Thursday, November 10, 2011

Things To Consider the Next Time You Vote? Cheney Still In Charge (The 1% are the Very Best Destroyers of Wealth the World has Ever Seen) We Want OUR Money BACK!!!


After you read about this total miscarriage of good government, tell me again why Lee Hamilton was obviously the perfect "Democrat" to put in charge of the 9/11 investigation. Really. Try to tell me without gagging. And why Robert Gates should be in charge of anything ever again. And why I stopped reading Newsweek, the New Republic and all the rest of what had formerly been publications famous for their independence and integrity in the 80's.

I keep having to remind myself over and over that it's the Rethuglicans who brag that they loathe diversity politics.

Who Is Judge Richard Leon?

November 9, 2011

Exclusive: The appointment of federal judges is a key power of the U.S. president. It can reward partisan allies for past services and ensure favorable rulings in the future. Both factors were in play for District Judge Richard Leon who just struck down new cigarette warnings.

By Robert Parry

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon handed the tobacco industry a big victory by blocking a new federal requirement that cigarette packs carry graphic warning labels. Though the ruling may mean illness and premature death for many Americans, it wouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who knew Leon’s history as a partisan activist.
Leon was appointed to his lifetime judicial post by George W. Bush in 2002 after Leon had “earned” the gratitude of the Bush Family by protecting its interests as an aggressive and reliable Republican legal apparatchik on Capitol Hill. There, the heavy-set Leon gained a reputation as a partisan bully who made sure politically charged investigations reached a desired outcome, whatever the facts.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon

