Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Irishman and the Assassination of JFK

Time to end my two year sabbatical from blogging.  Part of the reason why I put American Judas on hold was because I changed jobs in the summer of 2018 and I wanted to focus on learning my new job and performing it to the best of my ability, which I feel I have.  But the main reason is that I just didn't feel inspired to write.  So pardon me if I'm a bit rusty after a prolonged writer's block.

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Martin Scorsese, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What's inspiring me to write is the upcoming release of Martin Scorsese's new film, The Irishman, in theatres on November 1 and on Netflix starting November 27.  This movie is based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt.  I received this book as a gift from one of my best friends and found it quite fascinating.  It details five years of interviews, intertwined with Brandt's historical context and perspective, that the author did with Frank Sheeran.  Sheeran was a labor union official in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) whose close friend and mentor was the infamous president of the Teamsters, Jimmy Hoffa.  But prior to meeting Hoffa, Sheeran's close friend and mentor was Russell Bufalino, the Mafia boss of Northeastern Pennsylvania.  During the interviews, Sheeran admitted that he would "paint houses" for both Bufalino and Hoffa, which was their code for murdering someone.  But the biggest revelation Sheeran made in the interviews is that of the more than twenty-five hits he did for the Mob and for Hoffa, the one that haunted him most to confess to was that he murdered Jimmy Hoffa on July 30, 1975.

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Jimmy Hoffa, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Scorsese is one of my favorite directors and I'm looking forward to seeing this movie because my hope is that returning to the familiar milieu of mobsters inspired Scorsese to return to the great filmmaking of Goodfellas and Casino.  I'm also looking forward to seeing him reunite with Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel and Robert DeNiro, who will be playing Frank Sheeran.  Yet another reason I can't wait to see this movie is that this is the first time Scorsese will be working with Al Pacino, who will be playing Jimmy Hoffa.  But the most compelling reason I have for seeing this movie is to see if Scorsese and screenwriter Steven Zaillian include what I consider to be the most explosive detail of the book: that Jimmy Hoffa was murdered by the Mafia to cover up their involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

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President John F. Kennedy, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I've written many blog entries on the JFK assassination and have tried to be consistent in placing responsibility for his murder on the Military-Industrial Complex.  But I've also tried to detail how the CIA and the Mafia were used as tools to achieve this ignominious result.  In my blog post, "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Acting)," I explained where I thought the role of the Mob fit in:

"A good way to explain this is to say it occurs at a "low level", as the Jim Garrison character played by Kevin Costner in the movie JFK described the level the Mafia operated at in the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy:
Jim Garrison: I don't doubt their involvement, Bill, but at a low level. Could the mob change the parade route? Or eliminate the protection for the President? Could the mob send Oswald to Russia and get him back? Could the mob get the FBI, the CIA, and the Dallas Police to make a mess of the investigation? I mean, could the mob get the Warren Commission appointed to cover it up? Could the mob wreck the autopsy? Could the mob influence the national media to go to sleep? And since when has the mob used anything but .38s for hits up close? The mob wouldn't have the guts or the power for something of this magnitude. Assassins need payrolls, schedules, times, orders. This was a military style ambush from star to finish. A coup d'etat with Lyndon Johnson waiting in the wings. "

The author of I Heard You Paint Houses, Charles Brandt, doesn't really delve into the "levels" of the JFK assassination, probably because the focus of his book is a Mafia hit man, Frank Sheeran.  Sheeran's perspective is limited to his personal experience.  But because his experience includes personal friendships and business relationships with Russell Bufalino and Jimmy Hoffa, it gives the reader an extraordinary story on what events lead up to Hoffa's disappearance.  Hoffa was released from prison in 1971, having served four years of a thirteen year sentence for bribery, jury tampering and fraud, when President Nixon commuted his sentence on the condition Hoffa refrain from union activity until 1980.  There were rumors that the Nixon administration was bribed to pardon Hoffa in exchange for an endorsement by the IBT to re-elect Nixon in 1972.  Sheeran admitted in his interviews with Brandt of at least two separate occasions, in May 1971 and October 1973, where he delivered a suitcase filled with at least six-figures worth of cash to none other than Attorney General John Mitchell.

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Attorney General John Mitchell, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hoffa sued to invalidate this restriction from union activities on his pardon in court, but lost in 1974.  By 1975, Hoffa was not only appealing this case at the next judicial level, he was making noise that he wanted to run for President of the IBT in 1976.  As part of his campaign to depose the current Teamsters president, Frank "Fitz" Fitzsimmons, Hoffa said publicly that he was going to expose the alleged mob connections that Fitz had.  This was upsetting to mobsters like Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano that had been affiliated with the Teamsters prior to Hoffa's prison term.  Sheeran tried explaining to Bufalino, who was much higher up the Mafia food chain than Tony Pro, that Hoffa was "puffing"; letting off steam but not really going to expose anyone.  But Russell Bufalino knew too many important people who were worried about Hoffa's behavior and insisted on meeting with him at a bar in Philadelphia called Broadway Eddie's on October 17, 1974.  Frank Sheeran gave his perspective on what happened that night.

From I Heard You Paint Houses, pages 239-242:

There were about sixty people at Broadway Eddie's that night.  The only ones who were at a table eating were Angelo, Russell, Jimmy, and me.  The rest were at the bar.  Trays of food kept coming out of the kitchen for the people at the bar.  Jimmy was having spaghetti and meatballs, and I was having raviolis.  The four of us were sitting in a row.  When you wanted to talk you had to lean out a little bit.  Angelo was on the end next to Russell, and Jimmy was between Russell and me.

Angelo didn't say anything and I didn't say anything the whole time.  They knew I was for Hoffa.  I had Hoffa stickers all over my Lincoln.  There was no prolonged conversation about what they were there for.  I would imagine Jimmy knew why he was asked to be there, but I don't know.

"What do you want to run for?"  Russell asked.

"It's my union," Jimmy said.

"You only have four years to wait.  You could run in eighty.  That would make sense."

"I could run now.  I've got the people with me."

