Category Archives: Robert F. Kennedy

Harlem’s Pearl: James Baldwin

The American idea of progress is how fast I become white. And it’s a trick bag. Because they know perfectly well I can never become white. I have drunk my share of dry martinis; I have proven myself civilized in every way I can. But there is an irreducible difficulty: something doesn’t work. Well, I decided: I might as well act like a nigger.

— James Baldwin, UC Berkeley, 19791

A dangerous individual.

— F.B.I. field report2

Grandson of a slave, the eldest of nine children in a Harlem family rooted in bitter poverty, he grew up amidst junkies, winos, pimps, racketeers, pick-pockets, and con-artists.

Surrounded by despair, he took refuge in literature, reading with such focused intensity that his mother took to hiding his books.3 He knew the Bible so well he became a teen sensation in the pulpit, luxuriating in Old Testament rhetoric and poetry. By then he had devoured everything he could get his hands on close to home. “There were two libraries in Harlem,” he remembered, “and by the time I was thirteen I had read every book in both libraries and I had a card downtown for Forty-second street.”4

His brilliance stood out. One of his teachers, a Communist with a Theatre Project job thanks to the WPA, began giving him books and taking him to plays and movies and museums, nurturing his keen mind while teaching him an ironic lesson about the supposed master race: “She gave me my first key, my first clue that white people were human,” Baldwin said.5

Racism affected everything, often in unexpected ways. Baldwin, for example, had learned from his mother to always offer his seat to a woman when he rode the subway. But in church some preachers taught that he should never surrender his seat to a white woman, because that would be “an act of servility.” Baldwin solved the conundrum by never sitting down on the subway.6  But other racial dilemmas were not so easily side-stepped, such as when two police officers beat him “half to death” when he was but ten years old.7

Somehow emerging literate, self-assured, and honest in a world that defined him as but a half-step removed from jungle savagery, he found himself perpetually in danger of doing or saying something that would trigger disaster. At 18, he lost control of his suppressed rage and hurled a glass of water at a waitress who had refused him service in a segregated New Jersey restaurant, watching along with the astonished patrons as it shattered against the mirror behind the bar. The following year Harlem erupted in a race riot as he buried his father, whose rage had consumed him long before the tuberculosis that finished him off. Five years after that, young James had had more than enough of the brutalities of American life and fled the U.S. “about five minutes before being carried off to Bellevue.”8

Reaching Paris with $40 to his name and no French, he spent his nights there on park benches consoling the victims of France’s Algeria campaign, while his pent-up bitterness at all he had endured in the U.S. came spilling out.9 For an entire year he was busy “breaking up bars, knocking down people,” he later remembered, eventually ending up in jail. “You’ve been taught that you’re inferior,” he explained, “so you act as though you’re inferior. And on the level that is very difficult to get at, you really believe it.”10

When the chaos subsided, Baldwin discovered that his life had at last become personal, allowing him a detached look at the crippling racial obsession ravaging his native land. Like an Old Testament prophet he sounded the alarm in the pages of The Fire Next Time: “This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.” He saved his richest contempt for the willfully blind: “It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”11

Brilliant, driven, deeply troubled, he warned that time was running out to atone for slavery. “If we do not now dare everything,” he wrote, “the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!”12

Baldwin’s soaring rhetoric landed with a sickening thud against the deaf ears of the liberal establishment, which was busy dragging its feet in response to a civil rights movement that Baldwin more accurately called America’s latest “slave rebellion.”13 Embarrassed by the screaming headlines and distressed at the propaganda coup the USSR was reaping from racial upheaval in the U.S., the Kennedy administration moved only reluctantly and belatedly to support the black freedom movement.14  While blacks were set upon by mobs, clubbed with lead pipes, and shot, bombed, jailed, and killed, Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s FBI agents took notes and filed reports, but made no general move to enforce the law against rioting police and KKK vigilantes. Concerned about losing support in Congress, JFK opted to shore up his southern political base, appointing racist judges to the bench, including one in Georgia who sought to prevent “pinks, radicals and black voters” from overturning segregation, and another in Mississippi who saw no point in registering “a bunch of niggers on a voter drive.”15

In the midst of all this, Baldwin sent Attorney General Robert Kennedy a telegram taking the Kennedy administration to task for the siege of Birmingham, and Kennedy responded by inviting him to assemble a group of black luminaries for a meeting in his New York apartment. It didn’t go well. Baldwin’s brother David shook a fist in Kennedy’s face. Playwright Lorraine Hansberry blasted the “specimens of white manhood” portrayed in a recent Time magazine photo: Alabama police pinning a black woman to the ground with a knee to her throat, better known today as the George Floyd maneuver. Lena Horne suggested sarcastically that Kennedy try promoting his policy of Jim Crow collaboration to Harlem residents, but warned that “we ain’t going, because we don’t want to get shot.” Freedom Rider Jerome Smith, crippled for life from a Mississippi beating, said he was nauseated to have to meet with Kennedy at all (in order to have his rights respected). He told the shocked Attorney General that he could no longer conceive of fighting for his country in uniform, but was nearly ready to pick up a gun against it.

Baldwin and his guests pleaded with Kennedy to have the president send troops to quell racist violence in Birmingham, and demanded to know why he himself hadn’t escorted James Meredith when be became the first black student to register at Ole Miss.

Kennedy laughed.

Failing to see anything funny, Baldwin and his group demanded a demonstration of moral commitment by the White House. The President, they insisted, should escort a black child into a Deep South school, so that any racist who spat on that child would also be spitting on the nation.

Kennedy dismissed the idea as a meaningless moral gesture. Son of a bootlegger, helped into office by Mob connections, he recommended that blacks pull themselves up the way his family did. With luck, he concluded brightly, one of them might be president in forty years.

Forty more years and blacks might get relief from racist terror — on top of the 400 years they had already endured – and then only if they behaved themselves! Baldwin told Kennedy his comment was absurd. The point was, he said, that a Kennedy could already be president, while blacks, who had arrived in America long before the Irish Catholics, were “still required to supplicate and beg for justice.”

When Kennedy remained unmoved and unmovable, Baldwin emerged from the meeting profoundly depressed, pronouncing him “insensitive and unresponsive to the Negro’s torment.”16  The FBI marked him down as a “Communist,” and though he flew all the way from Paris, he was not allowed to speak to the March on Washington three months later,17 where Dr. King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Eighteen days after that speech a bomb exploded in Birmingham, blasting four black girls attending Sunday school into eternity.

Dreams are one thing; change, quite another.

Though Baldwin regarded himself as “at bottom an optimist,”18 he gradually gave up hope that the United States would change, as a string of assassinations (Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark) made it increasingly obvious it had no intention of doing so. To the extent the country defined itself as white, he thought, to that same extent it was irrelevant. Change would come, but from elsewhere.

When Black Power emerged and Baldwin expressed sympathies for a new generation of black radicals, white liberals often expressed consternation at what they saw as his retreat from integration and reconciliation. Baldwin took a certain pleasure in setting them straight:19 white people had long ago (forcefully) integrated the country, he reminded them, the facts not being subject to dispute, as “my grandmother never raped nobody.”20 Furthermore, the “negro problem” was actually a “white problem,” as it was they who invented the “nigger” fantasy, and they who were continually tormented by it. The burden was on them to discover why.21 Until they did, all talk of racial reconciliation was premature, if not consciously diversionary.

Such relentless honesty proved hard to handle even for the most balanced and resourceful minds. In a three-part discussion with Baldwin in August, 1970, Margaret Mead’s detailed anthropological and historical knowledge checked Baldwin’s tendency toward poetic exaggeration through seven fascinating hours of wide-ranging conversation. But when Israel-Palestine came up, Baldwin’s passion for truth proved more reliable than Mead’s faltering reason. “I have been the Arab, in America, at the hands of the Jews,” he said, denouncing Israel’s 1948 displacement of the Palestinians by “an entirely irreligious people” based incongruously on “something that is written down by Jehovah on a tablet.” Mead lost her composure at this, and accused Baldwin of making a racist comment, “just because there have been a bunch of Jewish shopkeepers in Harlem.”22

But there was no trace of anti-Semitism in Baldwin then, or at any other time in his career. He was just telling the truth.

And he never stopped. In 1974, he won the Cathedral of St. John the Divine’s centennial medal for the “artist as prophet,” and was invited to address a congregation for the first time since his teen years. Using the Old Testament story of David slaying Goliath and the Philistines, the diminutive Baldwin let loose a blast of hyper-articulate fury at the U.S. “betrayal” of its black brethren, and thunderously dismissed President Nixon as a “motherfucker.”

The sub-dean of the cathedral, unhappy with the tone of the service, confided to the dean: “No one ever before has said ‘motherfucker’ from the pulpit of St. John the Divine.”

The Dean replied that times had changed: “It’s about time someone did.”23

Thirteen years later, Baldwin’s funeral took place in that very same church, and mourners celebrated his wildly improbable and incredibly abundant life. Maya Angelou called him a “great soul.”24  Toni Morrison remembered that “the season was always Christmas” when he was around, and thanked him for replacing evasion and hypocrisy with clarity and beauty in his 6895 pages of published work.25  Amiri Baraka praised his “insistent elegance” and ranked the importance of his work with Dr. King and Malcolm X.26

Of course, taking fair measure of a life lived on three continents, and dedicated to human liberation by embracing every vulnerability, probing all weaknesses, and excavating the most deeply buried truths is an impossible task. Perhaps all one can say is that — by the power of his spoken and written words — Baldwin transformed a horrifying legacy of pain and rage into grace and light.

It’s hard not to be grateful for that.

Had he lived, Baldwin would have turned 96 years old today. Happy Birthday, James, and well done!

  1. Reflections of James Baldwin, C-SPAN, March 3, 2007.
  2. William J. Maxwell, James Baldwin – The FBI File (Arcade Publishing, 2017) Chapter 21, p. 167.
  3. W. J. Weatherby, James Baldwin – Artist on Fire, (Donald I. Fine, 1989) p. 15.
  4. James Baldwin and Margaret Mead – A Rap on Race, (J. B. Lippincott, 1971) pps. 45-6.
  5. Ibid., p. 31.
  6. Ibid., p. 55.
  7. Ibid., p. 213.
  8. Ibid., p. 56.
  9. Ibid., p. 242.
  10. Ibid., p. 57.
  11. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, (Dell, 1962) pps. 15-16.
  12. The Fire Next Time, p. 141.
  13. Reflections of James Baldwin, speech at UC Berkeley, January 15, 1979 (broadcast on C-SPAN 3 March 3, 2007).
  14. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, (Harper, 1980) p. 445; Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, pps. 117-18
  15. Tom Hayden, Reunion – A Memoir, (Random House, 1988) p. 59.
  16. The account of the Bobby Kennedy meeting is from: James Campbell, Talking At The Gates – A Life of James Baldwin, (Viking, 1991) pps. 163-5; David Leeming, James Baldwin – A Biography, (Henry Holt, 1994) pps. 222-6; W. J. Weatherby, James Baldwin – Artist on Fire, (Donald I. Fine, 1989) pps. 221-4.
  17. Leeming, p. 296.
  18. A Rap on Race, p. 88.
  19. Leeming, p. 185.
  20. Baldwin 1965 Cambridge Union debate with William F. Buckley Jr.
  21. I Am Not Your Negro (film).
  22. A Rap on Race, pps. 215-16.
  23. Leeming, p. 322.
  24. Maya Angelou, “When Great Trees Fall,” bookpatrol.net, May 29, 2014.
  25. Toni Morrison, “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered – Life In His Language” New York Times, December 20, 1987.
  26. Amiri Baraka, “James Baldwin, “His Voice Remembered – We Carry Him With Us” New York Times, December 20, 1987.

The United States of America’s Doll House: A Vast Tapestry of Lies and Illusions

This is an updated and revised version of the full cover-story that appeared in the important publication, garrison: The Journal of History and Deep Politics, Issue 003.  Issue 004 is due out this week and I urge readers to purchase it.  You will read articles there that you will find no place else, brilliant, eye-opening analyses of issues that the MSM will never touch.

*****

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

— Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 2005

While truth-tellers Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning sit inside jail cells and Edward Snowden lives in exile in Russia, the American people hole up in an illusionary dwelling constructed to reduce them to children afraid of the truth.  Or is it the dark?  This is not new; it has been so for a very long time, but it has become a more sophisticated haunted doll’s house, an electronic one with many bells and whistles and images that move faster than the eye can see. We now inhabit a digital technological nightmare controlled by government and corporate forces intent on dominating every aspect of people’s lives. This is true despite the valiant efforts of dissidents to use the technology for human liberation. The old wooden doll houses, where you needed small fingers to rearrange the furniture, now only need thumbs that can click you into your cell’s fantasy world.  So many dwell there in the fabricated reality otherwise known as propaganda.  The result is mass hallucination.

In a 1969 interview, Jim Garrison, the District Attorney of New Orleans and the only person to ever bring to trial a case involving the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, said that as a result of the CIA’s murderous coup d’état on behalf of the military-industrial-financial-media-intelligence complex that rules the country to this day, the American people have been subjected to a fabricated reality that has rendered them a nation of passive Eichmanns, who sit in their living rooms, popping pills and watching television as their country’s military machine mows down people by the millions and the announcers tell them all the things they should be afraid of, such as bacteria on cutting boards and Russian spies infiltrating their hair salons.  Garrison said:

The creation of such inanities as acceptable reality and unacceptable reality is necessary for the self-preservation of the super-state against its greatest danger: understanding on the part of the people as to what is really happening.  All factors which contribute to its burgeoning power are exaggerated.  All factors which might reveal its corrosive effect on the nation are concealed.  The result is to place the populace in the position of persons living in a house whose windows no longer reveal the outside but on which murals have been painted.  Some of the murals are frightening and have the effect of reminding the occupants of the outside menaces against which the paternal war machine is protecting them.  Other murals are pleasant to remind them how nice things are inside the house.

But to live like this is to live in a doll’s house.  If life has one lesson to teach us, it is that to live in illusion is ultimately disastrous.

In the doll’s house into which America gradually has been converted, a great many of our basic assumptions are totally illusory.1

Fifty years have disappeared behind us since the eloquent and courageous Garrison (read On the Trail of the Assassins) metaphorically voiced the truth, despite the CIA’s persistent efforts to paint him as an unhinged lunatic through its media mouthpieces.  These days they would probably just lock him up or send him fleeing across borders, as with Assange, Manning, and Snowden.

It is stunning to take a cue from his comment regarding the JFK assassination, when he suggested that one reverse the lone assassin scenario and place it in the U.S.S.R.  No American could possibly believe a tale that a former Russian soldier, trained in English and having served at a top Soviet secret military base, who had defected to the U.S. and then returned home with the help of the K.G.B., could kill the Russian Premier with a defective and shoddy rifle and then be shot to death in police headquarters in Moscow by a K.G.B. connected hit man so there would be no trial and the K.G.B. would go scot free.  That would be a howler!  So too, of course, are the Warren Commission’s fictions about Oswald.

Snowden, Assange, and Manning

If we then update this mental exercise and imagine that Snowden, Assange, and Manning were all Russian, and that they released information about Russian war crimes, political corruption,  and a system of total electronic surveillance of the Russian population, and were then jailed or sent fleeing into exile as a result, who in the U.S., liberal, libertarian or conservative, would possibly believe the Russian government’s accusations that these three were criminals.

Nevertheless, Barack Obama, the transparency president, made sure to treat them as such, all the while parading as a “liberal” concerned for freedom of speech and the First Amendment.  He made sure that Snowden and Manning were charged under the Espionage Act of 1917, and that Assange was corralled via false Swedish sex charges so he had to seek asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (a form of jail).  He brought Espionage Act prosecutions against eight people, more than all former presidents combined.   He hypocritically pardoned Manning on his way out the door as if this would polish his deluded liberal legacy after making her suffer terribly through seven years of imprisonment.  He set the stage for Trump to re-jail Manning to try to get this most courageous woman to testify against Assange, which she will not do, and for the collaborationist British government to jail Assange in preparation for his extradition to the United States and a show trial.  As for Snowden, he has been relegated to invisibility, good for news headlines once and for a movie, but now gone and forgotten.

Obama and Trump, arch political “enemies,” have made sure that those who reveal the sordid acts of the American murderous state are cruelly punished and silenced.  This is how the system works, and for most Americans, it is not happening.  It doesn’t matter.  They don’t care, just as they don’t care that Obama backed the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras that has resulted in so many deaths at the hands of U.S trained killers, and then Trump ranted about all these “non-white” people fleeing to the U.S. to escape a hell created by the U.S., as it has been doing throughout Latin America for so long.  Who does care about the truth?  Has anyone even noticed how the corporate media has disappeared the “news” of all those desperate people clamoring to enter the U.S.A. from Mexico?  One day they were there and in the headlines; the next day, gone.  It’s called news.

The Sleepwalkers

But even though a majority of Americans have never believed the government’s explanation for JFK’s murder, they nevertheless have insouciantly gone to sleep for half a century in the doll’s house of illusions as the killing and the lies of their own government have increased over the years and any semblance of a democratic and peaceful America has gone extinct. The fates of courageous whistle-blowers Assange, Manning, and Snowden don’t concern them. The fates of Hondurans don’t concern them.  The fates of Syrians don’t concern them. The fates of Iraqis, Afghans, Yemenis, Palestinians don’t concern them. The fates of America’s victims all around the world don’t concern them.  Indifference reigns.

Obviously, if you are reading this, you are not one of the sleepwalkers and are awake to the parade of endless lies and illusions and do care. But you are in a minority.

That is not the case for most Americans.  When approximately 129 million people cast their votes for Donald Trump and HilIary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, you know idiocy reigns and nothing has been learned. Ditto for the votes for Obama, Bush, Clinton, et al.  You can keep counting back.  It is an ugly fact and sad to say.  Such a repetition compulsion is a sign of a deep sickness, and it will no doubt be repeated in the 2020 election.  The systemic illusion must be preserved at all costs and the warfare state supported in its killing.  It is the American way.

It is true that average Americans have not built the doll’s house; that is the handiwork of the vast interconnected and far-reaching propaganda arms of the U.S. government and their media accomplices.  But that does not render them innocent for accepting decades of fabricated reality for so-called peace of mind by believing that a totally corrupt system works.  The will to believe is very powerful, as is the propaganda.   The lesson that Garrison spoke of has been lost on far too many people, even on those who occasionally leave the doll house for a walk, but who only go slightly down the path for fear of seeing too much reality and connecting too many dots.  There is plain ignorance, then there is culpable ignorance, to which I shall return.

Denying Existential Freedom

One of the first things an authoritarian governing elite must do is to convince people that they are not free.  This has been going on for at least forty years, ever since the Church Committee’s revelations about the CIA in the mid-seventies, including its mind-control program, MKULTRA.  Everyone was appalled at the epiphany, so a different tactic was added.  Say those programs have been ended when, in fact, they were continued under other even deeper secret programs, and just have “experts” – social, psychological, and biological “scientists” – repeat ad infinitum that there is no longer any mind control since we now know there is no mind; it is an illusion, and it all comes down to the brain.  Biology is destiny, except in culturally diversionary ways in which freedom to choose is extolled – e.g. the latest fashions, gender identity, the best hair style, etc.  Create and lavishly fund programs for the study of the brain, while supporting and promoting a vast expansion of pharmaceutical drugs to control people.  Do this in the name of helping people with their emotional and behavioral problems that are rooted in their biology and are beyond their control.  And create criteria to convince people that they are sick and that their distress has nothing to do with the coup d’état that has rendered them “citizens” of a police state.

We have been interminably told that our lives revolve around our brains (our bodies) and that the answers to our problems lie with more brain research, drugs, genetic testing, etc. It is not coincidental that the U. S. government declared the 1990s the decade of brain research, followed up with 2000-2010 as the decade of the behavior project, and our present decade being devoted to mapping the brain and artificial intelligence, organized by the Office of Science and Technology Project and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). How convenient! George H. W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, Trump — what a difference! But this is science and the welfare of the world.  Science for idiots.

Drip by drip, here and there, in the pattern of the best propaganda, as the French sociologist Jacques Ellul says – “for propaganda is not the touch of the magic wand. It is based on slow, constant impregnation. It creates conviction and compliance through imperceptible influences that are effective only by continuous repetition”2 – articles, books, media reports have reiterated that people are “determined” by biological, genetic, social, and psychological forces over which they have no control. To assert that people are free in the Sartrean sense (en soir, condemned to freedom, or free will) has come to be seen as the belief of a delusional fool living in the past, a bad philosopher, an anti-scientist, a poorly informed religionist, one nostalgic for existential cafes, Gauloises, and black berets.  One who doesn’t grasp the truth since he doesn’t read the New York Times or watch CBS television. One who believes in nutty conspiracy theories.

The conventional propaganda – I almost said wisdom – created through decades-long media and academic repetition, is that we are not free.

Let me repeat: we are not free.  We are not free.

