Sunday, August 29, 2010

Inside The LC: Part XVII

Inside The LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation
May 21, 2010

“[Gene] used to slip into these dream states, which I thought was really amazing. He’d go into these dream states and lay down on the couch and go, ‘I’ll be right back, Patrick.’”
Pat Robinson, a friend and bandmate of Gene Clark

“[Gene] had these multiple personalities.”
John York, another friend and bandmate of Gene Clark

“[Gene] did seem like he had a lot on his mind and would often appear distracted. You’d say, ‘Hey, Gene, what are you thinking?’ and he would go, ‘Huh? Oh,’ like he was being brought back to reality.”
Bernie Leadon, yet another friend and bandmate of Gene Clark

In many ways, the Gene Clark story reads a lot like the Gram Parsons story. Both were considered by their peers to be among Laurel Canyon’s brightest stars, yet both are now largely forgotten. Both of their lives were cut tragically short (though Clark lived considerably longer than Parsons). Both of their deaths were overshadowed to some extent by unusual events that occurred just after their passing. Both were considered pioneers of the country-rock genre. Both played for a time with the Byrds. Both recorded duets with Emmylou Harris, and both employed many of the same musicians on their various solo projects. Both had legions of female admirers. Both had a keen interest in UFOs and believed in alien visitations. Both were notorious drug and alcohol abusers.

Did anyone notice anything unusual, by the way, about that last sentence? Probably not, though there is an obvious redundancy on display. If I had written something slightly different, like “drug and heroin abusers” or “drug and cocaine abusers,” you likely would have picked up on it right away. But because I used a phrase that everyone is accustomed to seeing and hearing, “drug and alcohol abusers,” none of you batted an eye. I have no idea though what my point is here, so let’s just move on.

Harold Eugene Clark was born on November 17, 1944, in Tipton, Missouri, though the year of his birth was frequently reported as 1941. It seems quite likely that Gene Clark himself was the source of that erroneous biographical detail, to avoid questions about the fact that his father was overseas for all of 1944.

Tipton is a small town – the kind of town where everyone knows one another by name. In fact, Tipton is kind of like a big park where the same oversized family reunion is held every day of the year. As Bonnie Clark Laible told author John Einarson, “When I was in Tipton, Missouri, the year my grandfather died, in 1954, I found out I was related to almost everyone in the community. Everyone had married people they knew through the various families like Faherty and Sommerhauser. I couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a family member!”

Tipton was founded by Mr. William Tipton Seely, a rather wealthy and influential gent who opened a general store circa 1830. A community soon sprang up around his store, as tended to happen in those days, and Seely named his new little fiefdom Round Hill. A decade or so later, in the 1840s, a group of German immigrant families arrived in the area – the Nieuffers, the Lutzs, the Kammerichs, the Schmidts, the Hoens, the Shrecks and the Sommerhausers. These families proceeded to intermarry to a rather extreme degree.

In the 1850s, Seely lobbied hard to have both the Pacific Railroad and the Butterfield Overland Mail route pass through his little kingdom. Those efforts proved successful, though the railroad was routed a few miles north of Round Hill. Around that new railroad station was born Seely’s second town, tiny Tipton, where Gene Clark would spend the early years of his life.

Meanwhile, just before 1800, a group of Irish families led by a Mr. Edmund Faherty settled in southwestern Illinois. In addition to the Fahertys, the group included the Whelans, the O’Haras and the O’Neills. These families also proceeded to intermarry. Some factions of the family eventually crossed over the border into Perryville, Missouri, where they became slave owners. James and Helena Faherty split from the rest of the Missouri herd and moved to Cole Camp, not too far southwest of Tipton. According to chronicler Einarson, the move was recommended by a “priest who feared too much inbreeding among the families.”

Oscar Faherty, Gene Clark’s maternal grandfather, was born and raised near Tipton, as was the woman who was to be his wife and Gene’s grandmother, Rosemary Sommerhauser. Before long, the Fahertys and the Sommerhausers were intermarrying at a furious pace. According to Bonnie Clark, “The Faherty and Sommerhauser families had double cousins going on.”

I’m not sure what that means exactly, nor do I really want to know, but it can’t be a good thing.

On the summer solstice of 1920, Rosemary Sommerhauser Faherty gave birth to Mary Jeanne Faherty, Gene Clark’s mother. After completing elementary school, Mary Jeanne was sent away to work as a “domestic servant” for an unnamed wealthy family living near Kansas City, Kansas. The Depression years were pretty rough, from what I hear, but selling off your barely-teenaged daughter seems a bit harsh.

The other half of Gene Clark’s family tree is, curiously enough, shrouded in mystery and secrecy. As chronicler Einarson notes, “Unlike Jeanne Faherty Clark’s well-documented family history, the lineage of Gene’s father, Kelly George Clark, is far more murky and mysterious.” Indeed, Einarson’s extensive research turned up little more than the fact that Kelly Clark was born on November 11, 1918 in Lenexa, Kansas, and that, according to family lore, there might be Native American blood in the family tree that has been concealed.

Or maybe Pop Clark’s history is murky for other reasons. Maybe he wasn’t even Gene’s dad. What we do know is that Kelly Clark apparently quit high school and went to work for the parks department as a groundskeeper. While tending the grounds at the Milburn Country Club, he met young Jeanne Faherty, who apparently was taken there fairly frequently by her ‘employers’ – because most wealthy people, I think we can all agree, take their young servants with them to the country club.

After a relatively brief courtship, the two married on May 29, 1941 and promptly started a family. Bonnie Clark was born on March 13, 1942, just 9½ months after the couple exchanged vows. Kelly Katherine was to be the couple’s second child, but she was, alas, reportedly stillborn – on the summer solstice of 1943. Nothing suspicious about that. Nor about the peculiar fact that, while Gene and other members of the family would be laid to rest in the Sommerhauser family plot at St. Andrews cemetery in Tipton, “Kelly Katherine’s is a solitary stone at the far south end of the cemetery.”

A few months after Kelly Katherine Clark’s curious death, Kelly George Clark was called up for radio and gunnery school. Following training, he was assigned to a unit that served as General George Patton’s mop-up crew. Clark’s crew landed at LeHavre, France and steadily made their way towards Germany. By May of 1945, immediately following the fall of the Third Reich, Clark was in Berlin.

Meanwhile, the third Clark child, Gene, was born in November 1944. Officially, Jeanne Clark was impregnated while her husband was briefly home on leave, presumably in February 1944, though it seems unlikely that he would have been at home at that time. In any event, Gene spent the first years of his life in a house at 304 Morgan Street, directly across the street from a funeral home.

Kelly Clark returned home at the end of World War II and promptly impregnated his wife once again; Nancy Patricia Clark was born on July 19, 1946. The family would continue to grow until there were no fewer than 10 Clark siblings, all living in a tiny house far off the beaten path. As a former classmate and friend recalled, “You had to take a dirt road up and it was the only house back in the woods, way up high. I couldn’t believe the first time Gene took me there … It was kind of spooky in a way.”

As Bonnie Clark has acknowledged, the Clarks “were known as a very strange family in the community.” I can’t imagine why, though it may have had something to do with the family’s rather unusual choice of recreational activities, such as throwing knives at laundry detergent boxes: “Gene was very good at it. We both were. This was one of the things we did as a family function,” noted Bonnie.

Gene would have a lifelong fascination with knives – and guns. According to friend Joe Larson, after Clark began making money with the Byrds, he “started buying guns.” In the cover photo for one of Gene’s solo albums, he is sitting on a picnic table. As brother Rick Clark has noted, “there are bullet holes in the table where we would shoot at cans and bottles from the back porch with Gene’s guns.” One of those guns was an antique rifle given to Gene by fellow gun aficionado David Crosby.

Has anyone else noticed, by the way, that a lot of those peacenik hippie types in Laurel Canyon seem to have been packing heat?

Shockingly enough, most of the members of that “strange family” living in the backwoods did not fare so well as they grew into adulthood. As of the time of the writing of Einarson’s Mr. Tambourine Man (2005), one Clark sibling had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic (which is, in reality, an arbitrary ‘diagnosis,’ but let’s not get into that), another suffered from severe bouts of clinical depression, another was homeless due to untreated mental illness, another was on psychiatric meds most of her life before dying suddenly in 1987, another was bipolar, and yet another was diagnosed with severe mental retardation.

Even more shockingly, mysterious father Kelly Clark was said to be a raging alcoholic who suffered from severe mood swings!

Gene’s formal education began in 1949 at a strict Catholic school in Raytown. According to big sister Bonnie, “there were truly some abusive people [there]. I can remember some of those nuns being real nightmares.” By 1960, the family had moved to Bonner Springs, Kansas, where Gene attended high school. He was known to hang with a rough crowd during his high school days, and a few of his buddies from those years ended up serving prison time.

On August 12, 1963, Gene Clark, still a few months shy of his nineteenth birthday, was inexplicably offered a spot in the New Christy Minstrels vocal group; he was on a plane to California the very next day. The Minstrels were a very busy touring group, averaging some 300 dates a year, so Gene would spend a lot of time on airplanes during his six-month tenure as a Minstrel. Curiously though, fear of flying would be cited a couple years later as Gene’s reason for leaving the Byrds.

