Saturday, December 31, 2005

Republican Corruption-2005

In 2006 a new story of Republican political corruption with the U.S. Family Network as a centerpiece emerges.
Now that there is so much documentation online, it may be difficult to remember that once libraries were a key platform for archiving and displaying documents from government corruption investigations past such as Watergate, Iran-Contra, or Abscam.
Today library archives and exhibits are part of the long memory that helps the public to understand the need for transparency and oversight of government.
Librarians' struggles against aspects of the USAPATRIOT Act are shown to be vital as the corruption of the Republican Speaker of the House, Tom DeLay, and the Republican Congressman so influential on the Appropriations and Intelligence committees that he could affect the awarding of Pentagon contracts--
Cunningham-- is eventually run to ground.
Sadly, it is part of the Republican agenda that those who question any aspect of their activities are called partisans in an attempt to undermine the patriotism of those who question the leadership of Republicans such as DeLay, Bush, or Cunningham. When Bush "pioneers" include the corrupt--
Ken Lay of Enron, or Brent Wilkes-- only those who have drunk the Kool-Aid can continue to believe that the Republican agenda encompasses what are considered conservative values. The only values that guide the corrupt Republican administration are to fill the vaults of donors from the pockets of every-day workers...and we have not yet begun to evaluate the full amount paid to Vice-President Cheney's former company, Halliburton, for Iraq.

With the unraveling of the connection of Republican Cunningham to Bush pioneer Defense contracts; and Republican DeLay's support for Bush's agenda while funneling money to Bush through Abramoff connections--we see that Librarians defending the public's Right to Know stands as one of librarianship's central tenets. Remember that Your Right to Know and access to government information are critical to a democratic society. In keeping with the mission of libraries, the American Library Association defends the public's right to know.
The Washington Post states: Abramoff's long-standing alliance with DeLay was sealed by a much more extensive web of financial ties than previously known.

More Republican Corruption

U.S. Family Network was front for Corruption

Watergate, Iran-Contra, Abscam, now Abramoff and DeLay.

Abramoff's long-standing alliance with DeLay was sealed by a much more extensive web of financial ties than previously known.

Remember that Your Right to Know and access to government information is critical to a democratic society. In keeping with the mission of libraries, the American Library Association defends the public's right to know.


Friday, December 16, 2005


A Business Week News Analyis reports on December 16,2005: A senior fellow at the Cato Institute resigned from the libertarian think tank on Dec. 15 after admitting that he had accepted payments from indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff for writing op-ed articles favorable to the positions of some of Abramoff's clients. Doug Bandow, who writes a syndicated column for Copley News Service, told BusinessWeek Online that he had accepted money from Abramoff for writing between 12 and 24 articles over a period of years, beginning in the mid '90s.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Working Class Resistance #10 now online

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law.

Harold Pinter – Nobel Lecture 2005.
Art, Truth & Politics.

In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.

The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of The Homecoming is 'What have you done with the scissors?' The first line of Old Times is 'Dark.'

In each case I had no further information.

In the first case someone was obviously looking for a pair of scissors and was demanding their whereabouts of someone else he suspected had probably stolen them. But I somehow knew that the person addressed didn't give a damn about the scissors or about the questioner either, for that matter.

'Dark' I took to be a description of someone's hair, the hair of a woman, and was the answer to a question. In each case I found myself compelled to pursue the matter. This happened visually, a very slow fade, through shadow into light.

I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.

In the play that became The Homecoming I saw a man enter a stark room and ask his question of a younger man sitting on an ugly sofa reading a racing paper. I somehow suspected that A was a father and that B was his son, but I had no proof. This was however confirmed a short time later when B (later to become Lenny) says to A (later to become Max), 'Dad, do you mind if I change the subject? I want to ask you something. The dinner we had before, what was the name of it? What do you call it? Why don't you buy a dog? You're a dog cook. Honest. You think you're cooking for a lot of dogs.' So since B calls A 'Dad' it seemed to me reasonable to assume that they were father and son. A was also clearly the cook and his cooking did not seem to be held in high regard. Did this mean that there was no mother? I didn't know. But, as I told myself at the time, our beginnings never know our ends.