Investigator reporter Jon Rappoport has consistently exposed the propaganda involved in the creation and expansion of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) with its pseudo-scientific falsehoods and collusion between psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical industry. 3 As he correctly notes, the CIA’s MKULTRA mind-control program has morphed into modern psychiatry, both with the same objectives of disabling and controlling people by convincing them that they are not free and are in need of a chemical brain bath.

Can anyone with an awareness of this history doubt there is a hidden hand behind this development?  Once you have convinced people that they are not free in the most profound sense, the rest is child’s play.  Convinced that they are puppets, they become puppets to be willingly jerked around.

“He played with me just as I used to play with dolls,” says Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

Now who would want to get people to believe they were not free?  The answer is obvious given a minute of thought.  It is not just Nora’s husband Torvald.

Perfect examples of the persistence of the long-term, repetitive, impregnating propaganda appear in news headlines constantly.  Here is an egregious example concerning the little understood case of the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy.  On Friday, August 30, 2019, Sirhan, who has been in prison for fifty-two years for the murder of RFK that he did not commit, was stabbed by another prisoner.  A quick click through the MSM headlines reporting this showed the same words repeated by all the corporate media as they fulfilled their function as CIA stenographers. One example, from CBS News, will suffice: “Robert Kennedy assassin hospitalized after prison stabbing.” RFK assassin, RFK assassin, RFK assassin … all the media said the same thing, which they have been doing for fifty-two years. Their persistency endures despite all the facts that refute their disinformation and show that Senator Kennedy, who was on his way to becoming president, was murdered, like his brother John, by forces of the national security state.

 Sartre and Bad Faith

Lying and dissembling are ubiquitous.  Being deceived by the media liars is mirrored in people’s personal lives.  People lie and want to be deceived.  They choose to play dumb, to avoid a confrontation with truth.  They want to be nice (Latin, nescire, not to know, to be ignorant) and to be liked.  They want to tuck themselves into a safe social and cultural framework where they imagine they will be safe. They like the doll’s house. They choose to live in what Jean Paul Sartre called bad faith (mauvaise foi):  In Existential Psychoanalysis he put it thus:

In bad faith it is from myself that I am hiding the truth. But with this ‘lie’ to myself, the one to whom the lie is told and the one who lies are one and the same person, which means that I must know in my capacity as deceiver the truth which is hidden from me in my capacity as the one deceived.

Such bad faith allows people to fabricate a second act of bad faith: that they are not responsible for their ignorance of the truths behind the government’s and corporate media’s lies and propaganda, even as the shades of the prison house ominously close around us and the world edges toward global death that could arrive in an instant with nuclear war or limp along for years of increasing suffering.

Those of us who write about the U.S. led demented wars and provocations around the world and the complementary death of democracy at home are constantly flabbergasted and discouraged by the willed ignorance of so many Americans.  For while the mainstream media does the bidding of the power elite, there is ample alternative news and analyses available on the internet from fine journalists and writers committed to truth, not propaganda. There is actually far too much truth available, which poses another problem. But it doesn’t take a genius to learn how to research important issues and to learn how to distinguish between bogus and genuine information.  It takes a bit of effort, and, more importantly, the desire to compare multiple, opposing viewpoints and untangle the webs the Web weaves.  We are awash in information (and disinformation) and both good and bad reporting, but it is still available to the caring inquirer.

The problem is the will to know.  But why?  Why the refusal to investigate and question; why the indifference?  Stupidity?  Okay, there is that.  Ignorance?  That too.  Willful ignorance, ditto.  Laziness, indeed. Careerism and ideology?  For certain.  Upton Sinclair put it mildly when he said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on not understanding it.”  Difficult?  No, it’s almost impossible.

But then there are many very intelligent people who have nothing to lose and yet adamantly refuse to entertain alternative possibilities to the reigning orthodoxies that have them in their grip.  As do many others, I know many such people who will yes me to death and then never fully research issues.  They will remain in limbo or else wink to themselves that what may be true couldn’t be true.  They close down.  This is a great dilemma and frustration faced by those who seek to convince people to take an active part in understanding what is really going on in the world today, especially as the United States wages war across the globe, threatens Russia, China, and Iran, among many others, and expands and modernizes its nuclear weapons capabilities.

As for Assange, Manning, and Snowden, their plight matters not a whit.  In fact, they have been rendered invisible inside the doll’s house, except as the murals on the windows flash back their images as threats to the occupants, Russian monsters out to eat them up.  As the great poet Constantine Cavafy wrote long ago in his poem “Waiting for the Barbarians” and they never come: “Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?  Those people were a kind of solution.”  Then again, for people like U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, who knows the Russian barbarians have and will come again, life must be terrifying as he tries so manfully to bar the gates.  The Russians have been the American solution in this fairy tale for so long that it’s hard for many Americans to believe another story.

The Two-Headed Monster

On the one hand, there is the massive propaganda apparatus operated by American intelligence agencies in conjunction with their media partners.

On the other, there is the human predilection for untruth and illusions, the sad need to be comforted and to submit to greater “authority,” gratefully to accept the myths proffered by one’s masters.  This tendency applies not just to the common people, but even more so to the intellectual classes, who act as though they are immune.  Erich Fromm, writing about Germans and Hitler, but by extension people everywhere, termed this the need to “escape from freedom,” since freedom conjures up fears of vertiginous aloneness and the need to decide, which in turn evokes the fear of death.4   There are also many kinds of little deaths that precede the final one: social, career, money, familiar, etc., that are used to keep people in the doll’s house.

Fifty years ago, the CIA coined the term “conspiracy theory” as a weapon to be used to dismiss the truths expressed by critics of its murder of President Kennedy, and those of Malcom X, MLK, and RFK.  All the media echoed the CIA line.  While they still use the term to dismiss and denounce, their control of the mainstream media is so complete today that every evil government action is immediately seconded, whether it be the lies about the attacks of September 11, 2001, the wars against Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iran, etc., the coups disguised as color revolutions in Ukraine, Venezuela, Bolivia, Hong Kong, the downing of the Malaysian jetliner there, drone murders, the Iranian “threat,” the looting of the American people by the elites, alleged sarin gas attacks in Syria, the anti-Russia bashing and the Russia-gate farce, the “criminals” Assange, Manning, Snowden – everything.  The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Fox News, the Washington Post, CNN, NPR, etc. – all are stenographers for the deep state.

So much of the ongoing propaganda travels under the banner of “the war on terror,” which is, of course, an outgrowth of the attacks of September 11, 2001, appropriately named and constantly reinforced as 9/11 in a wonderful example of linguistic mind-control: a constant emergency reminder to engender anxiety, depression, panic, and confusion, four of the symptoms that lead the DSM “experts” and their followers to diagnose and drug individuals.  The term 9/11 was first used in the New York Times on September 12, 2001 by Bill Keller, the future Times’ editor and Iraq war cheerleader.  Just a fortuitous coincidence, of course.

Jacques Ellul on Propaganda

Jacques Ellul has argued convincingly that modern propaganda in a technological mass society is more complicated than the state and media lying and deceiving the population.  He argues that propaganda meets certain needs of modern people and therefore the process of deceit is reciprocal.  The modern person feels lost, powerless, and empty. Ellul says, “He realizes that he depends on decisions over which he has no control, and that realization drives him to despair.”  But he can’t live in despair; desires that life be meaningful; and wants to feel he lives in a world that makes sense.  He wants to participate and have opinions that suggest he grasps the flow of events.  He doesn’t so much want information, but value judgments and preconceived positions that provide him with a framework for living.  Ellul wrote the following in 1965 in his classic book Propaganda:

The majority prefers expressing stupidities to not expressing any opinion: this gives them the feeling of participation.  For they need simple thoughts, elementary explanations, a ‘key’ that will permit them to take a position, and even readymade opinions….The man who keeps himself informed needs a framework….the more complicated the problems are, the more simple the explanations must be; the more fragmented the canvas, the simpler the pattern; the more difficult the question, the more all-embracing the solution; the more menacing the reduction of his own worth, the greater the need for boosting his ego.  All this propaganda – and only propaganda – can give him.5

Another way of saying this is that people want to be provided with myths to direct them to the “truth.”  But such so-called truth has been preconceived within the overarching myth provided by propaganda, and while it satisfies people’s emotional need for coherence, it also allows them to think of themselves as free individuals arriving at their own conclusions, which is a basic function of good propaganda.  In today’s mass technological society, it is essential that people be convinced that they are free-thinking individuals acting in good faith.  Then they can feel good about themselves as they lie and act in bad faith.

Culpable Ignorance

It is widely accepted that political leaders and the mass media lie and dissemble regularly, which, of course, they do. That is their job in an oligarchy.  Today we are subjected to almost total, unrelenting media and government propaganda. Depending on their political leanings, people direct their anger toward politicians of parties they oppose and media they believe slant their coverage to favor the opposition.  Trump is a liar.  No, Obama is a liar.  And Hillary Clinton.  No, Fox News.  Ridiculous! – it’s CNN or NBC.  And so on and so forth in this theater of the absurd that plays out within a megaplex of mainstream media propaganda, where there are many shows but one producer, whose overall aim is to engineer the consent of all who enter, while setting the different audiences against each other.  It is a very successful charade that evokes name-calling from all quarters.

In other words, for many people their opponents lie, as do other people, but not them. This is as true in personal as well as public life.  Here the personal and the political converge, despite protestations to the contrary.  Dedication to truth is very rare.

But there is another issue with propaganda that complicates the picture further.  People of varying political persuasions can agree that propaganda is widespread.  Many people on the left, and some on the right, would agree with Lisa Pease’s statement in her book on the RFK assassination, A Lie Too Big to Fail: The Real History of the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, that “the way the CIA took over America in the 1960s is the story of our time.”6  That is also what Garrison thought when he spoke of the doll’s house.

If that is so, then today’s propaganda is anchored in the events of the 1960s, specifically the infamous government assassinations of JFK, Malcolm X, MLK, and RFK, the truth of which the CIA has worked so hard to conceal. In the fifty or so years since, a vast amount of new information has made it explicitly clear that these murders were carried out by elements within the U.S. government, and were done so to silence the voices of four charismatic leaders who were opposed to the American war machine and the continuation of the Cold War. To turn away from this truth and to ignore its implications can only be described as an act of bad faith and culpable ignorance, or worse.  But that is exactly what many prominent leftists have done.  Then to compound the problem, they have done the same with the attacks of September 11, 2001.

One cannot help thinking of what the CIA official Cord Meyer called these people in the 1950s: “the compatible left.”  He felt that effective CIA propaganda, beside the need for fascist-minded types such as Allen Dulles and James Jesus Angleton, depended on “courting” leftists and liberals into its orbit. For so many of the compatible left, those making a lot of money posing as opponents of the ruling elites but often taking the money of the super-rich, the JFK assassination and the truth of September 11, 2001 are inconsequential, never to be broached, as if they never happened, except as the authorities say they did. By ignoring these most in-your-face events with their eyes wide shut, a coterie of influential leftists has done the work of Orwell’s crime-stop and has effectively succeeded in situating current events in an ahistorical and therefore misleading context that abets U.S. propaganda.  They truncate the full story to present a narrative that distorts the truth.

Without drawing a bold line connecting the dots from November 22, 1963 up to the present, a critique of the murderous forces ruling the United States is impossible.

Among the most notable of such failures are Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, Howard Zinn, and Chris Hedges, men idolized by many liberals and leftists.  And there are many others who have been deeply influenced by Chomsky, Cockburn, and Zinn and follow in their footsteps.  Their motivations remain a mystery, but there is no doubt their refusals have contributed to the increased power of those who control the doll’s house.  To know better and do as they have is surely culpable ignorance.

From Bad to Worse

Ask yourself: Has the power of the oligarchic, permanent warfare state with its propaganda and spy networks, increased or decreased in the past half century?  Who is winning the battle, the people or the ruling elites?  The answer is obvious. It matters not at all whether the president has been Trump or Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, Barack Obama or George H. W. Bush, Richard Nixon or Jimmy Carter.  The power of the national security state has grown under them all and everyone is left to moan and groan and wonder why.  All the while the doll’s house has become more and more sophisticated and powerful with the growth of electronic media and cell phone usage.

The new Cold War now being waged against Russia and China is a bi-partisan affair, as is the confidence game played by the secret government intended to create a fractured consciousness in the population.  This fragmentation of consciousness prevents people from grasping the present from within because so many suffer from digital dementia as their attention hops from input to output in a never-ending flow of mediated, disembodied data. Trump and his followers on one side of the coin; liberal Democrats on the other. The latter, whose bibles are the New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, Democracy Now, The Guardian, etc. – can only see propaganda when they can attribute it to Trump or the Russians. The former see everything as a liberal conspiracy to take down Trump.  The liberals have embraced a new McCarthyism and allied themselves with the deep-state forces that they were once allegedly appalled by, including Republicans.  Their embrace of the formerly despised war-monger John Bolton in the impeachment trial of Trump is a laughable case in point, if it weren’t so depraved and slimy.  It surely isn’t the bloodthirsty policies of the Trump administration or his bloviating personality, for these liberals allied themselves with Obama’s anti-Russian rhetoric, his support for the U.S. orchestrated neo-fascist Ukrainian coup, his destruction of Libya, his wars of aggression across the Middle East, his war on terror, his trillion dollar nuclear weapons modernization, his enjoyment of drone killing, his support for the coup in Honduras, his embrace of the CIA and his CIA Director John Brennan, his prosecution of whistle-blowers, etc.  The same media that served the CIA so admirably over the decades became the liberals’ paragons of truth.  It’s enough to make your head spin, which is the point.  Spin left, spin right, spin all around, because we have possessed your mind in this spectacular image game where seeming antinomies are the constancy of the same through difference, all the presidents coined by the same manufacturer who knows that coin flipping serves to entertain the audience eager for hope and change.

This is how the political system works to prevent change.  It is why little has changed for the better over half a century and the American empire has expanded.  While it may be true that there are signs that this American hegemony is coming to an end (I am not convinced), I would not underestimate the power of the U.S. propaganda apparatus to keep people docile and deluded in the doll’s house, despite the valiant efforts of independent truth-tellers.

How, for example, is it possible for so many people to see such a stark difference between the despicable Trump and the pleasant Obama?  They are both puppets dancing to their masters’ tunes – the same masters.  They both front for the empire.

In his excellent book, Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State, Jeremy Kuzmarov assiduously documents Obama’s crimes, including his CIA background.7 As Glen Ford, of Black Agenda Report, says in the first sentence of his forward, “Barack Obama may go down in presidential history as the most effective-and deceptive-imperialist of them all.” Read the book if you want all the details.  They form an overwhelming indictment of the con artist and war criminal that is irrefutable.  But will those who worship at the altar of Barack Obama read it?  Of course not.  Just as those deluded ones who voted for the reality television flim-flam man Trump will ignore all the accumulating evidence that they’ve been had and are living under a president who is Obama’s disguised doppelganger, carrying out the orders of his national security state bosses. This, too, is well documented, and no doubt another writer will arise in the years to come to put it between a book’s covers.

Yet even Jeremy Kuzmarov fails to see the link between the JFK assassination and Obama’s shilling for the warfare state.  His few references to Kennedy are all negative, suggesting he either is unaware of what Kennedy was doing in the last year of his life and why he was murdered by the CIA, or something else.  He seems to follow Noam Chomsky, a Kennedy hater, in this regard.  I point out this slight flaw in an excellent book because it is symptomatic of certain people on the left who refuse to complete the circle.  If, as Kuzmarov, argues, Obama was CIA from the start and that explains his extraordinarily close relationship with the CIA’s John Brennan, an architect, among many things, of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, and that Obama told CIA Director Panetta that the CIA would “get everything it wanted,” and the CIA killed JFK, well, something’s amiss, an enormous gap in the analysis of our current condition.

The doll’s house is a mind game of extraordinary proportions, orchestrated by the perverted power elites that run the show and ably abetted by their partners in the corporate mass media, even some in the alternative press who mean well but are confused, or are disinformation agents in the business of sowing confusion together with their mainstream Operation Mockingbird partners.  It is a spectacle of open secrecy, in which the CIA has effectively suckered everyone into a game of to-and-fro in which only they win.

Our only hope for change is to try and educate as many people as possible about the linkages between  events that started with the CIA coup d’état in Dallas on November 22, 1963, continued through the killings of Malcolm X, MLK, RFK and on through so much else up to September 11, 2001, and have brought us to the deeply depressing situation we now find ourselves in where truthtellers like Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden are criminalized, while the real perpetrators of terrible evils roam free.

Yes, we must educate but also agitate for the release of this courageous trio.  Their freedom is ours; their imprisonment is ours, whether we know it or not.  The walls are closing in.

Lisa Pease is so right:

The way the CIA took over America in the 1960s is the story of our time, and too few recognize this.  We can’t fix a problem we can’t even acknowledge exists.

If we don’t follow her advice, we will be toyed with like dolls for a long time to come.  There will be no one else to blame.

  1. Interview with Jim Garrison, District Attorney of Parish of Orleans, Louisiana, May 27, 1969.
  2. Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Jacques Ellul, Vintage Books, 1973, pp. 17-18.
  3. Jon Rappoport, CIA mind control morphed into psychiatry?  July 11, 2017.
  4. Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm, Rinehart & Company, Inc., 1941.
  5. Ellul, op cit., p. 140.
  6. A Lie Too Big To Fail, Lisa Pease, Feral House, 2018, pp.500-501.
  7. Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State, Jeremy Kuzmarov, Clarity Press, 2019.

The Art of Doublespeak: Bellingcat and Mind Control

In the 1920s, the influential American intellectual Walter Lippman argued that the average person was incapable of seeing or understanding the world clearly and needed to be guided by experts behind the social curtain.  In a number of books he laid out the theoretical foundations for the practical work of Edward Bernays, who developed “public relations” (aka propaganda) to carry out this task for the ruling elites.  Bernays had honed his skills while working as a propagandist for the United States during World War I, and after the war he set himself up as a public relations counselor in New York City.

There is a fascinating exchange at the beginning of Adam Curtis’s documentary, The Century of Self, where Bernays, then nearly 100 years old but still very sharp, reveals his manipulative mindset and that of so many of those who have followed in his wake.  He says the reason he couldn’t call his new business “propaganda” was because the Germans had given propaganda a “bad name,” and so he came up with the euphemism “public relations.”  He then adds that “if you could use it [i.e. propaganda] for war, you certainly could use it for peace.”  Of course, he never used PR for peace but just to manipulate public opinion (he helped engineer the CIA coup against the democratically elected Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954 with fake news broadcasts).  He says “the Germans gave propaganda a bad name,” not Bernays and the United States with their vast campaign of lies, mainly aimed at the American people to get their support for going to a war they opposed (think weapons of mass destruction).  He sounds proud of his war propaganda work that resounded to his credit since it led to support for the “war to end all wars” and subsequently to a hit movie about WWI, Yankee Doodle Dandy, made in 1942 to promote another war, since the first one somehow didn’t achieve its lofty goal.

As Bernays has said in his book, Propaganda, “The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world today.”

He was a propagandist to the end.  I suspect most viewers of the film are taken in by these softly spoken words of an old man sipping a glass of wine at a dinner table with a woman who is asking him questions. I have shown this film to hundreds of students and none has noticed his legerdemain.  It is an example of the sort of hocus-pocus I will be getting to shortly, the sly insertion into seemingly liberal or matter-of-fact commentary of statements that imply a different story.  The placement of convincing or confusing disingenuous ingredients into a truth sandwich – for Bernays knew that the bread of truth is essential to conceal untruth.

In the following years, Bernays, Lippman, and their ilk were joined by social “scientists,” psychologists, and sundry others intent on making a sham out of the idea of democracy by developing strategies and techniques for the engineering of social consensus consonant with the wishes of the ruling classes.  Their techniques of propaganda developed exponentially with the development of technology, the creation of the CIA, its infiltration of all the major media, and that agency’s courting of what the CIA official Cord Meyer called in the 1950s “the compatible left,” having already had the right in its pocket. Today most people are, as is said, “wired,” and they get their information from the electronic media that is mostly controlled by giant corporations in cahoots with government propagandists.  Ask yourself: Has the power of the oligarchic, permanent warfare state with its propaganda and spy networks increased or decreased over your lifetime. The answer is obvious: the average people that Lippman and Bernays trashed are losing and the ruling elites are winning.

This is not just because powerful propagandists are good at controlling so-called “average” people’s thinking, but, perhaps more importantly, because they are also adept – probably more so – at confusing or directing the thinking of those who consider themselves above average, those who still might read a book or two or have the concentration to read multiple articles that offer different perspectives on a topic.  This is what some call the professional and intellectual classes, perhaps 15-20% of the population, most of whom are not the ruling elites but their employees and sometimes their mouthpieces.  It is this segment of the population that considers itself “informed,” but the information they imbibe is often sprinkled with bits of misdirection, both intentional and not, that beclouds their understanding of important public matters but leaves them with the false impression that they are in the know.

Recently I have noticed a group of interconnected examples of how this group of the population that exerts influence incommensurate with their numbers has contributed to the blurring of lines between fact and fiction. Within this group there are opinion makers who are often journalists, writers, and cultural producers of some sort or other, and then the larger number of the intellectual or schooled class who follow their opinions.  This second group then passes on their received opinions to those who look up to them.

