Archive for the 'Books' Category

Where Did all the Houses Go After the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008?

Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

Homewreckers; How a Gang of Wall Street Kingpins, Hedge Fund Magnates, Crooked Banks, and Vulture Capitalists Suckered Millions Out of Their Homes and Demolished the American Dream, Aaron Glantz, 2019

Steve Mnuchin, Poster Child of the Homewreckers

10 million Americans lost their homes as a result of the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008. By 2010 more than 10% of Americans were unemployed. The Financial Crisis left 45 more million Americans below the poverty line. This book focuses on a handful of predators whose actions would not have been possible without the full cooperation and assistance of the Federal government and the Obama administration. Most of those houses became rentals owned by a handful of huge LLC limited partnerships. The new owners of all these houses are holding them waiting for real estate prices to recover sufficiently to satisfy their greedy requirements to profit from a disaster. These houses are not available to individual home buyers which is artificially driving the prices of homes higher. Charts (not shown in this book) illustrate the changes.


The financial crisis of 2007-2008 was the direct result of a Federal government failure of regulation of the banking industry and the confusion of FDIC banking with Wall Street style speculation. Three critical changes were required to assure it didn’t happen again: 1) Reestablish the Glass-Steagall Act to again separate FDIC regulated banking from Wall Street Speculation. This act was passed in 1933 and repealed in 1999 under Clinton. 2) Severely Regulate or outlaw financial derivatives, created by the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 signed into law by Clinton. 3) Break up the big banks and separate their FDIC insured portions from their Wall Street operations. Since all banks were insolvent by 2008, the FDIC had full authority to take over all banks, remove all management, and do whatever was necessary to restore sound banking practice. See also Sheila Bair’s book. The Obama administration did none of these things. These three changes were necessary and possible but re regulation would have required even more changes before banking could return to its rightful boring self. The blame for what happened to those 10 million American families who lost their homes couldn’t be clearer. Clinton broke banking and Obama didn’t fix it even though he could have. Now this book;

Through all of this, the administration of Barack Obama, like George W. Bush’s before him, did very little to stem the tide of foreclosures. …Congress passed a massive bank bailout that did little to help individual borrowers. The terms of the deals the federal government brokered afterward, like the sale of IndyMac to Steve Mnuchin’s group of hedge fund managers, encouraged foreclosures.
Then, as foreclosures spiraled out of control and the number of vacant and foreclosed homes mounted, the federal government did almost nothing to prevent communities from collapsing entirely…The Neighborhood Stabilization Program, extended grants to hard-hit communities to provide “emergency assistance to stabilize communities with high rates of abandoned and foreclosed homes.” …A typical NSP grant went to Riverside, California, where fourteen thousand homes were lost to foreclosure… The city…received just $6.5 million–barely enough to buy fifty homes (not even 1 percent of Riverside’s foreclosures).

The Barracks

The Depression era HOLC, by contrast, acquired nearly two hundred thousand properties through foreclosure. 90 percent of those home were sold to families. The Obama Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, simply bundled foreclosed houses into blocks sized between 500 and 10,000 homes at a time to be sold to the Federally subsidized (bailed out) banks and eventually to vulture LLCs. The banks had no intention of finding individual buyers and issuing mortgages so all these homes so they unloaded then in bulk to the vulture LLCs. No attempt was made to determine if the buyers were qualified to manage these properties. There were no promises by buyers to maintain the properties, keep rents affordable, or engage with the community. The home were simply dumped by the government and the banks. And house prices kept dropping through 2012. Las Vegas, Phoenix, Spokane, Riverside and San Bernadino County saw prices drop more than 50 percent. By late 2011 the fire sale was on. The book features Tom Barrack whose source of money to make the home purchases is murky but involves the Cayman Islands and strong suspicions of money laundering and tax evasion. It all ends with Delaware (Biden) LLCs and ultimately to Barrack’s parent company, Colony Capital LLC. Colony eventually amassed an empire of 31,000 houses, rivaling the size of Blackstone’s house empire. Chase lent Colony $1.1 Billion for 7,563 homes. This giant bundle created a derivative that was carved up into tranches and sold on the bond market. But the two LLC predatory vulture groups featured in this book taken together total about 60,000 houses which represent about .6 percent of the 10 million houses lost. Where are the rest of those 10 million houses?

The book outlines the takeover of two failed banks, BankUnited of Florida, and IndyMac of California. Both deals were very costly for the government and resulted in private equity LLC ownership by wealth seeking individuals without a shred of empathy for who was hurt by their actions. The preditors see themselves as simply taking advantage of market opportunities presented by the federal government.

Attention is also given to the unloading of OneWest bank to a who’s who of investors for $1.6 billion. The deal left the government on the hook for any losses incurred in dumping the bank’s mortgages. When the new owners stripped and sold the bank, their return was $5 billion tripling their investment in less than 5 years. The investors included George Soros, John Thain, John Paulson, J.C. Flowers, and others.

Sandy Jolley Reverse Mortgage Whistle blower

Drawing special attention here is the reverse mortgage for the elderly, pioneered during the Reagan years but kept small by government rules. By 2006, the cap was raised to 275,000. Even the government was selling them and packaging its own fully guaranteed reverse mortgages into mortgage backed securities, sold and sliced by the same speculators that brought down the whole system. Most troubling, subprime specialists like IndyMac started selling reverse mortgages using “boiler room” sales tactics and preying on seniors lacking the mental capacity to understand the contracts they signed. Glantz features one deal involving an elderley wife with Alzheimer’s and a dying husband unable to understand the reverse mortgage he was agreeing to. When the husband died, the daughter Sandy Jolley moved back home to care for her mother and fight off foreclosure. In any system with a functioning justice system, the reverse mortgage contracts would have been vacated, the home restored, and damages assessed. None of this happened but Jolley kept fighting, assembling a large group of similarly displaced homeowners and becoming a federal whistle blower. Twelve years after her parent’s reverse mortgage was signed, the case was settled in 2017 with a typical slap on the wrist award and no admission of wrongdoing. Sandy Jolley’s whistle blower’s reward was $978,000.

Too big to fail ($50 billion plus in assets enshrined under Dodd-Frank now raised to $250 billion) Chase bank acquired Bear Sterns and Washington Mutual Bank in 2008. Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia Bank in 2008. Bank of America acquired Merrill Lynch in 2008. All banks accelerated their foreclosure and bundled them for sale to vulture capital LLCs as the easiest way to get the houses off their books, and the Obama government was guaranteeing any losses incurred. All banks greatly decreased their mortgage business and offered mortgages only to customers with high income and impeccable credit. From 2014 to 2016 Chase issued six thousand mortgages under the FHA program (usually used by first time buyers). During this same period Chase loaned Tom Barrack’s Colony $3.3 billion as it created six mortgage backed securities covering 23,000 homes. For first time home buyers an entire generation has had no reasonably priced starter homes and no way to buy the few that were out there. Yet the Federal Reserve held interest rates at near zero throughout the period. Practically, this has meant FDIC deposits are practically free for banks and cheap money was available for speculation and vulture purposes.
The Vulture LLCs that acquired all these houses, bundled them into large groups and securitized them using the same vehicles journalists were calling weapons of mass destruction in 2008. The bundles were diced into trenches to receive different ratings by the same agencies like Moodies who contributed to the 2008 collapse. Typically 80 percent of the bundles received AAA ratings. Glantz researched a tiny Los Angeles Home which listed a mysterious LLC as owner and a lien for $500 million (later refinanced for $900 million).

When housing prices reach a suitably high level, no doubt the LLCs will start selling their huge collections of houses but for the time being they can continue to collect ever increasing rents while spending a minimum on maintenance. Expect these houses to be in awful shape when they eventually reenter the housing market as single family homes.

An article in RCLCO real estate advisors in 2016 found that the seven largest LLCs owned and rented out a total of 170,000 single family houses. A chart in this article shows that single family rental units now comprise 35 percent of total rentals. If there are 43 million renters, then 15 million would be renting single family units. The 10 million foreclosed homes must represent a very sizable portion of these rentals. The article puts the increase in occupied single family rentals during the period 2005-2014 at 3.8 million (probably under estimated) while the increase in single family ownership increased by just a tiny 482,000. It appears the government does little to actually track statistically what happened to foreclosed houses or to track what the deals assuring that banks or LLCs wouldn’t lose money from foreclosures actually cost the government. Mother Jones in 2009 put the financial crisis federal bailout cost at a staggering $14.4 trillion. At present, we seem to have no accurate way to determine what happened to the bulk of those 10 million foreclosed houses. The $14 trillion figure also appears in Ron Suskind’s 2011 Book.

Many of the vultures moved to the Trump administration and the administration’s big tax reduction giveaway showered particular largess on corporations and LLCs.

Ed Snowden In His Own Words

Thursday, November 14th, 2019

Permanent Record, Edward Snowden, 2009


Ed and Lindsay out in Moscow

Ed Snowden was only 29 years of age when he blew the whistle on NSA’s mass surveillance of all Americans (in fact on everyone in the world). Here is the story of his own arc of growing up, engaging in a highly successful technical career, and then deciding to throw it all away to tell journalists and the world what their government was secretly doing.

Ed was born in 1983, the year that ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency, later DARPA adding Defense to the title) made the ARPAnet (using the TCP/IP protocol) publicly available for the first time. In 1983 the Mosaic pioneer browser existed at the University of Illinois. The world wide web (WWW) was invented at CERN in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee. IBM introduced the PC in 1981, and Ed’s first computer, a Commodore 64 was introduced in 1982. In other words, Ed grew up at precisely the time that PC’s and the Internet were new. Ed became a very young, natural self described Geek and is mostly self educated since computers and the Internet were far more interesting than school and Ed was very talented in this new world.

