Fukushima, USA

If you live in North America and you’ve been thinking the Fukushima nuclear tragedy is confined to Japan, a former U.S. Department of Energy official had very bad news for you at a Washington, D.C. press conference yesterday. And, no, the news wasn’t about how much of Fukushima’s radiation is now reaching you, or might ultimately. That’s another matter.

Robert Alvarez, one the world’s foremost authorities on radiation hazards, warned that 34 of the 103 nuclear reactors in the U.S. store their spent fuel in pools several stories above ground, just like the ill-fated Fukushima reactors.

The difference, stressed Alvarez, is that, unlike the Japanese reactors, the U.S reactors now house four times more spent fuel than they were designed for. That’s because, going on half a century into the nuclear energy age, the U.S. has yet to adopt a long-term storage solution for its nuclear waste.

The situation poses a deadly risk, Alvarez and his colleagues warned in a 2003 study. The controversial American reactors each have 5-10 times more long-lived radioactivity in their vulnerable storage pools than they do in the reactors’ cores, the study found. Heightening that hazard, the waste pools are located outside the reactors’ containment domes.

Damage causing loss of cooling water in such storage pools can result in burning nuclear waste being released directly into the environment. This is the tragedy now unfolding in Fukushima.

Such nightmarish release of radiation is what turned some thousand square kilometers around Chernobyl, an area equal to about half the size of New Jersey, into a wasteland, said Alvarez.

Estimates of when Chernobyl will again be safe for human habitation range from 300 to 1,000 years.

As if the threat of 34 Chernobyls in the continental U.S. weren’t bad enough, a recent MSNBC story sited deeply unsettling U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission risk estimates of catastrophic failure due to earthquakes.

“Each year, at the typical nuclear reactor in the U.S., there’s a 1 in 74,176 chance that the core could be damaged by an earthquake, exposing the public to radiation,” read the story. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42103936/ns/world_news-asia-pacific/). “No tsunami required. That’s 10 times more likely than you winning $10,000 by buying a ticket in the Powerball multistate lottery, where the chance is 1 in 723,145.”

Even worse are the odds of disaster (one in 10,000) at the Indian Point nuclear plant, just 24 miles north of New York City.

What caused this grave state of affairs, charges Alvarez, is that Congress gutted the regulatory ability of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, much as its gutting of the Securities Exchange Commission led to the global economic meltdown of 2008.

When Alvarez and his colleagues released their report on spent fuel hazards, the NRC tried to have it suppressed, he said. Congress ordered a National Academy of Sciences review. That review validated the report’s conclusions in 2004. Seven years later, however, there is no evidence that NRC has taken corrective action, says Alvarez.

Regarding the dangers to Japan, the U.S., and the rest of the world resulting from the Fukushima catastrophe, a physician with special expertise in radiation and a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told press conference attendees that at the moment there’s little that can be done but for the world to hold its breath and wait to see.

One reason no informed estimate of Fukushima-related radiation risks can be made at present is because no actual data has yet been released. U.S. and Japanese military flights have apparently taken actual radiation measurements at the site, but their findings have not been made public.

Yesterday, a consortium of citizen groups sent President Obama a letter requesting release of actual radiation measurements taken at Fukushima.

Go here to listen to yesterday’s Fukushima emergency press conference: http://www.ips-dc.org/pressroom/japan-nuclear-emergency-presser-3-18.

Go here for the Alvarez team’s report on spent nuclear fuel hazards: http://www.ips-dc.org/reports/reducing_the_hazards_from_stored_spent_power-reactor_fuel_in_the_united_states

Go here for the letter requesting President Obama to release Fukushima radiation data: http://foe.org/sites/default/files/NuclearTransparencyLtr3.18.11.pdf.

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Filed under Uncategorized

NAACP “Outrage”

Bye, George

I just received the message below from one of my old Vietnam gunship pilots. It objects to the “outrage” of the NAACP covering up a statue of George Washington during this year’s Martin Luther King celebration in Columbia, SC. I don’t even know if this happened. I’m a reporter and I’m supposed to check this stuff out, but in this case, I don’t care. Someone sent me this, assuming that it happened. So I’ll assume it did, too. Here’s my take.

George Washington was one of the great human beings of history, in my view. But in the vice of history in which he and his contemporaries were held, they dreamed a dream of freedom that held the nightmare of slavery within it. That was WRONG. The ideals that the founding fathers themselves fought and died for and handed down to posterity tell us it was wrong. To not denounce it as wrong is an act of apostasy.

Was the gesture of the NAACP reported here “a disgusting display of anti-Americanism,” as the email’s author fumed? Sure it was– but only in the sense that Sen. Joseph McCarthy was correct in calling Gen. George Marshall a communist. The evidence suggests to me, however, that Gen. Marshall was more like Gen. Washington than Commissar Lenin.

But that’s just me. Maybe all the NAACP was trying to do was keep the faith in breaking a toxic silence, and to make darned sure that the silence stays broken, because the body and soul of America are still healing from slavery. If so, I’m grateful to be able to add my two cents worth.

In Vietnam, in 1967-68, my brother who sent me this message and I had the honor of flying with a helicopter gunship platoon that answered to the call sign Mustang. I write a little about this in a blog post below.

“Thank you for calling the Mustangs. How may we direct our fire?” That was our spirit.

Every day was the OK Corral for us. In III Corps of South Vietnam — the Mekong Delta — every day and every night there was an OK Corral happening somewhere. We were gunfighters. We went to the gunfights the infantry invited us to. That’s how we could help keep them alive so they could come home to the American Dream. We put our snouts right in the enemy’s fire. At the end of those engagements the fingers of both dissentient parties were not still on their triggers. We were fierce. That’s what the job required. You couldn’t do what we did–put your life on the line with unalloyed commitment day after day–unless you believed in the reason you were doing it.

