Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The New Big Lie

May 29, 2007

Re: The New Big Lie.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel


Congress -- the Democrats in particular -- have again shown
they are a pack of lying cowards
With whom it is perfectly useless to remonstrate.
They have once again given the Administration a bearer check
Enabling it a horrid war and endless killing to perpetuate.
They have done it on a claim they know is a lie,
But which from their lying mouths in Viet Nam did,
and in Iraq continues to, emanate.
Not this time “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/Pro patria mori,” as in
World War I, but now a different lie;
One which says funds for the war they cannot terminate
Because this would mean they are not protecting, but
are abandoning, the troops,
And would leave the troops to a deadly fate.
That this is a mother fucking lie of the first -- and worst -- order
Is a point it takes no genius to appreciate.
For any fool can know that a bill cutting off funds could,
should and would allow monies to be used to protect our forces
During their withdrawal from the failed state that is not truly a state,
But only a middle eastern geographical expression created by the British in the 1920s
To overarch a territory filled with warring religious wackos who have for
centuries sought each other to obliterate.
But the people in Congress quite wrongly fear loss of election
unless they lie and do the wrong thing.
So they continue with the newer lie -- they continue to prevaricate
By saying the troops will not be supported, but instead will be abandoned,
If Congress saves their lives by enacting a cut off of funds in order
this awful war to terminate.
As said, no longer is the lie the one identified by Wilfred Owen:
“Dulce et decorum est/Pro patria mori.”
No: That the troops will be abandoned is the new lie that
the mother fucking cowards in Congress asseverate.


What does this mean for the country of our birth, the
one Lincoln thought the last best hope of earth?
It means that any lying incompetent, wholly obstinate
fool for whom fundamentalism is his barbiturate,
Is for him what laudanum and cocaine
were for people in the 19th Century,
Will be able to keep us in war endlessly because he is
the kind of person who will perseverate
In pursuit of evil, which he confuses with good;
A melding of ideas that only the stupid or a nut job
could conceivably conflate.
We will stay in war for years and years and more
Until there are enough deaths his bloodlust to sate.
Which will be very hard, indeed impossible, to do
Because he is so incredibly obstinate
Notwithstanding any and all contrary evidence
which continuously arises,
Evidence he ignores because he sees himself
as the new Lincoln incarnate
As he continues careering through a
life filled with failure and delusion,
This latest one, in all its many policy ramifications,
perhaps callable Bush-and-Cheneygate.


And as our men continue to die in Iraq
A war by which Bush has managed our sworn enemies’
number to vastly inflate,
The lying, cowardly members of Congress we can be sure
Will continue to do nothing effective, but will continue only to verbally masturbate.
While the two sides’ bombs and shells and bullets
Will continue Iraq to despoliate:
The legislators will continue to pretend that they are taking action
When in reality they are, as in Viet Nam, doing
nothing but mouthing the empty words
by which motherfucking politicians politically defecate
Upon the minds of citizens --
Including citizens whose children, unlike those of the motherfucking pols,
will never from college or higher graduate,
Because their lives will be snuffed by those
Who due to Bush have learned America to hate.
There are no words, there simply are no words.
There are no words meaningful enough to sufficiently commiserate
With those who have suffered this enormous loss
Because of the War that the stupid, motherfucking, nut job did create;
The war whose enlargement and ever expanding numbers and violence
He and the Dickhead did so much to generate
Because truth to them could not get through,
Could not their thick skulls penetrate;
The more so because truth is not a virtue
The cowardly lying pols of America seek to cultivate;
Contemptible lying pols – pols being a genus
Which in America struggles to be even third rate.
So there are thousands here and hundreds of thousands abroad,
Who already weep or in future will weep, will be emotionally prostrate
Because of the war and the man to whom Henry II’s question applies;
While Congress, where one learns to acculturate
To, and propagate, lies and half-assed bullshit,
Continues its lies and does nothing to stop the killing insensate.
There are no words. There simply are no words.*

*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com. All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at Velvel@mslaw.edu.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at www.lrvelvel.libsyn.com

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Comments on Dr. Demento

Dear Sir, An unintended insult, but an insult to be sure, for you to equate the legendary, radio personality, Dr. Demento, with the moronic traitor who currently sleeps in the President's bedroom. Joseph Sugarman, design@dream-home.com

Dr. Demento In The Oval Office

May 23, 2007

Re: Dr. Demento In The Oval Office

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Of late there seems to be talk about a subject mentioned here before and written about elsewhere too, sometimes by professionals in the field. The topic is that there may well be a head case in the White House.

Recently there seems to be some degree of coalescence on the idea that, for this man to admit to a mistake in Iraq, would be for him to threaten, perhaps destroy, his own sense of competency. For that reason, it is said, he is in a state of denial about events in Iraq. For the same reason, it is likewise said, he overlooks, puts aside, disregards information contrary to the claim of success in Iraq, and sees everything about Iraq through rose colored glasses.

I must admit that this theory strikes this layman as making sense. George W. Bush, apparently, always lived in the shadow of a successful, well liked father (albeit many of us think his old man wasn’t a great brain either). Living in this shadow, his own lack of diligence and intelligence caused him to be mediocre or a failure everywhere for about 25 years; he was mediocre at Andover; he was mediocre at Yale; he was a drunk to the point where he could cure himself only by stopping cold turkey, becoming a religious fundamentalist, and seeing the world, however wrongly, in Manichean black and white; he failed in business after business and escaped disasters only by dint of Daddy’s friends and wannabe friends; conceivably he escaped a securities prosecution only because Daddy was President. This guy also, it seems, is and was a bully.

The only thing going for this character was that he had the kind of affable, good old boy personality that the average American vastly prefers to smarts, a personality which, given his family name and the family’s access to political money, enabled him to succeed in politics. And to be candid, it is entirely possible that domestic politics is the one area where this guy may possibly be smart, or at least very crafty (if evilly crafty).

The bottom line is that this fellow would have every reason to fear, underneath it all, that he largely is not competent. For a guy with his long record of mediocrity or failure, for a guy who so long lived in the shadow of his father, for a guy who achieved success only when he capitalized on the family name in politics, where the worst can be first, it seems eminently possible (i) that the sense of competence is wafer thin (which in Bush’s case might be excessively thick), and (ii) that denial of facts, coupled with obstinacy in pursuit of a (failed) policy, is the only way to avoid the psychological destruction of having to recognize a horrible mistake resulting from repeated gross incompetence. It is, in short, reasonable sounding to say that, because of close-to-the-surface fear of incompetence, there is a fact-denying head case in the White House.

In the long run, as discussed here before, this is likely to be recognized by historians. It may take 25 or 50 years, but it is almost certain that one day this character will be exhibit number one for the danger of having a nut job in the oval office, and of simultaneously having a jello-kneed Congress which forsakes the founders’ deeply held belief that it should be Congress, not the President, that decides whether we should fight a foreign war in the first place rather than merely serving as a rubber stamp for the Executive, and that Congress should cut off funds for a war gone south.

But in the short run, what is to be done? Even though the body politic now seems overwhelmingly against the war, the Congress lacks the courage or brains even to cut off money for the war, and certainly lacks the courage or brains to impeach the nutbag at the top or his vice nutbag - - as a gentleman I know says about these lackings of the Congressional lackeys: “That’s who they are.” Nor, one notes, is it the children of these gutless wonders who are getting killed and maimed in Iraq, a fact which contributes mightily to Congressional cowardice and stupidity. We can, of course, depend upon Bush not to defenestrate himself and we can depend upon his sidekick Cheney not to penetrate either of them with birdshot. Meanwhile, more people get killed in Iraq every day, while the top cowardly lion who fled from service in Viet Nam pretends he is a brave Lincoln faced with the destruction of this country and refuses therefore to disengage from disaster while denying that disaster is occurring.

As for American morality, every day and every week it goes deeper into the shitter, to use a word popular in Northern New England.

This is all very bad. And, putting aside Congressional weakness, it ever increasingly looks like the disaster continues because we have a form of Dr. Demento in the White House: a man who cannot do the right thing because this would, psychologically destructively, force him to concede that he has done the wrong thing. Nor are the two top nut jobs or any cabinet members going to tell Congress (under the 25th Amendment) that these two birds are too sick in the head to be President. (In addition to Bush’s head problem, given Cheney’s views, would anyone be surprised if he were some kind of certifiable paranoid?) As said, the situation is very bad, very bad indeed, and it may not be too pessimistic, but only realistic, to say that conceivably there is nothing to do but wait it out. One hopes not, though.
This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com. All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at Velvel@mslaw.edu.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at www.lrvelvel.libsyn.com

Friday, May 18, 2007

Article Regarding George Tenent

May 18, 2007

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

Appended below is a fantastically good article about George Tenet by Ray McGovern, a 27 year veteran of the CIA who for a period wrote the President’s daily brief.

May 15, 2007

Four-letter Word for Tenet: Liar
By Ray McGovern

If they question why we died,
Tell them because our fathers lied.
Rudyard Kipling

Mercifully, the flurry of media coverage of former CIA director George Tenet hawking his memoir, “At the Center of the Storm,” has abated. Buffeted by those on both right and left who see through his lame attempt at self-justification, Tenet probably now wishes he had opted to just fade away, as old soldiers used to do.

He listened instead to his old PR buddy and “co-author” Bill Harlow who failed miserably in trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. By this point, they may be having second thoughts. But, hey, the $4 million advance is a tidy sum, even when split two ways. Aside from the money, what else could they have been thinking?

Tenet’s book is a self-indictment for the crimes with which Socrates was charged: making the worse cause appear the better, and corrupting the youth.

But George is not the kind to take the hemlock. Rather, with no apparent shame, he accepted what one wag has labeled the “Presidential Medal of Silence” in return for agreeing to postpone his Nixon-style “modified limited hangout” until after the mid-term elections last November. The $4 million advance that Tenet and Harlow took for the book marked a shabby, inauspicious beginning to the effort to stitch together what remains of Tenet’s tattered reputation.

Here in Washington we are pretty much inured to effrontery, but Tenet’s book and tiresome interviews have earned him the degree for chutzpah summa cum laude. We are supposed to feel sorry for this pathetic soul, who could not muster the integrity simply to tell the truth and stave off unspeakable carnage in Iraq. Rather, when his masters lied to justify war, Tenet simply lacked the courage to tell his fellow citizens that America was about to launch what the post WWII Nuremberg Tribunal called the “supreme international crime”—a war of aggression.

Tenet’s pitiable apologia demonstrates once again not only that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but also that the corruption befouls all those nearby.

