, when he was winning the war against the rebels at the beginning…to wipe out the people, his opponents in Benghazi. Would you have sent the army to go and prevent that?

JOHNSON: No, I would not have. I did not see a military threat from Libya. That’s another issue here with the Lord’s Resistance Army, is that this is their nation. We’re talking about a foreign dictator here. I don’t think there’s anything in the constitution that says because we don’t like a foreign leader we should go in and topple that foreign leader.

KRAUTHAMMER: But I’m not sure if I understand. Clearly the Liberation Army in Uganda is not a threat, to the United States. Yet you would say you would send a strike force. You can argue equally, whether Qaddafi is the leader of a country or not, he was a threat to the people of Benghazi, and you would not. I’m not sure I understand the logic.

JOHNSON: Well, uh, these are the questions that I…another thing I would do as president of the United States, I would be really transparent. Look, I’m signing this legislation authourizing wiping out the Lord’s Resistance Army, authourizing that legislation, on the other hand, going into Libya, I heard the transparency…I just didn’t see the military threat. And I did not see a military threat from the Lord’s Resistance Army. I do not see that as a threat to national security at all.

FOX NEWS GUY: There’s a lot of nuance.

JOHNSON: There’s a lot of nuance as president of the United States.

So, whereas those of us who vote for Obama vote for a man who was unable to close Guantanamo, engages in drone warfare, and has waged war overseas, Mr. Friedersdorf has cleaner hands, because he votes for Gary Johnson, the candidate who wants to keep Guantanamo open, has no problem with drone warfare, has no problem with Iran being wiped off the map if they develop a nuclear weapon, though he’s uncertain if they’ve even started working on one (hint: yes), and is willing to commit a Tom Clancy type strike team to Africa, where they’ll destroy an army of children, in a conflict that does not threaten in any way the United States. There are times when I would read Mr. Friedersdorf’s work and I would ask myself the question, and I ask it openly now: is there a hidden genius to this, is this writer plain ignorant, or is he a hypocritical opportunist? Here is a man has been steadily arguing that people should not vote for Obama because of his amoral, criminal policies, and who encourages them to instead vote for a candidate backed by noxious racists and con-men, whose policies violate the same principles which Mr. Friedersdorf ostentatiously waves like a proud flag.

I mentioned before that Mr. Friedersdorf’s perspective on politics is very manichean, with a bad Bush, a bad Obama, a good Johnson. His perspective on the country’s recent history is prelapsarian. He makes no criticism of any foreign policy after the Viet Nam war other than drug policy, after which the government was plunged into darkness by the two wars, indefinite detention, and the unwarranted surveillance of the Bush years, with the worst of such executive privileges continuing on under Obama.

He makes no criticsm of Reagan, who he cites as one of the only moments, other than Goldwater, that a movement conservative achieved success45. Reagan, of course, worked as an undercover agent while in Hollywood, reporting on communist activity to the FBI; then while president, placed troops in harm’s way in the Lebanese civil war; fought a war in Grenada; ran bombing raids without congressional authorization over Libya, killing one of Qadaffi’s infant children; mined the harbors of Nicaragua without congressional authorization or even notification; trained militias in Honduras and backed a government in El Salvador which certainly committed war crimes as well as mass murder46; and traded arms for hostages with Iran, violating congressional statutes, and which could well have led to his impeachment were it not for the grievous hurt such an action would inflict on the country fifteen years after Nixon’s dismissal. His successor, George H.W. Bush, who won via one of the most disgusting race-baiting ads in the age of TV election advertising, who Friedersdorf would have voted for if this man from 1988 had run in 201247, knew of the arms for hostages deal, and launched a war without congressional authorization in Panama.

So, let’s again re-iterate this case: Mr. Friedersdorf finds it unconscionable to vote for a man who wages drone warface and failed to close Guantanamo, instead voting for a candidate who has no problem with drone warfare, keeping Guantanamo open, and waging war in whatever random part of the earth he feels evil is done; furthermore, though he has deep, moral issues with Obama waging war without congressional authorization, he has no problem with Reagan engaging in several such wars without authorization, backing militias that engaged in war crimes, or selling weapons to enemies of the United States without congressional approval, nor does he have an issue with George H.W. Bush participating in such actions, or waging war without authorization himself – he, in fact, really really wishes such a man was running this year so he could vote for him. Again: genius, ignoramus, or opportunist?

As I’ve said before, I think Mr. Friedersdorf is of small relevance, rather than of no relevance, to a small spectrum of ideology. He has no appeal to republians right now, as they are entirely animated by tribal feeling, with a strong military remaining a sacred relic, a mark of america’s greatness. He has no appeal to the left, for they can find more in-depth investigations into the war state’s excesses in Jane Mayer, Seymour Hersh, countless marquee and fringe writers. His moral calls are utterly empty of appeal to any liberal who sees that his candidates are either a callous white supremacist or some right-wing loon who has no idea if Iran is building a bomb and wants to continue, or go further on many of the same policies that he calls “dealbreakers” – no progressive of some knowledge will concede to this pathetic bullying. There is only one group that might find some appeal in Friederdorf’s writing, and in this, he is the ideal radical of our time. In an era of a massive growing income gap, where the bonds of society are disappearing, Mr. Friedersdorf’s writing serves as useful affirmation to those libertarians at the top that not only is their credo more intellectual than those animals on the right, but they are more moral than those on the left, because they are for candidates who are against the surveillance and war state. That the candidates which Mr. Friedersdorf supports, Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Gary Johnson, are men who would do such damage to the safety net that only the wealthy could safely vote for such men with impunity, is not a liability but a virtue; Mr. Friedersdorf makes those in the top tier the most moral of men and women: because they are rich they can vote for those who tear apart the system for everyone but the rich, but because they are against the security state, they are the only moral ones who opt for the most virtuous choice. In this, Mr. Friedersdorf is the perfect radical of our dystopian culture, now, and his writing a helpful compass for an anthropologist of the future.

I near the end of this piece in the place where, a few days ago, something Mr. Friedersdorf wrote incited my anger. When he writes of the dead killed by a drone strike, they are an issue of moral outrage. When they are the dead of a mass shooting, and we are outraged, we are lectured that those angry over this constitute an elite, disconnected from the ordinary unrepresented gun owner (though I’ve heard of a gun lobby that does have some media connections), and those who are upset are the persecutors48:

There isn’t anything wrong with gun-control advocates lamenting what, by their lights, is a public that’s reaching wrongheaded conclusions on the subject and is trending in the wrong direction.

But too many pieces I’ve read make a mockery of robust debate in a pluralistic society by ignoring the fact that current policy is largely (though not entirely) a reflection of the U.S. public disagreeing with gun reformers. The average American is far more likely than the average journalist or academic to identify with gun culture, to insist that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to bear arms, to exercise that right, and to support various state concealed-carry laws. Perhaps persuasion can move the citizenry to favor a different status quo. That’s always a hurdle to clear in a democracy. Yet the ability to engage and persuade fellow citizens is undermined when public discourse obscures rather than confronts the relevant disagreements.

Opponents of gun control have been widely vilified in the past week. Very few attempts have been made to understand what motivates them — and given that they’re a subset of Americans with little representation in the national media, attempts at understanding would likely do a lot to inform the rest of the American public. For the most part, these people aren’t in fact motivated by selfishness, as so many critics have stated or implied in the last few days, and almost without exception, gun-control opponents are as horrified by the events in Newtown as anyone calling for a new assault-weapons ban or better background checks or a ban on ammunition.

The point isn’t whether they’re being treated fairly or not. It’s that a gun debate can only be productive in a country as pro-gun as this one when the folks on either side at least understand the deeply held disagreements at issue. So far, too many newly vocal reformers are operating under the conceit that if only America “finally” had a conversation about gun violence, everyone would immediately see the wisdom of the position reformers have advocated all along. One need only to reflect on the state of public opinion after decades of debating the issue to conclude that the conversational outcome many reformers presume isn’t at all certain.

If death and suffering is caused through state actions, it is an issue of public urgency. If it is the result of state neglect, there is sudden caution that we not do anything too drastic. A veteran in miserable condition is noteworthy as a reminder of the war state, and his condition should be given loud voice. That same veteran in utter misery because Rand Paul killed a veterans jobs bill is an inconvenience. We must be very careful, said Mr. Friedersdorf, that we do not infringe on the rights of gun-owners. Yes, just as the freedom of lesbians is curbed when heterosexual women are able to get contraception as part of their health plan, the freedom of people shooting an AK-47 everywhere they want is curbed when public space is set aside in which children shouldn’t be killed. I do not doubt that gun-owners have some rights to some weapons and their use; I do note that this is one of the only times that those affected by a political policy are brought up, whereas the needs of the poor, vulnerable, and elderly are never mentioned when discussing austerity or a candidate junking the social safety net.

Though Mr. Friedersdorf never brings up the context of a terrorist threat when discussing drone strikes, he brings up a bogeyman when there is a massacre: yes, there may well be the possibility that some legislation should pass, but he’s not sure he can trust gun legislation in the hands of Obama, a man who had such a penchant for uncontrolled executive power49:

Interpreted narrowly, I have no problem with Obama marshaling his power “to engage” his fellow citizens. I’d only add that this is a president whose general notion of presidential power extends beyond engagement to indefinite detention and secretly assassinating American citizens without due process. So if Obama ever tweaks his formulation slightly and promises to use “whatever power” his office has “to stop gun violence,” you’ll understand why I’ll shudder. I’ve seen what it means for American presidents to do “everything” in their power to stop U.S. children from dying in terrorist attacks: It has meant torture, dead innocents abroad, and attacks on due process. I’ve also seen presidents do “everything” in their power to keep drugs away from our children. What I wouldn’t give for a politician who promised to do “only the prudent things, and no more.”

Yes, it’s too bad Gary Johnson, a man who has no problem with drone strikes and who gets his foreign policy from a rejected Expendables screenplay isn’t in charge. So there is the inconvenience that these deaths were caused by state neglect, rather than state weapons, and there was an inconvenience that several members of the dreaded public services union had died valiantly trying to save children. This last also made me think of a post by an Atlantic colleague of Mr. Friedersdorf, Jordan Weismann, a man of our time as much as Mr. Friedersdorf, who wrote a recent post about “A Very Mean (but Maybe Brilliant) Way to Pay Teachers: A Freakonomics author and a ‘Genius Grant’ winner suggest that giving teachers bonuses, then threatening to yank them away, might be the key to classroom success.” Mr. Weissman, I can only those teachers of last Friday performed up to your standards. It’s too damn bad you weren’t able to make them do any better with any dirty tricks to play on them.

This piece ends here: a while back, Mr. Friedersdorf shifted his focus to the gunwalking scandal of “Fast and Furious”. He pointed to this issue as evidence of another of Obama’s duplicities, another example of his managerial incompetence50. He egged on the committee headed by Darryl Issa that was to go after Eric Holder, despite the partisan opportunism is always there, shrugged Mr. Friedersdorf51. Of course, Fortune magazine pointed out that there was no gunwalking scandal, that it had all been set off by some disgruntled employees52. Mr. Friedersdorf later compared the attention focused on the “Furious” scandal to the casualties of the mexican drug war, bemoaning the lack of leadership that would end this folly, and put an end to the violence53. In the Fortune piece, it is made clear the incredible ease with which you could buy a gun, and that drug gangs were buying them in Arizona, then transporting them easily over to Mexico, with the death rate in Mexico fueled just as much by the easy access to guns north of the border as it is by the demand for drugs54. It seems rather simple that all Mr. Friedersdorf needs to do to care as much about whether a pile of death is to be indifferent to whether it is the result of the drug war or gun sale deregulation. He often mentions how disappointed he is that president Obama didn’t take on the big lobbies that control Washington. Well, the president will soon be taking on a very big lobby in a few months over some dead children in a school. Perhaps, somehow, Mr. Friedersdorf can find some way to support, if not the president, that cause in the fight. This man likes to damn progressives in all sorts of ways, and so I return the favor in kind: if he cannot do even this because his ideology restrains him, then I think it’s quite clear he’s an utterly callous partisan hack. That is an incivility, but what does it matter? Those words cannot have been written, this piece cannot have been written, because it was written by someone from outside the cosmopolitans, outside the american ruling class, part of a group of people that do not exist to Mr. Friedersdorf, and therefore, they do not exist, and so this piece was never written, it was never written by a nothing man, by no one.

* I first heard of this story from a reddit link, “More evidence Gary Johnson was a scam” which focused on whether his ad spending indicated there was something ersatz about his candidacy; I did not focus on this and was uncertain of whether this claim was substantial enough. Many in the thread dismiss it, and they also argue about the “sketchiness” of the source publication in which the “Swindle” story originally appeared. However, all the claims made in the story appear to be solidly backed by linked material from other publications: an analysis of Johnson’s filing document, and the document themselves, listing Maureen Otis as the filer can be found at “Gary Johnson’s documents reveal puzzling trail” by Peter St. Cyr; his hardline stance on crime, and refusal to grant amnesty to those arrested on drug charges was first published in the Albequerque Journal; that Johnson brought private prison firms to New Mexico and received campaign funds from them is written about in the Santa Fe New Mexican, “Prison firms donate thousands to Richardson” by Steve Terrell; the expensive widening of U.S. 550, which had none of the intended impact on reducing accidents, is described in the Claims Journal, “Widening of U.S. 550 in New Mexico Didn’t Improve Safety, Economy”; some of James Lacy’s unsavory work is described in “Slate Nailer: Conservative James Lacy plays turncoat to sway elections” by Nick Schou, in the Orange County Weekly; the process of vote caging is described in “Vote Caging: What is Vote Caging and Why Should We Care?” by Dahlia Lithwick in Slate; Roger Stone’s account of getting Anderson on the ballot in New York state is given by Stone himself in “Roger Stone, Political Animal” by Matt Labash; the history of nasty tricks Stone has been involved in are described in the profile, “The Dirty Trickster”, by Jeffry Toobin, Rick Perlstein’s essential Nixonland and the definitive Roger Stone chronicler, Wayne Barrett, in such articles as “Sleeping With the GOP”, “Carl Paladino: The Dirty Details in His Campaign Filings”, and “The (Roger) Stone Around Carl Paladino’s Neck”;Johnson’s achievements, including the movement of state medicare cases to managed care, were on his old, now expired site, Johnson for America 2012 – they can still be found in his listing at the State Policy Network, a consortium of free market / libertarian think tanks. A supplemental note, Maureen Otis’s Twitter account (motislaw) lists her as treasurer of Restore America’s Voice PAC, listed at the Sunlight Foundation as having spent over a million and a half in expenditures opposing Barack Obama in the 2012 election. This PAC spent its money exclusively in opposition to Obama, and shows no expenditures in favor of Johnson.

(Following its initial posting, two major edits were made: a change was made to address catholic institutions as employers, rather than catholic hospitals accepting federal funds, regarding contraception and the universal mandate; the source links for the NSFW Corporation’s story on Johnson were added. These changes were made christmas day 2012.)


1 “How Occupy Wall Street Is Like the Internet”

2 “8 Well-Intentioned Ideas That Occupy Wall Street Should Reject”

3 “Republican Delegates: Good People, Failed by Their Party”

4 “14 Specific Allegations of NYPD Brutality During Occupy Wall Street”

5 “What George Orwell Can Teach Us About OWS and Police Brutality”, “Reports Reveal Two New Scandals in the Pepper-Spraying at UC Davis”, and “The Pepper-Spraying Cop’s Long, Lucrative Goodbye”.

6 There are too many to mention all here. They include “The U.S. Constitution Is Worthless When John Yoo Interprets It”, “My Debate With John Yoo, Who Misunderstands the Constitution”, “The Terrifying Background of the Man Who Ran a CIA Assassination Unit”, “How Team Obama Justifies the Killing of a 16-Year-Old American”, and “Expanding CIA Drone Strikes Will Likely Mean More Dead Innocents”, “We’re Killing Alleged Militants Too Quickly to Reliably Determine Guilt”, “CNN’s Bogus Drone-Deaths Graphic”, “The Pentagon’s Vision: Drones Everywhere”, etc.