'Dark.' A large window. Evening sky. A man, A (later to become Deeley), and a woman, B (later to become Kate), sitting with drinks. 'Fat or thin?' the man asks. Who are they talking about? But I then see, standing at the window, a woman, C (later to become Anna), in another condition of light, her back to them, her hair dark.

It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author's position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can't dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.

So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.

But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.

Political theatre presents an entirely different set of problems. Sermonising has to be avoided at all cost. Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to breathe their own air. The author cannot confine and constrict them to satisfy his own taste or disposition or prejudice. He must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles, from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives, take them by surprise, perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless give them the freedom to go which way they will. This does not always work. And political satire, of course, adheres to none of these precepts, in fact does precisely the opposite, which is its proper function.

In my play The Birthday Party I think I allow a whole range of options to operate in a dense forest of possibility before finally focussing on an act of subjugation.

Mountain Language pretends to no such range of operation. It remains brutal, short and ugly. But the soldiers in the play do get some fun out of it. One sometimes forgets that torturers become easily bored. They need a bit of a laugh to keep their spirits up. This has been confirmed of course by the events at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad. Mountain Language lasts only 20 minutes, but it could go on for hour after hour, on and on and on, the same pattern repeated over and over again, on and on, hour after hour.

Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, seems to me to be taking place under water. A drowning woman, her hand reaching up through the waves, dropping down out of sight, reaching for others, but finding nobody there, either above or under the water, finding only shadows, reflections, floating; the woman a lost figure in a drowning landscape, a woman unable to escape the doom that seemed to belong only to others.

But as they died, she must die too.

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued – or beaten to death – the same thing – and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case “innocent people” were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'

The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua for over 40 years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking popular revolution.

The Sandinistas weren't perfect. They possessed their fair share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.

The United States denounced these achievements as Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the US government, a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it was allowed to raise the standards of health care and education and achieve social unity and national self respect, neighbouring countries would ask the same questions and do the same things. There was of course at the time fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador.

I spoke earlier about 'a tapestry of lies' which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a 'totalitarian dungeon'. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had prevailed.

But this 'policy' was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

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

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days – conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally – a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they're interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. 'We don't do body counts,' said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. 'A grateful child,' said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. 'When do I get my arms back?' he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, 'I'm Explaining a Few Things':

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.

And you will ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!*

Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from Neruda's poem I am in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I quote Neruda because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I read such a powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians.

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as 'full spectrum dominance'. That is not my term, it is theirs. 'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity – the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons – is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force – yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

A writer's life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don't have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection – unless you lie – in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

I have referred to death quite a few times this evening. I shall now quote a poem of my own called 'Death'.

Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?

Who was the dead body?

Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?

Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?

Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?

What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?

Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror – for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.

* Extract from "I'm Explaining a Few Things" translated by Nathaniel Tarn, from Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems, published by Jonathan Cape, London 1970. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited.

General permission is granted for the publication in newspapers in any language after December 7, 2005, 5:30 p.m. (Swedish time). Publication in periodicals or books otherwise than in summary requires the consent of the Foundation. On all publications in full or in major parts the above underlined copyright notice must be applied.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Bush Campaign Chair Corruption in CA.

Contractor 'knew how to grease the wheels'

ADCS founder spent years cultivating political contacts
By Dean Calbreath

and Jerry Kammer

December 4, 2005

In government documents, he is referred to as "co-conspirator No. 1": a man who gave more than $630,000 in cash and favors to former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham for help in landing millions of dollars in federal contracts.

Howard Lipin / Union-Tribune
ADCS has received at least $80 million in government contracts since 1996. Its $11 million headquarters is located in Poway.
Poway military contractor Brent Wilkes – whom Justice Department officials identify as the co-conspirator – has long been active in local political circles, serving as the San Diego County finance co-chairman of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign and the state finance co-chairman for President Bush.