Ed claims to be able to trace his ancestry on his mother’s side from the Mayflower itself and his fathers side to fighting in the Revolutionary War and every war thereafter. Early on his family moved from North Carolina to Maryland where his father worked on technology for the Coast Guard, and his mother worked at the NSA in human resources. Both parents held security clearances. Government service was the natural career path for his family. Unfortunately, modern government service requires a college degree and Ed finished high school with a GED. When the 9/11 attacks happened, Snowden signed up for army special forces and at 5’9″” and 124 pounds he went off to Fort Benning for basic training. He stress fractured a leg and the army, to avoid liability, granted Ed release from service with no black marks. While recovering from his injury, Ed came up with plan B. He would apply for a high level security clearance (requiring one year of vetting). The security clearance was granted and the CIA, much reduced after its failures in the 9/11 attack, hired Ed to babysit its headquarters computer systems. Thus started Ed’s meteoric but short career of government service which saw Ed stationed at the US embassy in Geneva Switzerland, and then, with the NSA, a stint at the Yokota Air Force Base on Honshu in Japan, and finally assignment to the NSA facilities near Waipahu Hawaii.

In 2009, while Ed was in Japan, a single document was flagged by the NSA’s repository as not belonging there. He noticed the document was classified TOP SECRET//STLW//HCS/COMINT//ORCON/NOFORN. STLW stands for STELLARWIND. Ed says only a few dozen people would have access to this document (plus system administrator Ed Snowden). This document was the authorization for mass surveillance of all American’s communications. Neither anyone in Congress nor the White House would have access to this document. The NSA continued to deny it was mass surveilling Americans. Daniel Ellsberg, in his Doomsday Machine book about our nuclear program describes the security classification system and security clearances that are understood by almost noone in politics nor the public.

Meanwhile the age of surveillance capitalism was fast arriving with Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, etc. gathering and exploiting users data for profit. Worse, they were freely sharing this private data with the government. Ed says he (his right to privacy) was first betrayed by his government, then by his beloved Internet, and finally, by his own body. He was diagnosed with epilepsy (not the grand mal seizure variety) and took the job in Hawaii to reduce his level of stress. In Hawaii, he had the leisure to start collective data to prove the NSA was spying on everyone and to further understand the different programs and tools available to the NSA and its contractors. His final exploration was of the program XKEYSCORE which allowed the government and its contractors to find anything about a persons digital history.

Bill Binney

Ed here honors his whistleblower predecessors from Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo to Thomas Tamm who reported extensively on warrantless wiretapping in the mid 2000’s. Included are Perry Fellwock, who in 1971 revealed the existence of the NSA for the first time. He also lists Bill Binney, The Good American, Drake, Wiebe, and Loomis. Finally special mention of Chelsea Manning for leaking war crimes documents via Wikileaks. He gives special thanks to Sarah Harrison, journalist and editor for Wikileaks, who arrived in Hong Kong to assist Ed in his search for asylum and who accompanied Ed to Moscow.

Poitras Greenwald Lindsay Citizenfour Oscar

Ed does a good job of describing the ever increasing use of contractors by the government. He attributes this trend to budget issues and seems unaware of the worldwide neo liberal political movement to attempt to privatize all previously public functions of government from education to defense to incarceration to water. This privatization is highly profitable, leads to corrupt revolving door policies where government officials are able to grant contracts and special privileges to private for profit corporations with the understanding that they will be rewarded when they leave government to join the very companies they enriched.

For more on the surveillance state, see this work that includes Snowden’s disclosure.

Ed believes that the only current way to control surveillance is through the extensive use of encryption which the government cannot break. He also advocates the use of TOR or “onion routing” which uses a worldwide network of TOR servers to break the connection between the originating IP address and the destination IP address making it impossible to track communications using IP addresses. TOR was developed by a mathematician and a computer scientist at the Naval Research Laboratories and was designed to protect military and government communications using the public Internet. Ed was teaching classes in these subjects in Hawaii when he blew the whistle. Ed was also handing out printed copies of the US Constitution to his coworkers. This at the same time a supposedly constitutional law professor, Barrack Obama, was in the White House busily ignoring the very Constitution he was supposedly so expert at.

Ed decries the rise of cloud computing as a return the bad old days of centralized mainframe computing and points out your cloud computing authorization contract passes ownership of all your data to the cloud’s owners. If your data including photos are in a cloud they are no longer yours.

The Kochs – Hypocritical Libertarians

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

Kochland; The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America, Christopher Leonard, 2019

The Fred C. Koch Family
Fred C. Koch died Nov 17, 1967 Mary R. Koch died December 21, 1990 Charles Koch died Aug 23,2019.

Charles Koch

In a 1974 speech (Charles) Koch attacked the entire narrative behind the New Deal (based on Keynesian Economics), claiming that Roosevelt’s legislation was not, in fact, in response to a lack of federal-level regulation. Koch said that when the New Deal was passed, the economy was already “polluted by massive governmental manipulations of the money supply.”…The business community needed to wage a long-term campaign that would change the way Americans thought about the markets and the role of government (Hayek, Mises, Friedman). Koch said that the campaign should have four elements; 1) Education; 2) Media outreach; 3) Litigation; and 4) Political Influence.

David and Charles Koch

Based on his long term vision, Koch founded the Cato Institute, contributed to the Heritage Foundation and other right wing think tanks; rebuilt the law and economics departments of George Mason University near Washington in the image of the Chicago school, and created the Mercatus Center another free market think tank. This center offered free seminars to more than 4,000 federal judges from all 50 states. Koch was central to the creation of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which writes right wing laws and pressures state legislatures to pass them. Koch is behind the Americans for Prosperity lobby that was central to defeat of the Obama era cap and trade legislation in 2010, the only serious effort by congress to limit carbon emissions. In the 2010 midterm election, the Republicans gained control of the house and senate, in large part due to the emergence of tea party candidates and Koch’s Americans for Prosperity efforts.

David and Charles Koch

Koch Industries was to benefit enormously from Federal Action, particularly from the Clean Air Act of 1970. Refineries already operating in 1970 (Koch had two) were “grandfathered” in to the era of clean air regulation. The unintended consequence of this legislation was to halt the construction of new refineries, assuring that no new competition would enter the business. Existing refinery owners immediately started gaming the act; for example companies could be exempted if curbing pollution would be unreasonably expensive. This assured that new technologies would never be implemented in the existing refineries. The EPA was to enforce the New Source Review program which prohibited new refineries from entering the game. The last refinery built in the US was completed in 1977. The EPA needed to rely on state regulators to enforce the New Source Review and these state regulators were simply outgunned and overwhelmed by the giant refinery corporations. Koch’s two refineries were able to increase their capacity more than ten fold and were able to introduce new outputs and products at will. Much of this expansion was achieved without first obtaining permits that would have limited pollution from the plants. Koch refused to invest in suggested new pollution control measures.


Pine Bend Refinery Rosemount, Minnesota

In mid 1996 a sour water stripper that limits the amount of ammonia that was pumped into the wastewater treatment plant ceased operating properly. Repairing the stripper would require shutting down the refiner which Koch refused to do. Instead Koch flushed the ammonia rich waste into large detention pools on the far end of the refinery. When these filled they began spraying the contaminated water onto the surrounding wetlands and fields. In January 1997, Heather Faragher, The only employee trained in waste water management at Koch’s refinery but without the authority make changes at the refinery, told the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which was responsible for enforcing federal EPA standards, everything that Koch had been doing at the refinery. in 1998 the MPCA fined Koch $6.9 million for pollution. Federal criminal charges in 1999 resulted in a criminal fine of $6 million, $2 million to the County Park system. Koch also agreed to pay the EPA a $3.5 million fine. Similar events happened at Koch’s Texas refinery, causing Charles Koch to initiate a new program to assure that Koch was in compliance with all state and federal regulations (100% compliance, 100% of the time). He hired a group of regulatory compliance attorneys locating them at company headquarters in Wichita Kansas with the authority to force all company divisions to comply with regulations and with the authority to shut facilities down if necessary. He was driven to this measure to avoid future big fines, to protect Koch’s now tarnished reputation, and to prevent state and federal officials from inspecting and investigating his operations. Privacy and secrecy are Charles Koch’s highest priorities.

A big disappointment in this 600 page book is the failure to address the extent to which Koch benefits financially from direct government subsidies. The topic receives one short mention with no figures of the scale of corporate welfare or crony capitalism enjoyed by Koch. Charles Koch often speaks about his opposition to government subsidies but there is no evidence in this book that Koch has ever turned down a single subsidy. The book does mention that fracking was developed largely due to government subsidies and Koch indirectly benefited as fracking increased the production of oil and natural gas so that the US is now energy independent. One would dearly love to know the extent to which Koch’s remarkable success was due to direct government subsidies.

The fossil fuel industry has always depended on trading, the buying of crude oil, natural gas, etc. and on selling refined or manufactured products. Historically this trade has not been done using established commodity markets. Koch established a separate trading division located in Houston. Charles Koch insisted that his traders have the best available information including the best weather forecasts. Koch invested heavily in computers and developed elaborate models of the relevant markets. Central to the success of Koch trading was the availability of inside industry information which can be used freely and legally in Koch’s markets. Market volatility is what drives profits in trading and Koch’s traders became expert in exploiting volatility. In the cold winter of 2000, one trader placed large bets on the volatility of natural gas prices and earned Koch $75 million. The trader’s base salary was $60,000 and he earned $4 million in a bonus. Koch keeps a close leash on its traders and knows on a day to day basis company exposure to its trader’s bets. Unlike banks, wall street firms and insurance companies, Koch has never experienced unexpected losses from a rogue trader. In 2000, as Clinton was leaving office, his administration passed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, leaving the market for derivatives unregulated and in the dark. Thus Clinton set the stage for the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. This book explores how fossil fuel industry traders quickly learned and adapted to this new age of unregulated financialization. We think of Wall Street, the banks, and the insurance companies, but the fossil fuel industry reaped enormous profits from exotic and dark trades.

How Koch Became an Oil Speculator Powerhouse

Companies like Enron and Koch all engaged in illegal trading activity, best exemplified by California’s electric utility deregulation fiasco that started in 2000. ALEC was instrumental in getting the disastrous neoliberal bill passed in 1998. The New Deal Era public utilities system for electrical power was replaced by a radical new system. The existing utilities retained their geographic monopolies with set maximum electric rates, but they were stripped of their generators. Power generation was privatized and the utilities were required to buy power on a daily basis. An emergency state agency was created to buy electricity when the markets failed. A massive daily trading system emerged. The new system was quickly overrun by unusually hot weather. The scale of Koch’s illegal trading activities in California electric power were dwarfed by the scale of Enron and other huge energy companies and largely escaped being tarnished further by its illegal trading. Charles Koch’s 100% compliance order somehow did not include the trading division. Enron’s fraud and illegal activities forced it out of business in 2007.

