Clinton Lets Defense Contractors Bill Taxpayers for Megamergers

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

It’s the kind of story few reporters follow up on: In 1993 Bill Clinton’s Pentagon changed a long-standing policy, allowing big defense contractors to charge the government—that is, the taxpayers—for “restructuring costs” incurred when one defense giant gobbles up another. What have you heard about it since then?

This month the ASSOCIATED PRESS ran a wire story bringing readers up to date: So far the American taxpayer has picked up the tab for seven huge defense mergers and acquisitions, subsidizing such needy corporations as Hughes, Northrop, Lockheed, and—three times—Martin Marietta, from Newt Gingrich’s home district. The October 18 story, though teeth-clenchingly terse, also manages to report that the Pentagon is considering paying for eight more defense mergers, involving such pitiable wretches as General Motors, Raytheon, and Boeing.

A great story, but you probably didn’t read it in your town: A NEXIS search shows only a handful of daily papers picked up the item off the AP wire. Here’s the AP item, which we turned up on FOX MARKET WIRE. (Yes, we know it’s a Rupert Murdoch site, but sometimes that’s the price of speedy access.)



Uncovered Documents Highlight U.S.-Pinochet Involvement

October 29

While it’s unclear whether Chile’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet will have to stand trial for his crimes, newly released documents shed light on what a key role the U.S. government played in his rise to power.

The documents, obtained by the National Security Archive, are revealing. One State Department cable discusses the 320 executions that occurred in the three weeks following Pinochet’s rise to power. The same cable later reports on new U.S. loans to the dictator’s regime, and reiterates the U.S.’s “long-standing commitment to sell two surplus destroyers to the Chilean Navy [which] met with reasonably sympathetic response in Senate consultations.”

To read the best overview of the U.S. involvement in Chile—albeit without links to the new documents—check out Peter Kornbluh’s story in the investigative magazine, the CONSORTIUM. Kornbluh is the director of the National Security Archive, the watchdog group that got ahold of the documents in the first place (which makes you wonder why the CONSORTIUM isn’t linking to them).

By the way, a number of the papers of record recently equivocated on Pinochet. They did point out that he ruled a government that killed more than 3,000 of its own citizens, but they also emphasized that Pinochet oversaw the economic revitalization of Chile. The WASHINGTON POST even proclaimed that Pinochet “saw to the rescue of his country.” What isn’t mentioned in those stories: To this day Chile maintains one of the most unequal income distributions in the world.



Visiting with the Taliban Online

October 28

This week, the NEW YORK TIMES printed a really great synopsis of one of the most unbelievable sites on the Internet: Unfortunately, you need to pay to get the article from their archives. But we thought their idea was so good, we’re bringing you the highlights of it here, in an interactive format.

The Taliban have ruled Afghanistan for more than two years. Though they’ve brought a degree of peace to the wartorn nation, their reign of terror has led them to be labeled one of the world’s worst human rights violators.

The Taliban have also outlawed television and computers—which makes the existence of their Web site a bit of a mystery. But there it is, in all its glorified propaganda, including a link on “Why Women Should Stay in Their Houses.”

Despite an annoying ad window that pops up every time you load one of their pages, the site is well worth looking at. Some choice links:
Western culture has been sent packing from Afghanistan…. All vices, including co-education, music, video, VCR and immorality and immodesty, have been eradicated…. Purdah has been enforced and similarly no man was seen without a beard. The Western culture has been sent packing. —Sept. 6, 1998
“[R]eligion police gave hard Shar`ee punishment to three taxi drivers who had allowed (unescorted) women to sit in their taxis (and) issued an order according to which no women could go the a doctor even for medicine without (the accompaniment of a male relative). Similarly, some private schools for women were also ordered to be close which were opened in homes…” —July 19, 1998.
“Q: The UNO, America, Britain, in fact the entire Western media accuse the Taliban of violating the rights of women; of banning them from jobs, of ordering them to observe ‘Purdah’. The Taliban are also accused of depriving women of their right to education.