One of the gigs the group played, on January 14, 1964, was at the White House as special guests of Lyndon Johnson, who had taken office less than two months earlier following the assassination of John Kennedy. After the performance, Gene and other Minstrels (including Barry McGuire, who, as was discussed in the last chapter, released Eve of Destruction a couple years later) went out on the town and partied with Johnson’s two daughters, Lynda Bird and Luci Baines, who were just nineteen and sixteen at the time.

As the story goes, Gene quit the New Christy Minstrels a couple of weeks later, in February of 1964, after hearing the first album released by an obscure British band known as the Beatles. Clark immediately headed out to Los Angeles, as would so many others, where he regularly hung out at the Troubadour, just off the Sunset Strip. It was there that he met one James Joseph McGuinn III, who had, curiously enough, once been in the New Christy Minstrels himself, for exactly one day.

The two quickly formed a folk duo and began writing songs, hoping to soon get bookings at the Troubadour and other local clubs. But according to McGuinn, the pair “never got to the stage of performing as a duo … Crosby came along quite quickly.” McGuinn was initially quite wary of the interloper, but the three nevertheless became a trio known at first as the Jet Set. With Crosby, of course, came Jim Dickson, who would transform the trio into the Byrds.

According to Vern Gosdin – who, along with his brother, Rex, played with many of the Laurel Canyon musicians – it was Jim Dickson who “put the Byrds together, you might say. If I’m telling the truth, this is what I think: I don’t think the Byrds had any ideas whatsoever, and Jim Dickson put it all together for them.” Dickson originally envisioned the band as a Beatlesque quartet, with Gene as lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist, Roger on lead guitar and vocals, and Crosby on bass and vocals (ala Paul McCartney).

This arrangement proved unworkable, however, since Crosby was reportedly unable to sing and play bass at the same time. This then led Dickson to recruit mandolin player Chris Hillman to take over bass duties, leaving Crosby with little to do other than provide harmony vocals. That didn’t sit well with Lord Crosby, so he began a relentless campaign aimed at eroding Gene’s confidence in his own guitar playing. Crosby’s constant ridicule paid off and he soon enough took over rhythm guitar duties.

The five-man band was by then complete: Gene would provide most lead vocals and bang the tambourine, Jim/Roger McGuinn would provide the band’s signature 12-string guitar sound and harmony vocals, Crosby would provide serviceable (at best) rhythm guitar work and harmony vocals, and Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke would pretend (initially at least) to play the bass guitar and the drums.

The band released its first single as the Beefeaters. The record was produced by Jim Dickson, who would go on to guide the Byrds’ career, and Paul Rothschild, who would go on to guide the Doors’ career. The single, released by Elektra Records, went nowhere. By November of 1964 though, the band, renamed the Byrds, was signed with Columbia Records. Just two months later they would record Mr. Tambourine Man and become huge stars. But there was a hurdle to overcome first; as Einarson notes, “[Gene] had received his draft notice. Roger and Michael had already dodged that bullet; now it was Gene’s turn.”

Not to worry though; Gene was able to dodge that bullet as well. According to Einarson, Gene was deemed unfit for military service due to an “old football disease,” which is identified as “Osgood Schlatter’s Disease.” For the record, Osgood Schlatter’s is not a “football disease.” I’m not at all convinced, to be perfectly honest, that Osgood Schlatter’s is a disease at all. I was diagnosed with the same thing when I was a kid and the only difference between me and other kids was that I had a ‘disease’ while they had ‘growing pains.’ According to the medical community though, it is a real childhood disease with no known treatment that one ‘outgrows’ as one approaches adulthood.

Luckily for Gene, it apparently didn’t prevent him from playing football, but it did keep him out of the service – which was probably a good thing, because, after all, what use does the military have for a big, strong, powerfully-built former athlete who knew his way around a variety of weapons?

And now, with that out of the way, a correction is in order; regrettably, I claimed in an earlier chapter that Clark was a very good but not a terribly prolific songwriter. That is actually far from the truth (the fact that no one has alerted me to that egregious error, by the way, illustrates how little-known Clark is today). Without question, Gene was an astoundingly prolific songwriter. I had assumed otherwise due to the fact that relatively few of his compositions appear on Byrds’ albums, which instead feature a lot of covers.

The truth though is that Gene had more than enough songs – and reportedly good songs – to fill the early Byrds’ albums. Even Crosby has acknowledged that Clark “was prolific. He would show up every week with new songs and they were great songs.” Crosby wasn’t so generous though with his assessments of Gene’s talents back in the day. According to most accounts, it was the jealousy of Crosby and McGuinn that kept Gene’s tracks off the records.

In those days, there wasn’t a lot of money to be made by performing and recording music. The real money was in song royalties, so Clark was paid considerably more than the rest of the band. As McGuinn put it, “Gene was into Ferraris and we were still starving.” That disproportionate compensation quickly drove a wedge between Clark and the other 2/3 of the original trio. At times, Gene even shared writing credits on his songs just to get them onto albums. The classic Eight Miles High, for example, was written by Gene but credited to Crosby and McGuinn as well (Crosby reportedly contributed just one line of lyrics and McGuinn handled the arrangement of Gene’s composition).
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“There was this persona and the rest of Gene was somewhere in there. He was hard to get to know … He could be very warm and loving, but that could change in a heartbeat.”
Bonnie Clark, Gene’s sister

“In later years, toward the end, he would have really bad nightmares. He would wake up in the middle of the night screaming …”
Kai Clark, Gene’s son

“It is often difficult for those who knew him – even family members – to reconcile the two Gene Clarks: the cheerful, engaging yet shy loner with the vibrant imagination, and the frustrated, moody recluse who was sometimes prone to violence.”
Chronicler John Einarson

As has been noted previously, Vito Paulekas played a key role in the early days of the Byrds. And so it is that we find references to Vito and his entourage in Einarson’s telling of the Gene Clark story: “Vito and Carl were legendary hipsters on the L.A. scene and were into LSD long before anyone else. It was at their studio that Gene believed the Byrds truly found their magic as a group.” According to Morgan Cavett, the son of Oscar-winning screenwriter Frank Cavett, “They had this group of hippies before that term came into use. Somehow they had hooked up with the Byrds.”

When the band launched its first national tour in July 1965, “Along for the trip were L.A. scene-makers Vito and Carl and their entourage of crazed hippie dancers whose uninhibited gyrations caused quite a stir in the heartlands of America.” Actually, Vito stayed home while Carl Franzoni led the faction of the troupe that hit the road with the Byrds. Assisting Franzoni was Byrds’ roadie Brian McLean, who shortly thereafter would beat out Mansonite Bobby Beausoleil for the rhythm guitarist position in Love.

As troupe dancer Lizzie Donohue would later recall, many of those in America’s hinterlands “thought we were from outer space. In Paris, Illinois, they actually threw us off the dance floor.” Gene Clark would later remember that the band “could have played out of tune all day. Nobody ever heard us anyway.” According to many accounts, the band oftentimes did play out of tune all day. And all night as well.

When the band followed up its first national tour with a tour of the UK, they were not well received – in large part because they were notoriously unable to keep their instruments in tune. Often the band would spend more time tuning their instruments between songs than they did actually playing those songs. And by most accounts, the boys made virtually no attempt to forge a connection with the audience. Gene did though forge a bond with the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, whose life would be tragically cut short a couple years later.

Sometime after that tour, members of the Byrds famously met with members of the Beatles and they all dropped acid together. Some accounts hold that this meeting took place in the Cielo Drive home where Sharon Tate would later be butchered, but it appears to have actually taken place in another home in Benedict Canyon, one that may have been formerly owned by Zsa Zsa Gabor. Laurel Canyon stalwart Peter Fonda was reportedly in attendance, and legend holds that it was he who supplied a very high John Lennon with the line “I know what it’s like to be dead.”

In March of 1966, a press release announced Gene Clark’s departure from the Byrds. McGuinn has alleged that Dickson and co-manager Eddie Ticknor encouraged Gene to split from the band so that they could exploit his solo potential. If so, then they must have been greatly disappointed, as Clark never came close to living up to that potential.

One of the first offers Gene received upon his departure from the Byrds was from drummer Dewey Martin, who invited Clark to join the newly-formed Buffalo Springfield. Clark declined, choosing to form his own band, the first of which was dubbed the Group. As Einarson explains, “Six weeks after rehearsals began, Gene Clark and the Group debuted at the Whisky-A-Go-Go on June 22 for a two-week stand, on the heels of a dazzling six-week stint by new group Buffalo Springfield.” One of the opening acts during the Group’s two-week engagement was a local band known as the Doors.

Around that same time, Clark began having an affair with Michelle Phillips, who lived with hubby John Phillips just a couple of blocks down the canyon (Gene at the time was living at 2014 Rossila Place, which appears to have been either renumbered or mowed down). Also living with John and Michelle Phillips, of course, was daughter MacKenzie Phillips, who some of you may have seen working the talk-show circuit not long ago, plugging a book about her incestuous relationship with her father.

Following what were reportedly unproductive recording sessions, Gene’s first post-Byrds formation broke up. On July 10, he was signed as a solo artist and he entered the studio the next month accompanied by doomed guitarist Clarence White, Brian Wilson handler Van Dyke Parks, our old friend Glen Campbell, the ubiquitous Chris Hillman, and Vern and Rex Gosdin, who had gotten their start alongside – who else? – Chris Hillman in the formation known as the Hillmen.