I was in Vietnam for only 12 months, nine of them in helicopters, 1,200 combat hours. I volunteered for the draft, volunteered for Vietnam, volunteered for combat. I fought to get into the fight. In the years since then I have countless times asked myself what I really meant to fight for in Vietnam. I always get the same answer. If the NAACP really did what the message below claims, that is a variation on the answer I get.

Freedom, man! FREEDOM!

If the NAACP really did what the message below claims, it’s easy for me to imagine the good Gen. Washington and the good Dr. King standing together somewhere inside the Pearly Gates, each with an arm draped over the shoulder of the other, saying, “Come on, people. Think about this. Work together. Get your heads out of your mess kits.”

Seems to me the NAACP is missing an “A” from its initials. Should be NAAACP–National Association for the Advancement of All Colored People, white being a color, too.

On Tue, Feb 1, 2011 at 7:38 AM, ___ wrote:

Another one missed by the NY Times
Where is the OBAMA outrage?

George Washington statue is hidden at the MLK rally in Columbia , SC. The annual MLK observance at the state house in Columbia SC had an interesting twist this year.
The event is held on the north side steps of the statehouse. Prominent at that location is a large bronze statue of George Washington. This year, the NAACP constructed a “box” to conceal the Father of His Country from view so that participants would not be offended by his presence. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw this picture of the MLK Day rally in Columbia , South Carolina yesterday.  This rally was sponsored by the NAACP and they said that they covered the statue because they “didn’t want to offend anyone”.  Really? George Washington is the father of this nation.  How is he offensive to anyone?  Can you imagine what would happen if we covered the statue of Dr. King on President’s Day?  Of course, this disgusting display of anti-Americanism wasn’t covered at all by the national media and only the local paper in Columbia had a little piece on it.  It has been covered a little by the blog-world and I think the word needs to get out to the general public that this is what the NAACP is all about…..militant, hateful and racist.  In doing this, they disrespected Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  I bet he would be equally disgusted.  Awful.


Filed under Free Speech

Spokane’s Anarchist Mayor

Spokane's Mayor Mary Verner

Dick Adams wrote an email to the Spokane, WA, City Council and Mayor Mary Verner last week that, when you put two and two together, has the effect of indicting the mayor for anarchy. Actually, the evidence suggests to me that the mayor effectively confessed to anarchy three years ago with a surprisingly candid email she wrote to a former sheriff. Mr. Adams’s email shows what Mayor Verner’s anarchy is costing her citizens.

Mr. Adams objected  to consideration that Spokane chief financial officer Gavin Cooley is giving to “charging our city credit card” by selling $45 million of councilmanic bonds. Mr. Adams told me that he considers this an illegal use of public debt because its purpose is to solve a financial crisis caused by an earlier illegal use of public debt. Mr. Cooley is an agent of both frauds, charges Mr. Adams, which stem from the River Park Square financial scandal.

Dick Adams is hardly alone in decrying such abuse of public finance as part of a much larger pattern of government behavior in America today. A retired executive of a U.S. Steel subsidiary, Mr. Adams is well known for his financial expertise. Over the years he has been one of the closest and most knowledgeable observers of municipal finance in Spokane. Not just Teapartiers agree with him that America’s fiscal lawlessness has become nothing less than a government Ponzi scheme now threatening  the country with an historic economic catastrophe.

In this heist, never-ending layers of debt are added to sub-layers. (Mr. Adams is horrified that American citizens now owe nearly a trillion dollars to China.) Much of this debt, as in the case of Wall Street’s 2008 meltdown and its globally transmitted fiscal disease of derivatives, is directly traceable to criminal activity. The criminal enterprise involves government officials helping private interests steal money from the public. The criminals keep getting away with their crime because of the gangsterization of government. Government criminals, naturally, will not prosecute themselves for their crimes.

At the heart of the 2008 meltdown is a structural accounting fraud that U.S. government leaders embedded in the global economy with their refusal to regulate derivatives and impose generally accepted accounting principles on them. That refusal is why uber investor Warren Buffett called derivatives “weapons of financial mass destruction.” Responsible government regulation of derivatives would have mandated full disclosure of their true asset value, and that might have averted the historic economic emergency now threatening the nation. For a quick review of U.S. government culpability in this emergency, watch the PBS Frontline report called “The Warning,” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/warning/view/.

In that report, you’ll hear this exchange between a Congressional hearing panelist and former Chairwoman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, Brooksley Born:

Q: What are you trying to protect?

Born: We’re trying to protect the money of the American public.

The Clinton Administration chose not to accept that mission. Neither did the Bush Administration. Nor has Barack Obama’s Administration. When President Obama, the eloquent purveyor of hope, and the U.S. Congress got around to passing last year’s “financial reform” legislation, they accepted assistance from 54 financial industry lobbying firms that spent $300 million. That trifling investment bought Wall Street the ability to keep gambling with the money of  the American people—and the fate of the global economy. (See John Cassidy’s “Annals of Economics: The Volker Rule,” in the 7/26/10 issue of The New Yorker.)

Public/Private Crime

From accounts like these, government officials and various private interests emerge as little more than glib public/private mobsters. Untouchable by virtue of the legal immunity they gain from their control of government, they’re able to enjoy their champagne while blowing raspberries at the rest of the world. In this scenario, the citizens of the world become to the public/private mobsters what the Jews of Europe were to the Nazis—compliant souls to be herded into ghettos for scheduled liquidation. The liquidation in this case, of course, is not of actual bodies based on criminal insanity of the political kind. Instead, it is liquidation of personal wealth—and civilization’s hope—resulting from criminal insanity of the economic kind. Thus have the nations of the world become ghettos for the use of organized financial crime.

Mr. Adams’s email connects to this bigger picture, because the settled evidence clearly shows that Spokane’s River Park Square scandal was the work of public/private mobsters. River Park Square is hometown civic theater to Wall Street’s Broadway extravaganza.

