Dutched by an Angel

I’ve known Edmund Morris since the days he, Ronnie “Dutch” Reagan, and I went to Eureka College together back in the ’30s. I knew Dutch long before Morris did, of course; Perlsteins have been around Reagans pretty much since both our families came over from Ireland in the 1850s. So when I saw that Eddie had just published Dutch, you can be sure I was interested to see what he’d come up with.

Well, one thing’s for sure: that’s the Edmund Morris I remember. The constant dropping of foreign phrases (10 in the first 16 pages!), the spouting of obscure lines of poetry: “Not until Reagan confronted the green mounds of Bergen-Belsen, and realized what dread fertilizer enriched their heather covering, did the alabaster become flesh, and terror and pity— emotions that Hazlitt says are concomitant with tragedy— stir in my breast.” He was always such a pretentious ass. And so full of himself: It’s the president of the United States everyone’s interested in, but you wouldn’t know it from the number of pages here about Edmund Morris.

But never mind the narcissism; his American history is either cartoonish or just plain wrong. He calls Dutch’s adolescent years “the last days of American innocence.” But they were also the days of the Klan’s control of much of the Republican Party in the Midwest, the racist Immigration Act (1924), eugenics, riots, savage strikes, and ruthless strike-breaking. Eddie spent much of the time in England while this story was unfolding, but that doesn’t excuse bad history.

When it comes to depicting partisan politics, he’s unfair to the point of inanity. In this book, mature, law-abiding adults are almost all conservatives, the left the province of smug, stupid, starry-eyed kids, kneecap-busting union goons, Communist double-dealers, and weepy apologists for Stalin. Taxes are always “punitive,” welfare an occasion to commit fraud, “liberal” always in quotation marks. All England’s problems in 1949 are caused by its Labor government— never mind the fact that it lost millions of young men and half of London in the war. He calls all late-’60s racial politics “Black anarchy” and the 1980s European nuclear freeze movement “pro-Soviet” (2 million people taking to the streets over one weekend in 1984— that’s a lot of Moscow stooges, even for Europe). He writes as if all of Reagan’s political projects were received with unanimous acclaim. He cried when Reagan recovered from his 1981 shooting. “But again, who had not?”

Since Morris thinks conservatism is the natural estate of humanity, he doesn’t even bother to analyze how Reagan came to travel from New Deal liberalism to a very idiosyncratic far-right conservatism by the early ’60s (one would think it’s an important issue, since his brand of conservatism became the political status quo by the late ’90s). Eddie dates Dutch’s conversion to the summer of 1946, when Dutch decided he was an “anticommunist,” and leaves it at that— as if practically the whole country weren’t anticommunist then, many of the most fervent occupying the left wing of the Democratic Party. He could have at least cast a glance at the hothouse context of Southern Californian politics of that time; it would have cleared up a lot of what is most mysterious about Ronald Reagan. He mentions that Dutch chaired the 1962 Senate candidacy of Orange County lawyer Lloyd Wright, but he doesn’t mention his platform. Wright thought we should give the Soviet Union an ultimatum to get out of Eastern Europe, “and if they didn’t, I’d commence shooting. If we have to blow up Moscow, that’s too bad.” The bombing begins in five minutes.

No, when it comes to politics, Eddie Morris is keen to make Reagan look as good as possible— conveniently achieved by mostly ignoring domestic politics after the 1983 economic recovery in favor of the story of how Dutch “won” the Cold War by bankrupting the Soviet Union. It’s a canard that has virtually become gospel for the right, dishonoring the dissidents who put their life on the line to fight the regime, and disregarding the USSR’s own Vietnam in Afghanistan, or the fact that the system had been slowly atrophying for 70 years. And since Morris is more interested in depicting Jimmy Carter as a foil for the Bad America before Dutch came along than as a flesh-and-blood historical figure, we never learn that the military buildup Reagan gets credit for started under Carter. Instead he simply claims that “since kissing Brezhnev in 1979,” Carter “had suffered agonies of unrequited brotherly love.”

Which is strange, because when it comes to explaining Reagan the man, Morris is viciously accurate. This Reagan is the Reagan of his enemies: he doesn’t recognize his own son (whom he nicknamed schmuck) at his graduation, builds his own house based on a movie set, launches into endless irrelevant stories at certain trigger words like “horse,” as if he were one of the brainwashed soldiers in The Manchurian Candidate. There is “the fundamentally childlike, bipolar quality of his mind . . . the majestic perversity of his memory . . . abstracted to the point of catatonia.” Then Morris socks readers with a double whammy: he argues that this looseness with the facts is at the heart of Dutch’s virtue— his “ability to reduce a situation to its simple essence,” how he “struggled against circumstance and bent it to his will.”

I always thought it was easy to understand how Reagan turned out this way: his dad was the town drunk, moved the family 14 times before Dutch turned 18. Nothing like a life of horrified chaos to addict a fellow to fantasy, keep his human vulnerability hidden at all costs, and attract him to a core set of simpleminded bedrock dogmas. But Eddie— who was always a bit psychologically obtuse— doesn’t think his upbringing has anything to do with it. “Nothing,” he writes, “not even Jack’s binges and Nelle’s despair, seems to have affected his preternatural, lifelong calm.”

It’s enough to make me write a memoir of my own. Anyone have $3 million to spare?


Egg Hunt

What was John Wayne’s real name? What was Julia Roberts’s first onscreen role? In what movie did Ronald Reagan star with a monkey? Oh, and do you want to make $5000 by “donating” your eggs to an infertile woman?

With the fertility industry pumping out more than 20,000 babies each year, it’s no longer odd to see ads offering women thousands of dollars for their eggs. What’s strange is seeing such ads in movie theaters. Yet, slip into the Loew’s theaters at Broadway and 19th Street, Third Avenue and 11th Street, or Kips Bay Plaza a few minutes before showtime and that’s just what you’ll find.

Mixed in with the screen scramblers and trivia questions is a slide advising female viewers interested in donating their reproductive cells (and collecting enough cash to buy a truckload of popcorn along the way) to call 1-877-BABYMAKERS. The ad, run by the Offices for Fertility and Reproductive Medicine, a private practice in the East Village, features three babies’ backsides— one black, one white, and another of a tannish hue.

That such messages have made it to the big screen reflect— and maybe foster— a certain comfort with the growing egg trade. But far-reaching calls for egg donors, which have also sprung up on the Internet, signal the expansion of an already troubling industry. Egg donation has spawned a new economy, and on the sleaziest end of this barely regulated market, desirable genes can cost up to $50,000. Above-board fertility programs are forced to advertise far and wide to keep up with less scrupulous competition.

Despite the rainbow of pudgy flesh onscreen, the egg business is taking place mostly among wealthy whites, who are more likely to be able to come up with the roughly $20,000 to finance the test-tube-baby-making process with a donor egg. Note that you won’t find such ads in the outer boroughs, only in select Manhattan locations. Indeed OFRM— like most egg donations nationwide— is primarily in search of white donors.

You wouldn’t have seen such an ad 15 years ago, when the first baby created with a donated egg was born. But somewhere along the way, egg donation has mutated from a freakish, technological what-if into an option routinely offered to women who lack working eggs or ovaries. There were 5162 egg transfers done in 1996 (the year of the most recent data), and the “take-home baby rate,” or chances that the procedure will produce a real, live person, has climbed to almost 40 percent.