In January of 1967, Clark’s first solo album was released as Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers. Like many of the other records we have stumbled upon while on this journey, some fans and critics regard the record as the first country-rock album (released a year-and-a-half before the country-rock forays by the Byrds and the Buffalo Springfield). The album, unfortunately, was quickly overshadowed by the Byrd’s own Younger than Yesterday, which Columbia released just two weeks after releasing Gene’s solo effort.

By March of 1967, Clark had put together a new version of the Group, which debuted at the Whisky with Clark, Clarence White and two members of the Mamas and the Papas touring group, whom Gene had met through his paramour, Michelle Phillips. At the tail end of 1967, Gene briefly rejoined the Byrds, replacing the fired David Crosby. The reunion lasted only a few weeks but it was long enough for Gene to contribute to The Notorious Byrd Brothers, released in January 1968.

When Gene had left the Byrds, by the way, he had done so empty handed. Not so with Crosby, who was given a substantial settlement upon his departure. He used that money to purchase a yacht, which he dubbed the Mayan. Crosby thereafter was known to spend extended periods of time aboard the Mayan, sailing to and from various locations. He was not the only canyon musician to own and operate such a vessel. John Phillips had one as well. So did Dennis Wilson. All three of them also had a passion for controlled substances. And guns. I wonder if there’s some kind of connection there?

Following his brief reunion with the Byrds, Clark composed the original score for Marijuana, a short anti-drug film hosted by Sonny “watch out for that tree!” Bono. His next project, dubbed the Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark, featured Gene, Doug Dillard (formerly of the Dillards, from whom Buffalo Springfield, it will be recalled, had obtained their instruments), Bernie Leadon (who had been a peripheral member of San Diego’s Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, alongside Chris Hillman, and who would later become an Eagle), and, of course, Chris Hillman.

By this time Gene had married and his wife, Carlie, was an avid reader of occult literature, particularly, as she recalled, “this lady named Madame Blavatsky.”

Circa 1971, Clark was approached by his friend and fellow Canyonite, Dennis Hopper, to compose songs for the soundtrack to Hopper’s American Dreamer. Around that same time, according to Einarson, “Gene’s running buddies included David Carradine and John Barrymore.” A rather curious group of friends, to say the least.

According to authors such as Craig Heimbichner (Blood on the Altar), Martin P. Starr (The Unknown God), and John Carter (Sex and Rockets), Dennis Hopper and David’s dad, John Carradine, were both members of the infamous Agape Lodge of the OTO, alongside doomed rocket scientist Jack Parsons, actor Dean Stockwell, and doppelgangers L. Ron Hubbard and Robert Heinlein (who was also, it will be recalled, a Laurel Canyon resident). According to Gregory Mank (Hollywood’s Hellfire Club), John Carradine and John Barrymore were also members of the so-called “Bundy Drive Boys,” a group that engaged in such practices as incest, rape and cannibalism. And according to Ed Sanders (The Family), among the upscale homes visited by a Process Church work group “was the John Barrymore mansion, located at 1301 Summit Ridge Drive.”

Of course, just because Clark’s inner circle seems to have been drawn from various nefarious occult groups doesn’t mean that we should leap to any conclusions about Gene himself, even if his wife was an avid occultist, and even if he was the product of a multi-generational (cult) town, and even if his sibling was (sacrificed) stillborn on a major occult holiday, and even if his first home was right across the street from a (body drop) funeral home.

Moving on then, the year 1972 saw yet another brief Byrds reunion, with another record released in February of 1973. Gene next began recording sessions for a new solo project, financed by his friend Gary Legon, the husband of porn star and Ivory Soap model Marilyn Chambers. Joining Gene on some of the tracks was Emmylou Harris, whose hubby Tom Slocum – a descendant of famed explorer Joshua Slocum – was a member of Gene’s inner circle.

After relocating to Albion, California for a time with his wife and kids, Clark moved back to Laurel Canyon, where he moved into a home on Stanley Hills with his new girlfriend, Terri Messina. Born into a considerable amount of money, Messina was the daughter of a prominent area physician. In 1963, she had enrolled in theater arts at UCLA, which quite likely would have placed her in the company of a couple of other UCLA theater arts students – Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek.

She and Gene moved in together in the summer of 1977. According to Einarson, Messina “laterally work[ed] in film editing, [but] she was better known in exclusive circles as a supplier of cocaine.” And heroin. As has been previously discussed, during that time period the “entire Laurel Canyon lifestyle revolved around cocaine,” and “Gene fell into line, becoming a legendary partier.”

Canyon resident Ken Mansfield recalled those dark years: “That particular point in my life, and most of us, was the craziest time of all, when we were all into drugs the most. Tommy’s (Kaye) house was one of the houses we hung out at a lot. David Carradine was my neighbor in Laurel Canyon. Our two properties were side by side. David had a group called Water. I could tell you some wild canyon stories … Looking back it’s not a nice memory. Even though we thought we were having a good time, I don’t think we really were. Shortly after Tommy Kaye’s little girl, Eloise, died in an unfortunate accident, it just seemed like everybody’s life got dark and we all kind of lost hope there for a while.”

There seems to have been a little bit of a problem with little kids in the ‘60s and ‘70s dying in “unfortunate accidents” in Laurel Canyon. I wonder if Eloise fell through a skylight?

Circa 1978, Clark teamed with former bandmates Hillman and McGuinn for a contrived reunion tour. An album followed in early 1979, with a second released in early 1980. During that time, according to brother David Clark, Gene “was hanging around with these really gross characters who were just a bunch of burnouts and he wasn’t much better. Cathy Evelyn Smith was there.” Not long after, Smith would attain a certain amount of notoriety for her involvement in the curious death of John Belushi at the Chateau Marmont, at the mouth of Laurel Canyon.

Following the release of the second reunion album, Clark and a close friend, guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, left LA for Oahu, Hawaii, supposedly to get clean. They returned at the end of 1981, with Gene once again settling into his favorite canyon. Among his close friends at that time were former child star Kurt Russell and his then-wife, actress Season Hubley, who had also taken up residence in Laurel Canyon.

Gene’s solo career sputtered on for another decade, though no one really paid much attention. In January 1991, the original members of the Byrds came together for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Clark died just four months later, reportedly of a heart attack. He was just 46 at the time. Three years earlier, his one-time sidekick Jesse Ed Davis had dropped dead on the summer solstice of 1988. He was only 43.

The circumstances of Clark’s death remain murky to this day. As Einarson has noted, “What transpired over the last three days of Gene’s life remains clouded by controversy … conspiracy theories abound; accusations have been leveled.” For the most part though, Gene has now been all but forgotten. His vast stockpile of unreleased material, however – much of which mysteriously disappeared after his death – likely lives on, albeit credited to others.

According to Einarson, Clark had been fighting to stay sober, but it “is agreed that he began drinking again on the evening of Wednesday, May 22 … What happened next depends entirely on who is telling the story. [One witness] claims he searched the house for drugs and did not find any – contrary to claims by others that drugs and drug paraphernalia were present in the house … there are those conspiracy theorists who continue to insinuate that drugs and certain characters were, indeed, present that night, and that Gene’s death was a result of misadventure, necessitating a panicked clean-up campaign that morning.”

There were apparently numerous people present at Clark’s home on the morning of May 24, 1991, as Gene lay dead on the living room floor. One of those people was Saul Davis, who “took it upon himself to contact the media with the news, another bone of contention with some, given that Saul was not serving as Gene’s manager at the time.” Another was the manager of the property, identified as Ray Berry, who had served during World War II in Special Ops. While people milled about the house, “arguing over the spoils … Gene’s body continued to lie on the living room floor, face up.

Days later, David Carradine caused quite a stir at Gene’s open-casket memorial service. Former bandmate Pat Robinson remembered it well: “When Carradine came up, he wasn’t as much drunk as he was on acid, I think, and his girlfriend and business manager at the time was there with him. And we’re standing there and Carradine says, ‘You cocksucker …’ and grabs Gene by the lapels. When you pull somebody up from a coffin and they have nothing inside for guts they bend higher up. It was really shocking to see that. And Carradine goes, ‘You pissed on my daughter when she was thirteen.’ And he said it pretty loud and then he says, ‘I saw him snicker, boys, heh heh.’ Oh, man, that was weird.”

You think so? Perhaps weirder still is that many of those who were in attendance remember hearing something a little different: “You fucked my daughter when she was thirteen.” Maybe Carradine had mistaken Clark for Roman Polanski. Or John Phillips. Or maybe that’s just what everyone was doing in Laurel Canyon.

In any event, none of the original members of the Byrds bothered to attend the service. When it was over, Gene was laid to rest in tiny Tipton.

Gateway Arch showing rust and decay

Gateway Arch showing rust and decay
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Sunday, August 22, 2010

As civic leaders reveled in last week's unveiling of grand plans to remake the Gateway Arch grounds, there was an ominous element not discussed.

Almost 45 years into its reign atop the St. Louis skyline, the 630-foot monument is suffering from growing rust and decay. And nobody knows how extensive.

Corrosion, some of it feared aggressive, and severe discoloration of the stainless steel skin have long been present, according to engineering reports reviewed by the Post-Dispatch.

The documents and interviews with metallurgists indicate that the remedy could be as minor as an "expensive" surface cleaning or as elaborate as a full-blown restoration. One report, completed in 2006, called for a deeper study, for which the National Park Service says it only recently obtained funding.