California Electricity Crisis of 2000-2001

Charles Koch was a keen student of the latest management theories. Early in his career, he adopted the teaching of Edward Deming who revolutionized Japanese manufacturing practices after WWII. His typical management hire was a young graduate of a midwestern university often with an engineering degree and often someone raised on a farm with midwestern work habits. Charles Koch believed he could educate the young graduates to his philosophy and new hires spent hours in seminars and training. The new hire would then be assigned a job and his performance closely watched. If he was successful, he would then be reassigned to another position that might be totally alien to the experience and training of the employee. They might find themselves moved from a refinery to a trading desk where a whole new set of skills is required. If successful there, the employee might be moved to another position, maybe in fertilizer or pipelines or most anything. If the employee does not succeed in their new assignment they are terminated from Koch. Its a bit like the father that throws his child in the deep water to see if they sink or swim. In spite of this style of management, employees at Koch, if they succeed, seem extremely loyal to Charles Koch and enjoy long careers. In 1969, two years after Charles Koch became CEO, Laurence J. Peter published a book describing what became known as the Peter Principal. Organizations continue to promote their workers until they reach a point where they are no longer able to successfully perform the functions required by their position. This book makes no mention of the Peter Principal but Charles Koch, whether he knew the principal or not, seemed to embrace it and used advancement within Koch to test and challenge his employees until they break at which point they are removed.

In 1987, an investigative report published in the Arizona Republic charged that the oil companies were stealing oil from native American reservation oil fields. Several US Senators got interested and the largest oil companies told them to look at Koch. The Senators got an FBI agent assigned to investigate and he started observing Koch trucks and gaugers as they pumped oil from the field tanks to their trucks, measuring the amount of oil taken using gauge sticks inserted into the field tanks before and after the pumping. The drivers would record the amount of oil taken and leave a ticket at the site. This ticket determined what Koch owed for the oil taken. When the truck was emptied at its destination an accurate measure of the oil taken could be obtained. The work of the guagers is only approximate and Koch trained the drivers never to be short, i.e. never to have the oil actually delivered be less then the ticket left at the site. To be short meant an immediate termination. The drivers were never instructed to steal oil, they were instructed never to deliver less oil than Koch was obligated to pay for. The obvious and only was to assure that they were not short was to always be long. The Senate passed the investigation to the Justice Department which made Koch hand over its records for three years. In each of these years Koch received an average of 400,000 Barrels of oil per year worth about $10 million that they didn’t pay for. The Justice Dept. didn’t want to charge individual drivers but thought it would be difficult to charge the top executives for the theft. The case did go to trial and was settled for an undisclosed amount. There was bad publicity for Koch but no lasting consequence. This is just another example of Koch pushing beyond the limits of legal and normally understood ethical behavior.

Additional Details on Oil Theft from Christopher Leonard

Two sections of the book deal with Koch treatment of unions, first the union at the Minnesota refinery, and second the Georgia Pacific division unions. The stories are different but similar. Koch refuses to negotiate, changes the work rules, slowly squeezes wages, moves union pensions to 401K s and interferes with health care programs. It is pretty miserable to work a union job at Koch but the alternatives are worse. Charles Koch’s toughness is illustrated by his reaction to a union strike at the Pine Bend refinery in Minnesota, which in 1970 was still a strong union state. Charles Koch hired a Texas oilman whose hero was George Patton to run the refinery. When the workers voted to go on strike, he hired enough non union workers to keep the refinery running and flew them on site by helicopter. The skeletal crew lived on site with their boss. When the teamsters refused to cross the picket line, Koch negotiated a deal whereby Koch drivers would replace the teamsters for the drive through the picket line, load the truck, and return it to the teamster driver. When the strike extended, Koch built a separate road entrance bypassing the picket line and convinced the teamsters to drive their trucks through the new entrance. For specialized maintenance requiring workers from other unions, Koch eventually convinced them to make repairs in spite of the strike. In this way the refinery union was slowly isolated and weakened. They eventually settled on Koch’s original terms, but after losing more than a year of wages.

Georgia Pacific’s plants and warehouses were subjected to modern software systems designed to increase worker productivity. This increased productivity was accompanied by a corresponding increase in injuries, some of them fatal. These injuries would result in OSHA investigations and modest fines, but any government interventions were anathema in Koch’s culture. While trying their best to prevent injuries, the numbers stayed stubbornly high. Stressed employees will make mistakes and the only solution is to decrease the pressure. On the contrary Koch would fire employees that were considered too cautious and careful because that meant they worked slower. Had the OSHA fines been in the millions, I have no doubt Koch would have figured things out to reduce or eliminate injuries.

Koch created a Value Creation Group but this got subdivided and one of the subdivisions was Koch Agriculture. Koch had virtually no experience in agribusiness volatility. In 1997 Koch saw an opportunity to buy century old Purina Mills headquartered in nearby St. Louis. The problem with private equity acquisitions is that is drew Koch into businesses where it had no expertise. They agreed to pay $670 million for a company worth $109 million. Koch borrowed $570 million and put up $100 million of its own money for the purchase. Koch tried to impose the Koch culture on a company with its own very different and well established culture with the result that key employees left the company in droves. Due diligence failed to uncover massive contracts between Purina and hog feedlots which required Purina to produce piglets that the feedlots were under contract to buy and grow using Purina food. When the hog market imploded, the feedlots defaulted on their contracts (that Koch didn’t know existed) and Purina was forced into bankruptcy. Purina and the creditors lawyers believed the Koch corporate veil that was supposed to protect the holding company, was flawed, and Koch was forced to settle by putting up another $60 million in cash to get rid of Purina. Charles Koch fired everyone associated with this disaster and closed the entire acquisitions division.

Koch began a complete reorganization of the business in 1999. Over the years Koch had acquired a wide hodgepodge of unrelated businesses. Koch unloaded many of its pipelines, sold a small chemical company and other odds and ends. At the core of the new structure, Koch Petroleum was rename Flint Hills Resources. Others were simplified and reorganized into Koch Minerals, Koch Supply & Trading, and Koch Chemical Technology Group. New leaders were appointed to run these consolidated businesses. Koch Industries became little more than a holding company protected by a legally impenetrable veil to protect it from problems in its divisions. Charles Koch also finally put to rest the 20 year long legal feud with brother Bill and could totally focus on growing Koch. Koch’s spectacular growth after 2000 was the result of operating one of the largest private equity operations in the country. Private equity finds distressed public companies that can be purchased cheap, converted from publicly traded or coop into privately held companies. Charles Koch from the beginning wanted his company to remain private, to operate in secret, and to forego dividends in favor of reinvesting profits to grow the business. He was proving that he could learn fast from past mistakes, correct them mercilessly and move on. He initiated his “10,000 percent compliance” program discussed earlier at this time to keep the government and regulators off his back. Clinton ushered in the age of financialization in 2000 and George W Bush from Texas and Dick Cheney entered the White House. Koch was set for a decade of spectacular growth.

In 2003, Farmland a depression era coop headquartered in Kansas City wanted to sell a group of liquid nitrogen fertilizer plants all located close to their midwest farm customers. The most expensive component, at 80% in the production of liquid nitrogen is natural gas and domestic natural gas was very expensive. Lower cost imported fertilizer had undermined Farmland’s market. Koch had inside information that fracking was about create a vast increase in the supply of natural gas and prices would plummet. This purchase would mean a significant reentry into agribusiness and the acquisition team didn’t know if Charles Koch was ready to forget the Purina experience but he fully backed acquisition. Natural gas prices plunged and the fertilizer plants became immediately profitable.

Also in 2003 Georgia Pacific approached Koch to see if they were interested in purchasing several struggling pulp mills in Georgia and Washington – Oregon. The mills came with several unionized warehouses for the mill’s products. When the Koch team visited Georgia Pacific’s Atlanta headquarters (51 stories tall) they saw a bloated, hyper luxurious operation. At the same time DuPont came on the market. Overall, Koch was looking at corporate takeovers worth more than $25 billion. Koch acquired both DuPont’s Invista for $4.4 billion and Georgia Pacific for $21 billion. Charles Koch had always disliked borrowing, but borrowing is the foundation of the private equity business. Find an under performing company with lots of cash flow and buy it with borrowed money. Make sure the holding company is protected from the creditors, turn the companies around and use the resulting cash flows to repay the loans. Koch was now willing to borrow seemingly unlimited money to fuel its acquisition appetites. Both DuPont and Georgia Pacific were heavily dependent on the building of new housing which was a hot market right up to the sub prime mortgage crash of 2008. Charles Koch did not panic but scaled back operations at all affected acquisitions and waited to weather the downturn storm.

June 29, 2012 (Reuters) – DuPont Co has settled a $745 million lawsuit brought by Koch Industries Inc’s Invista unit over safety and environmental problems at plants once owned by the large chemical company.

How The Kochs Are Fracking America

The crash of 2008 made fracking economically viable and the supply of natural gas exploded. Then drillers in North Dakota applied fracking to crude oil successfully for the first time. There was an area called the Eagle Ford Shale region near Corpus Christi where Koch’s second light crude refinery was located. Koch’s planners decided on a plan to build pipelines between Eagle Ford and Corpus Christi and to buy and build a ship slip to export any excess crude oil. Charles Koch embraced the plan immediately and only wanted to assure the plans were big enough. Oil from fracking start to flow in 2010 when by the end of the year 139,000 barrels a day were being produced. By 2014 production hit 1.68 million barrels a day roughly 20% of all crude oil produced in the US that year. Because the 1970 Clean Air Act effectively prevented the building of new refineries, Koch’s Corpus Christi refinery enjoyed enormous profits from the newly available light crude.