The problem is how to come up with enough eggs. And that is where the movie theaters— and magazines and Web sites— come in. Sensitive to charges that they are selling body parts, the industry has suggested limits on payments to donors, oxymoronically referred to as “donation fees.” That means that, despite the fact that a few renegade individuals have offered as much as $50,000 for the right egg, compensation from aboveboard egg donation programs in New York hovers around $5000. It’s a hefty sum when compared to the $50 sperm donors earn, though not so hefty when you consider the month of doctors’ appointments, physical and psychological tests, and drug-taking donors have to undergo, not to mention the possibility that the drugs involved could increase the risk of ovarian cancer and other medical complications.

Most programs insist that donors be under 30, tattoo- and piercing-free, healthy, and, of course, fertile. After they make the first cut, donors are subjected to genetic screening, psychological testing, and questions about their education and personal life. Some programs even do a criminal background check.

So unappealing is the donor experience— and so rigorous the screening process— that the vast majority of women who call about the ads never end up donating. Dr. Alan Copperman, director of Mt. Sinai’s reproductive endocrinology program, says the last 1100 phone calls the program received from potential candidates yielded a mere 12 donors.

So fertility specialists are casting the net wide. Mt. Sinai advertises in Back Stage and New York Press. The St. Barnabas Medical Center advertises regularly in New York. OFRM has run ads in the Voice, as well as in the theaters. And many programs have set up sites on the Web.

Among independent donors and recipients (who, since they’re not businesses, have no need to abide by the fertility industry’s voluntary guidelines), the advertising gets even creepier. Take the student who says she is studying for her law degree and Ph.D. at an Ivy League law school and boasts “my SAT score was 1410, ACT 34, GRE 2260, and LSAT 171. . . . I am an accomplished writer and have published in my field. . . . I compose and arrange music. I also act, speak in public, draw, paint, and make jewelry. . . . I hold a third degree brown belt in karate and am training for my black belt. . . . I have a dimple in each cheek, but no birthmarks.”

Then there’s the “High-IQ Egg Donor Wanted” ad, encountered on “You should have or be working on a university degree from a world-class university, you should have high standardized test scores, and preferably some outstanding achievements and awards.”

Established fertility doctors tend to look down on such Wild West approaches to procuring eggs. “We would never participate in that,” says OFRM’s Dr. Cecilia Schmidt-Sarosi. “That’s counterproductive to the whole spirit of those of us who do egg donation.” Instead, they’re considering running their ads in more theaters.



It’s Evening in California

The Plane Truth

Crude Scam

Wackos Eye Olympics

Carpetbagger Quiz
Look Away

It’s Evening in California

The Reagan Legacy & GOP Dementia

As Ronald Reagan lies ill with Alzheimer’s disease— his health, in the words of a doctor who visited him, “gradually declining”— mass media outlets are busily laying out elaborate obituaries for the 88-year-old former president.

One can, however, imagine Reagan getting a chuckle out of the congressional Republicans’ current push for a 10-year tax cut that would drain the treasury of any projected surplus, ensure drastic cuts in what’s left of welfare, and force Social Security into the stock market. It is the baldest effort yet at crippling the operations of government— and it remains to be seen whether Clinton will veto the package outright or try to go along with part of the cut.

Meanwhile, who would have thought the torch of the Reagan revolution would be passed to the son of his successor? As president, the elder Bush was anathema to conservatives, and he was stilted— almost Nixon-like— in front of the cameras. Now it’s George W. whose easygoing ways on camera mark him as an apparent shoo-in for the GOP nomination and the odds-on
favorite against the wooden Gore. For conservatives in ’99, what makes young Bush attractive is the possibility of a big tent revival of Reagan-era programs.

It was, of course, Reagan who made the first real slashes in the New Deal social welfare net, proposing in the ’80s that private charity could replace government. Last week, Dubya, parroting his father’s “kinder, gentler” clichés, proposed harnessing the churches in a new war of compassionate conservatism against poverty. “Government can spend money,” young Bush told a congregation of Indianapolis Methodists, “but it cannot put hope in our hearts or a sense of purpose in our lives. That is done in churches and synagogues and mosques and charities that warm the cold of life.”

As Dubya mouthes such platitudes, it is well to remember that, for all the revisionist talk about Reagan as the “conquerer of the Kremlin,” his administration was first and foremost a wrecking machine aimed at privatizing government, curbing
social welfare, slashing taxes for the wealthy, and laying the groundwork for privatizing education and social security.

It should also be remembered that the foundation of the Reagan revolution came under Jimmy Carter, with Carter’s move to deregulate natural gas. Liberals, led by Ted Kennedy and his aide, Stephen Breyer— now on the Supreme Court— then argued for airline deregulation to spur economic competition. And the programs that Reagan set in motion, notably “welfare reform,” were pushed forward most vigorously not by Bush-Quayle but by Clinton-Gore.

The Plane Truth

Conspiracy Buffs Flying After Crash

Clinton conspiracy theorists are joining forces with JFK conspiracy buffs to sort out the truth behind the JFK Jr. plane crash. They note that while JFK Jr. had no direct link to government, Clinton personally got behind the costly, all-out effort to find the bodies of Kennedy, his wife, and her sister. This, buffs observe, was in marked contrast to what happened after deputy White House counsel Vince Foster died of a gunshot wound in 1993 and after Commerce Secretary Ron Brown’s death in a plane crash in 1996.

In both cases, say conspiracists, the administration sought only limited probes that left many questions unanswered. Foster, a personal friend of Clinton and Hillary’s former law partner, was found dead in a Virginia park clutching a revolver. Though his death has been ruled a suicide, conspiracy nuts point to a statement by Clinton to White House staff the day after Foster’s body was discovered. “In the first place, no one can ever know why this happened,” Clinton said. “So what happened was a mystery.”

Likewise, it is noted, after Brown’s military jet crashed in Croatia in April 1996, the Air Force dispensed with an investigation. Conspiracists also point to the fact that an autopsy was never conducted on Brown’s body, and rumored observations by three military pathologists and a forensic photographer who supposedly said later that Brown had what looked like a gunshot wound to his head when his body arrived at Dover Air Force Base three days after the crash.

Crude Scam

How Big Oil Stole Billions

Government whistleblowers have had some
impact recently raising issues that have resulted
in more evenhanded policies, most spectacularly against Big Oil. Earlier this year,
information from two government analysts provided the basis for a suit by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) against large oil companies, charging that they had paid
below-market prices for oil produced on federal lands (see Mondo Washington, June 15).


Mobil, the first company to settle with the Justice Department— which joined the suit— agreed to pay $45 million in alleged royalty underpayments, although it did not admit to any wrongdoing. The Justice Department also joined whistleblower-based actions pending against seven other companies: Shell, Burlington Resources, Conoco, British Petroleum-Amoco, Texaco, Unocal, and Occidental.
Recently, Chevron, which had been targeted by Justice as well as the Interior Department, offered $95 million to settle, but Interior, which oversees leasing of wells, maintains this isn’t enough. Department officials contend that Chevron— one of the top three federal leaseholders— owes $130 million.

With insiders going public, Big Oil’s lock on this enormous government giveaway is finally
beginning to come apart. Harry C. Anderson, a retired ARCO executive, testified in a California court that ARCO and other companies price their wells on government land by up to 20 percent
below market value to avoid paying full royalties.