"This is not yet a health and safety issue," said Frank Mares, the deputy superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which oversees the Gateway Arch. "(The report) says learn more about what's going on. It's something that requires further study."

The problems are increasingly evident, with streaks and spots marking the upper reaches of the Arch exterior.

None of the documents reviewed addressed concerns about safety in relation to corrosion, or made estimates of what remedies might cost. One speculated it could take a "long time" before corrosion would "induce any integrity concern."

Officials said the structural issues were separate from — and would not compete for funding with — plans revealed Tuesday to rebuild the Arch site in time for its 50th anniversary celebration in 2015.

"It's apples and oranges," Mares said, suggesting he is confident there will be money to do what is necessary.

The 2006 report identified corroding bolt heads and staircases, a leaky interior sometimes shrouded with its own fog, rusting of interior carbon steel and a mysterious staining of the glimmering surface.

"The exterior skin has definitely degenerated since first constructed," it said. "However it is not possible to accurately determine the rate of visual distress."

The deeper examination will analyze and test corrosion samples, to recommend steps for long-term preservation.

No repairs or changes have been made since the 2006 report, Mares said, with the follow-up study delayed for lack of funds. He said the first report cost about $150,000, and the second is expected to cost about $437,000.

A Post-Dispatch reporter was allowed to review the corrosion report for about 40 minutes earlier this month. But officials refused to make it available for a second look the next day, citing national security concerns and saying it should not have been provided the first time.

A formal Freedom of Information Act request for the material is pending, but did produce some other documents.

The first phase of the corrosion study was conducted by two architectural and engineering firms, Bahr Vermeer Haecker, of Nebraska, and Wiss, Janney, Elstner, of Illinois. Both declined to comment for this story.

Their report pinpointed several potential corrosion problems, with the culprit perhaps being water leakage. The report raised the question of whether the carbon steel interior skeleton is rusting through failed welds and onto the stainless steel outer surface.

"As the structure is subject to dynamic stress cycles, there is a possibility that welds have failed locally, generating points of water leakage into the interstitial space," the report says. "Corrosion products of carbon steel may then have stained the stainless steel surface."

Topped out in 1965, the Arch is made up of triangular sections — a carbon steel interior and stainless steel exterior — stacked and welded one atop the next. Concrete reinforces the lower half of each leg.

"It is possible that corrosion at welds or at contaminated areas is taking place aggressively," one report said.

The investigation noted a repainted area inside the south leg. "Failure of the original paint layer in this area may have been due to rusting of the steel," the report said.

It suggested taking core samples of the metal for testing, but warned that, "Removal of stainless steel from the Arch will be controversial and will require planning and much discussion."

Water intrusion has long been an issue. "Condensation in the legs has been there since day one," Mares said.

In fact, a recently filed "cultural landscape report" said: "A cursory inspection of the Gateway Arch legs and foundation construction joints in 1984 revealed defects, and possible water intrusion between the outer and inner skins. Marks on the exterior stainless steel skin are visible at about 350 feet above the ground."

Arch officials say they have set up a makeshift system of tubes and containers to try to collect water.

A year after the corrosion report was written, a steel cable for the tram system snapped inside the Arch, causing a two-hour power outage and a nighttime evacuation of visitors. Nobody was hurt. An investigation by Maida Engineering, based in Pennsylvania, blamed the quality of maintenance performed by the Park Service and outside contractors. The tram system had not been specifically mentioned in the corrosion report.

R. Craig Jerner, an expert metallurgist based in Dallas who grew up in St. Louis, said the presence of water in the structure was an obvious problem. He said that he had visited the Arch within the past five or 10 years, and that "I seem to remember seeing water streaks on steel members. My thought at the time was, 'That's a problem in the making.'"

Added Jerner, who spoke with the warning that he had not seen the reports, "The problems described are indeed serious, and it may well be expensive to fix many of the problems, if those problems do exist."

Reacting to a report passage noting "corrosion at bolt heads/fasteners in wall," Jerner said in an e-mail: "More importantly, it is possible that rust could have formed under bolt/fastener heads? If the bolt/fastener is not removed and thoroughly cleaned (or even better replaced) the repainting will merely cover the rusty bolt 'underside.' The corrosion will continue and soon the bolted connection may not be a connection at all."

The report recommended that the Arch skin be cleaned within the next 10 years.

"The initial cleaning will be expensive due primarily to access requirements, but a reusable means of access should be designed as part of the cleaning procedure," according to a 2010 Historic Structure Report.

Again, cost estimates were not mentioned.

The Arch hasn't had a full scale cleaning since the "creeper" derricks that carried materials up each leg were removed shortly after construction was completed in 1965, Park Service officials said.

Some of the construction equipment may have left "grease spots" on the Arch surface that have collected dirt over time, the documents state.

Tom Bradley, the Arch superintendent, said there were no immediate plans to clean the surface. "You don't want to do more damage through the cleaning," Bradley said.

Lower reaches have been cleaned to remove graffiti, which one report said "is changing the finished surface of the panels near the base of the leg."

Some of the nation's most significant monuments have undergone restorations within the last 30 years.

The Washington Monument was surrounded with scaffolding in 1999 when it underwent a $9.4 million renovation. Corrosion problems at the Statue of Liberty led to a $65 million, privately financed rehab.

Tracy Campbell, a history professor at the University of Kentucky, is working on a book about the Arch, which he said, "represents wealth and power in the middle 20th century, right after World War II.

"Like all buildings, it's aging," Campbell said. "What makes the Arch so striking is its sculpture and appearance. As it ages and deteriorates, the question becomes, 'How much do you want to spend to preserve it in its original state?'"

Philly requiring bloggers to pay $300 for a business license

Philly requiring bloggers to pay $300 for a business license
Mark Hemingway

It looks like cash hungry local governments are getting awfully rapacious these days:

Between her blog and infrequent contributions to, over the last few years she says she’s made about $50. To [Marilyn] Bess, her website is a hobby. To the city of Philadelphia, it’s a potential moneymaker, and the city wants its cut.

In May, the city sent Bess a letter demanding that she pay $300, the price of a business privilege license.

“The real kick in the pants is that I don’t even have a full-time job, so for the city to tell me to pony up $300 for a business privilege license, pay wage tax, business privilege tax, net profits tax on a handful of money is outrageous,” Bess says.

It would be one thing if Bess’ website were, well, an actual business, or if the amount of money the city wanted didn’t outpace her earnings six-fold. Sure, the city has its rules; and yes, cash-strapped cities can’t very well ignore potential sources of income. But at the same time, there must be some room for discretion and common sense.

When Bess pressed her case to officials with the city’s now-closed tax amnesty program, she says, “I was told to hire an accountant.”

She’s not alone. After dutifully reporting even the smallest profits on their tax filings this year, a number — though no one knows exactly what that number is — of Philadelphia bloggers were dispatched letters informing them that they owe $300 for a privilege license, plus taxes on any profits they made.

Even if, as with Sean Barry, that profit is $11 over two years.

To say that these kinds of draconian measures are detrimental to the public discourse would be an understatement.

Fidel Castro fascinated by book on Bilderberg Club
Fidel Castro fascinated by book on Bilderberg Club
WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press Writer
Wed Aug 18, 2010

HAVANA – Fidel Castro is showcasing a theory long popular both among the far left and far right: that the shadowy Bilderberg Group has become a kind of global government, controlling not only international politics and economics, but even culture.

The 84-year-old former Cuban president published an article Wednesday that used three of the only eight pages in the Communist Party newspaper Granma to quote — largely verbatim — from a 2006 book by Lithuanian-born writer Daniel Estulin.

Estulin's work, "The Secrets of the Bilderberg Club," argues that the international group largely runs the world. It has held a secretive annual forum of prominent politicians, thinkers and businessmen since it was founded in 1954 at the Bilderberg Hotel in Holland.

Castro offered no comment on the excerpts other than to describe Estulin as honest and well-informed and to call his book a "fantastic story."

Estulin's book, as quoted by Castro, described "sinister cliques and the Bilderberg lobbyists" manipulating the public "to install a world government that knows no borders and is not accountable to anyone but its own self."

The Bilderberg group's website says its members have "nearly three days of informal and off-the-record discussion about topics of current concern" once a year, but the group does nothing else.

It said the meetings were meant to encourage people to work together on major policy issues.

The prominence of the group is what alarms critics. It often includes members of the Rockefeller family, Henry Kissinger, senior U.S. and European officials and major international business and media executives.

The excerpt published by Castro suggested that the esoteric Frankfurt School of socialist academics worked with members of the Rockefeller family in the 1950s to pave the way for rock music to "control the masses" by diverting attention from civil rights and social injustice.

"The man charged with ensuring that the Americans liked the Beatles was Walter Lippmann himself," the excerpt asserted, referring to a political philosopher and by-then-staid newspaper columnist who died in 1974.

"In the United States and Europe, great open-air rock concerts were used to halt the growing discontent of the population," the excerpt said.

Castro — who had an inside seat to the Cold War — has long expressed suspicions of back-room plots. He has raised questions about whether the Sept. 11 attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. government to stoke military budgets and, more recently suggested that Washington was behind the March sinking of a South Korean ship blamed on North Korea.

