Friday, December 30, 2011

The American Police State

Here's a link to a new post about the rapid militarization of the police departments throughout the United States. 
Starting with the war on drugs more and more local police departments are now using SWAT teams to carry out what was once routine police work. Since 911, the Department of Homeland Security has funded these departments with high tech military hardware and equipment to combat the threat of terrorism and its effects. The only problem is this equipment is currently being used to suppress peaceful dissent, as we have seen in the recent Occupy Wall street movement.

SOPA in 2012: The Year They Stole the Internet

2012 is shaping up to be "interesting times" for the US and probably for most of Europe. The world will probably not end but there certainly seems to be a lot of controversy on its way. The battle for the Internet is just one example. Here is a two-part post I wrote for another blog about the pending bill called SOPA

SOPA: The Trojan Horse of Censorship 1/2

This first part deals with various Constitutional problems with the bill. The past history of corporations and their lawyer abusing the copyright laws to suppress freedom of the press. And the general hypocrisy of the US administrations, past and present, to lecture other countries about Internet openness while proposing what will amount to a "Great Wall of the USA"

In the second part of this post, we will examine the impossibility of ever implementing SOPA should it become a law. The legal challenges will present a nightmare for the courts, leaving questions whether there can ever be justice in the decisions of the court given the confusion between copying and stealing. We also reveal how the companies which are now attempting to pressure Congress into new draconian legislation against anti-piracy were for more than a decade exclusively responsible for promoting the very software, like Limewire and Kazzaa, used to download.  Is SOPA merely a means to dismantle or at least control the Net? What can citizens do about the threat?
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Virginia Thomas Connections

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has recently come into the spotlight on questions of conflicts of interest. Additionally his wife, Virginia Thomas' lobby efforts have caused many to ask whether this judge is really in any position to make an impartial and unbiased decision on any important matter. Given the fact that many of the cases in the dock are relevant to the activities his wife has been engaged in, many are beginning to question why Thomas has not already recused himself. 
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Friday, October 14, 2011

Leslie Stahl And Ronald Reagan: Keeping the Secrets

In Richard Schenkmann and Kurt Reiger's book, "One Night Stands with American History" one can find a lot of amusing, fascinating and strange tidbits from America's past. It's a fun read but, I did find this interesting passage that made me shudder- twice.
"In her book, Reporting Live, former CBS White House correspondent Lesley Stahl wrote that she and other reporters suspected that Reagan was "sinking into senility' years before he left office. She wrote that the White House aides 'covered up his condition' and journalists chose not to pursue it. Stahl described a particularly unsettling encounter with Reagan in the summer of 1986, her 'final meeting' with the president, typically a chance to ask a few parting questions for a 'going-away story.' But White House press secretary Larry Speaks made her promise not to ask anything. Although she'd covered Reagan for years, the glazed-eyed and fogged-up president "didn't seem to know who I was," wrote Stahl. For several minutes, as she talked to him in the Oval Office, a vacant Reagan barely seemed to realize anyone else in the room. Meanwhile, Speakes was literally shouting instructions to the president, reminding him to give Stahl White House souvenirs. Panicking at the thought of having to report on the night's news that the president of the United States is a doddering space cadet." Stahl was relieved that Reagan soon re-emerged into alertness, recognized her, and chatted coherently with her husband, the screenwriter. "I had come that close to reporting Reagan was senile."
It is this kind of insider gossip that really makes me question how seriously Stahl, and so many people in this industry, takes her role as a journalist. She seems to miss a crucial point- a matter of duty and responsibility. She has chosen to reveal the information about her suspicions of Reagan's declining mental health but only for her book and only when that information had become obsolete and the fact was irrelevant.

After all, the state of the president's mind is no small detail. A person with the control of the United States nuclear arsenal at his disposal, whose alertness and mental agility could spell the difference between survival of the the human race or its obliteration. surely the public has a right to know that the person with the very real potential of destroying the world might have come unhinged. It never seems to cross her mind at all. This is a matter of some foolish sexual misconduct, as in Clinton case. None of the reporters had many qualms in pursuing this matter in all its gory unseemly details.
In fact, Reagan's mental state might very well have been a factor in the disasters that befell his second term. The Republican revisionists have done a fairly good job at cleaning up the mess, not unlike the photo-doctors in Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty Four. Reagan's magnificence today goes unquestioned and his legend is in no danger of being exposed as a sham.

People like Palin and Bachmann are scrambling over themselves to attempt to steal some of Reagan's "stardust" no matter how illegitimate the comparison might be. One viewing of Reagan at his best puts paid that comparison in an instant, of course. Even when at his senile Reagan made a lot more sense than either Bachmann's unpredictable ignorant and at times frightening pronouncements or Palin's laughable, meaningless "word salads."