Cheney’s Chess

For those of prurient bent, the book offers a keyhole-peep into a White House of ill repute, with Vice President Dick Cheney playing at his chess board, moving sniveling pawns like Tenet from one square to another.

Someone should have told the former CIA director that unprovoked war is not some sort of game. Out of respect for the tens of thousands killed and maimed in Iraq, it is time to start calling spades spades. It was a high crime, a premeditated felony to have taken part in this conspiracy.

Not surprisingly, few of Tenet’s talk-show hosts were armed with enough facts to pierce the smoke and the arrogant now-you-listen-to-me approach from Bill Harlow’s PR toolbox. Whether out of ignorance or just habit, celebrity interviewers kept cutting Tenet more and more slack. Understandable, I suppose, for they, like Tenet, were enthusiastic cheerleaders for the attack on Iraq. And so, affable, hot-blooded George was allowed to filibuster, bob, weave, and blow still more smoke. Tenet should not be behind a microphone; he should be behind bars.

With nauseating earnestness, Tenet keeps saying:

“I believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

This is a lie. And no matter how many times he says it (after the axiom of his master, George W. Bush, who has stressed publicly that repetition is necessary to “catapult the propaganda”), Tenet can no longer conceal the deceit. Indeed, the only other possibility—that he is (as he complains) being made the useful “idiot” on whom Vice President Dick Cheney and others mean to blame the war—can be ruled out.

Tenet was indeed useful to Cheney and Bush, but he is no idiot. Those who do not rely exclusively on the corporate media for their information know Tenet for what he is—a charlatan. A willing co-conspirator, he did for Bush and Cheney what propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels did for Hitler. The key difference is that Goebbels and his Nazi collaborators, rather than writing books and taking sinecures to enrich themselves, were held accountable at Nuremberg.

Phantom Weapons of Mass Destruction

Tenet knew there were no WMD. Secret British documents reveal not only that Tenet told his British counterpart the intelligence was being “fixed” around the policy. They also show that Washington and London developed a scheme to “wrongfoot” Saddam Hussein by insisting on the kind of UN inspections they were sure he would reject, thus providing a convenient casus belli.

Saddam outfoxed them by allowing the most intrusive inspection regime in recent history. At the turn of 2002-03 UN inspectors were crawling all over Saddam’s palaces, interviewing his scientists, and pursuing every tip they could get from Tenet—and finding nothing.

What did satellite imagery show? Nothing, save for the embarrassingly inconclusive photos that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell displayed on Feb. 5, 2003 at the UN. Were there any photos of those biological weapons trailers reported by the shadowy Curveball? None. And so “artist renderings” were conjured up to show what these sinister trailers might look like.

At least the renderings produced by the CIA graphics shop were more professional than the crude forgeries upon which the fable about Iraq seeking uranium in Africa was based. And the Cheney-Rice-Judith Miller story about aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment got bent hopelessly out of shape as soon as genuine scientists (as opposed to Tenet’s stable of malleable engineers) got hold of them.

Exactly four years ago, amid the euphoria of Mission Accomplished and the incipient concern over the trouble encountered in finding WMD, then-deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz told writer Sam Tanenhaus of Vanity Fair that Iraq’s supposed cache of WMD had never been the most important casus belli. It was simply one of several reasons:

“For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on...Almost unnoticed but huge is another reason: removing Saddam will allow the U.S. to take its troops out of Saudi Arabia...”

Absence of Evidence

Who needs real evidence as opposed to allegations of WMD, when the name of the game is removing Saddam? But how to explain the blather about WMD in the lead-up to the war, when not one piece of imagery or other intelligence could confirm the presence of such weapons? Easy. Apply the Rumsfeld maxim: “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” And then explain further that the lack of evidence proves nothing but how clever the Iraqis have become at hiding their weapons. Don’t laugh; that’s what Rumsfeld and the neocons said.

That foolishness had run its course by March 2003 when, despite the best “leads” Tenet could provide and the intrusive inspection regime, the UN inspectors could find nothing. It was getting downright embarrassing for those bent on a belli without an ostensible casus, but by then enough troops were in place to conquer Iraq (or so thought Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz). At that point Bush told the UN to withdraw its inspectors promptly and let them watch the fireworks of shock and awe from a safer distance on TV. (The real shocker is President Bush repeated insistence that Saddam threw out the inspectors. But, again, he has so successfully “catapulted” this piece of propaganda that most Americans do not realize it is a lie.)

How did the White House conspirators think they could get away with all this? Well, don’t you remember Cheney saying we would be greeted as liberators...and Ken Neocon Adelman assuring us that it would be a “cakewalk?” We would defeat a fourth-rate army, remove a “ruthless dictator,” eliminate an adversary of Israel, and end up sitting atop all that oil with permanent military bases and no further need to station troops in Saudi Arabia. At that point, smiled the neocons, what spoilsport will be able to make political hay by insisting: Yes, but you did this on the basis of forgery, fakery; and where, by the way, are the weapons of mass destruction?

Granted that over recent weeks George Tenet has shown himself a bit dense beneath the bluster. Nevertheless, there is simply no defense on grounds of density—or gross ineptitude or momentary insanity. He clearly played a sustained role in the chicanery.

Okay; if you insist: let’s assume for a moment that Rumsfeld did actually succeed in convincing Tenet that the reason there was no evidence of WMD was because the Iraqis were so good at hiding them. What then?

Tenet does not get off the hook. There was, in fact, no absence of well sourced evidence that Saddam’s WMD had all been destroyed shortly after the Gulf War in 1991—yes, all of them.

You Go With the Evidence You’ve Got

In 1995, when Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, defected with a treasure trove of documents, he spilled the beans on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. There were none. He knew. He was in charge of the chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs and ordered all such weapons destroyed before the UN inspectors could discover them after the war in 1991. He told us much more, and the information that could be checked out was confirmed.

The George-and-Condoleezza-must-have-just-missed-this-report excuse won’t wash, because Newsweek acquired a transcript of Kamel’s debriefing and broke the story on Feb. 24, 2003, several weeks before the war, noting gingerly that Kamel’s information “raises questions about whether the WMD stockpiles attributed to Iraq still exist.”

It was the kind of well-sourced documentary evidence after which intelligence analysts and lawyers positively lust. But the mainstream press dropped it like a hot potato after Bill Harlow (yes, Tenet’s co-author), in his role as CIA spokesperson, angrily protested (a bit too much) that the Newsweek story was “incorrect, bogus, wrong, untrue.” It was, rather, entirely correct; it was documentary—and not forged this time. Curiously, the name of Hussein Kamel shows up on a listing of Iraqis in the front of Tenet’s book, but nowhere in the text. Tenet and Harlow apparently decided to avoid calling attention to the fact that they suppressed information from a super source, preferring instead to help the White House grease the skids for war.

In late summer 2002 CIA operatives had a signal success. They had recruited Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri and had him working in place--for the U.S. Proud of their successful recruitment of a senior Iraqi official, officers of CIA’s clandestine service immediately sought and were given an early meeting with President Bush and his senior advisers.

The information Sabri had already passed to us had checked out well. Naively, the agency officers were expecting sighs of relief as they quoted him saying there were no WMD in Iraq. The information went over like a lead balloon, dispelling all excitement over this high-level penetration of the Iraqi government.

When the CIA officers got back to Headquarters and told colleagues what had just happened at the White House, those who had been tasking Naji Sabri asked whether they should seek additional intelligence from him on the subject. According to Tyler Drumheller, the division chief in charge of such collection, the answer was loud and clear: “Well, this isn’t about intel any more. This is about regime change.”

And then there was Curveball. Tenet and his deputy, John McLaughlin, played a direct role regarding the notorious “Curveball,” a former Iraqi taxi driver and convicted embezzler whom German intelligence deemed a mentally unstable alcoholic, who was "out of control." Unlike the unwelcome reporting from the Iraqi foreign minister, Curveball provided very welcome, if bogus, information on alleged mobile laboratories producing biological weapons in Iraq—grist for the “artist renderings” for Powell’s UN speech.

It was all a crock. And Tenet and McLaughlin both knew it, because Drumheller gave them chapter and verse before Powell's speech, and has now written a book about this sad story.

Moreover, the normally taciturn, but recently outspoken former director of State Department intelligence, Carl Ford, has noted that both Tenet and McLaughlin took a personal hand in writing a follow-up report aimed at salvaging what Curveball had said. Ford spared no words: The report “wasn’t just wrong, they lied...they should have been shot."

Nor can Tenet expunge from the record his witting cooperation in the cynical campaign to exploit the trauma we all felt after 9/11, by intimating a connection with that heinous event and Saddam Hussein. If, as Tenet now concedes, no significant connection could be established between Saddam and al-Qaeda, why did he sit quietly behind Powell at the UN as Powell spun a yarn about a "sinister nexus" between the two? That sorry exhibition destroyed what was left of the morale of honest CIA analysts who, until then, had courageously resisted intense pressure to endorse that evidence-less but explosive canard.

A Cropping Worth a Thousand Words

George Tenet's book includes a photo that is a metaphor for both the primary purpose of his memoir and its unintended result. Most will remember the famous photo of Colin Powell briefing the UN Security Council, with Tenet and then-US ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte sitting staunchly behind him. Well, on a centerfold page large enough to accommodate the familiar shot, the photo has been cropped to exclude Tenet altogether and include only Negroponte’s shoulder and nose (which, mercifully, he was not holding at the time.) This is an incredibly adolescent attempt to distance Tenet from that scandalous performance, even though he was the one most responsible for it. The cropping also suggests that Tenet and Harlow are only too aware that by including spurious “intelligence” in Powell’s speech and then sitting stoically behind him as if to validate it, Tenet visibly squandered CIA's most precious asset--credibility.

“It was a great presentation, but unfortunately the substance didn’t hold up,” blithely write Tenet and Harlow, without any trace of acknowledgment of the enormous consequences of the deception. In a Feb. 5, 2003 Memorandum for the President regarding Powell’s speech that day, we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) gave him an “A” for presentation, and a “C-” for content. (If we knew then what we know now we would of course have flunked him outright.) In the VIPS memo we warned the president that intelligence analysts were “increasingly distressed at the politicization of intelligence...and finding it hard to be heard above the drumbeat for war.”

That a war of choice was on the horizon was crystal clear—as were the consequences. We urged the president to “widen the discussion beyond violations of Resolution 1441,and beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.” We take no comfort in having got that one right. Former UN Chief Inspector and U.S. Marine Major, Scott Ritter, was screaming it from the rooftops (and was blacklisted by the domesticated media). It was a no-brainer.