A: Men in the West have made women an object of their lust and desires. They have used them howsoever they pleased. When these slaves-of-their-desires had to go to work, to offices and factories, they dragged the women along with them too. Women were made to work in offices, restaurants, shops and factories for the gratification of their desires. In this way did the Western man destroy the personality, position and identity of a woman…”



Printer Shreds Magazine Critical of Monsanto

October 27

Here’s a story you haven’t heard about in the U.S. media: The ECOLOGIST, a green-oriented U.K. publication, devoted its entire October issue to Monsanto, a U.S.-based biotech/chemical corporation—but the issue never made it to the newsstand. Why not? Citing fear of British libel laws (which are tougher than those in the U.S.), the ECOLOGIST’s printer pulped the entire 16,000-issue print run—not sparing a single copy.

The MoJo Wire obtained a photocopy of the pulped issue (in unpulped format), which indeed focuses entirely on Monsanto. There doesn’t seem to be much new in it; instead, it brings together a lot of previous reporting about Monsanto—which is valuable in and of itself. It would have made for interesting reading (especially with catchy titles like, “‘Monsanto: You Have Shamed Us'” and “The Frankenstein Corporation”).

If the stories aren’t new, why did the printer get cold feet? They’re not talking. But Monsanto, according to a story in the GUARDIAN (LONDON), says it never threatened to sue the printer.

The MoJo Wire contacted the folks at the ECOLOGIST to ask whether they will post the issue on their Web site. They’re planning on it, but don’t have a specific date yet.

Stay tuned to the MoJo Wire in the coming days as we bring you more on the Monsanto-ECOLOGIST story.
Note:The GUARDIAN’s article isn’t available on its own Web site, so we’re linking you to a copy the ECOLOGIST has posted. We’ve checked; it hasn’t been altered (though there are ample typos).



Coral Reefs Doomed? U.S. Task Force Hears Grim News

October 26

Alarmed by world biologists’ predictions of doom, the Clinton Administration put together a high-level task force this summer to try to rescue endangered coral reefs. This month, reports ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS NETWORK, the task force heard scientific testimony that two-thirds of the world’s coral reefs are in trouble, and nearly half are likely to die of human-caused damage in the next 30 years.

The latest news flash: “Unprecedented coral bleaching throughout the Southern Hemisphere in the first half of 1998…similar findings are expected in the Northern Hemisphere.”

Related to warming ocean temperatures, bleaching is a poorly understood disease that kills corals. Hot spots created by El Niño are partly to blame, but this month’s testimony was scary: The international divers of Reef Check found a massive die-off of several coral species—even where El Niño has no effect. Though the task force has big plans to monitor and protect reefs, “it will all come to naught,” warned Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, “unless we get a firm grip on the global warming problem.”

Thousands of activists, students, and scientists believe it’s not too late, and they’re busting their butts to help save the reefs. To find out what they’re up to, and how you can help, check out the MoJo Wire’s own ACTION ATLAS OF CORAL REEFS.



Gingrich: “Redistricting is Everything”

October 23

What do you think is the most important issue to House Speaker Newt Gingrich as the millennium approaches? Abortion? Tax cuts? Viagra? According to John Nichols in THE NATION, it isn’t any of these things. Nichols makes a compelling case that the most important aspect of Gingrich’s continuing Republican revolution is redistricting. In fact, Nichols says, Gingrich himself has said, “Redistricting is everything.”

As the year 2000 Census approaches, Gingrich and the Republicans want to ensure that they are going to control the state legislatures—where much of the redistricting battles will take place. Just how important is this issue (which, on the face of it, seems as arcane to us as it probably does to you)? According to one Democratic strategist quoted in the article, “This is it. This is the game.” Find out why the election for your state representative may be more important than you possibly imagined.

Today’s Birthday Boy


Harvard Urges World Religions to Defend Environment

October 22

Should religion contribute to environmentalism? Hell yes, says a report by the Harvard Project on Religion and Equality released Tuesday at the United Nations.

According to the BOSTON GLOBE, the Harvard project, which “involved more than 1,000 scholars, clerics, and activists worldwide,” found that the world’s major religions have a great untapped potential to provide the moral force behind environmentalism. For example, most religions have values of ascetic simplicity that provide a strong philosophy against the wastefulness of today’s consumer society.