Doubts, Deceptions and Secrets

Using a lot of metaphorical Vaseline and gauze to cover the lens of history, the Republican myth makers have been extremely effective at the creation of Ronald Reagan- Great American President. It helps a lot if you are ignorant of American history and are very un-curious.
Looking over the evidence, I am inclined to disagree with Stahl's assessment of Reagan's mental state, although quite often in the early stages of Alzheimer's, the lapses come and go. Reagan's son, Ronald Reagan, Jr. (not the other one) has confirmed the Reagan's last years as president were affected. The motif of son's keeping their father's secret is a subject for many theatrical productions.

Still this kind of admission is, in some ways, excuse-making for some of the more embarrassing abuses of power that characterized Reagan's second term. Few people who have looked into the history- the true one and not the manufactured one- can deny that Reagan, for whatever reason, deceived the American people repeatedly about the Iran-Contra scandal and, when evidence emerged of the lies, lied about lying.
For example, take this video clip of two Reagan speeches. First the lie and then lie about the lie.
Reagan in 1986

But even that's not accurate. Top secret NSA documents, dated January 17, 1986 prove only that Reagan was aware of the arms trade agreement with Iran but actually gave official authorization - signed by the president himself- for the program.
I hereby find that the following operation in a foreign country (including all support necessary to such operation) is important to the national security and due to its extreme sensitivity and security risks, I determine it is essential to limit prior notice, and direct the Director of CIA to refrain from reporting this Finding to the Congress as provided in Section 501 of the National Security Act of 1947, as amended, until I otherwise direct.
The foreign country mentioned, the document shows, was Iran. and the the president's policy was as follows
The USG will act to facilitate efforts by third parties and third countries to establish contact with moderate elements within and outside the Government of Iran by providing these elements with arms, equipment and related material in order to enhance their credibility of those elements in the effort to achieve a more pro-US government in Iran by demonstrating their ability to obtain requisite resources to defend their country against Iraq and intervention by the Soviet Union..
The final paragraph states that this arrangement applies only to moderate elements and if it could shown that the contacts within Iran were not moderate, the arms deal would close shop. As it turned out, what Reagan, George Bush, Sr, Donald Regan, McFarlane and Poindexter felt was skilled diplomacy turned out to be hopelessly naive, since it was impossible to determine, given the limited independent and verifiable sources, who was moderate and who was radical inside Iran. Because it was conducted in such a incredibly careless way- through a series of con men and shady characters- untold sums were simply pocketed.
At the initial meeting some ten days prior to the signing of the above finding, there had been arguments over the proposed arm shipments. After the whole embarrassing mess became public, Secretary of State George Shultz would later reveal to the Tower Commission, investigating the illegal shipments that George Bush had supported the arms-for-hostages deal at this meeting, as did President Reagan, Casey, Meese, Regan and Poindexter. Shultz reported that he himself and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger both opposed further arms shipments.

This could one of the reasons why as president George Bush, Jr. on November 1, 2001,issued Executive Order 13233 which limited public access to papers of all presidents since 1980. A 1978 law provided for the release of presidential papers 12 years after the president leaves office, so Ronald Reagan’s papers would have been released next year. Reagan issued an order in 1989 that called for disclosure of most of his official papers 12 years after he left office but under the new executive order the papers can be kept secret even if the president in question wants them released. President Bush’s father was vice president during the Reagan administration.
As far as the arm shipment arrangement, there could be, for political and legal reasons,no oversight and this allowed all kinds of chicanery and skullduggery. Still worse, against Congress clear and direct orders, some of the money gained by illegally selling weapons to our enemy was recycled into funding the Contras, a group fighting the leftist government in Nicaragua. The very public investigation reminded viewers of the previous Republican scandal of Watergate and again many were saying this was grounds for impeachment. Hearings were held, careers were ruined.

At some point in the middle of Reagan's second term, the signs were pretty obvious that he was losing his touch. He was constantly being caught up in one half-truth after another. And still worse, he seemed to be losing interest. Like Bush Jr., he appeared happiest when he was at his ranch with Nancy. Meanwhile, others were filling the vacuum.
When Reagan spoke in public, you could sense every staff member of the White House holding their breaths, whispering a prayer to what god might be listening, and standing poised to pick up the debris. (But then it was probably like that for all of the eight years of the George Bush's administration and nobody has claimed him to be senile.)

I recall the strangely uncomfortable mix of disgust and despair when in a press conference, Reagan denied four times a certain critical point in the scandal of selling arms to Iran, that Israel, one of the third parties, was involved in the arms shipments to Iran. Reagan stated unequivocally they were not. He was clearly getting flustered and annoyed. He finished the press conference, still clearly baffled and upset, only to have a statement issued to the press twenty minutes later completely revising that adamant denial. He was having trouble remembering what the press already knew and what he had already said he didn't know.