Wilkes has not been charged with a crime in the Cunningham case. The former Rancho Santa Fe congressman announced his resignation Monday after pleading guilty to charges of tax evasion and conspiracy. Three other men – Washington defense contractor Mitchell Wade, businessman Thomas Kontogiannis and financier John T. Michael, both of New York – also have been identified as co-conspirators.

Wilkes' story shows how gifts, favors and campaign contributions can be used to gain lucrative business from the government.

Over the past 20 years, Wilkes has devoted much of his career to developing political contacts in Washington. He and his associates have spent at least $600,000 on political contributions and $1.1 million on lobbying beyond the gifts mentioned in the Cunningham plea agreement, as they cultivated such politicians as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis.

And since 1996, he has received at least $95 million in government contracts for the small family of firms based in his $11 million headquarters in Poway, including ADCS Inc. and Group W.

Brent Wilkes, founder of ADCS Inc., is identified by officials as "co-conspirator No. 1" in the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery case.
Those who know Wilkes describe him as gregarious and ambitious, a person who can make friends easily and toss them aside just as quickly.

Born in San Diego County in 1954, Wilkes graduated from Hilltop High School in 1972, along with his football teammate and best friend Kyle Dustin "Dusty" Foggo, currently third-in-command at the Central Intelligence Agency. Wilkes and Foggo were roommates at San Diego State University, were best men at each other's weddings and named their sons after each other.

Wilkes' career in political relations dates to the early 1980s, shortly after Foggo joined the CIA. Foggo was sent to Honduras to work with the Contra rebels who were trying to topple the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, according to sources within the CIA.

Making connections
Wilkes had moved to Washington, D.C., and opened a business named World Finance Corp. about three blocks away from the White House. One of his chief activities, sources say, was to accompany congressmen – including then-Rep. Bill Lowery of San Diego, whom Wilkes met during his participation in the SDSU Young Republicans organization – to Central America to meet with Foggo and Contra leaders.

A number of sources who have had business dealings with Wilkes say he hinted at that time and afterward that he was affiliated with the CIA. CIA sources say he was never employed by the agency.

By the time Wilkes returned to San Diego in the late 1980s, he had established relationships with members of the House Armed Services, Intelligence and Appropriations committees.

Neither Wilkes, Foggo nor Lowery responded to requests for comment.

By 1990, Wilkes was working for Aimco Financial Management in La Jolla. His chief duty was to bring in politicians, including Lowery, to talk to Aimco clients about how new laws might affect their finances.

Aimco ran into trouble after securities regulators accused its founder, Marvin I. Friedman, of taking $268,000 of a client's funds in 1991.

Wilkes left Aimco in 1992 to take a job as a political consultant for Audre Inc., a Rancho Bernardo firm that specialized in automated document conversion systems, which converted maps and engineering drawings into a format that could be edited via computer.

Audre, which was nearly bankrupt at the time, was eager to get more federal contracts. Shortly after Wilkes' arrival, the 35-person firm, headed by San Diego businessman Tom Casey, began donating thousands of dollars to key members of Congress.

"Wilkes was a political operator," said former Audre engineer Dirk Holland. "He was pretty slick. He knew how to grease the wheels."

Said a former business associate of Wilkes: "He knew that it pays to get a sponsor. He knew that's the way the game is played, and he convinced Tom Casey that that's what it's all about."

Union-Tribune file photo
Congressmen Duncan Hunter (left) and Randy "Duke" Cunningham, shown here before a base-closure commission hearing in June 1991, have received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from various defense firms.
Between 1992 and 1997, Audre employees and family members donated $77,000 to members of Congress.Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, who got $7,250, and Cunningham, who got $5,050, became prominent backers of automated document systems in Congress.

"Our job as San Diego congressmen is to do our best to make sure our guys get a fair shot," Hunter said recently. "And Brent Wilkes and Tom Casey were aggressive and enthusiastic promoters of a breakthrough technology."

Audre was able to increase its influence by teaming up with Evergreen Information Technologies, a Colorado company that specialized in computerizing federal contract information.

Casey had been one of the founders of Evergreen in the early 1990s and served on its board of directors. Evergreen gave $22,000 in political donations, often targeting the same politicians on the same dates as Audre.