Supporters of RPS euphemistically called it a public/private partnership. Details of the project that surfaced in federal municipal securities fraud litigation, an IRS investigation, and extensive national prize-winning investigative reporting by my colleagues and me (see www.camasmagazine.com) show that RPS was just carefully packaged public/private crime.

Ugly facts clearly show that River Park Square developer Betsy Cowles set out to commit crime, and that her newspaper publisher brother, Stacey Cowles, did, too. Mr. Cowles’s crime was to provide the use of the family’s newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, to package his little sister’s real estate crime for public consumption.

This whole sordid history is tediously documented elsewhere on this blog and various links cited by it. Consider the following:

For evidence that Betsy Cowles knowingly set out to break the law, see the story “Missing Man,” http://www.camasmagazine.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?aid=177.  Open Ms. Cowles’s infamous 3/9/95 “divide and conquer” memo. That memo proves that Ms. Cowles, a lawyer, intended to violate federal securities law by hiding from investors her plan to launder a $23 million federal loan into the Nordstrom Co. by giving Nordstrom a free new store in Spokane. To accomplish this crime, she intended to “divide and conquer” Spokane’s city government, a time-honored tactic of despots. See “Inside Job,” http://www.camasmagazine.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?aid=101, for proof that the Cowleses set out to secretly access public funds in a way that violated federal guidelines, and that Spokane public officials helped them do it. As companion reading, see the story “Fraudville, USA,” http://www.camasmagazine.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?aid=179. Read the RPS bondholders’ 91-point Omnibus Statement of Facts. It documents the securities fraud engineered by Ms. Cowles with active complicity of a host of Spokane officials. The city admitted to its role in this crime by purchasing the bondholders’ complaint and promising to recover the $26 million it paid Ms. Cowles for the RPS garage. But then the city pulled yet another bait and switch on its citizens. It let Ms. Cowles keep her stolen money, and, with the help of the IRS, saddled Spokane’s citizens with the cost of the Cowles robbery. See “A New RPS Fraud?”, http://www.camasmagazine.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?aid=199.

For evidence that Spokesman-Review publisher Stacey Cowles used the family’s paper to cover up the RPS crime, begin with “All in the Family,” http://www.camasmagazine.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?aid=65. See also, “Breaking the News,” http://www.camasmagazine.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?aid=172. There you’ll find evidence that Mr. Cowles turned his paper into a propaganda machine for his family’s highly organized criminal enterprise of illegally leveraging a minimum of $100 million in public funds to refurbish the Cowles family’s downtown shopping mall—River Park Square. You’ll also see evidence that when Mr. Cowles allowed his editor, Chris Peck, to twice attack former Mayor John Talbott as a “civic terrorist” for trying to expose the $23 million federal loan fraud, both Mr. Cowles and Mr. Peck were in possession of evidence showing that they knew they were falsely accusing him. That is, they were falsely accusing a mayor who was trying to expose the truth and serve those who elected him. This is the blackest of journalism sins. It’s known as “actual malice libel.” That refers to the intentional publication of a lie. Mr. Cowles’s purpose in publishing these lies was obviously to help the Cowles family with its massive public robbery. Mr. Peck’s purpose was apparently to keep his job as a handsomely paid Cowles bagman. To do that, he was willing to also become a hit man, assassinating in front of the community the character of mayor who deserved praise for his exemplary courage. Because the evidence shows that RPS represents continuing organized crime, and because there is no statute of limitations for such crime, I happen to believe that Mayor Talbott could at any time bring a civil RICO actual malice libel case against both Mr. Cowles and Mr. Peck. RICO provides for the recovery of treble damages, because its purpose is to destroy organized crime. The former mayor was the leader duly elected by the people of Spokane to protect them from the Cowles family’s $100 million RPS fraud. The evidence of fraud is settled. The evidence of actual malice libel is irrefutable. The evidence that Betsy and Stacey Cowles mounted a secret political campaign to defeat Talbott is also irrefutable. (See, “How a publishing heiress went after an uncooperative mayor: http://www.camasmagazine.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?aid=181 .)  The actual losses to the municipality of Spokane resulting from the Cowles family’s criminal character assassination of Mayor Talbott and clandestine political attack on him would require forensic accounting. But that would be pretty easy.

For further evidence of my allegations that RPS was public/private crime, you might wish to review: “Open Letter to an Ethicist” and “American Serbia,” below. See also http://www.camasmagazine.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?aid=185,  which is an article about a national first-place journalism award for a 10-part reporting package titled “How The Spokesman-Review Subverted Democracy in Spokane, Washington.” See also“The Casino Was Rigged,” which describes the evidence of (un-prosecuted) crime found by the IRS: http://www.camasmagazine.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?aid=189.

Where’s the Anarchy?

So far, government watchdogs, bought and paid for by the private interests that control their bosses, carefully trained by their bosses not to bark when such crimes are committed, have obediently not barked. The watchdogs’ complicity just adds to a history that, as Mr. Adams’s email shows, can only get uglier so long as the perpetrators are not brought to justice.

The RPS crime is the reason that the specific number Mr. Adams is questioning—$45  million—raises the specter of the mayor’s anarchy.

The new layer of debt Mr. Cooley wants to lay on the public matches almost precisely the $44.8 million layer of debt that he and other public officials charged their citizens to pay off the RPS fraud that they had perpetrated on them.

“To me, what Cooley is trying to do has the appearance of refinancing the RPS fraud,” says Mr. Adams. “This should be discussed at least until 2030, which is when the RPS bond fraud will finally be paid off.”

Mary Verner, as she is well aware, plays a central role in this “scheme.” Scheme is what the IRS called it. In this scheme, then-Councilwoman Verner helped hold open the bag into which she and her fellow public servants illegally shoveled the swag of tens of millions of public dollars. And then they submissively handed the bag over to Betsy Cowles.

