Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A debating society

Back here I noted the difference in the definition of fascism between the 1975 and 1993.
I asked why the concept of fascism would shed the "dictatorship of the extreme right" and "the merging of state and business leadership" over those years. Identifying the "extreme right" and "business" are gone and replaced with... bullshit. In our dictionaries. Even our dictionaries are now bullshit.

A book came out about a year back, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot, former editor-in-chief of For the most part I thought it was pretty good. It gave a glimpse into what the Kennedys were thinking and doing during those days when the Kennedy brothers ran the country, and then what Bobby was thinking after his brother was murdered.

The one chapter that struck me as way out of line, though, was the one about the Jim Garrison investigation. Here was a DA investigating the murder of his brother and Robert Kennedy was beyond hostile to him. Much of the chapter relies on the recollections of Walter Sheridan, who a few years earlier had helped Bobby's investigation of Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters and the mob. It was Sheridan who kept feeding Bobby negative things about Garrison and his investigation. It was Sheridan who said that Garrison was steering clear of Mafia connections and essentially running a big hoax. Sheridan actually got time on television to run an unprecedented hour-long attack on Garrison. Something was wrong about this.

A few weeks later I received a comment from Lisa Pease on that particular piece I'd written. Pease was one of the editors of a great collection of essays, THE ASSASSINATIONS. The book covers the assassinations of JFK, Malcolm X, MLK and RFK. They were all thoughtful essays, many of them based in part on formerly classified documents that were released in the 1990s. I recommend it to anyone interested in that particular era of our history.

Here's what Pease wrote to me on the Talbot book:

Talbot's book is excellent, with a couple of notable exceptions, one being the Garrison chapter, which literally made me sick to my stomach. I consider Talbot a friend, which makes it all the harder to say that.

When he first started writing his book, he was pretty convinced that the Kennedys had ordered Castro killed. I argued hard with him about that and insisted he look into the role of Sam Halpern in spreading that awful disinformation. Talbot really looked into it, and saw the truth of what I was saying. But I didn't press as hard on Sheridan, and how Sheridan's first loyalty was not to Bobby, but to the CIA. I wish now I had. But even so, Talbot's contribution to the true history of the Kennedy's is immense, and despite the upset stomach, I'm still very grateful that he wrote (most of) what he did.

So, ultimately, Sheridan was a babysitter for the Agency. He watched Bobby, fed him enough misinformation to steer him away from Garrison and his investigation. I'd bet that during the Hoffa wars Sheridan probably had been steering Kennedy away from those parts of organized crime which had been integrated with our national security state. Bobby Kennedy, who privately vowed to get to the bottom of his brother's murder, never hooked up with the best lead in the case. The rest is, well, history.

I dug into my stacks and pulled out the October 1967 issue of Playboy. Yes, I used to read Playboy for the articles. That issue has a truly remarkable interview with Jim Garrison, given by him during the time he was investigating President Kennedy's murder. Did Garrison concentrate on the CIA to the detriment of the Mafia involvement? Carlos Marcello didn't write the Warren Report.

As interesting as Garrison's interview was, with the ins and outs of his ongoing investigation, the end of it actually gave the reader a true measure of the man. The interviewer asked this:
"Where would you place yourself on the political spectrum--right, left or center?"

This is what Garrison said. In 1967. My bold:

That's a question I've asked myself frequently, especially since this investigation started and I found myself in an incongruous and disillusioning battle with agencies of my own Government. I can't just sit down and add up my political beliefs like a mathematical sum, but I think, in balance, I'd turn up somewhere around the middle. Over the years, I guess I've developed a somewhat conservative attitude--in the traditional libertarian sense of conservatism, as opposed to the thumbscrews-and-rack conservatism of the paramilitary right--particularly in regard to the importance of the individual as opposed to the state and the individual's own responsibilities to humanity. I don't think I've ever tried to formulate this into a coherent political philosophy, but at the root of my concern is the conviction that a human being is not a digit; he's not a digit in regard to the state and he's not a digit in the sense that he can ignore his fellow men and his obligations to society.

I was with the artillery supporting the division that took Dachau. I arrived there the day after it was taken, when bulldozers were making pyramids of human bodies outside the camp. What I saw there haunted me ever since. Because the law is my profession, I've always wondered about the judges throughout Germany who sentenced men to jail for picking pockets when their own government was jerking gold from the teeth of men murdered in gas chambers.

