Sunday, January 31, 2010

America's sorry history with Haiti, Part 2

Excerpted from my article at

The Haitians have a saying in their native créole language: Piti, piti, wazo fe nich li. “Little by little, the bird builds its nest.”

Freed of the powerful grip of the Duvaliers in 1986, and despite a dysfunctional system, little by little, the Haitians undertook the difficult work of rebuilding their nation into a more democratic place from within.

They formed trade unions, created independent radio stations, initiated literacy programs, and built silos to store their grain so they could wait for better prices before selling their crops.

Meanwhile, a quiet, small Haitian man who spoke eight languages and who had declared capitalism a “mortal sin” was espousing a brand of liberation theology too radical for the Catholic Church that had ordained him.

In 1988, the Catholic Church expelled Jean Bertrand Aristide for preaching class warfare in a move that, ironically, made him far more powerful.

Undaunted, Aristide, called affectionately by the diminutive “Titide,” opened a medical clinic, ran a children’s shelter, and continued to speak to the people.

As Haiti headed into its first internationally supervised election, the U.S. was banking on Marc Bazin, now their chosen candidate for president. But the majority of the Haitians saw Bazin as “America’s Man” and refused to support him.

The strongest leftist candidate, however, was considered lackluster, and the other candidates were too little known to win.

On Oct. 16, 1990, just two months before the elections were to be held, Aristide entered the race. He called his movement and its followers the Lavalas, a créole word for torrents of water that rushed down gullies, sweeping away everything in their path. He summed up his platform in three words: “participation, transparency, justice.”

Predictably, the U.S. government, then headed by President George H. W. Bush, was disconcerted. One businessman probably summed up a lot of businessmen’s thoughts when he called Aristide “a cross between Fidel and the Ayatollah.”

Just before the election, Ambassador Andrew Young, at the request (he said) of former President Jimmy Carter, tried to persuade Aristide to sign a letter accepting Bazin as president if Bazin should win, in the hopes of forestalling a violent reaction from Aristide’s followers. William Blum, in his book Killing Hope, noted the Bush White House likely had a hand in this as well.

Hope, Then Tragedy

On Dec. 16, 1990, in the country’s first internationally supervised election, Aristide won with over two-thirds of the vote, proving the Lavalas worthy of their name. The margin also gave him the largest majority of any democratically elected leader in the Western Hemisphere.

But in a sad parallel to some recent U.S. elections, when the time came to vote for the legislature and other offices, turnout was light. An opposition-dominated legislature then thwarted much of the legislation that Aristide proposed.

Still, Aristide upset the status quo. He initiated “programs in literacy, public health, and agrarian reform,” Blum wrote. Aristide also sought to increase the minimum wage; he asked for a freeze on the prices of basic necessities; and he created a public works program to generate jobs.

Aristide also criticized the business class, accusing some of the Haitian elite of corruption. He also sent a youth group from Haiti on a friendly visit to Haiti’s neighbor to the west, Castro’s Cuba.

Aristide, who had survived assassination attempts in the past, created a private force that he could trust. He further antagonized the military by making temporary appointments to key positions rather than permanent ones. He hoped this would encourage good behavior, but instead it rankled those stuck in tenuous situations.

But perhaps Aristide’s greatest affront to the military was to crack down on smuggling and drug-running, which were rampant in Haiti. According to Robert and Nancy Heinl in their book Written in Blood, Aristide’s actions “were putting a dent in many officers’ life styles.”
Janus-faced America

Any student of real history can guess what happened next. The military overthrew Aristide a short nine months into his five-year presidential term.

And as Blum notes, while there is no direct evidence that the CIA or the United States supported the coup, given the CIA’s role in training and supporting the Haitian military, the coup could hardly have come as a surprise.

Bob Shacochis supports Blum’s suspicions in his book The Immaculate Invasion, where he wrote that President George H.W. Bush “swiftly announced that the coup would not stand, then just as quickly receded into embarrassed silence when informed by his staff that his own crew in Port-au-Prince not only had foreknowledge of the putsch but had allowed it to advance without a word.”

Shacochis decried how America had been essentially “Janus-faced” toward Haiti due to a the split between those in the U.S. willing to support a true democracy, no matter how messy, and those whose knee-jerk reaction was to decry the leftist president, despite the fact that “the Haitians democratically chose Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the only Haitian president who ever attempted to lead his people out of darkness; the only Haitian chief of state who seemed to display an ideology beyond self.”