Koch Brothers War on Renewable Energy

Through this same period the Kochs focused their political attention on fighting renewal energy initiatives at the state level (ALEC), fighting any carbon restrictions at the state and federal level, and rolling back CAFE auto efficiency standards. Charles Koch and his company became much more visible as a result of these massive anti environmental efforts and he started experiencing demonstrations at his gatherings and now requires constant security protection. Gone were the days when Charles could drive his modest old station wagon from the family home to Koch headquarters.

Grieving our Dying Planet Earth

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

The End of Ice; Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, Dahr Jamail,2019
Dahr Jamail

We are already facing mass extinction. There is no removing the heat we have introduced into the oceans, nor the 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere every single year. There may be no changing what is happening, and far worse things are coming. How, then, shall we meet this?
“The question is not are we going to fail. The question is how,” author and storyteller Stephen Jenkinson, who has worked in palliative care for decades, states, “The question is, What shall be the manner of our inability to care for what was entrusted to us? The Question is our manner of failing.” Jenkinson, who now makes his living by teaching about grief and the acceptance of death as an integral part of living, spoke eloquently about grief and climate disruption during a lecture he gave at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. When he talks about our failure to care for what is entrusted to us, he is also saying that the time to change our ways is long past. Grief requires us to know the time we’re in,” Jenkinson continues, “The great enemy of grief is hope. Hope is the four-letter word for people who are willing to know things for what they are. Our time requires us to be hope-free. To burn through the false choice of being hopeful and hopeless. They are two side of the same con job. Grief is required to proceed.”

Accelerated Melting of Greenland Ice Cap

This short work is a world wide tour of glaciers, Bering Straight fishing villages, mountain tops, coral reefs, rain and other forests, while interviewing leading experts in the areas he visits.
Miami Beach
In his chapter “The Coming Atlantis” he visits Miami and the Everglades. He meets an engineer who is raising roads in Miami Beach 2 feet while leaving all buildings and infrastructure alone. James Hansen points out that Sea level rise is absolutely non-linear. Hansen has a plausible 15 foot rise by 2100 and 10 foot rise by 2050. The entire of South Florida and its aquifer would be totally lost at 10 feet, as would Mumbai and many other large coastal cities and areas. One scientist living in south Florida is planning to retire to Washington D.C. He fully expects his South Florida home to be worthless by the time he retires. It is estimated that by 2100 75% of Florida homes will be underwater. Jamail thinks that only when homeowners fail to find mortgages or insurance for their homes will denial stop. Miami and Miami Beach continue to build high rise condominiums. Current estimates have 2 billion refugees from sea level rise by 2100.
Global Coral Bleaching
In his chapter “Farewell Coral” Jamail points out that if the amount of human generated heat we added to the oceans between 1955 and 2010 were placed in the atmosphere instead, global temperatures would have risen by 97 degrees F. This added heat melts the polar ice and bleaches the coral. Because we know so little about the oceans we can only imagine the impact on sea species and their extinction.

His trips to the forests finds even the redwoods succumbing to the changes as beetles attack them. As forests die they burn releasing their CO2. The Amazon rainforest will soon transit to net positive contribution to CO2 emissions. We can only imagine the mass extinction of species not yet discovered as the rainforests change.
Changing patterns of rain, flooding, and droughts worldwide will severely reduce our ability to grow our food. The inability to grow food locally is estimated to contribute another 2 billion food refugees by 2100.

A willingness to live without hope allows me to accept the heartbreaking truth of our situation, however calamitous it is. Grieving for what is happening to the planet also now brings me gratitude for the smallest, most mundane things. Grief is also a way to honor what we are losing.

FDA Fails to Assure Safe Generic Drug Supply

Monday, July 15th, 2019

Bottle of Lies; The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom, Katherine Eban, 2019
Katherine Eban
The US government is prevented from negotiating drug prices through Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA because of industry lobbies. The exclusive way the government has chosen to attempt to control runaway drug prices is through generic drugs. Generic drugs must be proven to be bioequivalent to brand-name drugs. Healthy volunteers are given the drug and their blood measured to determine the maximum concentration (Tmax) and peak concentration (Cmax) of drug in the blood. The blood can not fall below 80% or rise above 125% of the brand-names concentration. Companies are required to impose a 90% confidence interval on their testing to assure that less then 20% of samples fall outside the range. Drug companies are required to run these tests themselves. What happens if a foreign or domestic drug company sets out to systematically generate false test results in order to deceive and defraud the FDA? This is the story of one such company Ranbaxy Laboratory of India.
To increase companies incentives to produce generic drugs, the FDA offered a six month exclusive to whichever company first filed an application to produce a generic dug. On Aug 19, 2002, Ranbaxy submitted a 7,500 page application to produce Pfizer’s Lipitor then a blockbuster drug at $2.5 Billion annually. The Lipitor patent was set to expire in 2011.
Ranbaxy hired two Indians working for Bristol-Meyers Squibb. Rashmi Barbihaiya had been developing drugs for BMS for 21 years. Dinesh Thakur specialized in the application of robotics to eliminate human error from the manufacturing process. Thakur had helped Barbihaiya transfer and reconcile data from a BMS purchase. Barbihaiya decided to join Ranbaxy, set to acheive sales of $1 billion in 2002, and suggested Thakur join him. Thakur arrived in India on Aug 17,2002, two days before the Lipitor application was filed. Thakur had just become a US citizen.
Barbihaiya mysteriously quit Ranbaxy in 2004 receiving a sizable severance package (Hush money?). Thakur’s new boss in 2004 was London trained Arun Kumar who immediately started finding troubling discrepancies in testing and data. In mid 2004 he assigned Thakur to thouroughly research the records and data. On October 14,2004 Kumar met with members of the scientific committee of the Ranbaxy board of directors. Kumar showed a PowerPoint of 24 slides prepared by Thakur entitled “Risk Management for ANDA Portfolio”. The presentation showed that Ranbaxy had lied to regulators, falsified data, and endangered patient safety in almost every country where it sold drugs. More than 200 products in more than 40 countries had data that were fabricated to support business needs. The board asked Kumar if he could bury the data. Realizing the problems were systemic coming from the top, Kumar resigned. Ranbaxy did not know Thakur had prepared the presentation.
Dinesh Thakur
Thakur’s grandmother read him tails from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and he credits his moral and ethical grounding in these stories. He resigned Ranbaxy after 32 months and with no plans for what to do next. On Aug 15, 2005, after wrestling with his conscience for four months following his resignation, Thakur posted, in broken English, an email using a newly created Yahoo account. Thakur did not consult his wife about his action, because whistle-blowing in India can be fatal with no legal protection. Finally on Nov 2, 2005, Thakur sent the incriminating Power Point Presentation to FDA’s Rivera-Martinez. Andrew Beato’s whistleblower law firm agreed to represent Thakur. Thakur was now protected and his identity would remain secret.
On Nov 30, 2011 the FDA notified Ranbaxy that it was approved to start producing generic Lipitor. Ranbaxy promised they would purchase the active ingredient from Pfizer and produce the drug in an FDA approved facility. They did neither, using their own non approved active ingredient and producing in a non approved facility. The FDA did nothing about this deception believing Ranbaxy would need the revenue from generic Lipitor to pay the settlement. Ranbaxy shipped $600 million in their 6 month exclusive period.
The case was settled May 13, 2013 for $500 million. Thakur received $48 million for his role as whistleblower. No individual was held to account. It had taken the FDA and Justice Dept. almost 8 years to settle the case. Japanese drug maker Daiichi Sankyo had purchased Ranbaxy during this period relying on false information so they sought redress from the International Court of Arbitration in Singapore. In Apr 2016 the court ordered to Singh brothers to pay Daiichi Sankyo $550 million in legal damages.
Former Ranbaxy employees, all highly trained in fraudulent data manipulation and generation are today scattered throughout the industry, even in the US.

The Ranbaxy case defied the imagination of US regulators and investigators so long because the fraud was so all-encompassing. The company’s intricate system for faking data involved hundreds of people. And the US government all but volunteered to be fooled by announcing its inspections in advance.

Rajiv Malik $25 million per year
Another company featured here is Mylan Pharmaceuticals, a Pennsylvania based company registered in the Netherlands. In June 2003, Rajiv Malik resigned from Ranbaxy. In Jan 2007, Mylan acquired Matrix Laboratories, an Indian publicly traded drug manufacture. Along with Matrix, Mylan acquired Malik who became executive VP in charge of global technical operations. Malik brought his team of specialists from Ranbaxy with him to Mylan. He quickly rose to become Mylan COO. Heather Bresch, daughter of West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, became CEO of Mylan in 2012. She advocated for and got passed in Jan 2012 the Generic Drug User Fee Amendment (GDUFA) which called for drug producers to pay fees into a fund at the FDA in increase inspections. The fees were also intended to speed up applications for new drugs which had a huge backlog.
Bresch did not understand that her own corporate culture, thanks in large park to Malik, was in need of massive reform.
Mylan agreed to purchase for $1.6 billion, Agila Specialists in India. In June 2013 the FDA scheduled an inspection at a sterile injectable plant in India as part of the Agila purchase. FDA inspector extraordinaire Peter Baker was part of the inspection team. The problems uncovered were massive. Inspection Problems at two more Agila plants followed. All three plants had to be shut down. These plants also supplied Pfizer and GSK creating a worldwide panic.
Deb Autor FDA’s Revolving Door
Mylan hired Deb Autor, one of FDA’s top officials as its senior vp of strategic global quality and regulatory policy. Malik had suceeded in corrupting almost every Mylan owned plant in India. A Mylan whistleblower came to FDA headquarters with detailed accusations about Malik’s data fraud in India. His detailed information could have guided further inspections of specific plants. The FDA did nothing for a full Year. Remember that Deb Autor was formerly at the FDA and Bresch was a Senator’s daughter. The whistleblower in July 2016 jolted the FDA in an email, holding the FDA accountable for what happened to US patients and suggesting that the FDA revolving door (Autor) was responsible for their inaction. Two inspections at Nashik (India) and Morgantown followed.
Tom Cosgrove Covington Food, Drug and Device Practice Group 2017
In May 2017 FDA’s director Tom Cosgrove downgraded the FDA findings from Official Action Indicated to Voluntary Action Indicated. Cosgrove then left the FDA.
Another whistleblower from within the Morgantown plant came forward in early 2018 saying that Mylan had developed an embedded culture that permitted fraud. The Ranbaxy fraud virus had spread to the US.