Tenet Breaks Tenet

Tenet’s tell-some-but-not-all book is unwittingly self-incriminating in another key respect, an illustration of what happens when you have a politician, with PR help, running U.S. intelligence. Much of the Tenet/Harlow self-justifying prose is transparent to any observer who has been paying the slightest attention to issues of intelligence on Iraq over the past few years. What may not be fully clear is that, in his zeal to indict others and exculpate himself, Tenet plays fast and loose with a cardinal tenet of intelligence work. You don’t reveal confidential discussions with policymakers—and you especially don’t quote the president. You simply do not do that. For once you violate confidentiality, not only your effectiveness but also that of those who succeed you will be greatly impaired, if not ended.

In normal circumstances presidents have a right to expect that their conversations with advisers will be kept in strictest confidence, and not revealed later by some buffoon pushing a book. And it is the height of irresponsibility for an intelligence director to quote a president still in office. If the president and senior advisers are unable to count on confidences being kept, it becomes impossible to conduct sensible discussions on policy making.

Why do I say “in normal circumstances?” Because no president has the right to plan a war of aggression with high confidence that accomplices, or others that might become privy to such plans, will stay quiet and not blow the whistle. The oath we take to defend the Constitution of the United States supersedes any promise, explicit or implicit, to enable the president to commit crimes in our name. (And someone ought to tell that to Sen. Dick Durbin, who recently confessed that he knew the intelligence justification for war was a crock, but could not tell the American people because it was secret!)

Am I saying there are circumstances in which conscience may require divulging the confidential remarks of the president of the United States? Of course there are, and these circumstances are a case in point. But that, sadly, was/is far from George Tenet’s intent. That he sees fit now to violate the principle of confidentiality in a quixotic attempt at self-justification (and, yes, his share of the $4 million) betokens not only an adolescent narcissism oblivious to the importance of trust, but also a lack of genuine respect for policymakers, including the president. Those of us who have been privileged to brief the president’s father and other senior national security officials—and there must be a hundred of us by now—never violated that trust the way Tenet has done.

Most people do not know that personal access to the president and his top advisers was a rarity during most of the CIA’s first three decades. Regularized personal access by CIA officers did not begin until former director and then-vice president George H. W. Bush persuaded President Ronald Reagan to authorize the sharing of the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) in one-on-one morning briefings for the vice president, the secretaries of state and defense, and the president’s national security adviser. (With White House approval, we later added the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs as a daily consumer.)

These early morning briefings were conducted by us senior analysts who prepared the PDB (and badgered the drafter/analysts with all manner of questions) the day and night before. We were experienced intelligence professionals steeped in substance and just a secure telephone call away from the analysts we knew could provide additional, trustworthy detail if needed. It was a position of great trust.

Our ethos, our job, was to speak unvarnished truth to power, irrespective of the policy agendas of the officials we briefed. We were trusted to do that as honestly and professionally as possible. The last thing we needed was a CIA director looking over our shoulder—particularly one, like Tenet, not well schooled in the need to protect the credibility of intelligence by avoiding policy advocacy like the plague. During the Reagan presidency, the CIA director rarely joined us for the PDB briefings and did no pre-publication review. The director had quite enough on his plate. His was a dual job involving herding the cats of a scarcely manageable, multi-agency intelligence community, while trying to manage one agency (CIA) itself conceived with a serious birth defect.

A Structural Flaw

A most unfortunate flaw in the National Security Act of 1947 gave the CIA director not only responsibility for preparing unvarnished intelligence, but the additional duty “to perform other such functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council may from time to time direct”—like running secret wars, as in Nicaragua; overthrowing governments, as in Iran, Guatemala, Chile; and applying President Bush-favored “alternative” methods of interrogation in secret prisons in violation of international and U.S. Army law, as in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was hardly President Harry Truman’s original intent. Long after he left the White House, Truman addressed this directly in an article for the then independent Washington Post on Dec. 22, 1963:

“I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times policy-making arm of the government...I never had any thought of that when I set up the CIA.... I would like to see the CIA restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the president...and its operational duties terminated or properly used elsewhere.

A pity no one listened to Truman. As a result, for the CIA director each of the two scarcely compatible jobs became full-time challenges. During my 27-year career I had a front-row seat watching nine directors, most of whom did their best to act with integrity and honesty, despite that noxious structural fault. And, if that were not enough, this difficult dual task was accompanied by the additional responsibility to manage the entire intelligence community (16 agencies now). This posed a tri-fold management challenge.

Tenet all but admits he was not up to it. I’m “no Jack Welch,” is the way he puts it. Equally unfortunate, he picked inexperienced managers distinguished only by their malleability, their subservience to the perceived wishes of the next level up. Perhaps the best case in point is John McLaughlin, the quintessential affable go-along-to-get-along functionary. McLaughlin very rarely made use of his prerogative as statutory deputy in charge of the intelligence community and did not become much involved in operations. At the top of his sins of commission was staffing substantive analysis with weak-reed supervisors, the easier to bend analytic conclusions to the prevailing winds from the White House and Pentagon.

As for poor misunderstood George, instead of tending to his knitting at CIA headquarters, he decided to hitch a ride downtown with the PDB briefer in the morning, and thus secure regular face time with his pal, the president. From all reports there were many “slam dunks” voiced in those very private discussions. Worse still, Tenet felt free to ignore substantive dissent from other intelligence agencies—a practice that, though occasionally tempting, NEVER makes real sense and was an abnegation of his major responsibility. He knew what the president wanted to hear. And the McLaughlin-protégé analysts knew it too. Not only did they serve it up to recipe, but they actually took steps to conceal from colleagues elsewhere in the intelligence community what their boss was telling the president. On those few occasions when colleagues from other agencies learned via the grapevine what Tenet was telling the president, they were aghast and, understandably, angry. But none of their own bosses, including Colin Powell, dared get crosswise with the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal.

What Tenet should have told Bush? For starters, that:

--State Department analysts had heaped scorn on the Cheney fiction that Iraq had “reconstituted” its nuclear weapons program. They were, of course, right, but why make it harder for the president to keep a straight face when warning of mushroom clouds? Remember, it is not about Intel; it’s about regime change.

--State had described the cockamamie report about Iraq seeking uranium from Africa as “highly suspect” well before it was learned that this choice morsel was based on a forgery.

--Department of Energy analysts were having a riotous laugh at the thought those famous aluminum tubes could be somehow warped into use for uranium enrichment. The laugh, though, was mostly a mechanism to help suppress their rage over Tenet’s recruitment of pseudo-engineers to spin those aluminum artillery tubes into something more menacing.

--US Air Force intelligence experts thought hilarious the specter of Iraqi planes scarcely larger than the models seen on the Washington Monument grounds somehow flying to our shores to spray chemical or biological agents. But the Air Force, too, caved, acquiescing in their dissent being relegated to a footnote in the infamous National Intelligence Estimate of Oct. 1, 2002 on Iraqi WMD.

But Tenet knew what Bush wanted. And “action officer” Condoleezza could boil down the intelligence estimate into one page and read it to the president, if the opportunity affords itself.

Tenet’s Ave atque Vale in the preface to his book speaks volumes. One need read no further. He looks back unapologetically and with satisfaction on his long career as chief of intelligence, “not always successful, but...“striving to do what is right.”

“Son of immigrants John and Evangelia Tenet, who left their villages in Greece to give me that chance”...and give us George Tenet.

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.
Beware the Greeks bearing gifts.

An earlier version of this article appeared on Consortiumnews.com.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President’s Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Friday, May 11, 2007

Comments From Readers

May 11, 2007

Re: Comments From Readers

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

From: Patty Vinyard
Sent: Sat 5/5/2007 5:10 PM
Subject: Moral Meltdown

Dear Mr. Velvel,

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment. You listed some "good"
examples of immoral actions on the part of our government. There are more that you could have listed that are primary. For instance, the theft of Indian land, and the slaughter of Indians in their own land - both immoral. The Government and the business interests continue to "enjoy" (and destroy) what they took. There was never any reckoning or accountability for the murder and the theft and destruction.

I am descended from a Cherokee woman who apparently saw the writing on the wall and married a white man from Germany - assimilated. My heart truly aches for what was lost. And yet, while my family attempts to blend in, there are things that were passed down that mark us as different, and it only started to make sense once I learned of our ancestry. Small social mannerisms such as leaving a room unannounced and in silence, an open mind to mysticism associated with nature, and a deep concern for conservation of soil quality and wildlife (my father is a farmer). In my home town we were considered to be nice people, but somewhat odd or eccentric.

Maybe the forces of immorality have not won yet. But they don't seem to be losing ground either. Perhaps their reckoning will take place in the form of a sudden collapse. Only thing is, for all their victims there will likely never be justice.

Thank you for your insightful writing. And don't get on any small aircraft.
Patty Vinyard
Belleville, IL

From: John Doraemi
Sent: Sat 5/5/2007 10:22 PM
Subject: The immorality of calling Iraq a "mistake."

I've seen this euphamism countless times, and it sickens me.

If you walk into your neighbor's house and murder him, the "mistake" defense isn't going to fly.

After 2.7 million deaths since 1991, it's beyond comprehension.

Journalists and politicians continue to backtrack on their bloodlust by calling it a "mistake."

This has no place in an article about morality.

From: Doug Harvey
Sent: Sat 5/5/2007 10:38 PM
Subject: Re: your article at Counterpunch

Just a note to say "Right on, Dr. Velvel."

Doug Harvey
Lawrence, KS

From: Martin Maloney
Sent: Sat 5/5/2007 11:00 PM
Subject: Re: Moral Meltdow

You wrote:

* * * * *

...Because he is a man of such rectitude, Wolfowitz has hired the famous Washington mouthpiece, Robert Bennett, to represent him, and Bennett has proceeded to play hardball with the World Bank -- another sure sign of Paul the Pr. . k's innocence, right?

* * * * *

And you have the gall to attack the press! First, as the dean of a law school should know -- and pay homage to -- guilt is a legal term, as in "innocent until proved guilty."

Second, you just pulled one of the dirtiest tricks in the press' bag of dirty tricks: You implied wrong doing because Wolfie hired a lawyer. A hardball-playing lawyer, at that.

The old "He must be guilty -- he hired a lawyer" de facto slander.

Isn't someone who is accused of wrong-doing a total fool not to hire a lawyer? And as good a lawyer as he can afford to hire? More to the point, why else run a law school to train lawyers?