7 “Pragmatically Toward Libertarianism”:

In concurrence with the creed of The Atlantic, I consider myself to be “of no party or clique,” and the best insight I can offer into my work is its premise: that a writer’s job is to strive for the truth, and to remember that he’ll sometimes be wrong. As a result, I am reticent to characterize myself politically on occasions when I’m really being asked, “Whose side are you on?” The answer to that question should never be “the liberal side” or “the conservative side,” unless the person being questioned is naive enough to think that one ideology or the other has a monopoly on truth.

8 “Americans Should Be Able to Sell Stuff Without a Permit” and “The Triumph of Reality-Based Politics”.

9 “Marijuana Laws Enforced, Poor Hit Hardest”

10 “Apathy Causes Kidney Patients to Die Needlessly”

11 “The Case for Deficit Reduction, Even in a Recession”

12 “Forget Julia, It’s The Life of Ahmed That Demands Attention”

13 “Why Breitbart Started Hating The Left”

In some ways, this childhood sounds a lot like my own. My parents are decent, hardworking people who tend to vote Republican. Raised in an upper-middle-class neighborhood – far less ritzy than Brentwood, but no less safe or comfortable – I always had everything that I needed.

“Pointless Shame: The English-Speaking World’s Issue With Women’s Breasts”

When I was twenty I spent a summer studying in Paris. I’d somehow persuaded Florida State University to let me tag along on their summer abroad program. I ate little but baguettes and pasta so that I could afford a weekend trip down to Nice and Monte Carlo with some classmates.

“Is There an Education Bubble?”

Think of it this way. In large parts of America, a college graduate can inform his parents or peers or a woman he meets via Ok Cupid that he is about to quit his job in public relations, borrow $100,000, and spend it on a year studying journalism at Columbia University before returning home. Few people are likely to tell him that this is irresponsible.

14 “Is There an Education Bubble?”

For guilty young people intent on pleasing a certain kind of parent, grad school is one of the only socially permissible vehicles for work-life balance or opting out of the high status economy. Parents who’d be horrified by a child who was a yoga instructor think its romantic so long as it’s done during a summer between years at the Kennedy School of Government.

15 Pandering to a Privileged Class

“If we think it more important to spend this dough on education,” says Will Wilkinson, “then we should hand out the $6 billion in the form of scholarships to deserving prospective collegians of modest means, to help them earn their degrees without having to take out any loans at all.”

Obama earned degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review. His wife, Michelle, graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School. Once you’ve done that it doesn’t matter how much you’ve borrowed. You’re in the one percent. The Obamas ought to have been writing those checks every month, because to subsidize couples with four graduate degrees from Ivy League schools between them — in a country with impoverished immigrants and struggling high school dropouts and hard-pressed single mothers — is perverse. That Obama offered up his own story in that way is a testament to our collective loss of perspective on this.

Of course, most people with student loan debt don’t have Ivy League degrees. They’re still generally better off than people without diplomas. And while decreasing the cost of college for those who’ve yet to attend ought to be a public policy goal, especially since educational subsidies have been structured in a way that helped to drive up costs to begin with, there is no good reason to subsidize not just hard up folks with student debt, but folks with student debt generally.

16 “Is Voting to Strike Down Obamacare Illegitimate?” and “Movement Liberals Cannot Credibly Demand Judicial Restraint”. It’s very likely both pieces can be refuted, but I’ll leave that to another time.

17 “The Sex-Friendly Case Against Free Birth Control”

Including birth control (as distinct from contraceptives used for other purposes) in universally mandated health-care coverage has its own unique redistributive effect, one that seems more problematic in a pluralistic society than funneling resources from the healthy to the sick or malfunctioning. Mandating participation in an insurance risk pool that covers birth control redistributes resources based partly on lifestyle choices, values, and conceptions of what is fulfilling. For example, gays and lesbians have no use for birth control, but are being made to participate in risk pools that cover it, effectively leaving them with fewer resources as a result of their status as a cultural minority group, rather than a part of the majority that desires birth control.

Once birth control for the poor is covered, I wonder why so many on the left either don’t recognize or don’t object to the redistributive consequences of pooling contraceptive costs among everyone else, even people who could afford them on their own. Compared to a system that just took care of the poor (or even to a system that included only the cheapest kind of birth control), here is a more detailed but by no means complete look at the winners and losers:

– Those who are sexually active, especially over long periods, benefit at the expense of those who aren’t, whether by choice or for lack of opportunity. This sure seems non-materially regressive.

– Straight people, who benefit at the expense of gays and lesbians, who have no use for birth control.

18 “The Sex-Friendly Case Against Free Birth Control”

But this series of legislative, judicial, and bureaucratic decisions, many of them defensible or even desirable on narrow grounds, add up to a health-care system that is unjust, for it needlessly privileges cultural majorities at the expense of cultural minorities, and obscures redistributive consequences that are sometimes regressive, especially compared to the alternative I suggest: subsidizing contraception only for the poor who can’t afford it. Individuals ought to decide what they find fun or meaningful enough to spend their money on. As progressives argue with social conservatives, whose positions on sex and contraception I too find wrongheaded, the progressives are unwittingly saying that subsidized birth control is desirable even when it involves forcing into the same insurance risk pools people who want little or no contraception with people who want a lot of it. Some claim that’s the only way our health-care system can avoid discriminating against women.

19 “A Real Commitment to Minority Rights Needs a Real Commitment to Freedom”

Originally, the footnoted sentence dealt exclusively with catholic hospitals distributing contraception – “while never mentioning the possiiblity that such institutions might do what they want by refusing federal funds”, and that such hospitals without federal funds would have greater leeway. The edited sentence deals with the broader issue of an institution refusing contraception for its employees.

There is no bright-line test for what is “reasonable,” or how burdensome an accommodation must be before government should no longer be bound to make it. But this contraception example seems easy. There are very few institutions in America with longstanding, obviously credible moral objections to contraception. Permitting these institutions to purchase health insurance for employees that doesn’t include contraception isn’t going to meaningfully interfere with the government’s ability to shape a functional health-care system. There are, additionally, the consequences for actual employees of institutions like the Catholic Church. Many share the position of their faith: they’re morally uncomfortable paying into a health-insurance system that doles out contraception.

20 “A Real Commitment to Minority Rights Needs a Real Commitment to Freedom”

This is but one example of my general discomfort with the attitude that both conservatives and progressives take toward minority groups and diversity. Both groups sometimes seek to impose their notions of what society ought to be like on everyone, and cite majority norms or expediency when doing so.

What I’d encourage is constant awareness that people have different values, morals, priorities, preferences, and approaches to pursuing happiness — an attitude that leads folks to happily accommodate diversity when possible, and to be regretful and limit the magnitude of coercion when it is necessary.

“The Contraception Controversy Was Never a Civil Rights Issue”

A straightforward bill to subsidize birth control for the poor might not pass Congress (even though I would support it). In order to avoid taking their chances on legislation of that kind, the Obama Administration pursued the path of least resistance: order employers to add this to their plans, even if doing so violates their conscience. This approach permitted them to hide the cost of providing birth control by bundling it into insurance premiums, mask the nature of who is being subsidized by whom, and build political support by offering a universal subsidy rather than one targeted at the poor.

What today’s compromise showed is that it there was never a need to choose between religious and contraceptive freedom. What was actually at odds was religious freedom and the ability of progressives to advance contraceptive freedom through the means they found most expedient. There were always lots of different approaches that would achieve the same ends. If the Obama Administration and its progressive allies were less casual about coercing people, they’d have discovered the current compromise — which they deserve credit for adopting — a lot sooner.

21 “The Bipartisan Interest in Making Women Feel Bad”

It’s perfectly legitimate to criticize the Blunt-Rubio bill and to set forth reasons why its passage would be bad for women. What’s objectionable is 1) the implication that the Republicans who voted for this bill are motivated by antagonism toward women and engaged in an aggressive campaign to war on them (the truthful motivation is some mix of concern for protecting religious liberty and pandering to religious conservatives and opponents of sweeping health-care mandates). 2) The sly invocation of the phrase “access to contraception,” as if what’s at issue here is the ability to buy condoms or birth control as opposed to a debate about who covers their cost.

As stated, the politically savvy see through the hyperbole and subtly inaccurate language. The true victims aren’t GOP political operatives, who engage in distortions of their own, but the class of women who don’t pay close attention to politics, hear these talking points, and erroneously conclude that if the GOP candidate wins the election birth control may disappear from commerce.

“In Defense of Stay-at-Home Moms”

The so-called “war on women,” which largely concerns abortion policy, isn’t an area of politics that is particularly driven by political donations. It is a wedge issue that appeals to Republicans because a large part of its socially conservative base feels very strongly that abortion is murder.

22 “What Charles Murray Gets Wrong: Bud Drinkers Live in a Bubble”

23 “Focus on the Ill-Gotten Gains of the Rich Instead of Their Tax Rates”

Do rich entrepreneurs owe their success to their own efforts or the commonweal? James Joyner has a good answer. “Of course nobody got rich totally on their own,” he writes. “Of course the fabled ‘job creators’ rely on the infrastructure we built collectively, whether it be roads and bridges, an educated workforce, relative safety from crime, a reasonably functional judicial system and what have you. But those building blocks were in place for those who didn’t get rich, too, so of course those who did deserve the lion’s share of the credit for the fruits of their labor.”

That sounds more sensible to me than what President Obama said, and I’m presuming the charitable interpretation of his remarks. Consider an enterprise like this one.

24 “Mitt Romney Isn’t Alone: Politicians Rarely Prioritize the Very Poor”

It should perhaps make us uncomfortable that our government is mostly focused on relatively privileged citizens, and that we think little about the very poor aside from providing a safety net. But it’s true of every viable presidential candidate from both major political parties, and the vast majority of pundits too. All Romney can be faulted for in this instance is saying he’ll behave as everyone else does without acknowledging it openly.

Shouldn’t we prefer a political discourse where forthrightness of that kind isn’t treated as a fault? Romney’s statement may hurt him with voters. But it shouldn’t.

25 “The Conservative Wonk Who Tried to Avert the ‘47%’ Disaster”

26 “Mitt Romney’s ‘Clinging to Guns or Religion’ Moment”

It is truly amazing what a different view of politics the donor class gets. Obama plays to rooms like this too. This cycle, he’s managed to keep his words from leaking (or perhaps, after his experience in the last cycle, he’s more careful about what he says). As such, expect the Obama campaign to start using footage from the hidden video to start attacking Romney any day now. And know that if you could hear what Team Obama says when they think no one is listening, it would likely be every bit as off-putting (if substantively different).

Josh Barro predicts that this will cost Mitt Romney the election. It certainly plays into the criticism that he doesn’t care about poor people and will govern on behalf of wealthier Americans.

But it also reminds me of Barack Obama’s infamous statement during the 2008 election that rural voters “get bitter, they cling to their guns or religion.” Those words were also said to donors at a private event, and broadcast only when a secret recording was made public. Rural voters aren’t 47 percent of the electorate, but folks who like guns or religion are a rather large demographic.

These sorts of remarks do double damage.

They needlessly insult some people whose votes the candidate would like to win. And beyond the particulars of what is said, they remind voters that candidate’s public persona is phony and affected.

Four years ago a lot of people felt they got a glimpse of “the real Obama.” They certainly saw a side of him that he hid when speaking to general audiences, as opposed to urban liberal supporters.

William Saletan, who I often disagree with, gives a precise explanation for why this analysis is wrong in “Half-Hearted Mitt: Romney says he’s ignoring 47 percent of America. Obama said rural voters cling to guns and religion. Which is worse?”.

In April 2008, Obama spoke at a fundraiser in San Francisco. Here’s what he said, according to an audio recording published by the Huffington Post:

“Here’s what it is: In a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, they feel so betrayed by government, that when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, there’s a part of them that just doesn’t buy it. And when it’s delivered by—it is true that when it’s delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama, then that adds another layer of skepticism. (Audience laughs.)

“But—so the questions you’re most likely to get are going to be: ‘Well, you know, what’s this guy going to do for me? What’s the concrete thing?’ And what they want to hear is—you know, so we’ll give you talking points about what we’re proposing: to close tax loopholes and roll back, you know, the top—the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama’s going to give tax breaks to middle-class folks, and we’re going to provide health care for every American. You know, we’ll have a series of talking points.

“But the truth is that our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s no evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio—like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years, and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration. And each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate. And they have not. So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or, you know, anti-trade sentiment [as] a way to explain their frustrations.

“Now, these are in some communities. You know, I think what you’ll find is that people of every background—there are going to be a mix of people. You can go in the toughest neighborhood, you know, working-class lunch-pail folks, and you’ll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you’d think that I’d be very strong, and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you’re doing what you’re doing.”

Conservatives find Obama’s line about guns, religion, and immigration patronizing. They’re right. The recording exposes Obama’s assumption that blue-collar conservatism on these issues should be taken not at face value but as a psychological symptom or rationalization.

But notice what else the recording shows. Obama tells his audience not to write off any group. He recommends humility and openness. Even in the most unlikely neighborhoods, among “people of every background,” he tells his volunteers they’ll find supporters.

He also advises the volunteers not to write off every voter who seems unreceptive. The tough reception, he suggests, might be just a “layer of skepticism,” a “part of them that just doesn’t buy it.” Beneath that layer, the whole voter is more complicated.

In particular, Obama rejects the caricature of hostile white voters as racists. Instead of assuming that they just ”don’t want to vote for the black guy,” he asks his volunteers to focus on these voters’ economic concerns. He counsels empathy. “They feel so betrayed,” he says.

The whole thrust of Obama’s answer is persuasion. He calls guns-and-religion precincts “the places where we are going to have to do the most work.” He says “our challenge is to get people persuaded” in those neighborhoods. “The important thing,” he concludes, “is that you show up” and make the case, based on tax and health care policy.

27 “Why I Refuse to Vote for Mitt Romney”

The centerpiece of Romney’s campaign?

A domestic agenda that he obviously cannot enact. As Romney tells it, he’ll cut tax rates 20 percent, repeal the estate tax, refrain from raising taxes on the middle class, refrain from cuts to Medicare, spend more on the military, possibly wage a war against Iran, and reduce the deficit. Doing all he’s promised is mathematically impossible. And the conservative wonks who say otherwise could be forgiven for their flawed analysis if it weren’t for the fact that every last one knows damned well that Romney is never in a million years going to keep all of those promises. If elected, he’ll most likely succeed in cutting taxes and fail at addressing the federal deficit. But it’s impossible to know for sure which promises he’ll break, only that it’ll be some of them.

28 “$204,000 Per Year: Is This Retired Cop’s Pension Too High?”, “The Problem With Public Sector Unions—and How to Fix It”, and “The Biggest Reason Why California Is Bankrupt”.

29 The original story by Michael Lewis on Vallejo is “California and Bust”; a critical response is “Our Town: A Literary History” by James Thomas Snyder.

30 “Why The Ex-Patriot Act is a Creepy Law and “Letter to the Editor: A Defense of the Ultra-Rich Who Give Up Their Citizenship for Tax Reasons”.

31 There are many, many examples, for the moment, “The Hubris of Barack W. Obama”, is good enough.

32 “How Barack Obama Vindicated ‘The Cult of the Presidency'”

33 Perhaps the best single article on congressional opposition to the closure of Guantanamo Bay is “Guantanamo Bay: Why Obama hasn’t fulfilled his promise to close the facility” by Peter Finn and Anne E. Kornblut.

34 Again, there are many examples, including “The Hubris of Barack W. Obama”, “Okay, Progressives, What’s Your Alternative to Ron Paul?”, “Obama vs. Romney: Choose Your Own Disaster”, “Liberals Need to Start Holding Obama Responsible for His Policies”, “What the Obamaphile Press Omitted From Its Endorsements”, Why I Refuse To Vote For Barack Obama”, and “The Responses to ‘Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama'”.

