Sunday, January 23, 2011

1991: Glasnostroika

A lot of my older articles are stored in obsolete file formats (or not at all; a number of them were lost in a hard drive crash, and I'll need to scan them off the paper copies to get them posted here). This one was written directly into Quark XPress (so as to be submitted already laid out for the publisher's page dimensions). Unfortunately, I don't have any software that could open it, 20 years later. But when I googled on "really old Quark files," I stumbled on this guy, who emailed it back to me, good as new. Many thanks, dude! He's a freelance designer and If you need his services, check him out at, or email him at Of course, Mr. Youngren doesn't necessarily endorse anything written on this blog - but then, neither do you.

New York Times columnist William Safire recently displayed uncommon chutzpah, even for him, in calling for free access to the JFK assassination files. The thing is, Safire was talking about the KGB files. Only by coming clean, quoth Safire, about what they know about the JFK hit , could the Russians confront the ugliness of their past (“cesspool of evil” was the phrase, I believe) and move forward. Leaving aside for the moment the question of Mr. Safire’s own ugly past, it’s clear that we could take a few lessons from the erstwhile Soviets on confronting the past.

Our current President likes to crow about how we “won” the Cold War. Like any war, “winning” our 45-year conflict with the Soviets required vast sacrifices of both blood and treasure. The nature of our victory is simply that our opponents went broke before we did. To its credit, however, before folding its hand, the sclerotic Soviet bureaucracy produced a leader of rare vision and courage. Gorbachev not only had the good sense to cut his losses early on, he articulated two fundamental ideals that can guide us through our uncertain future - glasnost and perestroika.

Whether or not our system can produce a leader of comparable vision and courage, this country needs a good hunk of perstroika and a pile of glasnost, at least as much as our old enemies did. It’s time to come clean about the ugliness of our own past - specifically, about the abuses of power, both at home and abroad, that took place during the Cold War period. And it is well past time for a restructuring of the permanent war economy that we have built since the late 1930s.

(For those of you tuning in late, glasnost, loosely translated, means “stop the lies,” while perestroika works out to “stop the thieving.”)

As far as glasnost goes, we have nothing to lose - and everything to gain - by telling the truth about our history. Officially, we still deny having overthrown the governments of Iran and Guatemala in 1953, and dozens of others since then. Indeed, we are sitting on millions of classified documents - some dating as far back as World War I - whose release has heretofore been deemed harmful to our national “security.” Whether the communist threat was our justification or our excuse, that threat is removed.

Whatever our motives, the blood of innocent millions is on our hands, and hiding from the truth will not expunge our guilt. Our leaders - and we the taxpayers - are accountable for the Nazis we embraced to counter the Soviets; for the death squads we trained and equipped; for the drug merchants we did business with. Explanations are due, and apologies. If Japan can apologize to Korea, surely, among our dozens of interventions, from Greece to El Salvador, there are those to whom sincere regrets are long overdue.

Your tax dollars have built an immense national security establishment that fixed elections and overthew legitimate governments all over the world. It’s time to confront how much of that took place at home. We applaud, rightfully, the failure of the coup by Soviet hardliners last August. We need to know the involvement of our own hardliners in prematurely ending the administrations of presidents Kennedy, Nixon and Carter.

The available public record contains abundant evidence that President Kennedy was killed as a result of a conspiracy and that your government knew and lied about this. And as Oliver Stone’s JFK points out, only the US government - or agents thereof - could have weakened the president’s security detail, illegaly removed his corpse from Texas jurisdiction (at gunpoint!), guaranteed a dishonest autopsy under military supervision, and “lost” vital evidence from the National Archives. Before any more evidence is “lost,” we need to lift the 75-year deep freeze ordered by President Johnson.

Mr. Safire’s insinuations to the contrary, the most important details of this episode are not hidden in KGB files. There is no longer any excuse - if any ever existed - to keep secret Lee Harvey Oswald’s tax returns, or those of his associates. Even the most cursory examination of his career shows the influence of our intelligence community. The only question left to be answered is whether he worked for the CIA, the FBI, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) - or all three.

Since the available evidence indicates an inside job, a look at the unavailable evidence is essential. Similarly, we could use a healthy hunk of glasnost regarding two other chapters of our recent history: Watergate and the October Surprise.

As worthy of impeachment as Nixon was, the details of his precipitous fall from power deserve greater scrutiny. The recent book Silent Coup by Colodny and Gittlin builds on earlier work by reporters Jim Hougan (Secret Agenda) and Deborah Davis (Katherine the Great) that shows the ubiquitous footprints of the CIA all over the Watergate “affair.”

Both James McCord, who caused the arrest of his fellow Watergate burglars, and Alexander Butterfield, who revealed the existence of the Oval Office taping system, were career CIA men. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, whose reporting constitutes the standard account of the scandal, worked for the ONI. His editor, Ben Bradlee, was CIA, as was the late husband and predecessor of Post publisher Katherine Graham. Deep Throat, Woodward’s anonymous source, was obviously a high intelligence operative. Most ominously, communications went out to US military commanders well before Nixon’s resignation instructing them to disregard any orders from the President.