I'm concerned about all of this because it isn't a German phenomenon. It can happen here, because there has been no change and there has been no progress and there has been no increase of understanding on the part of men for their fellow man. What worries me deeply, and I have seen it exemplified in this case, is that we in America are in great danger of slowly evolving into a proto-fascist state. It will be a different kind of fascist state from the one the Germans evolved; theirs grew out of depression and promised bread and work, while ours, curiously enough, seems to be emerging from prosperity. But in the final analysis, it's based on power and on the inability to put human goals and human conscience above the dictates of the state.

Its origins can be traced in the tremendous war machine we've built since 1945, the "military-industrial complex" that Eisenhower vainly warned us about, which now dominates every aspect of our life. The power of the states and Congress has gradually been abandoned to the Executive Department, because of war conditions, and we've seen the creation of an arrogant, swollen bureaucratic complex totally unfettered by the checks and balances of the Constitution. In a very real and terrifying sense, our Government is the CIA and the Pentagon, with Congress reduced to a debating society.

Of course, you can't spot this trend to fascism by casually looking around. You can't look for such familiar signs as the swastika, because they won't be there. We won't build Dachaus and Auschwitzes; the clever manipulation of the mass media is creating a concentration camp of the mind that promises to be far more effective in keeping the populace in line. We're not going to wake up one morning and suddenly find ourselves in gray uniforms goose-stepping off to work.

But this isn't the test. The test is: What happens to the individual who dissents? In Nazi Germany, he was physically destroyed; here, the process is more subtle, but the end results can be the same. I've learned enough about the machinations of the CIA in the past year to know that this is no longer the dreamworld America I once believed in. The imperatives of the population explosion, which almost inevitably will lessen our belief in the sanctity of the individual human life, combined with the awesome power of the CIA and the defense establishment, seem destined to seal the fate of the America I knew as a child and bring us into a new Orwellian world where the citizen exists for the state and where raw power justifies any and every immoral act.

I've always had a kind of knee-jerk trust in my Government's basic integrity, whatever political blunders it may make. But I've come to realize that in Washington, deceiving and manipulating the public are viewed by some as the natural prerogatives of office. Huey Long once said, "Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism." I'm afraid, based on my own experience, that fascism will come to America in the name of national security.

Then the final question to him:

Considering all the criticism that has come your way, would you still launch your investigation into the assassination if you had it to do over again?

And this is what Garrison said:

As long as the men who shot John Kennedy to death in Dallas are walking the streets of America, I will continue this investigation. I have no regrets about initiating it and I have no regrets about carrying it on to its conclusion. If it takes me 30 years to nail every one of the assassins, then I will continue this investigation for 30 years. I owe that not only to Jack Kennedy but to my country.

What that crackpot district attorney, that conspiracy theorist, said back then sounds pretty rational now. It's now over forty years since he gave that interview. Garrison's dead. RFK's dead, shot dead in public like his brother. It's a different war now, different conditions, different fears, different "national security" concerns.

The world is a different place than it was in 1967, and no better for most of what the post-JFK America foisted on it. What we have now is a permanent government that seems pretty much a merging of state and business leadership. Where have I seen that before? The current administration, in the name of national security, keeps making unconstitutional claims to power and no one seems to be able to do much about it.

When the final FISA vote happened a few months ago there was a lot of anger from progressives and civil libertarians directed at Obama and other Democrats who voted for the bill. Many liberals and progressives were justifiably concerned about giving this power to George Bush.

But the analysis was flawed. The Republicans were nearly unanimous in voting for it, and they had no qualms about ceding so much power to an Obama Administration. Why, when the Republicans are willing to throw any phony scare tactic against Obama are they so unconcerned about giving real powers to the Executive Branch and a Democratic President?

The first part of the answer is easy. The phony scare tactics are just that: phony. Those are just lies to win an election, and they're not working so well this time around. The politicians who are saying them don't believe them either. The second part is easy, too, if you think about it. Those powers in the FISA bill don't accrue to the President. Those powers go to the NSA, as other recently created spying powers go to the FBI, the CIA and other agencies. That is, the President, whether he's Bush, Obama, Clinton, whoever, isn't as powerful as we were taught to believe. The President isn't in control of those agencies. The opposite is true. Because people like Bush and Cheney are consonant with our permanent government, sometimes we confuse the personification of that permanent government with the real deal.