BTW, I loathe Wolfowitz. You didn't gore my ox.


Protect the Constitution -- preserve the right to keep and arm bears!

From: GuiRochat
Sent: Sat 5/5/2007 11:19 PM
Subject: moral meltdown

oh come now, all those decadents have been chosen by the 'democratic' citizens of this country and do you really think it was so much better in 1890 ? american exceptionalism not only revels in its present woes, but pretends to be better than national socialist germany in 1933-45. flabbleclap !
gui rochat apostata

From: Ed Ciaccio
Sent: Sun 5/6/2007 12:19 AM
Subject: Re: The American Moral Meltdown Accelerates

Dear Dean Velvel:

One major disagreement with you in this otherwise fine article: Iraq, like New Orleans, is an example NOT of incompetence, but criminal negligence on the part of the Bush administration.

I am one of those who believes, from much evidence, that the Bushies (Cheney especially), know exactly what they are doing: keeping Iraq divided and in chaos so our troops have to remain to secure the oil and threaten Iran from our permanent bases; and gut the minority sections of New Orleans.

As Greg Palast says: You know what you call the New Orleans former residents who will never be able to return? Democrats. As in the federal attorneys purge, this is part of Rove's plan to steal the 2008 elections & keep the Republicans in power.

Ed Ciaccio
Douglaston, NY

From: lloyd rowsey
Sent: Sun 5/6/2007 1:27 AM
Subject: Your "The American Moral Meltdown Accelerates" in CounterPunch today

This is absolutely the finest piece of precisely right-on (to date myself) outrage I've ever read! For many years I've considered Chomsky to be our greatest national resource, but you know, he IS boring. You sure ain't boring, Lawrence -- your morality is emotional as well as intellectual -- and you're always perfectly INTELLIGIBLE. Yours is truly a VOICE, my friend.

I particularly liked your characterization of "I am (and I do, I think, I say)" as "the perpendicular pronoun disease." Absolutely perfect. Is that yours, or maybe my asking just shows the extent I've succeeded in blocking out the idiocies of "the cast of hacks, bums, liars, publicity seekers and nonstop self aggrandizers" and how much else I've blocked out in blocking them out.

Keep up the good work, my man.


From: kewe
Date: Sun 5/6/2007 4:20 AM
Subject: Lying to get a job

Lawrence, when it comes to lying to get a job, that must apply to 60 or 70% of the US population, in any application that does not include with its job description picking up trash.

Start with members of the US Supreme Court, especially the last 9? perhaps 8 or 7 or 6 to be generous.

Go down in importance from there.

Other than that your article could be said to be on track.


Sent: Sun 5/6/2007 9:04 AM
Subject: your article

Yes, there are a few "good people out there," but unfortunately, they are poorly informed, over-christianized, and totally conformist. Throughout elementary and high school, they are taught conformity and never learn critical thinking. By the time they get to college, not only can they not think, but they can't write, spell, or put a sentence together. They tolerate levels of social violence, political corruption, blatant lies, and war crimes far beyond what any intelligent, moral people would be expected to tolerate. They are the prime example of a herd mentality--following whatever leader "pisses the farthest." They have been well-socialized to depend upon and respect authority, and cannot tell the difference between authority and authoritarianism. Americans, unlike Europeans--who will vigorously protest any infringement of their rights--are passive, pathetic, ignorant "good people."

J. Contursi
From: calbrit
Sent: Sun 5/6/2007 9:12 AM
Subject: Re: Moral Meltdown

Dear Mr. Velvel,

Fantastic phrase!!...."perpendicular pronoun disease". If you thought this one up, you're a creative genius. I hope the phrase isn't patented as I'm going to be using it, though only in conversation - I'm not a
writer. However, I'll be sure to give you due credit.

Actually, in regard to the disease, I'm afraid that it's a bit more endemic than you might think. Given your professional status, I seriously doubt that you associate much with non-intellectuals. I do however; and I can assure you that the disease runs rampant throughout virtually every economic sector and social class in this society. I'm "only" 52 years of age, but I do remember the "normal" cultural demeanor
of most people in this society in the 50's and 60's. For many reasons,
we are now awash not so much in a cult of individuality as in a cult of infinite egoism. In fact, there isn't a phrase strong or accurate enough to describe the situation. Hubris? Doesn't even touch it. Even that word is bandied about too much these days and it still doesn't adequately capture what is going on. A new psychological lexicon is needed. Call it the Marie Antoinette or the Sun King syndromes; in extreme cases the Nero syndrome. Everyone these days....virtually everyone!!....is a gift from heaven, filled with the mightiest appetites and yet perfectly willing to wallow in banal superficialities.


A Brito

From: Mcgrane, Mary
Sent: Sun 5/6/2007 10:55 AM
Subject: great article

Dear Dean Velvel,

As always, your recent article in Counterpunch was great. By coincidence, I read your article after an earlier posting by Frank Menetrez (April 30) on the ongoing Finkelstein-Dershowitz conflict. I thought I would put to you, as a Law School Dean, the same question I posed to Menetrez regarding Dershowitz's academic status at Harvard Law, as follows:

As an academic, it troubles me to see the tenure decision for Finkelstein being derailed by Dershowitz. This is a huge assault on Finkelstein's academic freedom rights and it will be a travesty if he is not promoted. Regarding Dershowitz, his own rise to academic prominence puzzles me. If you look at Dershowitz's faculty webpage on Harvard Law's website, his scholarly accomplishments are not impressive. He has a series of books of course; however, there are questions of plagiarism (verified by Finkelstein), authorship by Dershowitz's assistants, and the fact that the books are political diatribes and have nothing to do with scholarship and the law. Dershowitz appears to publish very little in scholarly journals. He lists, under "periodicals", articles in Penthouse and the Jerusalem Post; magazines and newspapers, not peer-reviewed journals. Penthouse appears to be one of Dershowitz's favorite periodicals, as he lists numerous articles in this scholarly magazine. So how did this guy get promoted to Full Professor at Harvard Law so quickly, 1964-1967? And how did he earn the Felix Frankfurter Professorship? It is a mystery to me how someone like Dershowitz has risen to the top of the legal/academic system.

Perhaps you, as Dean at a neighboring law school, could shed some light on this.

Again, thank you for your article.

Mary McGrane PhD
Associate Professor
The University of Connecticut

From: douglas hoyt
Sent: Sun 5/6/2007 11:00 AM
Subject: Are you Joking?


I liked your article, but then saw that you are a professor of law-a dean no less.

Are you nuts? You teach the worst type of cur in the nation to be just the most unethical rogues on the planet.

You have no defense. Your moral high ground is a joke-a hypocritical joke.

Don't you think you could do more for society by demanded the most moral go to law school than the brightest?

Start with your self, please.

Sincerely yours,

Douglas C. Hoyt

From: douglas hoyt
Sent: Sun 5/6/2007 11:13 AM
Subject: Please forgive my incredulousness.


You are the dean of a prestigious NE law school. I believe you could have a position effect upon the legal system to demand and get the indictment for war crimes of sirs:

Robert S. McNamara and
Henry Kissinger

Other could follow.

Such as: President George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, on and on.

Your aid in this matte would be greatly appreciated.

Douglas C. Hoyt

From: Armande
Sent: Sun 5/6/2007 11:38 PM
Subject: Re: Rupert Murdoch's Purchase Of The Wall Street Journal Would Be Another Large Wall Street Nail In The Coffin Of Competent American Journalism.

You are absolutely right, thanks

From: Recjac
Sent: Sun 5/6/2007 1:19 PM
Subject: Counter Punch article

Dear Dean: I enjoyed and agree with your latest article however I believe your interest in the sexual behavior of the omnipotent ones in Washington is in a way overblown (so to speak).

I would be much more interested in seeing the enablers of the invasion of Iraq led to the gallows. Although I didn't agree with all of the sentences brought down at Nuremberg it should have set a good precedent for all of our present leaders and followers. What has been allowed to happen in Iraq in the name of the United States will forever be remembered in infamy. A word FDR used loosely on December 8th 1941.

I hope your writings get to a great number of people.

Best Regards, Robert E. Carroll

From: Alicia Siegel
Sent: Sat 5/5/2007 7:23 PM
Subject: The Decline of Morals in the United States

Professor Velvel and Ms. van Bergen:

Your articles from last October (and Prof. Velvel’s from this weekend) have given me much food for thought.

As an African-American woman, I’ve been outraged at the direction of our domestic policies since the moment Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy.

I’m outraged at all policies which punish the poor; even more so at those which blatantly benefit corporations.
I’ve had the good fortune to never have been forced into the public welfare system (either AFDC or TANF). The demolition of AFDC was one of Clinton’s many disgraceful acts. The increasing strictures placed on recipients of TANF are reprehensible. Likewise the changes to Medicare which force seniors to pay for private insurance and force them to enroll in the pharmaceutical benefit are blatantly intended to benefit the corporate sectors involved.

The attack on affirmative-action is equally outrageous. In 1619, the first black slave was sold in Virginia in exchange for provisions by a slave ship bound for Cuba. Formal slavery lasted for 246 years and de jure subjugation for an additional one hundred years. Although decreased, de facto discrimination continues (how else to account for the extreme unemployment rate among black males?). But just taking what we can count, legal subjugation and discrimination against African-Americans lasted for nearly 350 years. Affirmative-action was designed to correct the discriminatory outrages of the past. Not to mention that unlike other indentured servants, freed slaves received nothing in 1865 except their freedom. Yet, Americans have shown their readiness to curtail the program since 1978 and again in 2005(?) with the Michigan University decision. Affirmative-action has been around for about forty years. Apparently it’s unrealistic to expect it to remain in effect for 350 years.

I think the legislation passed over the past 26 years has done egregious harm to all Americans who are not millionaires. The repeal of the Glass-Steagal (?) Act which forbid the merger of commercial banks with insurance companies and brokerage firms resulted almost immediately in corporate connivance perpetrated against average investors seeking honest advice. The 1996 Telecommunications Act, when mentioned at all, was sold the public as ending cable monopolies. The stated goal was to increase competition and lower consumers’ prices. Some eighteen months or so later, the Los Angeles Times reported that just the opposite had occurred. Here in California, voters supported energy deregulation. One provision of Proposition 9 was that consumers would pay the energy company’s “stranded costs”. What were these costs? They were the costs of operating nuclear power plants that had never been able to break-even, let alone show a profit. And now Americans are being asked, with a straight face, to consider nuclear power as a realistic alternative?! That’s beyond-the-pale on so many levels, I can’t even begin to address it.