Jimmy wasn't being fresh, but he was being firm.  Russell didn't say anything about the way Jimmy was campaigning and the things Jimmy was going around saying about the alleged mob.  But Jimmy had to know that such talk in public would be of concern to Russell.  Jimmy knew about Joe Colombo and the publicity he brought and Crazy Joey Gallo.  Jimmy knew how all of Russell's problems began with the publicity from Apalachin.  At least Jimmy should have been wondering what was causing Russell to go from being behind Jimmy and meeting with Fat Tony to help Jimmy in 1976, and now talking this way about things. 

"What are you running for?"  Russell said.  "You don't need the money."

"It's not about the money," Jimmy said.  "I'm not letting Fitz have the union."

Russell didn't say anything for a minute.  He just ate in silence.  People didn't say no to Russell and he usually never had to ask twice.

Jimmy said, "I'm going to take care of the people who've been fucking me."

Russell turned to Jimmy and was now facing Jimmy and me both.  "There are people higher up than me that feel that you are demonstrating a failure to show appreciation," and then he said so softly that I had to read his lips, "for Dallas."

Jimmy did not respond to that.

Russell turned away and made some small talk with Angelo and that meant the meeting was over.  We finished eating.  I sat there thinking that this was it.  The people had talked among themselves and Russell was now speaking for them, and they were against Jimmy running and Russell was, too.  Tony Pro had won the battle for their hearts and minds.  I had the feeling that it wasn't that Jimmy was running that was costing his support among his friends; it was the way he was running.

I didn't know how serious it was for Jimmy until Jimmy and I were getting ready to leave.  Russell took me aside and said, "Some people have a serious problem with your friend.  Talk to your friend.  Tell him what it is."

"I'll do my best.  You know yourself, Russ; he's tough to talk to."

"He's got no choice."

"Jimmy's pretty high up himself," I said.

"You're dreaming, my friend.  If they could take out the president, they could take out the president of the Teamsters."

Jimmy liked the Warwick Hotel.  It was around Seventeenth and Walnut, a short ride from Broadway Eddie's in my Lincoln with the Hoffa stickers.  I went up to Jimmy's room with him to have that talk with him, but Jimmy started talking first.

"Everybody wants Hoffa to back down.  They're all afraid of what I know.  I got a package here I want you to take down to the Market Inn."  Jimmy handed me a small satchel, not too heavy.  It had no name on it.  Whoever it was for would know enough to come for it.

"That reminds me, Jimmy," I said.  "I've been meaning to tell you this before; Mitchell stopped down the hall last spring and told me to tell you not to run.  He said to enjoy your pension and your grandchildren."

"That doesn't surprise me.  That fucking Mitchell already told me, 'Don't even think about using what you think you know.'"

"I didn't know what Russell was going to say to you tonight, Jimmy," I said.  "But I know they mean it, Jimmy.  On the way out tonight Russell told me to tell you what it is."

"If anything unnatural happens to Hoffa, I can tell you all hell with break loose.  I've got more records and lists ready to be mailed out to the media than you can imagine.  I've had too many motherfuckers in my life I thought I could trust.  I need more people like you.  And I have them now.  I know who my friends are."

"Jimmy, you're doing a lot of puffing that has people concerned."

"That's just the tip of the iceberg, the tip of the iceberg.  Let me tell you - Dallas, did you hear that word tonight?  Remember that package you took to Baltimore?  I didn't know it then, but it turns out it was high-powered rifles for the Kennedy hit in Dallas.  The stupid bastards lost their own rifles in the trunk of a Thunderbird that crashed when their driver got drunk.  That pilot for Carlos was involved in delivering the replacements that you brought down.  Those fuckers used both of us on that deal.  We were patsies.  What do you think of that?  They had fake cops and real cops involved in it.  Jack Ruby's cops were supposed to take care of Oswald, but Ruby bungled it.  That's why he had to go in and finish the job on Oswald.  If he didn't take care of Oswald, what do you think they would have done to him - put Ruby on a meat hook.  Don't kid yourself.  Santo and Carlos and Giancana and some of their element, they were all in on Kennedy.  Every single one of the same cast of characters that were in on the Bay of Pigs.  They even had a plot to kill Castro with Momo and Roselli.  I've got enough to hang everybody.  And every last bit of it comes out if anything unnatural happens to me.  They will all pay.  All those who fucked me will pay."

I sat there with the satchel in my lap.  Jimmy would sometimes get on a kick and there was no stopping him.  You just listened.  But I never saw him like this before.  This time it was unreal.  There was nothing for me to say even if I was inclined to do any talking.  If the room was bugged I didn't want my voice on anything.  Picking up high-powered rifles - man, oh, man.

"You don't know the half of it.  Fitz's stupidity is only exceeded by his arrogance.  They thought Hoffa was going to drop off the face of the earth.  None of them have got an ounce of balls to face me.  My Irish friend, there are things I can't tell you because it would cost you your life to know them.  There are secret things I have known, seen, and supported that would rock this nation."

According to Frank Sheeran, this is what sealed Jimmy Hoffa's fate.  Nine months later, Hoffa disappeared forever.  I'll leave out Frank's details on how Hoffa was murdered; either read the book or watch the movie when it comes out.  What I want to address is that there are certain details in this account, because of significant prior research I have done on the JFK assassination, that strike me as being highly credible.  Hoffa's rant in the hotel room with Sheeran dovetails with a number of other details confirmed within the JFK assassination research community, such as the involvement of Santo Trafficante, Carlos Marcello and Sam Giancana, the Mafia connection with Jack Ruby, and the overlap between the characters who orchestrated the hit on JFK also orchestrating the Bay of Pigs.  Hoffa's mention of Sam "Momo" Giancana and Johnny Roselli teaming up with the CIA to whack Castro has pretty much been accepted by the mainstream.  I suppose a Warren Commission apologist could dismiss this account, which Sheeran divulged to Brandt in 1999, as an imaginative retelling of conspiracy theories well known by the public at that time.  But there's one detail not so well known that sticks out like a crawling cockroach on a white rug:

The stupid bastards lost their own rifles in the trunk of a Thunderbird that crashed when their driver got drunk.