There is a notorious propaganda outfit called Bellingcat, started by an unemployed Englishman named Eliot Higgins, that has been funded by The Atlantic Council, a think-tank with deep ties to the U.S. government, NATO, war manufacturers, and their allies, and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), another infamous U.S. front organization heavily involved in so-called color revolution regime change operations all around the world, that has just won the International Emmy Award for best documentary. The film with the Orwellian title, Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World, received its Emmy at a recent ceremony in New York City.

Bellingcat is an alleged group of amateur on-line researchers who have spent years shilling for the U.S. instigated war against the Syrian government, blaming the Douma chemical attack and others on the Assad government, and for the anti-Russian propaganda connected to, among other things, the Skripal poisoning case in England, and the downing of flight MH17 plane in Ukraine. It has been lauded by the corporate mainstream media in the west.  Its support for the equally fraudulent White Helmets (also funded by the US and the UK) in Syria has also been praised by the western corporate media while being dissected as propaganda by many excellent independent journalists such as Eva Bartlett, Vanessa Beeley, Catte Black, among others.  It has had its work skewered by the likes of Seymour Hersh and MIT professor Theodore Postol, and its US government connections pointed out by many others, including Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal at The Gray Zone. And now we have the mainstream media’s wall of silence on the leaks from the Organization for the Prohibition on Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concerning the Douma chemical attack and the doctoring of their report that led to the illegal U.S. bombing of Syria in the spring of 2018.  Bellingcat was at the forefront of providing justification for such bombing, and now the journalists Peter Hitchens, Tareq Harrad (who recently resigned from Newsweek after accusing the publication of suppressing his revelations about the OPCW scandal) and others are fighting an uphill battle to get the truth out.

Yet Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World won the Emmy, fulfilling Bernays’ point about films being the greatest unconscious carriers of propaganda in the world today.

Who presented the Emmy Award to the film makers, but none other than the rebel journalist Chris Hedges.  Why he did so, I don’t know.  But that he did so clearly sends a message to those who follow his work and trust him that it’s okay to give a major cultural award to a propaganda outfit.  But then, perhaps he doesn’t consider Bellingcat to be that.

Nor, one presumes, does The Intercept, the billionaire Pierre Omidyar owned publication associated with Glen Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, and also read by many progressive-minded people. The Intercept that earlier this year disbanded the small team that was tasked with reviewing and releasing more of the massive trove of documents they received from Edward Snowden six years ago, a minute number of which have ever been released or probably ever will be. As Whitney Webb pointed out, last year The Intercept  hosted a workshop for Bellingcat.  She wrote:

The Intercept, along with its parent company First Look Media, recently hosted a workshop for pro-war, Google-funded organization Bellingcat in New York. The workshop, which cost $2,500 per person to attend and lasted five days, aimed to instruct participants in how to perform investigations using “open source” tools — with Bellingcat’s past, controversial investigations for use as case studies…Thus, while The Intercept has long publicly promoted itself as an anti-interventionist and progressive media outlet, it is becoming clearer that – largely thanks to its ties to Omidyar – it is increasingly an organization that has more in common with Bellingcat, a group that launders NATO and U.S. propaganda and disguises it as “independent” and “investigative journalism.”

Then we have Jefferson Morley, the editor of The Deep State, former Washington Post journalist, and JFK assassination researcher, who has written a praiseworthy review of the Bellingcat film and who supports Bellingcat.  “In my experience, Bellingcat is credible,” he writes in an Alternet article, “Bellingcat documentary has the pace and plot of a thriller.”

Morley has also just written an article for Counterpunch –  “Why the Douma Chemical Attack Wasn’t a ‘Managed Massacre‘” – in which he disputes the claim that the April 7, 2018 attack in the Damascus suburb was a false flag operation carried out by Assad’s opponents. “I do not see any evidence proving that Douma was a false flag incident,” he writes in this article that is written in a style that leaves one guessing as to what exactly he is saying.  It sounds convincing unless one concentrates, and then his double messages emerge.  Yet it is the kind of article that certain “sophisticated” left-wing readers might read and feel is insightful.  But then Morley, who has written considerably about the CIA, edits a website that advertises itself as “the thinking person’s portal to the world of secret government,” and recently had an exchange with former CIA Director John Brennan where “Brennan put a friendly finger on my chest,” said in February 2017, less than a month after Trump was sworn in as president, that:

With a docile Republican majority in Congress and a demoralized Democratic Party in opposition, the leaders of the Deep State are the most—perhaps the only—credible check in Washington on what Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) calls Trump’s “wrecking ball presidency.”  

Is it any wonder that some people might be a bit confused?

“I know what you’re thinking about,” said Tweedledum; “but it isn’t so, nohow.”

“Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t.  That’s logic.”

As a final case in point, there is a recent book by Stephen Kinzer, Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb And The CIA Search For Mind Control, the story of the chemist known as Dr. Death who ran the CIA’s MK-ULTRA mind control project, using LSD, torture, electric shock therapy, hypnosis, etc.; developed sadistic methods of torture still used in black sites around the world; and invented various ingenious techniques for assassination, many of which were aimed at Fidel Castro.  Gottlieb was responsible for brutal prison and hospital experiments and untold death and suffering inflicted on all sorts of innocent people.  His work was depraved in the deepest sense; he worked with Nazis who experimented on Jews despite being Jewish himself.

Kinzer writes in depth about this man who considered himself a patriot and a spiritual person – a humane torturer and killer.  It is an eye-opening book for anyone who does not know about Gottlieb, who gave the CIA the essential tools they use in their “organized crime” activities around the world – in the words of Douglas Valentine, the author of The CIA as Organized Crime and The Phoenix Program. Kinzer’s book is good history on Gottlieb; however, he doesn’t venture into the present activities of the CIA and Gottlieb’s patriotic followers, who no doubt exist and go about their business in secret.

After recounting in detail the sordid history of Gottlieb’s secret work that is nauseating to read about, Kinzer leaves the reader with these strange words:

Gottlieb was not a sadist, but he might well have been…. Above all he was an instrument of history.  Understanding him is a deeply disturbing way of understanding ourselves.

What possibly could this mean?  Not a sadist?  An instrument of history?  Understanding ourselves?  These few sentences, dropped out of nowhere, pull the rug out from under what is generally an illuminating history and what seems like a moral indictment. This language is pure mystification.

Kinzer also concludes that because Gottlieb said so, the CIA failed in their efforts to develop methods of mind control and ended MK-ULTRA’s experiments long ago. Why would he believe the word of a man who personified the agency he worked for: a secret liar? He writes:

When Sydney Gottlieb brough MK-ULTRA to its end in the early 1960s, he told his CIA superiors that he had found no reliable way to wipe away memory, make people abandon their consciences, or commit crimes and then forget them.

As for those who might think otherwise, Kinzer suggests they have vivid imaginations and are caught up in conspiracy thinking: “This [convincing others that the CIA had developed methods of mind control when they hadn’t] is Sydney Gottlieb’s most unexpected legacy,” he asserts. He says this although Richard Helms, the CIA Director, destroyed all MK-Ultra records. He says that Allen Dulles, Gottlieb, and Helms themselves were caught up in a complete fantasy about mind control because they had seen too many movies and read too many books; mind control was impossible, a failure, a myth, he maintains. It is the stuff of popular culture, entertainment. In an interview with Chris Hedges, interestingly posted by Jefferson Morley at his website, The Deep State, Hedges agrees with Kinzer.  Gottlieb, Dulles, et al. were all deluded.  Mind control was impossible.  You couldn’t create a Manchurian Candidate; by implication, someone like Sirhan Sirhan could not have been programmed to be a fake Manchurian Candidate and to have no memory of what he did, as he claims.  He could not have been mind-controlled by the CIA to perform his part as the seeming assassin of Senator Robert Kennedy while the real killer shot RFK from behind. People who think like this should get real.

Furthermore, as is so common in books such as Kinzer’s, he repeats the canard that JFK and RFK knew about and pressured the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro. This is demonstrably false, as shown by the Church Committee and the Assassinations Record Review Board, among many others. That Kinzer takes the word of notorious liars like Richard Helms and the top-level CIA operative Samuel Halpern is simply incredible, something that is hard to consider a mistake.  Slipped into a truth sandwich, it is devoured and passed on. But it is false. Bullshit meant to deceive.

But this is how these games are played. If you look carefully, you will see them widely.  Inform, enlighten, while throwing in double-talk and untruths.  The small number of people who read such books and articles will come away knowing some history that has no current relevance and being misinformed on other history that does. They will then be in the know, ready to pass their “wisdom” on to those who care to listen. They will not think they are average.

But they will be mind-controlled, and the killer cat will roam freely without a bell, ready to devour the unsuspecting mice.

Unspeakable Memories: The Day John Kennedy Died

There is a vast literature on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who died on a November 22nd Friday like this in 1963.  I have contributed my small share to such writing in an effort to tell the truth, honor him, and emphasize its profound importance in understanding the history of the last fifty-six years, but more importantly, what is happening in the U.S.A. today. In other words, to understand it in its most gut-wrenching reality: that the American national security state will obliterate any president that dares to buck its imperial war-making machine. It is a lesson not lost on all presidents since Kennedy.

Unless one is a government disinformation agent or is unaware of the enormous documentary evidence, one knows that it was the CIA that carried out JFK’s murder. Confirmation of this fact keeps arriving in easily accessible forms for anyone interested in the truth.  A case in point is James DiEugenio’s recent posting at his website, KennedysandKing, of James Wilcott’s affidavit and interrogation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, declassified by the Assassinations Record Review Board in 1998.  In that document, Wilcott, who worked in the finance department for the CIA and was not questioned by the Warren Commission, discusses how he unwittingly paid Lee Harvey Oswald, the government’s alleged assassin, through a cryptonym and how it was widely known and celebrated at his CIA station in Tokyo that the CIA killed Kennedy and Oswald worked for the Agency, although he did not shoot JFK. I highly recommend reading the document.

I do not here want to go into any further analysis or debate about the case.  I think the evidence is overwhelming that the President was murdered by the national security state. Why he was murdered, and the implications for today, are what concern me. And how and why we remember and forget public events whose consequences become unbearable to contemplate, and the fatal repercussions of that refusal.  In what I consider the best book ever written on the subject, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (2009), James W. Douglass explains this in detail, including the James Wilcott story.

Realizing what I am about to say might be presumptuous and of no interest to anyone but myself, I will nevertheless try to describe my emotional reactions to learning of John Kennedy’s murder so long ago and how that reverberated down through my life.  I hope  my experiences might help explain why so many people today can’t face the consequences of the tragic history that began that day and have continued to the present, among which are not just the other assassinations of the 1960s but the lies about the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent endless and murderous “war on terror” with its mind-numbing propaganda and the recent anti-Russia phobia and the blatant celebration of the so-called “deep-state’s” open efforts to overthrow another president, albeit a very different one.

On November 22, 1963 I was a college sophomore. I was going down three steps into the college dining hall for lunch. (Many of my most significant memories and decisions have taken place on steps, either going up or going down; memory is odd in that way, wouldn’t you say?) I remember freezing on the second step as a voice announced through a PA system that the president had been shot in Dallas, Texas.  When I finally recovered and went down into the building, another announcement came through saying the president had died.  The air seemed to be sucked out of the building as I and the other students with a few professors sat in stunned silence.  Soon little groups on this Catholic campus joined together to pray for John Kennedy.  I felt as if I were floating in unreality.

Later that day when I left the campus and drove home, I thought back to three years previously and the night of the presidential election.  Everyone at my house (parents, grandparents, and the five sisters still at home) had gone to bed, but I stayed up past 1 A.M., watching the television coverage of the vote count. My parents, despite their Irish-Catholicism, were Nixon supporters, but I was for JFK.  I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would vote for Nixon, who seemed to me to personify evil.  When I finally went up the stairs to bed, I was convinced Kennedy would win and felt very happy.

It wouldn’t be for another tumultuous decade before I would hear Kris Kristoffenson sing:

Never knowin’ if believin’ is a blessin’ or a curse
Or if the going up is worth to coming down….
From the rockin’ of the cradle to the rollin’ of the hearse
The goin’ up was worth the coming down

And I would ask myself the same question.

In the meantime, the next few years would bring the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile crisis, and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, among other significant events, and for a high school student interested in politics and world events it was a heady and frightening few years.  It was a country of newspapers back then, and I would read perhaps 3-4 each day and sensed a growing animosity toward Kennedy, especially as expressed in the more conservative NYC papers.  I can remember very little talk of politics in my home and felt alone with my thoughts.  As far as I can remember, this was also true at the Jesuit high school that I attended.  And, of course, nothing prepared me for the president’s murder and the feeling of despair it engendered in me, a feeling so painful that I couldn’t really acknowledge it.  At nineteen, I felt traumatized but couldn’t admit it or tell anyone.  After all, I was a scholar and an athlete.  Tough.

Then on Sunday morning my family had the TV on and we watched as Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, the guy the government said had killed the president.  The unreality was compounded many-fold, and when later it was reported that Oswald had died, I felt I was living in an episode of The Twilight Zone, a popular television show at the time, whose narrator would say we are now entering the weird world between shadow and substance.

The next day a friend and I went to the Fordham University campus to visit a Jesuit priest who was a mentor to us.  He had the television on for JFK’s funeral and we sat and watched it for a while with him.  After a few hours, it became too painful and the two of us went outside to a football field where we threw a football back and forth.  Perhaps subconsciously we were thinking of Kennedy’s love of football; I don’t know.  But I remember a feeling of desolation that surrounded us on that empty cold field with not another soul around.  It seemed sacrilegious to be playing games at such a time, yet deep trauma contributes to strange behavior.

Then I went on with my college life, studying and playing basketball, until the day after Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965. Those New York newspapers that didn’t like Kennedy, hated Malcom even more and were constantly ripping into him.  I vividly remember talking to my college basketball teammate the next day.  His sense of devastation as a young African American struck me forcefully. As we walked to basketball practice and talked, his sense of isolation and gloom was palpable.  Visceral. Unforgettable.  It became mine, even though I didn’t at the time grasp its full significance.

In 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, I was driving to visit a girlfriend and remember hearing the news on the car radio and feeling deeply shocked. I felt immediately oppressed by the first warm spring evening in the New York area.  It was as if the beautiful weather, usually so uplifting after winter and so joyously stimulating to a young man’s sexuality, was conspiring with the news of King’s death to bring me down into a deep depression.

Soon the country would awaken on June 5 to the surreal news that Senator Robert Kennedy was shot in Los Angeles the night before.  Like so many Americans, when he died not long after, I felt his death was the last straw. But it was far from it. For all the while Lyndon Johnson had lied his way to election in 1964 and escalated the Vietnam war to savage proportions.  Death and destruction permeated the air we were breathing.  The year 1968 ended with the suspicious death in Thailand of a hero of mine, the anti-war Trappist Monk Thomas Merton.  Subsequent research has shown that that too was an assassination.  And while all of this was going on and my political consciousness was becoming radicalized, I became a conscientious objector from the Marines.  I was 24 years old.

By the late 1970s, having been fired from teaching positions for radical scholarship and anti-war activities, and mentally exhausted by the unspeakable events of the 1960s, I retreated into the country where I found solace in nature and a low-key life of contemplation, writing literary and philosophical essays, a novel, book reviews, and becoming a part-time newspaper columnist. By the 1990s, I gradually returned to teaching and a more active political engagement, primarily through teaching and writing.

Then in 1991 Oliver Stone jolted me back in time with his film JFK. I found powerful emotional memories welling up within me, and growing anger at what had happened to the U.S. in the previous decades. Soon JFK Jr., who was investigating his father’s assassination and was about to enter politics and take up his father’s mantle, was killed in a blatantly rigged “accident.”  A month before I had been standing in line behind his wife in the bakery in my little town while he waited outside in a car. Now the third Kennedy was dead. I called my old friend the Jesuit priest from Fordham, but he was speechless. The bodies kept piling up or disappearing.

When the attacks of September 11, 2001 happened, I realized from day one that something was not right; that the official explanation was full of holes.  My sociological imagination took fire. All that I had thought and felt, even my literary writing, came together.  The larger picture emerged clearly.  My teaching took on added urgency, including courses on September 11th and the various assassinations.

Then in 2009 I read and reviewed James Douglass’s masterpiece, JFK and the Unspeakable, and my traumatic memories of 1963 and after came flooding back in full force. I realized that those youthful experiences had been so difficult for me to assimilate and that I therefore had to intellectualize them, for the emotional toll of reexperiencing them and what they meant was profound.  The book really opened me to this, but so too did the awareness of how sensitive I was to John Kennedy’s death, how emotional I felt when reading about it or hearing him speak or listening to a song such as “The Day John Kennedy Died” by Lou Reed.  It was as though a damn had burst inside me and my heart had become an open house without doors or windows.

I tell you all this to try to convey the ways in which we “forget” the past in order to shield ourselves from powerful and disturbing memories that might force us to disrupt our lives. To change. Certain events, such as the more recent attacks of September 11, have become too disturbing for many to explore, to study, to contemplate, just as I found a way to marginalize my feelings about my own government’s murder of President Kennedy, a man who had given me hope as a youngster, and whose murder had nearly extinguished that hope.

Many people will pretend that they are exposing themselves to such traumatic memories and are investigating the events and sources of their disquietude. It is so often a pretense since they feel most comfortable in the land of make-believe.  What is needed is not a dilettantish and superficial nod in the direction of having examined such matters, but a serious in-depth study of the facts and an examination of why doing so might make one uncomfortable.  A look outward and a look inward.  Just as people distort and repress exclusively personal memories to “save” themselves from harsh truths that would force them to examine their current personal lives, so too do they do the same with political and social ones. When I asked two close relatives of mine, both of whom came close to death on September 11, 2001 at The World Trade Towers, what they have thought about that day, they separately told me that they haven’t really given it much thought. This startled me, especially since it involved mass death and a close encounter with personal death in a controversial public event, two experiences that would seem to elicit deep thought.  And these two individuals are smart and caring souls.

What and why we remember and forget is profoundly important.  Thoreau, in writing about life without principle, said, “It is so hard to forget what is worse than useless to remember.”  This is so true.  We are consumed with trivia, mostly by choice.

Perhaps a reason we remember so much trivia is to make sure we forget profound experiences that might shake us to our cores.  The cold-blooded public execution of President John Kennedy did that to me on that melancholy Friday when I was 19, and by trying to forget it and not to speak of it, I hoped it would somehow go away, or at least fade to insignificance.  But the past has a way of never dying, often to return when we least expect or want it.

So today, on this anniversary Friday, another November 22, I have chosen to try to speak of what it felt like once upon a time on the chance that it might encourage others to do the same with our shared hidden history.  Only by speaking out is hope possible.  Only by making the hidden manifest.

T.S. Eliot wrote in “Journey of the Magi” words that echo ironically in my mind on this anniversary of the day John Kennedy died:

All this was a long time ago, I remember
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and
Death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Remembering in all its emotional detail the day John Kennedy died has been a long and cold journey for me.  It has allowed me to see and feel the terror of that day, the horror, but also the heroism of the man, the in-your-face warrior for peace whose death should birth in us the courage to carry on his legacy.

Killing a man who says “no” to the endless cycle of war is a risky business, says a priest in the novel Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone.  For “even a corpse can go on whispering ‘No! No! No! with a persistence and obstinacy that only certain corpses are capable of.  And how can you silence a corpse.”

John Kennedy was such a man.

Eliot was right: Sometimes death and birth are hard to tell apart.

President Kennedy’s courage in facing a death he knew was coming from forces within his own government who opposed his efforts for peace, nuclear disarmament, and an end to the Cold War – “I know there is a God-and I see a storm coming.  I believe that I am ready,” he had written on a slip of paper, and his favorite poem contained the refrain, “I have a rendezvous with death” – should encourage all of us to not turn our faces away from his witness for peace.

We must stop being at ease in a dispensation where we worship the gods of war and clutch the nuclear weapons that our crazed leaders say they will use on a “first-strike” basis.  If they ever do, Eliot’s question – “were we led all that way for Birth or Death?” – will be answered.

But no one will hear it.

The Life and Times of Jimmy Hoffa

Jimmy Hoffa used to say he’d be forgotten ten years after his death. This was an uncharacteristically unintelligent judgment. Forty-four years after his murder on July 30, 1975, Hoffa is still famous enough that one of the most celebrated movies of the year is about the man who claims to have killed him, Frank Sheeran. Called The Irishman, the film, directed by Martin Scorsese, stars Robert De Niro as Sheeran, Al Pacino as Hoffa, and Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino, the Mob boss who approved the killing. For a labor leader, such a level of fame is not only extraordinary; it is unique.1

Of course, the reasons for Hoffa’s fame are not entirely to his credit. He is seen as the dictatorial and corrupt union leader who was close friends with gangsters and allied his union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), with the Mafia. Bobby Kennedy went after him for years, starting with the famous McClellan Committee hearings of 1957–59 (for which Kennedy was the chief counsel), and finally got him convicted in 1964 on charges of jury tampering and fraud, for improper use of the Teamsters’ pension fund. His appeals having failed, Hoffa went to prison in 1967, but was released in 1971 when Richard Nixon commuted his sentence. As described in Charles Brandt’s bestseller I Heard You Paint Houses, on which Scorsese’s movie is based, Hoffa’s subsequent campaign to regain the presidency of the Teamsters was sufficiently threatening to the Mafia that they had him killed.