According to charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, $20,000 of Evergreen's donations were illegal. Evergreen Chief Executive Barry Nelsen asked staffers to write $1,000 checks, leaving the "payee" line blank, according to SEC documents. Nelsen then gave the checks to lawmakers and repaid his workers in violation of federal law, the SEC charged in 1993.

Nelsen did not fight the charges and was fined $65,000. He says he made the donations – none of which went to Hunter or Cunningham – so Congress would push the Navy to work with his firm.

Getting noticed
"I went to Tom Casey and said, 'How do we get some money or political heat or something to make the Navy do what they should do?' " Nelsen said. "So up pops Brent Wilkes."

Nelsen said Wilkes identified which politicians should be given donations.

The lobbying by Audre, as well as that of other software companies, was effective. Congress created an automated document conversion program, which provided $190 million in contracts between 1993 and 2001.

Audre won more than $12.5 million of those contracts, largely provided through earmarks that let legislators add pet projects to the budget.

"An earmark is usually devoted to a particular company or particular project that is tied to a particular congressman," said Michael Surrusco, director of ethics campaigns at Common Cause, a government watchdog group.

Earmarks are typically added to budget bills after they have been passed by the Senate and the House and the differing versions are being resolved in a conference committee. Because those meeting occur outside public view, the earmarks can be a way of avoiding scrutiny or accountability.

The earmarks were included in the budget even though the Pentagon never asked for funds for automated document conversion. In 1994, the General Accounting Office, now known as the Government Accountability Office, which monitors federal spending, found that the military did not need automated systems because it already had its own systems to digitize documents.

That did not dissuade Audre's supporters in Congress.

Union-Tribune file photo
Tom Casey, founder of Audre Inc., a business that specialized in automated document conversion systems, hired Brent Wilkes in 1992 as a political consultant for the company.
"I operate under the idea that not all good ideas come out of the Pentagon," Hunter said.

Two dozen firms vied for funding from the automated document conversion program. Their success depended on lobbying influential legislators, said Richard Gehling, who headed Audre's federal sales in the late 1990s.

Once Congress has appropriated money for programs, Pentagon officials decide how to apportion the money among prequalified contractors. These officials are very mindful of the desires of members of Congress who were crucial in funding the program, contractors and program managers said.

Gehling described Audre's technique for obtaining government contracts during a deposition in a lawsuit he filed in 2000 to gain back pay from the company.

A successful sale to the military, he maintained, "normally boiled down to who the House or Senate member was and how much pressure they put on the undersecretary (of Defense) about getting the funding for their constituents."

Audre attorney Ian Kessler asked: "That, in turn, depends upon how much political muscle, how much influence (a company has) with a particular congressperson?"

Gehling: "The majority of the time, it's (whichever company) has the most clout."

Kessler: "You mean the most political clout?"

Gehling: "Who's paid more."

Kessler: "Paid more in terms of political contributions?"

Gehling: "Fundraisers. Sponsoring."

To build more political backing for Audre, Wilkes asked Casey in 1994 to budget at least $40,000 a month for lobbying, far beyond what the money-losing company had been spending, according to two sources at the company.

When Casey balked, Wilkes quit the firm. Six months later, Wilkes launched ADCS Inc., customizing a German system called VPMax to compete for contracts to convert government documents. It was a family affair. Most of the company's top executives were related to Wilkes or his wife, Regina.

The Pentagon rated VPMax as faster, easier and cheaper than Audre. VPMax cost $6,035 per unit, compared with $11,479 for Audre's PC system and $29,950 for its Unix system.

Even so, Hunter backed Audre, partly because it was a U.S.-made product.

"I did oppose having a German firm get the business," he said recently, although the German creator of VPMax was getting little more than licensing fees for the ADCS project.

Casey played on that sentiment. When talking to Hunter about ADCS, Casey called it "the German software." Hunter, in turn, asked Maj. Gen. John Phillips, the Pentagon's chief purchasing officer, to "whenever possible, use [document conversion] products that are made in the United States by American taxpayers."