It is clear now that Reagan was stating one policy to the American people- a policy of firmness and strength- while conducting an altogether foolish opposing policy behind closed doors. He reassured them and then he would admit this but not that.. later that but not this. All very embarrassing but it's all forgotten now. The fixers of history have come along and whitewashed all that they could and now everybody emulates America's greatest president.
So, Is all this talk of the president's creeping senility another example of the whitewashing of history?


In any case, Stahl's shrugging of her responsibility to report her suspicion - and not even on the point of discretion, since she was willing to put it in her book- is a mark against her credentials as a respected journalist. Although there was a suspicion that Reagan was becoming detached from reality, nobody had the courage-the strength of character- to step forward and suggest the cause.
More importantly, because she is still a practicing journalist, why should we trust her judgment today? It's only fair to ask, when we watch her rather fawning interview of Speaker of the House John Boehner,
Tell us Lesley, why is this man crying?
in which the man breaks down in tears repeatedly, what does she know that she is not telling us? Does he have some kind of emotional problem because it certainly seems like inappropriate behavior. Especially given that the subject is really quite ordinary. Are we really expected to have confidence in a person who may or may not be on this side of normal? This is, after all, the man who stands third in line to the presidency. Don't we have a right to know, even of suspicions?
What revelation will Lesley keep from us for the sake of her next book?

To Re-tweet:!/ANomadicView/status/124781065268232192

Sarah and Greta and John: The Scientology Connection- Part 3/3

The Church
Like her husband, Greta Van Susteren's support of Scientology is well-documented. She has told interviewers that she likes “the ethics” Liking Scientology for its ethics is about the same as liking Jerusalem for its barbecued pork rib restaurants. 
There are, in fact, a lot of celebrities who follow the doctrines. Many come from the entertainment industry and some are more open about it than others. It might be assumed that many of the celebrities have a casual relationship with their professed religion, no more than a passing curiosity, rather than a commitment.
In the case of Van Susteren and Coale, it is a much more than that. The one-time top accountant at Coale & Van Susteren, Loretta Miscavige, is the mother of the leader of the Church of Scientology, David Miscavige. According to one source, Susteren is
"a major donor to the Church, too, although her sizable donations in the late '90s were reportedly listed under the name "Greta Conway." (Conway is her middle name.) Van Susteren and Coale are tight with a number of other high-profile L. Ron Hubbard fans. Tom Cruise once considered making a movie about Coale's legal exploits. And Coale and Van Susteren's firm represented fellow Scientologist Lisa Marie Presley when she divorced Michael Jackson."
Another, more serious charge against Van Susteren is that she has worked behind the scenes to protect the image of the Church. According to one Graham E. Berry, an attorney that has litigated against Scientology:
CNN, the news corporation, decided to expose the Applied Scholastics misrepresentation that it was not part of the church hierarchy. However, one of CNN’s legal commentators, Greta Van Susteran, is a Scientologist. She went to work to convince CNN that they would be subjecting themselves to defamation liability if they published this major exposé on Scientology, and Scientology executives and investigators went to work on the senior management of CNN to convince them that should not publish this major exposé on Scientology.
CNN teams had spent many months talking to people about Scientology. Some of these people being former Scientologists who had never publicly spoken out about Scientology. In doing so, they put their lives at great risk, because Scientology would react through private investigators to disturb and destroy their personal and business relationships. And so they were betrayed and put at great risk when Scientology operatives managed to convince CNN to cancel this exposé, which I have described.