“A New RPS Fraud?” shows how upset Councilwoman Verner, who is also a lawyer, claimed to be about her role in this theft. But she did nothing about it. She joined the great pack of barkless watchdogs.

It’s the email Councilwoman Verner wrote to former Sheriff Tony Bamonte, when she was running for mayor, in which she convicts herself of anarchy. Anarchy, of course, is the dog-eat-dog chaos that results from an absence of government.

Sheriff Bamonte has been a prominent enough Democrat for decades that every electoral season candidates, Democrat and Republican alike, make a pilgrimage to his home, seeking his endorsement. Mary Verner did that when she ran for mayor in 2007.

Sheriff Bamonte said he would support her conditioned on her promise to prosecute the RPS crime, particularly the death of Jo Ellen Savage in the RPS garage. Bamonte had filed criminal complaints charging that Savage’s death was first-degree manslaughter resulting from Cowles neglect. (See “Deathtrap,” http://www.girlfromhotsprings.com/ and “America’s Most Dangerous Cop,” and “American Serbia,” below.) Verner made that promise, according to Bamonte and others present at a meeting in the former sheriff’s home.

Afterward, Bamonte got worried, because Verner said nothing about RPS during her campaign. He called her on it and she responded with an email that deserves a prominent place in the RPS Document Hall of Shame. “I recognize the huge issues of morality, courage, and strength of character involved in taking on the RPS issue,” she wrote in her Nov. 2, 2007 email. “I also know that if I make RPS a cornerstone of my campaign platform, the ‘powers that be’ will ensure that I do not get elected … period.” [See “Powers that Be” link in “American Serbia,” below.]  

I’ve never been able to understand what possessed Verner to make such an admission to the former sheriff credited with solving the oldest open murder case in U.S. history. Did she really think that Tony Bamonte didn’t know the loneliness of taking on “powers that be?” But there you have it in the mayor’s own words—frank acknowledgment of the existence of public corruption in Spokane more powerful than the city’s government. Frank acknowledgment, too, that she lacked the “morality, courage, and strength of character” to confront it, even as she campaigned for a job that required her to do so. It’s hard to think of a better example of the most dangerous kind of anarchy there is—criminal government. Violent terrorists and Molotov cocktail-hurling street protesters are feeble by comparison.

Mayor Verner has declined to talk with me about her “powers that be” email.  She also declines to discuss an order she purportedly received from Betsy Cowles shortly after her election.

Sheriff Bamonte says that Shannon Sullivan, a close friend of Mayor Verner’s, contacted him last year with a disturbing account. Ms. Sullivan, the woman who led the successful drive to recall former Mayor Jim West over a sex abuse scandal, told Bamonte that she was in Verner’s office when Cowles called her and ordered her to take a trip with her. Bamonte told me at the time that Sullivan said the trip involved a flight on Cowles’s private jet.

I found Sullivan’s allegation interesting, because of the IRS findings that the Cowles family controls Spokane’s government. (See “The Casino Was Rigged,” linked above.)

When I asked Ms. Sullivan about the purported Verner/Cowles plane ride, she wrote back denying she had told Bamonte about it. Suzanne Bamonte, the former sheriff’s wife, says she was present when Ms. Sullivan related this account. I provided Ms. Sullivan a memo written by Mrs. Bamonte summarizing her recollection of Sullivan’s story. I requested Ms. Sullivan’s comment on Mrs. Bamonte’s memo. Ms. Sullivan did not respond. So far, Mayor Verner and Ms. Cowles have also not responded to my requests for comment on the alleged plane ride. If they do, I will post their comments here. Meanwhile, I invite Mayor Verner, Ms. Sullivan, and Ms. Cowles to post their comments about this matter here.

Dick Adams Email

Sullivan Denial

Suzanne Bamonte Statement


Filed under Public Corruption

Testament: Manifesto for Personal Action

With a long enough lever, said Archimedes, one could move the world. I think something like that lever exists and is in constant use between our ears. We just don’t pay enough attention to how we use it. But we all have memories of seeing the lever used. Here’s one of mine.

Burning Man

In 1967-68 I was a door gunner and then a crew chief on a helicopter gunship in Vietnam.

The gunner fired his M-60 machine gun from the right side of the ship. At night, after our long days were over, he was responsible for cleaning the ship’s weapons and repairing any damage.

The crew chief fired his M-60 from the left side of the ship. At night, he was responsible for readying the ship for the next day.

Wake-up was four in the morning. Lift-off was dawnish. We came home as darkness fell.

Sunset, Mekong Delta

If we got to bed by 10:00 we were lucky. Many times it was midnight. During the Tet Offensive I flew 48 hours straight without sleep. In the end I couldn’t keep my eyes open except when we were taking fire. When I stood down I couldn’t sleep because of all the adrenaline in my system. That’s what I know about bad drug trips.

My old Bien Hoa neighborhood after Tet

Our M-60s fired 550 rounds per minute and had an effective air-to-surface range of 2,200 meters. We sought to use them at distances much more up close and personal than that, however. On the ground M-60s were supposed to be fired in bursts of six to keep the barrels from overheating and producing jams. We considered our guns air-cooled weapons and used them like fire hoses.

We fired our 2.75 inch rockets, with their 10-pound warheads and 30-meter killing radius, from an average distance of a thousand feet. That was close enough that we sometimes broke our own chin bubbles with their explosions as we pulled out of our dives.

Gunner Shook

We fired our mini-guns—4,200 .30 caliber rounds per minute—when we were too close to use the rockets.

Crew chief Lucky Lakin, KIA January 1968.

I had the honor of flying with the highest performing, best aligned organization I have ever known, or even heard of: the Mustangs, our gun platoon.


Mustang pilot Ed Strazzini

Mustang pilot Roosevelt Webb

I was a very serious gunner—a helicopter gunship in Vietnam was no place for anyone who wasn’t serious.