When I first read this passage, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  A Thunderbird with rifles in the trunk?  It sounds like a throwaway line, but it reeked of familiarity to me.  Where had I read about this before?  I searched through my library and found the answer.  Oswald Talked: The New Evidence in the JFK Assassination, an obscure book written by Ray and Mary La Fontaine in 1996, had a unique perspective in that their evidence originated from assassination files released in Dallas in 1992 in the wake of the furor surrounding Oliver Stone's film JFK.  They obtained arrest records from the Dallas Police Department that had previously been classified.  In the course of their research, they discovered the arrest records for the "three tramps."  The identities of the "three tramps" have long been the subject of debate in the JFK assassination research community as possibly being hit men like Charles Harrelson, perhaps even Watergate felons Frank Sturgis and E. Howard Hunt, disguised as hobos.  The La Fontaines verified the identities of the three tramps arrested were Gus Abrams, Harold Doyle, and John Forrester Gedney.

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The Three Tramps, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

So why did the authorities cover up the identities of these seemingly innocuous people for so long?  Perhaps because there was a fourth arrest that day in Dallas, one John Franklin Elrod, who tried to inform the FBI in August of 1964 that he shared a cell with Lee Harvey Oswald on November 22, 1963.  The FBI tried to discredit Elrod by denying he was incarcerated in Dallas that day and burying his report for three decades.  What did Elrod inform the FBI about concerning Oswald?

From Oswald Talked, page 16:

Elrod informed the deputies on that August morning that what he hadn't been able to get out of his head were some remarks his Dallas cellmate had made shortly after they were locked in together.  A man with a gruesomely battered face had been led through the corridor outside their cell.  He was an inmate with an escort of guards.  Elrod heard his cellmate say he recognized the injured inmate despite his "smashed up" face.  He had met him previously in a motel room with four other men, he said.  The men in the room had been advanced money under some type of contract, and the man with the injured face received some of the money.  He wasn't injured then and drove a car loaded with guns, a Thunderbird.  That was what Elrod could remember his cellmate saying, except for the most important thing: that one of the men in the motel room had been Jack Ruby.

The La Fontaines were able to verify that Lawrence Reginald Miller was the passenger of a 1962 Thunderbird who smashed his face into the windshield when the car crashed after being chased by the Dallas Police Department who staked out the illegal gunrunning.  After being treated at Parkland Hospital on November 18, 1963, Miller was remanded to the Dallas city jail, where he stayed until November 25.  The driver of the Thunderbird, Donnell Darius Whitter, who ended up with a four year prison sentence for his crimes, worked at a Texaco Service Station where he would service the car of Jack Ruby whenever he came into the station.

I sincerely doubt any of these inconvenient details will make their way into The Irishman.  When I finished reading the book, I worried that Scorsese might try to sidestep the JFK aspects of the story and just focus on the gangster details.  It remains to be seen exactly what will be included, but this portion of Owen Gleiberman's review of the movie gives me hope it might be more than I expect:

The film presents the JFK assassination as an underworld conspiracy, and whether or not you buy that, the triangle of the mob, the Teamsters, and the JFK administration, with the former bootlegger Joe Kennedy called upon to repay favors, makes for a thrillingly entangled political spider web.
It would be a stretch to call “The Irishman” topical, yet in its way the film could hardly be more timely. It’s a vision of outrageous power flying too close to the sun. And when Pesci’s terse, demonically understated Bufalino, behind his death-shield horn-rims, tells Frank that the order has come down from on high, the movie gives off a resonating chill.

What exactly did Bufalino mean by "people higher up than me" or in Gleiberman's words, "the order has come down from on high"?  Trafficante, Marcello and Giancana (who was murdered one month prior to Hoffa's disappearance and five days prior to his scheduled testimony to the Church Committee on the mob's role in a CIA plot to kill Castro) were not higher up the Mafia hierarchy than Bufalino; they were equals.  I really believe this is a reference to the realm of Deep Politics and the intersection of organized crime and intelligence black ops.  I used to call it the Deep State, in reference to Peter Dale Scott's concept of it, but I can't anymore.  I can't even stomach including those words on my page header anymore.  Perhaps part of what has depressed my desire to blog has been witnessing how the far right has expropriated the phrase and perverted its original meaning.  Just walk into your local Barnes and Noble store and check out their current events shelves to see what I mean: dozens of books with the words 'deep state' plastered on the covers from the likes of Sebastian Gorka and Newt Gingrich, as if they were completely separate and disconnected from it.  Besides, it is a global phenomenon involving multiple state actors, so Deep World is a more appropriate description.  But I won't use that either out of fear that phrase will also be expropriated for right-wing trendiness.  I'll use Michael Ruppert's phrase GlobalCorp because it acknowledges how their endgame is unsustainable in the context of the Carbon Crisis:

The problem lies in the definition of "The Powers That Be." Most people still think in terms of nation states. I always think in terms of money, even to the point of looking at money (the way it functions now) as the PTB without attachment to a human or national identity.

Not too long ago I had a dialogue with Catherine Austin Fitts after which an epiphany struck. As the human race blows itself into extinction, or destroys the climate, or starves itself to death, the last corporate merger and acquisition will take place. And at the same moment as mankind dies, the CFO of "GlobalCorp" will be shouting, "Hooray! We did it!"

Those who win in a rigged game get stupid. We have all played this game (to one degree or another). And compared to the rational, far-sighted humanitarians that Jefferson and Whitman hoped for and expected, we are all frightfully stupid.

If you see me blogging again, and I'll never say never where blogging is concerned, it is because I have found the inspiration to fight the stupid!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Tea Pot Dome, Watergate, Trump: Crime, Cover-up and Curious Death Comparisons

This is Robert Paulsen standing outside of Teapot Rock in Wyoming.  Nearby are the Teapot Dome oil fields that are notorious as the focus of the Teapot Dome scandal during the Harding administration in the 1920s.  Though Teapot Dome started as a bribery scandal, like most famous political scandals, it was the cover-up that really made the whole affair explode.