When voters’ support is desired, we’re told we’ll benefit as consumers. Whenever legislation will affect us as citizens, nothing is said, because it’s usually bad. The bankruptcy bill was bad because exceptions were denied for health-care, which is a basic human right and should be the right of every American citizen.

During this administration, I can’t think of a single piece of legislation that hasn’t by its very nature, been corrupt, as in: anti-average citizen, anti-human rights, un-Constitutional, etc.

I’m at the end of my rope with the so-called Christian Right and the cynical leaders of their movement. They claim to be patriotic. The Kansas legislature’s Alice in Wonderland decision to simply redefine “science” to fit the Christian Right agenda sent me over the edge. How can refusing to prepare the next generation to understand the technology of this century, or to have the skills to compete in the job market, patriotic? Or have they already invested all their money overseas and figure there’s no need to understand how gravity works to get a job as a dog groomer or a food server? I don’t think one penny of my taxes should fund the bloated Dept. of Defense that simply acts as a funnel to Northrup-Grummon, Raytheon, etc., but I file every year and pay if I must. The Christian Right claimed to take offense that their taxes in any way funded first-trimester abortions for poor women – and poof! Funding for poor women to get abortions disappeared. Now, under TANF, decent support for those children has also disappeared.

I wish that every time legislation is slated to be voted on, I could be home to e-mail my representative and ask these questions: How does passing (or defeating) this bill benefit the nation as a whole? Who benefits from the passage (or defeat) of this bill? How do you benefit from the passage or defeat of this bill? As often as I can I e-mail asking for their support or defeat of a piece of legislation, but I think I may try this tactic instead.

Whenever I hear someone promoting the separation of church and state, I want to say, “Okay, but it’s a two-way street. First, since you wish to teach Bible-based (meaning Christian) creationism in public schools, your tax-exempt status is hereby revoked. (They want to play, they got to pay more than campaign contributions.) Second, if you want to continue to teach Bible-based theories in public school classrooms, secular science will hereby be taught as part of every Sunday-school class. You cannot refuse, you are a tax-paying entity and receive tax dollars for your institution.”

Next time some judge and his right-wing supporters want to hang a Decalogue in a courtroom, may I humbly suggest that the Bill of Rights would be more appropriate (and more useful) than the Ten Commandments?

I agree that the Abramoff scandal was an example of corruption of the highest order. But it was also corruption of a type that is most visible and easiest to explain. When an entire system has become corrupt, the extent of the rot tends to be denied simply because its overwhelming and disheartening to contemplate. We must try anyway.

Thank you for your time.

Alicia Siegel
Long Beach, CA

From: Robert Borosage
Sent: Mon 5/7/2007 2:53 PM
Subject: RE: Let's Hear It For Hillary.


That is useful – and that is what both your funding cut off and Hillary’s revocation of authority would produce.
Not a law, but a target list


From: Robert McKinney
Sent: Sun 5/6/2007 12:23 PM

As Mark Twain said of our representative government in his day,
"we have the best Congress that money can buy". Political ethics
must be the worst contradiction in the English language. I currently
live in Japan where corruption is considered a normal political practice.
Prostitution is very much a part of the entertainment side of the
political game in Japan. Human trafficking and sexual exploitation is
just a darker aspect of the entire repressive mechanism of the
modern corporate world that is Japan. Any Tokyo "madam" who
publicly announced the names of her more prominent "clients" would
have a very short life expectancy and would soon be found floating
in Tokyo Bay! "An apparent suicide" would be the official cause of death.
Her death would serve as a grim reminder to anyone else foolish enough to
disclose the sexual habits of any senior government
officials or corporate leaders. The Japanese love to flaunt their
love affair with sex and express only contempt for amateurs like
Bill Clinton.
But God America is now a nation being dismantled by the worst
sort of parasites who falsely claim to represent their fellow Americans.
I laugh in scorn every time one of our patriotic representatives in
the Congress or the White House begins a speech with the populist
ring to it, "My fellow Americans....". Who the hell is he or she kidding?
America today has a government "by the plutocrats, of the plutocrats
and for the plutocrats" and to hell with the common man. Bush's cute
tax cuts for the rich, for his rich friends just amuses now. Dick "dick"
Cheney really must have loved that new tax law. And what was Bush's
connection with the failed Enron corporation? That story still needs
to be examined much further, but it never will. They even bought off the
Justice Department and the Supreme Court. Everything and everyone
is for sale today in Bush's neo-con fascist state.
And this is the "democracy" that we plan to foist on the
Iraqi people? Small wonder the insurgency in that country will never
stop killing Americans until we depart their land. We think too highly of
ourselves and our "way of life". And if Iraq was merely a poor region
of the Middle East with few resources and NO oil, I don't think Bush or
Hillary Clinton would have been in favor of invading the country.
But you never know, we went into Somalia. What a joke that was.
The world has lost faith in America's professed love of democracy.
It is now a much darker place. Perhaps a new Dark Age will descend
upon the world, with global warming being one aspect of this new
world disorder.
But thank you for your essay. I liked it. Moral meltdown continues.
What happened to America's other war, the war on drugs? What about
LBJ's war on poverty? What about the civil rights movement? What of
the war against illiteracy? By spending obscene sums of U.S. money on
the Iraqi war, Bush is depriving Americans of so much needed social
supports, like better health care and a good education for every child.
I hate his empty rhetoric. "No child left behind". He means no "rich"
child left behind. For millions of American children they are born into
poverty, receive a very poor education, and for most, their fate is
sealed. Bush must love class warfare, he has done so much to promote
it in the US. But most of the bums now serving in Washington D.C.
have little in common with ordinary Americans. We are becoming a
Banana Republic, with the rich going off to their gated communities
every night. How they must fear and hate the poor. Look at the
Katrina vicitms left to die at a sports dome. Katrina might very well
have been a sign of the impending collapse of America's social order.
If we have a Katrina health care system for poor folk and the elderly,
much chaos. What of a Katrina like educational system? That is already
the case for millions of American youth. And there's the Katrina
military system, only poor youth are willing to sign up knowing that they
risk going to Iraq and coming home in a metal coffin. Rich kids scoff at the
idea of serving their nation in time of war. Their idea of patriotism is
flying a very big flag in front of the stock market on Wall Street.

Just wanted to say thank you. and rant a bit.

Robert McKinney (Tokyo, Japan)

From: Dana Trantham
Sent: Sun 5/6/2007 10:29 PM
Subject: Credentialism

Mr. Velvel,

I enjoyed your column, http://www.counterpunch.org/velvel05052007.html,
The American Moral Meltdown Accelerates.

In particular, I have observed firsthand the preference for credentials over competence you described. A former coworker at an engineering CAD software company was fired after a merger with a larger company because he lacked a Bachelor degree. They prefered a Bachelor degree in a related technical field. He had high school plus a 2 year Associate degree from a technical community college and lots of solid experience. He had been a software tester for at least 12 years and a system administrator for more than 3 years when he was let go. His work was excellent and he was highly regarded. Yet, the parent company was adamant about it's policies and refused to grandfather him in or allow him to work towards a degree.

Dana Trantham

From: Gregory Barrett
Sent: Mon 5/7/2007 9:51 AM
Subject: Counterpunch

RIGHT ON! Outstanding.

Gregory Barrett

Monday, May 07, 2007

Let's Hear It For Hillary

May 7, 2007

Re: Let’s Hear It For Hillary.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Here is a poem quick
About another move putatively slick
By Hillary,
The woman of two faces
Who now before us places
A bill to repeal the war’s authorization
As a means to require its cessation;
Knowing the bill would be vetoed,
Knowing this could not be overrode
Because the needed two-thirds is lacking.
Since peace in this country has insufficient backing;
Knowing her bill would mean only more of the same --
More deaths by the thousands in today’s “Great Game”;
Knowing that even if the bill by a true miracle were passed
(Which can’t happen) Bush would ignore it to the last
Dead American or Iraqi,
Claiming that his commander-in-chief authority
Gives him power to continue this atrocity
But seeking cover Hillary does pretend
That we should support a phony bill to end
The war. It enables her to circumvent the important question,
One the media collusively will not mention
Of a bill immediately cutting off all funds for the war
Except money needed to protect troops withdrawing from the blood effusing sore.
It enables Hillary to avoid doing what’s best
Lest support she lose in her Presidential quest,
And enables her -- like the media, Bush and almost all other fellow pols --
to continue with their barefaced lies
That say a bill cutting off funds would jeopardize
The troops, who supposedly would lack
Funds needed to fight off enemy attack --
Which is complete bullshit from Bush, Democrats, Republicans, the media --
from them all,
Because a bill terminating monies can say funds nonetheless can be used
to protect troops during withdrawal.*

*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com. All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at Velvel@mslaw.edu.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at www.lrvelvel.libsyn.com

Friday, May 04, 2007

Rupert Murdoch’s Purchase Of The Wall Street Journal Would Be Another Large Wall Street Nail In The Coffin Of Competent American Journalism.

May 4, 2007

Re: Rupert Murdoch’s Purchase Of The Wall Street Journal Would Be Another Large Wall Street Nail In The Coffin Of Competent American Journalism.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

Let me be clear where I stand on the Wall Street Journal. This writer despises, simply despises, its editorial page. Indeed, I refuse to read it because fundamentally it is reactionary trash. As well, in an email exchange with one of its editorialists, I found him to be either absurd, a liar, or both. The news pages on the other hand are quite good, among the best in the country. As true at the New York Times as well (e.g. Adam Liptak), a law trained Journal reporter, Jess Bravin (he has a law degree from Berkeley), is particularly good. His work, like Liptak’s, reflects the rigorous mental training that one gets in law school and that, one gathers, is pretty much absent in schools of journalism.

Let me be clear about a related matter as well. The Boston Globe recently reported that the interests of the now far flung family which controls the Journal, the Bancrofts, is largely in the hands of an old line Boston law firm, Hemenway & Barnes. One of Hemenway’s lawyers, Michael Elefante, is apparently in charge. His predecessor, whom I shall not name, is a fellow about whom I have hard feelings because he was one of the American Bar Association’s putative “negotiators” who once met with our law school’s representatives -- and as I remember it ( I think correctly) headed the ABA’s negotiators -- at a meeting where MSL sought to settle an antitrust case in a way that would enable the school, with ABA approval, to continue its mission of serving the less affluent of society. (This educational mission, unfortunately, is anathematic to the ABA.) Several of the things our school was complaining about were also the basis of a Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust suit which the ABA settled instantly, largely so that extensive, extraordinarily damning evidence collected by the DOJ would not become public. The same evidence, unhappily, was judicially denied to us by a bigoted, not to say lying, federal judge. (We know what it was, though, because we got a tiny amount of it from other sources.)