35 From the Washington Post Wonkblog, “Ron Paul’s economic plan”:

Ever wonder what Ron Paul’s America would look like? Then read the budget outline that Paul released as part of his 2012 presidential bid. It promises to cut $1 trillion during his first year in office, balance the budget by 2015, withdraw us from all foreign wars and eliminate five Cabinet-level agencies in the process. Economists across the political spectrum say the impact of such drastic government spending cuts would be majorly disruptive and harmful to the economy in the short term.

By reducing the deficit from more than $1 trillion to $300 billion in just a year, Paul’s plan would upend the economy at a time when it’s already fragile, says Gus Faucher, director of macroeconomics for Moody’s Analytics. “That much deficit reduction in one year is going to be a huge drag on the economy . . . the reduction in spending is much greater than cuts in taxes,” says Faucher. “We’re seeing that impact in Europe right now, where severe fiscal austerity has caused big problems for the European economy.” While long-term deficit reduction is important, legislators need to make sure that the economy is strong before major cuts take effect, he adds, calling Paul’s plan “much more ambitious” than other Republican proposals to date. By comparison, the Congressional supercommittee is required to cut $1.5 trillion over a ten-year period—a feat Paul wants to accomplish in a little more than one year.

Liberal economists were even more dire in their assessments of the Paul budget. “This is almost having the economy fall off a cliff,” says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, estimating that cutting $1 trillion in 2013 would prompt the unemployment rate to jump by 3 percentage points. Even if the $1 trillion in cuts were done over two or three years’ time, there would still be double-digit employment, Baker concludes. “This will make it extremely hard to balance the budget, since if the unemployment rate goes to 11 or 12 percent, then the budget picture will look much worse. If his response is still more cuts, then who knows how high he can get the unemployment rate.”

Michael Ettlinger, vice president for economic policy at the Center for American Progress, said Paul’s cuts would destroy the social safety net, as the plan would turn Medicaid and other low-income entitlement programs into block-granted programs that would depend on discretionary appropriations. “Your kids would be out of school, working or begging,” he concludes.

The program would also turn Social Security, veterans’ benefits and Medicare into voluntary programs that would allow younger workers to opt out of the entitlements, while fulfilling promises to present-day seniors and veterans. Both liberals and conservatives such as Baker say such changes could destabilize Social Security. “We will likely see a substantial number of young people take that option, especially if he scares them enough that it won’t be there,” says Baker. What’s more, “you will have high-income earners who opt out, and the people you have left are going to be low-income, which could cause problems” in terms of financing, explains Faucher, of Moody’s. All this could complicate Social Security’s long-term fiscal health, as it could end up losing a lot of revenue.

An opt-out option for Medicare would present similar problems, AEI’s Hassett says. He agrees that Medicare reform is critical to achieving long-term deficit reduction but thinks that an opt-out would destabilize the program. “The system taxes young people to pay for benefits for old people. If young people opt out, who will pay for the benefits?” Hassett says.

36 “Why Does Ron Paul Scare You?”

What’s the worst that Ron Paul could do? Try to get America back on the gold standard, only to find that he doesn’t have the votes in Congress to do it? I am not just being funny. Though Paul has some radical domestic policy ideas, I just don’t see any of them getting passed into law. And in foreign policy and national security matters, the areas where he would exercise the most unchecked discretion, he is the candidate you’d least expect to unwisely provoke or launch a war.

The piece “The Progressive Critique of Ron Paul: He Isn’t Libertarian Enough” makes no mention of the impact of Paul’s policies on the social safety net.

37 Again, there are many, but some are: “America’s Most Important Anti-War Politician Is a Senate Republican”, “Rand Paul Launches a Preemptive Strike Against Domestic Drone Use”, and “Rand Paul Plays It Safe in His RNC Speech”.

38 “Rand Paul Compares U.S. Government To ‘Nazi Germany’” by Ian Millhiser:

In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity this week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) compared the federal government’s decision to reclaim some of its own property to Nazi Germany’s confiscations of Jewish-owned art.

A Rand Paul editorial, quoted in “Sen. Rand Paul Compares SCOTUS Decision Upholding Obamacare To Pro-Slavery Dred Scott Decision” by Ian Millhiser:

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision, can you still argue that the Constitution does not support ObamaCare? The liberal blogosphere apparently thinks the constitutional debate is over. I wonder whether they would have had that opinion the day after the Dred Scott decision.

Think of how our country would look now had the Supreme Court not changed its view of what is constitutional. Think of 1857, when the court handed down the outrageous Dred Scott decision, which said African Americans were not citizens. Think of the “separate but equal” doctrine in Plessy v. Ferguson, which the court later repudiated in Brown v. Board of Education.

“Senator Rand Paul Touts False Claim From ’9/11 Truth’ Conspiracy Site” by Zack Beauchamp, reports that Rand Paul relayed that the National Weather Service was stockpiling ammunition.

39 The definitve story on Murrary Energy is “Coal Miner’s Donor” by Alec MacGillis. “Coal Workers Say Murray Energy ‘Coerces’ Them To Make GOP Donations: ‘If You Don’t Contribute, Your Job’s At Stake’” lists Rand Paul as a recipient of the co-erced funds. “Latest Disaster In A Dangerous Mine Kills Two Kentucky Miners After 15 Safety Violations Since 2010” reports on the collapse of an Armstrong coal mine which killed two people, and gives a quote of Rand Paul’s speech:

“The bottom line is: I’m not an expert, so don’t give me the power in Washington to be making rules,” Paul said at a recent campaign stop in response to questions about April’s deadly mining explosion in West Virginia…“You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You’d try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don’t, I’m thinking that no one will apply for those jobs.”

40 From Senate Resoundingly Defeats Rand Paul Plan, Passes Disaster Relief Package on ThinkProgress:

In a surprising show of bipartisanship, 78 Senators voted against Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) plan to offset disaster aid relief and FEMA funding with cuts to foreign aid. Only 20 senators voted for it. The stand-alone funding bill will provide $6.9 billion in emergency relief funds for fiscal year 2012. Paul demanded that the Senate use funds “from the coffers of our numerous nation-building programs overseas” rather than by “borrowing on the backs of our children and grandchildren.” The Senate proceeded to pass the relief package 62 to 37.

From “Sen. Rand Paul Blocks $36 Million For Disabled And Elderly Refugees, Including Those Who Aided American Troops” by Marie Diamond:

Politico is reporting that Paul is single-handedly holding up $36 million in benefits for elderly and disabled refugees.

Funding for the refugees ran out on Friday, but Paul refuses to lift his hold out of a professed concern that the money could be used to aid terrorists:

In a statement to POLITICO on Tuesday, Paul confirmed he was blocking the bill over concerns the money could be used to aid domestic terrorists. Two alleged terrorists, who came to the U.S. through a refugee program and were receiving welfare benefits, were arrested this year in Paul’s hometown of Bowling Green, Ky.

“This incident alone raises serious questions about the system through which they came to the United States, and I am insisting on a full investigation on our practice of providing welfare to refugees,” Paul said. […]

The bill would extend funding for one year for about 5,600 elderly and disabled refugees from war-torn regions of the world, including Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some are victims of human-trafficking or torture.

From “Senate Republicans Kill Veterans’ Jobs Bill” by Ben Armbruster:

Senate Republicans prevented a veterans’ jobs bill from coming to a vote today by forcing a budget point of order vote. Democrats came up 2 votes short of the 60 needed to defeat the GOP’s budget measure.

The Veterans Jobs Corps bill — which is part of President Obama’s push to secure jobs for veterans — would have provided $1 billion over five years to hire 20,000 young veterans for public lands jobs and prioritize vets for first responder jobs such as police, firefighter, or EMT. The measure would have also provided young vets access to the infrastructure with which to assist in job searches, such as access to computers, internet and career services advisers.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a vets group that supported the legislation, called the GOP move “a huge disappointment,” adding, “Today, politics won over helping vets.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said on the Senate floor today that “this bill is fully paid for and does not violate pay-go rules.” (The New York Times said Murray’s aides say “say the program will be paid for by recovering more money from tax-delinquent Medicare providers and forcing big tax deadbeats to pay up before receiving passports.”)

Murray even tried to include most of the provisions of a competing Republican bill but Democrats still ran into opposition. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he would block the measure until the Pakistani doctor that aided the CIA in looking for Osama bin Laden was freed.

41 “Grappling With Ron Paul’s Racist Newsletters”

42 Among others, “Dear Andrew Sullivan: Why Focus on Obama’s Dumbest Critics?” and “What the Obamaphile Press Omitted From its Endorsements

43 Omniscient Gentlemen of The Atlantic by Tkacik.

44 The Wikipedia entry on the riot.

45 “5 Reasons Why the GOP Can’t Nominate a Reliable Conservative”

46 Perhaps the best starting point for those curious about this bloody part of history would be Stephen Kinzer’s profile of U.S. ambassador to Honduras, John Negroponte. An indicator of the continuum running from Reagan foreign policy to George W. Bush policy is the appointment by Bush of Negroponte, after a long period of diplomatic exile, as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. A piece connecting the death squads of El Salvador with early investors in Bain Capital is “Mitt Romney Started Bain Capital With Money From Families Tied To Death Squads “.

47 From “Why I Refuse to Vote for Mitt Romney”:

On the eve of the Republican primary, before the field of candidates was established, I found myself hoping that the eventual nominee would be someone whose bid for higher office I could support. President Obama’s transgressions against civil liberties and expansion of executive power were dealbreakers. I wouldn’t back him as I had in 2008. Nor would I vote for a Fox News Republican like Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, or Michele Bachmann. But a deficit hawk with a steady hand on foreign policy, like George H.W. Bush?

48 “The U.S. Already Had a Conversation About Guns—and the Pro Side Won”

49 “Why ‘If We Can Just Save One Child …’ Is a Bad Argument”

50 “The Coming Attack on President Obama’s Management Skills”

The Obama Administration’s efforts to create “green jobs” have fallen far short of what was promised, as Reuters reports in a detailed analysis that casts Solyndra as just one instance of failure. The Fast and the Furious scandal is surely going to come up in the course of the general election.

51 “Of Course ‘Fast and Furious’ Investigators Are Opportunists”

My thirst for answers is even more powerful than my aversion to partisan politics. I’d suggest anyone who feels otherwise is not in fact “a believer in sunshine and disclosure,” because there has never been a Congressional investigation in which the participants weren’t angling to score political points in one way or another. That’s just how the system works.

52 “The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal” by Katherine Eban. A select quote:

Quite simply, there’s a fundamental misconception at the heart of the Fast and Furious scandal. Nobody disputes that suspected straw purchasers under surveillance by the ATF repeatedly bought guns that eventually fell into criminal hands. [Darryl “Arson”] Issa and others charge that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to walk as an operational tactic. But five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic. They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn.

Indeed, a six-month Fortune investigation reveals that the public case alleging that [Dave] Voth [head of an ATF group charged with stopping the smuggling of guns] and his colleagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies. Fortune reviewed more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case. Several, including Voth, are speaking out for the first time.

How Fast and Furious reached the headlines is a strange and unsettling saga, one that reveals a lot about politics and media today.

53 “The Policy That Killed 100 Times as Many Mexicans as Fast and Furious”:

Said Texas Governor Rick Perry, “We’ve had over 300 Mexican nationals killed directly attributable to this Fast and Furious operation, where they brought those guns into Mexico. A former Marine and a Border Patrol agent by the name of Brian Terry lost his life. With Watergate you had a second-rate burglary.”

There has been enough commentary of that kind that political satirists are starting to notice. Said Bill Maher on his HBO show, “First of all, let me just say, Republicans don’t care about dead Mexicans.” His comments spurred outraged posts in the conservative blogosphere. But the problem isn’t that he was wrong, so much as that his biting remark ought to have been broader. Democrats don’t care about dead Mexicans either assuming a reasonable definition of “care.”

Abstractly, do they regret it when foreigners die?

Sure. So do Republicans.

Does either party put forth any effort to change the American policy that results in more dead Mexicans than any other?


They talk about how tragic it is that 300 Mexican nationals were killed by Fast and Furious. But they keep right on supporting the war on drugs.

54 “The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal” by Katherine Eban.

Some call it the “parade of ants”; others the “river of iron.” The Mexican government has estimated that 2,000 weapons are smuggled daily from the U.S. into Mexico. The ATF is hobbled in its effort to stop this flow. No federal statute outlaws firearms trafficking within the U.S., so agents must build cases using a patchwork of often toothless laws. For six years, due to Beltway politics, the bureau has gone without permanent leadership, neutered in its fight for funding and authority. The National Rifle Association has so successfully opposed a comprehensive electronic database of gun sales that the ATF’s congressional appropriation explicitly prohibits establishing one.

[Dave] Voth’s [head of an ATF unit set up to stop gun smuggling in the southwest] mandate was to stop gun traffickers in Arizona, the state ranked by the gun-control advocacy group Legal Community Against Violence as having the nation’s “weakest gun violence prevention laws.” Just 200 miles from Mexico, which prohibits gun sales, the Phoenix area is home to 853 federally licensed firearms dealers. Billboards advertise volume discounts for multiple purchases.

Customers can legally buy as many weapons as they want in Arizona as long as they’re 18 or older and pass a criminal background check. There are no waiting periods and no need for permits, and buyers are allowed to resell the guns. “In Arizona,” says Voth, “someone buying three guns is like someone buying a sandwich.”

By 2009 the Sinaloa drug cartel had made Phoenix its gun supermarket and recruited young Americans as its designated shoppers or straw purchasers. Voth and his agents began investigating a group of buyers, some not even old enough to buy beer, whose members were plunking down as much as $20,000 in cash to purchase up to 20 semiautomatics at a time, and then delivering the weapons to others.

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Noam Scheiber’s Stuart Stevens Profile: A Small Reply

I very much enjoyed Noam Scheiber’s profile of Stuart Stevens, “The Square and the Flair”, a profile whose theses, that these men are more alike than you might think, and that these likenesses are detrimental to their campaign, I am in much agreement with, and for which the piece makes a convincing argument. That the essay does not take the more scathing approach I often take here, and avoids some matters I bring up here, I do not consider a failing, but simply a choice of focus. What follows are two small corrections, and a few supplemental observations. This post makes frequent reference to previous looks at Stevens’ work; a good overview of all this can be found in “He Hates You: A Profile of Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s Media Assassin”, which might be considered an acid-tinged bookend to the Scheiber piece.

The first correction is small, but crucial. The piece opens with the following paragraph, I bold the key detail:

BEFORE HE EARNED his reputation as one of the best ad men in politics, before he wrote for several major television shows, and long before he became Mitt Romney’s top campaign strategist, Stuart Stevens found himself in Cameroon, face to face with a machine-gun-wielding soldier looking to shake him down. It was 1988, and a few weeks earlier, Stevens had deposited himself in the nearby Central African Republic to pick up a friend’s Land Rover and drive it back to France. But the trip was a disaster from the get-go. Local officials confiscated the car and refused to release it. Weeks passed before he could find a roadworthy replacement. By the time Stevens finally got moving, he discovered that his maps were unreliable, the roads nearly impassable, and the local bureaucrats inhospitable. Distances drivable within a few hours in the United States gobbled up days.

It was not 1988, it was 1987. It’s very clearly established that the book takes place in 1987, through a number of details, among them that he arrives in Niger just after a coup has taken place in Burkina Faso, where a charismatic guitar-playing young leader has just been overthrown.

Niger, though, was a security-mad country with roadblocks and police checks every twenty or thirty miles. The routine of paranoia had been accelerated by a coup a few days earlier in neighboring Burkina Faso. Like virtually every West African leader, the president of Niger had catapulted himself to power in a similar coup and no doubt viewed the events in Burkina Faso as intimations of his own mortality. (The Burkina Faso president, an exceptionally charismatic guitar-playing young leader, was gunned down in his residence, as is the custom.)