The origins of the Teapot Dome scandal began around 1909 when Navy administrators began converting their fleet from coal powered ships to oil powered ships.  As more ships were converted, Navy officials became concerned about the possibility of oil running out (an occurrence many Peak Oil deniers point to as a means of dismissing the notion it could ever happen).  The Navy asked Congress to set aside federally owned lands where oil deposits existed for protected reserves that would not be used except during a federal emergency.  Two of the three reserves, set aside in 1912, were in Elk Hills and Buena Vista Oil Fields in Kern County, California.  The other oil reserve set aside was Teapot Dome in Natrona County, Wyoming in 1915

The corruption that lead to scandal officially started with newly inaugurated President Warren G. Harding switching responsibility of these oil reserves from Navy to Secretary of Interior through Executive Order 3474 on May 31, 1921.  The Secretary of Interior was Harding's poker-playing buddy Albert Bacon Fall, who was a Senator from New Mexico until President Harding appointed him in March 1921.  It was Fall who actually wrote the Executive Order that Harding signed.  Once these oil fields were under Fall's control, he made secret deals with two powerful oilmen, Harry F. Sinclair of Mammoth Oil, a subsidiary of Sinclair Oil Corporation, and Edward L. Doheny of Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company.  Fall leased oil production rights to Doheny for the Elk Hills reserve and Sinclair for Teapot Dome.  Though both leases were issued without competitive bids, this was not illegal at the time.  What was illegal was the bribes of more than $400,000 that Fall accepted from Doheny and Sinclair for these leases. 
Albert Bacon Fall, Secretary of Interior convicted of bribery  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When independent oilman and future Democratic Governor of Wyoming Leslie Miller observed Sinclair trucks hauling drilling equipment into Teapot Dome, he was suspicious enough to ask Democratic Senator John B. Kendrick to look into it.  On April 15, 1922, Kendrick introduced a resolution calling for an investigation into the deal.  The leader of the investigation through the Senate Committee on Public Lands was Republican Senator Robert La Follette.  La Follette was a Progressive who would later launch a third party run for President in 1924.  Any suspicions La Follette may have had regarding the corruption involved in this deal would only have intensified after the quarters of his Senate Office Building were ransacked.

Ultimately, leadership of the inquiry fell to the most junior minority member of the committee, Democratic Senator Thomas J. Walsh of Montana, in October 1923.  By then, Fall had resigned from his position in January 1923, after delivering truckloads of documents to bury the investigators in a mass of paper.  At first, it seemed that there was no evidence of wrongdoing.  But Walsh's tenacity in investigating the leads proved that a cover-up was hiding the truth behind Teapot Dome.  Ironically, the cover-up involved the Washington Post.  As Chalmers M. Roberts wrote on June 9, 1977, "One of the oddities of the two scandals - Teapot Dome in the Harding administration and Watergate in the Nixon administration - was the reversed roles played by The Washington Post. In the case of Teapot Dome it was The Post's publisher who at first covered up for Fall until a probing senator caught him in a lie; in the case of Watergate The Post was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its public service in tracking down and exposing the wrong-doing."

The cover-up concerned a $100,000 "loan" that Fall received in late 1921 while he was the Secretary of the Interior.  Fall denied on the witness stand that the money was for compensation for the oil leases.  It seemed that when Fall's personal friend, Washington Post publisher Edward Beale (Ned) McLean, told Walsh's committee that he had loaned Fall the money, the trail had dried up.  But because McLean had stayed in Palm Beach, Florida, saying that a sinus condition prevented him from traveling to Washington to testify publicly, Walsh was suspicious and came down to Florida to interrogate him directly.  With the possibility of a perjury charge hanging over him, McLean admitted the truth: he hadn't lent Fall the money at all.  It turned out that the money came from Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company head Edward L. Doheny, who had suggested to Fall that he get McLean to say he lent the money. 
Edward L. Doheny  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At this point, the Teapot Dome scandal exploded.  President Calvin Coolidge, who came into office after the sudden death of President Harding on August 2, 1923, appointed two special prosecutors, Republican lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts and former Democratic Senator Atlee Pomerene, to take over the investigation.  Though Walsh originally thought some of McLean's coded messages implicated Coolidge in Teapot Dome, Roberts and Pomerene were unable to find evidence to confirm a criminal conspiracy went up that high.  They were able to file a total of eight cases, two civil and six criminal.  Two civil cases to cancel the disputed oil leases went to the Supreme Court; in both the Elk Hills and Teapot Dome oil fields both leases were voided in 1927 and production was shut down.  The criminal cases only resulted in one conviction: Albert Fall was convicted of accepting the bribe from Doheny, the first Cabinet member convicted of a crime committed while in office, and sentenced to one year in prison and fined $100,000.  Amazingly, Doheny was never convicted for any crime; in 1930 he was acquitted of offering the same bribe that Fall was convicted for, which lead one reporter to observe, "You can’t convict a million dollars."  The only other person to serve time in the Teapot Dome scandal besides Fall was Harry Sinclair, but not for the bribe: he was sentenced to nine months and served six months in jail for contempt of Congress and for hiring detectives to trail members of the jury in his original bribery trial for which he was acquitted.

While the number of convictions in this scandal pales in comparison to Watergate, Teapot Dome does share a notorious feature with it: a bizarre body count.  It's a popular misconception that nobody died from Watergate.  In addition to Nixon's Watergate operation linking back to his treasonous campaign sabotage of President Johnson's 1968 Paris peace talks that needlessly extended the death toll of the Vietnam War, there is also the curious matter of the plane crash of United Airlines Flight 553 on December 8, 1972.  43 of the 55 people aboard were killed, including Dorothy Hunt, who was carrying $10,000 in $100 bills when the plane crashed.  She was the wife of E. Howard Hunt, who organized the Watergate break-in.  On that date, prior to boarding the doomed flight, Dorothy, who had also been a CIA employee, had a meeting with CBS journalist Michelle Clark, who was working on a Watergate story, along with Chicago Congressman George Collins.  All three were killed in the subsequent plane crash.  FBI agents arrived at the scene of the crash before the Fire Department, which is suspicious considering the Fire Department received a call within one minute of the crash. One FBI agent confiscated a tape from the Midway Airport control tower that reportedly contained information of error or sabotage regarding Flight 553.  The day after the crash, a new Undersecretary of Transportation, who would supervise the two agencies investigating the crash - the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) - was appointed by President Nixon.  This was White House aide Egil Krogh, who would later plead guilty and serve four and a half months in prison for his role in the Watergate conspiracy.
Crash site of doomed Flight 553 which killed Dorothy Hunt  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There were two verifiable murder victims connected with Teapot Dome.  They were Theodore "Hugh" Plunkett and Edward L. Doheny Jr., known to the family as Ned.  Plunkett was a chauffeur for the entire Doheny family and was Ned's personal secretary and great friend, though one associate, Fredrick R. Kellogg said, "their relationship was more than that of friends."  Ned and Hugh's connection with Teapot Dome was very direct: in November 1921, they were the literal bagmen who delivered a small black bag filled with $100,000 to Albert Fall at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington D.C.  In May 1924 during his father's trial for conspiracy, Ned refused to answer questions about his role in delivering the money, but testified he and his father did nothing wrong.  Doheny Sr. was acquitted of that charge in 1926, but was later charged with bribery.  By the fall of 1928, both Ned and Hugh were called to testify in the upcoming bribery trials of Fall and Doheny.  But while Ned would have received immunity for his testimony, Hugh did not receive the same assurance.