Gunner Shook

But the Mustangs, when I flew with them, kept running out of crew chiefs. “High attrition,” the Army called it. I was serious enough, my bosses apparently thought, to be entrusted with an entire gunship. So they made me a crew chief.

I told them I was no motorhead, barely knew how to change a sparkplug back in the world.

“Fine,” they said. “You won’t be changing sparkplugs.”

Sandy Noyes, a wizened old man just turned 20, my own previous crew chief, taught me how to take care of a Bell UH-1C gunship.

Crew chief Noyes, left, and Mustang pilots Dave Holloway and the late Scott Alwin.

The Mustangs assigned me 667. She was more like a living creature to me than machine, part magic carpet, part dragon. I appreciated both qualities. You had to be there.

Every day, and many nights, 667 took us to war. Thanks to a flock of maintenance wizards, she always brought us home.

Crew chief Shook

Maintenance wizards

Even after they made me a crew chief, however, I cleaned my own M-60 every night.

Gas cylinder plug from my last M-60.

I loved the men I served with. I loved the infantrymen on the ground we tried to keep alive, although you could have tortured me at the time and I wouldn’t have admitted that. Testosterone toxicosis, you know. But it was love, all right. Each passing year makes that more and more clear.

I’ll put it this way: one of the most obscene things I’ve ever seen is the body of an American soldier wrapped in his poncho for transport off a battlefield. I have no idea how many of the names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall I saw leave the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam that way, but too many.


I did not love the Vietnam War. It broke my heart. It left me with a profound confusion about where “home” really was. Six months into my 12-month tour, I did not regard our business in Vietnam as a fit enterprise for the America I had been raised to love by a father who served as a Marine in the Pacific and a mother who awaited his return. From then on, I was no longer working for “America.” I was working for my buddies. Period.

The white smoke marks a target. The target is a farm village. Vietcong have been shooting at Americans from the village. The village is about to disappear in an air strike by Phantom jets.

A village dies.

Anyone who has been in a war will tell you that it feels like being a grain of sand in a sandstorm.

“Support our troops, support America?” Chalk and cheese, as far as I’m concerned. Any politician who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you a share in the Brooklyn Bridge. I respectfully submit that our troops are best supported by not throwing their lives away, not by swallowing government propaganda about throwing their lives away.

The helicopters that inserted the troops into battle were called slicks. (Their sides were slick—no heavy metal weaponry protruding.)


One day a single slick I was covering was inserting a load of grunts. As the aircraft flared to land, a command-detonated mine exploded right beneath it. The slick flipped upside down, stuffing its rotors in the mud, making its engine explode in a pulse of air that flattened the green rice in a circle all around it. Then guys scrambled out in furious low-crawls, leaving trails in the mud. I’m looking down from maybe 15o feet. Safety off. Waiting for the rest of the ambush to continue. If it had, we would have been on it like a match on gas fumes.

The slick started to burn. No flames, but heat waves were dancing over it. It was like watching a helicopter sink in clear water. It took a while to re-establish radio communication with the ground troops. Pretty soon the ground commander told us that everyone had gotten out. We called that “un-assing the aircraft.”

But then the voice in our headsets said, “No no wait a minute shit the gunner’s still in there he looks OK he’s just trapped we can see him struggling shit!”

Tongues of flame began licking the dead helicopter. The air-shimmer rapidly increased. In ones and twos and threes, grunts, who were hunkered behind the nearby dike line for cover, sprinted toward the slick to save the gunner. It took tremendous courage to do that, because they made themselves easy targets. But as they approached the crash, their hands would come up to shield their faces from the heat, and then they would turn back.

Finally, a lone figure sprinted from the dike. When he hit the wall of heat he plunged through and kept going. From above it was like watching a halfback run a draw play. The rescuer dove into the crashed slick, which was now shooting serious flames.

Nothing. Now we were watching two men burn alive, waiting for the inevitable fireball.

And then, there they were, one man dragging another out of hell. Next morning, someone pointed the rescuer out to me in the mess hall. I didn’t know him. He wasn’t a member of our aviation unit. I think he must have been one of the Crickets stationed with us. These were long-range recon guys who went out in small patrols to scout and set up the landing and pick-up zones.

Something made me approach him. He was a handsome, powerfully built black kid. Gray smudges dappled his face where the heat had burned him. His eyebrows were singed. His hair was singed where the heat got under his helmet.

“Why’d you do it?” I asked. Even to me the question sounded stupid.

He just shrugged his shoulders. A black kid, drafted probably, saving a probably drafted white kid, just because. That was Vietnam.

But it wasn’t “just because.” I understood that instantly, and it was a life-giving understanding, even if I wasn’t fully conscious of what I understood. Now I think I get it. That rescuer was prizing away at the world with his built-in Archimedes lever.

And I don’t think he did it “just because,” not if “just because” suggests there is no implicate order in the universe, governing our lives by invisible forces. Not if “just because” suggests that symbiogenesis isn’t our lot, connecting all of us to each other all the time, connecting everything that is, ever was and ever will be.

What that rescuer taught me was that all we can ever do in life is act. Act we do. The only real question is how we act. How we act connects us to the flow of all that is, was, and ever will be. And only we can decide on that connection.

Elegant, no?

How we decide to act, then—this is what I believe—is how we make our life.

So What?

I share this belief, because it informs everything you see in this blog and the half-million or so words of reporting and documentation linked to it. I’m still a Mustang, you see. I decided long ago to never stop being one.

Judging from comments people make to me, I know the reporting suggests to some that American governance has become a wasteland. The reporting documents that Spokane, my fair city, second largest city in Washington State, is controlled by organized crime. It documents that Democrats and Republicans are equally complicit in this sordid state of affairs, and that every level of government in the land, now including the Dreamworks of the Obama White House, is implicated.

But I don’t think the evidence means that American government has become a wasteland. All any government can ever be is reflective. If we don’t like the reflection we see, I think we have to study the face in the mirror to see what we don’t like. And then we act.