The Irishman focuses on this seedier side of Hoffa’s life, thus perpetuating the image of a wholly amoral and self-serving criminal with which the McClellan hearings made Hoffa’s name synonymous. Most articles published in popular media, such as Steve Early’s recent piece “The Ghost of Jimmy Hoffa Won’t Go Away,” express a similarly one-sided view. The truth is that Hoffa’s Mob connections were hardly the defining feature of his life. Rather, he deserves to be known, in large part, as the preternaturally effective and hard-working—20-hour days six days a week—leader of what was then the largest union in American history, responsible for raising millions of truck drivers, warehousemen, laundry workers, retail clerks, and others into the middle class.

With the possible exception of John L. Lewis, no twentieth-century union leader was as beloved by the members as Hoffa. He made it a point to be approachable and endlessly responsive: in speeches, for example, he regularly gave out his office phone number and insisted that members call him at any hour of the day or night if they had problems. The contracts he secured were remarkably generous—and yet, ironically, even employers profoundly admired him, considering him a master negotiator, a “genius,” more knowledgeable about the trucking industry than anyone, all in all “a great statesman” who was scrupulously honest and realistic in bargaining.

Indeed, the fundamental reason for the perennial fascination with Jimmy Hoffa may be not so much his ties to the Mafia as his sheer power and success. No other industry was more critical to the nation’s economy than trucking, and Hoffa did more than anyone to rationalize and stabilize conditions in this chaotic, competitive industry (a service for which employers were grateful). Bobby Kennedy may have exaggerated when he said Hoffa was the second most powerful man in the country, but he certainly did have a degree of power unimaginable for a union official in the twenty-first century. And that’s what’s so interesting about him: Hoffa symbolizes a political economy long gone, an era when a union leader could strike fear and loathing in the hearts of senators and presidents, when the old industrial working class, millions strong and capable of bringing the economy to its knees if it so desired, was still the foundation of the social order. Certain sectors of the working class were even defiantly independent of the corporate-liberal “consensus” of the Cold War establishment, having carved out their own self-policed political economy with the help of organized crime, informal deals, and a willingness to meet violence with violence. The Teamsters epitomized this independent working class, and Hoffa epitomized the Teamsters.

It was the aesthetic, so to speak, of the Teamsters and their form of unionism to which Bobby Kennedy and other “corporate liberals” objected (together with “socially responsible” unionists like Walter Reuther of the United Autoworkers). As historian Thaddeus Russell argues, “the confrontation [between Kennedy and Hoffa] represented a cultural conflict between the rising, respectable professional class of the prosperous postwar years and the uncultured, unassimilated, and unruly industrial working class of the Depression.” To have such an untamed and independent social force right at the heart of society—in the age of triumphant liberalism—was an embarrassment.

That working class is dead now. But in its heyday, it was one hell of a force to be reckoned with.

The Rise of Jimmy Hoffa

Years later, Hoffa formulated the moral philosophy he had imbibed from his early days in Indiana and Detroit:

Every day of the average individual is a matter of survival. If by chance he should go from home to work and have an accident, lose an arm or an eye, he’s just like an animal wounded in the jungle. He’s out. Life isn’t easy. Life is a jungle… Ethics is a matter of individualism. What may be ethical to you may be unethical to someone else… But my ethics are very simple. Live and let live, and those who try to destroy you, make it your business to see that they don’t and that they have problems.

It was in Detroit in the Depression years that Hoffa learned the law of the jungle. As a dockloader at Kroger’s warehouse, Hoffa led a strike against the sadistic foreman, which resulted in a temporary agreement with the company that improved conditions and pay. When he was fired a couple of years later, in 1935, for dropping a crate of vegetables on the loading dock, he was immediately hired by a Teamsters official to be an organizer (or “business agent”) with Local 299. He was only 21, but with his boundless energy and intelligence he proved effective.

Across much of the country, the IBT was beginning a sustained offensive in these years. In 1934 its members played a decisive role in two successful general strikes: one in San Francisco, where they joined the longshoremen’s union to shut down the city, and one in Minneapolis, where the Trotskyists in charge of Local 574 led a strike that elicited shocking violence from the police and thugs hired by employers. The Teamsters’ almost total victory in this strike, leading to the unionization of thousands of “unskilled” workers, began its transformation from a small conservative craft organization to a national industrial union encompassing over two million members.

The more politically conservative Detroit Teamsters were, in their own way, just as militant as the Trotskyists in Minneapolis. To organize the increasingly numerous—and abysmally paid—intercity freight drivers, Local 299’s organizers favored a strategy much simpler than signing up workers and petitioning for elections that would be overseen by the newly established National Labor Relations Board. Instead, they approached an employer: “either enroll your workers with the union or we’ll bomb your trucks.” If he refused, they bombed his trucks. And sometimes his home. In a violent, lawless city, this strategy worked well. (They had likely learned it, in fact, from having their own cars bombed by “hired thugs.”) Combined with frequent strikes and strike threats, such intimidation resulted in an influx of new members into the local and steadily rising wages.

Hoffa and his several union colleagues didn’t limit themselves to organizing drivers; anyone who worked on a loading platform was fair game too. “We’d go out,” Hoffa later recalled, “hit the docks, talk to drivers, put up picket lines, conduct strikes, hold meetings day and night, convince people to join the union.” It was treacherous work: “My scalp was laid open sufficiently wide to require stitches no less than six times during the first year I was business agent of Local 299. I was beaten up by cops or strikebreakers at least two dozen times that year.” During one strike he was jailed eighteen times within a 24-hour period, since he kept returning to the picket line after being released. In these years he also had a list of arrests “that’s maybe as long as your arm” for fighting with strikebreakers, hired thugs, and members of rival unions who were trying to organize the same workers the Teamsters were.

In 1938 two developments occurred that would later facilitate Hoffa’s centralized control over the entire union. First, Dave Beck, an organizer from Seattle (who went on to become president of the IBT in 1952), formed the Western Conference of Teamsters, an administrative body covering the eleven western states and British Columbia. Such a higher-level body was necessary for coordinating organizing and bargaining in a fragmented industry that had thousands of small employers and hundreds of local Teamster unions. That very year, two thousand employers in the eleven states signed an agreement to bring higher wages to intercity (“over-the-road”) drivers.

Around the same time, Farrell Dobbs was achieving a similar ambition in the Midwest. One of the Trotskyists who had led the 1934 Minneapolis strike, Dobbs realized it was inefficient and mutually damaging for locals to separately negotiate different wage scales for their own over-the-road drivers. So he and his comrades, with the cooperation of the IBT leadership, created the Central States Drivers Council (CSDC) to bargain for all unionized over-the-road drivers in the twelve Midwestern states. To force reluctant—and widely scattered—employers to come to the bargaining table, Dobbs gave them the kind of ultimatum that Hoffa used to great effect in later years: all firms with lines ending or beginning in Chicago (which meant most firms in the Midwest) would have to negotiate an areawide contract or face a devastating strike. They quickly complied, and over two weeks they and the CSDC hammered out the most ambitious and important contract the IBT had ever negotiated. Establishing uniform minimum wages, maximum hours, seniority rights, safety guarantees, a grievance committee, and a closed shop (all drivers had to belong to the Teamsters), the contract covered 125,000 workers at 1,700 companies.

Hoffa worked with Dobbs in this historic campaign, specifically as a leader of Dobbs’ effort to organize those long-distance Midwestern drivers who hadn’t yet been recruited into the union. Whatever qualms he felt about Dobbs’ Trotskyism, Hoffa was profoundly impressed by the man’s strategic and organizational genius. “I was studying at the knee of a master,” he reminisced later.

He also learned from Dobbs the usefulness of the secondary boycott. Some employers in Omaha and Sioux City had refused to accept the CSDC contract and locked out their unionized employees. Dobbs and other Teamster leaders studied the companies’ routes and decided that the best way to force them to capitulate was to threaten a strike against employers in Kansas City, who made shipments for the Omaha and Sioux City operators, unless they suspended their dealings with the latter. This would cut off the holdouts in Nebraska and effectively force them to sign the contract. The plan worked—and Hoffa was made vividly aware of the power of the secondary boycott, a tactic he would never be afraid to use. (After the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 made such boycotts illegal, Hoffa found a legal loophole and defiantly continued to use them.)

This tactic also inspired a broader strategy that helped the Teamsters organize industries contiguous to trucking, thus increasing the IBT’s membership considerably. Any company that depended on Teamsters for deliveries and pickups could be compelled to unionize its employees simply by being refused service and thereby shut down. “Warehouses, canneries, laundries, retail stores, bakeries, and breweries fell to this tactic,” one historian writes, “which Hoffa used to make the Detroit Teamsters and ultimately the entire IBT into a boundless, multi-industry union.”

Hoffa’s triumphant future might have been quite different if not for a fateful decision Farrell Dobbs made in 1939: he resigned from the Teamsters to devote all his time to the Socialist Workers Party. Daniel Tobin, head of the IBT, pleaded with him to reconsider, to drop his Trotskyist politics and continue working with the union, even promising him the first available vice-presidency. Which could have been a stepping-stone to the presidency. But it was to no avail: Dobbs resigned his union positions, including negotiating chairman of the powerful CSDC. This is what made possible Hoffa’s rise to national prominence, as he wrote later in his autobiography:

I was chosen to replace Dobbs as negotiating chairman. I didn’t realize, when I accepted the job, along with a vice-presidency [of the CSDC, not the IBT] the following year, that it was the post that would project me into the national limelight as far as the International Brotherhood was concerned, but that job really paved the way to the General Presidency. As a rung in the ladder of my career, it provided a giant step upward.

Hoffa’s star was rising on other fronts too. He had been de facto leader of Local 299 since 1936—overseeing its financial stabilization (after near-bankruptcy) and recruitment of several thousand new members—and was gradually becoming de facto leader of the Joint Council of all Detroit locals. In 1942 he was elected to the board of directors of the Wayne County Federation of Labor, but more importantly, he established the Michigan Conference of Teamsters to centralize in his hands bargaining for all locals in the state. Weaker locals regularly negotiated subpar contracts for their intracity members, which exerted downward pressure on wages across the state. With Hoffa negotiating a uniform statewide contract, the wages of thousands of workers were raised, and increasingly many members became familiar with him and intensely loyal to him.

But it was his achievements with the CSDC that ultimately made him wildly popular across the country. During World War II Hoffa’s ambitions were confined within the straitjacket imposed by the National War Labor Board, but starting in 1945 he was able to negotiate contracts that contained wage increases as high as 20 percent or even 50 percent. He brought tens of thousands more drivers into the Midwestern agreement and established a Central States health and welfare program funded entirely by employer contributions. And he did what the CIO failed to do with its postwar Operation Dixie: he organized the South. Using the secondary boycott, it wasn’t particularly challenging (at least in principle). He ordered warehousemen and dockworkers to boycott Southern trucking companies crossing into the Midwest unless they hired union members, which after a few years forced the large majority of Southern employers to sign with the union. And then, by the mid-1950s, he forced them to raise wages and improve working conditions to the level of the CSDC.

At the same time, the CSDC (renamed the Central States Conference) had undertaken two gargantuan projects: to negotiate uniform contracts for local workers—as opposed to over-the-road drivers—in the 22 states the Conference now covered, and to complete the unionization of all trucking companies in these states. By 1957, these goals were achieved.

Hoffa’s meteoric rise in the IBT was cemented at the 1952 convention, when he was unanimously elected a vice-president of the union, the youngest ever (at 39). He quite possibly could have been elected president, but he preferred to engineer Dave Beck’s election in return for Beck’s promise not to interfere in his activities. Aside from the president, Hoffa was the most powerful union officer at the time, controlling the Southern and Central Conferences, and by the middle of Beck’s brief reign (ending in 1957) he was certainly the dominant force in the entire IBT.

How did Hoffa rise so high so fast? Part of the answer, which will be explored below, is that he allied himself with a lot of useful people. But much of his success was due simply to his personality and intelligence. According to people who knew him, he had an “almost hypnotic” charisma, was a “master psychologist,” “the smartest guy I know,” “like an elephant with his memory—it’s beyond belief,” and expert in the minutiae of labor law. In the 1960s he would often give talks at universities or business executive lunches, discoursing perceptively on the history of labor legislation or jousting with economists and lawyers, leaving initially hostile audiences so impressed they would give him a standing ovation (as on one occasion at the Harvard Law School Forum). He was supremely confident and supremely competent.

In addition to all this, of course, he was infinitely ambitious.

He wanted the union to be millions strong. It’s almost as if he shared the old IWW dream of One Big Union for the entire working class—even as he rejected the concept of social-movement unionism associated with both the political left and, in a diluted way, liberals like Walter Reuther. Just before Hoffa was elected president in 1957, he wrote a “policy statement” that included earmarking at least 25 percent of the IBT’s income to organizing. This was at a time when the AFL-CIO, to which the Teamsters belonged, was (myopically) devoting about 5 percent of its revenue to organizing. A year later, even as the McClellan hearings—broadcast on televisions around the country—were making his name synonymous with corruption and criminality, Hoffa announced a plan to bring every policeman in the U.S. into the IBT. “It is a piece of unmitigated gall,” one political official responded, speaking for multitudes. Hoffa also planned to establish a “Conference on Transportation Unity,” under his leadership, that would bring together the IBT, the International Longshoremen’s Association, the National Maritime Union, railroad brotherhoods, airline unions, in total more than fifty organizations in the transportation sector. Both of these projects had to be scuttled because of public opposition. But they indicate the scope of Hoffa’s dreams, which the union continued to pursue by organizing everyone from egg farmers to airline flight attendants.

The other ingredient of Hoffa’s personality that was crucial to his success was the one that also led to his downfall: his contempt for bourgeois respectability, bourgeois hypocrisy, and liberal pieties.

Hoffa vs. Kennedy

Jimmy Hoffa was a contradictory man, but one quality, at least, was foundational to his character: brutal realism. He saw the world in terms of power relations; he rejected all ideological illusions and mystifications (as he saw them), from communism to liberalism to his wife Josephine’s Christianity. This is how he could both support Republican politicians and frequently sound like a Marxist. It was all in the name of realism, whatever was necessary to get ahead and help certain others get ahead.

His attitude towards the legal system was characteristic. As a couple of academic observers who knew him well wrote, “To Hoffa law is not something to respect, but rather a set of principles designed to perpetuate those already in power, and something for others to ‘get around.’ Thus, Hoffa feels clear of conscience about his expertise in devising legal loopholes and practicing legal brinksmanship.” In effect, he thought the state was a capitalist state; therefore, he had little respect for the idealistic liberal corporatism of a Reuther or the Kennedy brothers. While he recognized the value and necessity of having a welfare state, at bottom he thought the working class had to take care of itself, do whatever was necessary to survive, and constantly fight against a hostile world.

His public statements at the time of the McClellan Committee reflected this perspective. “The working man is being shortchanged every day in America.” “Twenty years ago [i.e., in 1939] the employers had all the hoodlums working for them as strikebreakers. Now we’ve got a few, and everybody’s screaming.” Speaking to a television audience:

Now, when you talk about the question of hoodlums and gangsters, the first people that hire hoodlums and gangsters are employers. If there are any illegal forces in the community, he’ll use them, strong-arm and otherwise. And so if you’re going to stay in the business of organizing the unorganized, maintaining the union you have, then you better have a resistance.

In short, Hoffa was working-class through-and-through, the very symbol (at least to the public) of anti-establishmentarian defiance in a relatively conformist age, closer to the rank and file than probably any other major labor leader. “As he walks down the street,” one observer wrote in 1964, “he often halts passing trucks for a moment’s discussion with a couple of members. When away from Washington, D.C., he takes time out to tour the local trucking terminals, where he jokes, wrestles, and swears with the workers.” Nothing was more apt to provoke his legendary temper than an aspersion cast on the dignity of the truck driver’s occupation.

Hoffa’s connections to the criminal world dated back to the 1930s and were, arguably, a natural product of operating in a violent, cutthroat environment. If Local 299 and others hadn’t made alliances with unsavory people, they likely would have been gobbled up by employers and/or rival unions. In the late 1930s, for instance, a jurisdictional war erupted between the Detroit Teamsters and the United Brewery Workers, both of which unions claimed the right to represent the city’s beer drivers. Vicious street battles broke out while higher-level administrative bodies and even federal courts tried to mediate the dispute. The Teamsters developed a network of allies from local saloons to the Michigan statehouse, including members of the East Side Sicilian Mob and other criminals. With their help, and by bribing or intimidating some bar owners into only accepting beer delivered by Teamsters, the latter managed to keep their foot in the brewery industry.

More broadly, David Witwer points out in Corruption and Reform in the Teamsters Union that the IBT had both been victimized by, and benefited from, criminal associations for decades, but especially starting in the 1930s. Chicago and New York were the great hubs of extra-legal activity. The sociologist Daniel Bell explained long ago why trucking was particularly susceptible to crime: “racketeers were able to enter only into small, unit-sized industries where chaotic competition prevailed,” meaning that “the greatest potential for racketeering is in the Teamsters union.”

It isn’t known for sure when the Detroit Teamsters first made really durable and extensive connections with organized crime. Some writers, such as Dan Moldea, argue it was in the early 1940s, when Hoffa’s union was facing an existential threat from well-funded CIO unions that were raiding the (AFL-affiliated) IBT’s turf to steal its members. Supposedly Hoffa was compelled to turn to the Mob for manpower and political influence in his many battles against the CIO.

Thaddeus Russell, on the other hand, argues the decisive events weren’t until later in that decade, in connection with Hoffa’s attempts to control the local liquor industry (made up of breweries, bars, groceries, liquor stores, and the state Liquor Control Commission) and to defend it from CIO incursions. By 1946 the Teamsters had organized nearly all of the industry’s workers, except for those in a group of businesses owned by the Mafia. The president of the largest Mob-owned company, Bilvin Distributing Company, was William Bufalino, who was a close associate of (among others) Russell Bufalino, underboss of one of the most powerful crime families in the northeast. To break the resistance of the Detroit Mob to unionization, Hoffa hired William as president of Local 985, which covered jukebox workers. This created the first institutional alliance between the Detroit Teamsters and the Mafia, who now accepted unionization and, in fact, engaged in a violent campaign against scores of bar owners who didn’t sign with the gangster-owned, Teamster-organized firms.

William Bufalino went on to become one of Hoffa’s most important attorneys in his later legal battles. And these new (or not-so-new) connections to organized crime in Detroit facilitated IBT connections to Mob figures all over the country. In 1951, for example, Hoffa placed the Central States health and welfare fund with the Union Casualty Life Insurance Agency of Chicago, which was owned by Allen Dorfman. Allen was the son of Paul Dorfman, who was a useful ally to have in Chicago: he was friends with the city’s political bosses, President Truman, leaders of the Chicago Federation of Labor, and AFL president George Meany. He was also connected to organized crime in both New York and Chicago.

In general, one of the key reasons for Hoffa’s alliances with gangsters is one of the reasons politicians’ later attacks on him tended to be hypocritical: the Mafia was politically influential (in addition to being inextricably intertwined with the “legitimate” business community). “The mobsters have always been wedded to the political system,” one criminologist observed decades ago. “That’s how they survive. Without that wedding, they’d be terrorists—and we’d get rid of them.”2 As Thomas Reppetto has written, “in both politics and business [the Mafia] managed to link the underworld to the upper world,” becoming immensely powerful in the process. In the 1940s and ’50s, if businessmen, politicians, and corrupt law enforcement were all linked to organized crime, it would have been odd for an ambitious union leader operating in a viciously competitive environment not to reach out for protection and advantage to those same powerful “underworld” figures.

In an ABC News interview in the early 1970s Hoffa justified his relationships with alleged criminals and ex-convicts in terms that were, while self-serving, not wholly implausible: “these [organized crime figures] are the people you should know if you’re going to avoid having anyone interfere with your strike. And that’s what we know them for… Know who your potential enemies are and neutralize ’em.” To another reporter he insisted, “I’m no different than the banks, no different than insurance companies, no different than the politicians. You’re a damned fool not to be informed what makes a city run when you’re tryin’ to do business in the city.” On the other hand, a majority of politicians could have justly pointed out they had no ties to the Mafia. Whether they had no ties to any corrupt individuals or businesses, or even themselves weren’t morally and legally compromised in numerous ways, is another question entirely.