Amidst all this, the Doheny family was moving into the 55 room mansion built on 429 Beverly Hills acres called Greystone which Hugh Plunkett had overseen the construction of while Ned was supporting his father through the Teapot Dome scandal in Washington.  Supposedly on Christmas Eve, Hugh suffered a "nervous breakdown" and on the afternoon of February 16, 1929, Ned, his wife Lucy, and the family Doctor Ernest Fishbaugh urged Hugh to enter a sanitarium.  We'll never know if this was just to get him mental help, to exempt him from testifying, or both, but Hugh refused.  Later that evening, both Ned and Hugh were found dead in a Greystone bedroom, both with a single shot to the head.  Though the official story was that Hugh murdered Ned, then committed suicide, there was plenty of contradictory evidence, such as false information from witnesses, and forensic investigator Leslie White's observation that Ned was shot at close range, while Hugh was not.  Since there was never an official inquest and District Attorney Buron Fitts declared the investigation closed, what actually happened will remain a mystery.  Greystone mansion still exists today and ironically was used as a filming location for the Paul Thomas Anderson film There Will Be Blood, which was based on the Upton Sinclair novel Oil!, which many say was inspired by the rise to power of Edward L. Doheny Sr.
Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, CA  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

So how do these monster political scandals of the 20th century stack up to current events?  There are some striking similarities where crime, cover-up and curious deaths compare to the crazy cacophony surrounding Donald John Trump.  There is certainly much debate, which will continue at least until Special Counsel Robert Mueller wraps up his investigation, about whether Trump and Russia colluded to steal the election, which is the primary charge among many leveled against him.  But even if that treasonous possibility doesn't pan out, the connections between the Trump campaign and Russia could encompass such corruption that crimes such as money laundering, perjury and obstruction of justice were committed by Trump and members of his campaign.

That there has been an active cover-up by Trump and his administration to obfuscate their machinations is fairly irrefutable.  Even if you defer judgment until Mueller completes his investigation on precisely what Trump meant when he told then FBI director James Comey regarding the agency's investigation into ousted national security advisor Michael Flynn that, "I hope you can let this go," that is hardly the only instance where a cover-up attempt backfired with Team Trump.  The most recent example is their reaction to the revelation of a meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer, among others that occurred June 9, 2016.  Originally when the New York Times broke this story on July 8, 2017, their response was coordinated (and dictated by Donald J. Trump Sr.) to only admit that the topic of adoption was discussed.  The following day, when the New York Times revealed five sources confirmed Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting on the basis that dirt on Hillary Clinton would be given to him, their cover story fell apart.
Donald Trump Jr.  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While the depth, severity and criminality of this scandal should probably be explored more thoroughly once the investigation is complete, there is one curious death tied to the Trump/Russia scandal that deserves closer scrutiny.  Republican operative Peter W. Smith was quite active during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two explosive reports from the Wall Street Journal.  Smith was trying to obtain stolen Hillary Clinton emails from hackers he assumed were affiliated with the Russian government.  He presented himself as working with top Trump adviser Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, both in his solicitations to the Russian hackers and his interview with the Wall Street Journal on May 4, 2017.  Ten days later, but six weeks before the Journal's story went to print, Peter W. Smith was found dead on May 14, 2017.

The Minnesota state death record said 81 year old Smith killed himself and was “found with a bag over his head with a source of helium attached” in a hotel in Rochester, Minnesota.  There was a suicide note recovered by police stating that there was "NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER" and that he took his own life because of a "RECENT BAD TURN IN HEALTH SINCE JANUARY, 2017" and because he had a policy of "LIFE INSURANCE OF $5 MILLION" about to expire.  In my research, I have yet to verify whether his policy would actually pay out for a suicide.  It's hard to believe his wife and three kids (with three grandkids) really needed that money, considering he had spent more than 40 years in the lucrative field of directing private equity firms in corporate acquisitions and venture investments.  More pertinent to my doubt, I have yet to verify if he actually signed the all cap suicide note or not.  The only recent bad turn in health attested to by one of Smith's former employees is a heart condition.  But Smith was getting treated for this condition at the nearby Mayo Clinic, which shows he was interested in getting better.  The Wall Street Journal writer who interviewed him, Shane Harris, says he saw no indication of bad health or suicidal behavior.
Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump  Photo courtesy of Business-Gazeta

What has been the Trump administration's reaction to the curious case of Peter W. Smith?  They told the Wall Street Journal that "if Mr. Flynn coordinated with him in any way, it would have been in his capacity as a private individual."  The problem with this non-denial denial that Smith was working for the Trump campaign is that his relationships with members of Team Trump are not limited to Flynn and his son.  In his efforts to seek out the hacked emails, Smith told potential collaborators that he was working "in coordination to the extent permitted as an independent expenditure" with Sam Clovis, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, as well as Flynn.  Bannon denied hearing of Smith, even though Matt Boyle, the Washington Political Editor of Breitbart, the publication run by Bannon until he left to join the Trump campaign, collaborated with Smith in an effort to force out Paul Ryan as House Speaker, a cause shared by Bannon.  Kellyanne Conway at least admitted to knowing him while claiming she hadn't spoken to him recently.  How did she know him?  Well, one way would have been through her husband, George Conway.  That relationship goes back almost two decades.  George was one of the "elves" working on the Paula Jones lawsuit against Bill Clinton.  Smith funded the lawsuit; he paid Arkansas state troopers to tell stories that they procured women for then-Governor Clinton in what was dubbed Troopergate, which lead to the Paula Jones case.  Smith has one other tie with a Trump campaign adviser going back two decades: Newt Gingrich.  Peter W. Smith donated more than $100,000 to Gingrich's controversial GOPAC political fund from 1989 to 1995, which made him the "No. 1 financial backer of Mr. Gingrich."