It’s not that we should act. Or that we must act. It’s that we do act. And that action creates a reflection. That’s what I believe.

It wasn’t American government that pulled that kid from the burning helicopter before my eyes. And the turpitude, avarice and deep moral confusion that sent the rescuer to Vietnam had nothing to do with the decision he made, the action he took, the lingering reflection he left in my mind, and now in your mind, too.

That’s the point I’m trying to make. And the reason I’m trying to make it is because people keep asking me what, in the face of the daunting evidence we all face about the mess the world is in—including evidence contained in my reporting—can the average person do about it?

The question concerns me, because the last thing I want to do with my reporting is contribute to what psychologists tell us is the epidemic of “learned helpless” now plaguing us.  But I also love the question, because I love the answer. The answer, the rescuer taught me, is this: do what you can. That’s all we can ever do. And it is the joyful reality of life that that’s enough. #

All photos copyright Larry Shook.


Filed under Public Corruption, Vietnam Veterans

A Note from Sugarbear

Former enemies. Hugh S., aka Sugarbear, was a helicopter gunship door gunner in Vietnam. Lam Van Tien was a Vietnamese schoolteacher until American bombs destroyed his village. Then he became a Vietcong. Lam was seriously wounded by a gunship's gunner in 1968 at Rach Kien. Sugarbear was wounded by VC ground fire in the same place, the same year. The two old foes met at a recent international conference, learned what they had in common, and joked that if they had shot each other they were glad they hadn't been better shots.

Had the note below from an old Army buddy today:

“If you view HBO’s ‘Wartorn’ anytime in the next few weeks and would like to help the more than 700 thousand new veterans suffering from PTSD, may I suggest a contribution to Soldier’s Heart. I also know a gift at Christmas in the name of a loved one would be greatly appreciated as well.

“The Soldier’s Heart statement:

” ‘Soldier’s Heart addresses the emotional, spiritual and moral needs of veterans, their families and communities using a unique and comprehensive model of healing. Our goal is to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD by developing a new and honorable warrior identity. We also promote, train and guide community-based efforts to heal the effects of war.’

“Soldier’s Heart, 500 Federal St., Suite 303, Troy, NY 12180, 518-274-0501 Ext 10

“I have worked with this amazing organization for several years now and can tell you their programs are successful. Please help them continue their efforts. Ask your friends and family to help.

“If you want more information, please go to their website at: http://www.soldiersheart.net.

“It takes more than words, a button or a bumper sticker to Support the Troops. Thanks for considering support for this well-deserved organization.”

My buddy ended his note with this quote: “Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding, and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again.” —Thich Nhat Han

My buddy’s name is Hugh S. He doesn’t want his last name used. We served together in a helicopter gunship platoon in Vietnam in 1967-68. Hugh was wounded twice the year he flew with me. Then he went back for a second tour. He has never been able to remember the last nine months of his second 12-month tour. That’s PTSD.

Hugh has dedicated his life to helping other veterans with PTSD, which doesn’t surprise me. Hugh’s nickname in Vietnam was Sugarbear because of his size and sweet nature. He’s 6’3” and as a kid in Vietnam he weighed 230 pounds. As an adult, he’s one of those guys who has had to work at keeping his weight below 300. The thing is, Sugarbear’s heart has always weighed about ten times more than that.

Hugh has another animal nickname—matocante, which is Sioux Indian. It means Bear Heart. A couple of Sioux kids from South Dakota nicknamed him that after he persuaded them to sober up and helped put them through college.

Anyway, because the U.S. government is failing so utterly at helping its combat veterans deal with the trauma of their experience, Hugh is concerned that a perfect storm of PTSD now threatens America. Sugarbear isn’t about to stand by and let that happen. Matocante thinks 700 thousand traumatized veterans could make a pretty bright candle. What do you think?

Here’s a poem Sugarbear wrote that he recently read to some 500 attendees of the International Peace and War Summit at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Message from the Dead

I marched in straight lines…wore uniforms fine.

I died for this country’s cause.

Years later I see…that it just wasn’t me

who knew there were policy flaws.

When you’re dead…there’s a dread

that the lesson is lost… on those who never did fight.

And as I lie in the ground…with my pals all around

I realize that I’m probably right.

Politicians take a stand over some foreign land…hell, there will

always be young ones to fight it.

But bring those souls here…..let them come near.

We’ll tell the truth…we won’t hide it.


Filed under Vietnam Veterans

America’s Most Patient Cop

Former Sheriff Tony Bamonte

TONY BAMONTE, the former chief law enforcement officer of Pend Oreille County, was hoping Eric Holder, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, would do his job. Half a year ago, the former sheriff sent the U.S. Attorney General a carefully documented 2,000-page criminal complaint alleging that:

  1. Spokane’s—or rather the Cowles family’s—River Park Square “public/private partnership” was actually a proven but un-prosecuted case of financial fraud that was the fruit of organized crime. Bamonte charges that the Cowleses, one of America’s last media dynasties, use the carrot and stick of their press to reward public officials who help them and punish those who don’t. Prime examples, he says, are flattering stories about U.S. Senator Patty Murray, who helped the family fraudulently leverage a $23 million federal HUD loan that was funneled into the redevelopment of River Park Square (see April Fooled at www.camasmagazine.com), and the political character assassination of Mayor John Talbott, who tried to expose the HUD fraud. For his temerity, the Cowles-owned Spokesman-Review newspaper twice branded Talbott a “civic terrorist.” (See All in the Family and Inside Job on the Camas site.) Bamonte charges that such practices constitute a criminal use of misinformation that is integral to the organized criminal activities with which he charges the Cowleses. Underscoring the integral character of Cowles criminality, he says, is evidence showing that the family used its media to misinform the public about how public funds were being laundered into their mall while also mounting a secret political campaign to remove Talbott from office. (See, among other stories, Breaking the News, and Document of the Week—March 7, 2004—How a publishing heiress went after an uncooperative mayor, and Missing Man on the Camas site.)
  2. The April 8, 2006 death of Jo Ellen Savage in the RPS garage was an easily provable case of first-degree manslaughter, “which is a form of murder.” (See Death by Parking and Deathtrap at www.girlfromhotsprings.com.)