All of this meant it was impossible to travel a mile in Niger without immaculately ordered papers, including insurance.

burkina faso coup pt one burkina faso coup pt two

This is Thomas Sankara, overthrown and killed October 15 1987. This date is very important, because Stevens speaks of the coup taking place a few days before, when he is in Niger in late November or early December: so how is it that the coup took place only days ago? These, and other details, point to the possibility, and I emphasize that it is a possibility, of fabulism. This is a serious charge, and not one I have made lightly: there are simply discrepancies in Malaria Dreams that I cannot understand or account for, detailed in my examination of strange flaws in currency and chronology in the book.

There is another possible correction, and it involves his first political campaign. Here is where it’s mentioned in Mr. Scheiber’s article:

Stevens’s political career began as a bit of a lark. In the mid-’70s, he interned in the congressional office of Thad Cochran and became friendly with Cochran’s chief of staff, Jon Hinson. When Hinson later ran for Congress, he enlisted Stevens to make his ads. Other than the internship, Stevens had little political experience to speak of.

Hinson’s winning race is in 1978. However, Night Train to Turkistan Stevens remembering his involvement in a different political campaign in 1975. The trip in Turkistan takes place in 1986, and he writes of a man accompanying him who worked with him on a gubernatorial campaign in Mississippi a decade before:

I’d met David ten years before when we both worked for the same gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi. We lost. David was quiet and very smart, with a stoic sort of love for the physical punishment of eighteen-hour campaign days in Mississippi’s 100 degree heat.

Turkistan David Governor underlined

If Stevens is interning with Thad Cochran, than I assume the candidate he works for in that year is a republican, and not his hero, democrat William Winter, defeated in the democratic primary of that same year1. If this is the case, then it puts an interesting nuance on this current election, because the democratic gubernatorial candidate, Cliff Finch, ran a campaign notable for its populist appeal2. There is additional interest in the fact that the republican opponent was Gil Carmichael, who, in 1976, would go on to support Ford over Reagan at the convention, the last menshevik victory before the bolsheviks triumphed completely3.

My supplementary observations deal with key similarities of these two men, Stevens and Romney, similarities that I think are obvious, but unnoted in this piece, one of which flows out of the correction just made. This particular shared detail is their utter opacity. With regard to the candidate, this has involved a large existential question, “Who is Mitt Romney?”, as well as small practical ones, such as, “How did he get such a huge stash in his IRA?”, and, “What’s hidden in his taxes?” That the simple detail of what the first political campaign Stevens worked on is an open question points to the veiled aspects of this consultant’s life.

In other posts, I have pointed to areas of Stevens’ life which, for a public figure, I find baffling in their mystery. I am grateful to a kindly reader who assures me that Stevens is very much married and that she has met his wife, the figure forever obscure, off-stage, and occasionally unmentioned in his books. I take the reader at their word, and consider this a private matter, though Stevens’ campaign considers many of such private matters, whether it be contraception, abortion, or same sex marriage, to be public ones. I remain, however, puzzled by his education, even more so after Mr. Scheiber’s piece. Looking again at all his statements of where he went to school, Stevens went to a college in the United States4, Oxford as an undergrad5, Oxford as a graduate6, and two film schools, one of which is UCLA7. He is eighteen going on nineteen in 1972 (birthday October 22)8. He writes in Big Enchilada of joining Hinson’s campaign in 1978, after the two film schools, and that from then on, he devoted himself entirely to his work as political consultant9. So, he goes to five schools (yes, I count Oxford undergrad and grad as separate schools) in six years. At the same time, Mr. Scheiber reports him interning for Thad Cochran, in Mississippi in the mid-seventies, and he himself says he worked on a Mississippi governor’s campaign in 1975. I am puzzled over how he’s interning in Mississippi, while going to school in California or England. For that matter, if he is working for a Mississippi gubernatorial candidate in an election during the fall of 1975, how is he going to school in a different state, or another country? There may well be a simple answer to this; but the mystery over the mundane issue of a man’s education, which should be a simple set of facts, neatly interlaced through his writings, instead suggests the same murky water of his client’s finances.

There is another quality which links both men, very much a part of this veil, and that is their protean amorphability. The collected statements of Stevens are something like a series of flipped quarters, each flip having no impact or consequence on the next. Though Lee Iacocca is compared venomously with Mao Tse Tung in Turkistan10, Stevens is deeply moved by the tears of George W. Bush in an utterly saccharine moment in Enchilada11. He makes fun of mormons in Feeding Frenzy12, and, well, look who his client is now. In 2000, his campaign to elect Bush involved tax relief for the least well-off and dealing with income inequality13. This current campaign is built around “broadening the tax base”, making sure those same people given relief then start paying more now, while providing even more tax cuts for the most well-off, such as Mitt Romney and Stuart Stevens14. Most writers are happy to mention how they predicted a particular event; his novel, Scorched Earth, ends in a tied election that most certainly anticipates the chaos of 200015. Stevens makes no mention of the novel, or its impasse, in his Bush campaign memoir, Enchilada16. A key issue in this election is health care, against which Stevens designs screechy ads for his client, who is currently against such a program as well. On the other hand, an episode of “Commander in Chief”, which he co-wrote, implies that national health insurance would be a very sound idea17. Scorched Earth stated bluntly that trying to keep PACs and campaigns from co-ordinating was like trying to keep teens from having sex18; in a 2008 interview, he declared there was no such co-ordination between PACs and the Bush campaign19. In 2009, he made fun of muslim-baiting, his current campaign happily abides it. Stevens used to defend Newt Gingrich on charges of corruption while house leader20, this past primary, he destroyed Gingrich on charges of corruption while house leader21. He sneers at fellow southerner Al Gore naming his dog Shiloh, after a battle in which the south suffered such a devastating loss, though a few years earlier, Scorched Earth, a novel he wrote, featured one of its most sympathetic characters claiming that the poor of Mississippi deserved to be so because of their state’s part in the confederacy22. The republican nominee who has abided the Huma Abedin witch hunt, and met last week with many of its most enthusiastic proponents, has a chief strategist who writes of meeting with a member of the PLO in Malaria Dreams, where this member of the PLO is described sympathetically23.

I end with one final trait of the two men, and I think it is their most fatal flaw in this election. Both seem to lack anything like basic intuition of how their actions might be perceived. The cruel humor in Stevens’ books, where he’ll, say, threaten to choke one woman with a gas hose24, or his hero will threaten to tear out the vocal cords of another25, has no sense that it might be heard by others not as everyday metaphors of annoyance, but psychotic episodes. These jokes are unfunny for the same reason that the much blander humor of his client isn’t exactly a laugh riot either, that neither of these men have much idea of basic human internals. Mitt Romney asks random people if they’re french. Stuart Stevens writes books where the joke is, over and over again, some variation on person A threatening to hit, or actually hitting, person B26. These are the methods in which these alien overlords have been instructed to ingratiate themselves with the people of earth. This blindness blends with their own hubris, as Romney appears suddenly surprised that people might actually want to know more about complex tax schemes involving Swiss accounts, and business funding from families that backed Salvadoran death squads. This same arrogance may also have blinded Stevens, who appears not to have considered the possibility that someone might actually read all of his books, in an effort to discern the men behind the curtain who elect our political leaders, and helpfully point out the details of those books of greatest awkwardness to his campaign.

Mr. Scheiber writes of the holy warriors of the internet, of which Stevens was caught so unawares, of which Mr. Scheiber may or may not include myself, and here is one more small difference with which I have with the piece. Mr. Scheiber portrays the contrast of this election and that of twelve years ago a little too much as a difference of social networks, without emphasis on a country wrecked by financial pillaging, with the best of men and women maimed or dead in two wars. The anger arising from all these wasted lives is not some petty liberal petulance, but a white hot anger of a kind Stuart Stevens has never felt, an anger at being treated as simple playpieces in the games of others. To make as clear as possible who this man is, what he has said and done in the past, so he might not shape-shift away from it again, however, isn’t jihad. It’s simple accountability.

Other pieces that look at the life and career of political consultant Stuart Stevens include “He Hates You: A Profile of Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s Meda Assassin”, a brief look at his China travel memoir, Night Train to Turkistan, The Big Enchilada, his memoir of working in the George W. Bush campaign, a look at his travel memoir Malaria Dreams, an analysis of his novel Scorched Earth, an analysis of his book Feeding Frenzy, his interview with Charlie Rose promoting Feeding Frenzy, Stevens and Jon Hinson, an analysis of an episode of “Commander in Chief” which he co-wrote, and his defense of Newt Gingrich on “Charlie Rose”. Outside profiles and mentions, all excellent, are “Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot” by Robert Draper, “An Unconventional Strategist Reshaping Romney” by Ashley Parker, “The Coming Tsunami of Slime” by Joe Hagan, and “Mitt Romney’s Dark Knight” by Jason Zengerle.

1 William Winter is mentioned as a politician who Stevens first met as a youth, and greatly admired. Though he writes of his attempts at election, he makes no mention of helping any of these attempts.

So I fell in love with politics. Who wouldn’t? It had all the fun of combat but nobody died, or at least not very often. (No one shot Winter [Winter was at the time a segregationist, but considered insufficiently devoted to the issue, and marked for death by some extremists], but he lost, ran again and lost, and then finally was elected and turned out to be the best governor Mississippi had in fifty years.)

William Winter underlined

On Finch winning over Winter, from The Florence Times, August 27, 1975:

Finch Triumphs in Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Attorney Cliff Finch packed a record gubernatorial victory into his campaign lunchpail today and proclaimed the Democratic runoff triumph “the American dream come true.”

Finch, who aimed a vigorous campaign at the working man, watched his margin over Lt. Gov. William Winter, the first primary leader, pass 110,000 votes, the largest margin in Mississippi political history.

2 From the Press-Courier:

Finch, a former district attorney, has campaigned by performing manual labor to demonstrate friendship with workers, using a metal lunchbox as campaign symbol. His jobs have included bulldozer operator, pulpwood cutter, shrimp boat worker, oilfield roughneck, diesel mechanic, butcher and grocery bagger.

3 From The Fredericksburg Free Lance Star:

Pressure tactics by Ford partisans are angering Mississippi Republicans

By Jonathan Wolman, Associated Press Writer

The chairman of the Mississippi Republican party, angered by the tactics of President Ford’s partisans, says their efforts to woo delegates in the state may have backfired and reduced support for Ford.

Criticizing the efforts on Ford’s behalf, Clarke Reed said Thursday that Ford may have less support in the delegation today than he did just two days ago.

Reed said pressure from Ford backers included suggestions that Ronald Reagan would settle for a vie presidential nomination.

Reagan telephoned Ford campaigner Gil Carmichael of Meridianm, Miss., on Thursday and told him to stop telling delegates that Reagan is considering a vice presidential position.

Carmichael said that in four days of heavy telephone lobbying he and other Ford supporters told delegates only that they believed a Ford-Reagan ticket was possible. But Reed said Carmichael had been telling delegates a Ford-Reagan ticket was sanctioned by Reagan.

Reagan told Carmichael that he would not consider a FordReagan ticket “under any circumstances,” according to the Mississippian.

4 From “Thank God, This Will Only Get Worse” by Stuart Stevens, on cross country skiing:

I’d tried it once in college when an exceptionally gorgeous girl of a Nordic type suggested a trip up Pikes Peak in Colorado as something of a first date. (That sort of squeaky-clean approach was popular at that time and place, a phase I hope has passed for those still dating in Colorado.)

5 From Feeding Frenzy:

We were in a little restaurant on the side of a cliff in a town called Eze, wedged between Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Monte Carlo. I was nineteen, I think, and on one of the many interminable vacations that Oxford likes to provide. She was a few years older, an American, but she had lived in France for a while, which seemed very impressive and somehow important. It was late March and not far away there were almost nude women lying on rocks they called a beach.


6 From “My Secret Life As A Muslim” by Stuart Stevens:

From my formative years as a grad student at Oxford, where there were many Muslims, there exist photographs of me attending a lecture entitled, “The History of Islam.” I was spotted many times riding my motorcycle in the vicinity of the Mosque on Bath Road. That I was visiting a girlfriend who lived nearby may only have been a clever deep cover deception. As proof of my success as a Muslim organizer, there are now four Mosques in Oxford, where there was only one when I was a student.

7 From The Big Enchilada:

Then a friend called just as I was finishing film school. He was running for Congress in Mississippi against Senator John Stennis’s son and couldn’t afford to hire anybody to make ads for him. So he asked me to do it. I explained that I didn’t have the slightest idea how to make commercials and when he protested that I had just been to two of the fanciest film schools in the country, I tried to tell him that mostly what I did was watch old films and write little essays and listen to people like Vincente Minnelli tell us how it used to be. (Minnelli wore a blazer the color of a canary yellow Post-it note. Perfect.)

film school part one film school part two

That one of the schools should be UCLA comes from its mention in an early Stevens profile, “Image Makers Hard at Work In the Selling of a Candidate”:

This free-form approach reflects the philosophy of the 40-year-old Mr. Stevens. Unlike most political consultants who rose from campaign ranks, he went to film school at the University of California at Los Angeles and has published fiction.

8 From Malaria Dreams:

It was my birthday, the twenty-second of October.

birthday 22 october

From Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot, by Robert Draper, published November 30, 2011.

Stevens, a 58-year old Mississippi native (whom I have known for over a decade), is as wry, eclectic and mussed in appearance as his boss is earnest and buttoned up.

9 The excerpt on finishing film schools is at footnote 7.

That the election between John Hampton Stennis and Jon Hinson took place in 1978 can be found in the wikipedia entry for John C. Stennis, Hampton’s father.

[John C.] Stennis married Coy Hines, and together, they had two children, John Hampton and Margaret Jane. His son, John Hampton Stennis (born ca. 1935), an attorney in Jackson, Mississippi, ran unsuccessfully in 1978 for the United States House of Representatives, having been defeated by the Republican Jon C. Hinson, then the aide to U.S. Representative Thad Cochran, who ran successfully to succeed James O. Eastland for the other Mississippi seat in the U.S. Senate.

After the film schools, he becomes a media consultant:

It wasn’t as though I had a lot of offers after film school, and I had to admit it did sound like fun. So I went back to Mississippi and somehow we stumbled our way to victory in what was seen as a major upset. Then I discovered other people would pay me money to make commercials for them.

So I became a media consultant.

Why not? It’s a profession of charlatans. You want to be a media consultant, just say you’re one. To drive a cab in New York, at least you have to take a test, know how to get to Kennedy. But media consulting? No way.

became a media consultant part one underlined became a media consultant part two underlined

10 In Turkistan, Stevens speaks to a chinese man about the popularity of Iacocca’s autobiography in China.

“Can you buy Iacocca’s book in China?” [asked Stevens]

“Every day in the People’s Daily, two pages of the I-Coke-ah book is run.” [answered Lu Wei Hong]

“That’s almost the whole paper.”

“Yes. This is very important.”

Startling as the idea was, it did make a certain amount of sense that Iacocca would go over big in a country molded by Mao. The two had a lot in common: both were megalomaniacs, and both had a special knack for what might be called Succeeding Through Failure. Mao realized that he was losing his grip in 1965, so he launched the Cultural Revolution and reestablished himself as the dominant figure in China. Iacocca was fired at Ford, landed a job as head of a bankrupt company that made terrible cars, had to beg Congress for a billion dollars – all the sort of stuff that would have made any normal person embarrassed to appear in public. And yet he had the gall to strut around on national television in commercials, becoming a folk hero in the process.

Both were also fashion arbiters in their own right – Mao, the blue jackets and cap; Iacocca, the shirts with contrasting collars and cuffs. And both had been trading for years on one impressive achievement: Mao had pulled off the Long March, and Iacocca had overseen the creation of the Mustang.