Whether all these ties with the tumultuous world of Trump lead to Smith's demise cannot be conclusively determined yet.  What does seem conclusive, looking over this seamy scope of history, is that the more they try to cover up the truth, the more they lose control.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Indivisible March in Los Angeles - August 26, 2017

Ever since the horrific events in Charlottesville two weeks ago, I've been aching to get out and protest.  This weekend, my wife and I attended the Indivisible March in Los Angeles to rally for women's rights and honor Heather Heyer, who was brutally run over and murdered by a Nazi terrorist in Charlottesville while counter-protesting against white supremacy.  It was an extremely hot afternoon, but we enjoyed meeting with friends and seeing so many people stand up against hatred.  I hope you enjoy the video we made of our time there.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

This Changes Everything Should Mean Everything

Several years ago, (six to be precise) I posted a column by Naomi Klein titled Capitalism vs. the Climate.  It is a brilliant piece that was published in The Nation, and it was refreshing to read thoughtful research that explained to a mainstream, albeit left-leaning, audience the environmental and economic correlation between peak oil and global warming, i.e. the Carbon Crisis.  I've been a fan of Klein ever since I read The Shock Doctrine so I was glad to see that in her research she had come to a lot of the same conclusions I had.  She spelled out quite clearly that we cannot have an economy based on infinite growth when we're stuck on one planet with finite resources, that the Carbon Crisis has brought civilization to the point that in order to survive, "it demands a new civilizational paradigm."  Klein even referenced the positive efforts of the Transition Town movement and warned of how Jevon's Paradox could undo the savings from energy efficiency if that savings is "simply plowed back into further exponential expansion of the economy, reduction in total emissions will be thwarted."
Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything  Source: Wikimedia Commons

When I found out Klein was writing a book on climate change and capitalism, I was eager to read her further research.  Not too eager; the hardcover edition of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate was published in 2014 and I waited until last year to read it when the paperback was on sale.  My take on it?  It is extremely well researched and well written.  I would grade it as being a very good book, but for certain reasons I'll elaborate on later, it falls shy of being a great book.  Klein does succeed in elaborating on the immediacy of our predicament and the necessity of the "new civilizational paradigm" mentioned in the initial column.  As she writes on page 347, "We know that we are trapped within an economic system that has it backward; it behaves as if  there is no end to what is actually finite (clean water, fossil fuels, and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions) while insisting that there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually quite flexible: the financial resources that human institutions manufacture, and that, if imagined differently, could build the kind of caring society we need."

This Changes Everything is really good when it takes on the shortcomings of politicians and activists on both sides of the issue.  It's pretty easy to tear apart the mindset of deniers, which Naomi Klein does with aplomb.  But she is even more incisive in her critiques of so-called environmentalists that have grown cozy with Big Business, green billionaires like Richard Branson that talk a good game to the press, but don't always put their money where their mouth is, and anyone who thinks that carbon offsets constitutes a sound policy to stop global warming.  To quote her on page 223: "The problem is that by adopting this model of financing, even the very best green projects are being made ineffective as climate responses because for every ton of carbon dioxide the developers keep out of the atmosphere, a corporation in the industrialized world is able to pump a ton into the air, using offsets to claim the pollution has been neutralized.  One step forward, one step back.  At best, we are running in place."

There are a couple of issues that prevent This Changes Everything from being truly great.  First, I thought that some of the scarier probabilities of the effects of global warming were somewhat soft-pedaled.  The only time that methane emissions were mentioned was in relation to fracked natural gas.  While Klein correctly mentions on page 143 that methane is "thirty-four times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide", at no point in the book does she mention how much methane is encased in clathrates in the Arctic Circle.  I have written about this issue in multiple entries on this blog and was surprised that the only time she mentioned methane releases due to global warming in connection with the Arctic was on page 15 where she states that 6 degrees of warming could set off a tipping point "like massive releases of methane from Arctic permafrost."  As I have written before, while methane releases from Arctic permafrost is a serious future tipping point, a massive release from methane clathrates in the Arctic is the more immediate threat with the melting of the Arctic ice cap set to happen any summer between now and 2018.  Klein overlooks this threat completely.

Second, while I felt that Klein boiled down the general philosophical points of the necessity to build "an alternative worldview," as she puts it on page 482, I was hoping for greater specificity of what that view entails.  I suppose this is more of nit-picky critique; the book doesn't set out to be a manifesto, and Klein does hit one point strong on page 179 that we need to avoid to succeed: centralizing.  "Authoritarian socialism and capitalism share strong tendencies toward centralizing (one in the hands of the state, the other in the hands of corporations).  They also both keep their respective systems going through ruthless expansion - whether through production for production's sake, in the case of Soviet-era socialism, or consumption for consumption's sake, in the case of consumer capitalism."  This is an excellent point I wish she could have expanded upon more in the context of our dependence on finite energy resources.  She never mentions peak oil by name in the book, though she does mention on page 147 that "global conventional oil production from "existing fields" will drop from 68 million barrels per day in 2012 to an expected 27 million in 2035."

Overall, Klein ends the book on a more positive note than she might had she completed the book, say, sometime after November 2016.   These words from page 481 really have a hopeful outlook for the future of humanity:

"So how do you change a worldview, an unquestioned ideology?  Part of it involves choosing the right early policy battles - game-changing ones that don't merely aim to change laws but change patterns of thought."

"Because if we are to have any hope of making the kind of civilizational leap required of this fateful decade, we will need to start believing, once again, that humanity is not hopelessly selfish and greedy - the image ceaselessly sold to us by everything from reality shows to neoclassical economics."

And from page 482:

"Fundamentally, the task is to articulate not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis - embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy."