In the 1990s, Leon served as special counsel to the House Banking Committee as it transformed President Bill Clinton’s minor Whitewater real estate deal into a major scandal that eventually led to the House vote to impeach Clinton in 1998 and thus set the stage for Bush’s disputed election victory in 2000.
However, Leon’s most important work for the Bushes may have come in the 1980s and early 1990s when he helped construct legal justifications for Republican law-breaking and sought to intimidate Iran-Contra-related witnesses who came forward to expose GOP wrongdoing.
In 1987, when Rep. Dick Cheney, R-Wyoming, was leading the Republican counteroffensive against the Iran-Contra investigation into evidence that President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush had engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy involving illegal weapons shipments and money transfers, Leon stepped forward as deputy chief counsel on the Republican side.
Leon worked with Cheney not only in fending off accusations of wrongdoing, but in coming up with a counter-argument that accused Congress of intruding on foreign policy prerogatives of the President.
“Congressional actions to limit the President in this area … should be reviewed with a considerable degree of skepticism,” the Republican minority report said. “If they interfere with the core presidential foreign policy functions, they should be struck down.”
In 2005 as vice president, Cheney harkened back to that Iran-Contra minority report in defending George W. Bush’s assertion of unlimited presidential powers during wartime.
“If you want reference to an obscure text, go look at the minority views that were filed with the Iran-Contra committee,” Cheney told a reporter. Cheney said those old arguments “are very good in laying out a robust view of the president’s prerogatives with respect to the conduct of especially foreign policy and national security matters.”
So, one could say that Richard Leon was there at the birth of what became George W. Bush’s imperial presidency.
Cover-up of Crimes
But Leon’s crucial work went beyond building a legal framework for Republican presidents to ignore the law. More significantly, he conducted cover-ups of their crimes.
In 1992, when a House task force was examining evidence that Reagan and Bush began their secret contacts with Iran in 1980 while trying to unseat President Jimmy Carter, Leon was the Republican point man to make sure nothing too damaging came out. Leon served as chief minority counsel to the House task force investigating the so-called October Surprise allegations.
At the time, evidence was mounting that Reagan and the senior Bush had interfered with President Carter’s efforts to gain the release of 52 U.S. hostages held by Islamic radicals in Iran, a crisis that helped doom his reelection in 1980.
From the start of the congressional inquiry, however, the goal seemed more to debunk the allegations of Republican wrongdoing than to seriously assess the evidence. At one point, I went to the task force’s office and questioned chief majority counsel Lawrence Barcella and his assistant, Michael Zeldin, about this peculiar style of investigating.
Barcella and Zeldin pointed to Leon’s insistence that interviews with witnesses be conducted only with him or another Republican present. This stricture had sharply limited the task force’s ability to follow leads and develop new witnesses.
Indeed, some key October Surprise witnesses described to me how Leon sought to intimidate them into retracting their allegations about Republican wrongdoing. When these witnesses refused to alter their sworn testimony, they became the targets of the task force, more so than Reagan and Bush.
Jamshid Hashemi, an Iranian businessman who had been recruited to assist the Carter administration on the hostage issue in 1980, alleged that he and his brother Cyrus Hashemi also helped Reagan’s campaign chief William Casey arrange secret meetings with Iranian officials in Madrid in summer 1980.
Jamshid Hashemi’s account of the Madrid meetings was publicized by ABC’s “Nightline” program and later came under attack from journalists at the New Republic and Newsweek who apparently saw their role more as sweeping these troubling charges under the rug than getting at the truth.
In November 1991, both magazines splashed across their covers articles seeking to debunk Hashemi’s claims of Madrid meetings by using an alibi for Casey that later turned out to be false. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Unmasking October Surprise Debunker.”]
‘The Fat Man’
When Jamshid Hashemi stuck to his account in sworn testimony before the task force in 1992, he said Leon tried to pressure him to recant his allegations. “I found this Mr. Leon – who I knew as ‘the fat man’ – every time we had a break and my lawyer would go to the washroom, he would rush into my room where I was sitting and say, ‘come on, change the story’,” Jamshid Hashemi told me.
“I said I would not change my story at all. The last time he opened the door, I said, ‘Get out of my office. If you have anything to say, say it in front of my lawyer.’” Hashemi said Leon, rather than task force chief counsel Barcella, appeared to be running the October Surprise investigation with the goal of protecting Republicans.
I received a similar account of Leon’s behavior from former Israeli intelligence official Ari Ben-Menashe, who had testified that he and other Israelis helped arrange a Paris meeting in October 1980 involving Casey, George H.W. Bush and key Iranians. Ben-Menashe said Leon demanded that he alter his sworn testimony as well, calling Leon “a Bush crony.”
Besides Hashemi and Ben-Menashe, more than a score of individuals described Republican guilt including: ex-Iranian president Abolhassan Bani-Sadr (who sent the task force a detailed account of the Iranian-Republican contacts from his view in Tehran); senior officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization who described overtures from Republicans seeking help in interfering in the hostage crisis; and French intelligence chief Alexandre deMarenches (who told his biographer about secret GOP-Iran hostage meetings in Paris, claims corroborated by other French intelligence officials).
Recently released documents from the George H.W. Bush presidential library also indicate how – in 1992 – the then-president and his team counted on Leon’s help as the White House sought to restrict congressional access to key papers.
In a “top secret” memo dated June 26, 1992, to the State Department about cooperation with the October Surprise probe, National Security Council executive secretary William F. Sittmann demanded “special treatment” for NSC documents related to presidential deliberations.
Regarding the House task force, Sittmann recommended that only Republican counsel Leon and Democratic counsel Barcella be “permitted to read relevant portions of the documents and to take notes, but that the State Department retain custody of the documents and the notes at all times.”
Though Republicans kept insisting that the October Surprise allegations were a myth, the Bush administration in 1992 was going to extraordinary lengths to control the evidence. [For details, see “Inside the October Surprise Cover-up.”]
Mission Accomplished
Leon did his job well, constraining the investigation sufficiently to ensure that the task force fell in line with Republican demands that the October Surprise allegations be rejected.
Years later, Barcella told me that so much new evidence in support of the October Surprise allegations poured in late in the investigation – in December 1992 – that he urged task force chairman, Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, to extend the deadline for several months. Hamilton, however, refused and ordered the probe wrapped up with a finding of Republican innocence.
However, even after the finishing touches had been put on the task force report clearing the Republicans, complications for Leon, Hamilton and the other debunkers continued to emerge.
On Jan. 11, 1993, just two days before the task force’s debunking report was scheduled for release, the Russian government sent an extraordinary report to Hamilton describing Moscow’s internal intelligence on the controversy.
The Russian report described Republican meetings with Iranians in Europe, including Casey’s trip to Madrid and the Paris meeting that the Russians said also involved George H.W. Bush and then-CIA officer Robert Gates (and later U.S. Defense Secretary).
Instead of making the Russian report public, Barcella stuck it – and its startling information – in a cardboard box that was filed away with other classified and unclassified material from the investigation. (I found the Russian report later when I got access to the task force’s raw documents. For the text of the Russian report, click here. To view the actual U.S. embassy cable that includes the Russian report, click here.)
While concealing the Russian report and other evidence supporting the October Surprise allegations, the House task force released its negative findings on Jan. 13, 1993, and went on the attack against the witnesses who had rejected Leon’s demands that they recant their testimony.
In January 1993, task force leaks indicated that Jamshid Hashemi and Ari Ben-Menashe would be referred to the Justice Department for prosecution on perjury charges. However, no such charges were ever filed. Over the years, both Hashemi and Ben-Menashe have stuck to their stories.
When I re-interviewed Hashemi in 1997 about the October Surprise case, he said, “I thought it was my duty that the people in the United States should know. They should know, they should be the judge of it.”
Though Hashemi sat through my interview with the same gentlemanly style that I encountered when I first met him in 1990, he did flash with anger when I asked him about the task force’s report. “Rubbish, that’s what I think,” said Hashemi. “Just a whitewash of the whole situation. It’s a cover-up.”
Hashemi argued that it made no sense for him to have invented his October Surprise account, which he repeated under oath to Congress in 1992. He had nothing to gain – and a great deal to lose, he said. “Who has ever paid me a single dime?” Hashemi asked. “I had to pay all my lawyer’s fees. What did I gain here?”
Hashemi blamed the cover-up primarily on the attack strategy of Republican lawyers on the task force, particularly Richard Leon.
Casey in Madrid
In the recent release of documents from the Bush library, one was particularly relevant to Hashemi’s claim that Casey had traveled secretly to Madrid, a claim that the New Republic/Newsweek articles and the House task force had rejected (albeit with contradictory and false alibis).
State Department legal adviser Edwin D. Williamson told associate White House counsel Chester Paul Beach Jr. that among the State Department “material potentially relevant to the October Surprise allegations [was] a cable from the Madrid embassy indicating that Bill Casey was in town, for purposes unknown,” Beach noted in a “memorandum for record” dated Nov. 4, 1991.
In other words, even as the New Republic and Newsweek – and then the House task force – were impugning Hashemi’s truthfulness about a Madrid trip, Bush’s White House was aware of evidence that placed Casey in Madrid during the October Surprise time frame. [For more details on the October Surprise case, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Some Americans might see Richard Leon’s partisan attacks on the October Surprise witnesses – and his role in distorting U.S. history – as disqualifying for a federal judgeship, but his actions actually paved the way for his appointment.
When George W. Bush, the eldest son of the former president, found himself in the White House in 2001 (with the help of five Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court), Leon’s name landed on a list of judicial candidates. He was nominated by Bush on Sept. 10, 2001, and confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 14, 2002.
Thus, Leon was sitting on the federal bench when the tobacco industry needed some protection from a federal regulation requiring cigarette packs to carry graphic images showing the harmful effects of cigarettes on lungs and other parts of the human body.
The Food and Drug Administration estimated that the unsettling images would cut the number of smokers by 213,000 by 2013 and save $221 million to $630 million each year for the next two decades. But the cigarette industry didn’t want to comply – and Leon agreed.
After Leon’s ruling striking down the requirement, tobacco companies expressed their pleasure, while health advocates voiced dismay. “Judge Leon’s ruling ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence about the need for new cigarette warnings and their effectiveness,” said Matthew L. Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
However, it was not the first time that Richard Leon ignored evidence.
[For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]
(Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.)