But while the administration, pushed by whistleblowers, is finally taking action in the scandal, Republican members of Congress are trying to pass a moratorium that would put a hold on rules to enforce collections of royalty payments.
A chief proponent of the moratorium—
which would save oil companies at least
$130 million in payments— is Texas senator
Kay Bailey Hutchison, who received $1.2 million in contributions from the industry between
1993 and 1998.

Oil royalties help government fund education, provide money for Native American tribes, and have helped support more than 37,000 park and recreation projects.

Wackos Eye Olympics

But ‘Combat Shooting’ Gets Shot Down

The latest attempt to promote the use of assault weapons came recently in the form of an ill-fated campaign by gun nuts to persuade the International Olympic Committee to accept “combat shooting” as an Olympic sport. As envisaged by proponents, competition would have pitted contestants, some as young as nine— armed with assault rifles, semiautomatic handguns, and shotguns— against targets shaped like human beings. Last week, however, the IOC announced that it was opposed to combat shooting as an event.

In U.S. domestic combat shooting, contestants whip pistols out of holsters and open fire while dodging through maze-like courses with cut-out windows and doors. Entrants get higher scores if they hit target areas where heads or hearts are located. Courses have names like Carjacked by Gang Members, Helicopter Raid, and Save the Bank.

Andrew Golden, the 11-year-old who with another student allegedly opened fire, killing four classmates and a teacher in Jonesboro, Arkansas, last year, was a beginning combat shooter, according to a study released last week by the Violence Policy Center.

In a world championship match held in Bisley, England, in 1993 competitors fired from a helicopter door and a double-decker bus, then kicked in bank doors, and crawled under a rope-strewn course to blast targets.

In Australian combat-shooting, contestants are required to drag a person along in one event to show proficiency at “saving a buddy.”

“I started shooting competition when I was 8 1/2 years old,” one teenager quoted in the Violence Center study enthused. “Yep, I started with a S&W [Smith and Wesson] model 19 and shot .38-special loads. At first I had to pull the trigger with both index fingers. But after six months, I could just use my right index finger. At 9 1/2 my dad bought me a Springfield Armory .38 Super. Of course, it was all tricked out, but at that time the optic sights hadn’t caught on. Oh yeah, I got this gun because I made a bet with my dad. He told me if I got straight A’s he would get me a race gun. Ha ha, dad, you lost on that one! That summer at the age of 10, I competed in my first USPSA match.”

Carpetbagger Quiz

Out of State, Out of Mind

A group called Conservatives for Effective Leadership plans to spend $10 million on ads questioning Hillary Clinton’s fitness to serve as a senator from New York. In the process, it has devised the following test:

  • 1) Can you name the four men who have managed both the New York Mets and New York Yankees?

  • 2) In what New York town did Rob and Laura Petrie live?

  • 3) If you were traveling from Utica to Watertown in what direction are you going?

  • 4) What is the name of the bridge that connects Buffalo to Fort Erie, Ontario?

  • 5) Who is the largest employer in Syracuse?”

    Answers: 1. Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Joe Torre, Dallas Green. 2. New Rochelle. 3. Northwest. 4. The Peace Bridge. 5. SUNY’s Health Science Center.


    Look Away

    Eyebrows were raised at the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference at Hot Springs, Virginia, in June when Chief Justice William Rehnquist— who festooned his robes with gold stripes after the manner of a Gilbert & Sullivan character while presiding over the impeachment proceedings— led a sing-along of “Dixie.” About 100 lawyers and judges attended the gathering.

    Research: Ioana Veleanu

  • Categories

    Frank Sinatra 1915-1998


    By Gary Giddins

    Nobody was shocked to learn of Frank Sinatra’s death at 82–almost everyone was surprised he lingered as long as he did. Yet his leaving inevitably focuses attention on a shared history. High arts never unite us as intimately as popular ones, and Sinatra’s absence is unmooring on several levels, least of which is the mourning for a great artist, since he was no longer productive. We’re mourning the symbol of his generation, a guy who counts for far more in the patrimony of the baby-boomers who now control the media than Saul Bellow or Arthur Miller, who were born in the same year. He roamed in the gloaming of our mutuality for nearly 60 years, from 1939, when he recorded ”All or Nothing at All” with Harry James, until last Thursday. His legend outstripped, as legends will, the details of its making. He was one of those outsized figures who so perfectly embody the experiences and outlook of his time and place as to become a vessel for dreams and herald of the future.

    The generation he personified and transformed was the one that fought the ”good war” and spooned to Der Bingle; bought the first TVs to watch boxing and Milton Berle in drag; wore snap-brims and wide ties and cotton handkerchiefs that peaked from breast pockets like heraldic crests; smoked guiltlessly; drank mixed holdovers from Prohibition (often made with rye); laughed at Bob Hope and ogled Rita Hayworth; thought movie musicals were an immortal idiom; gambled in Vegas to rub shoulders with wiseguys; put their kids through colleges they never would have dreamed of attending themselves; trusted in God and let cholesterol take care of itself; and quaked in horror at rock and roll–in short, the generation that spawned the ’60s the way day precedes night (or is it vice versa?). Ladies and gentlemen, Big Daddy has left the building.

    There was not much difference–you could look it up–between media coverage of Sinatra’s passing last week and that of Bing Crosby 21 years ago, when his brood ran the media. But there is a big difference in the DNA of their fables. Crosby’s was based on being the nicest guy in town; when posthumous rumors suggested he was something less than saintly, his historical standing took a nosedive. But Sinatra was a famous dickhead–we already assume the worst, no matter what posterity reveals, and we don’t give a damn. A richer testimony to his contemporaneity cannot be imagined. His danger level is part of what makes him attractive; he played the troubadour with as much bravado as François Villon. Still, to everyone born after Hiroshima, Sinatra remains always slightly alien, no matter how much we love his music–he recalls a style as antiquated as terms like ”bachelor,” ”divorcée,” ”illegitimate child.” The revival of ’50s lounge drivel is no more than a lunatic kitsch trip and Sinatra’s artistry will outlive it–but not his style, which will be interred with his body in Palm Springs. If you don’t believe it, buy a tricornered hat and call yourself a revolutionary.

    The music is another story, or more precisely another two stories, for early and later Sinatra are as distinct as early and later Billie Holiday. Where she went from flaming youth to clouded vulnerablity, he went the other way. Indeed, the jet-age Sinatra who makes us soar, and whom we dreamily emulate, could hardly be more different from the bony wartime crooner who clawed his way out of Tommy Dorsey’s band to lay siege to the Paramount–the eager balladeer, his greased and wavy hair a mark of his defenseless youth. Not that his seemingly unaffected voice wasn’t recognized instantly as the magical instrument it was–intimate, earnest, and pretty; romantic and woebegone. It ached, but stoically. It swung, but reflectively. It caressed, and gently. Even the male factor–the pure baritone edge that shaped his every phrase–was equivocal. With men overseas and their women unattended, Sinatra allowed himself a measure of musical androgyny that underscored his identification with the women. The swooning girls his press agent hired astutely pegged Sinatra as a singer whose sexuality, in those years, stopped one step short of carnality–what can you do in a faint?

    The androgyny grew more pronounced as the bow-tied beanpole, his face as quizzical and angular as a marionette’s, learned to emote his ballads with daring operatic drama and design. ”I Fall in Love Too Easily,” one of several Sinatra classics by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, typifies his ability to combine genders as he brings bel canto to pop. Cahn’s lyric is characteristically simple:

    I fall in love too easily.