Klein gets it.  Beyond changing laws, changing our environment, our economy or the essential way that money works, we have to change our minds; how we think.  No doubt she has been trying to effect that change, particularly through her work with  But what kind of backlash can we expect from those who find this paradigm shift a threat?  Klein addressed this on a slightly darker note in her column in The Nation six years ago:

"We know the answers already. The corporate quest for scarce resources will become more rapacious, more violent. Arable land in Africa will continue to be grabbed to provide food and fuel to wealthier nations. Drought and famine will continue to be used as a pretext to push genetically modified seeds, driving farmers further into debt. We will attempt to transcend peak oil and gas by using increasingly risky technologies to extract the last drops, turning ever larger swaths of our globe into sacrifice zones. We will fortress our borders and intervene in foreign conflicts over resources, or start those conflicts ourselves. “Free-market climate solutions,” as they are called, will be a magnet for speculation, fraud and crony capitalism, as we are already seeing with carbon trading and the use of forests as carbon offsets. And as climate change begins to affect not just the poor but the wealthy as well, we will increasingly look for techno-fixes to turn down the temperature, with massive and unknowable risks."

Sounds an awful lot like the present day, doesn't it?  I'm not just talking about the recent decision by Herr Drumpf to declare the departure from the 2015 Paris climate accord by the USA.  While I find that policy change disgusting, there was certainly nothing shocking about it.  It's not like he was ambiguous about his opinion of the Paris climate treaty during his campaign for the presidency.  But what I do find surprising is that in the midst of tweeting that he thinks global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese and employing lame humor about how we need global warming to counter snow in New York, the Trump administration is exploring real policy options to deal with the reality of global warming.  It's the option they want to employ that scares the hell out of me.

Team Trump Ponders Climate ‘Engineering’

Exclusive: Rather than take prudent steps to reduce the release of global-warming gases, some Trump advisers are pondering risky gambles to re-engineer the Earth’s climate, as Jonathan Marshall explains.

By Jonathan Marshall

While President Trump floors the accelerator to speed up global warming through executive orders and appointments of notorious climate deniers to his administration, more and more scientists are pinning their hopes on “Plan B”: planetary-wide interventions to engineer ways to avoid global climate disruption. But critics warn that such a prescription, however alluring, may be as bad as the disease.

President Donald Trump giving his weekly address on Feb. 25, 2017. (Screen shot from

Now, to compound the irony, members of Trump’s inner circle are touting climate engineering as a cheap way to insure the planet against harm without any need to change lifestyles or curb the oil and coal industries. They resemble compulsive eaters who count on frequent liposuction rather than maintaining strict diets to keep their body fat in check and stay healthy.

Evidence of climate disruption is all around us, including record-high temperatures, record-low sea ice, the die-off of major coral reefs, acidification of the oceans, drought-induced famines, and more extreme storm damage.

At the same time, climate scientists warn that barring breakthroughs in energy technology and adoption of cleaner transportation, industrial and agricultural processes, the world faces severe risks of economic and social disruption over the next half century from potentially irreversible warming.

Such considerations helped motivate more than 100 scientists and policy makers to meet in Washington, D.C., late last month to discuss some largely untested ways to prevent runaway warming by limiting the Earth’s absorption of solar radiation. These measures could include using aircraft to release tiny particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight, or using fleets of boats to spray the air with saline mist to promote the formation of reflective clouds.

Several prominent Trump supporters are big boosters of such climate engineering. For example, Newt Gingrich, the President’s close adviser and former House Speaker, gushed that it “holds forth the promise of addressing global warming concerns for just a few billion dollars a year. Instead of penalizing ordinary Americans, we would have an option to address global warming by rewarding scientific innovation.”

And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told investors in 2015, when he was still CEO of Exxon Mobil, “Our plan B has always been grounded in our beliefs around the continued evolution of technology and engineered solutions to address and react to whatever the climate system and its outcomes present to us.”


The article goes on to detail the possible problems associated with geoengineering, including regional famine and floods under some proposals or the depletion of the Earth's ozone layer under others.  None of these problems were news to me because Naomi Klein had already addressed them and many others in This Changes Everything.  From page 259:

"The cons are that, depending on which sun-blocking method is used and how intensively, a permanent haze could appear over the earth, potentially making clear blue skies a thing of the past.2  The haze could prevent astronomers from seeing the stars and planets clearly and weaker sunlight could reduce the capacity of solar power generators to produce energy (irony alert).

But the biggest problem with the Pinatubo Option is that it does nothing to change the underlying cause of climate change, the buildup of heat-trapping gases, and instead treats only the most obvious symptom - warmer temperatures.  That might help control something like glacial melt, but would do nothing about the increased atmospheric carbon that the ocean continues to soak up, causing rapid acidification that is already taking a heavy toll on hard-shelled marine life from coral to oysters, and may have cascading impacts through the entire aquatic food chain."

And from page 260:

"Oh, and another con: once you start spraying material into the stratosphere to block the sun, it would basically be impossible to stop because if you did, all the warming that you had artificially suppressed by putting up that virtual sunshade would hit the planet's surface in one single tidal wave of heat, with no time for gradual adaptation.  Think of the wicked witches of fairy tales, staying young by drinking ill-gotten magical elixirs, only  to decay and wither all at once when the supply is abruptly cut off."

What I appreciated the most to Klein's approach to this matter, beyond just detailing facts and spelling out how geoengineering would effect us on a physical level, was that she also explored historically and philosophically why this approach to dealing with global warming is so wrong.  Attending a conference on geoengineering in 2011 being held in the Buckinghamshire countryside about an hour and a half northwest of London at an estate called Chicheley Hall (which was once a set in a BBC production of Pride and Prejudice), Klein gained a unique perspective.  From page 266 and 267:

This is the strange paradox of geoengineering.  Yes, it is exponentially more ambitious and more dangerous than any engineering project humans have ever attempted before.  But it is also very familiar, nearly a cliché, as if the past five hundred years of human history have been leading us, ineluctably, to precisely this place.  Unlike cutting our emissions in line with scientific consensus, succumbing to the logic of geoengineering does not require any change from us; it just requires that we keep doing what we have done for centuries, only much more so.