Read the rest of my article at

Saturday, January 30, 2010

America's Sorry History with Haiti

I just completed a long article on Haiti for, which will be published in two parts. Part 1 is up today - Part 2 should be up tomorrow.

There are some interesting nuggets related to George de Mohrenschildt's strange role in Haiti as well.

Start here:

And I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My fantasy version of Obama's State of the Union Speech

We've all been speculating about what Obama will or won't say tonight. Here's the speech I personally would like to hear. I have no illusions that I will get anything close. But I had to share.

I wanted to come before you tonight with a different story.

I wanted to tell you that people on the right and left have come together to do what's best for this country, that people put aside their fears, their dislikes, and reached down and found a common goal in truly helping the least fortunate among us.

I wanted to tell you that right and left worked together to pass landmark health care legislation.

I wanted to tell you that the bankers had seen the evil of their ways, that greed is on the decline, that common decency and goodness was on the rise.

There is so much I wanted to tell you by now that I can't. Because it wouldn't be true.

The Republicans have obstructed our efforts from my first month in office. While my door has always been open, and I've actively reached out to the Republicans on the hill, they have never once reached back.

Their spokesman, Rush Limbaugh, has stated the goal from the start: They want to see me fail. And I wouldn't mind that, if it was just me. I'd be willing to take the hit, if it would help the rest of you. But the truth is, if I fail, we all fail. Our country rises or falls together. We do not have the option to have winners and losers in government. Either we are all winning together, or we are all losing separately.

So I have to be honest. The state of the Republic tonight seems tenuous, at best. I don't know if this experiment in democracy, so conceived, will survive the ravages of those who would destroy this country for private profit.

Too many people are out of work. And while many say I should have focused on jobs from the start, look, no one ever died from losing a job. But people die in this country every minute -- every minute -- from a lack of health care.

My own mother died in part due to our inability to cure a disease we've studied for over 100 years. Think about that. We can kill someone remotely via a drone, but we can't save a woman from cancer after 100 years. What is wrong with our priorities?

I can't fix everything. But I can fix some things. And I haven't been doing enough. I told you we had ended torture. But our definition of torture is still too broad. I'm going to narrow that definition.

I told you I would fight for you. But I appointed the same people who brought us this fiscal crisis in the first place to craft a solution.

I was wrong. I admit it. And I'm pledging to you right here and now, I will do better.

Starting tonight, I have asked Tim Geithner to resign. This is not a symbolic move. I am not just sending a signal, or making a gesture. I firmly believe we have not pursued the best possible course, and that Geithner is too close to the problem to craft an appropriate solution.

I invited Paul Krugman, but he turned me down. [Laughter.] I can't say I blame him. [More laughter.] But I am asking him to make recommendations. I am listening to many voices. And your voices are going to be more important than the beltway voices, going forward. This I promise to you.

I'm asking Congress to please do the right thing. Pass the health care bill. And let's be honest. We all know this is not really a health care bill. It's an insurance reform bill. But until we can change the political discourse in this country, we can't make more radical changes. And this bill will save lives.

Let me repeat that. It will save lives. We can change it later. But we must put a stake in the ground now, while we still can. This bill will save lives.

Now. Let's talk about the wars. I told you I'd bring the troops home from Iraq starting in August of this year. I'm not waiting that long. Starting in June, the troops who have been on tour the longest will be home, for good. They will get not only whatever medical care they need. I will personally ensure they receive mental health care as long as they need it.

There is nothing more horrific than having to kill another human being, and to see people kill each other. I want to ensure that those people who put their lives on the line for us every day know what we will honor their commitment to them in return the fullest. We will find them jobs. We will help them return home. We will help them in any and every way they need, because they were willing to give everything for us. We owe them no less.

Afghanistan. I know many of you have doubts about why we are there. But make no mistake, we have a vital interest in securing the border region from actual terrorists. I know you've heard that before. But I'll ask you to trust me on this a little longer. I don't want to give away what we know. But I promise you, our goal remains not to tame the region, but to train those who live there to control it themselves. It's a difficult mission, and it's possible we will not succeed. That's why I've given the military a short timetable. If we can't fix it in a year and a half, we can't fix it in five years, or fifty.