    I fall in love too fast.

    I fall in love too terribly hard

    For love to ever last.

    How is one to approach the title phrase? Is it rueful, knowing, complaining, ironic, diffident? Sinatra sings it like a frightened doe, but without a trace of sentimentality. He makes the lyric deep, an expression of the singer’s dramatic plight. We’re in act 3, scene 2. Queen Ava, having thrown the Prince’s betrothed (actually his daughter in disguise) from a castle turret, has hied to the barbarian king. Alone in his chamber, Prince Frank learns the terrible news and turns to his loyal jester, Dinoletto. ”E strano,” he sighs, and sings, ”I fall in love too easily.” The first two lines are small-voiced and quiet, but in an early example of Sinatra’s skillful technique, the third vents an unwavering, plaintive authority that glides upward along one unbroken breath, followed by a rest that heightens the poignancy of the final five words. For Sinatra, the words define the music and the music defines the words–so simple, so obvious, so why can’t everyone do it?

    What women surely recognized in his oddly gentle baritone was a degree of tenderness and sympathy rare in the daily opera of radio. When he sang ”Try a Little Tenderness,” Sinatra wasn’t merely a wise young man advising the world’s husbands on their love technique, he was identifying with women as someone who knew about the world’s brutishness. Crosby was, from the beginning, a model of virility; the young Sinatra was vaguely feminine, and consequently a bit subversive. You have to go to the records for his inventive highs in those years, because the movies and the fan mags cheapened him, marketing him as a naif, an innocent in a sailor suit in need of a strong, maternal woman. In 1946, a sexual confusion bordering on camp found its apogee in the climax of the disastrous Till the Clouds Roll By, as the camera arcs into the sky to catch a pristine and gleaming Frank, standing atop a column and missing only a ribbon in his hair to pass as a Ziegfeld adornment, as he sings ”Ol’ Man River.”

    He needed a makeover, no question, especially with his idol turned rival, Crosby, now enjoying the greatest popularity of his life. Crosby had always been generous to him. ”A voice like Sinatra’s comes along once in a lifetime,” he often said. ”Why did it have to be my lifetime?” But postwar audiences pleased by Bing were tired of Frank. For a while he had a television show in which he wore a mustache and hustled cutlery. His movies declined, and so did his recordings–the heights he could still scale (”I’m a Fool To Want You,” ”The Birth of the Blues”) vied with depths of commercial desperation. A faithful New Dealer, he was accused of Communist sympathies by rabid pundits, including Lee Mortimer, whom Sinatra rapped in the mouth, bless his soul. It didn’t help.

    And then, with alarming suddenness, Frankie grew up, reinventing himself on the threshold of 40. He left the mother of his three children for Ava Gardner, which cleared up the androgyny business fast. Soon he put on weight, parted his hair, and changed his music. Perhaps it was his reportedly suicide-prone marriage to Ava that did for him what hormones couldn’t–toughening his vocal edge, teaching him something about despair, resolution, bitterness, and hatred. The first recordings in his epochal new contract with Capitol stand as a definition of artist-in-transition. Even the cover of Songs for Young Lovers suggests the persona change. In one shot, he’s got the hat, the hankie, and the smoke–he’s Richard Widmark in Night and the City. In the other, he’s leaning against a streetlight while two entranced couples walk by, ignoring him; put him in a skirt and he’s poised to sing ”Love for Sale.” The performances, arranged with sly ingenuity (this begins the collaboration with Nelson Riddle), are suave, notwithstanding a few false steps and gauche embellishments. Perhaps the highlight is ”Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” a song closely associated with the young Crosby, but no more.

    By the 1956 release of Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, he had the accomplishment and attitude of an old master, as well as a dark vocal edge that was at once appealingly uncertain–an accidental virtue of his pitch problems–and implacable. Recently, a fanatic Sinatraphile label issued running tapes from some of his recording sessions, illustrating the extent of his musicality. That he was an interpretive virtuoso who plotted his phrases with military efficiency was obvious, but I had assumed his arrangers or conductors ran the sessions. Not true. Sinatra ordains dynamics, tempos, and phrasing; the conductor hardly makes a peep. Still, a firm and unwavering control was always implied, which is one reason I especially treasure such anomalous recordings as his 1962 version of ”Pennies From Heaven” with Count Basie, whose stamping four-beat is dramatically different from the thudding backbeat Sinatra preferred–it’s a wide-open range of possibilities. Rising to the challenge, Sinatra goes beyond the usual embellishments, and in his second chorus configures one canny melodic inversion after another.

    He could not have continued in that vein forever, but I doubt there was anything he couldn’t do superbly every once in a while. Sinatra’s career on records spanned 54 years, during which time he enjoyed spectacular successes in movies and more modest ones on radio and television. The immensity of that body of work will fuel rediscovery and reassessment long after his iconicity has become vestigial and the controversies he inspired have faded from popular memory.


    By Tom Carson

    RONALD REAGAN has probably already forgotten where he was when Sinatra got shot. ”For God’s sake, Ronnie,” Nancy must be prompting him right now, ”the bald guy I used to take those long lunches with, remember? When you were in the East Wing rambling to Gorbachev about Harry Cohn, and thinking the whole time you were rambling to Harry Cohn about Gorbachev.” But between the two–and Reagan, not Bing Crosby (who dat?) or even Elvis, is Frank’s true competition–there’s no question which icon packs more oomph. In office, the older Reagan served as an emissary from a false history of his compatriots; the older Sinatra, who was never out of office, from a real one. It’s like the way World War II didn’t really end until Churchill kicked the bucket. Older Americans wouldn’t so keenly lament the peaceful death of an 82-year-old if he hadn’t been the last surviving embodiment of an era now all but unimaginable even to those who lived through it.

    If future historians don’t come to grips with Sinatra’s bizarre status as a primary color in the postwar U.S. palette, they’ll never make sense of the canvas. What’s been mostly ignored in the obits is how even in his dotage Sinatra remained white America’s last completely satisfying definition of masculine style–to somewhat disconcerting effect, let me add, since its underlying values had been debunked by feminism and Mario Puzo a quarter century before his death. Yet however much Frank the swinger’s double standards tarnish Frank the singer’s standards, no comparably compelling image of male conduct has emerged to replace it. Aside from fitting right in at the fin de siècle garage sale, guyville’s chronic outbreaks of wistfulness about the Rat Pack–whose latest installment went into overdrive last Friday–testifies to the lack of alternative models that even most women, as pop fans if not politicos or human beings, have found palatable in the long run. Remember when Ms. was waggling Alan Alda at us like a remonstrating finger? So much for that.

    Although a taste for coarseness sometimes denotes sophistication–Billy Wilder comes to mind–Sinatra was the flip side, revering sophistication as only a coarse man could. That would make him just another case study in horse-headed upward mobility if it weren’t that, unlike most aspirants, he wasn’t intimidated by prevailing definitions of sophistication; his version of classiness strikes a peculiarly native chord because it’s an invented classiness, without a pedigree. One reason he did as much as Levittown to shape the mores of America’s postwar middle class is that they’d never been middle class before. It took a peasant to teach the midcentury’s new bourgeoisie how to comport themselves as aristocrats. So long as we’re stuck with class systems, America’s incoherent version is better than the coherent kind.