Wandering the perfectly manicured gardens at Chicheley Hall - through the trees sculpted into lollipops, through the hedges chiseled into daggers - I realize  that what scares me most is not the prospect of living on a "designer planet," to use a phrase I heard at an earlier geoengineering conference.  My fear is that the real-world results will be nothing like this garden, or even like anything we saw in that technical briefing, but rather something far, far worse.  If we respond to a global crisis caused by our pollution with more pollution - by trying to fix the crud in our lower atmosphere by pumping a different kind of crud into the stratosphere - then geoengineering might do something far more dangerous than tame the last vestiges of "wild" nature.  It may cause the earth to go wild in ways we cannot imagine, making geoengineering not the final engineering frontier, another triumph to commemorate on the walls of the Royal Society, but the last tragic act in this centuries-long fairy tale of control.

This is the crossroads that humanity faces.  Whether we face it with Trump in charge, or Pence, or whoever, Klein's book is an important guide for navigating the terrain we must pass through to ensure our survival.  That's no understatement; barring some fantastic breakthrough that enables humans to travel faster than the speed of light (or clean up Mars with the same speed), this is the only planet we have to survive on.  Klein sums it up best on page 279, "We did not create it; it created - and sustains - us.  The earth is not our prisoner, our patient, our machine, or, indeed, our monster.  It is our entire world.  And the solution to global warming is not to fix the world, it is to fix ourselves."

Monday, April 10, 2017

How Standard Oil and GM Stymied Los Angeles Public Transportation

Editorial note from Robert Paulsen:  This post is a synthesis of two earlier posts, Los Angeles and the Great Interstate Highway Conspiracy and Los Angeles and the Great Interstate Highway Conspiracy Part Two, for the purposes of creating a vlog pertaining to the subject.  Below is a link to the video and the transcript.

This is the Seattle Center Monorail, built for the Seattle World's Fair in 1962 and still operating today.  I've always wondered why this form of mass transit never caught on in Los Angeles where I'm from.  The truth is the Alweg Monorail Company, responsible for the Seattle and Disneyland's Monorail offered to build this sort of thing for Los Angeles in 1963.  What happened?

In the aftermath of gaining international recognition for their monorail at the 1962 Seattle Century 21 Exposition, the Alweg Monorail Company wanted to establish a major presence in the world of urban rail transit.  On June 4, 1963, the President of the Alweg Rapid Transit Systems, Sixten Holmquist wrote a letter to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) of Los Angeles with an official proposal.  It stated, "We are pleased to submit this day a proposal to finance and construct an Alweg Monorail rapid transit system 43 miles in length, serving the San Fernando Valley, the Wilshire corridor, the San Bernardino corridor and downtown Los Angeles."  In specifying the financial details, in which the complete system amounted to $105,275,000, the proposal, which was also presented to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, stated, "this is a turn-key proposal in which a group will share risk, finance the construction, and turn over to MTA a completed and operating system to be repaid from MTA revenues."

So why didn't the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approve this proposal?  It was opposed by Standard Oil.  According to Kim Pedersen, a former Alweg engineer explained that there was initially a lot of excitement for the proposal.  But then political pressure from Standard Oil dampened their enthusiasm.  According to page 170 of American Society of Civil Engineers - Los Angeles Section, political pressure may also have come from General Motors against the project.  Famed author Ray Bradbury rallied against this pressure by stating, "A single transit line will not answer our problems; we must lay plans for a series of transportation systems that would allow us to move freely, once more, within our city.  The answer to all this is the monorail."  For all his objections, Bradbury was thrown out of the Board of Supervisors meeting.  Walt Disney also supported the monorail, but unfortunately their influence was unable to match Standard Oil and GM.
Standard Oil "Octopus"  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

But this wasn't the first time that Standard Oil and GM stymied public transportation in Los Angeles.  Their most infamous collusion is known as the Great American Streetcar Scandal.  Between 1938 and 1950, the transit systems in more than 25 cities were bought out by National City Lines (NCL) and replaced by GM buses.  Who controlled National City Lines?  Well, their list of investors included Firestone Tires, Phillips Petroleum, Mack Truck Company, Standard Oil and, at least since 1946 when American City Lines merged with NCL, General Motors.  Despite public opinion polls that, in Los Angeles for example, showed 88 percent of the public favoring expansion of the rail lines after World War II, NCL systematically shut down its streetcar systems until, by 1955, only a few remained.  L.A. had two popular trolley systems; the Pacific Electric "Red Cars" and the Los Angeles Railway "Yellow Cars."  While National City Lines owned only the Yellow Cars, because both systems were often used in conjunction by travelers and cutting service on one line made the other less convenient than automobiles, both systems failed and were dismantled.  While General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone Tires may not have bought the Red Car just to destroy it, like the Judge Doom character played by Christopher Lloyd did in the final act of the 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the result was identical.

They didn't go down without a fight, however.  On April 9, 1947, nine corporations and seven individuals (comprising officers and directors of certain of the corporate defendants) were indicted in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California on two counts under the U.S. Sherman Antitrust Act. The charges were conspiracy to acquire control of a number of transit companies to form a transportation monopoly, and conspiring to monopolize sales of buses and supplies to companies owned by the City Lines.  In 1948, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed lower court rulings and allowed the venue to be changed from Southern California to Northern Illinois.  In 1949, the defendants were acquitted on the first count of conspiring to monopolize transportation services, but they were found guilty on the second count of conspiring to monopolize the provision of parts and supplies to their subsidiary companies.  What was their penalty for this criminal conspiracy?  The companies were each fined $5,000, and the directors were each fined one dollar!  Amazingly, they had the audacity to appeal this slap on the wrist, but the verdicts were upheld in 1951. Pacific Electric "Red Cars" lined up for destruction  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Destroying the trolley system and replacing it with buses was only the first step. In order for private cars to become the dominant American transportation, they needed new roads to drive on.  GM helped create the  National Highway Users Conference, which became a powerful DC lobby group for interstate highways.  When GM President Charles Wilson became Secretary of Defense in 1953, he used his position to claim that a new road system was vital to U.S. security needs.  Backing him up in this regard was Federal Highway Administrator Francis DuPont, whose family was then the largest GM shareholder.  In 1956, Congress approved a bill introduced by Senator Albert Gore, Sr., the $25 billion Federal-Aid Highway Act.  Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks called it, "the greatest public works program in the history of the world."  That may or may not be true, but in Los Angeles, we call it "gridlock."