The ABA’s putative negotiators seem to never have had any real desire to negotiate a fair settlement, and one has to assume that this was true of the man from Hemenway, who was portrayed to us as a behind the scenes powerhouse -- which he likely was if you consider that he also ran the interests of the Bancroft family. Ultimately, our case was done in by the horrendously bigoted, massively dishonest federal judge and then by federal appellate judges who wanted to protect him at all costs. We then decided to entirely ignore the ABA, and we found other ways to continue successfully with the school’s societal mission of educating the less fortunate. But I do retain hard feelings against the ABA and its transparently false negotiators, including the man from Hemenway & Barnes who was part of -- and, as I remember it, headed -- the ABA’s negotiators.

Having made clear my large distaste for the Journal’s editorial position as the raving maniac newspaper spokesman for the right wing of American society, and for a former powerhouse at Hemenway & Barnes who ran the Bancroft family’s interests in the editorially right wing sheet, let me now say something which may surprise in light of what has come before. It is important for American society that the Bancroft family, under Hemenway & Barnes’ tutelage (if that is the right word), not sell to Murdock. This is not because the paper’s editorial page might become even more reactionary under Murdock. It is so reactionary now that an increase in this would hardly matter. In fact, a big increase in reactionaryism, if such is even possible, might even have the (desirable?) effect of making the editorial page so hopelessly nuts that even conservatives would stop reading it and it would become known as the Fox News of newspapers.

Nor does my view stem primarily from the concern that the news pages of the Journal would become politicized and start spouting the same kind of right wing trash as its editorial pages. This is a concern, and a perfectly reasonably one. I do share it, yet it is not what I see as the primary concern.

The primary concern, rather, is that the sale of the Journal to Murdoch would be another, and very large, nail in the ever expanding Wall Streetization, and the consequently increasing incompetence, of American journalism. The concern, more specifically, is that the high quality straight journalism that often appears in the Journal will disappear as the paper becomes Murdochized -- as a desire for a high quality journalism gives way to the Wall Streetish desire for ever greater profits.

To Wall Street -- and let us not forget the generations of economists whose bullshit made it possible for this view to become popular, nor the politicians like Reagan who adopted and promulgated it -- the only thing that counts is profits. Professional competence, in journalism or other fields, is irrelevant, honesty and integrity are irrelevant, giving people what they need or what they need to know is irrelevant, the desirability of peace rather than war is irrelevant (and even counterproductive). The only relevant point is to make ever more money. It is this attitude that has caused the news media to become ever worse as Wall Street financers and others profit from buyouts and takeovers of news (and other) organizations, and it is Murdoch’s hope that the Bancroft family would adopt this attitude if he offered 5 billion dollars for the paper -- about 1.2 billion of which will go to the family -- which doubtless accounts for the gigantic premium over market value that he is offering.

Curiously, or fittingly, one of the Bancroft family members who has been pushing for the paper to make more money is named -- would you believe it? -- Goth, Elizabeth Goth. The news media already being in such bad shape in this country, and getting into ever worse shape as the desire for ever more money has taken over everything since 1980, there will only be bigger trouble if the Goths have their way. Once it was the Louisville paper. Once it was the so-called Tiffany network. Once it was the LA Times. Today it is The Wall Street Journal. Then it will be The New York Times, which is already under pressure for Wall Street-proclaimed bad management, read management that does not maximize profits the way the humanly worthless, blood sucking hedge fund managers and other Wall Street big shots would like. One day it will be The Washington Post, which is a most valuable property that I’m sure Wall Street would love to get its hands on.

Of course, maybe there is a bright side to all this. Maybe, as Wall Street takes over and increasingly “dequalitizes” the media, more and more people will start turning to the blogosphere for ideas and even for hard news. (The latter phenomenon is not impossible notwithstanding the difficulties arising because of the costs of creating and operating an organization to collect the news. Consider, for example, how much we learned about American misconduct in Iraq because soldiers used the internet to send home information about, and pictures showing, what they had seen. Also consider the cell phone pictures of events in Blacksburg. And so on.) For people to rely ever more on the blogosphere -- as millions already do -- might not be wholly a bad thing. It would give a lot more people a voice in what goes on in this now plutocratic society, and would likely result in the presentation of a lot of truth that currently is not carried in, or is suppressed by, the mass media.*

*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com. All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at Velvel@mslaw.edu.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at www.lrvelvel.libsyn.com

More Moral Meltdown In America.

May 3, 2007

Re: More Moral Meltdown In America.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

As said in introductory remarks at an MSL conference on ever expanding presidential powers last October, never has an internet article of mine received as much feedback as one that spoke of America’s still continuing moral meltdown. And, perhaps surprisingly, disagreement was expressed only in ten percent of the emails that were sent to me. The others expressed approbation; one woman even said the article literally made her cry. These facts struck me as remarkable, even heartening. For it showed once again that there are good people out there, people removed from the jerks in politics, government and the media who will say, do and write anything for the purpose of self advancement, self aggrandizement. There are still people who believe in good old fashioned honesty, integrity, competence and diligence, virtues that too often are absent in America these days.

So far, of course, the good folks have not managed to turn the tide of American meltdown. This is unfortunate, but one must retain hope, and must at least pretend -- in the face of the evidence? -- that things can get better. Otherwise things will not get better. Perhaps -- at least one certainly hopes -- the nascent, yet it would seem ever increasing, talk about a possible third party in 2008 will help turn the country around. This talk represents disaffection, not to say disgust, with the current scene -- and that is all to the good. But the happy day of change is not upon us yet, so let me briefly discuss some of the further examples of moral meltdown that have appeared in the media in the last few days or have otherwise come to one’s attention.

There is, of course, that now hardy perennial, the war in Iraq. Last month it killed more than another 100 Americans, and Lord knows how many Iraqis. In the last week or so, Bill Moyers has again exposed, and George Tenet too (perhaps less wittingly) has again exposed, that this war is a horrible, incompetent mistake made by grossly incompetent, thoroughly dishonest leaders. But are we going to stop, any time soon, the American participation which opened the door to this disaster, to this creation of killing fields, and which remains so much a driver of the disaster? No, we almost certainly are not going to stop it any time soon. The incompetent fools at the top of the Administration desire to continue it -- indefinitely, no less, and they desire this even though to accomplish their aims would be likely to take 10 years and at least a quarter million more American soldiers. Meanwhile the Democrats don’t have the guts to do what is necessary to stop it -- which could easily be done by merely refusing all further funding of any type for the military (or, more limitedly, for Iraq) except for funds needed to finance the protection of troops during a withdrawal. Washington and the media also are filled with pundits and advisers who invent one reason after another why it would be bad to stop our participation even though to begin our participation was a terrible mistake. (In business such excuse mongering is called throwing good money after bad.) Out in the country, among Republican at least, and probably more heavily in the militaristic states of the old Confederacy than elsewhere, there are still people who think we should fight, no doubt to the last Iraqi. The lessons from Britain’s war in Iraq in the 1920’s are still a secret to most Americans. And one of the perhaps two or three greatest lessons of Viet Nam is still no less a secret to most Americans -- such lesson being that as was easily discernible, to those with eyes to see and wit to understand, as early as the final four or five years of that misbegotten military adventure, America would do better (as occurred), both at home and in the world, when it ceased participating in its Indo China debacle.

There is also, in relation to continuing the moral meltdown of Iraq, a point made to me a few days ago by a guest on a new radio show called “What The Media Doesn’t Tell You.” The guest and I had a 45 minutes or so discussion of the incompetent performance of the press with regard to the ready foreseeability -- which Rice, Rumsfeld, and Bush stupidly denied -- of 9/11, of using airplanes to crash into structures. (Kamikazes, anyone? A bomber flying into the Empire State Building circa 1945, anyone? Other successful or attempted crashes into structures, anyone? Captured plans on Al Qaeda computers for using airplanes as missiles and statements from captured terrorists, anyone? Other similar precedents that made 9/11 readily foreseeable, anyone?) The guest -- who has been a journalist for 50 years and so is likely to know what he is talking about -- said to me that to be sent to Washington to cover the news is the supreme workplace accolade that can be bestowed upon a reporter. It shows that the reporter’s bosses think he or she is at the top of the profession. If that is true -- and I frankly suspect the guest is exactly right -- it is disheartening in the extreme to see the degree of gross incompetence that pervades so much of the Washington press corps, the degree of gross incompetence, not to say credulousness, that was again exposed a week ago by Bill Moyers. To paraphrase the (poet’s?) remark about winter and spring, when such incompetence is here, can moral meltdown be far behind?

There is also the all too usual stories of economic and sexual corruption in, and consequent moral meltdown in, Washington. Paul Wolfowitz, that paragon (right?) of Jewish American virtues which I was taught to honor and seek to emulate when growing up, that lying, stupid, power hungry sonofabitch who did so much to get us into the war, thinks it was just fine for him to participate in getting his girlfriend a new job at a much higher salary because the authorities at the World Bank allegedly knew and approved of this (which they deny). Wolfowitz says this was okay though there were plenty of others who could and, one logically surmises, in the ordinary course would have made decisions about his girlfriend’s employment, there were, one also logically surmises, plenty of other people who could and would have done the job his girlfriend received, and he himself rails and acts against corruption in third world countries. Because he is a man of such rectitude, Wolfowitz has hired the famous Washington mouthpiece, Robert Bennett, to represent him, and Bennett has proceeded to play hardball with the World Bank -- another sure sign of Paul the Pr. . k’s innocence, right?

Moral meltdown also has been displayed at one of our great academic institutions, MIT, though here there definitely were sad aspects to it, aspects that speak poorly for America. MIT had to fire the head of its admissions staff, Merilee Jones, because, nearly thirty years ago, she lied on her resume in order to get a job at the university -- a job for which she did not need a college degree. She falsely said she had degrees she most certainly did not have. At first it was reported that she had then said she had three such degrees. Later it was reported that she had only claimed two, but later added a third, apparently in connection with seeking a higher job at MIT. At first it was not reported that, but later it was reported that, in fact, when she applied for her first job at MIT, she had a degree from a small college in Albany, NY named Saint Rose. At the time, Saint Rose was little known, to put it mildly. Today it is a better known school of 5,000 which graduates a large proportion of New York state’s teachers.