But too often, the project found, religions have failed to follow their philosophies to their logical conclusions, especially since the Industrial Revolution rolled in. The authors of the report—which seems more a declaration than a formal study—urge religious leaders to link their core values with saving the environment.

The idea isn’t new—some would say it’s as old as Noah’s ark—but it is intriguing, not least because it potentially aligns scientists and priests in the name of the environment. But, as with every issue dealing with science and religion, this one not without controversy: Some conservative Christians see the project as a surreptitious plot by the environmental movement to broaden its support base. They say the church’s role is to “tend to souls, not to the planet.”



The Myth of the Starving Artist

October 21

The myth of the starving artist has been debunked, reports the VILLAGE VOICE. Columbia University’s Research Center for Arts and Culture has just released a study which finds that the image of the poverty-stricken artist is largely a fable of ancient lore, at least in the U.S. In fact, the study contends, American artists are, and always have been, overwhelmingly middle-class.

The Columbia survey examined the income, education, community involvement, health coverage, legal and financial needs, technology ownership, and professional status of 7,700 artists throughout the country and found that, basically, they’re well-settled. The VOICE puts it succinctly: Artists are “Ozzie and Harriet with less colorful clothing and more Derrida on their bookshelves.”



Hyde Hired Private Eye to Investigate Critic

October 20

In yet another case of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do, it would appear that Congressman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) did one of the very things that conservatives have criticized Clinton for: hiring a private investigator to check into the background of one of his critics.

The CHICAGO TRIBUNE reports that House Judiciary Chair Hyde apparently hired a private investigator to check into the background of Tim Anderson. Private eye Ernie Rizzo confirms that Hyde hired him. Hyde claims that a “mutual friend” hired Rizzo as a favor to Hyde, and—get this—Hyde can’t remember who that friend was.

Perhaps Hyde’s biggest critic, Anderson has been trying to hold the congressman accountable for his role in the failure of Clyde Federal Savings & Loan of North Riverdale. Hyde’s involvement in that scandal led the Resolution Trust Corporation, the government’s official S&L bailout company, to sue Hyde—the only member of Congress bestowed with the distinction of defendant in the S&L fiasco.

To read all about Hyde’s role in the S&L failure, check out this article from the July/August 1996 issue of MOTHER JONES. Then read up on Hyde’s connections to Ernie Rizzo, P.I. on the TRIBUNE’s site.



ABC News Kills Story That Slams Disney

October 19

Every once in a while a story comes along that highlights why huge corporations owning news organizations can have a negative effect. Here’s one: ABC News killed a story last week because it stepped on the toes of ABC’s owner, the Disney Corporation. The story, which award-winning reporter Brian Ross and producer Rhonda Schwartz had worked on most of the summer, focused on safety and security issues at Disneyland.

Nobody doubts the story is legit; in fact, the WASHINGTON POST reports that “60 Minutes” is very interested in running it. Why is ABC News willing to give a good story to a competitor? Because the story, which originally was going to be about safety issues at many different theme parks, ended up focusing on Disney, and that’s a no-no. One ABC spokesperson told the NEW YORK TIMES, “We would generally not embark on an investigation that focused solely on Disney and that was not part of a broader story that involved other companies.”

The NEW YORK TIMES has the best piece on the story. Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay to access the story after 12 a.m. tonight. Otherwise, read the WASHINGTON POST version. It’s not bad, and it’s free.

P.S. I think the corporatization of media causes most of its harm by pressuring organizations to make more money, which means more entertainment-oriented news, less hard news, and fewer investigative stories. But that’s a discussion for another time.



California Censored Its Own Anti-Tobacco Ads

October 15

Two years ago MOTHER JONES reported that the State of California’s successful anti-tobacco ad campaign was getting its hands tied by Gov. Pete Wilson’s office. Well, the state legislature finally got around to looking into the charges, and conducted hearings a couple of weeks ago. Among the findings: The state government banned the use of many words from the ads, including “tobacco industry” and “addiction.”

According to Stan Glantz, a tobacco control advocate who is on the advisory board for the campaign, “California had the most successful program of its kind in the world. And then wrecked it.”

The best report on the hearings comes from NPR, which means you can’t read it, you need to hear it (and have the RealPlayer). Also, if you’re interested, check out “Nightline” tonight on ABC. They’re going to examine anti-tobacco ads.