11 When shooting George W. Bush for a campaign spot:

[Mark McKinnon, a fellow consultant] started out with some general questions about growing up in Midland. We weren’t sure how we would use this, but it was familiar terrain and a way to start a conversation. Bush loved Midland and you could see his eyes soften and his whole body relax when he talked about what it was like to grow up in a place with few trees and a ton of oil wells.

They moved on to the standard issues, tax cuts and then the military. When talking about how important it was for America to be respected around the world, his tone shifted and he looked off camera for a moment and for a beat I thought he might tear up. It surprised me. What was he thinking, feeling?

“You know,” he said, “everywhere I go in America, everywhere I’ve gone on this fantastic journey so far, people walk up to me with pictures of their children and say, ‘Governor, I want my child to look at the White House and be proud of what he or she sees.'”

Then he stopped and a hint of tears did come. The room was utterly silent, with only the faint hum of the 35-millimeter film running through the camera.

In the editing room a week later, we used what he said in a spot we called “Pictures.” It was always my favorite.

george w bush in tears

12 In Feeding Frenzy:

Living in New York, I had long ago developed a psychological defense to absurd restaurant prices based on specious rationalizations along the lines of “Well, it’s cheaper than a car” or “Mormons pay this much every couple of months to feed the average family of fifteen.” It helped, sort of.

mormons joke

13 From Enchilada, George W. Bush going through the copy of a campaign ad:

He read the final line of the script. “‘I believe we ought to cut tax rates to continue economic growth and prosperity.’ We should change this. It makes it sound like all I want to do is continue what Clinton has done. We can do better than that and we ought to say it. The whole idea of the tax plan will be to eliminate taxes for people at the bottom of the spectrum.”

eliminate taxes bottom spectrum underlined

14 From ThinkProgress, “Like Romney’s Tax Plan, House Republican ‘Tax Reform’ Would Mean A Major Middle-Class Tax Increase”

A study from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center revealed yesterday, Romney’s plan would raise taxes on middle-class families with children by an average of $2,000 and raise taxes on all taxpayers with incomes under $200,000 by an average of $500. (Those estimates are conservative: In filling in missing details, TPC bent over backwards to make Romney’s plan as kind to the middle class as possible, given the hard promises he has made on tax cuts for the rich and corporations.)

A middle-class tax increase is inevitable under Romney’s plan because it’s impossible to pay for Romney’s tax cuts for the rich by reducing their tax breaks. As a result, the TPC study finds, Romney’s plan “mathematically necessitates a shift in the tax burden of at least $86 billion away from high-income taxpayers onto lower- and middle-income taxpayers.”

15 An excerpt from Scorched Earth, dealing with the possibility that clerks on the ground will steal votes:

Solomon Jawinski, even after being governor for seven years, had never been accepted by many in the local courthouse crowd – the county clerks and the supervisors – and they were the ones most likely to steal votes. The way things were these days, it was hard for them to steal big time, but they could definitely tilt an election that was less than half a percent. The courthouse crowd loved nothing more in the world than a close election. The state, like all southern states, was still under the jurisdiction of the federal Voting Rights Act, and it required Justice Department approval to strike a single name from the voting rolls. Few county clerks wanted to go to the trouble of dealing with Washington just because somebody had moved or died, so as a result there were more people on the voting rolls dead than alive. That made it very easy to steal.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

On the importance of the campaign controlling vote inspection and tallying:

Everywhere on the ground floor of the mansion, people were screaming into telephones. No fewer than ten cellular phones were in use, and every line of the mansion’s thirteen line system was lit by a manic voice intent on securing a not insignificant prize – six years in the U.S. Senate. The noise was elaborate. A desperate, loud noise:

“What do you mean those boxes are ‘okay’? We’ll decide if they’re okay or not, not some damn county clerk wanting to kiss Luke Bonney’s ass. Hell, yes, I want ’em impounded now!”

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

The importance of making sure you’re perceived as the winner during a close election:

Charlie Song, talking into two telephones, winked at Matt. He flashed a thumbs-up, not very convincingly. He was still in a very Charlie Song suit that did not look as if he had slept in it, as Matt knew he had. If he had slept at all. Theirs would have been an all-night vigil, with lawyers rousted in the middle of night. The finest legal aides available in the state turned out of bed like a bunch of Parris Island recruits heading for a midnight march through the swamps.

A television was on in the corner, and Luke Bonney was standing before a podium expressing his supreme confidence that the recount would put him where the people of this great state clearly wanted him – in the United States Senate. Matt could just make out the faded Sun and Sand logo on the podium.

“Dream on, slime sucker!” Ruthie hissed, turning to give Matt a quick kiss on the cheek. Her eyes glowed with the heat of the hunt. “Banana republic stuff, Matt,” she whispered fiercely, “we hold on to the lead long enough, we got it. Bring out the tanks! Put those damn planes in the air!”

Matt agreed sophisticated armaments might come in handy.

Scorched Earth 031n Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

An emphasis on violence, on military power, on force, to establish that you are the true leader in a close vote:

The Solomon Jawinski postelection press conference was held on the steps of the mansion. The location had been Matt’s idea and had been chosen to project as much credible force as possible. It was the sort of thing best done while standing on top of a tank surrounding by a whole bunch of ferocious-looking guys with nasty weapons. The message was clear: I am mean. I am strong. Do not mess with me, or you shall die.

Instead of tanks, Jawinski had to settle for the somewhat imposing white columns of the mansion and in place of armed men, civility dictated he rely on a bunch of tired-looking lawyers. It suffered in the translation, but Solomon Jawinski seemed delighted by the world. Matt couldn’t remember seeing him this happy.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

16 The section of Enchilada dealing with the recount is a small part of the book, going from page 280 to 298. Nothing of Scorched Earth is ever mentioned, here, or at any part of the book. Two fragments covey an idea of the tone of those twenty pages, one of helplessness and ennui.

We though it would all be over in a matter of days. There would be a machine recount of all the ballots, our lead would expand or stay about the same and Gore would accept defeat and concede graciously. Had anybody suggested that this thing would go on for another thirty-five days, we would have laughed hysterically, then probably thrown the person out of the window. Thirty-five days for a simple recount? No way.

But for the next thirty-five days, I would wake up every morning to the growing realization that whether we won or lost, the race for the presidency was going to have little to do with anything we did in Austin that day. For all our posturing in front of the television cameras, this was now an election that would be decided in the courtroom by lawyers. They were the soldiers now and I was just another well-intentioned civilian.

beginning of recount underlined

17 The episode focuses on a soldier whose wife is very sick, and lacking the insurance to pay for her medication, he threatens to blow up Air Force One in an attempt to get her the help she needs. His wife can’t get the insurance she needs because of her pre-existing condition. A script excerpt; HENDRICKS is the soldier’s doctor, ALLEN is the president, GARDNER the vice-president.

A tank backed into him.

A tank?

Damaged his left leg. But he worked like hell in therapy and did all the right things.

He improved, so he was reclassifed as only 30 percent disabled.

Which dropped him out of priority one coverage and he lost his insurance.

ROD CALLOWAY [The president’s husband]
Doesn’t his current job come with health insurance?

For him. But not his wife because of her pre-existing condition.

Though the president will not negotiate with this man, she is sympathetic to his plight, and concedes that the fact that he lacks insurance is an issue of the federal government not serving him well.

Mr. Terzano, you have not served your country very well today. But there is reason to believe…that you have not been well-served by your country, either. If your country is at fault I promise to take the necessary steps…

The episode ends with the medication for the soldier’s wife paid for through donations from others throughout the country. Is this not something like insurance? A full examination of the episode is here.

18 A front group PAC is set up to help elect the protaganist’s candidate. Farkas is a member of the campaign, Byron Timmons heads the ostensibly independent PAC. The narrator brings up the obvious issue that it’s illegal for there to be any co-ordination between the PAC and the campaign, and the fact that such co-ordination is inevitable.

“Can Farkas be traced?” Matt asked, ignoring her and trying to focus. “Will anyone prove he was involved with Byron?”

“No,” Charlie answered, though he wasn’t really sure of this at all. It was what he had spent the afternoon trying to decide. Some people knew that Farkas was a friend of Byron Timmons’s [sic], but that couldn’t be called a crime, though by all rights it should have been.

The question at hand involved a violation of FEC – Federal Election Commission – law. It was illegal for there to be any contact or coordination between an independent group like Citizens for Good Government and a federal campaign. This was because the independent groups were exempt from the fund-raising limitations and reporting requirements imposed on congressional and senatorial campaigns. Nine times out of ten, however, this was a sham. It was like trying to keep teenagers from having sex. The very notion of stopping two groups with the same goal from trading information and plotting together sub rosa was preposterous.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

19 Originally, this interview appeared on the site Buying of the President, which appears to be off-line at the moment. A copy of the relevant text is below, with the most important parts bolded; screenshots of the page itself, with this relevant fragment are listed afterwards.

How do you feel about both the independent-expenditure committees and 527s, in terms of losing control of your own campaign?

I hate it.

Talk a little about that.

Like the Swift Boats. I remember when the whole Swift Boat thing, everybody in the [George W.] Bush world was furious, and sort of stunned. People don’t believe this, but it’s true.

So it’s not enough to be able to say, “Hey, that wasn’t ours, and we had nothing to do with it — we didn’t talk to anybody.” You are getting nailed with it anyway? Is that the problem?

Oh, yeah. People do nail you with it. And most of the time they screw it up, in the sense that they don’t do what you want to do. And I remember in the Swift Boat thing, I had been working on this ad, just kind of noodling on my own, where it was very straightforward. “John Kerry came back from Vietnam and he said this.” And then I had just a clip of it. It said, “What do you think?” That was it. And then the Swift Boat people came in.

But it didn’t go after the element of his service in Vietnam?

No. And they entered the argument on the medals issue, which I always felt was the worst way to argue that. Like should he have gotten two medals instead of three? It’s just insane. And so I felt that by entering the argument at that point, they had discredited the argument. And the one thing you could say about someone like Karl [Rove], Karl likes to control things. Not in a bad way, but in a “we don’t like stuff just to happen.” And all of us, I think, were like, “What?” I certainly didn’t know anything. I don’t think anybody knew anything about it. It’s just kind of you wake up one morning, and it’s like, “What?” I remember the phone ringing, one of the 6 a.m. phone calls, you know whatever it’s going to be it’s not going to be good. It’s like, “Have you seen this?” And so, I mean, people say the Swift Boat thing hurt Kerry. Maybe. Maybe the way they handled it hurt him. But I thought the “Ashley” ad that was done mainly in Ohio by the 527s, you see that where Bush is embracing this girl whose mother had died in 9/11. He did the Willie Horton ads, Larry [McCarthy]; he did it. I thought it was a very good ad, fabulous ad.

buying of the president part one buying of the president part two

20 A transcript of Stevens defending Gingrich at the time on “Charlie Rose”. The page also features a link to the episode.

21 The ad “History Lesson”:

22 From Enchilada:

As a Mississippian, I was mildly amused that the dog’s name was Shiloh; what kind of Southerner named his dog after a battle which turned into a Southern slaughter? It would be like a German naming a dog Stalingrad. Maybe a focus group had liked it.

Shiloh underlined

From Scorched Earth, governor Solomon Jawinski during an interview, on the problem with germans and the people of Mississippi:

“They still have this horrible sense of thwarted destiny. Lookit,” he took off his glasses and rubbed the dark circles surrounding his eyes like bruises, “one hundred years ago, this was the richest part of the country. Man, we were rich rich rich. But then we went and did a stupid violent thing called secession. In five years we became the poorest part of the country, and one hundred years later, it’s still that way. And maybe that’s not so bad.”

“It’s good to be poor?” Dawn looked genuinely shocked.

“It’s good to have some kind of reminder of what happens when people do something horrible – like rebellion.”

poor of Mississippi underlined

23 From Malaria Dreams, the entrance of Habib, the palestinian:

Habib woke me up. “Can I help you?” he asked politely, like a steward on a cruise ship at teatime. He was a portly fellow wearing a tweed jacket and rep tie with a scarf thrown over his neck. His accent was English, his manner that of an amiable Oxford don.

Habib was a Palestinian, a teacher by profession, forced to Algeria with his family after 1948. With little prompting, he launched into an astoundingly intricate analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. At regular intervals he interrupted the erudite lecture to grasp my arm, encrusted with a grimy layer of oil and sand, imploring, “You see? You must help us?”

Eventually I realized that he meant the United States government, rather than myself. I nodded vaguely, trying to come up with words befitting my new dipomatic status.

habib palestinian resolution 242

A man who, it turns out, is a member of the PLO:

“It was a very smart hiding place,” Cheik-ben said thoughtfully. I must remember it the next time I go to France.”

“But why would you take a tent to France?” Habib, the scholar asked. “The hotels in France are excellent. After the 1986 PLO council meeting in Tangiers, the old man and I traveled to Saint-Tropez.”

new council meeting

24 From Feeding Frenzy:

“What do we do?” [says Stevens]

“We could stop and siphon out the old gas and put in new.”

“Siphon? Siphon with what?”

“A hose would probably be best, don’t you think?”

I thought about killing her, maybe with a hose wrapped around her neck.

choking rachel

25 From Scorched Earth, the hero political consultant, Matt Bonney, talks to two women.

“Look, let’s face it,” Ruthie said, “My sister on television is strictly a T and A kind of thing regardless of what she is doing. She’s a T and A kind of girl.”

“Oh,” Lisa said, “unlike being an anchorwoman like my sister. T and A has nothing to do with that, of course not. That’s strictly a matter of superior intellect. That’s why they hired Dawn. I mean, she’s just talking about plastic surgery now because it will make her smarter.”

Dawn! Matt’s vision went a little blurry around the edges.

“Plastic surgery?” Ruthie giggled. “She is not.”

Lisa laughed, and Ruthie turned to Matt. “Dawn doesn’t need any surgery, does she?” Ruthie asked. “Neck, eyes, cheeks?”

Matt wanted to reach across the table and bite her vocal cords right out of her throat.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Matt Bonney, in conversation with one of the women again:

Ruthie suddenly smiled. It was a huge smile that lit up her entire face. “We’re going to win,” she murmured, almost breathlessly. “This will do it for sure. Luke is finished!” She thought for a moment. “We ought to still do that spot you came up with, the one with Luke on vacation with those lobbyist sleazebags. Have you been able to get that tape yet?”

Her Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, and Matt thought very hard for an instant about biting it and ripping it from her throat with his teeth.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

26 Matt Bonney, hero political consultant, versus pollster Walter Farkas in Scorched Earth:

Walter Farkas was standing there gawking when Matt hit him in the stomach. Tired as he was, Matt’s punch was not particularly powerful, but it was close enough to bump Farkas into Lionel, who was just entering the kitchen door behind Farkas with a tray full of plates. Flailing about for a handhold, Lionel grabbed hold of Farkas’s shirt. For a moment, the two hung together in some perfect symmetry before all those good pompano dinners Lionel had consumed over the years edged his center balance toward the floor, and together, linked like an awkward train, the two of them cascaded backward through the door into the restaurant. The tray full of dishes followed closely thereafter, its astounding crash serving as period to Farkas’ strangled cry: “Crackers! All crackers!”

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Matt Bonney, hero political consultant, versus his brother.

Luke shrugged, and Matt thought he looked incredibly smug for a fellow who had just been accused of waking up next to transvestites. Matt thought about this for a bit, then he stood up and, almost as an afterthought, hit his brother very hard right in his nose.

“Right,” Matt repeated when Luke fell, sputtering to the floor, blood exploding all over his gray pinstripes and Ruthie’s Oriental rug.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Stuart Stevens runs into an old woman in Belgium when his car has car troubles.

“Can you recommend a hotel?” I asked an elderly woman walking her tiny Pekingese pup.

“You have a problem,” she said.