Estulin's own website suggests that the 9/11 attacks were likely caused by small nuclear devices, and that the CIA and drug traffickers were behind the 1988 downing of a jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, that was blamed on Libya.

The Bilderberg conspiracy theory has been popular on both extremes of the ideological spectrum, even if they disagree on just what the group wants to do. Leftists accuse the group of promoting capitalist domination, while some right-wing websites argue that the Bilderberg club has imposed Barack Obama on the United States to advance socialism.

Some of Estulin's work builds on reports by Big Jim Tucker, a researcher on the Bilderberg Group who publishes on right-wing websites.

"It's great Hollywood material ... 15 people sitting in a room sitting in a room determining the fate of mankind," said Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, a nonpartisan policy think tank in New York.

"As someone who doesn't come out of the Oliver Stone school of conspiracy, I have a hard time believing it," London added.

A call to a Virginia number for the American Friends of Bilderberg rang unanswered Wednesday and the group's website lists no contact numbers.

Castro, who underwent emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006 and stepped down as president in February 2008, has suddenly begun popping up everywhere recently, addressing Cuba's parliament on the threat of a nuclear war, meeting with island ambassadors at the Foreign Ministry, writing a book and even attending the dolphin show at the Havana aquarium.

David McGowan on Rod Blagojevich

So after waging a no-holds-barred campaign to garner convictions against the Blagojevich brothers - first through the media and then in a federal courtroom - the government managed to get a conviction on just one of twenty-eight counts -- which just goes to show you that when you are being persecuted by criminals, it's probably not because you are guilty.

For more work from our man Dave:

Clemens Shouldn't Have to Take the Fall

In struggle and sports

Dave Z

Clemens Shouldn't Have to Take the Fall
by Dave Zirin

Roger Clemens is about as popular in baseball circles as jock itch. The man is such a pariah, he makes Barry Bonds look like Justin Bieber. Yet we should hold the cheers over the recent news that Clemens has been indicted on perjury charges for lying in front of Congress on questions related his much-denied steroid use.

However, the real question here is: Why Clemens was dragged in front of Congress in the first place? We can ask the same of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and all the players who have been put under the congressional hot lights. To put it bluntly, why have players, and not team owners, been given the third degree? Not one owner has ever been called to account for the steroid era in Major League Baseball. Not one person who has called an owner's box home has had to answer questions about steroid use.

This would be akin to investigating the oil rig workers after the Deepwater Horizon spill, but leaving BP bigwigs untouched. Yes, individual players may have made terrible personal decisions that sullied the game. But there's a systemic problem here, too. And the absence of corporate accountability around this issue is simply breathtaking.

In February 2005, Major League Commissioner Bud Selig — a former team owner himself — made the following statement about steroids: "I [had]never heard about it." That strains credulity to the breaking point. As sports writer D.K. Wilson has noted, "General managers know if a star player reported to spring training at 185 lbs. one season and 215 the next, and whether that newly added 30 pounds was fat or muscle, or a combination of both. As does the team owner — or at least one who's not asleep in the executive suite."

The issue of performance enhancing drugs had been discussed at Major League Baseball's winter ownership meetings as far back as 1988. Assuming he was awake at these meetings, Selig — then owner of the Milwaukee Brewers — would have heard the words of former Cleveland Indians trainer Brent Starr.

"Here's the thing that really bothers me," Starr said in 2007. "They sit there, meaning the commissioners office, Bud Selig and that group...They sit there and say, ‘Well, now that we know that this happened were going to do something about it.' I have notes from the Winter Meetings where the owners group and the players association sat in meetings with the team physicians and team trainers. I was there. And team physicians stood up and said, ‘Look, we need to do something about this. We've got a problem here if we don't do something about it. That was in 1988.'"

The roots of the current crisis lie not in the individual moral failings of players like Clemens, but from systemic greed at the highest levels of the sport. The juicing of the game began in earnest in 1994, when a players' strike mutated into an owners lockout that led to the cancellation of the World Series. The popularity of what was once "America's pastime" sank to a shameful low.

Then, the muscles started coming in — and the bucks along with them. The protracted pitching battles of old were replaced by games that were essentially home run derbies. Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were, briefly, the heroes of the day. And so, helped by steroids, baseball came back into fashion as a new, juiced-up sport of A-Rod clones. Steroids were simply a quiet part of the marketing plan.

Therefore, despite your personal views on Roger Clemens, it must be acknowledged that the steroid era has been, to paraphrase a famous quote about the criminal justice system, like a magical fishing night that captures the minnows while the whales go free. Even when the minnows are as unpleasant as Clemens, this fundamental truth must be acknowledged.

Zirin is author of the new book "Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love." He is also, tragically, a Mets fan.

True Blood Rolling Stone Cover

15 Things You Shouldn't Be Paying For

15 Things You Shouldn't Be Paying For
by Phil Taylor
Thursday, August 19, 2010

So much money and energy is wasted on things we could get for free. If you're into new, shiny things and collecting stuff, this is not for you. But if you want less clutter in your life and want to keep more of your money, then check out these 15 things you shouldn't be paying for.

Basic Computer Software -- Thinking of purchasing a new computer? Think twice before you fork over the funds for a bunch of extra software. There are some great alternatives to the name brand software programs. The most notable is OpenOffice, the open-source alternative to those other guys. It's completely free and files can be exported in compatible formats.

Your Credit Report -- You don't have to pay for your credit report. You could sign up for one of the free credit monitoring services online to get a quick look at your credit report. You just have to remember to cancel the service before the end of the free trial. Or you could do one better and visit, the only truly free place to see all three of your credit reports for free once a year.

Cell Phone -- The service plan may be expensive, but the phone itself doesn't have to cost a thing. Most major carriers will give you a free phone, even a free smart phone, with a two-year contract.

Books -- There's a cool place in your town that's renting out books for free: the library. Remember that place? Stop by and put your favorite book on reserve. And if you don't feel like getting out, visit and find your books there (small shipping fees apply).

Water -- Besides the monthly utility bill, there's no reason to shell out $1 for every bottle of water you drink. Bottled water is so last decade anyway. We're over it, and into tap, filters, and reusable water bottles. It's cheaper for you and better for the environment.

Credit Card -- With as many credit cards as there are available on the market today, it's easy to avoid a credit card with an annual fee. Unless you're dead set on a particular perk that a fee card brings, skip the annual fee card and pocket that money yourself.

Debt Reduction Help -- Speaking of credit cards, if you're in over your head with credit card help, there are many free sources you can turn to for help with your debt. No one is going to be able to magically wipe away your debts, but there is help out there that will set you up on a debt reduction plan you can handle. Start with a visit to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Basic Tax Preparation -- If your tax situation isn't that complicated, then you should probably be preparing your own tax return using one of the many free online services. It's now common for e-filing to be free as well with many services. You won't even need a stamp.

The News -- Leave it to a blogger to try and kill off traditional print. I'm not anti-newspaper. I just don't find them practical anymore. Skip the daily .50 cents and get your news online. And for you dedicated coupon clippers, you can get most of your Sunday coupons online now too.

Budgeting Tools -- There are many budgeting tools (both online and desktop) that offer up the service for free. Don't ask me how they do this, but who cares. If you're looking to reign in some of your spending, the good news is you can do it for free.

Pets -- This is a controversial one, I know. But there are likely many pets down at your local animal shelter that could use just as much love as the pure-bred types. There may be a small fee due to the shelter for shots and basic care, but you'll have your pet home without paying a mini-fortune.

Shipping -- If you like to buy online, you probably use coupons to get a percentage off of your purchase. Take your skills to the next level and look for coupons or promotion codes that offer free shipping. If in doubt, visit a site like

Checking Account -- Isn't it nice when a bank takes your money, lends it out to earn money, and then has the audacity to charge you for the service? What a joke. Checking should be free. If yours isn't free then move to one of the many banks that offers a checking account for free. And the same can be said for ATM fees, teller fees, and checks.

DVD Rentals -- Did you know that you can rent DVDs from RedBox locations for $1 a night? And better yet, if you use one of the coupon codes from you can avoid the $1 charge. Free DVD rentals! Most libraries now have free DVD rental as well.

Exercise -- Skip the expensive gym memberships. Visit your local park for a walk or run. Do basic push-up and sit-up programs in your living room. Rent a workout DVD from the library. There are many free workout programs you can download online as well.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Homeowners' Rebellion: Could 62 Million Homes Be Foreclosure-Proof?
Wednesday, August 18, 2010 by YES! Magazine
Homeowners' Rebellion: Could 62 Million Homes Be Foreclosure-Proof?
A committed movement to tear off the predatory mask called MERS could yet turn the tide for struggling homeowners.
by Ellen Brown

Mortgages bundled into securities were a favorite investment of speculators at the height of the financial bubble leading up to the crash of 2008. The securities changed hands frequently, and the companies profiting from mortgage payments were often not the same parties that negotiated the loans. At the heart of this disconnect was the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS, a company that serves as the mortgagee of record for lenders, allowing properties to change hands without the necessity of recording each transfer.