General Holder ignored Sheriff Bamonte’s complaint. An anonymous soul deep in the bowels of the U.S. Dept. of Justice, a member of the Dickensian-sounding “Correspondence Staff, Office of Administration,” recently sent Bamonte an unsigned letter: “We regret the delay responding to your letter,” wrote the furtive correspondent… but we’re not going to do anything. You can read the letter for yourself, attached here.

Bamonte spent 25 years in law enforcement. In his experience this is not the way you enforce the law. The way you enforce the law is:

  1. Study the evidence.
  2. Review applicable statutes.
  3. If #1 reveals breakage of #2, act.

In his 25 years as a cop Bamonte was known as an action Jackson kind of guy. (See America’s Most Dangerous Cop, below in this blog roll.)

Bamonte’s standard of practice as a policeman was simple: just because a lawbreaker chooses not to obey the law doesn’t make that an acceptable option. This is true for speeders, thieves, wife-beaters, killers, media barons—and public officials.

In Bamonte’s world the law is nothing less than the DNA of private and cultural survival. The law is the community’s communication that the community is more important than the individual. When all is said and done, the law is really just horse sense recognition that the individual needs the clan to survive.  At the heart of the law, then, is a promise of companionship when the chips are down. What that always meant to Bamonte as a cop is that you engage in the communication necessary to honor the law and protect the community.

It was in that spirit that Bamonte filed his complaint with Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick (see America’s Most Dangerous Cop, below, and Deathtrap at www.girlfromhotsprings.com).

It’s been 20 years since Bamonte wore a badge. These days, with his wife, Suzanne, he’s a writer and publisher of history books (he was just voted Spokane’s favorite author by Spokane Magazine), a passionate camper (he and Suzanne roam the Northwest in their elegant Ford F-450 and luxurious camper to do their field research), and a devoted rescuer of stray cats. (At the rear of the Bamontes’ garden is a complex of heated “kitty condos” where homeless felines can escape the winter snows.)

Nevertheless, the ethics that guided Bamonte as a sworn officer of the law still guide him as a citizen sworn to the same social contract. So the other day, former Sheriff Tony Bamonte wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and asked him to stop fooling around and do his job. Bamonte copied that letter to President Barack Obama. He asked the President, as the nation’s chief executive officer, to make General Holder do his job. (Read Bamonte’s letter here.)

Bamonte thinks it was his job to write that letter. And he thinks the President’s oath of office requires him to instruct the Attorney General to perform his duty.

A couple of things interest me about this not-so-little drama.

The first is that, whether the President ever sees the former sheriff’s letter, let alone acknowledges it, the letter was sent at a time when, for a variety of reasons, the chips are down for the American people—perhaps as never before. If ever there was a time when the American community—the American family, the American clan—desperately needed its government to honor the law and keep its covenants with them, that time is now. Corruption is as out of control in America as obesity. This at a time when challenges at home and abroad require historic moral and physical fitness of the nation.

The timing of Bamonte’s letter is especially awkward for the President himself in this fevered political season. More and more people who sent the President and his party to the White House now wonder if they made a mistake.

An earlier generation, although one of a different political bent, had similar doubts when the Watergate scandal broke. Fortunately—and not just for that generation—an “old incredible bastard” (President Nixon’s phrase) emerged to remind America of its values. That was Sam Ervin, the U.S. Senator from North Carolina.

Ervin scolded the Watergate perpetrators, who had broken their vows to society.

Ervin’s immortal words: “Men upon whom fortune had smiled benevolently and who possessed great financial power, great political power, and great governmental power undertook to nullify the laws of man and the laws of God for the purpose of gaining what history will call a very temporary political advantage.”

Famously, Sen. Ervin posed one of the great transformational leadership questions in U.S. history. Namely, whether the nation still wanted a government of laws and not of men.

A government of laws, of course, is what the Fourth of July celebrates. Government of men is the rule of tyranny over which America triumphed, shooting a beacon of hope around the world.

The nation’s answer to Sen. Ervin’s nettlesome question sent the 37th president into political disgrace and historical exile. It let the 38th president, Gerald Ford, announce: “… our great Republic is a Government of laws and not of men…”

Naturally, everyone knows about Watergate. Watergate, after all, was a crime involving the most powerful man on earth in the capitol of the world’s most powerful nation.

In contrast, almost no one knows about the River Park Square crimes Sheriff Bamonte alleges. River Park Square is just a downtown shopping mall in a little town most Americans don’t even know how to pronounce. (It’s Spocan, not Spocane.)

As political dramas go, Watergate seems to be Broadway. RPS seems like small town civic theater. But is it?

Watergate concerned a president who lied about political dirty tricks and dirty money being laundered into the purchase of the office of the “leader of the free world.” And it was about a former U.S. Attorney General (John Mitchell) who went to prison for his role in that crime.

Sheriff Bamonte’s criminal complaint concerns dirty money, too. And it is every bit as much a microscope slide of the deadly disease of public corruption against which democracy must endlessly defend itself or die.

Bamonte’s criminal complaint is based on accepted evidence that taxpayers were defrauded—retired economic crimes Det. Ron Wright has crunched the numbers and puts the tab at at least $87 million—by a highly orchestrated violation of municipal securities law, and also compelling evidence that a woman died as a result of criminal negligence on the part of those who orchestrated the fraud. Bamonte wrote Obama because every level of government, now including Obama’s Administration, has ignored the evidence and failed to enforce the law.