CIA Misled Congress About Contra Drugs

October 14

Last week the CIA issued its final self-report on the allegations that Contras trafficked drugs and the CIA looked the other way. The report admitted that the CIA didn’t inform Congress of possible Contra drug-running in eight of 10 instances. Pondering his involvement over the CIA’s turning a blind eye to one Contra drug trafficker, one intelligence official said, “It is a striking commentary on me and everyone that this guy’s involvement in narcotics didn’t weigh more heavily on me or the system.”

Read the SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS’ concise, if a bit skimpy article on the report. Or, if you’ve got the time, read Robert Parry’s overview of the report. Parry co-wrote the first news story about Contra drug connections back in 1985. His analysis of the new report gets a bit bogged down in the details. Then again, it’s not as dull as reading the report itself.

We’d point to you to the definitive article if we could, but it’s slim pickings. The media has mostly ignored the release of the report. It was mentioned in a 600-word story on Page 7 of the NEW YORK TIMES. Neither the LOS ANGELES TIMES nor the WASHINGTON POST reported the new findings–though both papers ran lengthy stories two years ago attacking a story that connected the Contras and drugs.



Moyers Exposes Republican and Democratic Campaign Finance Crimes

October 13

Demonstrating once again why it’s the best prime-time news program on television, PBS FRONTLINE takes a hard look at “Washington’s Other Scandal”—campaign finance. In this report, Bill Moyers presents a scandal that knows no party lines and is almost completely ignored by the mainstream media. Moyers damns Republicans and Democrats alike here, uncovering egregious examples of elected and appointed officials who ran elaborate money-laundering schemes to bend the law or just break it. Be sure to read the transcript, which features a compelling story on Cheyenne-Arapaho land claims, and how the Democratic National Committee shook down the Native Americans until they cleaned out their tribal bank account in an attempt to get the White House to hear their case. The transcript includes this gem by Gore fundraiser Nathan Landow: “They want the land given back to them on a platter…. They’re a bunch of goddamn uneducated Indians.”



Bill Expands FBI’s Wiretapping Powers

October 12

Wouldn’t it be neat-o if the federal government had blanket authority to eavesdrop on each and every one of us? According to Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), they will—if President Clinton signs the just-passed Intelligence Authorization Act. Barr has never been one of our favorites, but he’s raised a valid issue here. Read how the FBI successfully sneaked a “roving wiretap” provision into the bill at the eleventh hour, allowing law enforcement agencies to tap telephones “used by or near targeted individuals rather than requiring authorization to tap specific phones.” In this (almost too) brief article, WIRED NEWS explains the bill and why it has everyone from ultra-conservatives to the ACLU worried.



Clinton Ignored Top Generals Before August Bombings

October 9

There has been a fair amount of criticism of the U.S. bombings of the Sudan and Afghanistan. But Seymour Hersh’s story in this week’s NEW YORKER provides the first look at the intense debate inside the government that has taken place since the bombings. Hersh interviewed over one hundred current and former government officials. What he found was a government divided over the evidence of, and logic for, the bombings.

Among the revelations:

  • The Clinton administration kept the planned missile attack secret from nearly all top military officials, including three of the four generals on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Some high level of secrecy certainly was appropriate. But now that military officials have seen how flimsy evidence the evidence was, a number of them believe the White House kept them out of the loop because they were afraid officers wouldn’t agree with the administration’s decision.

  • Attorney General Janet Reno was informed of the plan to attack just before the bombings. When she did find out, Reno objected, arguing that the evidence presented didn’t meet international standards of law.

  • FBI Director Louis Freeh, who is considered to have a chilly relationship with the White House, and who was in Africa leading the investigation of the U.S. embassy bombings, also was not consulted on the planned missile attacks. As a result, some believe that Freeh’s personal safety was put at risk.

  • Greatest Keystone Kops moment: After the bombings, the CIA admitted it hadn’t known that the Sudanese factory produced pharmaceuticals. Why were they so sure it didn’t make drugs? According to Hersh, “[I]ntelligence officers had searched the Internet and found no advertisements or promotional materials for medicine on Al Shifa’s Web site, and thus concluded that the plant was not in the pharmaceutical business.” The UN later reported that it had a contract with the factory to buy veterinary medicines.