Just in case you’ve never heard of Scientology- (you really do need to get out more, you know) I will try to give you a very quick background summary.
The first Church of Scientology was set up in Camden, New Jersey in 1953 by American science fiction author, L. Ron Hubbard and his wife. His goal was to create a belief system aimed at, as Hubbard stated, "A civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights, are the aims of Scientology." Nothing wrong with that. However, after that, things get a little more strange. According to Wikipedia:
Hubbard said that the modern-day science fiction genre of space opera is merely an unconscious recollection of real events that took place millions of years ago. These events include the story of Xenu, the ruler of the Galactic Confederacy who brought billions of frozen people to Earth 75 million years ago, stacked them around volcanoes and blew them up with hydrogen bombs, creating swarms of disembodied alien souls known as Body Thetans. Xenu is only one element of Scientologist beliefs in alien civilizations. Such doctrines have existed in Scientology virtually since its beginning: In the 1950s Hubbard wrote and lectured about civilizations such as Helatrobus, Espinol and Arslychus, and in the 1960s he introduced Xenu's Galactic Confederacy. He described repeated instances of their using brainwashing implants on hapless beings. He also spoke of alien invasions of Earth, such as that carried out around 6235 BCE by the Fifth Invader Force, who were "very strange insect-like creature[s] with unthinkably horrible hands."
Well, ok..then. Of course, you have to invest a LOT of money and spend a LOT of time inside the organization to prepare yourself to receive that kind of truth. 
But you might well ask, is this really a religion or..something else? The United States government apparently thinks it is a religion, equally as valid as the Christianity, Islam and Judaism. 
After a crackdown on the Church in 1967, the IRS stripped the Scientology Church of its tax exempt status, deeming it a commercial enterprise. For the next 26 years, the church would sue again and again to regain its tax-exempt status. The case was finally resolved in 1993 at a cost of 12.5 million- reportedly far less than the IRS had intitially demanded. This victory for the Church was seen as proof that Scientology was a accepted religion by the government. As Cliff Kincaid and Sherrie Gossett put it, writing for Accuracy in Media,
The IRS finally granted Scientology its desired status under President Bill Clinton, the recipient of massive donations from the Hollywood glitterati.
Scientology's leader David Miscavige
All of this could be dismissed as just another crazy aspect of American culture. However, as TIME magazine reported back in 1991
In reality the church is a hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner. At times during the past decade, prosecutions against Scientology seemed to be curbing its menace. Eleven top Scientologists, including Hubbard's wife, were sent to prison in the early 1980s for infiltrating, burglarizing and wiretapping more than 100 private and government agencies in attempts to block their investigations.
The article goes on to say:
The group, which boasts 700 centers in 65 countries, threatens to become more insidious and pervasive than ever. Scientology is trying to go mainstream, a strategy that has sparked a renewed law-enforcement campaign against the church. Many of the group's followers have been accused of committing financial scams, while the church is busy attracting the unwary through a wide array of front groups in such businesses as publishing, consulting, health care and even remedial education.
Seduction and Infiltration
According to a Gawker story from 2009, back in 1986, John P. Coale was the author behind a plan to infiltrate Washington D.C., using friendly politicians to further the cult’s agenda. And It is not an easily-dismissed conspiracy theory. The memo by Coale carefully lays his methodical approach. 
The idea was to launch a political action committee that would attract donations from Scientologists but could be plausibly distanced from the cult, which claims to be a church and therefore barred from engaging directly in political activities....

The PAC was to be called FLAGG PAC, which stood for "Freedom, Liberty, and Good Government Political Action Committee," but would act as a sort of dog whistle for Scientologists, who would hear an echo of "Flag Land Base," the group's international headquarters in Clearwater, Florida.
According to memo released by Gawker, Coale’s plan outlined the lines of influence that would be needed.
  • Political- any political figure on a state or US level, local or national level. Such as senators, congressmen, local city officials, mayors, governors, members of parliament and councillors etc. It would include government officials, civil servant and tax and immigration officials.
  • Media- any media terminals such as owners or members of magazines or publishing houses, TV networks or stations, radio and wire services etc.
  • Judical/Legal - any justice department officials, judges, senior legal officials, senior partners in large or prestigious law firms.
  • Financial/ corporate- any members of the board or president, vice-presidents or other senior officials/ executives within banks or other financial institutions... Also financiers, stockbrokers and very wealthy individuals.
  • Entertainment/ Celebrity- any producers, directors etc in stage, motion picture or television.

Coale himself confirmed that he had developed the idea but, he adds, it had never really gotten much of a response. (Of course, he would say that). The question remains whether Coale’s free assistance in setting up her legal defense fund and her SarahPAC was not intended to be some part of this infiltration. Reviewing the list above, one can see how advantageous Van Susteren, through her contacts in Fox News, would be as a well-placed operative for the Scientology agenda.

As frightening (or absurd depending on your own opinion) this plan might sound, it should surprise nobody who has done any research on the Church of Scientology. Infiltration of government agencies has always been a primary goal of the cult. Here is a example from a one report:
In 1973, Hubbard authored a plan.. called "Snow White," gain access to all federal agencies to obtain their files on Scientology. The name of this operation derived from Hubbard's opinion that once these agencies had their files "cleaned," they would be "snow white."
Infiltrating, or "penetrating," these agencies was achieved by having a Scientology agent obtain employment at an agency, then use his credentials to gain access to desired materials in the agency's files.
A report called Compliance Report lists 136 such agencies targeted for penetration, prioritized by a star system, i.e.,
* low priority,
** higher priority, and
*** highest priority.
Some of the ***agencies listed in this report are: the AEC, the CIA, the FBI, the FTC, the FDA, the IRS, the NSA, the US Air Force, the US Army, the US Attorney General, the DEA, the US Coast Guard, the US Department of Justice, the US Department of Labor, the US Department of State, the US Department of Treasury, the US House of Representatives, the US Department of Immigration and Naturalization, the US Marshall's Office, the US Navy, the US Post Office, the US Selective Service, and the US Senate.