Hoffa was certainly unusual, though, in his willingness to thumb his nose at propriety. Being convinced of the moral turpitude of the entire political-economic system, he saw no reason to take seriously the self-serving outrage—directed at unions (not corporations or politicians)—of its guardians. So he dug himself deeper, so to speak, even flaunting his relationships with notorious people. The Central and Southern States Pension Fund (CSPF), for example, which he browbeat employers into creating and funding in 1955, got him into trouble some years later. With millions of dollars flowing into it every month, retired union members received some of the most generous pensions in the country. (Teamsters were also, by now, receiving some of the most generous wages: there were stories of professors at elite universities quitting their jobs to become long-distance truck drivers because they could double their pay.) But all this money, hundreds of millions of dollars, had to be invested, and Hoffa was in charge of the investment decisions, as he was in charge of almost everything. The Fund gave out countless loans to a bewildering variety of people and institutions, but some were given to mobsters such as Russell Bufalino, Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, Johnny Dioguardi, and Morris Dalitz, one of the Mafia figures who used CSPF money to build Las Vegas casinos. While these loans may have been legal, in the context of the McClellan hearings they were provocative.

Meanwhile, since at least the 1940s Hoffa had found it expedient to bribe public officials, including in law-enforcement and regulatory agencies, prosecutors’ offices, and state legislatures. “Every man has his price,” he was wont to say. No doubt he thought bribery, a well-established practice among businesses and (less so) unions through the entire industrial age (in a sense, even up to the present), was necessary to secure the cooperation of typically anti-labor governments. But its widespread practice by unions contributed to the stench of corruption that had, in the public mind, settled on organized labor by the early 1950s.

The history of the public revulsion against ostensibly corrupt “Big Labor,” crystallized in the award-winning 1954 film On the Waterfront, is too well known to need retelling here. Grand jury investigations, congressional hearings as early as Senator Estes Kefauver’s Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce in 1950–51, and negative media coverage hounded some of the nation’s largest unions for years. This was the era, after all, when big business was conducting a colossal political, legal, and public-relations campaign to beat back the left-liberalism spawned by the popular movements of the 1930s. As Elizabeth Fones-Wolf argues in Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945–60, there was a “unity of purpose within much of the business community on…the necessity of halting the advance of the welfare state and of undermining the legitimacy and power of organized labor.” The more that unions could be tarred and feathered for connections to organized crime (as if business itself lacked such connections, or were selflessly devoted to the common weal and knew nothing of legal infractions!), the better it would be for the corporate offensive against labor.

Needless to say, the personal motive of self-designated crusaders against organized crime and union corruption was not necessarily to do the bidding of big business. Bobby Kennedy, for instance, who emerged as the most ferocious enemy of both the Mafia and Jimmy Hoffa, was a highly religious man who seems to have considered it his Catholic duty to cleanse organized labor of racketeers. Unions, he thought, should be sacred institutions, a movement of the oppressed—hence his embrace of Cesar Chavez in the 1960s. According to Arthur Schlesinger, this millionaire son of a successful businessman, brother of a senator and president, “came to identify himself with workers who were expelled, beaten, murdered.” The point, however, is that whatever Bobby’s motives were, his long obsession with crushing Hoffa and other despised union officials fit neatly into the political agenda that had been set by business. This fact, doubtless, is why he was given all the resources he needed to pursue his obsession.

In retrospect, the Kennedy–Hoffa war from 1957 to 1964 has symbolic, sociological significance. It was a clash of two opposite types, two personifications of diametrically opposed philosophies and social strata. On one side was the liberal “do-gooder,” the idealist, the educated, elite professional who thinks society should be run by idealistic educated professionals who are noble and objective enough to have the public interest at heart. He may be inclined to think in terms of moral absolutes—“as Mr. Hoffa operates it,” Bobby wrote, “[the Teamsters union] is a conspiracy of evil”—and is certain he is on the side of Good. This idealist is motivated by whatever lofty ideas he chooses, but his actual role in the political economy is typically to be a smooth-talking technocrat who enforces the rule of the capitalist class. Objectively, so to speak, he is on the side of business.

On the other side is the working-class materialist, the realist, the person whose training in the art of survival has taught him that what matters above all is the struggle for resources. He may share Hoffa’s lack of interest in broad social reform, as well as his belief that a union is, in essence, just a business to sell its members’ labor at the highest price. He may, therefore, somewhat accommodate himself to society as it is. But the reality of this person’s existence is a kind of class struggle, a struggle to wrest what he can however he can. Doubtless the liberal professional finds him—and his class—vulgar, uneducated, crassly materialistic, and potentially threatening. As Kennedy found Hoffa. But the working-class realist doesn’t have the luxury (nor the liberal hypocrisy) to sneer at “materialism.”

These two types tend to loathe each other.

Incidentally, there is an irony here: in some respects Hoffa had a “purer” character than Kennedy. He never drank or smoked—didn’t even want people to drink in his presence—and would never have dreamed of cheating on his beloved wife, contrary to the perennially philandering Kennedy brothers (whose sexual addictions, including White House orgies, revolted him). At a San Francisco nightclub once, he was so embarrassed by a stripper’s performance he turned his chair away so as not to see her. While he cursed incessantly—except around his family, where he was a paragon of a doting, gentle father and husband—he hated off-color jokes. Far from using the union as a means to enrich himself, Hoffa lived modestly, rarely even upgrading his (somewhat shabby) wardrobe, and constantly gave away large sums of money to anyone who asked for it. “He was probably the most generous, open-handed guy I’ve ever met,” an associate recalled, being a “sucker for any sad song or hard-luck guy.”

As for the Kennedys, their aversion to the Mafia didn’t prevent them from hiring its members to kill Fidel Castro, as part of the secret terrorist program called Operation Mongoose. Seymour Hersh even reports in The Dark Side of Camelot that the Mafia, rather stupidly, got John F. Kennedy elected president by manipulating the vote in Illinois. Their reward was that Attorney General Bobby Kennedy devoted unprecedented resources to destroying them.

In effect, what Kennedy and his fellow liberals who administered the Cold War corporatist state wanted was a fully assimilated, “civilized,” obedient population that wouldn’t have any shadowy groups opaque to the state. Communists were illegitimate and had to be persecuted, as they were from the late 1940s on; unions that forged their own way, not consenting to political assimilation, were also illegitimate. Hoffa’s Teamsters, the most powerful union of all and the most “independent”—it even supported Republicans!—was first on the list of offenders.

Dave Beck, sybarite extraordinaire, was the first big fish to be caught in the net cast by Senator McClellan’s Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor and Management Field. But right around the same time he was exposed as corrupt, in early 1957, Hoffa was caught allegedly bribing a lawyer involved with Bobby Kennedy’s investigation. And then began Hoffa’s streak of good luck: to Kennedy’s shock, a jury found him not guilty. So later that year he went on to be overwhelmingly elected General President of the IBT. Kennedy was certain the election had been rigged, and publicly said so; it turned out he was wrong. Hoffa was incredibly popular with the members, and grew more so the more he was vilified in the press. “When the government came after him,” a union member said years later, “a lot of us wanted to take our trucks and run ’em over certain people… Everyone I knew thought Hoffa was a great man.”

His election did result in the Teamsters being expelled from the AFL-CIO. But legally his troubles were overcome one after the other, infuriating Bobby, “the only member of our family who doesn’t forgive,” his father said. A trial on Hoffa’s alleged wiretapping of union offices ended in acquittal. An indictment for perjury before the McClellan Committee had to be dropped when the Supreme Court ruled that wiretap evidence obtained by state officials couldn’t be used in federal court. Over three years, the committee subpoenaed hundreds of Teamster officials and mobsters, filled fifty-odd volumes with witness testimony, interrogated Hoffa many times, charged him with more than eighty improper activities, but in the end, remarkably, proved nothing (as regards Hoffa, that is—other targets weren’t so lucky). Organized labor’s national reputation had been damaged, but legally, Hoffa had weathered the greatest congressional onslaught against a single individual in history.

The committee’s activities did stimulate the passage, in 1959, of the Landrum-Griffin Act, officially known as the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. Consistent with the committee’s almost exclusive focus on union corruption and blithe disregard of management corruption, this act largely ignored management and instead regulated the internal affairs of unions. For instance, people convicted of robbery, bribery, extortion, aggravated assault, or embezzlement were barred from holding a union office for five years after conviction. The act also outlawed the principal means by which Hoffa had built the Teamsters since the 1930s: picketing to force employers to recognize a union; certain forms of secondary boycotting that the Taft-Hartley Act had left legal; and “hot cargo” arrangements whereby employers would agree not to deal with another employer involved in a labor dispute. This law thus revealed what, on the broadest scale, was really at stake in the McClellan hearings, namely, the business class’s desire to control, hobble, and discredit unions.3

The Teamsters membership seemed to understand this fact, judging by delegates’ behavior at the IBT convention in 1961. Russell describes Hoffa’s reception:

On the day the convention opened, an airplane trailing a banner with the message “Re-Elect Hoffa” circled overhead as more than 2,000 delegates, nearly all wearing Hoffa hats and saucer-sized buttons, flooded into the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach. After Hoffa was nominated by John English, who called the incumbent “the man with the most guts in America,” the delegates responded with a fifteen-minute ovation and a continuous chant of “Hoffa, Hoffa, Hoffa.”… The delegates then mocked the government’s attempts to impose Spartan living on their leaders by passing with roaring unanimity a resolution raising Hoffa’s salary to $75,000—the highest of any American union official at the time…

As for Bobby Kennedy, he “had long been the target of the members’ insults as a ‘pantywaist’ and ‘hatchet man’ bent on taking away the comforts they had gained from the union.” Except for some dissidents scattered around the country, Hoffa acquired nearly mythic status among members as he continued to grow the union and systematically raise wages in the 1960s, even as he was facing his greatest legal threats yet.

Bobby hadn’t forgiven him for escaping his clutches earlier, so as soon as he became Attorney General in 1961 he formed the Get Hoffa Squad (as it was known), consisting of sixteen attorneys and thirty FBI agents. By any means necessary, including methods of questionable legality (such as wiretapping, bugging, and planting spies), they were going to destroy their target. They empaneled fifteen grand juries to investigate Hoffa. In 1962 he went on trial in Nashville, Tennessee for accepting payments from an employer in violation of the Taft-Hartley Act. The government meticulously prepared its case, and yet, once again, Hoffa bested Kennedy: the trial ended in a hung jury.

Six months later, however, he was indicted yet again, this time for jury-tampering in the Nashville case. The Justice Department had uncovered evidence that he had attempted to buy some of the jurors’ votes. The trial took place in early 1964, and this time, at last, Bobby got his revenge: Hoffa was found guilty and sentenced to eight years in prison. Just a few weeks later he went to trial once more, on charges of defrauding the CSPF in an alleged scheme that was so complex and technical it took him some time even to understand what he was being charged with. In this case, too, he was convicted, on one count of conspiracy and three counts of mail and wire fraud. His sentence was five years in prison, to run consecutively after the other eight years. Five days after the verdict, his great obsession finally consummated, Kennedy resigned as Attorney General to run for the Senate.

Thus, the Cold War state had won a major battle against a union that had stepped out of line and gotten too powerful for its own good. “The International Brotherhood of Teamsters,” Senator McClellan had written in 1962 for the Reader’s Digest, “is now powerful enough by itself to put a stranglehold on our nation’s economy… If they called a nationwide strike, you could not get ambulances to take sick people to the hospital, nor hearses to carry the dead. Farmers could not get produce to urban areas; food manufacturers could not send in canned goods…” McClellan exaggerated Hoffa’s power, but his fear was shared by many people and did reflect, however hyperbolically, the very real power of the IBT. Corruption and outright lawlessness existed all over society, not least within the federal government itself.4 It is hardly a coincidence that officials empowered to hunt down corruption attacked, first and foremost, the largest union in the country.

Indeed, in the very year that Hoffa was convicted, the IBT was attaining new heights of power. In January of 1964, Hoffa achieved the dream both he and his mentor Farrell Dobbs had cherished since the 1930s: a National Master Freight Agreement that covered hundreds of thousands of intercity and local truck drivers. It wasn’t entirely complete, not being wholly uniform and not covering all the trucking-relevant occupations of the IBT membership. But it was a magnificent achievement nonetheless, 25 years in the making.

In the years when Bobby Kennedy and his colleagues were almost single-mindedly focused on, in effect, disciplining and defaming organized labor (however they personally interpreted their actions), Hoffa was patiently laying the foundations for realizing his dream. Year by year he was consolidating his power over the two regions he didn’t yet control, the East and West. Bargaining was highly fragmented in the East, wage diversity prevailing everywhere. Both employers and local union leaders, fearful, as Hoffa said, that “they would no longer be kings of their individual little isolated area,” resisted standardization. But through threats and cajolery, strikes and other kinds of leverage, Hoffa gradually imposed uniformity on West Virginia and Pittsburgh, upper New York state and New England, then Philadelphia, Delaware, and southern New Jersey, finally the troublesome New York–New Jersey metropolitan area. All these places saw conditions begin to approximate the privileged Central States area for which Hoffa had long been bargaining.

It was a similar story in the West, although in a sense his task was easier there because bargaining was less fragmented. By 1961 he had achieved near-uniformity, in the process greatly raising wages in some areas, including Los Angeles.

Having engineered a common expiration for contracts from coast to coast in 1964, Hoffa was able to bargain with employers across the country at the same time. The 47-page contract, “the most complicated one ever worked out between a union and employers” (in Hoffa’s opinion), covered 450,000 drivers. For most, the generous fringe benefits and across-the-board increases of 28 cents per hour over three years and three-quarters of a cent per mile were a significant improvement over their previous contracts. In just a few decades, then, the trucking industry had gone from being completely decentralized, low-paying, and characterized by utterly inhumane working conditions to being highly centralized, high-paying, and relatively humane.

For the next couple of years Hoffa worked towards achieving the same goal of relative uniformity for other occupations in his union, such as warehousemen. But by early 1967 his appeals of his convictions had run out, and it was time for him to report to federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. “The last couple of weeks before he went to jail were hellish,” said a staffer who was with him during this time. “He was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He would lie on the floor and yell, ‘I’m not gonna go!’” But in early March, he went.

The End

It’s easy to imagine that for a man with the energy of Jimmy Hoffa, prison would not be easy. In fact, one of his favorite expressions became “Prison is hell on earth, only hell couldn’t be this bad.” When he was released, after 58 months in an overcrowded, rape-plagued, drug-infested, violent penitentiary, his description of the experience didn’t mince words: “I can tell you this on a stack of Bibles: prisons are archaic, brutal, unregenerative, overcrowded hell holes where the inmates are treated like animals with absolutely not one humane thought given to what they are going to do once they are released. You’re an animal in a cage and you’re treated like one.”

During his confinement he constantly suffered little indignities, such as having his anus inspected for drugs after returning from the visiting room, having to wear shoes and pants that didn’t fit, and getting nosebleeds from his job assignment of unstuffing and restuffing old mattresses forty hours a week.

But even in prison, the labor leader found opportunities to organize. He became quite popular with the prisoners, for whom he formed and headed a committee that brought grievances to the attention of the warden. Since officially he remained president of the IBT until just before he was released, he was able to find jobs for many parolees, as well as sending money every year to his former Teamster assistants so they could buy Christmas cards for the families of his fellow prisoners. Guards and prisoners of all racial, religious, and educational backgrounds were, by all accounts, very fond of him.

Meanwhile, his power in the IBT was waning. He had appointed the rather dull but loyal Frank Fitzsimmons as acting president in the belief that he would willingly step aside when Hoffa was released (hopefully early, on parole). But Fitzsimmons gradually began to show signs of developing an independent identity and wanting to remain in power. Not that his leadership was beneficial for the union. He was too weak to impose his will on the vast bureaucracy, so he restored decentralization to local and regional officials. Since this allowed them to build their own structures of power—not always to the benefit of the rank and file—they found Fitzsimmons’ presidency quite congenial to their taste. They also began to increase their involvement with the Mafia, which, in addition, was finding it easier to get loans from the pension fund than under Hoffa.

In contract negotiations Fitzsimmons had skills, but they weren’t on the level of Hoffa’s. The renewals of the National Master Freight Agreement (NMFA) in 1967 and 1970 disappointed thousands of workers, who went on strike in cities across the country. Considerable violence broke out as governors mobilized the National Guard, employers sent hired goons to attack pickets, and the union sent its own officials for the same purpose. Employers were finding it easier to coordinate resistance to employee demands, in part because the NMFA had, ironically, forced unity on them, but also because the IBT’s leadership was increasingly ineffectual and corrupt. Wage growth slowed at the very moment when inflation was rising (as it continued to do through the 1970s). By the early ’70s, rebel rank-and-file groups were springing up in almost every major city.

In fairness to the Fitzsimmons regime, in the long run even Hoffa could hardly have been up to the challenges. The political economy that had allowed a Hoffa to seize the reins and dominate an entire industry was already coming to an end. Facilitated by technological change, employers were embarking on a productivity push that threatened Teamsters’ traditions of workplace control, as Dan La Botz argues. More companies were using pallets and forklifts; truck trailer lengths were growing longer; radio dispatch increasingly directed drivers; mechanized systems of conveyor belts distributed packages. The organization of work was changing. Teamsters “worked harder and under worse conditions as new equipment and new management techniques eliminated jobs while forcing those still employed to pick up the slack.”

Hoffa had foreseen the inevitability of technological change and done what he could to ease the transition for suffering workers, forcing employers; e.g., to pay for new job training and the costs of workers’ relocation. But just as he left the picture, change was accelerating. His departure from the scene, however adventitious, was symbolic.

As economic and political crisis gripped the country in the 1970s, the transition to a neoliberal economy began. Neither strike waves in industry after industry nor the formation of union reform movements such as the important Teamsters for a Democratic Union (founded in 1976) could prevent the economic transition, though they could, at least, discipline and even eliminate corrupt leadership that was often in league with employers. With profit-rates under attack from heightened international competition, the overriding business agenda to cut costs, no matter the consequences for workers and communities, soon became the national political agenda. Industries began to be deregulated, a trend that has continued, with interruptions, up to the present. Trucking was deregulated when Jimmy Carter signed the Motor Carrier Act in 1980. Dan La Botz summarizes the consequences:

As intended, new non-union trucking firms swarmed into the industry, union firms went bankrupt en masse, and a series of buyouts and mergers pushed the industry toward oligopoly. Part and parcel of the same processes, the IBT lost tens and eventually hundreds of thousands of unionized truck drivers and dockworkers, and within a decade the Teamsters Union had been obliged to cede its long-standing position as the dominant force in American over-the-road truck operations. Since the freight industry had been the heart of the union and freight workers the most political and active union members, the cost to the union as a fighting organization went far beyond mere numbers…

The stage was set for the Reagan years, so disastrous to the labor movement.

Hoffa was released from prison late in 1971, but Nixon had imposed a restriction on his parole, probably at the request of Fitzsimmons: he couldn’t engage in union activity until 1980. He hadn’t known about the restriction when agreeing to be released, and was quite bitter when a reporter told him of it. “Jimmy, do you want to be president of the Teamsters again?” he was asked. “Jack, do you like to breathe?” Hoffa replied. But, not wanting to violate the terms of his parole, for a couple of years he laid low and gave the impression of accepting the terms of his freedom.

Instead, he pursued a new passion: prison reform. He went on television shows, talked to journalists, testified before Congress, gave speeches, and did whatever he could on behalf of a new organization called the National Association for Justice, dedicated to reforming prisons. Using his negotiating skills, he was instrumental in averting several prison riots and improving conditions in an Ohio penitentiary. Meanwhile, he was deluged with letters and physical greetings from well-wishers, thousands of drivers who treated him “like the Messiah,” according to one observer. All this can only have whetted his appetite to return to power.

Which opens the curtain on the final act of his life: his legal battle to get Nixon’s parole restriction overturned, together with his public campaign to take back the presidency into which Fitzsimmons had been elected at the 1971 IBT convention (while Hoffa was still in prison). Ever the fighter, reckless to a fault, in 1974 Hoffa began publicly attacking both Fitzsimmons and the Mafia. The terms in which he did so certainly opened him to the charge of hypocrisy: he accused Fitzsimmons of “selling out to mobsters and letting known racketeers into the Teamsters.” “I charge him with permitting underworld establishment of a union insurance scheme,” he declared. “There will be more and more developments as time goes on and I get my hands on additional information.” Such statements could hardly have pleased his Mob associates.

Nor did these associates want a change of administration in any case. The union was more corrupt than ever, and they were perfectly happy with that. It was starting to look like Hoffa intended to kick them out of the union’s affairs, to clean things up and get revenge on everyone he thought had betrayed him. “I’m going to take care of the people who’ve been fucking me,” he told Russell Bufalino, according to Frank Sheeran. “Everybody wants Hoffa to back down. They’re all afraid of what I know.”

And so, in the end, Hoffa was done in by one of the deepest traits of his character: reckless defiance. His union career had ended because of his defiance of the law—the law of a government he didn’t respect—and now his life ended because of his defiance of the Mafia. On July 30, 1975 he stood waiting in a restaurant parking lot just outside Detroit. A car pulled up; inside were his foster son Charles O’Brien, his hitman friend Frank Sheeran, and Salvatore Briguglio, an associate of the vicious mobster Anthony Provenzano. The friendly faces of O’Brien and Sheeran reassured him, so he got into the car, which O’Brien—not knowing what was in store—drove to a small suburban house nearby. The meeting to “make peace” was, as far as Hoffa knew, to take place in this house. Hoffa and Sheeran got out and walked up to it as the car drove away. Once inside, Sheeran put two bullets in the back of Hoffa’s head, after which two men waiting in the house brought the body to a local Mob-connected funeral parlor, where it was cremated.