Over 62 million mortgages are now held in the name of MERS, an electronic recording system devised by and for the convenience of the mortgage industry. A California bankruptcy court, following landmark cases in other jurisdictions, recently held that this electronic shortcut makes it impossible for banks to establish their ownership of property titles—and therefore to foreclose on mortgaged properties. The logical result could be 62 million homes that are foreclosure-proof.MERS was convenient for the mortgage industry, but courts are now questioning the impact of all of this financial juggling when it comes to mortgage ownership. To foreclose on real property, the plaintiff must be able to establish the chain of title entitling it to relief. But MERS has acknowledged, and recent cases have held, that MERS is a mere "nominee"-an entity appointed by the true owner simply for the purpose of holding property in order to facilitate transactions. Recent court opinions stress that this defect is not just a procedural but is a substantive failure, one that is fatal to the plaintiff's legal ability to foreclose.

That means hordes of victims of predatory lending could end up owning their homes free and clear-while the financial industry could end up skewered on its own sword.

California Precedent

The latest of these court decisions came down in California on May 20, 2010, in a bankruptcy case called In re Walker, Case no. 10-21656-E-11. The court held that MERS could not foreclose because it was a mere nominee; and that as a result, plaintiff Citibank could not collect on its claim. The judge opined:

Since no evidence of MERS' ownership of the underlying note has been offered, and other courts have concluded that MERS does not own the underlying notes, this court is convinced that MERS had no interest it could transfer to Citibank. Since MERS did not own the underlying note, it could not transfer the beneficial interest of the Deed of Trust to another. Any attempt to transfer the beneficial interest of a trust deed without ownership of the underlying note is void under California law.

In support, the judge cited In Re Vargas (California Bankruptcy Court); Landmark v. Kesler (Kansas Supreme Court); LaSalle Bank v. Lamy (a New York case); and In Re Foreclosure Cases (the "Boyko" decision from Ohio Federal Court). (For more on these earlier cases, see here, here and here.) The court concluded:

Since the claimant, Citibank, has not established that it is the owner of the promissory note secured by the trust deed, Citibank is unable to assert a claim for payment in this case.

The broad impact the case could have on California foreclosures is suggested by attorney Jeff Barnes, who writes:

This opinion . . . serves as a legal basis to challenge any foreclosure in California based on a MERS assignment; to seek to void any MERS assignment of the Deed of Trust or the note to a third party for purposes of foreclosure; and should be sufficient for a borrower to not only obtain a TRO [temporary restraining order] against a Trustee's Sale, but also a Preliminary Injunction barring any sale pending any litigation filed by the borrower challenging a foreclosure based on a MERS assignment.

While not binding on courts in other jurisdictions, the ruling could serve as persuasive precedent there as well, because the court cited non-bankruptcy cases related to the lack of authority of MERS, and because the opinion is consistent with prior rulings in Idaho and Nevada Bankruptcy courts on the same issue.

What Could This Mean for Homeowners?

Earlier cases focused on the inability of MERS to produce a promissory note or assignment establishing that it was entitled to relief, but most courts have considered this a mere procedural defect and continue to look the other way on MERS' technical lack of standing to sue. The more recent cases, however, are looking at something more serious. If MERS is not the title holder of properties held in its name, the chain of title has been broken, and no one may have standing to sue. In MERS v. Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance, MERS insisted that it had no actionable interest in title, and the court agreed.

An August 2010 article in Mother Jones titled "Fannie and Freddie's Foreclosure Barons" exposes a widespread practice of "foreclosure mills" in backdating assignments after foreclosures have been filed. Not only is this perjury, a prosecutable offense, but if MERS was never the title holder, there is nothing to assign. The defaulting homeowners could wind up with free and clear title.

In Jacksonville, Florida, legal aid attorney April Charney has been using the missing-note argument ever since she first identified that weakness in the lenders' case in 2004. Five years later, she says, some of the homeowners she's helped are still in their homes. According to a Huffington Post article titled "‘Produce the Note' Movement Helps Stall Foreclosures":

Because of the missing ownership documentation, Charney is now starting to file quiet title actions, hoping to get her homeowner clients full title to their homes (a quiet title action ‘quiets' all other claims). Charney says she's helped thousands of homeowners delay or prevent foreclosure, and trained thousands of lawyers across the country on how to protect homeowners and battle in court.

Criminal Charges?

Other suits go beyond merely challenging title to alleging criminal activity. On July 26, 2010, a class action was filed in Florida seeking relief against MERS and an associated legal firm for racketeering and mail fraud. It alleges that the defendants used "the artifice of MERS to sabotage the judicial process to the detriment of borrowers;" that "to perpetuate the scheme, MERS was and is used in a way so that the average consumer, or even legal professional, can never determine who or what was or is ultimately receiving the benefits of any mortgage payments;" that the scheme depended on "the MERS artifice and the ability to generate any necessary ‘assignment' which flowed from it;" and that "by engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity, specifically ‘mail or wire fraud,' the Defendants . . . participated in a criminal enterprise affecting interstate commerce."

Local governments deprived of filing fees may also be getting into the act, at least through representatives suing on their behalf. Qui tam actions allow for a private party or "whistle blower" to bring suit on behalf of the government for a past or present fraud on it. In State of California ex rel. Barrett R. Bates, filed May 10, 2010, the plaintiff qui tam sued on behalf of a long list of local governments in California against MERS and a number of lenders, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, for "wrongfully bypass[ing] the counties' recording requirements; divest[ing] the borrowers of the right to know who owned the promissory note . . .; and record[ing] false documents to initiate and pursue non-judicial foreclosures, and to otherwise decrease or avoid payment of fees to the Counties and the Cities where the real estate is located." The complaint notes that "MERS claims to have ‘saved' at least $2.4 billion dollars in recording costs," meaning it has helped avoid billions of dollars in fees otherwise accruing to local governments. The plaintiff sues for treble damages for all recording fees not paid during the past ten years, and for civil penalties of between $5,000 and $10,000 for each unpaid or underpaid recording fee and each false document recorded during that period, potentially a hefty sum. Similar suits have been filed by the same plaintiff qui tam in Nevada and Tennessee.

By Their Own Sword: MERS' Role in the Financial Crisis

MERS is, according to its website, "an innovative process that simplifies the way mortgage ownership and servicing rights are originated, sold and tracked. Created by the real estate finance industry, MERS eliminates the need to prepare and record assignments when trading residential and commercial mortgage loans." Or as Karl Denninger puts it, "MERS' own website claims that it exists for the purpose of circumventing assignments and documenting ownership!"

MERS was developed in the early 1990s by a number of financial entities, including Bank of America, Countrywide, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, allegedly to allow consumers to pay less for mortgage loans. That did not actually happen, but what MERS did allow was the securitization and shuffling around of mortgages behind a veil of anonymity. The result was not only to cheat local governments out of their recording fees but to defeat the purpose of the recording laws, which was to guarantee purchasers clean title. Worse, MERS facilitated an explosion of predatory lending in which lenders could not be held to account because they could not be identified, either by the preyed-upon borrowers or by the investors seduced into buying bundles of worthless mortgages. As alleged in a Nevada class action called Lopez vs. Executive Trustee Services, et al.:

Before MERS, it would not have been possible for mortgages with no market value . . . to be sold at a profit or collateralized and sold as mortgage-backed securities. Before MERS, it would not have been possible for the Defendant banks and AIG to conceal from government regulators the extent of risk of financial losses those entities faced from the predatory origination of residential loans and the fraudulent re-sale and securitization of those otherwise non-marketable loans. Before MERS, the actual beneficiary of every Deed of Trust on every parcel in the United States and the State of Nevada could be readily ascertained by merely reviewing the public records at the local recorder's office where documents reflecting any ownership interest in real property are kept....

After MERS, . . . the servicing rights were transferred after the origination of the loan to an entity so large that communication with the servicer became difficult if not impossible .... The servicer was interested in only one thing - making a profit from the foreclosure of the borrower's residence - so that the entire predatory cycle of fraudulent origination, resale, and securitization of yet another predatory loan could occur again. This is the legacy of MERS, and the entire scheme was predicated upon the fraudulent designation of MERS as the ‘beneficiary' under millions of deeds of trust in Nevada and other states.

Axing the Bankers' Money Tree

If courts overwhelmed with foreclosures decide to take up the cause, the result could be millions of struggling homeowners with the banks off their backs, and millions of homes no longer on the books of some too-big-to-fail banks. Without those assets, the banks could again be looking at bankruptcy. As was pointed out in a San Francisco Chronicle article by attorney Sean Olender following the October 2007 Boyko [pdf] decision:

The ticking time bomb in the U.S. banking system is not resetting subprime mortgage rates. The real problem is the contractual ability of investors in mortgage bonds to require banks to buy back the loans at face value if there was fraud in the origination process.

. . . The loans at issue dwarf the capital available at the largest U.S. banks combined, and investor lawsuits would raise stunning liability sufficient to cause even the largest U.S. banks to fail . . . .

Nationalization of these giant banks might be the next logical step-a step that some commentators said should have been taken in the first place. When the banking system of Sweden collapsed following a housing bubble in the 1990s, nationalization of the banks worked out very well for that country.

The Swedish banks were largely privatized again when they got back on their feet, but it might be a good idea to keep some banks as publicly-owned entities, on the model of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. For most of the 20th century it served as a "people's bank," making low interest loans to consumers and businesses through branches all over the country.

With the strengthened position of Wall Street following the 2008 bailout and the tepid 2010 banking reform bill, the U.S. is far from nationalizing its mega-banks now. But a committed homeowner movement to tear off the predatory mask called MERS could yet turn the tide. While courts are not likely to let 62 million homeowners off scot free, the defect in title created by MERS could give them significant new leverage at the bargaining table.