From 2012 to 2018, the agency (FDA) downgraded 112 inspections in India to make the final classification less severe. For company after company — Mylan, Cipla, Aurobindo, Dr. Reddy’s, Sun Pharma, Glenmark — findings of Official Action Indicated (OAI) became Voluntary Action Indicated (VAI). These downgraded essentially nullified the judgments made by its investigators in the field and replaced them with judgements made by bureaucrats in Maryland. Cosgrove and other officials waived import restriction. They chose to communicate confidentially with some firms through so-called untitled letters instead of issuing public reprimands. Politics seemed to guide the agency’s enforcement actions.

Peter Baker FDA Inspector

After Baker’s inspection at the Pfizer-affiliated Zhejiang Hisun plant, the FDA restricted the import of thirty of the plant’s drug products. But fifteen of the drug ingredients were in short supply in the United States, so the agency lifted the restriction on about half of the drugs, including a crucial chemotherapy drug for treating Leukemia and breast and ovarian cancers.
To Baker, the decision made no sense. According to regulations, the drugs had no place in the US supply. They weren’t good or safe enough. Shortages didn’t change that fact.

In July 2018 a widely used active ingredient for Valsartin a blood pressure medication was found to contain a cancer causing toxin known as NDMA. The ingredient was made by Chinese Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceuticals who had changed its production process in 2012. In the US more than a dozen manufactures had to recall their product as did dozens more worldwide. Some patients had been consuming the toxins for 6 years. Just a year earlier the FDA had downgraded an investigators report of impurities at another Valsartin ingredient plant to VAI. The company was let off the hook only to end up in the middle of a worldwide scandal a year later.

In 2013 Harry Lever, cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, sent a detailed letter to the FDA concerning Wockhardt’s generic metropolol succinate which he found could not control patient’s chest pain, heart rate, or blood pressure. NPR’s The People’s Pharmacy radio program with the Graedons had been flooded with complaints about this generic. The FDA sent Peter Baker to inspect the plant in India. Baker on July 24, 2013 joined two Indian FDA inspectors already on site. Baker had previosly inspected this plant in March. On this inspection they got a partial confession from an employee and amassed further damaging information. One of the inspectors became ill and their hotel room was bugged. Both Wockhardt and Dr. Reddy’s recalled their metoprolol succinate from the market with admission that the drugs were not bioequivalent at all. Lever had been right after all.
In 2008, again reacting to the People’s Pharmacy and Harry Lever’s patient’s generic Toprol XL experience, The Graedons began to focus on extended release (ER) drugs. In 2006 Teva began marketing a generic antidepresent for Wellbutrin XL sold by GSK. The FDA didn’t respond to the deluge of complaints. The FDA had 85 independent reports in 2007 which they ignored. Consumerlabs joined the fight and tested the Teva generic against the GSK. The result was that the generic dumped four times as much active ingredient in the first two hours as the brand name did. So a new, largely unidentified cause, dose dumping, came to the forefront of Doctor’s attention but not that of the FDA. The FDA’s bioequivalence tests were set in 1992. New drugs often feature extended release (ER). They release their doses evenly over a twelve hour period. If a generic dumps its dose quickly, the patient can be potentially harmed, sometimes in dramatic ways. The FDA 1992 bioequivalence definition is out of date and unable to account for the time pattern of dosage for an ER drug. The FDA ignored the results and one official even suggested the difference in dosage might be an advantage. On Apr 16, 2008 the FDA asserted that they had been right to approve the generic. Reading the report, it was clear the FDA had tested the 150 mg and not the 300 mg dose where all the complaints were centered. When asked, the FDA said they were afraid to test the 300 mg because it “might lead to seizures”. When Graedon looked at the 150 test results, the dosage dumping of the generic was still clear and unmistakable. It took five years for the FDA to agree to revisit the tests. They finally agreed that Teva’s drug was not bioequivalent. In 2010, the FDA official obstructing the Teva investigation, Gary Buehler, left the FDA to become vp of global regulatory intelligence and policy at Teva, another classic example of regulatory capture and the FDA revolving door.
Gary Buehler FDA To Teva
In June 2018 a woman arrived at Cleveland Clinic suffering from chest pain and shortness of breath. The 35 year old woman had had a successful heart transplant three years previously and had been taking the immunosuppressant Prograf daily to prevent organ rejection. But six months earlier, a CVS pharmacy refilled her prescription with generic tacrolimus, made by Dr. Reddy’s. Over the six months she felt progressively worse. Lever and his colleague Randall Starling sent her blood tests and tacrolimus capsules to a Massachusetts laboratory. The patient died of a heart attack in Sept. 2018. Preliminary test results from Massachusetts showed that tacrolimus released its active ingredient very rapidly compared with the brand.
Revising bioequivalence to address ER and dose dumping has not been done by the FDA. Peter Baker was no longer sent to do inspections and has left the FDA.

How Power Hungry Car Lover Single Highhandedly Destroyed New York

Wednesday, June 5th, 2019

The Power Broker; Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Robert A. Caro, 1975
This classic Pulitzer Prize work at 1162 pages details the 44 year career from 1924 to 1968 of Robert Moses, the most powerful builder in New York history. Born in 1888, Moses grew up at the birth of the automobile, was educated at Yale and Oxford and earned a PhD degree from Columbia. Starting his career as a reformer helping Governor Al Smith reorganize the government of the state of New York, he asked Smith to be named Commissioner of Parks and Parkways for Long Island and Moses drafted the legislation creating the position from which he could not be removed and in which he had absolute power of property condemnation, which he called “appropriation”. He built a reputation for incorruptibility and non partisanship; a man who got things done. Politicians including FDR in 1932, while disliking Moses and his methods, relied on his accomplishments in their campaigns. Moses took over New York City’s parks consolidating the system into a single commission under his total control. He next took over the stalled Triborough Bridge effort drafting his own Triborough Authority legislation to allow his absolute control including bond issuance. His legislation allowed him to hold simultaneously state and city positions, previously not allowed.

Robert Moses Building Randalls Island in 1936
He completed the Triborough system and the West Side Highway including the Henry Hudson Bridge. When traffic levels assured that the bonds could be repaid in eight years or less Moses redrafted the legislation to extend the Authority to cover any bridge or highway in the New York Area and to allow the bonds to be refinanced which allowed the Authority to live forever. The surpluses from tolls were to give Moses a funding power independent of city, state, or federal influence.

The entrance and exit ramps would have required demolition of historic Castle Clinton and much of Battery Park.

Ole Singstad Rendering of the Battery Park Bridge

Just before WWII, Moses proposed a huge bridge connecting Battery Park in Manhattan to Brooklyn. A tunnel, designed by Ole Singstad who finished the Holland tunnel and designed the midtown and Lincoln tunnels, was already planned for the same route. Conservationists were unable to stop Moses proposed destruction of the historic park and contacted Eleanor Roosevelt who told FDR of the plans. The bridge required War Department approval which was denied. Moses was never able to prove FDR was behind the War department decision. For revenge, Moses moved the hugely popular at 2.5 million visits per year, free, Aquarium out of the CLinton Castle and threatened to destroy the Castle itself. He didn’t and Battery Park was later given to the Federal Government for preservation.
Moses added the East River New York Tunnels to his bridge and highway authority and Singstad, who played a significant role in defeating the bridge never designed or built a tunnel in New York again. His existing tunnel plans were implemented exactly as he had drawn them up.
In the mid 1950’s Moses joined with the separate Port Authority, which operated the George Washington Bridge and the Hudson river tunnels to New Jersey, to take advantage of the new Interstate Highway Federal program. Moses was nominal head because of his long relations with Washington. Under the agreement, the Port Authority would add a second level to the George Washington bridge and build interstate highways in New Jersey and connect Staten Island to New Jersey to handle traffic from Moses Verrazano Narrows bridge which he would build between Long Island and Staten Island as well as connecting highways. Tolls were not allowed under the Interstate Highway program.
The Port Authority had opened, in 1950, a multi level commuter bus station on 8th Ave one block from the Lincoln Tunnel entrance. The buses had their own road connecting the station to the tunnel and dedicated lanes through the tunnel assuring that bus commuters would never be stuck in traffic. Under the station was a subway station. When the Port Authority planned the World Trade Center they made provision for subway stations directly under the Center with high capacity escalators to the mall and offices. They also planned a direct PATH link from Hoboken NJ to the Center. Hoboken NJ was the location of the commuter train and bus station connecting to PATH. Imagine if Moses had this foresight into mass transit when he was building Idlewild and the Expressways.
As if this were not enough power for one man, Moses became head of New York electric power where he built huge hydroelectric dams on the St. Lawrence near Niagara. After WWII he extended his power to include nuclear power generation.
At his peak, Moses held 14 independent power positions simultaneously.
During Moses’ entire 44 year career the city and state of New York never spent a single dime on mass transit development and the city and state even failed to maintain the existing plant. In 1924, when Moses came to government, New York Subways were the envy of the world. By 1968 these subways were perhaps the worst in the world. When building his expressway to Idlewild (now Kennedy) airport Moses refused to consider adding a center median rail system. He did the same for the Long Island Expressway denying requests to add a center rail for mass transit. The long Island railroad was allowed to deteriorate even though large numbers of city commuters were dependent on it. It was around this time that planners discovered that Moses had built his many parkways with bridges and overpasses so low buses were precluded from using them. Moses, who never had a driver’s license and had never experienced a traffic jam doomed the entire New York metropolitan area to perpetual traffic jams. His vision was for scenic drives along the water so he built the West Side Highway right on the Hudson River denying Riverside park users access to the River except for exclusive yachting clubs.