Immediately I felt like strangling the woman. A problem? A problem? Just because I’m riding around in a car with no brakes in a city with man-eating tunnels and I’ve got a dog on the back seat who is just dying to eat your silly little dog and, besides, I’m about to be late for dinner at Comme Chez Soi, you think I’ve got a problem? PROBLEM?!

maybe it would kill some germans

Stuart Stevens in Feeding Frenzy, dealing with an acquaintance after car problems:

Through a rising cloud of thick smoke, I pulled the car over, crushing a long line of the wildflowers I’d been admiring.

“Where’s your fire extinguisher?” Carl demanded, reverting to his years of military training.

“I don’t have a damn fire extinguisher,” I shot back. “Who carries a fire extinguisher, for cryin’ out loud?”

“People who don’t want their old Mustangs to burn,” Carl said.

If I’d had a fire extinguisher, I would have definitely used it to slide the nozzle down his throat. Then a little squeeze of the handle…It was a delicious notion.

From “Let’s All Chill”, an article for Outside magazine, about an arctic journey.

No matter how many gloves I put on, or what kind, they would not stay warm. By the second night on the ice, my fingers had started to blister.

“How did this happen?” I asked Børge, staring at them.

“You are in the Arctic,” he shrugged.

“Børge,” I sighed. “I think I’m going to kill you.”

Tony, an englishman, in Feeding Frenzy.

I’d met Tony through politics, when he had wanted to cover a “real American campaign” and had talked me into letting him report on a race I was working on in South Dakota. My misguided effort to be helpful resulted in four long days of Tony at my side murmuring, “The vastness, oh, the vastness,” every few minutes. He actually wore a Savile Row bespoke suit; I’m not making this up, he really did. And brand-new cowboy boots fashioned from the skin of some unidentified endangered species. He also wore bow ties and was fond of quoting Kevin Costner from Dances with Wolves. We spent four days in South Dakota, and had we spent a fifth, I’m confident he would have been sent back to Brighton in a box, disemboweled by some disgruntled South Dakotan who couldn’t take another word from this bow-tied, Savile-suit-wearing dandy in iridescent cowboy boots.

south dakota man

From “Brains, Know How, and Native Intelligence”, a “Northern Exposure” episode written by Stevens:

Northern Exposure

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Malaria Dreams by Mitt Romney’s Chief Strategist Stuart Stevens

Part of an on-going attempt to illuminate the life and career of a political consultant, in this case, Stuart Stevens; other posts include “He Hates You”, a summary profile, a brief look at his China travel memoir, Night Train to Turkistan, his memoir of the 2000 Bush campaign, an analysis of his novel Scorched Earth, an analysis of his book Feeding Frenzy, his interview with Charlie Rose promoting Feeding Frenzy, Stevens and Jon Hinson, an analysis of an episode of “Commander in Chief” which he co-wrote, and his defense of Newt Gingrich on “Charlie Rose”. Outside profiles and mentions, all excellent, are “Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot” by Robert Draper, “An Unconventional Strategist Reshaping Romney” by Ashley Parker, “The Coming Tsunami of Slime” by Joe Hagan, and “Mitt Romney’s Dark Knight” by Jason Zengerle.

Malaria Dreams Stuart Stevens


Malaria Dreams is a travel memoir following Stevens and a companion, Ann Bradley, as they voyage from the Central African Republic up to Algeria, traveling through, among other places, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and the Sahara. It is the best book of his that I have read because either through his own restraint, or the efforts of an editor, Stevens does not give in to his desire for malice or imagined violence. In other books, he or his proxy hero might imagine strangling a woman or ripping her vocal chords out with his teeth. Here, he simply groans. At the same time, the african setting makes his flaws even more poisonous. Though it’s the best book of his I’ve read so far, it’s also the most distasteful, and the ill taste of its worst moments endures. There is another, rather unusual aspect to this memoir, but I’ll get to that after.

Perhaps more than any place, Africa does not submit itself to anyone in writing. Ultimately, the writer must submit themselves to the continent. It is this resistance to submission which destroys Stevens’ book. It attempts to be a comedy travelogue, two bumbling adventurers passing through sights picturesque and horrific, the two travelers unchanged and apart from the landscape. The essence of what they observe, however, only hinted at in the writing, seems too rich, too complex to be contained in such a frivolous structure, and it makes this writing seem rancid.

I give two examples early on that stay with me. The first is a very vivid moment in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, which should contain the materials of something multi-faceted, the pathos and ridiculousness of poverty, yet which is made into something simpler, the comedy and horror of a man of the first world beset by the downtrodden of the third (I include a scan of the book pages to accompany all quotes, to make clear the quote is not distorted or taken out of context):


Bangui, like New York, has a hidden population of homeless and infirm who emerge after dark dominating the streets. Driving to and from expensive restaurants in Henri’s car, I’d noted with curiousity the swarming wheelchairs, unlike any I’d seen – ingenious devices powered by hand cranks mounted like handlebars. Outfitted with wide tires suitable for Bangui’s rubbled streets, the chairs could move with extreme speed and dexterity.

This I discovered while sulking back to the Novotel. On a side street near the main traffic circle, I suddenly found myself surrounded by wheelchairs. It seemed, at first, an amiable coincidence. I nodded and kept walking. Two chairs wheeled in to block my route. This is ridiculous, I thought, and turned, trying to be ever so casual, down a side alley leading to a main street. A chair manned by a person missing a chin filled the narrow walkway. He gave me a horrible, skeletal grin.

The encircling chairs began to move forward, tightening the noose. I can run, I thought, run past them, knock them over. Then a flashing knife made me think otherwise.

As they drew nearer, I reached into my pocket for a handful of coins. Shaking them alluringly like dice, I scattered the money in the street.

The wheelchairs instantly broke ranks, scrambling for the flashes of silver. I bolted for the hotel.

Ann was waiting for me in the lobby. “Did you get mugged?” I asked her, panting a bit.

“Of course not. Don’t be paranoid.”

Another scene, this one in a bar, again in Bangui:

does he beat you

At the bar there was a young, very pretty white woman we’d seen on the flight from France. She’d been carrying a black baby, and I asked Henri and Françoise if they knew her.

“Oh, yes,” Françoise said, “everyone knows everyone in Bangui. She met her husband while he was a student in Paris. They fell in love, married and came back here to live. He beats her regularly.”

This was delivered not in a catty, gossipy way but as a simple statement of fact, like “The pizza is good.”

“It’s very common,” Henri assured Ann and me. I suppose we looked as if we needed assuring.

“I do not even think,” Françoise said, “that it has anything to do with meanness or anger. It is always done, so they do it.”

“How quaint,” Ann observed.

Henri looked over at the woman at the bar. “The white wives of Africans do not strike me as the happiest people in the world.”


Ann and I talked with the tall, attractive woman bartender. She was not, to our surprise, French. “Russian,” she insisted, but when we looked unconvinced, she relented. “Czechoslovakian,” she admitted, as if that would make her presence completely logical. “I married an African student studying at university.”

“Does he beat you?” Ann asked.

I looked over at her, trying to recall how much Beaujolais she’d downed at dinner.

“What?” the Czech bartender asked. The music roared.

“Does he beat you?” Ann yelled, slapping the bar a few times for effect.


Beat you!”

The bartender laughed. “We are divorced now,” she cried. “I am a free woman in Bangui!”


On the edge of the city center, where the houses disappeared and the shacks began, it was jammed with white men dancing with black women.

“The pride of France!” Henri exclaimed, gesturing out over the steamy club floor. The men all had short hair and wore the preppy outfits that apparently were the norm for French men in Africa; topsiders and bright Lacoste shirts, khaki pants and alligator belts.

“This is what the men in Beau Geste were fighting for,” Henri said. “Vive l’Afrique!” He ordered another bottle of champagne.

They run into some american marines, including one named Ernie. Stevens buys beers.

aids man

With a familiar feeling of fiscal panic, I frantically tried to calculate it in dollars. Ernie took a look and said flatly, “About sixty-five dollars. I tried to warn you.”

“No problem,” I mumbled, thinking back fondly to the bargain price of living on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

“The only cheap thing in this country,” Ernie told me while we worked our way back over to the main huddle, “is women, but then you got to figure most of them come with the gift that keeps on giving.”

“What?” I had no idea what he was talking about.

“AIDS, man.” He slapped me on the back. “You join the Marine Corps, you flat learn about that stuff. What you got here” – he gestured out over the dance floor crowded with white men and black woman – “is one great hunk of AIDS. Right here is where it all started.”

“Some of these French guys,” another marine pronounced, “I think they might have got it on with that first monkey started all this stuff.”

“Hey.” Ernie wrapped his big arm around my shoulder. “This girl Ann, she your girlfriend, or what?”

Later we went outside to watch two French soldiers in a desultory fight. The marines were unimpressed. “For the love of God, will you look at those fairies. Are they in love or fighting?”

The ranking marine, a sergeant who, in his late twenties, was the oldest of the group, steered his men toward a Land Cruiser where a black chauffeur was asleep. “Leaving E. Club,” the sergeant barked into his crackling radio.

“Hey, look,” Ernie told Ann and me, though mostly he was looking at Ann, “you guys got to come over to the marine house. We got a great cook.”

“You have a cook?” Ann asked. She had a great interest in all things culinary.

“Hell, yes. Chauffeur too. Ain’t life great?”

Ann agreed and asked if she should dress for dinner.

That there is an ugliness, a squalor, in the contrast between the rich and the poor in Africa, in the difference in lives between the colonials and the citizens, in the ravages of disease, there is no doubt. Faced with it, I think the best writers can only find some all encompassing vision, not one that is sentimental, one that must be necessarily unsentimental, but one where all the characters and the details of their lives come through. The other approach, is one of nihilism, of finding the wretched in every man or woman, and necessarily, in oneself. The first approach can be found in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River. The second can be seen in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

A coward takes neither approach, and uses the background for simple frissons – AIDS is rampant, the french are corrupt, the africans often poor and desperate, though the writer’s targets in the book, as seen above, are always selective. The opportunism and exploitation of the french is skewered, but never that of american corporations. The best embassies, in Chad and Niger, are built with american funds for reasons of military alliance. The most unequivocal heroic portrayal is Chad’s military fight, backed by the US, against Libya. I do not doubt the bravery of those involved in the fight, only find it striking that it is nearly the sole heroism to be found on the continent, and I think here we see the same Stevens that’s found in Scorched Earth: a man who liked to fight, a man who can only find meaning in a fight. This is not to suggest that there are not africans who are viewed with kindness in the book, only that no one emerges as themselves, the way the best characters do, seemingly warping the book through their life. The characters of this book are finally only effects, of sentimentality, garishness, horror, fear.

Here are a few short excerpts, showing three recurring motifs of the book: the french are opportunists, development aligned with US military needs is the best infrastructure in Africa, and foreign non-military aid helps no one. I have no issue with the first critique, but find it questionable when the scathingness halts when it comes to the imperial policies of one’s own nation, and disturbing when the only overseas support that is valued is martial.

A brief meeting with a young frenchman:

young frenchman

He wore penny loafers, khaki pants and a Lacoste shirt. With his short dark hair and intense manner, he reminded me of the civil rights workers who came to Mississippi in the mid-sixties from colleges like Bowdoin and Swarthmore. I expected him to hum Peter, Paul and Mary songs at any moment. Jean-Marc was his name. He had traveled across America by bus, evolving an elaborate rating system for bus stations along the way.

After Jean-Marc finished his bus station critique, he explained why his country continued to “be involved” with former West African colonies like the CAR, Cameroon, and Chad.

“I tell you, my friend,” he said twirling a coat hanger meat skewer, “they may talk about the prestige, the sentimental attachment, but it is money! Yes, money! Okay my government pours a lot of francs into these countries but they get more out. The trade agreements, the minerals, the timber. How you say? Money talks, bullshit walks?”

The embassy compound in Niger:

magnificent bacon cheeseburgers fugitive invasions

The peace corps workers in Zinder had given us a most valuable tip: the American Recreation Center in Niamey. It was an extraordinarily pleasant compound full of trees and tennis courts and a snack bar that served bacon cheeseburgers. Magnificent bacon cheeseburgers. Also thick, rich milk shakes and French fries – all the food I never ate in America. But after weeks of canned hash and ravioli, it tasted wonderful, the stuff of gustatory dreams. And, unlike every restaurant we’d encountered in West Africa, the snack bar was cheap.

That there were enough Americans in Niamey to merit (if that’s the right word) a recreation center was, to me, a confounding surprise. Like Chad, though, Niger was an American beachhead in West Africa. A gleaming new embassy sat on the far outskirts of town, part of a compound that included a new ambassador’s residence. There were sufficient American military advisers and marines to field a potent side in the local rugby league.

A contrast to what Stevens thinks non-military foreign aid contributes to Africa:

The Peace Corps training center for Africa (which included 60 percent of the entire Peace Corps) was in Niamey, and the years of drought in the Sahel had created a small army of advisers, World Bank types and UN “experts.”

Since 1928, of course, the “wretched state” of the region has only worsened and it’s an open question whether the army of relief professionals has slowed or accelerated the process. As British journalist Patrick Marnham wrote in his superb collection of essays on West Africa, Fantastic Invasion: “For all the difference it made to the people of the Sahel, it might not have mattered if the relief planes had flown out over the Atlantic and dumped the grain into the sea. Much of it was never distributed beyond the main reception centres until more than one year after the drought had ended, by which time local food supplies had been restored.”

But traveling in 1977, four years after the drought of 1973, Marnham saw “the terrible after-effects of the relief operation….On the promise of free assistance thousands of people abandoned their traditional resources….There is nothing for them to do, their economy has been destroyed, and there are no schemes to rebuild it. They are refugees in their own country.”

Foreign aid in the Central African Republic:

foreign aid like cocaine

It had not rained for some time and red dust floated in the air with every passing Land Cruiser or Land Rover. These big vehicles belong to the myriad of foreign organizations working in Bangui. They cruise the streets like a benevolent occupying army. It is difficult to comprehend, but in this small country of about two and a half million, there are American, French, German, Dutch, Japanese, even Chinese – agencies toiling, in theory at least, to improve the life of Central Africans. With an annual per capita income of under three hundred dollars and an average life expectancy of only forty-four years, the challenge is formidable.

Many of the aid projects work with one particular agency of the government and – the relationship is more than coincidental – the government of the CAR has a staggering number of agencies. Foreign aid is to the CAR what cocaine is to Columbia.

One last, unambiguous, metaphor:

only west relief org part one only west relief org part two

The tin garage housed in a concrete grease pit. That figured. Only a Western relief organization would go to the trouble to construct something as solid and enduring as a concrete grease pit.

That Stevens values military over more benevolent aid is not because of hard-line ideological partisanship, not for anything at all, but because, as he made clear in Scorched Earth, there is something in him that simply enjoys fighting. His aloofness to Cold War partisanship can be found late in the book, when a group of polish car smugglers try to solicit funds for Solidarity, the labor union led by Lech Walesa which was a crucial player in the struggle against the Soviet Union, fighting for greater democracy against the military rulers of the communist Polish state.

polish solidarity

So we waited until help arrived, and from a most unlikely source: Polish auto smugglers.

“We sell cars and give the money to Solidarity!” the couple boasted to Ann and me, expecting all Americans to have a soft spot for Lech Walesa and company.

Were I to be confronted by such grifters, I might have made clear that I wished to make to make sure my funds made it to worthy fighters, rather than lowly thieves, or moved to anger that this pair smeared a noble group by associating themselves with their cause. Stevens does otherwise, rolling his eyes with disdain at the anti-communists themselves.

More importantly, there is this scene in the US embassy of the Central African Republic:

reagan dunce

The American ambassador. Our meeting had been unsettling. Not that he wasn’t pleasant or forthcoming; in truth he’d proven a delightful, intriguing man, a Foreign Service pro (as opposed to a Reagan appointee dunce) with twenty years in Africa.