In this report, several agencies, such as the IRS, the DEA, the US Coast Guard, and the US Department of Labor are marked: "Done."
And this plan was actually put into action. According to Wikipedia:
This project included a series of infiltrations and thefts from 136 government agencies, foreign embassies and consulates, as well as private organizations critical of Scientology, carried out by Church members, in more than 30 countries; the single largest infiltration of the United States government in history with up to 5,000 covert agents. The resulting investigation would eventually led to the arrest of eleven highly-placed Church executives, including Mary Sue Hubbard, wife of the founder..
Admittedly that was some time ago and, despite claims to the contrary, the membership has fallen a great deal. However, the extent of the infiltration and their determination makes them a force to take seriously.
Greta and John, Hilary and Bill ... and John Travolta
Author and filmmaker, Geoffrey Dunn, writing for Huffington Post, has investigated the Scientology connections in some depth and has made these interesting observations.
Coale was a major contributor to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and then abruptly switched sides when Hillary was denied the nomination. There is an interesting notation in the FEC documents of a "negative" contribution, or withdrawal, from Clinton's campaign on August 28, 2008--the same date that Obama made his historic acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.
 The following day, Palin was named as John McCain's running mate.From that point on, Coale dumped nearly $60,000 into the McCain-Palin campaign and the Republican National Committee, including a last-hour donation on New Year's Eve of $26,200 to the RNC. In respect to Hillary Clinton, not only did he contribute thousands of dollars to her ill-fated presidential run, he also contributed thousands to her 2000 race for the U.S. Senate.
It is a fair question to ask how a person can suddenly switch from the Left to the Far Right in a matter of a day. What was it about Hilary that attracted him so much that, when it was clear she would not be president, he was ready to switch completely his political allegiance and party?

After all, most people would agree that, besides being women, Hilary and Sarah have very little in common. And that was the way it was portrayed, that it revolved about feminism and putting women in power. Never mind that Palin was running as vice-president, not president.
Dunn cites another source to explain the possible reasons for the closeness between the Clintons and Coale. It has far less to do with political idealogy and much more to do with being a friend to the space opera cultists.

Dr. Stephen Kent, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta, Edmonton in his well-researched article, Hollywood Celebrity-Lobbists and the Clinton administration's American Foriegn Policy Toward German Scientology, describes how the Church of Scientology had undertaken a long term infiltration of the US government. Following its historic agreement with the IRS in 1993, Church leaders targeted legislators through intensive lobbying efforts.
(I)t set out to improve its image with politicians and the population at large by undertaking a major public relations effort in the nation's capitol. As part of this public relations effort, a Scientology affiliate in Los Angeles was paying "almost $725,000 to a Washington-based firm [Federal Legislative Associates] to lobby Congress in 1997 and 1996"
It didn't take long for their efforts to bear fruit. President Bill Clinton had developed a special -unusual- relationship with certain Hollywood stars, all of them Scientologists.

According to this report, certain celebrity Scientologists took their cause directly to President Clinton himself. Their request was that pressure be put on the German government to relax its policies on Scientology. Growing concern by authorities had convinced the German parliament the need to investigate the Church. Additionally there were numerous complaints of infiltration of the business and political structures, and charges of brainwashing (confinement and physical coercion) and harsh “re-education techniques,” which included social and psychological degradations, forced confessions, and hard physical labor. For these reasons, the German government singled out Scientology as a threat. As Kent puts it,
The German government's position, however, that Scientology was both non-religious and a potential threat to democracy brought it into direct conflict with its American counterpart.
German official were unprepared and puzzled by the American reaction on the restrictions.
A German state official raised the issue ... in response to a harsh "open" letter to Chancellor Helmut Kohl that equated the German government's handling of Scientology with Nazis' persecution of Jews prior to World War II. Published as a full page ad in the International Herald Tribune, thirty-four Hollywood personalities signed it, including actors Dustin Hoffman, Goldie Hawn, director Oliver Stone, writer Mario Puzo, and CNN talk show host, Larry King.
According to Kent’s sources, the Church of Scientology found an unlikely ally in the White House. John Travolta - a well-known member of the Church- managed to get the attention of then-president Bill Clinton at an April 1997 summit on volunteerism in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Saturday Night Fever star was there "to present educational materials created by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard." The next day, Travolta met President Clinton who told him,
"Your program sounds great.... More than that..., I'd really love to help you with your issue over in Germany with Scientology"
Clinton informed Travolta that "he had a roommate years ago who was a Scientologist and had really liked him, and respected his views on it. He said he felt we were given an unfair hand in [Germany] and that he wanted to fix it."
And Clinton was as good as his word.
Clinton followed up on this conversation by going "to the extraordinary length of assigning his national security advisor, Sandy Berger, to be the administration's Scientology point person". In September 1997, when Travolta and Chick Corea were in Washington (presumably for their testimony before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe), Clinton "had White House political affairs director, Craig Smith, arrange a meeting between Berger, Travolta, and jazzman Chick Corea, also an avid Scientologist. According to a senior administration official, the straight-shooting Berger briefed Travolta on the administration's efforts in the same manner he would a senior senator.
In fact when news of this high level meeting broke, the State Department received some criticism and the White House was put into an uncomfortable position in defending Clinton’s decision. Others were not so quick to forgive and forget.
Europeans, ...likely saw the Clinton-arranged meeting in the context of other actions the American president had taken on behalf of Scientology. For example, the section of the State Department's 1996 human rights report that was harshly critical of Germany's actions towards Scientology "was written by the White House...." Its condemnation was so strong that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright apologized to the German government because of it.
So it doesn’t take too much imagination to understand why John Coale would have preferred to see Hilary Clinton in the White House. Anyway, how else can one explain Van Susteren’s defense of Bill Clinton during the long and painful Monica Lewinski scandal? Hadn't she left CNN by dropping off an angry at how badly women and minorities had been treated there? But now, here was, defending a president with a long history of womanizing and philandering. Why shouldn't that have also been "a woman's thing"?