His thinking had been shaped in an era in which a highway was an unqualified boon to the public, in which roads were, like automobiles, sources of relaxation and pleasure. Changing realities could have changed his thinking but he was utterly insulated from reality by the sycophancy of his yes men; by his power, which, independent as it was of official or public opinion – of, in fact, any opinion but his own — made it unnecessary for him to take any opinion but his own into account; by, most of all, his personality, the personality that made it not only unnecessary but impossible for him to conceive that he might have been wrong; the personality that needed applause, thereby reinforcing the tendency to repeat the simplistic formula that had won him applause before; the personality that made it possible for him to relate to the class of people that owned automobiles and were repelled by the dirt and noise, such as the dirt and noise he associated with trains; the personality that made him not only want but need monuments and that saw in highways- and the adjunct suspension bridges (“the most permanent structures built by man”) – the structures that would leave a clean, clear ineradicable mark on history; the personality that, driven by the lust for power, made him anxious to build more revenue- (and power-) producing bridges and parking lots (and highways to encourage their use) and that made him indifferent or antagonistic to subways and railroads which would compete with his toll facilities not only for users but for city construction funds. He was insulated from experience. Most of the millions who used his roads were now using them primarily not for weekend pleasure trips but back and forth to work twice a day, five days a week, and driving was therefore no longer a pleasure but a chore; but for Moses, comfortable in the richly upholstered, air conditioned, soundproofed rear seat of his big limousine, driving was still as pleasurable as it had always been. Robert Moses, who had never had to drive in a single traffic jam, really believed that his transportation policies would work.

This blogger experienced the result of his work in 1977 when a group of us traveled by van from Tarrytown NY, home of Washington Irving, to Kennedy Airport on a Friday afternoon following a week of training. Our driver didn’t use a single highway during the entire trip. When we asked him about the route, he explained that side streets were the only to get us to our flights on time. We traversed the entire city from the north and couldn’t use even one of Moses’ creations.

The press treated Moses uncritically with the New York Times leading the cheers until a couple of young, unintimidated investigative reporters with smaller papers started, in 1959, digging into his Title I Federally subsidized housing and slum clearance programs. Soon the reporters were inundated with tips and material on the corruption and suffering. Targets for slum clearance were often not slums at all but stable well maintained neighborhoods. “Slum” clearance was destroying of lives of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers including hard working respectable families. The resulting deluge of stories of horror and corruption forced even the NYT to assign investigative journalists to the stories.

The Incorruptible, Uncorrupting, Apolitical, Utterly Selfless Public Servant Moses had been a synthetic character, largely puffed up by the press. That character had endured for thirty-five years. But in 1959 the process of deflation by the press-a process that had been going on intermittently for several years-had begun in earnest. In that process there had been a large amount of unfairness. But that process had in the end arrived at the truth. At the beginning of 1959, the Moses image had stood in most of its glory, intact except for a few small chips. At the end of 1959, it lay in unsalvageable ruins. Popularity, Al Smith had warned him, was a slender reed. Now the reed was broken.

Moses resigned his position as head of Title I but his reputation was forever tarnished.

Moses with Nelson
Moses had survived many attempts by governors and mayors to reduce his power and all, including FDR had failed.
Then, in 1959 Nelson Rockefeller became governor of New York. Nelson was 50 and Moses was in his 70’s. Nelson was a Rockefeller, with access to power never before seen by Moses in a mayor or governor. Nelson was tougher than Moses. Rockefeller pressured Moses to give up all his parks posts so Nelson could give them to Nelson’s brother Laurance, a man with impeccable credentials in New York’s conservation movements serving for 27 years on the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. The well conceived and run Palisades Interstate Park had been funded heavily by the Rockefellers. Moses made a huge mistake, accusing Nelson of nepotism in the press. All Moses’ park positions were stripped but in compensation Nelson offered Moses Presidency of the 1964 Worlds Fair to be held in Flushing Meadows.

Moses at Flushing Meadows Park
The position came with very attractive compensation which could help Moses pay for care for his ill wife. Moses took the job thinking he could turn Flushing Meadows into a huge Park after the fair ended. The Fair, as the earlier one in 1930 was a financial disaster complete with Moses lavish contracts to friends. In the end Moses had less than $8 million to pay off $24 million in loans. He used the $8 million to create a small park on the site and the creditors were given nothing. Nelson stripped Moses of his remaining highways position and Moses was down to one title, the one that counted, head of the Triborough Authority.
Nelson moved slowly in his efforts to create the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to encompass mass transit and bridges and highways. Nelson ambiguously offered Moses a significant role in the new setup which Moses interpreted as head of Triborough and a position on the board of the MTA. Moses believed he held a trump card that the bondholders would have to approve any change to their bond contract which they would never do without Moses’ approval. The bondholders had agreed that any dispute which arose would be handled in litigation by Chase Bank’s lawyer Thomas Dewey. Moses prepared the Triborough Authority to bring suit. Chase was at that time a private bank owned by the Rockefellers and controlled by David Rockefeller who Moses had worked with for decades. The Rockefeller brothers met at Nelson’s apartment and agreed to a plan. Moses held fire believing Nelson would keep him on at Triborough but on March 1 1968 Triborough went out of business merging into the MTA. Moses was stripped of control of Triborough and offered a consultant’s position at $25,000 per year plus his limousine and driver and secretaries. He was never consulted or given meaningful work again. Moses, at age 79, took the job. Moses lived to the age of 92 dying in 1981 on Long Island.

Uncontrollable Corporate Megalomania Google, Facebook, etc.

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism; The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Shoshana Zuboff, 2018

This is a look at the transformation of Google, Facebook, and others from their initial mission to serve their users to the exploitation of those users by selling their privacy to the highest bidder to achieve enormous personal wealth and power.

In her personal experience Zuboff describes sitting as a nineteen year old in the back of a seminar where Thomas Friedman (founder of the Chicago school of economics) instructs doctoral students who will soon run the economy of Chile after the CIA inspired coup and assassination of elected President Salvador Allende in favor of the Pinochet military dictatorship in 1973.


Thomas Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, economics as ideology and their opposite John Maynard Keynes

Zuboff also briefly alludes to debates she had at Harvard with the aging and discredited behaviorist BF Skinner, author of the novel Walden Two. She spends time in the book discussing Alex Pentland of the MIT media lab who she considers a BF Skinner intellectual successor armed with the tools Skinner could only dream of having and using. She calls Pentland a high priest of Surveillance capitalism. Pentland helps provide the intellectual justification that legitimizes instrumentarian (a new word coined by Zuboff) practices. Pentland never mentions Skinner in his work but his behavior modification goals are the same.
BF Skinner at Harvard and Alex Pentland of MIT Media Lab

Zuboff explains why user consent through opt-in or opt-out has been rendered meaningless under Surveillance Capitalism. To read a single contract agreement in detail might take hours and with third parties almost always involved there may be 1,000 individual contracts to read and digest. If you opt out surveillance capitalists will threaten to downgrade your system and will probably still collect and distribute your information without your permission. You have no way to find out what they are doing. If you ask for the information collected, as a Belgium privacy attorney attempted to do of Google, they are unable to retrieve it for you. It is buried somewhere in a second tier of automatic computation technology. The user has no way of determining what software is currently running on your computers or smart phones or what peripherals like GPS, cameras, microphones, etc. have been usurped for external control. To add insult to injury, you will pay for the transmission bandwidth they secretly steal from you to illegally surveil your activities. If you have installed smart home devices like thermostats or security systems you have no way to know what these smart devices are observing and collecting. Your car driving behavior can be monitored with bad insurance consequences, not only by your new car, but by your smart phone. Your new car can be disabled by the finance company and its GPS location sent to the REPO people to come get your car. Then imagine advances in voice and face recognition and you start to get the terrifying idea. Then imagine all of this surveillance capability in the hands of a non democratic government like China. You can’t do anything at all without the state monitoring (and influencing) your behavior.

What does older capitalistic history teach us?

It (government interventions into free market capitalism) appeared in the trust busting, civil society, and legislative reforms of the Progressive Era. Later it was elaborated in the legislative, judicial, social, and tax initiatives of the New Deal and the institutionalization of Keynesian economic during the post-World War II era; labor market, tax, and social welfare policies that ultimately increased economic and social equality.

In fact the Bretton Woods conference of 1944 created a new world economic order based on a US-centric dollar based fixed exchange rate system, created the IMF and World Bank, and was a complete repudiation of Keynesian economics. This system worked only so long as the US remained the dominant manufacturing power, creating large trade surpluses that the US could recycle as investments. When trade reversed around 1970 and the US became a trade debtor nation, the American economy shifted from manufacture to financialization, convincing trade creditors to invest their surpluses with Wall Street, who kept inventing new and innovative ways to use the mountains of cash suddenly at their disposal. The Neoliberal contribution to all this was the erosion of government regulation of corporations and the use of IMF and Worldbank loans to vulnerable nations and colonies whose defaults resulted in the massive transfers of state owned commons into private hands like Wall Street hedge funds. See Greek Spring by Yanis Varoufakis. None of this history is clear from her book. For an excellent introduction to macro economics from Bretton Woods to the present see Yanis Varoufakis’ minotaur book. The breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s was another opportunity for the Neoliberals who descended on the former Soviet Union members with plans to transfer all public commons into private hands. The result was to create a new class of asset owners in each country that more resembled a mafia than capitalists. We remain in this condition to this day. The massive and fundamental shift of the American economy from manufacture to financialization is not mentioned by Zuboff.

To her credit, Zuboff does site French economist Thomas Piketty’s monumental work on wealth and income distribution in England and America from the eighteenth century to the present.

A market economy…if left to itself…contains powerful forces of divergence, which are potentially threatening to democratic societies and to the values of social justice on which they are based…If we are to regain control of capital, we must bet everything on democracy.

Our present economic system has been accurately described as corporate welfare with massive government subsidies for agriculture, energy, extraction, and other industries. Hayek and Friedman would turn over in their graves if they knew where American capitalism has taken us. This trend reached its pinnacle (we only hope) with the Bush-Obama massive bailouts of the financial institutions and Zuboff’s beloved General Motors after the sub-prime financial scandal-crisis of 2008. Shiela Bair (W appointee to head the FDIC) was fully prepared to break up the big banks starting with Citibank using her FDIC authorization and charter, but was prevented from doing so by Tim Geithner who was shockingly appointed by Obama as his treasury secretary. See more at Scamming a President. No meaningful reforms were enacted to prevent a recurrence of this collapse and we anxiously await the next iteration.