    The voice didn’t hurt, of course. Over the weekend, I called my mom to offer half-joking condolences; like the ones about Nixon, our running gags about Sinatra date back to my college years. She laughed, and told me she was reading in her garden with a stack of his CDs for background music. ”That sounds like a nice way to spend a Saturday,” I said. ”It is,” she said, holding up her phone to the speakers. ”Listen.”


    By Touré

    ONE NIGHT years ago, a woman I’d long wanted was finally coming over and I put on a Sinatra album. When she heard it she laughed so hard she went out of the mood. That was the end of her, and the end of playing Frank for company. For women there were Marvin, Barry, Prince. Frank was for the best nights–the alone ones. I had discovered him in Wall Street, when Charlie Sheen was just beginning to conquer Michael Douglas and Daryl Hannah and for one moment everything was as it should have been. In the background Frank sang, ”Flyyyyy me to the moon/Let me plaaaay among the stars”–and I understood immediately. This was the sound of insurmountable confidence and cosmic rightness. I never knew whether Nancy was Frank’s wife or his daughter, or who Bobby was and why his socks mattered, or what Woody Allen’s wife’s mother had to do with any of it. I knew only that Frank had the sound of a man who would never lose. Could never. A man I could turn to long after midnight on Sunday, when I was all alone, the lights dimmed, steeling for another week of battle, and ask, What happens in the end, Frank? How does it all work out? And no matter how great the evidence to the contrary, he could convince me, ”The best is yet to come/And babe, won’t it be fine.”

    Last Friday, the last day of the 20th century, I got into a cab, one of those roomy new minivan ones. It was the hottest day of the year, and the cab was perfectly air-conditioned–the cooled air grazed your skin like on Sunday afternoons in the Hamptons. But we got stuck in traffic by Union Square Park. I rolled down the window and looked out at two very young girls, maybe seven years old. They had been roller-blading circles around the park and were sweaty and worn out. One wanted to stop, but the other begged for one more go. ”All right,” the first girl replied brightly to her little bestpal, ”this is the last one.” She paused and then added, without a speck of doubt on her soul, ”the best one.” She said it with an unquestioning certainty that if they so decided, then life would play out that way, in the best possible way. And everything could be as it should be. As Frank would’ve wanted. And in that moment I thought that between these two little New Yorkers and this cab and this beautiful day, Frank’s Homegoing Day, that maybe New York could be the greatest city in the world and could live up to being sung about by Frank Sinatra. But now I think maybe, somehow, someday, life itself will be just right and as it should be, and life will live up to being sung about by Frank Sinatra.


    By Robert Christgau

    HEY, FOLKS–Frank Sinatra and rock and roll aren’t mutually exclusive. Not that Mr. My Way could sing the music he once adjudged ”a rancid-smelling aphrodisiac,” as with typical elasticity of principle he eventually tried to. (Remember ”The PTA, Mrs. Robinson, won’t OK the way you do your thing/Ding ding ding”? How could you forget?) And not that his Northern, urban, assimilationist style had any rock and roll in it. But it wasn’t as antithetical as Rudy Vallee’s, Nelson Eddy’s, Mario Lanza’s, John Raitt’s, Eddie Fisher’s, or, shit, Tony Bennett’s. Like innovators from William Wordsworth to Chuck Berry, Sinatra was driven to intensify formal language by making it more speechlike. Magically, within severe standards of pitch, timbre, and enunciation, his singing is every bit as colloquial as Bob Dylan’s, Carole King’s, or Rakim’s–probably more so.

    Pop is a cornucopia and a continuum. Either way, most of the music I adore is rock and roll. But not all of it. And none of it excludes any of the rest. So when a savvy young critic praises Sinatra for delivering her from punk’s canon of authenticity, I feel sad. When a broadly experienced older critic uses Sinatra’s genius to bewail the impersonality of contemporary pop, I pray my arteries hold up. Either-or is for Sidney Zion. I want the world and I want it now.

    Many claim they don’t identify with Frank Sinatra–they just bask in his artistry. But that’s not how singing works. Sinatra the man’s gruesome amalgam of confidence and insecurity was configured in his so-called pitch problems–the way every line he sings seems to waver slightly as he holds it firmly in the grip of his technical command. More than anything else, it was the ambivalence built into his certainty that made him the century’s quintessential voice for so many of us. And it was the intelligence built into his body that made him just right for any rock and roller with a grain of sensibility.


    What the Iran-Contra Report Leaves Out

    The Right’s Stuff: What the Iran-Contra Report Leaves Out
    December 1, 1987

    When the Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair was released last week, the presidential spokesmen shrugged. They knew that the debate would not stray beyond a certain boundary: did the Reagan administration merely make mistakes, or did it commit crimes? To confine itself to this question, as the Report does, is to elucidate the scandal’s parts while leaving the whole incomprehensible.

    What is missing, perhaps inevitably in a bipartisan congressional investigation, is any serious attempt to situate the dense description of events in history and politics. But because the Report offers such rich detail, a deeper understanding may be drawn from its 690 pages. Set in the ideological climate of the Reagan White House, the Report chronicles the pursuit of rightist obsessions by officials contemptuous of democracy and law­ — and how they almost got away with it.

    Like the hearings that preceded it, the report omits much important back­ground. The interlocking careers of such figures as William Casey, John K. Singlaub, and Richard Secord, for example, are barely mentioned. The history of U.S. covert action — and the place of these people in that history — is absent.


    In other words, the Enterprise’s his­torical roots are not explored, its bu­reaucratic implications — such as the conflict between the covert operators and the Pentagon brass — are not mentioned, and the political bombshell of the right’s effort to scrap the Constitu­tion remains unexploded.

    While acidly criticizing the disdain for democratic checks evident among the chief actors, the Report shies away from admitting that the “scandal” amounted to a temporarily successful coup d’état. The authors make some worthy recom­mendations for avoiding certain specific abuses in the future, but most are simply ways to enhance congressional power. The underlying premises of covert action are not questioned but affirmed, as is the need for a democratic nation to engage in secret operations — just as long as the appropriate committee chairmen are duly and promptly informed.

    Unlike the Watergate investigation, there will be no dramatic denouement; unlike the Church committee probe of the intelligence community, there will be no major reform or reassessment. With Casey dead and Reagan immune from impeachment, all that may be left is the indictment of the foot soldiers. A series of successful prosecutions by Special Counsel Lawrence Walsh might have a deterrent effect, but even that’s not like­ly — especially given the possibility of a presidential pardon before Reagan leaves office.

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    Congress is unable to prevent another Iran-contra affair, the report asserts, be­cause it “cannot legislate good judgment, honesty, or fidelity to law.” But the re­port never confronts the motivating force behind the criminality, influencing every­thing but hidden in plain sight: rightist ideology. Indeed, the “minority report” appended by the conservative Republi­cans, dismisses the White House’s gross abuses as a few “mistakes.”

    The right’s scorn for governmental process is fundamentally an ideological impulse, rooted in the old McCarthyite notion that agencies like the State Department obstruct the holy rollback of Communism. Without examining that impulse, it is impossible to see why the affair’s principals blithely resorted to lying, illegal secrecy, misuse of government assets and, finally, obstruction of justice to achieve their ends. And that is why the president himself, governed by the same perspective, still sees nothing to de­nounce in the conduct of his faithful friends. As the report demonstrates with­out explicitly saying, an extreme devotion to the so-called “Reagan Doctrine” even­tually corrupted nearly every federal agency whose top officers were aligned with the New Right.