During her decades at MIT, Jones apparently had performed very well in a number of jobs -- including ones for which a college degree was required by MIT, which did not, however, check her credentials since she already was a high performing employee. Being highly regarded, she rose to the top of her professional field. For some unknown reason, though, a few weeks ago someone who knew the truth dropped a dime on her -- ah, the pleasures of making enemies for one reason or another. MIT investigated and fired her despite her years of excellent service.

MIT did what it should have done when it fired her -- we simply will continue to have a morally lousy country if people can lie their ways into jobs, get away with it, and later plead that the original lie should be ignored because of one reason or another, e.g., because of years of excellent service. Culprits must be punished -- this is the only way we will ever put a stop to misconduct, and it is for that reason that war criminals like Kissinger and McNamara should be put in the dock now, even thirty and forty years after their horrid misconduct and despite their age. (It has been done to German Nazis you know, and the same principle should apply to our homegrown Nazis or, in one case, at least home schooled Nazi.) It is for the same reason that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wofowitz and a few others of our highest ranking Iraq war criminals should also be put in the dock. As I say, MIT was right to fire the woman for lying on her resume.

There is also a sadder side to the story, however. It is not primarily that she performed so well for so many years yet had to come to no good professional end, although that is a part of it. But the even sadder part is that the American mania for a college degree -- and for a degree from a prestigious elite school, not a no name school however fine its quality -- is so pronounced that Jones felt it desirable or necessary to invent false degrees when applying for her first job at MIT, and to hide the degree she did have, and felt as she did even though a degree was not a requisite for the job. This is symptomatic of the credentials mania that has infested American society, and that is now often more important than competence, even previously demonstrated competence. This mania, particularly because it substitutes credentials for competence, stifles good people lacking the credential, and makes a joke of the claim of social mobility that has always been so much a part of purported America. It is itself a form of moral meltdown.

One must recognize the possibility -- I’ve read nothing one way or the other on this -- that the woman’s initial lie about having degrees, a lie made when applying for a job that did not require a degree, was motivated in part (or whole?) by the desire to set herself up in advance for possible advancement at MIT to jobs which, however misbegottenly, did require degrees. Perhaps she realized that -- as actually occurred -- subsequent investigation of the veracity of her claim of degrees was unlikely if she already had been at MIT for awhile.

If this is what she calculated, it makes her own conduct even more calculating and reprehensible while at the same time showing even further the misbegotten character of the degree requirement -- the more misbegotten here because she did, after all, perform very well in jobs ostensibly requiring a degree. The possibility that she was setting herself up for the future increases the morally reprehensible nature of her lie. Nor to be overlooked is that, one would guess, she probably had to continue with -- and one gathers repeatedly put forth -- the lie once it was initially set forth in her resume. Removing it from her resume might conceivably have been noticed, with consequent exposure of the lie, as she climbed the MIT ladder. One gathers she also had to provide her resume when she made speeches or appeared at conferences or authored articles or a book. She was trapped in her own lie -- which regularly happens when one lies, and is one of the damn good reasons for not lying in the first place.

Let me also comment on the denouement of her career. For mass murdering criminals like Johnson, McNamara, Kissinger, Nixon, Bush, Cheney, and especially for those who are incompetent, formerly drunken, lying, nasty bastards, there should be no mercy. They should go to the gibbet. Yet they are never even put in the dock and, like Nixon and even McNamara, are allowed to “rehabilitate” themselves. But, after her initial lie, the woman at MIT spent nearly 20 years doing good, good for her school and, it appears, for the society as well. Then, unhappily, she lied again by inventing a third phony degree apparently to help get a better job, a big time job, at MIT, but proceeded to do social good for a decade. For the lies, she had to be fired. But one thinks that perhaps -- even despite the second lie, although that certainly does detract from the point -- she should be allowed to perform some lesser job at MIT or elsewhere after a one or two year period of suspension. Call this tempering justice with mercy, if you will. Call it recognition that the evil she did was in some incommensurable way offset by the good she did, if you will. Call it the only decent thing to do in a society that lets continuously-evil–producing-swine like some of our leaders go from strength to strength after murdering thousands, even millions, if you will. Whatever you call it, it would seem at least conceivably appropriate.

Now back to sex. The aforementioned Wolfowitz scandal isn’t the only male/female type scandal unfolding in Washington these days. There is also the possibly burgeoning prostitution scandal. One Deborah Jeane Palfrey, has been charged with operating a high end prostitution ring in Washington, doing so from her home in Vallejo, California, yet. It is said that she had 15,000 customers -- 15,000!! -- and ran such advertisements as ‘“Best selection and availability before 9 p.m. each evening.’” Palfrey had been convicted of opening a prostitution business in California in 1991, but says she was doing nothing illegal in Washington, was only serving people “‘from the refined walks of life here in the nation’s capital,’” offering them only “‘legal sexual and erotic services across the spectrum of adult sexual behavior,’” services such as massages or nude dancing. People, you see, were paying 300 bucks for 90 minutes -- a rate of $200 per hour – for dancing or a mere massage. Right. Tell me more. To paraphrase Churchill, “Some dance! Some massage!” (Churchill said, roughly, “Hitler said he will ring England’s neck like a chicken.” Some chicken! Some neck!)

What has Washington all in a dither, however, is what Palfrey threatens to do if the feds continue on with their charges. She says she is going to blow the whistle (bad phrase, that) on who her customers were. Already identified one way or another have been Randall L. Tobias, said to be “the top foreign aid adviser in the State Department.” He previously was the Chairman and Chief Executive of Eli Lilly and AT&T International and, get this, was Chairman of the Board of Duke University from 1997 to 2000. As a government official, to quote The Times, he “ran agencies that required foreign recipients of AIDS assistance to explicitly condemn prostitution . . . .” He is a major Republican contributor, of course. Dick Morris -- Clinton’s man -- was another of Palfrey’s clients. We only have another 14,998 Washington names to go. The divorce lawyers should be having a field day in Washington pretty soon. Remember the movie called, I think, The First Wives Club? Maybe there will be a club in Washington entitled The 10,000 First Wives Club.

Then there have recently been some things that do not constitute moral meltdown, at least not in a culture that already is heavily debased, but instead exemplify the advertising-speak that infests our lives and culture and that inevitably leads to moral meltdown because it is so shoddy, so grandiose, so devoid of reality, so something or other, but definitely not genuine. There is a new business rag from Conde Nast called Portfolio. It is apparently designed to give you the beautiful people doing their beautiful things in the beautiful city. All very lavish, very plush, the acme of with-it. The publisher’s comment to The Times was, “We’re not giving you peas and carrots. We want to capture the glamour.” Terrific. Lives of glamour. That’s what we all lead, right? That’s what’s real in America, right? One wonders: did the publisher say glamour with a u, like all the rest of us glamo[u]rous types do?

There is also Steve Case, the unlamented AOL pitchman (con man?), who persuaded the fool, Gerald Levin, to sell him Time Warner and then watched the merged outfit go downhill till he, Case, had to leave one step ahead of the posse. Case has now set up a medical website called Revolution Health.com. ‘“There is a big opportunity to create the most trusted brand in health,’” says Case. Right -- great PR speak, Steve. People are going to trust your website, con man Case’s website, more than, say, NIH’s, or the Mayo Clinic’s, or Johns Hopkins’, etc. Steve ought to run for President. He is so honest, sincere and sensible that he would be a worthy successor to George Bush. Steve cheapens talk, and he makes the use of words meaningless, just like George and all his buddies in Washington, and therefore would be a natural to continue the moral meltdown of the country.

You know, on an intimately related subject, Michiko Kakutani of The Times recently wrote a long review of a whole host of books by Presidential wannabes: Clinton, McCain, O’Bama, Giuliani, Edwards, Romney and others. To me, the most pertinent comment in the whole long review was “Bragging is a fundamental part of these books . . . .” That was one of the relatively few serious truths one reads about the cast of hacks, bums, liars, publicity seekers and nonstop self aggrandizers who lead our politics (to disaster). They all suffer from the perpendicular pronoun disease, as they all, in one way and another, lead the country off the moral cliff.*

*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com. All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at Velvel@mslaw.edu.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at www.lrvelvel.libsyn.com

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

On Being "Off The Air" Of The Internet For A Period, On Imus, On Blacksburg, And On Bill Moyer's Show About Mass Media

May 1, 2007

Re: On Being “Off The Air” Of The Internet For A Period, On Imus, On Blacksburg,
And On Bill Moyer’s Show About The Mass Media’s Complicity In War.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

Now and again, at times when this writer hasn’t been “on the air” very much, someone will write to ask whether he intends to cover some subject or other that has arisen in the meanwhile. One such email was received regarding the Imus controversy -- which became eclipsed by Blacksburg, so that cable TV went from all Imus all the time to all Virginia Tech all the time. So, because of the receipt of occasional missives of inquiry, it has occurred to me that, in addition to saying what little I have to add about some of these matters, I might also explain why much of the time I was “off the air” -- a partial absence which could, of course, be considered inconsistent with the blogosphere’s animating spirit of writing all the time, writing from one’s kitchen, from one’s desk, from airports, from hotels, from anywhere and everywhere without cease. The thought of explaining one’s absence seemed an especially likely one because the reasons could conceivably be of interest to liberal people of intellectual bent -- there still are a few of us, after all.

The last few weeks have been heavily devoted to one prong of our two pronged law school. Persons familiar with the Massachusetts School of Law will know that it has what could be called two different tracks. On the purely academic side, from the day of its founding in 1988, it has been different from any other law school. There are perhaps 230 or 240 or so law schools in this country, but, as far as I know, ours is the only one whose announced mission, and whose program accordingly, is to provide legal education and social mobility to members of the working class, immigrants, people in midlife and minorities. These probably are a handful of other law schools, or maybe fewer, that do provide education to such people, but I don’t know that this is their proclaimed mission, as it is MSL’s. Because of our mission, and an academic program geared accordingly, we deliberately keep MSL’s tuition to less than half of the average law school tuition in our area (and in most other parts of the country as well), teach not just the academic side of law but also (unlike most law schools) focus extensively on teaching the practical skills that lawyers must have (e.g., teaching students how to try cases, negotiate, write contracts, draft wills and trusts, deal with clients, etc.) (the teaching of practical skills, one notes, is a large part of medical education and of most forms of professional education, albeit not generally of legal education), and deliberately reject use of the particular alphabet test, the LSAT, which has been used for 40 years and more to turn law schools into a bastion of the upper middle class and above.