In May 1995, just as Wilkes was launching ADCS, Hunter – who had just been named chairman of the Armed Services Committee – let Audre use his office for two weeks to demonstrate its newest release to Pentagon officials.

Two weeks after the demonstrations ended, Audre sold $1.2 million of the software to the military for testing.

1972 yearbook photo
Kyle Dustin "Dusty" Foggo (top), now the CIA's executive director, was a friend of Brent Wilkes' at Hilltop High School in Chula Vista.
"When you're in a position like Hunter was, you have a lot of clout, and we're not supposed to rock the boat," said a former Pentagon procurement official who declined to be named.

At that point, Wilkes started donating money to Cunningham, who sat on a House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Pentagon budget. Since October 1995, he and his associates have given $71,500 to Cunningham's campaign and political action committee. Cunningham became an ADCS booster.

"The success achieved by ADCS Inc. is an asset to the San Diego business and technological communities," Cunningham said in a 1997 endorsement that was printed in ADCS' pamphlets and press releases. He predicted VPMax would lead to "a stronger, more efficient national defense."

In 1996, Casey pressed Hunter to find out why the military was not buying more of Audre's software. Hunter demanded a Pentagon investigation.

A report from the Pentagon's Inspector General responded that "little demand exists" for automated document conversion systems. Aside from a Navy base in Ventura County, Port Hueneme, no military installation said it needed the systems. Much of the software Congress had funded was languishing in storage.

Such criticism did not dissuade Hunter.

According to Gehling's deposition, Hunter pushed the military to buy $2.5 million in Audre software in February 1997.

"There were still problems with the software," Gehling said. "It's always been flaky. It's still flaky."

Under pressure from Cunningham, the Pentagon shifted the money from Audre to ADCS. At the time, Cunningham said he only wanted the military to pick the best contractor possible. Donald Lundell, who was then Audre's chief executive, accused Cunningham of being swayed by Wilkes' campaign contributions.

At the time, Cunningham rejected any criticism of his actions.

"I'm on the side of the angels here," he said then, adding that anyone who questioned his role "can just go to hell."

Questionable projects
By then, the document conversion program was drawing fire from Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who included it on a list of $5.5 billion "objectionable" earmarks that Congress had tacked onto the military budget.

In July 1997, McCain accused the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House National Security Committee, where both Hunter and Cunningham sat, of "virtually ignoring the request of the Pentagon and impeding the military's ability to channel resources where they are most needed."

McCain said that "with military training exercises continuing to be cut, backlogs in aircraft and ship maintenance, flying hour shortfalls, military health care underfunded by $600 million, and 11,787 servicemembers reportedly on food stamps," Congress should not be funding "a plethora of programs not requested by the Defense Department."

McCain was largely ignored. Three months later, Congress earmarked $20 million for document conversion systems. The earmarks hit $25 million the next year, including ADCS' biggest project: a $9.7 million contract to digitize documents in the Panama Canal Zone, which was to be handed to Panama in 1999.

The idea for the project came about at a time that Hunter and Cunningham were both warning that the People's Republic of China might try to take over Panama once U.S. forces left. The project was based on the idea that the U.S. should have blueprints of public buildings in Panama in case of a Chinese takeover.

Wilkes began lobbying for the project in early 1998, targeting Rep. Robert Livingston of Louisiana, who chaired the Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Jerry Lewis of Redlands and Cunningham, who served on the subcommittee on defense.

As the Appropriations Committee earmarked the budget, Wilkes, his wife Regina, Wilkes' nephew and lobbyist Joel Combs, attorney Richard Bliss and Rollie Kimbrough, a Democrat who headed a Washington, D.C., company that partnered with ADCS on the project, contributed a total of $28,000 to the three Republican lawmakers.

The project passed without the Pentagon's support, since most of the documents in Panama had little military value. Many of the documents that were of military value already were being photocopied, faxed or scanned into computers.

But Wilkes got a contract to convert millions of documents into computer-readable format, including reams of papers that dated to the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt. By Wilkes' own description, ADCS was using its most expensive technology to scan engineering drawings from the 1870s and images of boats from the 1910s.

