A Conspiracy So Immense

Tim Weiner writes in tomorrow’s New York Times,

A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.

Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau.

The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote.

“In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus,” it said. …

… Hoover’s plan called for “the permanent detention” of the roughly 12,000 suspects at military bases as well as in federal prisons.

There is no evidence suggesting that President Truman approved any part of this proposal.

Reaction from the Power Tools was predictable: “Hoover was too quick to judge people disloyal–it would be interesting to get a look at the list of 12,000–but some may feel nostalgic for a time when disloyalty was at least acknowledged to be a bad thing.”

I feel nostalgic for a time when shredding the Bill of Rights was at least acknowledged to be a bad thing.

Regarding the 12,000 — from 1950 to 1953 J. Edgar Hoover leaked copious amounts of information and names to Sen. Joe McCarthy, who then “investigated” and held “hearings” in which he bullied and smeared his targets. McCarthy’s sidekick, the infamous Roy Cohn, also had contacts in the bureau, who gave him access to confidential FBI reports.

Much of what [McCarthy] got came directly from the FBI, which had a habit of leaking information to favored politicians. Not only was Joe friendly with J. Edgar Hoover, but several of his aides had either worked for the Bureau or built up good contacts there. Roy Cohn, for example, was very close with Lou Nichols, the assistant director. One source said that Cohn knew

    … all about FBI lists of supect Communists and has a fantastic memory for the names and backgrounds of practically all the important ex-Communists in the country. My friend has frequently been with Cohn when he picks up the phone, calls the FBI and demands to know the whereabouts of some ex-Communist or suspect Communist. Within a half hour or so the Bureau will call him back and give him the name of the special agent who is riding herd on the particular individual and Cohn will shortly thereafter get a call from the agent.

Despite his repeated denials, Cohn also had access to confidential FBI reports. One agent revealed that his colleagues “put in long hours poring over Bureau security files, abstracting them for Roy Cohn.” And Ruth Watt, chief clerk of the Government Operations Committee [chaired by McCarthy], recalled that “we had a lot of FBI reports because we could get them, you see.” Watt added that “Roy and J. Edgar Hoover knew each other pretty well, so it was not too difficult to get these things.” [David Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy [Free Press, 1983], p. 257]

One suspects that if J. Edgar Hoover were seriously concerned about these 12,000 people, then information on at least some of them ended up with McCarthy and Cohn. And McCarthy and Cohn held investigations and hearings pretty much nonstop until the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954. But not one of McCarthy’s investigations resulted in a conviction of espionage. And none of the many charges McCarthy brought against individuals were ever proved, even by the release of the Venona files. So it’s a good bet that the bulk of those 12,000 people that Hoover wanted to detain permanently were innocent.


Yesterday, Paul Krugman made the connection between the subprime lending crisis and Ayn Rand cultism.

“Fed shrugged as subprime crisis spread,” was the headline on a New York Times report on the failure of regulators to regulate. This may have been a discreet dig at Mr. Greenspan’s history as a disciple of Ayn Rand, the high priestess of unfettered capitalism known for her novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

In a 1963 essay for Ms. Rand’s newsletter, Mr. Greenspan dismissed as a “collectivist” myth the idea that businessmen, left to their own devices, “would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities, and shoddy buildings.” On the contrary, he declared, “it is in the self-interest of every businessman to have a reputation for honest dealings and a quality product.”

It’s no wonder, then, that he brushed off warnings about deceptive lending practices, including those of Edward M. Gramlich, a member of the Federal Reserve board. In Mr. Greenspan’s world, predatory lending — like attempts to sell consumers poison toys and tainted seafood — just doesn’t happen.

Randians have a remarkable capacity not to notice that we human beings very often do things contrary to our own self-interest. It would be to our own self-interest, for example, not to commit crimes of any sort, as we’re likely to get caught eventually. It would be to our own self-interest not to smoke or use drugs or eat too much trans fats. The fact is, if we all acted according to our own self-interest the world would be a paradise. Alas, the number of human beings on the planet today who truly and only act in their own self-interest is probably in the dozens. The rest of us are busily self-destructing, one way or another. This is what’s called “human nature.”

Krugman continues,

But Mr. Greenspan wasn’t the only top official who put ideology above public protection. Consider the press conference held on June 3, 2003 — just about the time subprime lending was starting to go wild — to announce a new initiative aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on banks. Representatives of four of the five government agencies responsible for financial supervision used tree shears to attack a stack of paper representing bank regulations. The fifth representative, James Gilleran of the Office of Thrift Supervision, wielded a chainsaw.

Also in attendance were representatives of financial industry trade associations, which had been lobbying for deregulation. As far as I can tell from press reports, there were no representatives of consumer interests on the scene.

Two months after that event the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, one of the tree-shears-wielding agencies, moved to exempt national banks from state regulations that protect consumers against predatory lending. If, say, New York State wanted to protect its own residents — well, sorry, that wasn’t allowed.

Generations of real-world experience says that securities and markets need some kind of regulation to keep them honest or the forces of greed will take over and tear them apart. We saw this in the late 19th century during the age of the Robber Barons. We saw this in the Coolidge Administration. We saw it during the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s.

Yet Rand culties and other wingnuts simply will not learn from real-world experience. They cling to their ideologies come hell or high water. The Narrative is their only truth.

For example, Michael Barone writes,

… the preference for smaller rather than larger government is not as ample as it used to be. The strongest case against big government has been its failures in the 1970s, typified by gas lines and stagflation. But the median-age voter in 2008 was born around 1964, so he or she never sat in those gas lines or struggled to pay rising bills with a paycheck eroded by inflation. That demographic factor helps explain why Democrats today are promising big-government programs, unlike Bill Clinton in 1992, when the median-age voter remembered the 1970s very well. …

… Republicans, facing an electorate half of which doesn’t remember the 1970s and most of which has not appreciated the generally good economy we’ve had since 2001, have yet to muster persuasive arguments for their policies.

Barone’s thinking is so sloppy one wonders if he can tie his own shoes. He blithely connects “big government” to 1970s gas lines and “stagflation,” but OPEC caused the gas lines and I see no consensus that “big government” — whatever that means — caused stagflation.

On the other hand, all those median-age voters probably do remember the country was a lot better off before the wingnuts took over.

I find myself speculating if right-wing polemicists like Barone are deliberately being deceptive, or if they are functioning on autopilot and never honestly stop to think through, say, what the connection between “big government” and 1970s gas lines might have been. If the latter is true, shouldn’t we be rounding these people up for further study? How exactly does the wingnut brain work? How can a man be bright enough to graduate from law school and still be utterly unable to think?