The other prong of MSL will be thought by some to be at the opposite pole from a focus on providing practical legal education to the less advantaged of American society. It is to make accessible to the public some of the best intellectual and academic thinking taking place in the country on a host of political, historical, social, economic, medical and legal subjects. (Perhaps surprisingly for a law school, legal subjects are the least of it.) That academic institutions should make such thinking accessible to the public is something that this writer has been hearing since he entered the University of Michigan in 1956 -- 51 years ago, no less -- but that has rarely if ever been done since then by institutions of higher learning (which instead have largely gone in the opposite direction entirely). For the purpose of doing what others do not, MSL puts on one hour long television shows, called The Massachusetts School of Law Educational Forum, which generally consist of one hour long panel discussions of a particular subject, puts on one hour long television show about books, called Books of Our Time, on which an author is interviewed about his or her latest book, has now inaugurated a new, one hour long radio program called What The Media Doesn’t Tell You, which discusses important subjects that the mass media fails to cover or covers only very sparsely, two to three times a year holds one or two day intellectual conferences featuring leading academics and thinkers who discuss a particular topic from a host of angles, and twice a year publishes an intellectual magazine, called The Long Term View, which devotes each issue to a single subject. The television programs are seen throughout the Northeast on Comcast’s own Channel CN8 (as well as on some other stations around the country), are viewable and downloadable on the internet, and are also converted into radio programs that are heard in the United States on Sirius, on the World Radio Network). (WRN also broadcasts the programs in Europe and Africa.) The new radio program on What The Media Doesn’t Tell You” is heard on the same station in the same areas, and is likewise streamed and downloadable on the internet.

People who read or write liberal blogs are likely to be interested in many of the television and radio programs, and issues of the magazine, which can all be accessed at www.mslaw.edu.

The dichotomous combination of providing practical education and social mobility to the less affluent of American society, plus simultaneously providing public access to some of the best thinking of the American academic and intellectual worlds, causes me to think of MSL as the Eric Hoffer of law schools. (Hoffer, of course, was the working class guy -- a longshoreman, I think -- who became a leading philosopher.) And it was the access-to-the-best-thought prong of the school that occupied my time for approximately the last four weeks and caused me to often be “off the air” in terms of internet writing.

In particular, a lot of preparation had to be done to inaugurate the new radio program. Outlines had to be prepared, and interviews had to be, or shortly will be, taped on various important questions. One is why The New York Times failed to carry its story about the NSA spying on Americans as soon as the story was available, in October 2004, well before the November 2004 election and at a time when the story could have (and I think would have) changed the results of the election, instead waited 14 months to carry the story (in mid December 2005), and then lied about when it had first known of it. Others of the questions have been why the mass media has carried little or no information on (a) why Iran does or does not have at least as much right as the U.S. to “meddle” in Iraq -- our mass media simply assumes that it is perfectly proper for the U.S. to take the most serious and often quite deadly military actions there but it is improper for Iran to do anything there, (b) the government’s extensive ability to know, before 9/11, that airplanes could and might well be used as missiles to destroy buildings (the media instead carried only the Riceian, Bushian lies that this was not foreseeable), (c) the existence of and our failure to develop any countermeasure for, a submarine-borne Russian missile, called the Sizzler, which apparently has a conventional warhead, gives only very short warning, can readily knock out an entire aircraft carrier, therefore threatens our entire carrier based strategy all over the world, and has been sold to the Chinese and offered to the Iranians (who could use it to destroy our carrier forces off the coast of their country).

Another intellectual project that took extensive time was reading and preparing a sixteen page outline of “The Mighty Scourge,” which is the most recent book by the dean of Civil War historians, James McPherson. The book represents, one thinks, the culmination of McPherson’s oeuvre, and he will appear at MSL for a daylong conference on August 25th to be interviewed about his book and to extensively discuss the book with the audience, who will doubtless include history professors, high school history teachers, civil war aficionados, and people with a general interest in American history. (The book’s title “This Mighty Scourge,” is taken from a classic passage in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural – which contains some of the most classic passages ever written in the English language. The two most pertinent sentences (in my view) say: “Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”)

Yet a third intellectual project that took extensive time was whipping into final shape for publication -- or at least attempting this -- a 900 plus pages volume containing all four books of the slightly fictionalized memoir of a career entitled “Thine Alabaster Cities Gleam.” (The first three volumes were previously published separately. The final volume has not been published before.) Proofreading 900 plus pages, and then looking the book over later -- albeit not nearly as closely -- for further mistakes that inevitably creep in, because of the vagaries of technology when prior mistakes are being corrected, is a time consuming job, to say the least.

There was also the matter of the TV show called Books of Our Time. It was necessary to begin reading (in order to subsequently prepare an outline for an interview about) the book for the next program, Howard Gardner’s new “Five Minds For The Future.” (Gardner is the famous Harvard professor who is the father of the now widely accepted theory of multiple intelligences.) Thank God the taping of this show will not occur until May 23rd, so there is plenty of time; yet it still was necessary to begin doing the work.

And, finally, this last weekend there was a conference to attend at MSL on the need to begin teaching American history in the context of world history, instead of in isolation from world history. This subject, long overdue, was fathered in a book by the conference’s keynote speaker, Thomas Bender of NYU, who had previously been interviewed on Books of Our Time. The conference, one is pleased to say, attracted speakers and attendees from all over the country, nearly 55 in all, which isn’t bad for an academic conference dealing exclusively with one specialized subject.

So . . . there has been a lot going on that has occupied much of this writer’s time and has kept him largely “off the air.” During this “non-broadcast” period there have been a few events which one ordinarily might have written about: the Imus affair, the Blacksburg disaster, and Bill Moyer’s TV show on the media’s complicity in the run up to Bush’s war in Iraq. Because so much has already been written about the first two of these matters subsequent to their occurrence, and much was previously written in the last few years about the third, I shall borrow by analogy from another of Lincoln’s classic statements: “When a campaign biographer in 1860 asked Lincoln for details of his youth and young manhood,” writes McPherson (pp. 187-188), “the nominee replied: ‘It is a great piece of folly to attempt to make anything out of my early life. It can all be condensed into a single sentence, and that sentence you will find in Gray’s elegy: ‘The short and simple annals of the poor.’’” In other words my comments on the subjects at hand will be brief.

With regard to Imus, one does not bleed for him. There was a (relatively brief) period when I used to watch his show because he had some interesting discussions with interesting people. Eventually I stopped watching it because the guy was just too self absorbed to be bearable. (To my surprise, after it hit the fan, one or two other people told me they agreed about his self absorption.) And even in the period when I watched his show because of the discussions, the impression he made on me was that underneath it all, and maybe not so deeply buried, the guy was a bigot, anti Semitic, misogynistic and, in effect, a 1969 hardhat. (Since all this was just my impression, it could all be wrong, of course.) We are of almost the identical age -- isn’t he too 67 or so? -- and he struck me as an unregenerate, white, majoritarian, hard-hat-mentality guy of my own generation. (Again, possibly wrong, but that’s how he struck one.)

As said, one doesn’t bleed for Imus. And bad as his conduct was, it is still a shame that anyone, even Imus, is overturned because of the actions of two of the biggest of the big mouthed jerks of our time, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. They have a few things to answer for themselves, you know, and fundamentally are, as said, bigmouths. As well, Imus caught his lunch for saying things that others, very unfortunately, say all the time, a fact which has regularly been pointed out, and -- but not so often pointed out -- he caught his lunch even though he in a way is nothing other than just another reprehensible participant in the vast trashland (pace Newton Minow) that our culture has largely become or remained. As they say, 500 channels and nothing is on, at least much or most of the time, because it’s all trash or at least so much of it is. If you like murder and violence, and lack of cleverness even when mayhem is missing, then TV and movies are the place for you. Most newspapers are about as bad.

One holds no brief for the TV or movies of our youth -- Minow did make his remark (TV is a “vast wasteland”) about 1960 or 1961, after all. But it hasn’t gotten better. If anything, worse, and there is a hell of a lot more of it.

So much for Imus. Blacksburg? -- what can one say? People who have said some of what there is to say have been crucified, have received hate mail and, I understand, worse. For they pointed out the societally inadmissible relationship between what happened at Blacksburg (and the Texas Tower, and Columbine, etc.)on the one hand, and the violence which is approved by and endemic to American society and the American government on the other hand. They have inadmissibly pointed out -- with what one would think almost a desire for crucification they have accurately pointed out -- that a jerk like George Bush goes to Blacksburg to allegedly mourn, while not giving one damn about the scores of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of Iraqi and American deaths he is directly or indirectly responsible for in Iraq, not to mention the thousands who now live without arms or legs or with shock-addled cerebellums. And what goes for Bush goes for his supporters too, who likewise have gone down the road to traitorously destroying what is best about this country.

It is, one would think, likely that schools (and other institutions and businesses) will now take further steps to try to prevent yet more Blacksburgs, Columbines, etc. That, one supposes, is to the good, and desirable. It will not, of course, cure the underlying problem of violence everywhere, in American thought, in our foreign actions, in our movies, on TV.

As for the matter Bill Moyers brought to the fore last Wednesday, once again, what can one say? The incompetence, stupidity, pack mentality, failure-to-cover important matters, failure-to-dig-after-the truth, panting after the big shots, elitist, lack of intelligence, etc., nature of the mass media is only too well known. (It is the reason, indeed, for some of the specific programs of a very different nature that are part of MSL’s various TV series (e.g., a program on the nature of terrorists) and is the reason for MSL’s new radio series entitled “What The Media Doesn’t Tell You.”) Moyer’s program nonetheless made a real contribution by disclosing some of the rotten media tricks played by this Administration to insure that we would get into war and by informing people who might otherwise have been ignorant of the general mendacity. It is also fair to ask, one supposes, whether whatever is left of Colin Powell’s reputation can survive Moyer’s broadcast. An older man whom I knew well and admired greatly used to be fond of quoting the old saying that “When you lie down with dogs, you get fleas.” Presumably because of ambition, Powell lay down with, he gave vital help to, a pack of rabid dogs. Now he is covered with fleas. (Why is one not surprised that, after Powell retired as Secretary of State, Prince Bandar, the Saudi hatchetman in America who is a close friend of the Bush family, bought Powell a 1995 Jaguar to replace the one that Bandar knew Powell’s wife missed so much, and Powell accepted the gift of a replacement Jaguar?)*

*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com. All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at Velvel@mslaw.edu.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at www.lrvelvel.libsyn.com