How did our intelligence agencies get more powerful than our Presidents?

You haven't been paying attention.

I believe it was Fletcher Prouty, the Air Force colonel portrayed by Donald Sutherland in "JFK," who wrote that the reason that John Kennedy was shot dead in broad daylight in the middle of Dealey Plaza was so that everyone in the government, anyone who ever considered running for higher office, got the message. The hoi polloi could be confused or distracted by official lies regurgitated by allies in the press, or just by the enormity of the Big Lie. And they were. But the people in the know knew where the power was, who pulled the trigger.

I'd mention here that there was added symbolism that the murder occurred in downtown Dallas, the capitol of the oil business.

Granted, I've got a queasy feeling that the machines are in place to steal this election, but even if the people's will is recorded I have my doubts that the people's will will be implemented.

I'm not sure what the exact percentage is now, but the last time I checked (about a year ago) close to seventy percent of Americans wanted us out of Iraq. In 2006 the American people voted out the party that brought us the war. That party that is consonant with the permanent government. The last time anyone asked them a majority of Americans were actually ready to impeach George Bush (whose father was Director of the CIA). In 2008 we are at the edge of a landslide pushing more Republicans out of office and putting a Democrat into the White House.

For those looking forward to the second New Deal, expect the progress to be slow and halting. Expect the inexplicable when it comes to why a Democratic majority keeps failing to give us what we ask for. Expect past crimes to be left uninvestigated, expect the FBI bureaucrats to fail to look. Expect secrets to be kept. Expect bad laws to be left on the books, to be exploited when the Republicans, the party in consonance, returns to power. When the Democrats fail us, as the Carter and Clinton administrations failed us, we will look to the quality of our leaders' personalities or defects in their character. We will see weakness and deceit, but we will be using the wrong yardstick.

With such a mandate from the people what is our Congress now? A debating society. What is our President? At a certain point, only a figurehead.

We aren't going to ever get back the power we have lost until enough of us can say in public what has happened in broad daylight.


At October 29, 2008 5:14 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Hi again Bob,
More great finds-- unfortunately all I know about Garrison is Stone's movie, although I've remained curious about him and alternate theories regarding November '63.

For me, the problem with voting for Obama-vs-not voting or voting for a 3rd party candidate remains a pretty muddy calculus.

I do think that some things around the margins, (like court appointments and Roe) do matter. But it's so difficult to figure out how to assess these against the negatives of validating Obama's GOP-lite "post-democratic democratic" approach to governance.

At October 29, 2008 6:46 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Matt Gonzalez wrote the following:

Those who think Sen. Obama will appoint good Supreme Court justices should just take note of his long history of supporting some of the worst Bush appointees to the federal bench, including Thomas Griffith (D.C. Cir.), Susan Blake Neilson (6th Cir.), Milan Smith (9th Cir.), Sandra Segal Ikuta (9th Cir.), and Kent Jordan (3rd Cir.). The Neilson vote was particularly troubling as both senators from her own state “blue slipped” her for being “too extreme.”

And even when he does manage to muster the courage to vote against conservative appointees, he does it in a lukewarm and perfunctory manner, refusing to join Democratic Party filibuster efforts. This is deeply troubling. He voted cloture (to end any voting delay) on Priscilla Owen (5th Cir.) and Brett Kavanaugh (D.C. Cir.) both extremely conservative jurists, thus ensuring they would be confirmed.

The above is part of a fairly extensive look at the differences between what Obama says and what he does and is well worth reading.

As far as the election being stolen, this can only happen when the race is close and I for one don’t expect this election to be close at all. Of course I cannot predict the future but that is how I see it.