    Unfortunately, the NEW YORKER article isn’t online. You’ll have to go to a bookstore (read it off the rack–it’ll take about fifteen minutes), library, or maybe your friend’s bathroom.



    Big Tobacco’s Plan for Celeb Spokespeople

    October 7

    The ST. PAUL (MINNESOTA) PIONEER PRESS reported yesterday that the Tobacco Institute hatched a plan in 1990 to get celebrity spokespeople to speak out, if not in favor of smoking, then against the criminalizing of the habit. The institute had a long list of potential spokespeople, from author Tom Clancy to actor Mel Gibson. Obviously the plan was never carried out (unless you spotted, say, Bill Cosby, one of the actors they planned on approaching, smoking a butt and carrying on about the virtues of nicotine intake). In fact, none of the celebs were ever contacted by the Tobacco Institute. Too bad they couldn’t follow in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, Ted Williams, or Jimmy Stewart—all former spokesmen for cigarette companies.

    Click here for the story.



    Crony Capitalism on Wall Street

    October 5

    Last month Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan brokered a $3.6 billion bailout for Long-Term Capital Management Fund, the hopelessly indebted “hedge fund” run by John Meriwether, a man who previously was forced to step down from Salomon Brothers for his involvement in illegally rigging the U.S. Treasury bond market. The bailout allows the investment banks who made foolish loans to LTCM to try to recoup some of their losses in liquidation. Wall Street critics say a different bailout plan was better for investors, but Greenspan insisted on this one.

    Why? While the U.S. press carried Greenspan’s official explanation–the deal was needed to prevent panic among wealthy investors–the foreign press was quick to find cronyism at the highest levels. As the FINANCIAL TIMES OF LONDON reports, LTCM board member David Mullins is a friend of Greenspan and was formerly Greenspan’s deputy at the Fed–where he helped investigate Meriwether in the Salomon scandal. And top executives at Merrill Lynch and Paine Webber, both bailout participants, have large personal investments in LTCM.

    Congress is now asking whether the big investment banks will be allowed to collude in dividing up the spoils to limit their losses. “We hear a lot of speeches about free enterprise and the marketplace, but a lot of folks don’t like to practice it,” Rep. Bruce Vento (D-Minn.) said Thursday. “There seem to be two rules, a double standard: one for Main Street and another one for Wall Street.”

    Tip: To read the FT story you’ll have to register, but it’s free and quick (and you can always give bogus personal information to gum up their marketing data).



    Audubon Board is Lubed with Oil Executives

    October 2

    Bird lovers: Who you gonna call when the American Petroleum Institute (API) wants to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Don’t count on the National Audubon Society. The big-time environmental group is cozy with the oil lobby; not only does Audubon make money off oil wells in a Louisiana wildlife refuge, but its board currently includes two heavyweight oil executives, one the recipient of API’s highest award, the other currently on API’s board. So say Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair in their new column “Nature and Politics” in that troublemaking Seattle weekly EAT THE STATE!

    Tip: Scroll down to the second item (though the first bit, about Al Gore’s weird behavior on a Grand Canyon float trip, is amusing too).



    You’re Already Eating It: Bioengineered Grub

    October 1

    While you’re busy deciding whether you even like the idea, genetically engineered foods are already on your table, says a Purdue University professor in an oddly punchless story by the ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS NETWORK. Apparently–the writer never quite says so–Purdue researchers did a quick survey and found that genetically engineered enzymes are already used in two-thirds to three-quarters of all cheese produced in the U.S.; Bt corn is in widespread use in breakfast cereal, taco shells, and soda pop; BST bovine growth hormone is used in one-third of all U.S. dairy cattle; and any product with soybean oil probably includes some from genetically engineered beans. Bon appetit.



    We have about a $200,000 funding gap and less than a week to go in our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, this week so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

    Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

    payment methods


    We have about a $200,000 funding gap and less than a week to go in our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, this week so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

    Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

    payment methods

    We Recommend


    Sign up for our free newsletter

    Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

    Get our award-winning magazine

    Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


    Support our journalism

    Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.