The Seduction of Sarah
The Scientology connection can also explain why debt-ridden Sarah Palin appealed to Coale “charitable nature.” On the surface, it appears that the seduction of Sarah Palin, for one reason or anything, was put on hold. Or was this rejection- "throwing under the bus" as one newspaper called it- of Coale and his wife merely a bit of theater? Certainly, Greta Van Susteren hasn’t been any less fawning.
It's an intriguing question. Perhaps Van Susteren and Coale were drawn to Sarah Palin merely because of shared interests and compatible dispositions. After all, critics of Scientology have claimed that the church leaders are interested in only two things, Power and Money. If so, they might have found their own Joan of Arc.
Besides, it was, L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the the Church of Scientology that stated while outlining his training techniques.

"The only way you can control people is to lie to them.. because the second you start telling anybody close to the truth, you start releasing him and he gets tougher and tougher to control."

It appears that's the kind of philosophy would probably have appealed to the Palins.


Please re-tweet:

If you are interested in learning more about the Church of Scientology, here is a fascinating BBC Panorama documentary on this subject. This is what good journalism is all about.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

LIFE Magazine Examines Wall Street and Banking in 1946

The most amazing thing about a casual look through the back pages of LIFE magazine is how relevant the articles can sometimes be. For example, take the January 7 1946 issue about Wall street "the Citadel to US Capitalism." One of the side articles details the more conservative approach to banking following the world war and its origins. The story provides quite an education in the varied aspects of banking.
On Wall Street there are two principal kinds of bankers: Commercial bankers and investment bankers. The commercial banks, such as Chase and National City, make loans, accept deposits, finance foreign credits, buy government and state bonds. They also usually have a trust department which executes wills and acts as trustee. The investment bankers, such as Morgan Stanley and Kuhn, Loeb underwrite and distribute new security issues for corporations. They also have a brokerage department which buys and sells securities.
The Banking Act of 1933 made it illegal for one firm to act both as a commercial act and investment banking house. Until then, the two were often combined. In his triumphant days, J.P. Morgan, a banker, merged railroads and steel companies into nationwide corporations. In the 1920s, Wall Street made idols of men like Charlie Mitchell, chairman of National City Bank, who was also the greatest securities salesman in history and an adroit market manipulator. The 1929 crash exposed the dangers of these dual functions, With one hand, banks were taking deposits. With the other, they were financing new securities. When the business they were promoting failed, the depositors, security holder and the bank itself were in trouble.
Today the very nature of Wall street bankers has changed. In place of the speculators and market manipulator there are sound, deliberate investors who by choice as well as by law are more interested in government bonds than in a flier in market.
The Banking Act of 1933, also known as the Glass-Steagall Act, introduced banking reform and safeguards on deposits following the crash of 1929. Many of the provisions were also designed to reduce the amount of wild market speculation which was thought to be contributing factor to the collapse.

The Glass-Steagall Act passed after an ambitious former New York prosecutor, collected enough popular support for stronger regulation by bringing bank officials before the Senate Banking and Currency Committee to answer for the role in the crash.
In addition to the Banking Act of 1933, the Bank Holding Company Act was passed in 1956 and extended the restrictions on banks. According to this, bank holding companies owning two or more banks could no longer engage in non-banking activity and could not buy banks in another state.

Altogether, an impressive bit of banking regulation. The Banking Act of 1933 reduced the amount of free-wheeling risk-taking- with depositor's assets, I mean. And the Bank Holding Company Act clearly defined the role of banks and kept bank holding companies from becoming "too big to fail."