Zuboff mentions Rand Corporation futurist Herman Kahn’s 1967 book The Year 2000, where the author anticipates the future possibilities of computer power intrusions into our lives characterizing this as “a twenty-first century nightmare”. She says Kahn was the model for the character of Dr. Strangelove in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 movie. No!

Herman Kahn wrote an earlier book published in 1960 “On Thermonuclear War” where Kahn speculated that it would be possible to create a “Doomsday Machine“; a vast collection of nuclear weapons connected to an automated trigger mechanism that, upon detection of a threat and without any human intervention, would initiate nuclear holocaust. Most experts at the time believed such a system could not be built. In fact the Soviet Union built just such a secret machine called The Dead Hand whose current status is unknown. See Daniel Ellsberg’s Doomsday Machine book. Kahn’s 1960 book was the inspiration for Kubrick’s movie where the Soviet Union have successfully built a doomsday machine but have kept it secret from the US. The character Dr. Strangelove is a caricature of a former Nazi scientist, not Kahn. Kahn was a consultant on the movie.

Zuboff uses a discussion of totalitarianism to illustrate how slow academics and intellectuals are to understand completely sui generis unprecedented developments. Our understanding of totalitarianism came into focus only in the 1960’s, well after the demise of European Fascism and dramatic changes following Stalin’s reign of terror. She points out that between 1930 and 1953 Stalin appears ten times on the cover of Time magazine. She leaves out any discussion of Mao’s China, but China emerges later in her discussion of State uses of surveillance capitalism.

She introduces and coins Instrumentarian power as a contrast to totalitarian power.

Instumentarian power moves differently and toward an opposite horizon. Totalitarianism operated through the means of violence, but intrumentarian power operates through the means of behavioral modification, and this is where our focus must shift. Intrumentarian power has no interest in our souls or any principal to instruct. There is no training or transformation for spiritual salvation, no ideology against which to judge our actions. It does not demand possession of each person from the inside out. It has no interest in exterminating or disfiguring our bodies and minds in the name of pure devotion. It welcomes data on the behavior of our blood and shit, but it has no interest in soiling itself with our excretions. It has no appetite for our grief, pain, or terror, although it eagerly welcomes the behavioral surplus that leaches from our anguish. It is profoundly and infinitely indifferent to our meanings and motives. Trained on measurable action, it only cares that whatever we do is accessible to its ever-evolving operations of rendition, calculation, modification, monetization, and control.


Deng Xiaoping Architect of Democracy Free Capitalism in China

Instrumentarian power in the hands of non democratic States like China is almost beyond comprehension in its potential power. Yanis Voroufakis describes Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew and his disciple Deng Xiaoping who transformed China’s economy using the Singapore model as democracy free capitalism.

Voroufakis primary point in Voroufakis Ted talk is that Western capitalist corporations are hording massive mountains of profit, investing only in corporate consolidation, and are in direct contradictions of Keynesian economics to recycle surpluses to level the cycles of boom and bust. These uninvested surplus mountains may doom democracy and life as we know it.

Industrial capitalism depended upon the exploitation and control of nature, with catastrophic consequences that we only now recognize. Surveillance capitalism…depends instead upon the exploitation and control of human nature. The market reduces us to our behavior, transformed into another fictional commodity and packaged for others’ consumption.

Surveillance capitalism’s successful claims to freedom and knowledge, its structural independence from people, its collectivist ambitions, and the radical indifference that is necessitated, enable, and sustained by all three now propel us toward a society in which capitalism does not function as a means to inclusive economic or political institutions. Instead, surveillance capitalism must be reckoned as a profoundly antidemocratic social force.

As Thomas Paine noted in the Eighteenth century; “…a body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody, ought not to be trusted by any body.”

Surveillance capitalism’s antidemocratic and anti egalitarian juggernaut is best described as a market-driven coup from above. It is not a coup d’etat in the classic sense but rather a coup de gens: an overthrow of the people concealed as a technological Trojan horse that is Big Other…It is a form of tyranny that feeds on people but is not of the people.

The young people we have considered…are the spirits of Christmas yet to come. They live on the frontier of a new form of power that declares the end of a human future, with its antique allegiances to individuals, democracy, and the human agency necessary for moral judgment. Should we awaken from distraction, resignation, and psychic numbing…it is a future that we may still avert.

Zuboff starts her book with the assertion that Surveillance capitalism cannot be controlled or contained through the lens of antitrust or privacy. She mentions the EU regulation the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which only went into effect in May 2018 and only within the EU. It is too early to see if this ambitious effort will have any impact as it works its ways through EU regulators and the courts. She appears sceptical. For the Guardian’s take on GDPR. So what do we do?

If democracy is to be replenished in the coming decades, it is up to us to rekindle the sense of outrage and loss over what is being taken from us. In this I do not mean only our “personal information”. What is at stake here is the human expectation of sovereignty over one’s own life and authorship of one’s own experience. What is at stake is the inward experience from which we form the will to will and the public spaces to act on that will…That Surveillance capitalism has usurped so many of our rights in these domains is a scandalous abuse of digital capabilities and their once grand promise to democratize knowledge and meet our thwarted needs for effective life.

For more on the despotic behavior of Facebook and Google

The Deadly Zionists

Saturday, December 22nd, 2018

Rise and Kill First, The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations, Ronen Bergman, 2018

Yasser Arafat; Israeli target or partner?

This is a 600 page history of Israel’s intelligence and defense communities and their covert operations. In its history Israel has carried out more than 2,300 targeted assassination operations. By comparison, George W Bush authorized 48, and Barack Obama, the assassin in chief, authorized 353.

Ariel Sharon Leads Troops into Lebanon 1982

Israel has been involved in several wars: the 1949 Arab attempts to eliminate Israel; the 1956 war; the 1967 war which resulted in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, The Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula; The Yom Kipper War of 1973; the invasion and occupation of Lebanon in 1982. Israel won every contest.
So with all this success, is Israel safer and more secure? No. Occupation leads to resentment leads to terror attacks.

Indeed, in many respects, the story of Israel’s intelligence community as recounted in this book has been one of a long string of impressive tactical successes, but also disastrous strategic failures.

The First Palestinian Intifada (suicide terror attacks against Israeli citizens) started in 1987 and was a spontaneous reaction to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. While the PLO claimed to be leading the uprising they were not in fact. It was a new group of fundamental Sunni Palestinians that called themselves Hamas. A second Palestinian Intifada started in 2000 in reaction to a visit by Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount. This time the reaction and acts of suicidal terror were initiated by Hezbollah, a fundamental Shiite Palestinian group. Both groups would receive arms and other assistance from Egypt, Syria, and Iran to support their terror attacks.

The Israelis that made up the intelligence community and the military leadership were selected and advanced because they were ideological Zionists; believers that Jews have a divine right to create a Jewish religious state in the holy land, formerly known as Palestine. They took two lessons from the Holocaust; first, assimilation of Jews into other societies does not work, Jews will always be outsiders; and second, Jews must never be passive again as they were in Europe under the Nazis; they must be tough, aggressive, and always act first; hence the title of this book “Kill First”. Indeed, with the exception of the war of 1949 and the Yom Kipper war, Israel was the first aggressor, gaining enormous advantages from the surprise attacks.

In their attempts to control and suppress their occupied territories, Israel is now losing international support and approval. Will the international community impose boycotts and sanctions like those that brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa?

One theme of the book deals with Israeli efforts to forestall the development of nuclear weapons by neighboring countries. When Egypt started recruiting German scientists to help them develop a bomb, the Israels responded by killing some and threatening others. It worked and Egypt gave up. Iraq under Saddam Hussein was more persistent. Even when Israel bombed an enrichment facility before it went online, Saddam persisted. Only when an international coalition joined to drive him out of Kuwait and impose sanctions and inspections did Saddam give up his efforts. When Syria got ready to bring its enrichment facility online, Israel destroyed it and Syria gave up its efforts. Israel also destroyed facilities in Iran and used a virus to destroy key equipment. There have been no retaliatory strikes as a result of these acts of war by Israel.

Another central story is the rise of Sunni based Hamas and Shiite based Hezbollah both supported extensively be Syria and Iran.

He concludes that Yasser Arafat, the self proclaimed leader of the Palestinian people and founder of the PLO was primarily concerned with maintaining his position as leader of the Palestinians without regard for the people he supposedly was leading. Israeli leaders alternated between attempts to assassinate him and attempt to negotiate peace with him. He escaped assassination numerous time often by seconds or inches. Like Geronimo, Arafat came to believe himself unkillable. No peace deal was ever struck with Arafat. When he became ill and went to France for treatment, he died of unknown causes. Bergman writes:

If I knew the answer to the question of what killed Yasser Arafat, I wouldn’t be able write it here in this book, or even be able to write that I know the answer. The military censor in Israel forbids me from discussing the subject.

The book is a page turner if you like murders. But with this one sentence, Bergman undermines his entire work. What else will the military censors not let him write?

Facebook, Tool for the Despots

Monday, October 29th, 2018

Anti-Social Media; How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy, Siva Vaidhyanathan, 2018

Even when we post and share demonstrably false stories and claims we do so to declare our affiliation, to assert that our social bonds mean more to us than the question of truth…How do we train billions of people to value truth over their cultural membership when the question of truth holds little at stake for them and the question of social membership holds so much?

The social aspect of social media trumps any effort to build or spread civic responsibility into the system. Facebook is a pleasure machine. The pleasure is light and fleeting. That’s what keeps us coming back. But Facebook is also an anxiety machine, an anger machine, and a resentment machine…but the resentment is deep and durable.

Facebook attracts us, hooks us, encourages us to declare our affiliations, divides us, and tracks every single interaction along the way. Facebook’s surveillance system is part of its pleasure system. They cannot be severed.