At least, that’s how Frank Sheeran tells the story. And a lot of knowledgeable people (Arthur Sloane, Joe Pistone, Bryan Burrough, William D’Elia, and others) find it credible.

So, in such an anticlimactic way did the remarkable life of a remarkable person come to an end, a life lived at the very center of the most dramatic events of the age.

Hoffa’s disappearance did have one positive result: it jolted the federal government into systematic action against organized crime, action not just in the context of a battle against a single individual and his unacceptably powerful union but as the beginning of a decades-long war of attrition. In the following years, the FBI hunted down the men it knew were involved in the murder and imprisoned them all on one charge or another (except for those who were themselves killed). The Mafia continued to infest the Teamsters until the 1ate 1980s and even 1990s, but federal prosecution, assisted by Teamsters for a Democratic Union and a reformist president in the 1990s (Ron Carey), finally succeeded in almost completely ridding the IBT of its ancient ties to racketeers. Today, the Teamsters isn’t the awe-inspiring force it used to be, but it is still one of the largest unions in the United States, with 1.4 million members.

As for its greatest leader, Jimmy Hoffa, he’ll always be something of an enigma. On the one hand, he was no saint, nor was he a hero. He sometimes acted in amoral, brutal ways. While his biographer Arthur Sloane is right that the more lurid accusations (that he ordered murders, for instance, or even the assassination of JFK) have never been proven, and also that he was more independent of the Mafia than is generally supposed, Hoffa was not the kind of man or labor leader who should be copied in every particular. What he was was a concentrated, brilliant reflection of his environment, differing from other ruthless power players of his age and ours chiefly in that the side he chose was that of the working class, not the business class. He helped create the postwar middle class, in the process becoming arguably the most popular and the most reviled labor leader in U.S. history.

But perhaps his greatest legacy can be summed up in the inscription on a plaque he displayed on his desk: Illegitimi non carborundum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

  1. This article relies primarily on the following books: Thaddeus Russell, Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the Remaking of the American Working Class (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001); Arthur A. Sloane, Hoffa (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1991); Ralph C. James and Estelle Dinerstein James, Hoffa and the Teamsters: A Study of Union Power (Princeton, New Jersey: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1965); James R. Hoffa, The Trials of Jimmy Hoffa: An Autobiography (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1970); Charles Brandt, I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa (Hanover, New Hampshire: Steerforth Press, 2004); Robert F. Kennedy, The Enemy Within (New York: Popular Library, 1960); and Dan La Botz, “The Tumultuous Teamsters of the 1970s,” in Rebel Rank and File: Labor Militancy and Revolt from Below in the Long 1970s, eds. Aaron Brenner, Robert Brenner, and Cal Winslow (New York: Verso, 2010), 199–226.
  2. Arthur Sloane uses this quotation in Hoffa, but he doesn’t cite the source and I haven’t been able to locate it.
  3. During the hearings, for example, the National Association of Manufacturers and the United States Chamber of Commerce “initiated a ferocious anti-union drive,” Thaddeus Russell writes, “and used as one of its selling points the issue of union corruption.” See David Witwer, Corruption and Reform in the Teamsters Union (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), chapter nine.
  4. For examples, see William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2004).

The CIA Takeover of America in the 1960s is the Story of Our Times

‘We’re all puppets,’ the suspect [Sirhan Sirhan] replied, with more truth than he could have understood at that moment.

— Lisa Pease, quoting from the LAPD questioning of Sirhan

When Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, 1968, the American public fell into a hypnotic trance in which they have remained ever since. The overwhelming majority accepted what was presented by government authorities as an open and shut case that a young Palestinian American, Sirhan Sirhan, had murdered RFK because of his support for Israel, a false accusation whose ramifications echo down the years. That this was patently untrue and was contradicted by overwhelming evidence made no difference.

Sirhan did not kill Robert Kennedy, yet he remains in jail to this very day.  Robert Kennedy, Jr., who was 14 years old at the time of his father’s death, has visited Sirhan in prison, claims he is innocent, and believes there was another gunman.  Paul Schrade, an aide to the senator and the first person shot that night, also says Sirhan didn’t do it. Both have plenty of evidence.  And they are not alone.

There is a vast body of documented evidence to prove this, an indisputably logical case marshalled by serious writers and researchers.  Lisa Pease is the latest.  It is a reason why a group of 60 prominent Americans has recently called for a reopening of, not just this case, but those of JFK, MLK, and Malcom X.  The blood of these men cries out for the revelation of the truth that the United States national security state and its media accomplices have fought so mightily to keep hidden for so many years.

That they have worked so hard at this reveals how dangerous the truth about these assassinations still is to this secret government that wages propaganda war against the American people and real wars around the world.  It is a government of Democrats, Republicans, and their intelligence allies working together today to confuse the American people and provoke Russia in a most dangerous game that could lead to nuclear war, a possibility that so frightened JFK and RFK after the Cuban Missile Crisis that they devoted themselves to ending the Cold War, reconciling with the Soviet Union, abolishing nuclear weapons, reining in of the power of the CIA, and withdrawing from Vietnam. That is why they were killed.

The web of deceit surrounding the now officially debunked Democratic led Russia-gate propaganda operation that has strengthened Trump to double-down on his anti-Russia operations (a Democratic goal) is an example of the perfidious and sophisticated mutuality of this game of mass mind-control.

The killing of the Kennedys and today’s new Cold War and war against terror are two ends of a linked intelligence operation.

Moreover, more than any other assassination of the 1960s, it is the killing of Bobby Kennedy that has remained shrouded in the most ignorance.

It is one of the greatest propaganda success stories of American history.

In her exhaustive new examination of the case, A Lie Too Big To Fail, Lisa Pease puts it succinctly at the conclusion of her unravelling of the official lies that have mesmerized the public:

The assassination of the top four leaders of the political left in the five year period – President John Kennedy in 1963, Malcolm X in 1965, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968 – represented nothing less than a slow-motion coup on the political scene.

If anyone wishes to understand what has happened to the United States since this coup, and thus to its countless victims at home and throughout the world, one must understand these assassinations and how the alleged assassins were manipulated by the coup organizers and how the public was hoodwinked in a mind-control operation on a vast scale.  It is not ancient history, for the forces that killed these leaders rule the U.S. today, and their ruthlessness has subsequently informed the actions of almost all political leaders in the years since.  A bullet to the head when you seriously talk about peace and justice is a not so gentle reminder to toe the line or else.

“But the way the CIA took over America in the 1960s is the story of our time,” writes Pease, “and too few recognize this.  We can’t fix a problem we can’t even acknowledge exists.”  Nothing could be truer.

Lisa Pease has long recognized the problem, and for the past twenty-five years, she has devoted herself to shedding light on the CIA’s culpability, particularly in the Robert Kennedy case. Few people possess the grit and grace to spend so much of their lives walking this path of truth. The extent of her research is dazzling, so dazzling in its voluminous detail that a reviewer can only touch on it here and there. She has written a book that is daunting in its comprehensiveness.  It demands focused attention and perseverance, for it runs to over 500 pages with more than 800 footnotes. This book will remain a touchstone for future research on the RFK assassination, whether one agrees or disagrees with all of her detailed findings and speculations.  For this book is so vast and meticulous in its examination of all aspects of the case that one can surely find areas that one might question or disagree with.

Nevertheless, Pease fundamentally proves that Sirhan did not shoot RFK and that there was a conspiracy organized and carried out by shadowy intelligence forces that did so. These same forces worked with the Los Angeles Police Department, federal, state, and judicial elements to make sure Sirhan was quickly accused of being the lone assassin and dispatched to prison after a show trial.  And the mass media carried out its assigned role of affirming the government’s case to shield the real killers and to make sure the cover-up was successful.

No doubt others will investigate this case further. Yet I think no more research is really needed, for as with these other assassinations, additional analyses will only result in pseudo-debates about minutiae.  Such debates will only serve to prolong the hallucinatory grip the perpetrators of these crimes have on a day of reckoning, suggesting as they would that we do not really know what happened. This is an old tactic meant to delay forevermore such a day of reckoning.

The facts are clear for all to see if they have the will to truth. All that is now needed is a public tribunal, which is planned for later this year, in which the fundamental, clear-cut facts of these cases are presented to the American public.  In the case of Robert Kennedy’s assassination as with the others, a little knowledge goes a long way, and only those who are closed to basic logic and evidence will refuse to see that government forces conspired to kill these men and did so because all were seeking peace and justice that was then, and is now, a threat to the war-making forces of wealth and power that control the American government.

Pease writes:

Anyone who has looked closely and honestly at the evidence has realized that more than one person was involved in Robert Kennedy’s death.  So why can’t reporters see this?  Why can’t the media explain this?  Because the media and the government are two sides of the same coin, and those who challenge the government’s version of history, as numerous reporters have found out, all too often lose status and sometimes whole careers.  Kristina Borjesson published an anthology of such stories in her book Into the Buzzsaw, in which journalists describe how they lost their careers when of them expressed a truth that the government did not want exposed.

Lisa Pease discloses such truths.  I am reporting on her work.  Therefore, the mainstream media, except for an extraordinary reporter or two, such as Tom Jackman of The Washington Post, will likely ignore both of us, but the publication where you are reading this is on the side of truth, and in the disclosure of truth lies our hope.

Since more than one person was involved in the killing of RFK, there was – ipso facto – a conspiracy.  This is not theory but fact.  The fact of a conspiracy.  For more than fifty years, mainstream reporters have been cowed by this word “conspiracy,” thanks to the CIA.  Many others have been intelligence assets posing as journalists, regurgitating the lies. This is a fact.

The official story is that after giving his victory speech for winning the 1968 Democratic California Primary, Kennedy, as he was walking through a crowded hotel pantry, was shot by Sirhan Sirhan, who was standing to his left between 3-6 feet away.  Sirhan’s revolver held eight bullets, and as he was shooting, he was tackled by a group of large men who subdued him.  All witnesses place Sirhan in front of Kennedy and all claim he was firing a gun.

Fact: As the autopsy definitively showed, RFK was shot from the rear at point blank range, three bullets entering his body, with the fatal head shot coming upward at a 45-degree angle from 1-3 inches behind his right ear. Not one bullet from Sirhan’s gun hit the Senator.  In addition, an audio recording shows that many more bullets than the eight in Sirhan’s gun were fired in the hotel pantry that night. It was impossible for Sirhan to have killed RFK.

Let me repeat: More than one gunman, contrary to the government’s claims, equals a conspiracy.  So why lie about that?

What is amazing is that the obvious conclusion to such simple syllogistic logic (Sirhan in front, bullets in the back, therefore…) that a child could understand has been dismissed by the authorities for fifty-one years.  The fact that the government authorities – the LAPD, the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney, federal and state government officials, the FBI, the CIA – have from the start so assiduously done all in their power to pin the blame on “a lone assassin,” Sirhan, proves they are part of a coordinated cover-up, which in turn suggests their involvement in the crime.

The fact that Robert Kennedy was shot from the back and not the front where Sirhan was standing immediately brings to mind the Zapruder film that shows that JFK was killed from the front right and not from the 6th floor rear where Oswald was allegedly shooting from.  That unexpected film evidence was hidden from the public for many years, but when it was finally seen, the case for a government conspiracy was solidified.

While no such video evidence has surfaced in the RFK case, the LAPD made sure that no photographic evidence contradicting the official lies would be seen.  As Lisa Pease writes:

Less than two months after the assassination, the LAPD took the extraordinary step of burning some 2,400 photos from the case in Los Angeles County General’s medical waste incinerator.  Why destroy thousands of photos in an incinerator if there was nothing to hide?  The LAPD kept hundreds of innocuous crowd scene photos that showed no girl in a polka dot dress or no suspicious activities or individuals.  Why were those photos preserved?  Perhaps because those photos had nothing in them that warranted their destruction.

While “perhaps” is a mild word, the cover-up of “the girl in the polka dot dress” needs no perhaps.  Dozens of people reported seeing a suspicious, curvaceous girl in a white dress with black polka dots with Sirhan in the pantry and other places. She was seen with various other men as well. The evidence for her involvement in the assassination is overwhelming, and yet the LAPD did all in its power to deny this by browbeating witnesses and by allowing her to escape.

Sandra Serrano, a Kennedy campaign worker and a courageous witness, was bullied by the CIA-connected police interrogator Sergeant Enrique “Hank” Hernandez.  She had been sitting outside on a metal fire escape getting some air when the polka dot dress girl, accompanied by a man, ran out and down the stairs, shouting, “We’ve shot him, we’ve shot him.”  When Serrano asked whom did they shoot, the girl replied, “We’ve shot Senator Kennedy.”  Then she and her companion, both of whom Serrano had earlier seen ascending the stairs with Sirhan, disappeared into the night. A little over an hour after the shooting Serrano was interviewed on live television by NBC’s Sander Vanocur where she recounted this.  And there were others who saw and heard this girl say the same thing as she and her companion fled the crime scene.  Nevertheless, the LAPD, led by Lieutenant Manuel Pena, also CIA affiliated, who was brought out of retirement to run the investigation dubbed “Special Unit Senator,” worked with Hernandez and others to dismiss the girl as of no consequence.

Lisa Pease covers all this and much more.  She shows how Sirhan was obviously hypnotized, how the trial was a farce, how the police destroyed evidence from the door frames in the pantry that proved more than the eight bullets in Sirhan’s gun were fired, how Officer DeWayne Wolfer manipulated the ballistic evidence, etc.  Through years of digging into court records, archives, transcripts, the public library, and doing countless interviews, she proves without a doubt that Sirhan did not kill Kennedy and that the assassination and the cover-up were part of a very sophisticated intelligence operation involving many parts and players.  She shows how no matter what route Kennedy took in the hotel that night, the killers had all exits covered and that he would not be allowed to leave alive.

While some of her more speculative points – e.g. that Robert Maheu (Howard Hughes/CIA) was “the most credible high-level suspect for the planner of Robert Kennedy’s assassination,” that Kennedy was shot twice in the head from behind, etc. are open to debate, they do not detract from her fundamentally powerful case that RFK, like his brother John, was assassinated by a CIA-run operation intended to silence their voices of courageous resistance to an expanding secret government dedicated to war, murder, and human exploitation.  The U.S. government of today.

When Bobby Kennedy was entering the kitchen pantry, he was escorted by a security guard named Thane Eugene Cesar, a man long suspected of being the assassin.  Cesar was carrying a gun that he drew but denied firing, despite witnesses’ claims to the contrary. Conveniently, the police never examined the gun.  He has long been suspected of being CIA affiliated, and now Pease says she has found evidence to confirm that.  She writes, “It’s hard to overstate the significance of finding a current or future CIA contract agent holding Kennedy’s right arm at the moment of the shooting.”

Yes, it is.  As she rightly claims, the CIA takeover of America in the 1960s is the story of our time.  And our time is now.  None of this is ancient history.  That is so crucial to grasp.  For those who think that learning the truth about the 1960s assassinations is an exercise in futility reserved for those who are living in the past, they need to think again.  Our descent into endless war and massive media propaganda to support it is part of a long-term project that began with the elimination of JFK, Malcom X, MLK, and Robert Kennedy.  They were killed for reasons, and those reasons still exist, even if they don’t physically, but only in spirit.  Their killers roam the land because they have become far more deeply part of the institutional structure of government and the media.

Pease says:

It was horrible that Robert Kennedy was taken from us far too soon.  It is horrible that one man has borne the guilt for an operation he neither planned nor willingly participated in.  It’s horrible the conspiracy was so obvious that bullets had to be lost and switched to hide it.  And it’s horrible that the mainstream media has never dared to tell the people of this country that the government lied to us about what they really found when they looked into this case.  Until the media can deal with the truth of the Robert Kennedy assassination, and until the people can be made aware of the CIA’s role in slanting the truth on topics of great importance, America’s very survival is in jeopardy….We’ve come perilously close to losing democracy itself because of fake, CIA-sponsored stories about our history.  Should America ever become a dictatorship, the epitaph of our democracy must include the role the mainstream media, by bowing to the National Security state, played in killing it.

By writing A Lie Too Big To Fail, Lisa Pease has done her valiant part in refuting the lie that is now failing.  Now it is up to all of us to spread the word of truth by focusing on the fundamental facts so we can finally take back our country from the CIA.

Then we can say with RFK and his favorite poet Aeschylus:

And even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

No More Bullshit: Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill

Growing up Irish-Catholic in the Bronx in the 1960s, I was an avid reader of the powerful columns of Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill in the New York newspapers.  These guys were extraordinary wordsmiths. They would grab you by the collar and drag you into the places and faces of those they wrote about. Passion infused their reports.  They were never boring. They made you laugh and cry as they transported you into the lives of real people.  You knew they had actually gone out into the streets of the city and talked to people. All kinds of people: poor, rich, black, white, Puerto Rican, high-rollers, low-lifes, politicians, athletes, mobsters – they ran the gamut.  You could sense they loved their work, that it enlivened them as it enlivened you the reader. Their words sung and crackled and breathed across the page. They left you always wanting more, wondering sometimes how true it all was, so captivating was their storytelling abilities.  They cut through abstractions to connect individuals to major events such as the Vietnam War, the assassinations of President Kennedy and his brother Robert, the Central Park jogger case, Aids, among others.  They were spokesmen for the underdogs, the abused, the confused, and the bereft, and relentlessly attacked the abuses and hypocrisies of the powerful.

They became celebrities as a result of their writing.  Breslin ran for New York City Council President along with Norman Mailer for Mayor with the slogan  “No More Bullshit,” did beer and cereal commercials, and Hamill dated Jacqueline Kennedy and Shirley McLaine.  Coming  out of poor and struggling Irish-Catholic families in Queens and Brooklyn respectively, they became acclaimed in NYC and the country as celebrity reporters.  As a result, they were befriended by the rich and powerful with whom they hobnobbed.

HBO has recently released a fascinating documentary about the pair: Breslin and Hamill. It brings them back in all their gritty glory to the days when New York was another city, a city of newspapers and typewriters and young passion still hopeful that despite the problems and national tragedies, there were still fighters who would bang out a message of hope and defiance in the mainstream press.  It was a time before money and propaganda devoured journalism and a deadly pall descended on the country as the economic elites expanded their obscene control over people’s lives and the media.

So it is also fitting that this documentary feels like an Irish wake with two old wheelchair-bound men musing on the past and all that has been lost and what approaching death has in store for them and all they love.  While not a word is spoken about the Catholic faith of their childhoods with its death-defying consolation, it sits between them like a skeleton. We watch and listen to two men, once big in all ways, talk about the old days as they shrink before our eyes. I was reminded of the title of a novel Breslin wrote long ago: World Without End, Amen, a title taken directly from a well-known Catholic prayer. Endings, the past receding, a lost world, aching hearts, and the unspoken yearning for more life.

Hamill, especially, wrote columns that were beautifully elegiac, and his words in this documentary also sound that sense despite his efforts to remain hopeful.   The film is a nostalgic trip down memory lane.  Breslin, who has since died, tries hard to express the bravado that was his hallmark in his halcyon days, but a deep sadness and bewilderment seeps through his face, the mask of indomitability that once served him well gone in the end.

So while young people need to know about these two old-school reporters and their great work in this age of insipidity and pseudo-objectivity, this film is probably not a good introduction.  Their writing would serve this purpose better.

This documentary is appearing at an interesting time when a large group of prominent Americans, including Robert Kennedy, Jr. and his sister Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, are calling for new investigations into the assassinations of the 1960s, murders that Breslin and Hamill covered and wrote about.  Both men were in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel when  Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.  They were friends of the senator, and it was Hamill who wrote to RFK and helped convince him to run.  Breslin was in the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated.  He wrote an iconic and highly original article about the JFK assassination.  Hamill wrote a hard-hitting  piece about RFK’s murder, describing Sirhan Sirhan quite harshly, while presuming his guilt.  They covered and wrote about all the assassinations of that era.  Breslin also wrote a famous piece about John Lennon’s murder.  They wrote these articles quickly, in the heat of the moment, on deadline.

But they did not question the official versions of these assassinations.  Not then, nor in the fifty plus years since.  Nor in this documentary. In fact, in the film Hamill talks about five shots being fired at RFK from the front by Sirhan Sirhan who was standing there.  Breslin utters not a word. Yet it is well known that RFK was shot from the rear at point blank range and that no bullets hit him from the front. The official autopsy confirmed this. Robert Kennedy, Jr. asserts that his father was not shot by Sirhan but by a second gunmen.  It’s as though Hamill is stuck in time and his personal memories of the event; as though he were too close to things and never stepped back and studied the evidence that has emerged.  Why, only he could say.