The ambassador at this time was David Fields. He was, in fact, a Reagan appointee, but I understand Stevens’ point: that this man was someone of considerable experience, and not an incompetent dropped into the slot for reasons of favorable ideology, as Reagan’s often appointments often were. The toenails, hair, and jellybeans of Ronald Reagan are now seen among the faithful as a divinity’s relics; Stevens happily blasphemes the messiah when he walked the earth and ruled the greatest land of the world, making stark that he is a simple pragmatist, no fiery eyed believer. He’s a republican principally for the lower taxes on the wealthy, and most likely looks on Reagan zealots and Tea Party irregulars the same way the United States viewed the Afghanistan mujahideen, a bunch of primitive fools useful for achieving a strategic end.

A final note on the lack of substantial characters: I do not believe it is racial, or having anything to do with Africa itself, but stems from Stevens’ basic dislike of people. In Scorched Earth, he writes of a political consultant, perhaps much like himself, who must organize people into voting for his candidate, yet who clearly looks on these voters as poor, ridiculous fools who he wants nothing to do with. It is possible to be a good writer and be indifferent to those around you in your daily life, but as a writer, one must have a deep attentive sense of others. Isaac Bashevis Singer has a story when a woman tells a writer, “To write, you need a good brain.” The writer replies “Better a good eye.” And a good ear.

Stevens’ aversion for people is embodied best, for me, in this brief moment in Cameroon.

this is why i had come to africa

A night at the mission would have been comfortable – any insect-free environment had appeal – but I longed for the feel, the texture, of an African evening.

And that night I found it: under a baobab tree near a Muslim village a few miles north of Garoua. Across the stretch of fields, a red band of fire swept down a hillside. In the soft light of the day’s last moments, the wailing call to prayers floated from the village mosque. Waves of hear shimmered from the dry ground, the earth giving up some of the burning it had received that day.

This, I thought before nodding away, was why I had come to Africa.

It is this moment Stevens has been waiting for during his travels on the continent. An Africa without Africans. This antipathy for people, so that all his characters are at a distance, and never really characters at all, overlaps with the next point, the shaping of this narrative and the false notes in Stevens’ work.


For the small, small number who have read both Feeding Frenzy by Stuart Stevens, and Malaria Dreams, what’s striking is the uncanniness in the shared structure, as if both come from the same template, a National Lampoon’s Road Trip: Europe and National Lampoon’s Road Trip: Africa, respectively.

In Frenzy, Stevens travels through Europe with a very beautiful former model named Rachel Kelly in a Mustang with the intent to sell it somewhere in Europe. The car suffers many problems during the trip, and they race to a meeting point with Kelly’s fiancé, a former special forces guy. Kelly is a mix of street-wise sass, but also well-read, and knowledgeable in upscale fashion and cuisine. She’s originally from Wyoming. Though attractive and occasionally mistaken as Stevens’ girlfriend, no romantic entanglement takes place, no sexual tension is even hinted at.

The plotline for Dreams is almost from the same blueprint. Stevens travels to Africa to pick up a Land Rover in the Central African Republic, which he must transport to Algeria, so it can be brought to Europe. The reason for this is either because the car can be obtained more cheaply in Africa, or because it carries diamonds which can be smuggled out. His companion is Ann Bradley, a woman from a military family who is well-read, carries around a five pound copy of Italian Vogue, knows cooking and clothes, and has a boyfriend in the military, this time in the air force. She is sassy, streetwise, tough, but also well-read. She’s from Oklahoma.

Here is the first appearance of Ann Bradley, well-read, stylish, but with roots in Oklahoma and expertise in mechanics:

ann bradley

Across the aisle my “team” was engrossed in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She was twenty-three years old, 5’5″”, 110 pounds, and possibly the only person ever to transfer from Bryn Mawr to the University of Oklahoma. In all likelihood Ann knew more about mechanics than I did, but I doubt I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t. She was nibbling from a can of pheasant pâté. She’d acquired this treat at the airport in Marseilles when I had suggested she buy us some sandwiches while I held our place in the check-in line. She’d returned some time later quite pleased.

Here is Rachel Kelly eating paté by hand in France.

rat with pate underlined

I found Rat eating a can of paté in the herb garden of the convent. She was wearing a bright white sun hat that she’d bought in Paris, black jeans, and a black tee shirt with a small, very discrete Harley-Davidson logo. Henry was perched at her feet and she was eating with a her fingers the local paté straight from the tin.

Another of the first descriptions of Ann, in a stylish bathing suit, a five pound copy of Vogue, and a mention of a boyfriend fighter pilot:

jaguars are fighter pilots

I found Ann in back of the Sofitel by the pool. It was on a jetty jutting out into the Ubangi. She wore a bathing suit with a large number 7 on it and was reading a five-pound Italian Vogue, another Marseilles acquisition, surrounded by a half dozen very pale young men.

“They’re Jaguar pilots,” she told me. Somewhere behind her sunglasses and the red St. Louis Cardinals hat pulled down low, I caught a trace of a smile.

“Jaguars are French fighter planes,” Ann explained peevishly.

“Oh. Fighter jocks.” Now it was my turn to smile. Ann’s boyfriend back in Oklahoma was a fighter pilot. “A generic preference?” I inquired.

This is the first appearance of Rachel Kelly, in a gym, wearing a stylish bathing suit:

Malaria Dreams

Rat was wearing a black one-piece suit that looked like the sort of thing bathing beauties wore on the Riviera in the twenties. There’s a picture around of Zelda trying to look sexy and she’s wearing something similar.

She was an ex-model who worked for a fashion designer and could explain quite movingly why some grades of wool make you look like a million dollars and others, you were better off cutting a few holes in a big plastic garbage sack and heading out the door. Call it a flair for fashion.

This is Carl, Rachel’s boyfriend, who used to be Special Forces:

“I was SOG – Special Operations Group. We were the black-arts guys. In country, no uniforms, Laos, Cambodia.”

“Got to tell you, man, I loved it. Nasty, nasty but I loved it.”
“What did you do?” [asks Stevens] It was a stupid question.
“Jumped out of helicopters and shot a lot of people. Great time.”
“Sure”, I said.

Though neither Rachel or Ann is ever quoted as speaking at length in french, they both occasionally break into it.

This is Ann:

liberte egalite

One flag bearer caught sight of Ann and stopped suddenly, kicking up a flurry of dust. Ann smiled and saluted with her beer. She wore shorts and a tee shirt featuring a picture of oversized sunglasses at a rakish angle. The young Cameroonian patriot looked confused, uncertain whether to smile or scowl. Finally he thrust his flag toward Ann and shouted, “Liberté!”

“Liberté!” Ann yelled.

This is Rachel:

cest impossible

“No!” Rat finally exclaimed after an appropriate dramatic silence. “Do you really think?”

I glanced at her, trying to tell if she was truly shocked or just pretending.

The German shrugged.

C’est impossible!” Rat exclaimed.

C’est impossible! I stared at her. Who was this woman from Wyoming trying to kid?

Ann has mechanical aptitude, and so does Rachel:

automotive skills

“My theory is that you might have put in unleaded fuel and 1965 V-8s probably need all the lead they can get.” [said Rachel]

She was right, of course. Rat had an annoying way of being right about things automotive. It was her Wyoming cowgirl roots.

Rachel Kelly adopts a dog for their trip in Europe. Ann Bradley adopts a stray gazelle.

Here is Ann with the gazelle:

thompson gazelle

Ann appeared from behind the chief’s hit. Cradled in her arms was a small, catlike creature with a sharp snout.

“This is Thompson,” she announced. “Thompson the gazelle.”

Our procession had the look of a fable: Joseph in the lead carrying the wicket picnic basket packed with French cheese and sausage, Henri in his Guccis flipping through Paris Match, Ann nuzzling with the gazelle, and myself lugging a pack with the unlikely label “Himalayas.”

That night in Berbérati, we watched Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing cheek to cheek on Henri’s VCR, powered by his personal generator. Afterwards, Henri played Cole Porter songs on his piano – “the only one in all this part of Africa” – while Ann fed Thompson drops of milk and I read James Hadley Chase.

Here is Rachel with the dog:

henry the dog

She walked over to the far corner of the garden, where a little iron gate led out onto Queen’s Walk and, just beyond that, St. James’s Park.

She pointed to a contented-looking golden retriever tied to the fence.

“What’s that?” I asked, a sense of dread cascading rapidly through my being.

“That’s Henry and he’s ours!”

“His name is Henry. I’m keeping him for a family that was going to take him to America for a year but found that he would have to be quarantined for two months and it would have broken their heart to do that to their dog. So we just agreed to take care of him.”

They do not get the needed Land Rover, instead settling for another car which they hope to sell at the end of their trip in Africa. Where in Frenzy, the pair to race to meet Kelly’s mate, here they race to meet Stevens’ wife in Algeria, a woman who forever stays off-screen, unseen and unheard, unable to make it even to the closing pages because of a cancelled flight.

It is a structure which fits Europe better than Africa, with the latter, with its horrors and beauties, resisting one more man insisting that it be a backdrop for their own adventure. Of course, the most striking aspect of the shared template is the woman, who appears to be the same character, but perhaps played by slightly different actresses, first by Liv Tyler, next by Rachel Weisz. In Frenzy, it is she who initiates the idea of a trip. With Dreams we’re not given any idea as to why the female needs to be brought along – is she there to translate? Who knows? Neither book ever mentions the possibility of envy from one’s mate about a man and a woman traveling alone together. In the case of Frenzy, that Stevens might even have a wife is never mentioned. That there is the possibility that she will not get to spend christmas with her husband – the rendezvous in Algeria is three days before this festive event – but this strange woman might, is never brought up. It is one of those details that makes the reader very skeptical of Stevens as a writer, a skepticism seemingly shared by Charlie Rose in this interview. Beyond this is the simple incredulity of two people with no experience in Africa and no guide, traveling half its length, including the Sahara and the former warzone of Chad, never mind the possibility that they might have taken the same route but with diamonds smuggled in their vehicle.

That the Land Rover to be retrieved carries diamonds on the inside, which will then be smuggled back to Europe is implied in several places.

In the meeting with Lucien which initiates the African trip:

lucien was involved in diamonds

“I spent a good bit of time in the CAR last year,” Lucien explained.

I nodded, methodically working my way through a bundle of saté skewers. Lucien was always going off to obscure corners of America. No one seemed to know what he did or why, though supposedly it had something to do with gold and diamonds.

“What I was wondering is” – he leaned forward and cocked an eyebrow – “if perhaps you would be interested in driving my vehicle back to Paris.”

In a talk with a Central African Republic local about why the truck is being held:

lucien money must be involved somewhere

“I have been thinking about your Land Rover,” Henri [a local acquaintance] began unexpectedly. For the first time since arriving in Africa, the Land Rover did not, at the moment anyway, seem very important.

“What I cannot understand, if all Lucien has done wrong is not pay this fee on time, why do they make such a mess? Is that how you say, a mess?”

[a lawyer for the local government] Knepper thinks the minister [of mines] or Follope, the capitaine in the Brigade Minerale, is angry at Lucien. Maybe both.”

“I think,” Henri finally decided, “that the minister thought he was going to make some money out of Lucien and our friend Lucien did not allow this to happen. Money must be involved somewhere.”

A conversation with the minister of mines on why the government won’t release the vehicle, as well as highlighting that the rover is expected to be used for smuggling, and the improbablility of the whole venture:

minister of mines dialogue part one minister of mines dialogue part two

“Tell me,” the minister began, “just what is your relationship with Lucien?” Then he smiled.

Alarms rang inside my head. The minister’s voice reminded me of the best sort of prosecutor: low-keyed, friendly, with traps set at the end of each seemingly harmless sentence.


“He is a friend?”

I plunged boldly ahead. “Sort of.”

A knowing smile. And you are here doing his business?”

“Oh, no.” Then I explained how I had come to be in the Central African Republic.

“Let me understand,” the minister queried patiently, “you were having dinner with your friend Lucien and he asked you to go to Africa to transport his vehicle and you said yes. This is what really happened?”

It suddenly sounded like the most preposterous thing I’d ever heard. “Well, tes. That’s pretty much what happened.”
The minister and the capitaine exchanged bemused looks. “And how long have you been involved in buisness with your friend Lucien?”

“I’m not. He’s just a friend.”

The looks came again. “And you come all the way to Africa to pick up a vehicle just for a friend?”

I said in a voice that sounded very tiny, “I thought it would be fun.”

A visit to where Lucien bought his diamonds.

where lucien looked for diamonds

“It’s close to here that Lucien looked for his diamonds,” Henri said, leaning against the Renault and watching a teenager work the hand pump drawing gas from a fifty-gallon drum. “This is diamond country. That is one of the reasons,” he grinned, “you see Muslims driving cars like that.” He nodded to a newish Toyota Land Cruiser behind us waiting for gas.

“You mean they find diamonds?” I asked.

“I mean they buy diamonds from Africans. But mostly they smuggle.”

Just outside Yaloke, beyond the twin rows of poplars planted fifty years ago by the French that make the road, if only for an instant, look like Avignon, a police roadblock stopped all traffic.

A soldier returned with Joseph and peered into the car, shining a light – it was almost dark – in each of our faces. Then abruptly he shook hands with Henri and waved us on.

“Diamonds,” Henri muttered, just as the first owl burst skyward under our headlights.

This last fragment should convey how incredibly dangerous it would be for two people, unfamiliar with Africa, without a guide or any contacts, to travel up through Africa to Algeria. The recklessness of those who would decide to do such a thing, the recklessness of an experienced diamond smuggler to trust a fortune to such novices, shakes a reader’s belief in this book, would shake their belief, even if, say, it were fiction. This is to speak only of the ringless falseness of what’s given here, rather than the rank immorality of being complicit in the smuggling of diamonds from a continent that had much of its mineral wealth stolen by colonial powers.

False notes such as these make you look at what Stevens writes with a more intense skepticism, perhaps warranted, perhaps not. That, for instance, he attended Oxford as an undergraduate, as he says in Frenzy, graduate school at Oxford in this Atlantic piece, in Dreams he mentions attending Oxford again:


Within twenty-four hours we were sitting in front of a Mr. Richards, an Englishman who ran the largest Nissan agency in town, and spilling our story. He was amused. We had, it turned out in one of those odd twists of fate I thought only occurred in Evelyn Waugh stories, attended the same college at Oxford. This was by far the most tangible benefit I’d ever accrued from any educational institution.

These claims may well be true; what I find unusual, another one of those possible false notes, is that no mention is ever made of Oxford in any profile or interview. One detail a Times reporter, or any reporter, will almost always ask is, where you went to school. The only time education is mentioned in a times piece on Stevens is “Image Makers Hard at Work In the Selling of a Candidate” with UCLA attendance mentioned, and Oxford not at all. One’s education shouldn’t matter to a reader, yet publishers are always tarting up your bio with a mention of some ne plus ultra school, with Oxford as a triple cherry deluxe, yet, again, Oxford is never mentioned in Stevens’ book jackets. This all in the context of a profile, mostly sympathetic, “An Unconventional Strategist Reshaping Romney”, which describes Stevens as occasionally having an outsized ego.

These are ambiguous off notes that arouse skepticism. I think there are more definite ones in Dreams.


The details that are off in Dreams fall almost entirely into the categories of time and money.

The book, though published in 1989, takes place in the fall of 1987. There are several details establishing the year as exactly that one, which we’ll get to as we go through this section.

Money and the rate of exchange is mentioned often in the book. Stevens often complains about how incredibly expensive it is to travel and eat in Africa, given that it is, his words, a third world place. US dollars are exchanged for the Franc of Central Africa. The value of the Central African franc was tied directly to that of the french franc – one french franc was worth fifty francs of central africa. This relation was fixed and did not fluctuate. A brief overview of the history of the franc of central africa can be found here. The rate of exchange for US dollars to francs did fluctuate, with this rate affecting the number of french francs a dollar was worth, which in turn affected the number of central african francs a dollar was worth.