The influence of Facebook on the violent attacks in Charlottesville is difficult to trace but important to address. I live in a nation that no longer seems able to filter out of its public sphere the most odious calls for an ethnically pure state, that has a major political party that can no longer resist fringe elements, and has a media ecosystem that rewards the most alarming and spectacular claims and is now willing to take seriously the claims of white supremacists. One man sympathetic to white supremacists even assumed the presidency in 2017 because the established filters all failed. Facebook did not generate these problems. It did amplify and normalize them by scrambling our senses of truth and justice and fracturing a sense of collective national fate. Mostly Facebook makes it hard to think.

Between Google and Facebook, we have witnessed a global concentration of wealth and power not seen since the British and Dutch East India Companies ruled vast territories, millions of people, and the most valuable trade routes. Remarkably, and unlike the East India Companies, Google and Facebook have achieved this feat nonviolently and with only tangential state support…They did all this by inviting us in, tricking us into allowing them to make us their means to wealth and power, distilling our activities and identities into data, and launching a major ideological movement – what Neil Postman described yet only predicted in 1992: technopoly.

Postman: “It (technopoly) consists of the deification of technology, which means that the culture seeks it authorization in technology, finds its satisfaction in technology, and takes its orders from technology.” This ideological domination demands a sacrifice of all previously stable belief systems. So trust in institutions, ancient or modern, erodes. Local identities and traditions are rendered valueless except as raw material for remixes, parody, tourism, tapestries, and games rather than expressions of deep human narratives and connections.

Postman: “Technopoly eliminates alternatives to itself in precisely the way Aldous Huxley outlined in Brave New World. It does not make them illegal. It does not make them immoral. It does not even make them unpopular. It makes them invisible and therefore irrelevant.” If it didn’t happen on Facebook, it didn’t happen.

The problem is, Facebook by 2013 already was so dominant that for may people absence from Facebook meant invisibility

The most fruitful response to the problems that Facebook creates, reveals, or amplifies would be to reinvest and strengthen institutions that generate deep, meaningful knowledge. We must support scientific communities, universities, libraries, and museums around the world. We must foster deliberation through publically funded better journalism, forums for debate, and commissions that could harness expertise to address our most pressing challenges.

Modi Duterte Trump

The book is very good on the exploitation of Facebook by despots such as Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and Narendra Modi in India. He talks about the efforts of the Trump campaign to target potential Hillary voters with negative information, such as highlighting the Bill Clinton record of criminalizing crack cocaine, black incarcerations, and Hilary comments on blacks. These efforts probably further suppressed Hillary’s votes in key states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

In the meantime, Vaidhyanathan continues to use Facebook.

The Patient Investigative Journalist

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

Reporter; A Memoir, Seymour M. Hersh, 2018
This is Hersh’s eleventh book. His Henry Kissinger book was first published in 1983, long after Kissinger left the government. We are still awaiting his Dick Cheney book. Hersh explains that writing always came easy to him:

<> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> Sy Hersh

I grew up in a world where the incentive to learn came from within me, as did a sense of whom to trust and whom to believe. I was guided as a confused and uncertain eighteen year old by a professor who saw potential in me, as did Carroll Arimond at the Associated Press, William Shawn at The New Yorker, and Abe Rosenthal at The New York Times. They published what I wrote without censorship and reaffirmed my faith in trusting those in the military and intelligence world whose information and friendship, I valued but whose names I could never utter. I found my way when it came to issues of life and death in war to those special people who had the integrity and intelligence to carefully distinguish between what they knew — from firsthand observation at the center — from what they believed. The trust went two ways; I often obtained documents I could not use for fear of inadvertently exposing the sources, and there were stories I dared not write for the same reason.
I never did an interview without learning all I could about the person with whom I was meeting, and I did all I could to let those I was criticizing or putting in professional jeopardy just what I was planning to publish about them.
I will return to the Cheney book when the time is right, and when those who helped me learn what I did after 9/11 will not be in peril.

Kissinger Cheney Bush

Cardinal O’Conner Archbishop of New York told Hersh:

“My son, God has put you on earth for a reason, and that is to do the kind of work you do, no matter how much it upsets others. It is your calling.”

<> <> <> <> <> Abe Rosenthal

Some of the more interesting parts of this book deal with the relationship of Hersh with Abe Rosenthal, Executive Editor of The New York Times. Their first interaction was a phone call while Hersh was working on the Meadlo (a soldier at the My Lai massacre) story. A copy of the story had been sent to the Times and Rosenthal wanted to send a Times reporter to interview Meadlo. Hersh grabbed the phone:

“Mr. Rosenthal, it’s Sy Hersh. Listen, you want an interview with Paul Meadlo? Well he’s somewhere in New York. Find him.”

Hersh slammed the phone down. Seconds later the phone rings again. Hersh grabs it:

“Mr. Hersh”, Abe Rosenthal yelled, ” Do you know who I am?”. “Yes”, replied Hersh and hung up on him again.

CBS Evening News aired Mike Wallace’s interview with Paul Meadlo that same evening. Hersh later regretted his temper tantrum but Rosenthal hired him anyway.
William Calley, the only soldier court martialed for My Lai served three months in prison. Stories continue to break about the attempted cover up and the role of higher officers. My Lai was not an isolated event. On the same day as the My Lai 4 massacre, at My Khe 4, another massacre occurred with more than a hundred civilian deaths.
The Times hired Hersh on the basis of his My Lai reporting. Hersh wanted to pursue three other stories at the Times; the secret bombing of Cambodia and military falsification of documents; Nixon, Kisssinger, and the CIA’s interference with the Allende government in Chili; and the several hundred million dollar effort by the military to recover a Soviet Nuclear submarine sunk in the Pacific. Rosenthal, however, was tired of reading the daily Washington Post reporting by Berstein and Woodward on the Watergate break in and reassigned Hersh to this story. Hersh uncovered the existence of the Nixon plumbers operation and the break in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychoanalyst’s office in California. Nixon was paranoid that Ellsberg might have other documents beyond the Pentagon papers that might be damaging to him. Ellsberg and Hersh became friends and saw Oliver Stone’s movie Platoon together. Ellsberg did have additional documents about nuclear war planning which he hid in a trash dump. A mud slide destroyed those files and Ellsberg spent almost 50 years reconstructing them for his latest doomsday machine book.
When the Nixon white house tapes were found, the Watergate story exploded and Bob Woodward and Hersh started sharing information to save duplication and time. They often met over tennis and Woodward quipped that Hersh never paid for the tennis time. Hersh clarifies here that Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post was paying for the court time.

William Calley 3 months Reality Winter 5 years

This book doesn’t deal with whistle-blowers other than to note how tough Obama was on them. Virtually all NSA whistle-blowers have had their careers ruined. The latest, Reality Winter, has been sentenced to at least five years for telling the public that the Russians attempted to hack electoral systems and voter lists during the 2016 elections. Calley, convicted of killing 21 innocent Vietnamese, served three months.

<> <> <> <> <> <> Mob Fixer Korshak

Hersh briefly dipped into an investigation of organized crime with a series of articles on the Chicago Jewish fixer attorney for the mob Sidney Korshak. Korshak’s influence with the Teamsters in New York prevented delivery of part 1 of the Times Korshak story.

When Hersh undertook to investigate the New York based corporation Gulf and Western, he hired a graduate school knowledgeable about securities issues to help him. Unfortunately, Punch Sulzberger, publisher of the Times did not want to offend his club buddies from Gulf and Western and the articles were mercilessly edited and all anonymous quotations removed. Rosentenhal was unable to defend Hersh and this was the start of the end of Hersh’s career at the Times. Nonetheless, John Kenneth Galbraith, Harvard economist wrote Hersh:

“The pieces on Gulf and Western are excellent — better than most readers will know. Extracting usable information from these characters, as I can attest from slight experience, is more difficult by a factor of ten than from the CIA. Thanks again.”

<> <> <> <> <> <> John Kenneth Galbraith

Hersh wondered why there was still so little cooperation between the intelligence community even after 9/11. He asked a long time CIA operative:

Don’t you get it Sy? The FBI catches bank robbers. We rob banks. And the NSA? Do you really expect me to talk to dweebs with protractors in their pockets who are always looking down at their brown shoes?”

When Hersh had a story about the killing of Osama Bin Laden that contradicted much of the Obama administration account, neither the Times nor the New Yorker (under David Remnick) would touch the story and Hersh published the story with the London Review of Books. He then published the book about the killing. Steve Cole in his recent book about Afghanistan and Pakistan entitled Directorate S does not mention Hersh’s killing account but seems to endorse the Obama version of events. Hersh comments:

<> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <>

The possibility that two dozen navy SEALs could escape observation and get to bin Laden without some help from the Pakistani military and intelligence community was nil.

Hersh says the focus of the coverage should have been the double cross of Pakistan, not the refusal of the Times and The New Yorker to publish the story. During his long career he has often been challenged sometimes very bitterly. Hersh replies;

I will happily permit history to be the judge of my recent work.

Hersh discovered that James Jesus Angleton oversaw CIA domestic spying on Vietnam war protestors from 1967. Hersh’s story led to Angleton’s resignation in 1974.

<> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <>

Hersh disclosed that in 1968 6,000 sheep died in a nerve gas experiment gone wrong at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. A different wind could have carried the gas to Salt Lake City.

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Also featured in this book is Harrison Salisbury who covered the Soviet Union for the Times from 1949 to 1954. He returned to New York where he covered the civil rights movement, the assassination of JFK and other stories until he retired from the Times as associate editor in 1973. He wrote his book on the Times, Without Fear or Favor in 1980. In this book, Salisbury wrote about the Watergate investigation:

“It was as though Sy Hersh had been born for this moment.”

In all Salisbury wrote 29 books including the 1969 Siege of Leningrad. He witnessed the Tienanmen demonstrations and massacre in 1989 and wrote The New Emperors: China in the era of Mao and Deng in 1992, portraying Mao and much of the leadership as Opium addled. Salisbury was from the beginning against the Vietnam War and was the first American journalist to be given a visa to visit Hanoi in 1966. He wrote extensively about the US bombing of Hanoi at this time. Hersh was the second American reporter to be given a visa to Hanoi. There he met Defense Minister Vo Ngyuyen Giap and the Paris negotiator Le Duc Tho .