The 1% are the Very Best Destroyers of Wealth the World has Ever Seen

Our common treasury in the last 30 years has been captured by industrial psychopaths. That's why we're nearly bankrupt.

By George Monbiot


November 08, 2011

The Guardian

If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire. The claims that the ultra-rich 1% make for themselvesthat they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are examples of the self-attribution fallacy. This means crediting yourself with outcomes for which you weren't responsible.


Many of those who are rich today got there because they were able to capture certain jobs. This capture owes less to talent and intelligence than to a combination of the ruthless exploitation of others and accidents of birth, as such jobs are taken disproportionately by people born in certain places and into certain classes.

The findings of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize, are devastating to the beliefs that financial high-fliers entertain about themselves. He discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive illusion. For example, he studied the results achieved by 25 wealth advisers across eight years. He found that the consistency of their performance was zero. "The results resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill." Those who received the biggest bonuses had simply got lucky.

Such results have been widely replicated. They show that traders and fund managers throughout Wall Street receive their massive remuneration for doing no better than would a chimpanzee flipping a coin. When Kahneman tried to point this out, they blanked him. "The illusion of skill … is deeply ingrained in their culture."

So much for the financial sector and its super-educated analysts. As for other kinds of business, you tell me. Is your boss possessed of judgment, vision and management skills superior to those of anyone else in the firm, or did he or she get there through bluff, bullshit and bullying?