There is nothing inexplicable about how the Democrats are “failing” us because they support most of Bush’s policies or the majority of them do. They fully believe in the right of the U.S. to pursue the imperial road though with a slightly less bellicose style than that of the Bush administration but this does not make them any less deadly than the neocons who were originally Democrats. The Democrats and the Republicans are but two factions of the same party, what Noam Chomsky calls the Business Party. In fact many of the things that Obama says are quite in line with Bush doctrine just consider his hawkish stance towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I believe an important distinction to make is do we view the Democrats as wanting to do the right thing for the nation but are foiled time and again by unknown forces beyond their control or do we view them as being part of the problem that is to say that they support all the bad policies that will eventually destroy the U.S.

My view is that the latter is correct rather than the former.

The only really important point of time in this election was during the primaries because that is when we could (possibly) have chosen better candidates. By choosing Obama and continuing to support him progressives have lowered the bar a vast distance regarding as to what is acceptable and what is not in their chosen candidate. As it stands now the importance of this election is hugely overrated. Any actual differences between the two parties is now so miniscule it is hardly worth noting.

At October 29, 2008 8:21 PM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

Jonathan, Garrison wrote several books about his investigation. I'm sure some of them are still available. And I recommend that collection of essays edited by Lisa Pease. In the book is a two-part essay by John Armstrong about the two Oswalds theory. Fascinating. Maybe I'll blog about his book, which is around 1000 pages. There is also an essay on how the media rewrote history in order to assassinate the Kennedys a second time.

I'm not saying at all that someone should or shouldn't vote for Obama or Nader. I'm saying that ultimately the big decisions are beyond the Presidents. We might as well be arguing about who to elect for dogcatcher as long as others control the levers of power.

Ron, if Matt Gonzalez had run against Nancy Pelosi he would have had a lot more effect on what Congress did THIS year. Gonzalez has a substantial popularity in San Francisco, having been head of the Board of Supervisors and coming within percentage points of beating Gavin Newsom for mayor. He could have run a very competitive race against Pelosi in San Francisco (I think he could have beat her), one of the few places in America where the voting public is to the left of Pelosi. Every time Pelosi failed with FISA, etc., he could have jammed her locally. If nothing else, he could have made the Speaker of the House uncomfortable. Running with Nader he's making no one uncomfortable.

As far as why Democrats aren't as progressive as we'd like them to be, there are many things that mediate between our wishes and what we get: campaign financing, reactionary control of the media, etc. We've heard most of it before.

What we don't hear, and what I am saying here is that our government is firmly in the control of a permanent government. This permanent government is above the rules, or changes the rules when it gets caught. If one reads the history of the CIA, one sees that the people at its creation were the Wall Streeters. We have ignored our secret police at our own peril.

There is a recent study looking at how various CIA-sponsored coups helped CIA officers who held stock in various companies that were having problems with countries overseas. I think that they mention the Arbenz coup in Guatemala and the connection with the UFC. But this is very old news for us on the left. And not all the pecuniary interests in each coup are so obvious or so easily studied. I think we can presume that when the U.S. meddles in another country's politics someone is making money.

If a politician is a threat to their control they will destroy him/her, if necessary. That Obama was a finalist suggests that at some level there is an element in this permanent government that wants him President. On that we may agree.

Complaining about Obama only gets you so far. I complained about Carter's cold warrior State Dept. back in those days, and I wrote in my union paper about Clinton's destruction of the working class with his trade agreements; and let's not forget the cynical and racist uptick of the drug wars under Clinton. Nevertheless, Clinton was better than Bush II and Carter was better than Reagan.

I think that your last sentence, that the differences between the two parties are "hardly worth noting", is precisely why I find a lot of Chomsky's criticisms self-defeating. Chomsky wrote a book slamming JFK. His essential position on his assassination was that there was no difference between JFK and LBJ or Nixon, he was one of the ruling class, and therefore they wouldn't kill one of their own, and that it made no difference because the next President carried on the exact same policies. Peter Dale Scott pretty much puts this line of thought to rest in his book DEEP POLITICS.

And, of course, factions of the ruling class are constantly infighting with other factions.

And if our international Pinkertons can kill or overthrow regimes in foreign countries for financial gain, do they check their weapons at the door when they return from abroad?

I recently heard a caller to a radio talk show who identified himself as a reader of Chomsky. He claimed that because FDR was a Secretary of the Navy under Woodrow Wilson when the U.S. was routinely using gunboat diplomacy in Latin America that he was no different from Mussolini. But there was a big difference.