    This pattern of wretched excess extended into the White House, where Oliver North, Faith Whittlesey, and Patrick Buchanan held sway; into the CIA, where William Casey struggled to make the bureaucracy serve his ends; into the State Department, in the persons of Assistant Secretary Elliott Abrams and Ambassador Lewis Tambs; into the Senate, which made little effort to restrict covert adventures until last year, when the Democrats won control; and of course into the Jus­tice Department, headed by Ed Meese and his aides, which consistently placed political considerations above the law.

    What was the Enterprise created by Casey and his surrogates, and what was its purpose? The ideological engine of the Enterprise was “rollback,” the right’s long-standing dream of turning back So­viet influence on the edges of the Evil Empire. Because the existing institutions of government were inadequate to that task, and because the policy itself lacked broad popular support, the U.S. required, in Casey’s words, a “freestanding entity” financed independently of the Congress, that could wage covert guerrilla warfare across the globe.

    Their aspirations for worldwide “low-­intensity conflict” could only be achieved, the devout Reaganites eventually real­ized, outside the realm of public debate and congressional oversight. The Reagan platform had pledged to revitalize the CIA and expand covert operations, but this wasn’t accomplished by repealing the restrictive laws of the 1970s. Instead, the covert operators simply turned the CIA into a branch of their private, “off-the-­shelf” spy network, beyond the reach of post-Watergate reforms.

    The headlines the day after the report’s release proclaimed what had been obvi­ous for many months: that while Ronald Reagan was oblivious when it came to the most sensitive matters, what he did know he repeatedly lied about. But Reagan’s terrible shortcomings as president, only recently understood by most Americans, are yesterday’s news.


    But while the press, and the Con­gress, focused attention on the al­ready wounded Reagan, one man at the center of events got away unscathed. At this writing, George Bush is likely to be our next president, and it is significant that for such typical Enterprise operators as North and Rodri­guez, the vice president (and former CIA director) was and is the preferred candidate.

    Despite the evidence presented in pub­lic testimony, newly discovered docu­ments, and depositions regarding Bush’s role in both the Iran arms deals and the contra operations, the Report essentially ignores the vice president. His key advis­ers never testified in public. His own role was never probed; his cloak of political protection never withdrawn. The com­mittees’ repeatedly stated position is that no one could ever remember what Bush thought or said about the Iran-contra af­fair, an assertion not supported by the facts they developed.

    Bush has adamantly denied knowledge of and participation in the contra resup­ply policy. As the contra operation broke apart last year, there was considerable scrutiny of the relationship between the vice president’s office and Felix Rodriguez, a Cuban émigré and ex-CIA em­ployee. The Bay of Pigs veteran knew Bush’s national security assistant Donald Gregg, a former CIA official, from the days when both served in Vietnam.

    In late 1985 Rodriguez went to El Sal­vador to help the Salvadoran air force with his personal specialty — “long range reconnaissance patrols” against the leftist guerrillas. While in El Salvador, Rodri­guez was approached by North to help set up the air resupply operation run by Gen­eral Secord; by the spring of 1986, he had become indispensable.

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    During this crucial period Rodriguez met with the vice president at least twice, and maintained close contact with Gregg. On one occasion Gregg’s assistant, Colo­nel Sam Watson, visited El Salvador to discuss counterinsurgency operations. Rodriguez did not like Secord or his sub­ordinates, and he had several confronta­tions with North. During the summer, he became so angry about how the Enter­prise was run that he went directly to the vice president’s office to seek help.

    Bush acknowledges meeting Rodriguez, but says he knew nothing of the contra resupply operation. Gregg has said, “Members of my staff and I maintained periodic contact with Felix Rodriguez, but we were never involved in directing, coordinating, or approving military aid to the contras in Nicaragua. Nor did I or members of my office know of the diver­sion of funds to the contras.” Gregg first denied ever discussing contra operations with Rodriguez, then corrected himself, admitting that on August 8, 1986, Rodri­guez had “shared his personal concern with me regarding the informal contra supply organization he had observed [italics added] in El Salvador.”

    This version of events had to be changed again when, during the course of the congressional hearings, the commit­tees unearthed a document that raised more questions about the vice president’s role. In a scheduling proposal dated April 16, 1986, Gregg requested a “meeting with Felix Rodriguez, a counterinsur­gency expert visiting from El Salvador.” The purpose was “to brief the Vice Presi­dent on the status of the war in El Salva­dor and resupply of the contras [italics added].” Under “Background,” the pro­posal said, “The Vice President has met previously with Mr. Rodriguez during his visits to Washington and will be interest­ed in the current information he will be able to provide.”

    Bush denied discussing contra aid with Rodriguez, and both Gregg and his depu­ty Watson discount the schedule propos­al’s telltale reference to contra resupply — which was retained through several drafts and found its way into a final memoran­dum given to the vice president. But Phyllis M. Byrne, an assistant to Gregg, told the committee in a sworn deposition that “the purpose of the meeting was given to me by Colonel Watson.” She added, “I don’t believe that he gave me those precise words, but he did tell me —­ the resupply of the contras was the phrase that he provided me.” It is hardly credible that Byrne just added the contra reference to the memo by herself.

    The denials of both Gregg and Bush are now further eroded by the committee report, which reveals for the first time that in 1982 Gregg, as head of the NSC’s Intelligence Directorate, was deeply in­volved in organizing early contra opera­tions. Gregg was also the author of a never-signed presidential finding that would have provided CIA paramilitary support to forces inside Nicaragua.

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    Bush has also sought to extricate him­self from the Iranian quicksand that en­gulfed the White House. Last December, in an interview with Time, he said, “The problem on all this, of course, is the per­ception that arms were traded for hos­tages. The President is absolutely, totally convinced in his mind that that isn’t what happened. I know him, I know what his feeling is on this. I have heard what he said, and I accept it.” In an August 1987 Washington Post interview, Bush lamely explained that he did not know that Shultz and Weinberger had objected to the arms sales.

    “If I’d have sat there and heard George Shultz and Cap [Weinberger] express it strongly, maybe I would have had a stronger view. But when you don’t know something, it’s hard to react.… We were not in the loop.”

    But the Report cites a “White House log” showing that Bush attended the Au­gust 6, 1985, meeting about the Iran arms sale with the president, Weinberger, Shultz, Robert McFarlane (who was then national security adviser), and Donald Regan, then White House chief of staff. At that meeting, Shultz told the presi­dent the Iran deal was a “very bad idea,” and that despite talk of better relations, “we were just falling into the arms-for-hostages business and we shouldn’t do it.” Weinberger, at the same meeting, also opposed the sale. He and Shultz argued that it would contradict U.S. policy that aimed to persuade other nations to ob­serve an arms embargo against Iran. None of the witnesses could recall the vice president’s position.

    There is other evidence that contra­dicts Bush’s public statements on his involvement in the Iran arms sales. In the same Time interview, the vice president explained, “What we in this administra­tion have tried to do is reach out to moderate elements in Iran. Now the dilemma we’re in is that in the hearts of the American people is a hatred and a detes­tation of everything that the Ayatollah Khomeini stands for. I feel that way myself.”