And you know something? It actually worked. Nations, which adopted such regulations and stuck to them when the rest of the world began to de-regulate, such as China and Turkey, have emerged from the latest crash, jolted but not devastated.

Another Fine Mess
So what happened? How did we come back in a full circle? Through a careful whittling away of the legislation through intensive and sustained lobbying by special interest groups, starting as far back as 1980 with the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act.
This allowed banks to merge. Subsequent decisions by the Federal Reserve Board in 1986 and 1987, after the Board heard proposals from Citicorp, J.P. Morgan and Bankers Trust advocating the loosening of Glass-Steagall restrictions, further undermined the regulatory effects of the the Banking Act of 1933. For a full account of the various steps, see HERE.
The record shows a Federal Reserve Board, at the very least, flawed by its willingness to accept the demands of institutions to circumvent the laws were designed to regulate and control precisely those sectors.
Finally- perhaps inevitably- the Banking Act of 1933 was repealed in 1999 by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. The legislation was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on November 12, 1999. From there, it was a slow predictable march to the sorry mess of 2009.

Greed is Good?
What on earth could have persuaded, sensible people with all the wisdom a chastising experience as the Great Depression, to lift restrictions and to deregulate and repeal? The only answer seems to be the temptation of tremendous profits that de-regulation allowed financial institutions. In short, greed.

Much to their credit, Republican Senator McCain of Arizona and Democratic Senator Cantwell of Washington made a proposal for a return to the Glass-Steagall Act, specifically the distinction between commercial and investment banking. Ironically this regulation rollback to the 1930s is being called " Obama's banking reform", making it sound untested and potentially risky when a stronger case of risk by deregulation of the banking industry in the 1980s could- and should- have been made at that time.
Banks which, despite the latest crisis continue to rake in vast profits, have, not surprisingly, been strongly opposed to a return to the restrains of the Banking Act of 1933.
The outlines of the Volcker Rule, one of the flagship provisions of the sweeping financial regulatory overhaul passed last year, will begin to take shape this week as regulators propose rules to limit the ability of most banks and Wall Street firms to use their own funds to buy and sell stocks, corporate bonds and derivatives.
For more information about the Volcker Rule, NYT gives a concise explanation of the reform.  
Wall Street will simply have to choose between being a source of dependable investment or a free-wheeling casino, but, it is a shame that we have to learn these lessons twice. 
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Sarah and Greta and John: The Scientology Connection 2/3

Part 1

Champions Greta and John
Now let’s take a small step back and examine the husband and the wife.

Born in Appleton, WI in 1955, Greta Van Susteren came from a family immersed in local politics. In fact, her father, Urban Van Susteren, was a County Judge in Wisconsin and was also a close friend of Sen Joseph McCarthy. And according to a biography, “he served as a  campaign manager for McCarthy's smear-filled 1946 campaign that won the Senate seat from Sen Robert M. La Follette, Jr., who killed himself several years later. While McCarthy was a Senator, he roomed in the Van Susteren house when he was not in the nation's capitol.” (Van Susteren addressed this issue in a blog post in which she correctly states that she was not even born when her father worked with McCarthy and she was just three when he died. Fair enough.)
Ms. Van Susteren’s academic background is impressive, at least, for a television show host. This is a summary from her Wikipedia bio.
Van Susteren graduated from Xavier High School in Appleton in 1972 and the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1976, where she studied geography and economics. She later earned a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1979 and prior to the start of her television work returned to Georgetown Law as an adjunct faculty member in addition to her full-time legal career.

She began her journalist career working for CNN as a legal analyst, first covering the William Kenney Smith trial in 1991 and the O.J. Simpson trial.  Later she became  a co-anchor on the legal affairs news show, Burden of Proof, with political analyst Roger Cossack.  According to a  New York Times article, relations with CNN soured when, according to an angry letter written by Coale to CNN 's chairman, Walter Isaacson, Van Susteren  “accused new network executives of putting corporate interests above journalistic ones and slighting women and minorities while revamping the network -- accusations they denied.”

The letter said Ms. Van Susteren was treated as a "second-class citizen." As an example, it points to the the network's failure to secure an invitation for her to the White House Christmas party, which, Mr. Coale wrote, is an important gathering for forging relationships with administration officials.
After a bidding war in  2002,  she left CNN  to join Fox News.
Even before her immigration to Fox News, Van Susteren’s lawyerly approach- in which all facts are equal- was considered, by one observer, as “dishonest.”
Jonah Goldberg  in his article, Regrettable Van Susteren,  strongly criticized Van Susteren about her bias in the coverage of  both the O.J. Simpson trial and Bill Clinton’s sex scandal. (Rather surprisingly, throughout the Bill Clinton scandal, Van Susteren strongly and repeatedly defended the president.)   
Goldberg goes on to declare:
Greta Van Susteren, co-host of CNN's Burden of Proof and ubiquitous CNN legal analyst.. ... is, thanks to CNN's global presence, the international poster girl for all that is wrong with American political commentary.
So perhaps it wasn’t such a surprise that  Van Susteren would eventually wind up at Fox News. As an anchor at Fox Van Susteren, reportedly commands a seven figure salary annually according to at least one source .