Ellen Brown wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Ellen developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she shows how the Federal Reserve and "the money trust" have usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her websites are,, and

The Duke & The Dude

Thanks to Kenn Thomas of for the following...

Iconic John Wayne Role Redone
by Jonathan Crow
August 18, 2010
Yahoo News

In 1969, John Wayne played Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit" -- a grizzled, drunken U.S. Marshal hired by a 14-year-old girl to track down her father's killer. The role ended up winning the aging Western star his first and only Oscar, prompting him to make a rare sequel -- "Rooster Cogburn" -- opposite Katherine Hepburn in 1975. The image of Wayne's craggy, eye-patched visage from "True Grit" has become a cinematic icon.

So film mavens everywhere were taken aback when it was announced last year that Joel and Ethan Coen would been making their own version of "True Grit." But don't expect a straight remake; this movie is based more closely on the Charles Portis novel. And Jeff Bridges, fresh off his Oscar win, was tapped to play Cogburn; that's right, the Duke has been replaced by the Dude.

The movie will also star another Coens alum, Josh Brolin, along with Barry Pepper and Matt Damon.

"I've never even seen the original John Wayne movie"

Matt Damon, who plays Glen Campbell's old role of LaBeouf in this new version, told Entertainment Weekly. Unlike the old flick, this LaBeouf reportedly doesn't sing. "Our movie is totally different."

This week, the first photo of the Coen Brothers' effort was released, hinting at other differences. The most obvious being is that Mattie Ross, who is a fourteen year-old girl in the book, is actually being played by a fourteen year-old girl -- newcomer Haile Steinfeld. In the original, Kim Darby was 21.

But what fans of the original are all wondering is how the Dude's Cogburn going to stack up next to the Duke's. The photo shows Bridges, looking ornery and weathered, sporting a beard and that famous eye patch. Wayne, a staunch Republican during the height of the '60s, was resolutely clean-shaven.

A quick comparison reveals that Wayne and Bridges sport their patches on opposite eyes. The Duke covered his left eye as a nod to his longtime collaborator John Ford, who lost vision in that eye when he removed bandages too soon after a cataract operation. No word on why Bridges decided to cover the other side.

When he was making his "True Grit," John Wayne was 61 years old. He was too unhealthy to perform his own stunts and, thanks to having an entire lung removed years prior, could barely walk more than 30 feet before heavy breathing. You might be forgiven, when looking at side-by-side photos, for assuming that Bridges is five or ten years younger that Wayne when he shot his version. In fact, Jeff Bridges turns 61 in December.

"True Grit" opens December 25, 2010.

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The “Ground Zero mosque”: Obama cowers before right-wing hysteria

The “Ground Zero mosque”: Obama cowers before right-wing hysteria
18 August 2010
Bill Van Auken

With the US mid-term elections less than three months away, the issue that has become the focus of this campaign season is a telling indicator of the intensely reactionary character of official politics in America and of both big business parties.

Employing unbridled hypocrisy and cynicism, right-wing forces centered in the Republican Party, but aided and abetted by leading Democrats, have attempted to whip up mob hysteria against a proposed Islamic cultural center that has been approved by local authorities for construction in lower Manhattan.

The center, the Cordoba House, is to include a swimming pool, a gym, an arts center and a memorial to the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. While its supporters have stressed its inter-faith character, it has been almost universally dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque.”

Semi-fascist elements have denounced the proposed center—to be built two and a half blocks from where New York City’s World Trade Center once stood—as a desecration of the “sacred ground” where over 2,700 people were killed on 9/11. Former House Speaker and likely contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 Newt Gingrich has compared the backers of the project to Nazis protesting outside the Holocaust museum.

The reality is that, nearly nine years after the attacks, the former World Trade Center largely remains a hole in the ground, a sprawling construction site in which little has been built. No memorial has been erected to those who died, as real estate developers and government officials have haggled year after year over financial terms.

Within roughly the same walking distance from this “sacred ground,” one passes strip joints, porn shops, betting parlors and dance clubs, none of which appear to have wounded the sensibilities of these patriotic defenders of the sanctity of Ground Zero. The center itself is to take the place of a dilapidated warehouse, previously the site of a Burlington Coat Factory outlet.

The real aims of those attacking the Cordoba House are not the protection of the nonexistent sanctity of Ground Zero or the shielding of the sensibilities of 9/11 victims’ families. It is a vicious attempt to foment and exploit religious bigotry, xenophobia and outright racism to drive politics ever further to the right.

The far-reaching implications of this campaign entail an assault on the First Amendment of the US Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of speech and religion and barring the government from establishing a state religion or lending preference to one religion over another. This includes the right of Muslims, or any other religious minority, to worship how and where they choose, without the interference of the government or other religious institutions. The “Ground Zero mosque” campaign is consciously directed at mobilizing elements of the religious right that reject this principle.

It is entirely in sync with a parallel attempt to foment mass hysteria over immigration, portraying immigrants as a criminal class responsible for the loss of jobs and social services. Increasingly, this campaign has embraced the demand for the repeal of the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment—which guarantees citizenship to every person born in the US—in order to clear the way for the deportation of millions of children born in the US to undocumented immigrants. This amendment is the constitutional foundation of equal protection under the law.

In both cases, the assault on core constitutional principles and democratic rights has been coupled with venomous rhetoric that serves as an incitement to violence against immigrants, racial minorities and Muslims.

For months, the Obama White House refused to comment on the controversy, insisting in the face of an assault on core constitutional principles and a nationwide hate campaign that the dispute was little more than a local zoning matter.

Then, last Friday, Obama delivered a speech to a Ramadan dinner at the White House affirming that “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center in Lower Manhattan … This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.”

Within the space of 24 hours—and in the wake of a firestorm of Republican right criticism—Obama demonstrated that his commitment was anything but unshakeable. “I was not commenting and will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” he told reporters. “I was commenting very specifically on the right of people that date back to our founding.”

In other words, Obama’s White House speech was nothing more than a formal recognition of the constitutional rights that he is sworn to defend, upholding them in principle, while refusing to lift a finger in their defense against those who would deny these rights in practice.

Obama’s cowardly retreat was followed by a similar statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat, Nevada), who on Monday issued a gutless statement acknowledging that “The First Amendment protects freedom of religion,” while insisting “the mosque should be built someplace else.” Needless to say, the senator did not propose any alternative site, much less offer to have the center built in Nevada.

There is little to distinguish Obama and Reid from Gingrich, Sarah Palin and others on the Republican right, who also formally acknowledge freedom of religion, while demanding that this freedom be denied to Muslims. Both parties are content to turn the Constitution into a dead letter, replacing it with statutes more suited to police-state repression at home and permanent military aggression abroad.

Why did Obama bother giving the speech if he was prepared to repudiate it so quickly? Clearly, it was not motivated by any concern for religious freedom or democratic rights.

The real motivation was suggested in a Washington Post column by Michael Gerson, the former speechwriter for George W. Bush, who aptly noted that with his speech and speedy backtracking, “Obama managed to collect all the political damage for taking an unpopular stand without gaining credit for political courage.”

The US president, Gerson continued, was compelled to make such a speech, because he “leads a coalition that includes Iraqi and Afghan Muslims who risk death each day fighting Islamic radicalism at our side. How could he possibly tell them that their place of worship inherently symbolizes the triumph of terror?”

Obama acted not out of commitment to constitutional principles, but rather, in all likelihood, at the prodding of the Pentagon and the US foreign policy establishment. They fear that the anti-Muslim campaign being whipped up by the Republican right could undermine US military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan to affirm Washington’s hegemony in the overwhelmingly Muslim Middle East and Central Asia, the world’s two most important sources of oil and gas.

Indeed, the principal figure involved in the Cordoba House project, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, plays a direct role in these US efforts. The State Department announced last week that it is sending Rauf on a goodwill tour of the Middle East, the third such mission by the Muslim cleric, with whom the State Department acknowledged having “a long-term relationship.” The Imam has also provided training for the FBI and police agencies in dealing with Muslim populations.

The “Ground Zero mosque” controversy has ensnared the Obama administration in an unavoidable contradiction. On the one hand US imperialism needs to recruit Muslim allies and puppets to further its two ongoing wars, as well as to support aggression against Iran. On the other hand, it has whipped up anti-Muslim sentiment within the general population and among US troops in order to generate religious-based support for these wars.

In the final analysis, the fascistic agitation against the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan, together with the cowering response of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party, demonstrate that militarism and imperialist war abroad coupled with ever-widening social inequality at home are incompatible with democratic rights. The escalating attacks on rights that go back to the founding of the American republic constitute a stark warning. The defense of these rights requires a counteroffensive by the working class against the reactionary social and political forces being mobilized to subvert them and against the profit system that gives rise to these attacks.

Humor Break: No YMCA Near Ground Zero

Elvis bin Laden

Elvis bin Laden
July 26, 2010

WASHINGTON -- The "Veterans Today" Network, a one-man show on the Internet created and run by Gordon Duff, a 100 percent disabled Marine Vietnam veteran, states flatly that 9/11 was a CIA/Mossad conspiracy and that Osama bin Laden wasn't involved and died in 2001.

This can easily be dismissed as yet another example of deliberately disseminated disinformation riddled with intentionally false or inaccurate data designed to confuse the adversary. But some key intelligence officials are taking bin Laden's reported demise seriously.