I promise you that before my term is up, our troops will be back from the Middle East.

There is so much more I'd like to hear him say. But in the end, this is only a speech. I'm much more interested in what Obama will actually do, going forward. Only then will I know if our ship of state is truly under repair, or sinking.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Open letter from Cyril Wecht to Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule

Cyril Wecht was kind enough to give me permission to share his letter to the authors of that awful "Conspiracy Theories" paper where the authors suggested the government infiltrate spaces where conspiracies are discussed to sow doubt and dissuade people from looking into such matters.

Here is what Cyril had to say to the authors, Cass Sunstein (now an Obama appointee) and Adrian Vermeule. Both men were professors at Harvard.

I recently learned of your jointly written article, "Conspiracy Theories", in which you contend that "Conspiracy theorists" typically suffer from a "crippled epistemology". Such individuals are considered by you to be "members of informationally and socially isolated groups (that) tend to display a kind of paranoid cognition".

In your litany of conspiracy theories, you have included those people who hold "the view that the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy". In an obvious attempt to portray such critics and disbelievers of the Warren Commission Report as paranoid nuts and fruitcakes, you cleverly list this extremely important, highly controversial, 46 year old, still ongoing controversy among several absurd conspiratorial allegations, e.g., "doctors deliberately manufactured the AIDS virus, the moon landing was staged and never actually occurred; the plane crash that killed Democrat Paul Wellstone was engineered by Republican politicians", etc.

While this kind of quasi-intellectual, semantical game playing may have legitimate application in a law school classroom in order to stimulate debate and enhance the development of legal reasoning among future attorneys, it is an insulting ploy that is far beneath the dignity of two distinguished professors when utilized in the manner set forth in your article.

Is it conceivable that you are not aware of the fact that 70-80% of teh U.S. public (and even higher percentages elsewhere in teh world) has repeatedly and consistently expressed disbelief in the WCR in every national poll conducted on this subject from 1965 to the present time? Do you not know that the House Select Committee of the U.S. Congress (1977-79) concluded that the WCR was wrong in its official determination that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in plotting and executing the assassination of JFK?

Are both of you so intellectually arrogant and strongly defensive of the federal government that you are willing to publicly state that more than two-thirds of the American public and a bi-partisan committee of Congressmen are cognitively dysfunctional? From whom have the two of you derived such power and right to ridicule and defame so many people?

But this part of your cleverly orchestrated diatribe pales by comparison to the far more egregious and dangerously frightening proposition that you have advanced with incredible academic chutzpah, namely, your recommendations for "Governmental Responses".

Officially sanctioned government counterspeech "to discredit conspiracy theories'; the hiring of "credible private parties to engage in counterspeech"; the official banning of conspiracy theorizing; the imposition of "some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories;" etc,


Gentlemen, why are you being so hesitant and conservative in your proposed efforts to rid our society of conspiracy theorists, including all of us who reject the WCR and the scientifically preposterous "single bullet theory"? Why not simply have us arrested, placed in concentration camps, tried by special government tribunals (presided over by eminent sycophantic law professors like the two of you to ensure correct verdicts), and then executed? After all, if we need to make America safe, we had better get serious.

In closing, I should like to be so bold and daring as to invite either, or both of you together, to engage in a public debate with me -- anywhere, anytime -- relating to the JFK assassination and the WCR. Even though I am only a lowly Adjunct Professor of Law at a school that admittedly does not rank among the elite institutions such as Harvard and the University of Chicago, I would endeavor to do my best to make such a public presentation interesting and intellectually stimulating.

Please let me know where and when you would like to arrange for such a debate. What a formidable challenge I would be confronted with having to contend with the combined sagacity and erudition of two such prominent legal scholars.

Very truly yours,

Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., J.D.
Past President, American Academy of Forensic Sciences
Past President, American College of Legal Medicine
Clinical Professor of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
and Graduate School of Public Health
Adjunct Professor, Duquesne University Schools of Law, Pharmacology
and Health Science
Distinguished Professor of Pathology, Carlow University

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hang on, Haiti

I'm working hard on an article re the sorry history of America's interventions in Haiti. But I felt compelled to write and share this short version as well, in limerick form.