Louis Kratz, an assistant undersecretary of defense, tried to block funding for the project, arguing there were more pressing needs at the Army's Missile Command, the Air Force's Logistics Center and an Air Force Pacific Base project.

Kratz was rebuffed by Cunningham as well as Hunter, who wanted the Pentagon to give Audre a $3.9 million contract to perform document conversion on an Abrams tank project.

Kratz later told The Washington Post that he had never encountered such "arrogance" and "meddling" as he had from Cunningham and Wilkes. John Karpovich, who helped run the document conversion program at the Defense Department before his retirement, said Wilkes infuriated Pentagon staff by claiming that the document conversion money belonged to him.

"Brent came in and said, 'That's our money,' " Karpovich recalled. "He said, 'The congressmen put the money in there for us.' "

Kratz eventually freed the funds, delaying the Air Force and Missile Command projects. But he also asked the Inspector General to investigate how the projects got funding.

In June 2000, the Pentagon Inspector General reported that several important projects had lost funding because "two congressmen" pressured defense officials to shift the money to the Panama and Abrams tank projects. The shift in funding was causing some military officers to "lose confidence in the fairness of the selection process," the Inspector General reported.

Lavish living
The money from Panama and other ADCS contracts – ranging from Gateway computer systems to military sound technology – helped fund a heady lifestyle for Wilkes and his associates.

In 1999, Wilkes and his wife bought a $1.5 million home in the Poway hills. He soon bought a second home: a $283,500 town house in the Virginia suburbs near Washington, D.C. During his visits to Washington, he made his rounds in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes. At the Capital Grille, a favored hangout of legislators and lobbyists, he rented a personalized wine locker with his best friend Foggo.

Wilkes spread his taxpayer-provided funds throughout his company, taking executives on periodic retreats to Hawaii and Idaho.

In Honolulu, Wilkes stayed at suites at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel or rented the beachfront mansion of the late hairstyling mogul Paul Mitchell, which typically goes for $50,000 a week.

In Idaho, Wilkes' team stayed at the posh Coeur d'Alene Resort, where Wilkes paid $2,500 a night for a 2,500-square-foot penthouse suite, featuring an indoor swimming pool and outdoor Jacuzzi, said former employees and sources in Idaho.

For dinner, Wilkes would take his team to Beverley's restaurant, where a group meal could easily cost several thousand dollars. For recreation, they would fish, Jet Ski or play at the resort's exclusive golf course, famed for its 14th hole on a man-made floating island in Lake Coeur d'Alene.

There were retreats to Hawaii and Idaho at least once a year, said one source inside the company, with visits to Idaho typically occurring in spring or summer and visits to Hawaii in fall or winter.

Wilkes made no bones about where his money was coming from. His jet-black Hummer bore a license plate reading MIPR ME – a reference to Military Interdepartmental Purchase Requests, which authorize funds in the Pentagon.

Wilkes shared the benefits of his largesse with the politicians who helped him. He took Cunningham on several out-of-state trips on his corporate jet. Cunningham has produced no records showing that he paid for food, lodging or transportation while traveling to resorts with Wilkes, although he does have receipts for several campaign trips on Wilkes' jet.

Wilkes also bought a small powerboat that he moored behind Cunningham's yacht, the Kelly C, at the Capital Yacht Club in Washington, D.C. The boat was available for Cunningham's use anytime Wilkes was not using it.

But what landed Wilkes in trouble with federal prosecutors was his gifts to Cunningham. According to Cunningham's plea agreement, "Co-conspirator No. 1," gave $525,000 to Cunningham on May 13, 2004, to pay off the second mortgage on Cunningham's home in Rancho Santa Fe.

Co-conspirator No. 1 also gave $100,000 to Cunningham on May 1, 2000, which went into Cunningham's personal accounts in San Diego and Washington, D.C. And he paid $11,116.50 to help pay Cunningham's mortgage on the Kelly C.

The plea agreement charged that in return for the payments, Cunningham "used his public office and took other official action to influence U.S. Department of Defense personnel to award and execute government contracts."