At October 29, 2008 9:44 PM, Blogger rob payne said...


I used to live in the Bay Area and in fact voted for Pelosi something I have lived to regret. I would agree that Matt Gonzalez would have been much more useful running against Pelosi, there is no doubt about that. And of course this is the problem with Nader today in that since he is not running as the Green Party candidate he has no real political base though I feel what he is doing is still useful in an indirect way. I am sure you and I are on the same page on many of these issues. For example I would very much agree that our national leaders are stooges for the military-industrial complex, Wall Street etc. but I also believe that their actions are also due to their own belief in American exceptionalism and America’s right to lord it over the rest of the world via might makes right. I think this is important to understand which many progressives don’t.

Some say that Obama is forced to say the things he does regarding more troops in Afghanistan and a unilateral invasion of Pakistan in order to win the election. Nothing could be further from the truth. As you said the majority of Americans are now fed up with nation building, imperialism, whatever one wishes to call it, (and this has little to do with conservatism or liberalism rather it has everything to do with self preservation) so in my view Obama has deliberately passed up an opportunity that would have ensured a landslide election in his favor just as McCain missed an opportunity with the 750 billion dollar bailout. McCain could have opposed it but chose not to as is the case with Obama who was actually working very hard to have this travesty passed, another missed opportunity for Obama as well.

Instead of comparing the various presidents and saying well this one was better than that one it is perhaps more helpful to see how it has been the policies of all the presidents of the past say fifty or sixty years, all of whose polices have led us right to where we are today, and that Bush Jr. is the culmination of these bad policies. In the Carter Doctrine Carter said that the U.S. would protect U.S. interests (oil) in the Middle East by military action which helped to set the stage for our disastrous interventions in that part of the world. There are many more examples of this on both sides of the isle.

On the Kennedy murder I (as Molly Ivins liked to say) don’t have any dog in that fight. It would not surprise me that the CIA was behind it, in fact it is my belief that the CIA ought to be disbanded as not only are they corrupt but they are incompetent as well. I think the only point that I would disagree with you on is that it is a waste of time to criticize Obama. Most of the liberal blogs and the news media are gaga over Obama and indeed there are very few who criticize him, too few. And those that do are marginalized and ignored by the beltway Democrats and their supporters. However this will soon be a moot point (as opposed to a mute point) since I am certain Obama will be the next president and though the honeymoon may last a bit longer than others of the past, considering the last eight years, we shall soon see just what kind of president Obama will be.

At October 30, 2008 7:37 AM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

Rob, just to clarify one slim point. I said that criticizing Obama only gets you so far. I expect to have a lot of criticism of Obama. My position is that while both Dems and Repubs fail, they will fail from different directions, and those directions help to define the actual roadblock to a more egalitarian society.

I don't think putting the right candidate up will get the results we'd like. The hurdles will be too high.

For ex, of the Dems in the primaries I leaned towards Edwards because, despite his deep flaws as a Senator, he at least enunciated the most progressive positions of the three. I have confidence that his recent sex scandal was already filed away and ready to use against him if he should have won the nomination. That's not quite the same as a bullet through the head, but it gets the job done. Ask Gary Hart. Before the Monkey Business he actually investigated the CIA.

I also think that every American, everyone in the world really, has a dog in the fight when it comes to JFK's assassination. I believe it was the most profound political event in the last half of the 20th Century. Someday I take a tour here of the last half of the 20th Century just to point out how the results of the assassination have intruded on EVERY Presidential election.

At October 30, 2008 9:26 AM, Blogger rob payne said...

Bob, yes that is a good point about the hurtles and I would agree that even if we had a half-way decent candidate it would not solve the myriad problems with our government. I think a progressive movement will have to be a bottom up affair beginning with a grass roots movement and a cultural sea-change. And even with a grass roots movement it may be too late as our government becomes more authoritarian with each passing day. I have long thought that part of the reason for shipping manufacturing overseas was to weaken and destroy worker unions which in the past were an engine for more progressive ideas and government.

I would be interested in hearing your take on why you feel the Kennedy assassination was so important. What I meant about not having a dog in that fight is that we don’t really know who killed him. Was it the CIA? Oswald? Castro? Lyndon Johnson? We just don’t know at this point or at least I don’t.


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