Hang on, Haiti

America's got Haiti's back
Or so you will read on the rack
But if truth be told
The public's been rolled
America's got Haiti back

We occupied them once before
For years til 1934
We left them untethered
While bankers still feathered
Their nests off the backs of the poor

Our record's been jaded, at best
Their leaders served at our behest
We propped up their beast
And abducted their priest
While businesses paid off the rest

If none of this makes sense to you
You know what you now have to do
Just open your eyes
And your heart to great size
And let history enter through

Please learn from mistakes of the past
And from wisdom the Haitians amassed
If their truths we'd heed
They may yet succeed
And win their true freedom, at last.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Cass Sunstein, Adrian Vermeule, Obama, and Conspiracy Theories

I'll have more to say about this over time - but an email touting Obama's role in suppressing conspiracy theories is going around. While I do not have enough evidence to know if Obama knew or agreed with the opinions in the paper referenced below, it's certainly cause for question and concern.

Glenn Greenwald sums it up nicely here:

It's certainly true that one can easily find irrational conspiracy theories in those venues, but some of the most destructive "false conspiracy theories" have emanated from the very entity Sunstein wants to endow with covert propaganda power: namely, the U.S. Government itself, along with its elite media defenders. Moreover, "crazy conspiracy theorist" has long been the favorite epithet of those same parties to discredit people trying to expose elite wrongdoing and corruption.

Who is it who relentlessly spread "false conspiracy theories" of Saddam-engineered anthrax attacks and Iraq-created mushroom clouds and a Ba'athist/Al-Qaeda alliance -- the most destructive conspiracy theories of the last generation? And who is it who demonized as "conspiracy-mongers" people who warned that the U.S. Government was illegally spying on its citizens, systematically torturing people, attempting to establish permanent bases in the Middle East, or engineering massive bailout plans to transfer extreme wealth to the industries which own the Government? The most chronic and dangerous purveyors of "conspiracy theory" games are the very people Sunstein thinks should be empowered to control our political debates through deceit and government resources: namely, the Government itself and the Enlightened Elite like him.

It is this history of government deceit and wrongdoing that renders Sunstein's desire to use covert propaganda to "undermine" anti-government speech so repugnant. The reason conspiracy theories resonate so much is precisely that people have learned -- rationally -- to distrust government actions and statements. Sunstein's proposed covert propaganda scheme is a perfect illustration of why that is. In other words, people don't trust the Government and "conspiracy theories" are so pervasive precisely because government is typically filled with people like Cass Sunstein, who think that systematic deceit and government-sponsored manipulation are justified by their own Goodness and Superior Wisdom.

Read the whole thing at

Then read my letter to Adrian Vermeule below, re this paper, which he co-authored with Sunstein.

Dear Professor Vermeule:

I’m reading the paper you and Cass Sunstein wrote about Conspiracy Theories (, and had a few questions I hope you can answer.

1. Who wrote which parts? Did one of you write most of it and if so, who was that?

2. Why do you say “as a general rule, true accounts [of conspiracies] should not be undermined.” Which true accounts should be undermined, and under which circumstances?

3. If we say “all Asian people” do something, aren’t we being racist? When you generalize about conspiracy theorists as if they are a homogenous set of people (and trust me, that’s far from the truth), aren’t you being, shall we say, labelist? Assigning characteristics of some individuals to an entire group, without justification?

4. Which statement would you agree with more, and why?
a. All conspiracy theories should be dismissed at first glance.
b. All conspiracy theories should be investigated, and evaluated on the evidence.

5. There was a time when the Watergate affair was characterized as a “third-rate burglary.” Would the public have been better served by not pursuing what really happened?

6. If a conspiracy theory becomes consistently predictive, does that make it valuable? Isn’t that how we judge scientific theories, by their consistently predictive value?

7. Did you ever consider the possibility that it is not a lack of information, but rather a supply of information, that gives birth to some conspiracy theories? That conspiracy theory is sometimes simply pattern recognition?

8. There was a time when the notion of an arms-for-hostages deal, i.e., Iran-Contra, was considered a crazy conspiracy theory, until, of course, it was proven to be true. Some people had the information before others, and were denigrated as conspiracy theorists. Should we then acknowledge that some conspiracy theorists can be very good researchers?