    On February 8, 1987, two months after he made this statement, the Washington Post published the transcript of a memo­randum by Craig L. Fuller, Bush’s chief of staff, along with the details of a secret meeting at the vice president’s hotel suite in Jerusalem between Bush and Amiram Nir, a top Israeli official involved in the arms deals. Nir told Bush, “We are deal­ing with the most radical elements” in Iran because “we’ve learned they can de­liver and the moderates can’t.” In his top secret memo of this encounter Fuller wrote, “Mr. Nir indicated that he had briefed Prime Minister Peres and had been asked to brief the VP by his White House contacts [italics added].” Nir’s White House contacts were at the Na­tional Security Council. Bush’s only known response to Nir’s report that the U.S. was dealing with radicals, not moderates, was to send a copy of Fuller’s memo to Oliver North at the NSC.

    A Report footnote also suggests that Bush knew more than he says. In 1976, CIA deputy director of operations Ted Shackley attempted to recruit Albert Ha­kim as an intelligence source, using Se­cord as an intermediary. Shackley’s friend Bush was then the director of the CIA.


    The confusion over “radicals” versus “moderates,” like the entire arms­-for-hostages deal, arose in the absence of any consistent U.S. policy toward Iran. That vacuum was eas­ily filled by a group of Iranian exiles with their own special interests, whose machi­nations were assisted by the Israeli intel­ligence services.

    The story begins with the arms mer­chant Manucher Ghorbanifar. Before the 1979 revolution, Ghorbanifar had been managing director of an Israeli-connected shipping firm in Iran. He is rumored to have maintained connections with both SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, and Israeli intelligence — although according to the Report neither of these relation­ships has ever been confirmed. Members of Ghorbanifar’s family were involved in an unsuccessful coup against Khomeini in 1980, and thereafter he sought repeatedly to curry favor with U.S. intelligence agencies. By 1981 the CIA had dropped Ghorbanifar as an informant, on the grounds that he was solely interested in promoting his own financial enrichment. He persistently importuned American agents, becoming so obnoxious by 1984 that the CIA put out a “burn notice” warning the intelligence community that Ghorbanifar “should be regarded as an intelligence fabricator and a nuisance.”

    Ghorbanifar sought to enlist former CIA official Theodore Shackley as a con­duit for an arms-for-hostage trade, but when the State Department turned down that offer as a “scam,” he fastened onto Roy Furmark, an American businessman associated with Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and a former law client of CIA director Casey. Furmark introduced Ghorbanifar to Khashoggi, who sent Ghorbanifar to meet several times with a group of Israelis that included Al Schwimmer, an adviser to Prime Minis­ter Shimon Peres, and Ya’accov Nimrodi, an Israeli businessman with previous ser­vice in the government. In April 1985 Ghorbanifar proposed that he be permit­ted to purchase TOW antitank missiles for Iran from Israel, and in return, he would obtain the release of William Buckley, the CIA station chief held hos­tage in Beirut.

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    It was also in the spring of 1985 that Michael Ledeen, a self-styled terrorism expert, attempted to persuade national security adviser McFarlane to employ him as an informal liaison for Israeli in­telligence about Iran. The NSC staff was hesitant about using Ledeen but im­pressed by his access to Peres, and he was eventually authorized by McFarlane to make contact with the Israeli prime minister.

    In May 1985 Ledeen met in Israel with Peres. Ledeen says the hostages were not discussed, but the Report notes that an Israeli official “recalls Ledeen telling him about offers by various Iranians to help get the hostages released.”

    According to Ledeen, Peres asked him to tell McFarlane that the Israelis wanted to sell artillery equipment to the Irani­ans, but would only do so with U.S. con­sent. McFarlane gave Ledeen approval for a single arms sale, “but just that and nothing else.” According to the Report: “One of the Israeli participants reported to another Israeli participant, however, that the authorization conveyed by Le­deen from McFarlane was for a transfer of TOW missiles” — a far more sophisti­cated and dangerous weapon.

    While aiming to gain credit in the White House, Israel also pursued its own interests by manipulating the muddled captains of the Enterprise. The Report’s chronology makes clear that while the Israelis pushed hard for weapons sales, they were simultaneously negotiating with North for cooperative intelligence ventures with the U.S. This must have been especially tempting since the Israeli intelligence services are hampered by few of the democratic restrictions in place here. The Report shows that the Ameri­cans considered a diversion of Iranian arms sale profits from the beginning and that the Israelis proposed to spend some of their own take from the arms sales on joint covert operations.


    The uproar over the “diversion” last year, and the subsequent focus upon it by the press and Congress, suggested this was a novelty. Yet if the switching of funds from arms sales to covert operations was “a neat idea,” in North’s juvenile idiom, it was probably not a new one. What better method could there be to raise millions for secret projects — or to conceal them from the prying of both Congress and the intelligence bureaucracy?

    Tantalizing reference to a similar scheme, involving several Iran-contra fig­ures, is made in Manhunt, Peter Maas’s book about the Edwin Wilson case. Maas provides an important, if briefly noted, clue that was apparently missed by the congressional investigators. In the early days of the Reagan administration, ac­cording to Maas, Michael Ledeen told a federal prosecutor investigating billing abuses in arms sales to Egypt that the missing funds “might have gone for a covert operation.” Ledeen was attempting to protect his friend Ted Shackley, and Shackley’s associate Tom Clines, from indictment in the scandal surrounding the Egyptian-American Transport Services Corporation, better known as EATSCO. Perhaps there was something to Ledeen’s story, since the EATSCO case was settled with a fine and no crimi­nal prosecutions.

    The Report does show that some type of diversion had been discussed within the White House as early as 1985. General Singlaub proposed a diversion scheme to both North and Casey in a memo prepared by his associate Barbara Studley.

    Weapons dealer Studley framed her 1985 proposal using Reagan Doctrine buzz words. Her “objective” was “to create a conduit for maintaining a continu­ous flow of Soviet weapons and technology, to be utilized by the United States in support of Freedom Fighters in Nicara­gua, Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia, etc.” Soviet bloc matériel was compatible with weapons and ammuni­tion captured by the “freedom fighters.”

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    Though the Studley scheme was never implemented, Israel was already involved in a similar plan to use arms sales to finance covert operations. According to the Israelis, North proposed in early Oc­tober 1985 that excess funds from the TOW missile sales be used to support “pragmatists” in Iran. By the end of November, the Enterprise had received a portion of the arms sales proceeds. At North’s request the Israeli intermediaries paid Secord’s Lake Resources account $1 million from the proceeds of its August­-September TOW shipments.

    North and Secord both said the money was to cover the Enterprise’s expenses in arranging five shipments of HAWKs to Iran. But when the deliveries were stopped after one shipment, the Enter­prise held $800,000 in unexpended funds. North then received Israeli permission to use the $800,000 for “whatever purpose we wanted,” and he told Secord to spend the money for the contras.

    According to the notes of an Israeli Defense Ministry official who met with North on December 6, 1985, the NSC aide said he needed money and intended to divert profits from future Iranian transactions to Nicaragua. Three days later North recommended to his boss John Poindexter that the U.S. take con­trol of arms sales from Israel, and use “Secord as our conduit to control Ghor­banifar and the delivery operation.” This mechanism was adopted in the intelli­gence finding signed by the president on January 17, 1986.