Perhaps both men were too close to the events and the people they covered.  Yes, their words always took you to the scene and made you feel the passion of it all, the shock, the drama, the tragedy, the pain, the confusion, and all that was irretrievably lost in murders that changed this country forever, killings that haunt the present in incalculable ways.  Jimmy and Pete made us feel the deep pain and shock of being overwhelmed with grief.  They were masters of this art.

But the view from the street is not that of history.  Deadlines are one thing; analysis and research another.  Breslin and Hamill wrote for the moment, but they have lived a half century after those moments, decades during which the evidence for these crimes has accumulated to indict powerful forces in the U.S. government.  No doubt this evidence came to their attention, but they have chosen to ignore it, whatever their reasons.  Why these champions of the afflicted have disregarded this evidence is perplexing.  As one who greatly admires their work, I am disappointed by this failure.

Street journalism has its limitations.  It needs to be placed in a larger context. Our world is indeed without end and the heat of the moment needs the coolness of time.  The bird that dives to the ground to seize a crumb of bread returns to the treetop to survey the larger scene.  Breslin and Hamill stuck to the ground where the bread lay.

At one point in Breslin and Hamill, the two good friends talk about how well they were taught to write by the nuns in their Catholic grammar schools.  “Subject, verb, object, that was the story of the whole thing,” says Breslin.  Hamill replies, “Concrete nouns, active verbs.”  “It was pretty good teaching,” adds Breslin. And although neither went to college (probably a saving grace), they learned those lessons well and gifted us with so much gritty and beautiful writing and reporting.

Yet like the nuns who taught them, they had their limitations, and what was written once was not revisited and updated.  In a strange, very old-school Catholic sense, it was the eternal truth, rock solid, and not to be questioned.  Unspeakable and anathema: the real killers of the Kennedys and the others.  The attacks of September 11, 2001 as well.

When my mother was very old, she published her only piece of writing.  It was very Breslin and Hamill-like and was published in a Catholic magazine.  She wrote how, when she was a young girl and the streets of New York were filled with horse drawn wagons, the nuns in her grammar school chose her to leave school before lunch and go to a neighboring bakery to buy rolls for their lunch.  It was considered a big honor and she was happy to get out of school for the walk to the bakery she chose a few streets away.  She got the rolls and was walking back with them when some boys jostled her and all the rolls fell into the street, rolling through horse shit.  She panicked, but picked up the rolls and cleaned them off.  Shaking with fear, she then brought them to the convent and handed them to a nun.  After lunch, she was called to the front of the room by her teacher, the nun who had chosen her to buy them.  She felt like she would faint with fear.  The nun sternly looked at her.  “Where did buy those rolls?” she asked.  In a halting voice she told her the name of the bakery.  The sister said, “They were delicious.  We must always shop in that bakery.”

Of course, the magazine wouldn’t publish the words “horse shit.” The editor found a nice way to avoid the truth and eliminate horse shit.  And the nuns were happy.

Yet bullshit seems much harder to erase, despite slogans and careful editors, or perhaps because of them.  Sometimes silence is the real bullshit, and how do you eliminate that?

The CIA Then and Now: Old Wine in New Bottles

And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died

Don McLean, “American Pie”, 1971

The Nazis had a name for their propaganda and mind-control operations: weltanschauungskrieg – “world view warfare.”  As good students, they had learned many tricks of the trade from their American teachers, including Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who had honed his propagandistic skills for the United States during World War I and had subsequently started the public relations industry in New York City, an industry whose raison d’ȇtre from the start was to serve the interests of the elites in manipulating the public mind.

In 1941, U.S. Intelligence translated weltanschauungskrieg as “psychological warfare,” a phrase that fails to grasp the full dimensions of the growing power and penetration of U.S. propaganda, then and now.  Of course, the American propaganda apparatus was just then getting started on an enterprise that has become the epitome of successful world view warfare programs, a colossal beast whose tentacles have spread to every corner of the globe and whose fabrications have nestled deep within the psyches of many hundreds of millions of Americans and people around the world.  And true to form in this circle game of friends helping friends, this propaganda program was ably assisted after WW II by all the Nazis secreted into the U.S. (“Operation Paperclip”) by Allen Dulles and his henchmen in the OSS and then the CIA to make sure the U.S. had operatives to carry on the Nazi legacy (see David Talbot’s The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, The CIA, and The Rise of America’s Secret Government, an extraordinary book that will make your skin crawl with disgust).

This went along quite smoothly until some people started to question the Warren Commission’s JFK assassination story.  The CIA then went on the offensive in 1967 and put out the word to all its people in the agency and throughout the media and academia to use the phrase “conspiracy theory” to ridicule these skeptics, which they have done up until the present day. This secret document – CIA Dispatch 1035-960 – was a propaganda success for many decades, marginalizing those researchers and writers who were uncovering the truth about not just President Kennedy’s murder by the national security state, but those of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy.  Today, the tide is turning on this score, as recently more and more Americans are fed up with the lies and are demanding that the truth be told.  Even the Washington Post is noting this, and it is a wave of opposition that will only grow.

The CIA Exposed – Partially

But back in the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, some covert propaganda programs run by the CIA were “exposed.”  First, the Agency’s sponsorship of the Congress of Cultural Freedom, through which it used magazines, prominent writers, academics, et al. to spread propaganda during the Cold War, was uncovered.  This was an era when Americans read serious literary books, writers and intellectuals had a certain cachet, and popular culture had not yet stupefied Americans. The CIA therefore secretly worked to influence American and world opinion through the literary and intellectual elites.  Frances Stonor Saunders comprehensively covers this in her 1999 book, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA And The World Of Arts And Letters, and Joel Whitney followed this up in 2016 with Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers, with particular emphasis on the complicity of the CIA and the famous literary journal The Paris Review.

Then in 1975 the Church Committee hearings resulted in the exposure of abuses by the CIA, NSA, FBI, etc.  In 1977 Carl Bernstein wrote a long piece for Esquire – “The CIA and the Media” – naming names of journalists and publications (The New York Times, CBS, etc.) that worked with and for the CIA in propagandizing the American people and the rest of the world.  (Conveniently, this article can be read on the CIA’s website since presumably the agency has come clean, or, if you are the suspicious type, or maybe a conspiracy theorist, it is covering its deeper tracks with a “limited hangout,” defined by former CIA agent Victor Marchetti, who went rogue, as “spy jargon for a favorite and frequently used gimmick of the clandestine professionals. When their veil of secrecy is shredded and they can no longer rely on a phony cover story to misinform the public, they resort to admitting—sometimes even volunteering—some of the truth while still managing to withhold the key and damaging facts in the case. The public, however, is usually so intrigued by the new information that it never thinks to pursue the matter further.”)

Confess and Move On

By the late 1970s, it seemed as if the CIA had been caught in flagrante delicto and disgraced, had confessed its sins, done penance, and resolved to go and sin no more.  Seeming, however, is the nature of the CIA’s game.  Organized criminals learn to adapt to the changing times, and that is exactly what the intelligence operatives did.  Since the major revelations of the late sixties and seventies – MKUltra, engineered coups all around the world, assassinations of foreign leaders, spying on Americans, etc. – no major program of propaganda has been exposed in the mainstream media.  Revealing books about certain CIA programs have been written – e.g. Douglas Valentine’s important The Phoenix Program being one – and dissenting writers, journalists, researchers, and whistleblowers (Robert Parry, Gary Webb, Julian Assange, James W. Douglass, David Ray Griffin, Edward Snowden, et al.) have connected the U.S. intelligence services to dirty deeds and specific actions, such as the American engineered coup d’état in Ukraine in 2013-14, electronic spying, and the attacks of September 11, 2001.  But the propaganda has for the most part continued unabated at a powerful and esoteric cultural level, while illegal and criminal actions are carried out throughout the world in the most blatant manner imaginable, as if to say fuck you openly while insidiously infecting the general population through the mass electronic screen culture that has relegated intellectual and literary culture to a tiny minority.

Planning Ahead

Let me explain what I think has been happening.

Organizations like the CIA are obviously fallible and have made many mistakes and failed to anticipate world events.  But they are also very powerful, having great financial backing,  and do the bidding of their masters in banking, Wall St., finance, etc.  They are the action arm of these financial elites, and are, as Douglass Valentine has written, organized criminals.  They have their own military, are joined to all the armed forces, and are deeply involved in the drug trade. They control the politicians. They operate their own propaganda network in conjunction with the private mercenaries they hire for their operations.  The corporate mass media take their orders, orders that need not be direct, but sometimes are, because these media are structured to do the bidding of the same elites that formed the CIA and own the media.  And while their ostensible raison d’ȇtre is to provide intelligence to the nation’s civilian leaders, this is essentially a cover story for their real work that is propaganda, killing, and conducting coups d’états at home and abroad.

Because they have deep pockets, they can afford to buy all sorts of people, people who pimp for the elites. Some of these people do work that is usually done by honest academics and independent intellectuals, a dying breed, once called free-floating intellectuals. These pimps analyze political, economic, technological, and cultural trends.  They come from different fields: history, anthropology, psychology, sociology, political science, cultural studies, linguistics, etc. They populate the think tanks and universities.  They are often intelligent but live in bad faith, knowing they are working for those who are doing the devil’s work. But they collect their pay and go their way straight to the bank, the devil’s bank.  They often belong to the Council of Foreign Relations or the Heritage Foundation. They are esteemed and esteem themselves.  But they are pimps.

El Diablo

Ah, the devil!  He’s their man. A man of many names, but always an impostor.  These pimps know his story and how he works his magic, and this is what their paymasters want from them: ways to use the old bastard’s bag of tricks to conjure confusion, and sow fear and paranoia.  And to do this slow and easy in ways no one will recognize until it is too late.

For like culture, propaganda relies on myths, symbols, and stories.  Some prefer to say narratives.  But nothing is more powerful.  Controlling the stories is the key to powerful propaganda. The pimps can spin many a tale.

Tell people endless tales of the good guys and the bad, of how the bad are out to get you and the good to save you. Think of the use of symbols in the telling of these stories.  They are crucial.  The word symbol comes from a Greek word to throw together.  Symbols that represent the in-group or the “good guys” are used to create social solidarity within the in-group.  Stories are told to accompany the symbols; stories, narratives, or myths tell of how the good guys are fighting to hold the group together and the bad guys are trying to rip the community apart.  The symbolic and its opposite – the diabolic (to throw apart) – the angels against the devils – el diablo.  Very simple, very old.  The aliens are out to get us.  And el diablo is always the ultimate other, the man in red, the reds, the commies, the Russians, the others, immigrants, the blacks who want to move next door, Muslims, gays  – take your pick.  Satanic rituals.  Black magic.  Witchcraft.

Methods of Propaganda

Infecting minds with such symbols and stories must be done directly and indirectly, as well as short-term and long-term.  Long term propaganda is like a slowly leaking water pipe that you are vaguely aware of but that rots the metal from within until the pipe can no longer resist the pressure.  Drip drop, drip drop, drip drop – and the inattentive recipients of the propaganda gradually lose their mettle to resist and don’t know it, and then when an event bursts into the news – e.g. the attacks of September 11, 2001 or Russia-gate – they have been so softened that their assent is automatically given.  They know without hesitation who the devil is and that he must be fought.

The purpose of the long-term propaganda is to create certain predispositions and weaknesses that can be exploited when needed.  Certain events can be the triggers to induce the victims to react to suggestions.  When the time is ripe, all that is needed is a slight suggestion, like a touch on the shoulder, and the hypnotized one acts in a trance.  The gun goes off, and the entranced one can’t remember why (see: Sirhan Sirhan). This is the goal of mass hypnotization through long-term propaganda: confusion, memory loss, and automatic reaction to suggestion.

Intelligence Pimps and Liquid Screen Culture

When the CIA’s dirty tricks were made public in the 1970s, it is not hard to imagine that the intellectual pimps who do their long-range thinking were asked to go back to the drawing board and paint a picture of the coming decades and how business as usual could be conducted without further embarrassment.  By that time it had become clear that intellectual or high culture was being swallowed by mass culture and the future belonged to electronic screen culture and images, not words.  What has come to be called “postmodernity” ensued, or what the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman calls “liquid modernity” and Guy Debord “the society of the spectacle.”  Such developments, rooted in what Frederic Jameson has termed “the cultural logic of late capitalism,” have resulted in the fragmentation of social and personal life into pointillistic moving pictures whose dots form incoherent images that sow mass confusion and do not cohere.  From the mid-1970s until today, this generalized disorientation with its flowing and eternal present of appearing and dissolving images has resulted in what is surely a transformed world, and with it, transformed worldviews.  The foundations have collapsed. Meaning and coherence have become difficult to discern.  Stable personality has been disassociated, memory downloaded, attention lost, the psyche materialized, sexual identity confused, the electronic mind-body interface established, and the electronic and pharmaceutical drugging of the population accomplished.  Really?  Yes.

Did not the intelligence agencies foresee all this?  Did not they see it and plan accordingly?  Did they not notice that about the time their old dirty deeds were being exposed, a movie burst onto the screen that introduced a theme familiar to them and their Nazi friends?  I mean the 1973 hit, The Exorcist, wherein Satan struts his stuff, four years after Mick Jagger strut his across the stage at Altamont, singing “Sympathy for the Devil,” while shortly after a killing took place down in front of him and the 1960s were laid to rest.  But during the 1970s The Exorcist and its theme of the devil’s hold on people came to life and was taken up with a religious fervor by the entertainment industry and promoted by Oprah Winfrey, Geraldo Rivera, and other media luminaries, who went about promoting el diablo’s hold on so many helpless victims.  Occult, magic, and satanic themes became pop staples and would remain so up until the present day.  I would suggest that readers put aside their reservations at what may seem sensational and watch this video.  Then ask yourself: what is going on here?

The CIA as Prophetic

But maybe a better question than did the CIA foresee these developments, would be to ask if it has been involved in the occult and satanic world itself, before and after the social developments of “liquid modernity.”   The answer is yes.  Indeed, all the characteristics of the social and cultural developments I mentioned previously in reference to postmodernity have been a major part of its work before this new world emerged: “the disassociation of stable personalities, memory erasure and the implanting of false memories, materializing the psyche, confusing sexual identity, establishing the electronic mind-body interface, and electronic, hallucinogenic (the CIA introduced and spread LSD in the 1960s), and pharmaceutical drugging,” to name but a few.  In anticipating these developments the CIA was at the very least predictive.  Disinformation, acts of terrorism,  coup d’états, assassinations flow out of a marriage to the Nazis made in hell – Talbot’s “devil’s chessboard” – but they are linked to much more.  Peter Levenda, in Sinister Forces: A Grimoire of American Political Witchcraft, a trilogy on sinister forces in American history, puts it this way:

The CIA, satanic cults, and UFOs, the mythology of the late twentieth century is surprisingly coherent even though the masks change from case to case, from victim to alleged victim.  The CIA, of course, does exist; their mind control programs from BLUEBIRD to ARTICHOKE to MK-ULTRA are a matter of public record.  Their history of political assassinations and the overthrow of various foreign governments is also a matter of record.  Satanic cults – or perhaps we should qualify that and say ‘occult secret societies’ – also exist and are a matter of public record; their attempts to contact alien forces by means of ceremonial magic and arcane ritual (including the use of some of the same drugs and other techniques as the CIA used in its mind control programs) are also well-known and documented.  Some of these practitioners were – and are – well-known men and women who have not denied their involvement (such as rocket scientist Jack Parsons in the 1950s and Army Colonel and intelligence officer Michael Aquino in the 1990s).  The CIA also aggressively researched American cults and secret societies in an effort to discover the source of paranormal abilities and ancient mind control mechanisms. And while the jury is still out on the question of UFOs, there is no doubt that government agencies have attempted to track, to analyze them, and to explain them away.  Again this is a matter of public record, including FBI and CIA documents in addition to military records.

Skeptical readers may find this strange to consider.  That would be a mistake.  The web of connections is there for anyone who cares to look.  For more than fifty years occult themes and rituals have been part of world view warfare.  Drugs, shamanism, black magic, and the occult – staples of the CIA then and now.  It is well known that Hollywood, television, and the media in general have been working closely with the intelligence agencies for a long time. Especially since 2001, films and television programs have glorified the CIA, our “good” spies, and the military. The mystification of reality has found its best friend in the electronic and internet revolution as strange and “subversive” beliefs are dangled like candy for little children.  Good and evil move through the public consciousness like passing sun and shadows.  Weird conspiracy theories “pop up” to titillate and obsess, and to drive out the serious findings of dedicated and disciplined writers and researchers who have discovered the truth about real government conspiracies.  Sowing confusion is the name of this deadly game, and if you find yourself confused, you are in good company.

But many are catching on and realizing that what seems strange but innocent is part of a much larger effort to hypnotize the public to agree to their own destruction through the ingestion of what can only be called black magic.

The eloquent writer and brave American, Jim Garrison, the former District Attorney of New Orleans and the only person to bring a trial in the assassination of President Kennedy, put it this way in On The Trail of The Assassins, the story of his quest to solve the murder of JFK.

I knew by now that when a group of individuals gravitated toward one another for no apparent reason, or a group of individuals inexplicitly headed in the same directions as if drawn by a magnetic field, or coincidence piled upon coincidence too many times, as often as not the shadowy outlines of a covert intelligence operation were somehow becoming visible.

Rub Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness, the right way and the CIA emerges into the light.  You can see its shadowy outline with your eyes wide shut.  As it says on CIA headquarters: “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”

Other Revolving Doors

It’s more than doors between government and the businesses that they supposedly regulate that go round and round.  One of the other swinging doors is between the Democratic and Republican Parties.

A second door

Perhaps the best known case is when Al Gore ran for president in 2000, he picked Joe Lieberman as his running mate.  Then, in 2008, Lieberman showed up at the Republican national convention to endorse John McCain for president.  Between those two campaigns, John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, was rumored to be leaning to ask Republican John McCain to be his running mate.

Had Al Gore won, Lieberman would most likely have been the subsequent Democratic nominee for president.  Had John Kerry won with McCain on the ticket, McCain would have been the heir apparent to the “Democratic Party” crown.  Whether Lieberman or McCain, Democrats across the country would have been told to bow in reverence to their party’s red-blue nominee for president.

This was hardly the first time such a switcheroo blossomed in American politics.  In 1864, Republican Abraham Lincoln dumped his sitting vice-president to ask Democrat Andrew Johnson to be his running mate.  After Lincoln’s murder, US voters, who had selected a Republican to be their president, found him replaced by a Democrat.

Though such examples at the presidential level may be enshrined in history books, they happen all the time at the local level.  In 1963, the Texas Young Democrats allowed high school chapters for the first time.  I was 15 years old then and organized the state’s first Young Democrats chapter at Lamar High School in Houston.  We invited a teacher who had been elected to the Texas Legislature to speak to our chapter on “Why Am I a Democrat?”  His answer was simple.  He was a Democrat because that was the only way to get elected in Texas of the early 1960s.

The next year, he came out as a Republican.  That was the time of the exodus of southern Dixiecrats from the Democratic to the Republican Party.

Fast forward half a century and I was the 2016 Green Party nominee for governor of Missouri.  I participated in the debate with Democrat Chris Koster and Republican Eric Greitens.  Greitens, riding the election on Trump’s wave, has since become internationally infamous for an affair in which he allegedly tied his victim to his basement exercise equipment, hit her, took nude photos of her, threatened to publicize the photos if she ever told anyone what he did, and continued various sex acts without her consent.

During the campaign, both the Democrat and Repubican made TV ads showing themselves with automatic weapons.  Besides being partial to gun violence, they had something else in common.  Both had switched parties.  The Republican Greitens was a former Democrat and the Democrat Koster was a former Republican.  Like most others greedy for power, they decided which way the winds were blowing, calculated where they could most effectively hustle votes, and adjusted their public images and party affiliation accordingly.  (Greitens resigned as governor in May 2018.)

Flip-flops between the corporate parties are hardly peculiar to Missouri.  Evan Jenkins was the runner-up in the May 2018 Republican primary for the West Virginia US senate seat.  Jenkins had been elected as a Democrat to the West Virginia legislature, but hopped to the Republican side to win the third district US house seat in 2014. During the 2018 race, the former Democrat boasted a perfect rating from the National Rifle Association as well as a 100% “pro-life” record saying, “I am a West Virginia conservative who is working with President Trump each and every day for our shared conservative values.”

That was nothing new for the state.  Its billionaire governor Jim Justice started out as a Republican, became a Democrat in 2015 to win the governor’s race and switched again to the Republicans in 2017 to bask in Trump’s glow.  These people are as dedicated to the colors of their party as a chameleon is to staying green when it’s opportune to turn yellow.

The original door

Do you remember when the “revolving door” was first noticed?  It was due to people like Michael R. Taylor who rotated between regulatory agencies and the corporations they were supposedly regulating.  Taylor began as a Monsanto lawyer.  Then he became a staff lawyer for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and helped it to hassle Amish farmers for selling whole milk while giving companies like Monsanto the green light to sell genetically contaminated products without labeling them.  Then, he cycled back to Monsanto, becoming its Vice President for Public Policy.  In 2010, he flipped back to being the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods.