The reason this is important is that we ought to know why the CIA - the same CIA that covered up for those who removed President Kennedy from office - worked so hard to remove President Nixon. One suspects it was for quite different reasons than the rest of us wanted the bastard removed for. A little glasnost here could be quite illuminating.

Just as important, whatever your feelings about James Earl Carter, is whether the campaign to end his Presidency went beyond politics as usual. As of this writing, the US Congress has not yet funded the committees empowered to investigate the October Surprise - the apparent deal cut by members of the 1980 Reagan-Bush campaign with the government of Iran to prevent the release of 52 American hostages. The salient facts of the matter are these:

Reagan’s own polling data showed that such a release would result in a Carter victory. An “October Surprise Task Force” headed by William Casey and Ed Meese, was formed to prevent such an occurrence. This group was in posession of stolen documents from the White House, provided by at least one “mole.” The Carter Administration had an agreement in place with Iran for a pre-election release of the hostages, involving only spare parts for the Iranian military and a release of frozen Iranian assets in the US. No further military equipment was to be provided. After the the period of October 19-21, when meetings between the Reagan camp and the Iranians allegedly took place, Iran backed off from its agreement with Carter. Once Reagan and Bush had taken office and the hostages were released, vast amounts of military equipment began flowing to Iran within 60 days.

Now, this matter would seem to merit further investigation. It’s true that too much glasnost here might reflect badly on members of the current administration, but, hey, we’ve got to confront the ugliness of our past if we want to move ahead.

As far as moving ahead is concerned, that seems to be happening mighty slow these days. Here too, we can benefit from the example of the late Soviet Empire. Some perestroika could be just what the doctor ordered. Even the president admits our economy is in a “free fall.” The gap between rich and poor has been widening since the early 70s, while real wages have stagnated. And for over half a century, we have propped up our economy with massive military spending. Our victory in the Cold War has left us with a national debt approaching $4 trillion. Meanwhile, our vanquished World War II opponents, Germany and Japan, largely free of the burden of military expenditures, have invested their national treasure in more productive areas.

In 1988, at the height of the Reagan buildup, the Center for Defense Information estimated that we could have provided for our legitimate defense needs - and those of our vital allies - for roughly $100 billion less than we were spending annually. With the disappearance of the Soviet threat, and with our vital allies more than capable of paying for their own defense, our legitimate defense needs are surely a fraction of the Reagan Era budgets. But in his State of the Union message, Bush tells us he wants to cut $50 billion - over five years. By my math, that means $1.45 trillion through 1997, rather than $1.5 trillion.

Obviously, going cold turkey on Pentagon spending is going to cause a lot of pain, just like ending any other addiction. That is why we need a massive national effort - comparable to the moon shot or the Cold War - to find productive work for those dependant on the military gravy train. There is vital work to be done in cleaning up our environment, rebuilding our infrastructure, providing affordable housing, education and health care, and modernizing our transportation network. Spending in any one of these areas will generate more jobs than an equal amount of dollars poured into our military.

We hear a lot these days about the Triumph of Capitalism and the universal need for market-driven economies. Well, you can call our economic system anything you want - just don’t tell me it’s based on the free market. Apart from our annual subsidy to the armaments industry , our fiscal policies and tax codes are providing massive subsidies to the nuclear power industry, the logging companies, the oil companies, automobile companies, agribusiness, pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturers and so on.

Now, intelligent people can argue about whether or not these companies are worthy of subsidy - indeed, we should be arguing about it a lot more than we have been. The common denominator of the industries listed above is that they are all doing serious damage to the environment, which will cost a great deal of treasure to undo, whether we decide to continue subsidizing the damage or not.

The fundamental basis of any American perestroika ought to be the environmental impact of our fiscal policies. If we had spent the last 45 years subsidizing solar power or rail transport, we might not now be arguing about global warming or ozone holes. If we had not fought so hard to keep sucking up more than our share of the world’s resources, we might have learned to live within our means. The benefits of an environment-friendly perestroika could include a reversal of the widening gap between rich and poor, both within our borders and on the planet at large.

As Mikhail Gorbachev pointed out, perestroika and glasnost go hand in hand - you can’t have one without the other. Without an open discussion of our mistakes, of the military and economic policies we have pursued, we will not be able to make informed decisions about restructuring our system along the lines of justice and environmental sanity. And if we don’t have the guts to wrest control of our economy from the old-boys who ahve been lining their pockets for generations on wasteful miltary spending, S&L bailouts, or countless other scams, well, we certainly shouldn’t expect them to tell us the truth
about it.

Oh, and as for William Safire, his ugly past goes beyond his service to the Nixon administration, arguably the biggest cesspool of evil in US history. According to the book Breaking of a President, by Marvin Miller, Safire began his political life as a spokesman for various Mafia front companies. As a wise man once said, before you pull a splinter form your neighbor’s eye, remove the plank from your own.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the mention there Mark. I was glad I was able to help contribute.