For his part, John P. Coale, not unlike Sarah Palin, likes to think of himself as a crusader for the little guy. This mystique is primarily based on his multi-billion-dollar anti-tobacco lawsuits against Big Tobacco, which made him both wealthy and famous.
He has taken on other high-profile cases such as the Ritalin fraud and conspiracy against Novartis Pharmaceutical. (That trial would later turn out to be a fiasco when judges threw out the three of the five case, leaving the other two to be withdrawn quietly.)  
Coale represented victims in the Bhopal chemical accident in India as well. Attorneys noted that Coale could be found wherever there was a disaster. From the Du Pont Plaza Hotel fire in San Juan, to the 1996 Valuejet crash in the Everglades or an Amtrak crash in Maryland, Coale could be found, advising victims to hold out for the highest compensation.
Many found Coale’s methods, particularly his method of hunting down clients questionable.
In fact, both Coale and Van Susteren were found guilty of “ambulance chasing” by a bit too eagerly soliciting the families of coal-mine accident victims and were barred from practicing in West Virginia  for a year.
"As of April 1996, Coale, his wife Greta Van Susteren - who is also his partner in a law firm, and the law firm were all the subject of serious bar disciplinary proceedings in West Virginia, whose state bar's discipline board was seeking to suspend their right to practice law in West Virginia for a year as a result of soliciting prospective clients in ways prohibited by bar rules, generally referred to by the public as "ambulance-chasing"; in Coale's case, the term seems particularly appropriate because one of the incidents that landed him in trouble was his law firm's employee allegedly trying to chat up a severely-burned man in an intensive-care unit."
And there’s more from the Goldberg article:
American Lawyer magazine called him "a symbol for everything wrong with the plaintiff's bar."
Echoes of the comments made about Van Susteren.
In 1987 the same magazine awarded Coale its Most Frivolous Suit Award: He had sued his tailor, on the grounds that the sub-par work on his shirts had subjected him to "public humiliation . . . severe emotional distress, and embarrassment."
On the surface, Coale is something of a political contradiction . He was considered to be a  big Democrat player and was a huge supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Primary. In fact, at one point, Coale proposed the idea that Palin's political action committee—the creation of which Coale had master-minded— make a symbolic $5,000 donation to the Clinton campaign to help her retire her debt. (It was a drop in the ocean.) He later attempted to arrange a meeting between Palin and Bill Clinton. (Imagine that if you can.)
The whole idea understandably sent shivers up the collective spine of Republican Party officials. Politico noted
Coale conceded that he urged Palin and her advisers to consider helping Clinton, but he said it was part of a larger campaign to align the Alaska governor with prominent women in politics, including Republicans Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, both of whom are prospects for elective office in California. “It was a women thing and not a Hillary thing,” said Coale, who was angered at what he saw as sexism aimed at Clinton during last year’s campaign and who has long taken an interest in promoting female politicians.
Basically, Coale was saying to the Republicans, “it’s a woman thing. You wouldn’t understand.”  He also claimed that he was trying to tone down the rhetoric by bringing both sides together.
“With these people from the opposite side, I’m trying to turn down the volume a bit on the attacks,” Coale said. “The more people meet each other and actually talk to each other, the volume will come down.”

Strange idea, since most of the inflammatory rhetoric- the volume- was coming from the Palin side. Another reason Coale gave for this most unlikely pairing was... connecting people.

Pam Pryor, a Washington-based Palin adviser, defended Coale, calling him a “networking hound” who was only trying to help connect friends.

Whether Palin was shy about becoming pals with Hilary, or whether she simply did not want to part with her earnings, the meeting- nor the kind act of charity for Hilary- never occurred. The former president also declined a meeting with Palin, according to Clinton spokesman Matt McKenna.

After repeated nudging by Coale,...Palin directed a staffer to turn him down via e-mail: 
"While we appreciate your efforts and recognize that a friendship with the Clintons is appropriate, the governor believes (and I concur) that using SarahPAC to pay down Hillary's debt is not a prudent use of the money. Contributors who chose between heating their homes and sending in a contribution because they believe in Sarah would be crushed."
The image of freezing Palin contributors is a remarkable contrast to the Republican National Committee spending more than $150,000 on clothing and make-up for Gov. Sarah Palin, her husband, and even her infant son. 
But of course, that wasn’t her money.  

Palin had other reasons, perhaps, for wanting to distance herself from too much contact with Coale. 

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