9. If the CIA really did kill Kennedy, isn’t that worth investigating? As someone who knows for fact that the CIA lied about what they knew about Oswald, because I have the records from the CIA to prove it, isn’t it worth pursuing WHY they lied about Oswald? Isn’t that an act of patriotism, not paranoia?

10. Why do your talking points sound so similar to the ones published in this CIA memo? (And yes, I have a copy of this memo from the National Archives. I’m not relying on some Internet page. I typed this in from the document myself.)

11. How can you say that we can’t keep secrets in this “open society” when CIA people know they lose their job, their pension, and can be sent to jail for revealing them?

12. What is redacted here, or is this still a secret, nearly forty years after the document was first shown to members of Congress? Why can’t I know what’s redacted in this “declassified” report of the CIA’s “family jewels”? This is jewel #1, of all things.)

For the record, I too am frustrated with how gullible people are, and how quickly they can jump to unsupported conclusions. Why do some people refuse to believe a conspiracy happened, even when the evidence is there (e.g., Holocaust deniers)?

Some conspiracy theorists are indeed too gullible, are not skilled in the evaluation of evidence, and see shadows where none exist. But to group all conspiracy theorists into this bucket is to miss the fact that there are serious people -- professors, lawyers, judges, presidents -- who believe these theories precisely because of the evidence, not in spite of it.

As someone who has spent nearly twenty years studying the actual conspiracies of Watergate, Iran-Contra, Smedley Butler’s account of the plot to overthrow FDR, and in great detail, the CIA’s full history (mind control, infiltration and manipulation of the media, using academics to promote practices favorable to the agency, etc., bugging schemes, exotic weaponry, coups and assassinations and yes, the CIA’s curious obfuscations regarding its potential role in the assassination of President Kennedy), it seems that an honest investigation of conspiracy theories is the only way to dispel false conspiracy theories. Dismissing them out of hand without a proper hearing is anti-intellectual and simply compounds the problem.

Opening records, providing access to witnesses, conducting an honest inquiry -- isn’t that the simple way to either prove or disprove conspiracy theories? The trick is to find an honest group to hold an honest investigation. I’ve known very few truly honest people in my life. This will forever be a challenging task, especially when money and power are at stake.

Conspiracy theories aren’t the problem; they’re the symptom. And they’re not the symptom of “mental illness, such as paranoia or narcissism” that you suggest. They are the symptom of a government that lies to the people, often through the mainstream media. Most people aren’t stupid. And you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

We know the CIA lied about what they knew about Oswald to other agencies of the government just a month before the assassination because we have two communications drafted within hours of each other, by the same people, with one describing Oswald as older, fat and balding, and one describing him accurately. That’s not an accident, because the inaccurate description was escalated to nearly the Deputy Director’s level for approval, indicating, as one of the signees said on the record, sensitive information that was closely held and revealed only on a “need to know” basis. Those were the CIA officer’s words, not some screenwriter’s.

Does that prove the CIA killed Kennedy? Of course not. But it proves people are not crazy to suspect such. And it proves people who automatically discount that either haven’t seen the CIA’s own records to this effect for themselves, and understood them, or that they are suffering from, to borrow your words, a “crippled epistemology.”

What we really need is conspiracy literacy. People need to be taught how to evaluate evidence. There’s a hierarchy of evidence. For example, most people should believe sworn testimony over unsworn testimony, for example, if there’s a very real chance the person not only could but would be prosecuted for perjury. And to demonstrate why that caveat is needed, since there was no chance Richard Helms was going to be prosecuted for perjury when he lied about the CIA’s role in overthrowing Allende in Chile, he lied in his testimony. And while he was initially charged, it was dismissed, despite his outright admission of lying -- calling it a “badge of honor.” Is it any wonder people imagine hidden conspiracies when they see this kind of behavior flaunted openly, instead of punished?

What we really don’t need is what you suggested: “cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories. They do so by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity.

Been there, done that. It was called COINTELPRO when the FBI did it and Operation Chaos when the CIA did it. And neither worked. Which leads to my final question:

13. Why would you suggest the conspiratorial infiltration of groups by government operatives as a means to combat conspiracy theory? Can you appreciate the irony there?

I’m cc’ing this to many people, and will post this publicly. I will do the same with any response you provide.

Thank you for your time.

Lisa Pease
Conspiracy Realist

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