“RPS is now about the Obama Administration rendering criminal assistance to organized crime.” —Sheriff Tony Bamonte

“At first, my complaint was about organized crime at a local level,” says Bamonte. “It’s not just that anymore. Now it’s about government rendering criminal assistance to organized crime.”

And the buck stops with Obama.

But who is a former sheriff from a rural county in the woods of northeastern Washington, a rescuer of stray cats, to challenge a man with nuclear weapons at his disposal? That’s the part of Bamonte’s efforts that intrigues me.

“What I’m doing here takes patience,” says Bamonte. “There have always been people who break the law and there always will be. I know from experience that you can’t catch every criminal. But you can catch a lot of them if you take your time. And you can catch some of the worst if you’re systematic about it.”

Patience and commitment are what allowed Sheriff Bamonte to solve America’s oldest open murder case (see America’s Most Dangerous Cop and Deathtrap), and even retrieve the rusted remains of the murder weapon—a pistol—after the powerful Spokane River had thundered over it for half a century.

But I don’t think it’s just his tactical patience that gives Bamonte an advantage. What puts him on the right side of history, I think, is the historically validated power of truth verses the force of injustice. Truth, as Gandhi showed, aggregates mighty energies that stir humanity’s soul. Force creates counter-force and spends itself.

Power ennobles. Force debases.

Power is what let a “90-pound colored man,” as Gandhi has been called, bring the British Empire to its knees.

Ironically, power is also what let Churchill rally the British people against the Third Reich when their shared oaken heart—if they could find it—was all they really had. It wasn’t the “empire” Churchill saved—it was a spent force and couldn’t be saved. Churchill saved the British people by reminding them, as Sen. Ervin reminded the American people a generation later, of the bond they shared.

That bond, I think, reflects natural law. There’s a reason that human and animal societies bond together. It’s because they have to—the universe requires it of them—if they are to endure with any semblance of well-being.

I think it’s this honoring of natural law that gives us goose bumps sometimes when we hear the national anthem, that makes us feel as though we’re kneeling before what is truly Almighty. It’s this honoring of natural law, not some satrap’s mouthing of cheap jingoisms, that still sends the yearning, huddled, tired poor to our teeming shores. It’s not just free air they seek but the sun itself. Who doesn’t?

And that’s why there’s this tiny hieroglyphic in our genes that instructs us that in the end right must win. It will win, because it is the law upon which all other law is based. It is The Way. The only real question is whether we obey natural law or succumb to the terminal spirit sickness of fighting it.

It seems to take the darkest moments to bring forth those capable of reminding us of the truths referred to in the Declaration of Independence. They only become self-evident when we hurt enough to make us face the evidence. And what the evidence tells us, of course, is that we are not independent. We are not created to be. We are dependent upon the Energy from which life comes.

The evidence contained in Sheriff Bamonte’s complaint, I think, makes it clear that we really do live in one of those Condition Red times when there’s no safe alternative to facing the music.

Based on the lofty campaign rhetoric that swept him into office, Barack Obama should be able to appreciate such lessons of history if anyone can. Bamonte clearly has the patience to see what kind of student the President turns out to be—and the historian’s character to find the answer fascinating.


Filed under Public Corruption

Thank-You Note to a Wounded Vet

Art Guerrero

Had the following message the other day from a fellow who insists on confidentiality.

“Larry, I thought you’d enjoy this story because an email you sent some time ago regarding recognizing Viet Nam vets is partially responsible. I tell it to you on the understanding that neither I nor any of those involved have any desire for any publicity or recognition, so if you choose to use it in your journalistic endeavors, you do so without mentioning me or my role in it.

“The backstory is that I have a neighbor, Art Guerrero, who is a disabled Viet Nam vet who got ‘stitched’ with multiple AK47 rounds. Art is generally confined to wheelchair but has some upright mobility if he has something to hang onto and keep his balance. He’s been through a lot—for example, last summer he had to have a complete shoulder replacement. Think about that for a guy in a wheelchair. I can’t say we’re close friends, but I always stop and talk to him when I can, because I come away with a completely different perspective on the tribulations in my existence. He’s remarkable, always upbeat and positive and never, or rarely, ‘down’. Last winter I was tooling around on my ATV plowing snow in the neighborhood and I noticed that Art’s sidewalk wasn’t done, which raised all kinds of flags because his is always the first one done. He has a self-propelled snowblower that he can ‘walk’ behind, and he likes to do it, because it gives him mobility that he doesn’t otherwise have. Being the nosy fellow I am, I went to see what was wrong. He was in his driveway trying to shovel snow in his wheelchair (yes, he’s that kind of guy). I asked him what was going on and he told me his snowblower driveshaft broke. I asked him if he wanted me to do his driveway and sidewalk and he said, ‘Would you? That would be great.’ I then got to thinking—my ATV is totally hand operated—brakes, throttle, plow, all can be operated from the sitting position. So I said, ‘I’m happy to do it, but why don’t you do it, it’s all hand operated.’ After some coaxing, I got him on it and, of course, couldn’t get him off it. He tooled around the whole damn neighborhood moving snow from here to there and back with a grin clear across his face. He was a little kid in a sandbox with a new truck, and it was so cool.

“That got me thinking. I sent out an email to a bunch of buddies and contacted a couple of ATV shops in town. Virtually all of the people I contacted jumped on the wagon and a shop here in town, Colorado Powersports, went hunting after sending me an email to the effect, ‘Of course we want to be a part of this. Your email makes us think there are still some good people out there.’ The result was that last week a truck pulled up to Art’s house and offloaded a good used ATV with a new plow that has been specially modified to be completely controllable from the seat. (We even figured out a way he can change the angle of the plow.) When he was handed the title in his name, he asked who was responsible and, as we had all decreed, he was handed a note that read simply ‘Please accept this from a group of citizens who recognize, and appreciate, your sacrifice for your country.’”

The “Mystery Machine” arrives:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghjf7dncACo

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Filed under Vietnam Veterans