The scenario was quite a bit different for Richard Gephardt, former speaker of the US House and darling child of business unions and anti-NAFTA coalitions in the early 1990s.  When I was working with Public Citizen to oppose NAFTA, a friend who had just been to Mexico told me that Gephardt had spoken in Monterrey promising to get NAFTA through the US House.  So I spent several afternoons at the Washington University library until I found the Mexican paper Excelsior recording his comments.

I documented Gephardt’s statements in an Op-Ed piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of June 1, 1993 and reported his two faces during the next Public Citizen conference call.  There was stony silence for several seconds.  Then Lori Wallach let everyone know “Dick Gephardt is the best ally in Washington that we have.”

Though Gephardt gave clear warnings of his true colors, leftists paid to lobby politicians had a devout faith that an ally scheming to stab you in the back is better than no ally at all.  A few years later, the left did turn on Gephardt – but only after he publicly displayed his contempt for progressives.  In 2005, he abandoned his distinguished career as public servant and formed Gephardt Government Affairs which allowed him to pocket almost $7 million lobbying on behalf of clients such as Goldman Sachs, Boeing, Visa Inc and Waste Management Inc.

Of course, Gephardt was not the typical revolving door guy.  Instead of being an agency bureaucrat      he was elected to public office.  And he did not wait to resign from his governmental post to serve industry because he was apparently working both sides regarding NAFTA at the same time.

A third door

This brings us to a third way the door revolves  – the way that policies and practices get tossed from one corporate party to the other.  When I was a kid, the saying went “The Democrats bring war and the Republicans bring recession.”  But no more.  With rapacious Wall Street increasing its appetite for expansion as its human host decays, the Democrats and Republicans shadow box to see which can simultaneously be more violent and make the quality of life deteriorate faster.

Perhaps the old saying stemmed from the way Woodrow Wilson won the presidency with the slogan “He kept us out of war” and then proceeded to take the US into WWI.  A few decades later Lyndon Johnson ridiculed Barry Goldwater’s threat to bomb Viet Nam back into the stone age.  After LBJ won the election, he did his best to carry out Goldwater’s plan.

For about half a century, the Republicans won the reputation of being the most anti-Communist.  Yet, it was John and Bobby Kennedy who tried to invade Cuba, went off their chain to pit bull Fidel Castro, and began the very long series of attempts to assassinate him.

Years later, the rapidly anti-Communist Richard Nixon ascended the throne, recognized China, and visited Beijing.  In case you missed it, the right-wing Nixon reversed course and realized a progressive idea.  It was hardly the only positive event that happened during the reign of one of the most degenerate presidents of all time.  The following occurred during his presidency: end to the Viet Nam war, beginning of the Food Stamp Program, creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, passage of the Freedom of Information Act, formal dismantling of the FBI’s COINTEL program, decriminalization of abortion, creation of Earned Income Tax Credits, a format ban on biological weapons, and passage of the Clean Water Act.

One of the crowning achievements during the Nixon era was the April 28, 1971 founding of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  Shaun Richman describes in The Unionist how OSHA “has the authority to promulgate industry-specific workplace safety rules and to fine companies that violate them. The law also provides for workplace safety inspectors, whistleblower protections for workers who report potentially unsafe conditions and legal protections for workers who go on wildcat strikes to put an end to a dangerous situation.”

Do Democrats in power provide some sort of assurance because they “call for” more environmental protection than do Republicans?  During the 1990s, St. Louis environmentalists were trying to block the construction of a dioxin incinerator.  There was a Democrat in the White House, a Democratic Governor of Missouri, and a Democratic County Executive.   We persuaded the Democratic majority on the County Council to pass an ordinance requiring dioxin incinerators to operate according to EPA standards, which seemed like a victory since no incinerator can meet those standards.

We stopped going to County Council meetings because we thought we had “won.”  Then the Council repealed the ordinance we had lobbied for.  Bill Clinton got his Missouri dioxin incinerator.  When do Democrats stab you in the back?  Whenever your back is turned.

In 2018, Donald Trump is justly despised because of his racist hate campaign against people of color, especially his ripping immigrant children apart from their parents and putting them in cages.  But let’s not forget the continuity between Obama and Trump.  As Tina Vasquez writes in Rewire News:

When he first announced DACA in 2012, President Obama boasted of ‘putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history.’ Obama sought to ‘centralize border security’ on the pretext of deporting violent criminals and gang members—now Trump’s cause … The anti-immigrant zeal that Trump used to get elected is in many ways closely aligned with the history of America’s immigration system, which gave priority to white immigrants and sought to limit entry by other groups. Every administration, Republican or Democrat, has maintained this system’s injustices.

A major difference between the two presidents is that press outlets like MSNBC tended to ignore actions by Obama but shrieked in horror when Trump followed suit.  Clearly, the outrage against Trump positively lessens the attacks, but it makes one wonder: If a Democrat replaces Trump and commits the same atrocities against immigrant children, will media again muffle its anger?

These examples of Democrats and Republicans swapping platforms and policies do not even scratch the surface.  Their views are so interchangeable that one could write a 10 volume collection of the way they imitate each other and still barely cover the tip of all the stories out there.

Progressive Democrats?

Does this mean that there is no one running for office as a Democrat who sincerely wishes to move in a more progressive direction?  Of course not.  There are many, many candidates who start out running for local office as a Democrat and stay at the bottom of the Party’s hierarchy because it is structured to keep them there and use them as bait to lure and defang other progressives.

Progressive Democrats at the base level do not script the Party’s major directions, which is as firmly controlled by big business as is the direction of the Republican Party.  While they may propose reforms in their communities, they must march in line with candidates for national office if they are to get funding to run at a higher level.  Those higher-up Dems are the ones most skilled at collaborating with Repubs, echoing their policies, and even fluttering over to the GOP side if the time is right.

While the Republicans and Democrats are able to twist and turn on any dime lying in the street, there is at least one item for which they have a mind-meld.  The top concern of their corporate benefactors is “How do we reverse the gains of the New Deal?”  Bosses of both parties seek to undo the New Deal – the biggest difference between them is how to pull it off.

The Dems generally use finesse with a stiletto, carving out gains one-by-one, weeping and sobbing as they do so.  The public face of the Repubs screams in delight as it whacks off gains with a meat cleaver.  The difference in rhetoric is vastly greater than any difference in the end result.  So many politicians can alternate policies and, at times, party affiliation because they see elections as a thermometer measuring if it is the hour for the delicate blade or the butcher knife.

The great virtue of the Democrats is creating hope.  The great virtue of the Republicans is being a bit more honest about their long term goals.  The perception of vice or virtue in either depends on the mood of the observer.

Do Democrats and Republicans quarrel with each other in front of TV cameras?  Obviously yes – but it’s merely a mock lovers’ spat crafted for public consumption.  Once the cameras are off, they embrace in excited passion while collapsing onto the bed of cash provided by corporate donations to both parties.

In our darkest hour

Understanding that the unified goal of both parties is to turn back New Deal gains leads us to ask how those victories were won.  It was because of the massive strikes, exploding labor movement, and unprecedented growth of the Socialist and Communist Parties that made a New Deal necessary.  Key corporate players decided that it was more discreet to allow some demanded changes than to suppress mushrooming mass movements.

Hop forward to the Nixon years.  The many accomplishments won during his term were not because that vicious anti-communist fell on his knees, beheld a shining light, and vowed to tread the path of righteousness.  It was due to a strong labor movement, a massive anti-war movement following on the heels of the civil rights movement, and a growing women’s movement demanding reproductive freedom (along with many other more radical movements).

Hop forward again to the depravity of the Trump administration.  As humanity faces extermination from increased production of fossil fuels, opposition bubbles up at an equal rate.  Even though Republican state legislatures agreed to continue undermining public schools, in Spring 2018 teachers decided that they had had enough.

West Virginia had a Republican governor and a Republican majority in both houses of the legislature.  But West Virginia teachers went on strike anyway and were followed by teachers from Oklahoma and other states likewise dominated by anti-labor Republicans.  Even though illegal, the strike won because teachers stood together with janitors, bus drivers, food service workers and other state employees.

As Bruce Dixon laid it out in Black Agenda Report:

…successful strikes are possible wherever an overwhelming majority of the workforce is committed to it, whether or not those workers are in a ‘right to work’ state, and whether or not the strike is endorsed by their union if they have a union at all. Neither of West Virginia’s two teachers unions endorsed the strike, and the leaders of both unions initially and repeatedly attempted to ‘settle’ it for far less than the striking workers demanded.

The three revolving doors are just other ways that big business manages government while pulling the wool over people’s eyes.  Corporate flunkies transfer between their bosses and agencies to ensure agencies do their bidding.  Professional politicians go back and forth between parties according to their career opportunities.  Parties grab policies from each other to see who can hoodwink the most voters.

The Democrats and Republicans are parts of a single gestalt that creates the illusion of meaningful difference when there is none.  If you are part of an organization that gets caught up in the revolving door, don’t keep going around in circles – find another way out.  In times of the darkest despair, solidarity is still the road to victory.

An Important Book the Mainstream Media Refuses to Review

When a book as fascinating, truthful, beautifully written, and politically significant as American Values: Lessons I Learned from My Family, written by a very well-known author by the name of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and published by a prominent publisher (HarperCollins), is boycotted by mainstream book reviewers, you know it is an important book and has touched a nerve that the corporate mainstream media wish to anesthetize by eschewal.

The Kennedy name attracts the mainstream media only when they can sensationalize something “scandalous” – preferably sexual or drug related – whether false or true, or something innocuous that can lend credence to the myth that the Kennedys are lightweight, wealthy celebrities descended from Irish mobsters.  This has been going on since the 1960s with the lies and cover-ups about the assassinations of President Kennedy and his brother Robert, propaganda that continues to the present day, always under the aegis of the CIA-created phrase “conspiracy theory.”  A thinking person might just get the idea that the media are in league with the CIA to bury the Kennedys.

Such disinformation has been promulgated by many sources, prominent among them from the start in the 1960s was the CIA’s Sam Halpern, a former Havana bureau chief for the New York Times, who was CIA Director Richard Helms’s deputy (the key source for Seymour Hersh’s Kennedy hatchet job, The Dark Side of Camelot), who began spreading lies about the Kennedys that have become ingrained in the minds of leftists, liberals, centrists, and conservatives to this very day.  Fifty years later, after decades of reiteration by the CIA’s Wurlitzer machine (the name given by the CIA’s Frank Wisner to the CIA’s penetration and control of the mass media, Operation Mockingbird), Halpern’s lies have taken on mythic proportions.  Among them: that Joseph. P. Kennedy, the patriarch, was a bootlegger and Nazi lover; that he was Mafia connected and fixed the 1960 election with Chicago mobster Sam Giancana; and that JFK and RFK knew of and approved the CIA plots to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Of course, whenever a writer extols the Kennedy name and legacy, he is expected to add the caveat that the Kennedys, especially JFK and RFK, were no saints.  Lacking this special talent to determine sainthood or its lack, I will defer to those who feel compelled to temper their praise with a guilty commonplace.  Let me say at the outset that I greatly admire President John Kennedy and his brother, Robert, very courageous men who died in a war to steer this country away from the nefarious path of war-making and deep-state control that it has followed with a vengeance since their murders.

And I admire Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. for writing this compelling book that is a tour de force on many levels.

Part memoir, part family history, part astute political analysis, and part-confessional, it is in turns delightful, sad, funny, fierce, and frightening in its implications.  From its opening sentence – “From my youngest days I always had the feeling that we were all involved in some great crusade, that the world was a battleground for good and evil, and that our lives would be consumed in the conflict.” – to its last – “‘Kennedys never give up, ’ she [Ethel Kennedy] chided us.  ‘We have to die with our boots on!’” – the book is imbued with the spirit of the eloquent, romantic Irish-Catholic rebels whose fighting spirit and jaunty demeanor the Kennedy family has exemplified.  RFK, Jr. tells his tales in words that honor that literary and spiritual tradition.

So what is it about this book that has caused the mainstream press to avoid reviewing it?

Might it be the opening chapter devoted to his portrait of his grandfather, Joseph P. Kennedy, who comes across as a tender and doting grandpa, who created an idyllic world for his children and grandchildren at “The Big House” on Cape Cod?   We see Grandpa Joe taking the whole brood of Kennedys, including his three famous political sons, for a ride on his cabin cruiser, the Marlin, and JFK (Uncle Jack) singing “The Wearing of the Green” and, together with his good friend, Dave Powers, teaching the kids to whistle “The Boys of Wexford” (Wexford being the Kennedy’s ancestral home), an Irish rebel tune all of whose words John Kennedy knew by heart:

We are the boys of Wexford
Who fought with heart and hand
To burst in twain
The galling chain
And free our native land.

We see Joseph P. Kennedy sitting on the great white porch, holding hands with his wife Rose Kennedy, as the kids played touch football on the grass beyond.  We read that “Grandpa wanted his children’s minds unshackled by ideology” and that his “overarching purpose was to engender in his children a social conscience” and use their money and advantages to make America and the world a better place.  We learn, according to Joe’s son, Senator Robert Kennedy, that he loved all of them deeply, “not love as it is described with such facility in popular magazines, but the kind of love that is affection and respect, order, encouragement and support.”  We hear him staunchly defended from the political criticisms that he was a ruthless, uncaring, and political nut-case who would do anything to advance his political and business careers.  In short, he is presented very differently from the popular understanding of him as a malign force and a ruthless bastard.

Portraying his grandfather as a good and loving man may be one minor reason that Robert Jr.’s book is being ignored.

No doubt it is not because of the picture he paints of his paternal grandmother, Rose Kennedy, who comes across similarly to her husband as a powerful presence and as a devoted mother and grandmother who expected much from her children and grandchildren but gave much in return.  Robert Jr. writes that “Grandpa and Grandma were products of an alienated Irish generation that kept itself intact through rigid tribalism embodied in the rituals and mystical cosmologies of medieval Catholicism,” but that both believed the Church should be a champion of the poor as Christ taught. The glowing portrait of Grandmother Rose could not be the reason the book has not been reviewed.

Nor can the chapter on Ethel Kennedy’s family, the Skakels, be the reason.  It is a fascinating peek into certain aspects of Ethel’s character – the daring, outrageous, fun-loving, and wild side – from her upbringing in a wild and crazy family, together with the Kennedys one of the richest Catholic families in the U.S. in days past.  But there their similarities end.  The Skakels were conservative Republicans in the oil, coal, and extraction business, who “reveled in immodest consumption,” were huge into guns and “more primitive weaponry like bows, knives, throwing spears and harpoons,” and “pretty much captured shot, stabbed, hooked, or speared anything that moved, including each other.”  The Skakel men worked as informers for the CIA wherever their businesses took them around the world and they worked very hard to sabotage JFK’s run for the presidency. Ethel’s brother George was a creepy and crazy wild man. Once Ethel met RFK, she switched political sides for good, embracing the Kennedy’s liberal Democratic ethos.

A vignette of Lemoyne Billings, JFK’s dear friend, who after RFK’s assassination took Robert Jr. under his wing, can’t be the reason.  It too is a loving portrait of the man RFK Jr. says was “perhaps the most important influence in my life” and also the most fun.  In his turn Billings said that JFK was the most fun person he had ever met.  They referred to each other as Johnny and Billy and both were expelled from Choate for hi-jinks.  But stories about Lem, JFK, and RFK Jr. would attract, not repel, the mainstream press’s book reviewers.

Clearly the chapter about Robert Jr.’s early bad behavior, his drug use, and his conflicted relationship with his mother would be fuel for the Kennedy haters.  “I seem to have been at odds with my mother since birth,” he writes.  “My mere presence seemed to agitate her.”  Mother and son were at war for decades, and his father’s murder sent him on a long downward spiral into self-medicating that inflamed their relationship.  Moving from school to school and keeping away from home as much as possible, his “homecomings were like the arrival of a squall.  With me around to provoke her, my mother didn’t stay angry very long – she went straight to rage.”  His victory over drugs through Twelve Step meetings and his reconciliation with his mother are also the stuff that the mainstream press revels in, yet they ignore the book.

The parts about his relationship with his father, his father’s short but electrifying presidential campaign in 1968, his death, and funeral are deeply moving and evocative.  Deep sadness and lost hope accompanies the reader as one revisits RFK’s funeral and the tear-filled eulogy given by his brother Ted, then the long slow train ride bearing the body from New York to Washington, D.C. as massive crowds, lined the tracks, weeping and waving farewell.  And the writer, now a 64-year-old-man, but then a 14- year-old-boy, named after his look-alike father, the father who supported and encouraged him despite his difficulties in school, the father who took the son on all kinds of outdoor adventures – sailing, white water canoeing, mountain climbing – always reminding him to “always do what you are afraid to do” and which the son understood to be “boot camp for the ultimate virtue – moral courage.  Despite his high regard for physical bravery, my father told us that moral courage is the rarer and more valuable commodity.”  Such compelling, heartfelt writing, with not a word about who might have killed his father, would be another reason why the mainstream press would review this book.

It is the heart of this book that has the reviewers avoiding it like the plague, perhaps a plague introduced by a little mockingbird.

American Values revolves around the long war between the Kennedys and the CIA that resulted in the deaths of JFK and RFK.  All the other chapters, while very interesting personal and family history, pale in importance.

No member of the Kennedy family since JFK or RFK has dared to say what RFK, Jr. does in this book.  He indicts the CIA.

While some news outlets have mentioned the book in passing because of its assertion that what has been known for a long time to historically aware people – that RFK immediately suspected that the CIA was involved in the assassination of JFK – Robert Jr.’s writing on the war between the CIA and his Uncle Jack and father is so true and so carefully based on the best scholarship and family records that the picture he paints fiercely indicts the CIA in multiple ways while also indicting the mass media that have been its mouthpieces.   These sections of the book are masterful lessons in understanding the history and machinations of “The Agency” that the superb writer and researcher, Douglas Valentine, calls “organized crime” – the CIA.  A careful reading of RFK Jr.’s critical history leads to the conclusion that the CIA and the Mafia are not two separate murderer’s rows, but one organization that has corrupted the country at the deepest levels and is, as Kennedy quotes his father Robert – “a dark force infiltrating American politics and business, unseen by the public, and out of reach of democracy and the justice system” – posing “a greater threat to our country than any foreign enemy.”  The CIA’s covert operations branch has grown so powerful that it feels free to murder its opponents at home and abroad and make sure “splendid little wars” are continually waged around the globe for the interests of its patrons.  Robert Jr. says, “A permanent state of war abroad and a national security surveillance state at home are in the institutional self-interest of the CIA’s clandestine services.”

No Kennedy has dared speak like this since Senator Robert Kennedy last did so – but privately – and paid the price. His son tells us:

Days before his murder, as my father pulled ahead in the California polls, he began considering how he would govern the country.  According to his aide Fred Dutton, his concerns often revolved around the very question that his brother asked at the outset of his presidency, ‘What are we going to do about the CIA?’  Days before the California primary, seated next to journalist Pete Hamill on his campaign plane, my father mused aloud about his options. ‘I have to decide whether to eliminate the operations arm of the Agency or what the hell to do with it,’ he told Hamill.  ‘We can’t have those cowboys wandering around and shooting people and doing all those unauthorized things.’  Then he was shot dead.

For whatever their reasons, for fifty plus years the Kennedy family has kept silent on these matters.  Now Senator Robert Kennedy’s namesake has picked up his father’s mantle and dared to tell truths that take courage to utter.  By excoriating the secret forces that seized power, first with the murder of his Uncle Jack when he was a child, and then his father, he has exhibited great moral courage and made great enemies who wish to ignore his words as if they were never uttered.  But they have.  They sit between the covers of this outstanding and important book, a book written with wit and eloquence, a book that should be read by any American who wants to know what has happened to their country.

There is a telling anecdote that took place in the years following JFK’s assassination when RFK was haunted by his death.  It says so much about Senator Kennedy and now his son, a son who in many ways for many wandering years became a prodigal son lost in grief and drugs only to return home to find his voice and tell the truth for his father and his family.  He writes:

One day he [RFK] came into my bedroom and handed me a hardcover copy of Camus’s The Plague. ‘I want you to read this,’ he said with particular urgency. It was the story of a doctor trapped in a quarantined North African city while a raging epidemic devastates its citizenry; the physician’s small acts of service, while ineffective against the larger tragedy, give meaning to his own life, and, somehow, to the larger universe.  I spent a lot of time thinking about that book over the years, and why my father gave it to me.  I believe it was the key to a door that he himself was then unlocking….It is neither our position nor our circumstances that define us… but our response to those circumstances; when destiny crushes us, small heroic gestures of courage and service can bring peace and fulfillment.  In applying our shoulder to the stone, we give order to a chaotic universe.  Of the many wonderful things my father left me, this philosophical truth was perhaps the most useful.  In many ways, it has defined my life.

By writing American Values: Lessons I Learned from My Family, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has named the plague and entered the fight. His father would be very proud of him.  He has defined himself.