CIA Director Leon Panetta said in early July that the intelligence agency hadn't been able to positively confirm any specific information on the uber-terrorist since "late 2001." And all those audio and video tapes broadcast by the Qatar-based al-Jazeera global television network? Clever Israeli forgeries, says Duff.

Many other voices in cyberspace claim the bin Laden myth is kept "alive" to justify the Afghan war and the global war on terror.

Angelo Codevilla, who teaches international relations at Boston University, is a former U.S. intelligence officer who studied Soviet disinformation techniques during the Cold War. He says a close examination of all the alleged bin Laden tapes, including the videos, have convinced him that Elvis Presley is more alive than Osama bin Laden.

By all accounts from those who knew him prior to 9/11, bin Laden was a deeply religious man and his early tapes after 9/11 were sprinkled with references to God and the Prophet Muhammad. Not so the later ones, which were subsequently analyzed by some experts who said they were professional forgeries.

The last time credible intercepts of bin Laden's voice were made by overhead satellites in early December 2001 as he was escaping through the Tora Bora mountain range from Afghanistan to the sanctuary of Pakistan's tribal areas.

The late Ajmal Khattak, the head of the Khattak tribe, who had half a million followers in the region, advised this reporter and his Pakistani assistant Ammar Turabi, and our multilingual security, to rent horses and proceed to an exit from Tora Bora in the Tirah Valley. We got there Dec. 11. Local villagers told us bin Laden and some 50 fighters had emerged Dec. 9 and were met by a convoy of utility vehicles that sped off in the direction Peshawar.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton evidently had more recent intelligence on her last visit to Pakistan July 21. She said she believes "elements" of the Pakistani government know bin Laden's whereabouts. Those with the knowledge, she added, are in the "bowels" of the bureaucracy, not the "top levels of government." She was clearly referring to some members of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

Former ISI chief Gen. Hamid Gull is a personal friend of both bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, and bin Laden's no. 2, the Egyptian doctor Adman al-Zawahiri. Gul is an advocate of Pakistan's politico-religious extremists and self-declared enemy of the United States.

There are "retired" ISI officers who still see bin Laden as a hero of the joint campaign against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Gul and his followers are also working to hasten an end to the U.S. presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

For the now growing number who believes bin Laden is dead, there is only one valid message from bin Laden. It was his open letter to the "Pakistani people," on al-Jazeera, dated Sept. 24, 2001, 13 days after 9/11, in which he said:

-- "I have already stated that I was not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States.

-- "Neither had I any knowledge of these attacks nor do I consider the killing of innocent women and children and other humans, as an appreciable act … Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent … people. Such a practice is forbidden even in the course of a battle.

-- "All that is going in Palestine … is sufficient to call the wrath of God upon the United States and Israel."

Those who believe Osama Bin Laden is alive, and guilty of killing almost 3,000, quote his 2004 talk in which he said he thought of attacking U.S. skyscrapers when he saw Israeli aircraft bombing tower blocks in Lebanon in 1982.

"God knows that it had not occurred to our mind to attack the twin towers," he said then, "but after our patience ran out and we saw the injustice and inflexibility of the American-Israeli alliance toward our people in Palestine and Lebanon, this came to my mind."

While Duff is mostly guff for those whose job is to keep tabs on all the twists and turns since 9/11, there is also the post 9/11 generation that doesn't read newspapers or weekly magazines and gets its news fix online. The conspiracy theory coupled with disinformation from all sides makes for more interesting reading. It also gives youngsters a leg up on their "naive" elders.

Bin Laden was suffering from a kidney ailment and some experts say he died Dec. 13, four days after his escape from Tora Bora. Videos since then, neutral experts say, show bin Laden writing with his right hand but he is well known as left-handed. They also detected differences in the shape of the nose, skin color and speech.

Duff does commentary on his conspiracy theories for radio and TV news programs; his provocative articles are carried the world over and his Web site gets 22 million page hits a month. Some of his recent "Top 10 Stories of the Week": "The CIA: Beyond Redemption and Should Be Terminated"; "Does Event Honoring Israeli Spy Suggest Another Israeli Operation?"; "Wikipedia Revisionism to Israeli Pressure Groups."

Duff's "Corporate Profile" says, "We are a full service Network of 63 Web sites that service the U.S. Military Veterans' Community," which claims "over 310,000 plus unique visitors per month" and recently grew 39 percent in one month.

On the World Wide Web, there are no red lines between information, misinformation and disinformation.

Orwell in charge?

Orwell in charge? Kucinich compares Iraq ‘exit’ to Bush’s ‘Mission Accomplished’
Ron Brynaert
Friday, August 20th, 2010

"Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today challenged the notion that removing ‘combat brigades’ but leaving 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq constitutes an end to combat operations, let alone an end to the war," a press release sent to RAW STORY on Thursday stated.

The press release continues:

“Who is in charge of our operations in Iraq, now? George Orwell? A war based on lies continues to be a war based on lies. Today, we have a war that is not a war, with combat troops who are not combat troops. In 2003, President Bush said ' Mission Accomplished ' . In 2010, the White House says combat operations are over in Iraq , but will leave 50,000 troops, many of whom will inevitably be involved in combat-related activities.

“Just seven days ago, General Babaker Shawkat Zebari, the commander of Iraq ’s military, said that Iraq ’s security forces will not be trained and ready to take over security for another 10 years. One story is being told to the military on the ground in Iraq and another story is being told to their families back home.

“You can’t be in and out at the same time.

“This is not the end of the war; this is simply a new stage in the campaign to lull the American people into accepting an open-ended presence in Iraq . This is not an honest accounting to the American people and it diminishes the role of the troops who will put their lives on the line. This is not fair to the troops, their families or the American people.

“The Administration and the Pentagon would be wise to level with the American people about our long-term commitment to Iraq .

“The cost of the wars has been estimated to be around $1 million per soldier per year. Each year the troop levels stay at 50,000 means another $50 billion is wasted. I object to spending billions of dollars to maintain a charade in Iraq while our own economy is failing and over 15 million Americans are out of work. I object to keeping any level troops in Iraq to maintain a war based on lies. It is time that Congress sees through the manipulation and finally acts to truly end the war by stopping its funding,” said Kucinich.

Kucinich's statement doesn't mention President Obama's name once, but the president also didn't don a military jumpsuit and fly a plane onto a carrier with a gigantic "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Many of the top liberal blogs who have criticized Obama the past year went silent on the Iraq "exit" coverage (perhaps some are on August vacation).

Aside from Kucinich, RAW STORY was only able to find a scathing editorial on the World Socialist Web Site:

The White House and the Pentagon, assisted by a servile media, have hyped Thursday’s exit of a single Stryker brigade from Iraq as the end of the “combat mission” in that country, echoing the ill-fated claim made by George W. Bush seven years ago.

Obama is more skillful in packaging false propaganda than Bush, and no doubt has learned something from the glaring mistakes of his predecessor. Bush landed on the deck of the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003 to proclaim—under a banner reading “Mission Accomplished”—that “major combat operations” in Iraq were over. A captive audience of naval enlisted personnel was assembled on deck as cheering extras.

Obama wisely did not fly to Kuwait to deliver a similar address from atop an armored vehicle. He merely issued a statement from the White House, while leaving the heavy lifting to the television networks and their “embedded” reporters, who accompanied the brigade across the border into Kuwait and repeated the propaganda line fashioned by the administration and the military brass.

Three years after former President George W. Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" on an aircraft carrier, MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann proceeded to mock the early propagandistic call by announcing each successive night on his Countdown show that it has been "one thousand and blank" days since the the war in Iraq "ended," RAW STORY noted yesterday.

Chances are, three years from now, even if US troops are still caught up in a quagmire in Iraq, Olbermann won't be doing a similar signoff schtick to mock the coverage that ran on NBC and MSNBC Wednesday evening.

At The New York Times Media Decoder blog,, Brian Stelter reported, "The combat mission in Iraq doesn’t officially end until Aug. 31 but viewers and readers could be forgiven for thinking it ended tonight."

In a broadcast that Brian Williams said constituted an “official Pentagon announcement,” NBC showed live pictures Wednesday night as members of the last combat brigade in Iraq drove toward the Kuwait border, symbolizing an end to fighting in the country.

“We are with the last combat troops” in Iraq, the NBC correspondent Richard Engel said at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, the same time that the military lifted an embargo that had been placed on the reporters traveling with the 440 troops, a part of the 4/2 Stryker Brigade.

The Associated Press, Fox News, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Al Jazeera and other news media outlets also reported Wednesday evening that the last combat troops were crossing into Kuwait. Only NBC broadcast it live, in asymmetrical image to the invasion that captured the nation’s attention on television seven years ago.

Coverage by most media outlets on the "last combat brigade" leaving Iraq paint an almost rosy picture with their headlines, which suggest that not only will the close to 60,000 troops left behind not be fighting anyone, but that there is no chance of any future surge.

"As the United States military prepares to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, the Obama administration is planning a remarkable civilian effort, buttressed by a small army of contractors, to fill the void," the New York Times reports.

However, the Associated Press and many liberal blogs instead chose to criticize Fox News for not covering the "exit" with the same gusto.

Perhaps another network could have covered the extensive coverage MSNBC was provided by the Pentagon instead.