    Among the Report’s accomplish­ments is its painstaking audit of the Enterprise’s finances. Its authors understood that the unseen movement of money made the En­terprise a scandal and a threat to demo­cratic order.

    North testified that as early as 1984, CIA director Casey wanted to set up “an overseas entity that was capable of con­ducting operations or activities of assis­tance to U.S. foreign policy goals that was… self-financing, independent of appro­priated monies,” and thus beyond con­gressional oversight. The Enterprise was in fact a maze of different companies, created at the direction of North, Hakim, and Secord by William Zucker, a former IRS lawyer living in Switzerland who had worked for Hakim for two decades.

    The operation was made up of three kinds of firms. First were the disposable “collecting” companies that received funds for the overall operation. When a collecting company became too visible, it could be jettisoned and replaced. The col­lecting company fed money into a series of “treasury” companies, each one as­signed to a different part of the world. These regional accounts would then fi­nance the activities of “operating” com­panies: for example the Udall Corpora­tion, which built the secret airstrip in Costa Rica and owned the aircraft used in the contra resupply effort; or Toyco, which bought and sold weapons for the contras.

    In 1985 and 1986, revenues of the En­terprise totaled nearly $48 million. They poured in from the wealthy American contributors recruited by Carl “Spitz” Channell, from countries like Saudi Ara­bia and South Korea, from arms sales not only to Iran but to the contras, and even from sales of weapons to the CIA.

    And while the secret effort to resupply the contras on the southern front — the major stated purpose of the Enterprise — never materialized, the “owners” were be­coming wealthy. In its two-year history, the Enterprise’s income exceeded expen­ditures by $12.2 million, out of which Secord, Hakim, and Clines dealt them­selves “commissions” amounting to $4.4 million.

    [related_posts post_id_1=”717703″ /]

    Hakim and Secord took an additional $2.2 million for personal business ventures and expenses. Another $4.2 million was held as “Reserves” for future projects, and $1.2 million remained as undistributed cash at the end of 1986 when the scandal was exposed. Had the contribution from Brunei solicited by Abrams not been misplaced, the Enter­prise would have been $10 million richer.

    But in addition to profiting from the Enterprise, Secord and Hakim had their own business agenda. They wanted to manufacture submachine guns through a partnership called Tri-American Arms. In its initial phase, this project was to manufacture 4000 guns for the contras. The projected investment cost was $3 million; the projected profit, $4.2 million. The partners also planned to purchase timberlands in the American Northwest, with a loan collateralized against Enter­prise accounts. They discussed invest­ments in biotechnology, and in the “bulk manufacturing of opium alkaloids.”

    In addition, the partners wanted to buy into Forways, a military spare-parts firm in which Zucker already was a 25 per cent owner. At the same time negotiations for the Iran arms sales were going forward, Hakim gave a set of Forways catalogues to the negotiators with an optimistic remark: “Once things get going then we will be able to sell directly from Forways.”


    To Secord and Hakim, the Enter­prise meant money and, in Se­cord’s case, a chance to revive his career in special operations. But for their sponsors in government — North, Casey, Poindexter, and perhaps the president — the Enterprise represent­ed something much larger: an unaccount­able mechanism for working their will outside the strictures of public opinion and congressional sanction.

    The Democratic majority’s anger about this secret government is reflected when the Report says that it “violated cardinal principles of the Constitution.… The Constitution contemplates that the Gov­ernment will conduct its affairs only with funds appropriated by Congress. By re­sorting to funds not appropriated by Congress — indeed funds denied to the ex­ecutive branch by Congress — Administration officials committed a transgres­sion far more basic than a violation of the Boland Amendment.”

    Yet the committees demand no sanc­tion against Ronald Reagan for the abuses committed under his authority. And when administration officials first deceived Congress about secret activities in Nicaragua back in 1985, the congres­sional response was feeble. The only re­maining barrier to the Enterprise’s as­sault on the law was the Justice Department, which the Report makes plain was utterly compromised under the direction of Attorney General Meese.

    Meese was a poor constitutional watch­dog even before the Enterprise got under way. The Report examines in some detail his response to Oliver North’s ludicrous scheme to ransom the Beirut hostages using two Drug Enforcement Administra­tion agents and unappropriated private funds. After the CIA and the DEA re­fused to cooperate, North turned to Meese for help. On June 10, 1985, he prepared a memorandum for the attorney general explaining how a private dona­tion of $2 million would be deposited in a secret account “to bribe those in control of the hostages.” Meese complied with North’s request that the two DEA agents be detailed directly to the National Secu­rity Council. “No notice of any kind was provided to Congress about this opera­tion,” concludes the Report, “and no de­cision was ever made by the President that prior notice should be withheld or delayed. Thus, the failure to notify Con­gress of the DEA covert operation violat­ed the law.”

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    But this tale, as Chapter Five of the Report explains, was only prologue to the Justice Department’s mishandling of sev­en other investigations that, “if pursued, would [have] expose[d] the NSC staff’s covert operations.” Among those stymied cases was the probe of contra gunrunning and mercenary recruitment by the U.S. Attorney in Miami, the subject of exten­sive coverage by the Voice, whose key details are largely confirmed in the Re­port. As a result of intervention by North and Poindexter, all seven investigations were to some degree hampered or de­layed. Inexplicably, the committees let Meese and his subordinates off lightly, laying the blame for obstructions of jus­tice on North and the NSC staff, and adding, “We do not mean to impugn the integrity of the law enforcement officials involved.”

    Although the Report offers a devastat­ing, step-by-step chapter about Meese’s bungling — or coverup — of the early inves­tigation of the Iran-contra diversion a year ago, the sharpest criticism of the attorney general is to be found in addi­tional comments signed by House Judi­ciary Committee chairman Peter Rodino and three other Democrats. “As the chief law enforcement officer of our country,” they note, the attorney general “bears a special responsibility — not only to uphold and defend the Constitution, but also to assist the President in seeing that our laws are faithfully executed.… Yet, when one reviews the Attorney General’s conduct during the Iran-Contra episode, it is impossible to avoid questions about his actions.”

    Even Rodino and his colleagues refrain from joining the recent chorus of calls for Meese to resign. Instead, they confine themselves to recommending a series of new congressional investigations of the Justice Department. At least one such probe is already under way in Rodino’s own committee, where crime subcommit­tee chairman William Hughes has been taking testimony about the Miami gunrunning case.

    The Report’s flaccid handling of Meese reflects a wider passivity among congres­sional Democrats that, in some ways, is the unmentioned culprit of the Iran-con­tra affair. Fearful of being red-baited, and checked by the gag rules of its own intelligence committees, the Democratic ma­jority in the House allowed Oliver North to run amok long after his activities in Central America had been exposed by the media. The Republican minority claims in its dissent from the Report that leaks of classified information should be the chief future concern of lawmakers. But if future intelligence abuses are to be checked, both Democrats and Republi­cans committed to constitutional pro­cesses will have to worry less about Capi­tol Hill leaks, and more about White House lies.

    The ideologues and operatives of the New Right have lost a few friends, but they have by no means abandoned their covert methods or bloody aspirations. They merely await a more hospitable cli­mate, perhaps in the next administration. The committees’ investigation and the Report itself leave a critical question un­answered: Will anyone in Congress be prepared to restrain a government head­ed by George Bush? ■

    Research: Jeff Nason, Frédérique Press­mann, William Hollister, Jason Moody