Wilkes befriended other legislators, too. He ran a hospitality suite, with several bedrooms, in Washington – first in the Watergate Hotel and then in the Westin Grand near Capitol Hill.

He also kept his donations flowing, targeting people with clout over the Pentagon budget: $43,000 to Jerry Lewis, who now heads the Appropriations Committee; $35,500 to Hunter, who heads the Armed Services Committee; and $30,000 to Tom DeLay, who flew on Wilkes' jet several times and has been a frequent golfing buddy.

Over the past three years, Wilkes' lobbying group in Washington – Group W Advisors – also paid about $630,000 in lobbying fees to Alexander Strategy Group, a firm headed by DeLay's former chief of staff Ed Buckham and staffed with former DeLay employees.

The firm has a well-publicized reputation in Washington as a conduit to DeLay's office.

"The Alexander lobbyists' sales pitch was, 'Either you hire me or DeLay is going to screw you,' " an anonymous source identified as a top Republican lobbyist told the Congressional Quarterly weekly last month. "It was not really a soft sell."

Besides donating money to DeLay's campaign, Wilkes also has given money to a political action committee that DeLay helped organize: Texans for a Republican Majority. The group is under investigation for allegedly breaking Texas law to divert corporate contributions into its drive to redraw the state's election districts.

DeLay was indicted in late September over his activities with the group.

One of the group's biggest contributors was PerfectWave Technologies, one of Wilkes' companies, which donated $15,000.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert also flew on Wilkes' jet several times, sources say, although Hastert's expense records show no payments for such trips.

Besides its military work, ADCS also vied for state and municipal contracts, both for document conversion services as well as mapping systems to help speed police, firefighters and emergency workers to crime sites or fires.

As Wilkes vied for contracts, he donated to state and local politicians, such as San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts and Assemblyman George Plescia of Poway. The kickoff for Plescia's political campaign was held in ADCS' headquarters; Plescia was about to marry Wilkes' government affairs manager Melissa Dollaghan.

Other than Wilkes' donations to federal campaigns, his biggest contributions went to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Besides helping coordinate the Schwarzenegger campaign's finance activities in San Diego County during the 2003 recall election, Wilkes and his wife donated $42,400 to Schwarzenegger, the maximum allowable. The next year, Wilkes allowed Schwarzenegger to use ADCS' headquarters as a local office for his 2004 workers' compensation initiative campaign.

Schwarzenegger appointed Wilkes as a board member of the Del Mar Race Track Board in 2004 and the State Race Track Leasing Commission this year.

Despite the recent negative publicity, ADCS remains in operation. At the company's glass-and-steel headquarters in Poway one day last week, about 20 cars were in the parking lot.

None of the employees would comment, and company officials shooed a reporter and a photographer away from the property.

The headquarters building was erected in 2003 at a cost of $11 million when the company was receiving a steady stream of government contracts. According to the architectural firm that built it, the building boasts a 100-seat theater, a 2,000-square-foot kitchen, and 32,000 square feet of office space, including a large sandbox lined with surfboards, which was designed to bring an element of fun into the workplace.

Sources who have worked at or done business with ADCS say the company has shrunk in size from more than 135 employees at its heyday to about 45 or fewer today. The headquarters is largely empty, the sources say.

Dean Calbreath: (619) 293-1891;

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Bush talks dead soldiers; Laura talks the White House Christmas Card

When Bush was talking about dead soldiers and dreams of victory that'll involve "sacrifice," Laura was describing the art on the White House Christmas card, adding, "Barney and Beazley and our kitty made an appearance on the card."...

Let's not belabor a point here - that the very idea of gloating over decorating the White House in a time of war is kinda stomach-churning. But, sh*t, everyone loves royalty and all its pretty accessories. No, this is about the timing of the two events. It says, in a very clear way, that the Bush White House is divorced from reality, that it's all a fantasy, from the gingerbread White House to the number of Iraqi forces, all one continuum of fantasy and disconnect from any reality.

Mitigating a Complete Disaster

Friday, December 02, 2005

2127 U.S. Troops Killed in Iraq