The exchange rate between french francs and US dollars is crucial for what’s very off in the events in the book.

Stevens and Ann Bradley arrive in the Central Republic of Africa in early October 1987.

early october

I had been in Bangui less than ten minutes when I was robbed for the first time. This proved to be very fortunate. Muggings, rape and murder, I quickly discovered, were the pillars of conversation among the white community, and my introductory theft gave me something to talk about on the party circuit.

It was early October. The season was a factor in the robbery as it had been cold and rainy in Europe and I had arrived at the Bangui airport carrying a heavy raincoat. It was a new coat, recently purchased in England. I liked it.

Their initial mission is for Stevens to retrieve the Land Rover of his friend, Lucien. In order to do so, they need to pay a sizable bribe to a government official.

270 francs

The problem with the Land Rover was really quite simple, Capitaine Follope – whom Knepper addressed as “mon capitaine” – explained. There were some fees that had not been paid on mineral leases Lucien had acquired from the government. The vehicle had been seized as collateral against future payment.

“The amount in question is very small,” Follope said reassuringly.

“How much?”

“Half a million Central African francs.”

It sounded like a lot of money to me. I tried to calculate quickly: 270 Central African francs, or CFA to the dollar. It was a little less than $2000. Not a small amount but certainly cheaper than buying a new car. Lucien, I figured, would gladly pay if he understood it was the only way to see his Land Rover again.

Shortly after this, it is Stevens’ birthday.

birthday 22 october

It was my birthday, the twenty-second of October.

After this date, Stevens contacts Lucien to approve the bribe.

lucien half a million bribe

“You’ve got to understand, nothing is working!” I enumerated our efforts to free the Land Rover, the frustrations of this person being out of town, that person out of touch, everyone promising everything, and nothing, ultimately, happening.

“Yes, that’s how it is,” he answered pleasantly. “It just takes time.”

This occasioned an outburst on my part as to the limits of my time. Then I moved to present my case. “You’ve got to come down here yourself. It’s a must; or let me throw some money around for a bribe. That might help.”

“I don’t think my flying there is a very good idea,” Lucien said, his voice, for the first time, sounding serious. “How much money?”

We finally agreed upon half a million CFA – about two thousand dollars. It seemed a reasonable sum to offer as a bribe.

The bribe in CFA francs has stayed the same, and the bribe in US dollars has apparently stayed the same – almost or about two thousand dollars. No mention is made of any urgency regarding the rate of exchange. Again, this is a book where the narrator is concerned about the expense of things, and often mentions the price of an item in US dollars after giving the price in CFA francs.

However, during October, the rate of exchange of the dollar versus other currencies drops drastically, a possible cause, of many, for the crash of markets, which took place October 19th, three days before Stevens’ birthday, the crash perpetuating this decline. After the October 19th crash, the dollar continued its decline against the franc, losing ten percent of its value over two months.

A graph generated by the very helpful Economagic website illustrates this.

franc dollar graph cropped more

Yet somehow the bribe paid out in US dollars remains the same, whether early or late in October.

This rapid fall in the dollar’s value vis a vis the franc is something that one would expect as an obvious mention, that even as the travelers got closer and closer to their destination, prices kept climbing because of the loss of value.

For that matter, perhaps I am miscalculating, but the rate of exchange used in the book seems to have no relation with the exchange rate at the time.

The bribe at the beginning of October is 500 000 CFA francs, which Stevens calculates is worth about $2000 US dollars. 500 000 CFA francs is 10 000 french francs, so one US dollar is worth about five french francs in the book. Stevens gives an exchange of 270 CFA francs per US dollar, or 5.4 francs per dollar, so this might be because the bribe in US dollars isn’t quite $2000, perhaps a little less. However, as can be seen in the graph, the US dollar was trading above six francs for the first half of October, far above an exchange rate of either 5 or 5.4. Then it falls, so around the beginning of November, when Stevens calls Lucien, it’s at 5.70. In the book, however, the rate of exchange has remained entirely frozen at what it was at the beginning of October, stock still at five francs or five point four francs. This is still, a worse rate of exchange as shown in the graph, even with the start of the dollar’s value drop, five or five point four in the book, compared to 5.7 in currency exchange records.

After Stevens’ birthday, but before the call to Lucien, he has to buy some gas:

jerrican seventy dollars

I spotted a metal jerrican for sale at nineteen thousand CFA – seventy dollars; to make the trip north, I needed at least fifteen.

19 000 CFA francs is 380 french francs. If seventy US dollars buys 380 french francs, the rate of exchange is 5.428. It has either stayed level at the previous 5.4, or slightly improved from 5: either way, it is still lower than what was available around that month at any currency exchange.

A bribe is paid in Cameroon, at some point in the first three weeks of November.

three thousand cfa about eleven dollars

Three thousand CFA, about eleven dollars, was the standard amount Pierre turned over. Once a motorcycle patrol demanded more.

Three thousand CFA is sixty french francs, so now the exchange rate is 5.45. Again, if the exchange in the book in October is taken, it is level. It is also weaker than it ever was, at any exchange, as shown on the graph, and shows none of the rapid devaluation taking place.

We are told at one point that it is thanksgiving, which, in 1987, would be November 26.


It was Fernando who reminded us it was Thanksgiving. He mentioned it in an offhand way while we stood at the head of the long buffet marveling at the pasta, the veal, the pastries. “An untraditional thanksgiving, no?” he said. Ann and I looked at each other, not understanding what he meant, and then we both looked up at a wall calendar featuring a nude girl riding a tractor. He was right, it was thanksgiving.

Shortly before this, we are given a last price quoted both in CFA francs and US dollars, the cost of fixing their car.

fifty thousand cfa

The volunteer mechanic requested tools, and I brought out the odd-fitting nonmetric set I’d stolen from Lucien. He grunted and went to work with a set of pliers. After a few minutes of messing about, he rose and said, simply, “Fifty thousand.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, not understanding.

“Fifty thousand CFA to fix the car.”

That was almost two hundred dollars.

Fifty thousand CFA francs is a thousand french francs, so a dollar is now worth five francs. During the period in which the dollar weakened versus the franc, in this book, during the same time period, the dollar either gains in value, then drops back to what it was, to a weaker value than it actually was on the world’s currency exchange, somewhere above 5.60 in the period right before thanksgiving. Or it stays rock solid same throughout this period of rapid falling value.

In fact, the price given for car repair here is the same as a ransom asked for before Stevens’ birthday in October. It is a price demanded for information on Stevens’ stolen coat.

fifty thousand cfa first time

“Yes, but first we must discuss price.”

It was, apparently, a ransom situation. “How much do they want?” I asked.

“Fifty thousand CFA.”

That was almost two hundred dollars, far too much. We negotiated for some time. Finally we agreed on five thousand CFA.

Here, fifty thousand CFA is equal to two hundred dollars, the same exchange as it is after November 26. Given that the calculation for the exchange in some amounts is close to 5.4, and Stevens gives an exchange rate of 270 CFA francs per dollar for the October amounts, or a 5.4 rate, there appears the possibility that the exchange rate throughout the story is 5.4, as an exchange rate, please excuse my lapse into italics, might be conveniently set in a fiction. So there is some strange discrepancy in what the actual exchange rate should be, beyond the dramatic absence of any sense of a dollar plummeting in value, losing ten percent of its value over the course of the trip in relation to the native currency in an already expensive continent.

I add as well that at no point does Stevens write of carrying around a large amount of money that he has already exchanged and that the amounts needed on the trip are sometimes very, very large, such as paying two thousand dollar bribes or buying a new vehicle. It is also important that before Stevens says he left for this trip, in early October or late September, the dollar franc exchange had been holding steady for a long while, trading above six francs a dollar, nowhere close to the 5.4 rate ubiquitous in the book.

I end with the final details that are off, starkly off, for which I leave to others to deduce an explanation.

As said before, Stevens arrives on the continent at the beginning of October. He celebrates his birthday in Bangui, Central African Republic, on the twenty second of October.

I stated earlier that there are markers establishing that the story takes place in 1987. Here is the first one. Stevens writes of the carnet, a letter of passage, needed to travel through most African countries to avoid paying entrance duties to that country.

carnet england storm

Actually, I had a carnet. Warned that travel by car in Africa was impossible without one, I’d gone to considerable trouble and expense to acquire one from the Automobile Association in England. Unfortunately, my visit to England coincided with the worst hurricane to hit the country in a century, silencing all telephones, littering the streets with uprooted trees and knocking out the rail line from London to the Dover ferry. My life had not been made easier by the fact that I was hauling around enough Land Rover parts to launch a dealership, plus assorted camping gear – though my stove and lantern did come in handy in my hotel when the electricity died for two days.

What’s referred to here must be the massive storm which hit England in 1987, easily considered the worst storm of the century for the area, and featuring hurricane winds.

What is puzzling is this. The storm took place on October 16th and 17th. Stevens obtains his carnet before leaving for Africa. Yet he says he arrives in Africa in early October. How is it that he is in England during this storm, yet is in Africa, before the storm?

There is another, smaller discrepancy. It is after his birthday, Stevens and Ann Bradley are traveling from Cameroon into Chad. Stevens describes what is taking place there:

chad was fighting a war

Entering Chad near the capital, N’Djamena, one could theoretically drive across Lake Chad (largely dry for the last ten years) and into Niger. There were problems with this approach. For starters, Chad was fighting a war with Libya and though most of the fighting occurred in the northern desert near the border, the Libyans had bombed N’Djamena just a few months earlier.

Later, when they are about to enter Chad, we get this description:

war zone capitals of a winning side

Cloaked in a perpetual layer of dust, the town still resembles what it was for years: a battlefield.

But war-zone capitals of a winning side are usually graced with an infectious optimism difficult to resist. And Chad definitely feels it is winning. After years of watching Libya annex its northern territory, Chad finally put aside internal feuds and struck back. In a series of blitzkrieg assaults, Chadian forces overran Libyian desert bases previously though impenetrable. Their attack methods quickly qualified as the stuff of legends.

The American government aids Chad in its war with Libya and this helps create a benevolent attitude toward Americans in N’Djamena.

All this suggests a war with ongoing fighting. These descriptions correspond to either later October and mid-November, or early November and late November, respectively. Yet this was at least a month and a half into a ceasefire between Libya and Chad with no outbreak of hostilities. No doubt traveling in this area was still a frightening experience, and that the ceasefire could break any day was a disturbing possibility for those entering Chad. But why leave out a crucial piece of information such as this, placing the conflict in a more ambiguous pre-ceasefire place rather than after?

That this all takes place months after the ceasefire is made clear, though indirectly, in this scene with a member of the US embassy staff in Chad:

fragment of shot down plane

Tim Whitset worked for the U.S. embassy. A big man in his early thirties, he’d lived in Africa for over a decade and relished matching wits with the local bureaucracy. His office in the newly fortified embassy compound was, in essence, a large vault with a heavy combination on the door. From this windowless crypt, he launched his rescue missions in the complicated bureaucratic wars that raged through the Chadian government. On his desk, he had a souvenir of a more traditional war.

“It’s a piece of a Libyan plane, actually,” he responded to my question about the charred piece of twisted metal. “It was shot down a few months ago over town. Poor suckers flew all the way from Libya to drop a few bombs in a mud flat outside of town and then got blown to hell and back. A U.S. missile operated by the French. A true United Nations effort.”

This was actually a well-reported incident, “Libyan Warplane Is Downed In Chad By French Forces” which took place on September 8th, 1987 and one that may have helped trigger the ceasefire. That the shooting down is mentioned, but the ceasefire is not, as if to create a sense of ongoing war which the travelers might face is a strange one.

One more detail that I think points to a disconcerting anachronism. The trip starts in the Central African Republic, which they stay in past Stevens’ birthday on October 22. After, they leave for Cameroon, where they run into a national celebration in Bertoua.

cameroon national holiday

On thie Sunday afternoon, a raucous crowd spilled out of the bar dancing to the music blaring from a stand selling cassettes and records.

Three pickup trucks filled with young men waving Cameroon flags roared up from the direction of town. They shouted slogans, and when the bar throng responded tepidly, they yelled louder. Several jumped off the truck and ran about the market brandishing flags; the scene reminded me of male cheerleaders taking the field before a football game.

Pierre when I asked, explained that this was a Cameroonian national holiday, Independence Day, he beieved.

The only national holiday that this could be is Cameroon’s Unification Day, when the french and english parts of the country united. Again, this scene takes place after Stevens’ birthday on October 22. Cameroon’s unification day is October 1st.

There is another possible discrepancy, but this does not relate directly to Malaria Dreams, but a trip to Africa described in Feeding Frenzy. There are discrepancies if it is the same trip to Africa described.

Traveling along the river Niger in Malaria Dreams, Stevens and Bradley come across some fishermen.

capitaine giant perch

I woke up at first light and brewed coffee on the little gas stove. The mornings were the best time of day, when it was cool enough to forget, at least for a little while, the strangling heat of the upcoming hours. A pirogue floated through the mist, a graceful craft with bow and stern rising upward like outstretched arms. There were two teenagers poling the boat. They landed and hoisted out a bulky fish, mouth gaping. It was a capitaine, a breed of giant perch I’d first seen pulled from the Ubangi River in Bangui.

A capitaine, Nile perch, can be found in the Niger river. In Feeding Frenzy, Stevens remembers a moment from a trip in Africa, perhaps the same trip of Malaria Dreams

oversized gar

I described a meal I’d cooked once by the River Niger. The centerpiece was an oversized gar I’d caught, the only fish longer than six inches I’d ever caught in Africa. It was a bony prehistoric-looking thing about as appetizing as a display in a natural history museum. I filleted it, which was the only thing I could imagine doing, wrapped the fillet in tin foil with bits of onions and some old garlic cloves I’d bought in the Timbuktu market, and buried it in the coals of a driftwood fire. It was shockingly good, moist and sweet. I ate it with half a can of peaches and a mix of fried yams and onions, which was about all the shelves of Timbuktu’s largest grocery had to offer.

Now, Stevens has not come across fishermen in Niger, but fished himself, one of many times he has fished in Africa. At no point in Malaria Dreams does he mention doing any fishing. Another prominent detail is the error in the fish: the visual identification of the gar is entirely correct, but this is a fish that is not found in the river Niger, or anywhere in Africa, as outlined in this brief National Geographic summary; it can, however, be found in Stevens’ native Mississippi. It is from the Lepisosteidae family, none of which can be found in Africa. Here is a partial list of fish to be found in the Niger river; lepisosteida are easily recognizable by their snub nose; none of the fish species in this list seem to have this identifier.

A final short small detail, but one that I found as equally striking as the date of the storm. After leaving Chad, where they spend thanksgiving, the travelers go to Niger.

burkina faso coup pt one burkina faso coup pt two

Niger, though, was a security-mad country with roadblocks and police checks every twenty or thirty miles. The routine of paranoia had been accelerated by a coup a few days earlier in neighboring Burkina Faso. Like virtually every West African leader, the president of Niger had catapulted himself to power in a similar coup and no doubt viewed the events in Burkina Faso as intimations of his own mortality. (The Burkina Faso president, an exceptionally charismatic guitar-playing young leader, was gunned down in his residence, as is the custom.)

All of this meant it was impossible to travel a mile in Niger without immaculately ordered papers, including insurance.

Again, this takes place after Thanksgiving, either at the very end of November, or early December. The coup in Burkina Faso is spoken of as having taken place a few days earlier.

The coup in Burkina Faso was against the very charismatic, guitar playing Thomas Sankara, who was killed. The coup took place on the 16th of October and he was executed on the 17th, 1987. Again, I leave it to others to make their deductions.

The ending of this post is abrupt: I think there’s possibility of greater analysis of this book, so I consider this entry unfinished.

(Edits have been made for clarity; additions were made detailing the smuggling of diamonds in the book, the ambassador who is not a Reagan dunce, and the polish smugglers. A few additions were made on the currency exchange of the book, along with some edits for improved clarity.)

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