In a study published by the journal Psychology, Crime and Law, Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon tested 39 senior managers and chief executives from leading British businesses. They compared the results to the same tests on patients at Broadmoor special hospital, where people who have been convicted of serious crimes are incarcerated. On certain indicators of psychopathy, the bosses's scores either matched or exceeded those of the patients. In fact, on these criteria, they beat even the subset of patients who had been diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders.


The psychopathic traits on which the bosses scored so highly, Board and Fritzon point out, closely resemble the characteristics that companies look for. Those who have these traits often possess great skill in flattering and manipulating powerful people. Egocentricity, a strong sense of entitlement, a readiness to exploit others and a lack of empathy and conscience are also unlikely to damage their prospects in many corporations.

In their book Snakes in Suits, Paul Babiak and Robert Hare point out that as the old corporate bureaucracies have been replaced by flexible, ever-changing structures, and as team players are deemed less valuable than competitive risk-takers, psychopathic traits are more likely to be selected and rewarded. Reading their work, it seems to me that if you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a poor family, you're likely to go to prison. If you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a rich family, you're likely to go to business school.

This is not to suggest that all executives are psychopaths. It is to suggest that the economy has been rewarding the wrong skills. As the bosses have shaken off the trade unions and captured both regulators and tax authorities, the distinction between the productive and rentier upper classes has broken down. Chief executives now behave like dukes, extracting from their financial estates sums out of all proportion to the work they do or the value they generate, sums that sometimes exhaust the businesses they parasitise. They are no more deserving of the share of wealth they've captured than oil sheikhs.


The rest of us are invited, by governments and by fawning interviews in the press, to subscribe to their myth of election: the belief that they are possessed of superhuman talents. The very rich are often described as wealth creators. But they have preyed on the earth's natural wealth and their workers' labour and creativity, impoverishing both people and planet. Now they have almost bankrupted us. The wealth creators of neoliberal mythology are some of the most effective wealth destroyers the world has ever seen.

What has happened over the past 30 years is the capture of the world's common treasury by a handful of people, assisted by neoliberal policies which were first imposed on rich nations by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. I am now going to bombard you with figures. I'm sorry about that, but these numbers need to be tattooed on our minds. Between 1947 and 1979, productivity in the US rose by 119%, while the income of the bottom fifth of the population rose by 122%.

But from 1979 to 2009, productivity rose by 80%, while the income of the bottom fifth fell by 4%. In roughly the same period, the income of the top 1% rose by 270%.

In the UK, the money earned by the poorest tenth fell by 12% between 1999 and 2009, while the money made by the richest 10th rose by 37%. The Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, climbed in this country from 26 in 1979 to 40 in 2009.


In his book The Haves and the Have Nots, Branko Milanovic tries to discover who was the richest person who has ever lived. Beginning with the loaded Roman triumvir Marcus Crassus, he measures wealth according to the quantity of his compatriots' labour a rich man could buy. It appears that the richest man to have lived in the past 2,000 years is alive today. Carlos Slim could buy the labour of 440,000 average Mexicans. This makes him 14 times as rich as Crassus, nine times as rich as Carnegie and four times as rich as Rockefeller.

Until recently, we were mesmerised by the bosses' self-attribution. Their acolytes, in academia, the media, thinktanks and government, created an extensive infrastructure of junk economics and flattery to justify their seizure of other people's wealth. So immersed in this nonsense did we become that we seldom challenged its veracity.

This is now changing. On Sunday evening I witnessed a remarkable thing: a debate on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral between Stuart Fraser, chairman of the Corporation of the City of London, another official from the corporation, the turbulent priest Father William Taylor, John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network and the people of Occupy London. It had something of the flavour of the Putney debates of 1647. For the first time in decades – and all credit to the corporation officials for turning up – financial power was obliged to answer directly to the people.

It felt like history being made. The undeserving rich are now in the frame, and the rest of us want our money back.


(A fully referenced version of this article can be found at www.monbiot.com/.)

3 comments:

buelahman said...

There is not a single demoRAT or reTHUGlican worth pissing on, much less electing into ANY office in this country.

Suzan said...

I don't agree. I like a number of individuals who have bucked the system and spoken up for our ideals. I think of Dennis Kucinich, Russ Feingold (defeated but leading the charge for change now) and many more.

But, I know how you feel.

I truly do.

Suzan said...

Whoops! I forgot to mention my own homeboy favorite, Brad Miller, in Greensboro!

He rocks (for US)!