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The Bark of Tom Harkin By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, September 16, 2004

President Bush has "Lied to the American People" about his National Guard service during the Vietnam War, snarled U.S. Senator Tom Harkin at a September 9, 2004 press conference. Swift Boat veterans critical of John Kerry were also liars, Harkin claimed. Vice President Dick Cheney, said Harkin, was “a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War.” And those who brought up Kerry’s anti-war activities in the United States that encouraged the North Vietnamese Communists to continue fighting instead of negotiating peace, said Harkin, represent the “right-wing kooky fringe.”

The hot-headed, gray-haired 65-year-old Harkin has lately become Democratic candidate John F. Kerry’s most vicious barking and biting attack dog. By comparison, Kerry’s running mate John Edwards looks like an inexperienced golden retriever puppy. Who is Harkin? And is his foaming at the mouth a sign of rabies or of some other brain-destroying sickness?

Tom Harkin was first elected to the Senate from Iowa in 1984. His current term ends in 2008. He was born in 1939 in the Iowa town Cumming, population then 150, and grew up with five brothers and sisters in a small two-bedroom house. His father was a coal miner. His mother was a Slovenian immigrant who died when Harkin was 10. He attended Iowa State University on an ROTC scholarship, graduating in 1962 with a degree in political science and economics. He served in the U.S. Navy 1962-67 and in the Naval Reserves in Washington, D.C. 1969-72.

In 1969 Harkin began work in the office of longtime Iowa Democratic Congressman Neal Smith, and to supplement his income was given a patronage job at the U.S. Post Office Department. In 1970 Harkin as a staff aide to the House Select Committee on United States Involvement in Southeast Asia accompanied a fact-finding mission to South Vietnam. As part of this mission, during a 30-minute visit to Con Son Prison he snapped photographs of Communist prisoners in “tiger cages.”

When the mission returned, Harkin declared that these photographs were “too important” to be turned over to Congress and to the committee that employed him, paid for his travel and provided him official U.S. Government access to the prison. Harkin instead sold these photos, some to anti-American foreign outlets, and others to Life Magazine for $10,000. (Harkin used this money from selling what ethically was taxpayer-funded government property to pay off his own debts for his 1972 law degree from Catholic University.)


The “tiger cages” story in Life and throughout the anti-war press turned Harkin into an instant star of the left, including the establishment U.S. media. Harkin gave an interview to the Daily World, official newspaper of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), in which he made sweeping attacks on the treatment of prisoners throughout South Vietnam. His statements, based on being an underling who spent 30 minutes walking through one prison, were used in communist propaganda worldwide against the South Vietnamese government and the United States.


Harkin was befriended by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a Marxist-aligned “think tank” in Washington, D.C., and by other leftist institutions and activists that continue to support his career. In 1972 these comrades persuaded Harkin to run for Congress in a race that showcased the unchanging Harkin style. During one of his Republican opponent’s speeches, Harkin forced his way onto the stage and shouted that this incumbent Congressman was telling “a pack of lies.” In the November election the young anti-war Harkin lost, swept away in the 49-state loss of 1972 Democratic standard-bearer Senator George McGovern.


When Harkin ran for Congress again in 1974, the tide had changed and helped him to become one of many Democratic “Watergate babies” that this scandal swept into office. Harkin served in the House of Representatives for 10 years.  He quickly established one of the farthest left voting records in Congress. The progressive Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) rates him in recent years as voting 80 to 100 percent of the time on the left side of legislation. He is an ideological ally of the radical Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives.


During Harkin’s 1982 re-election campaign, his opponent documented that this Democratic congressman had always voted against foreign aid for countries friendly to the U.S., but that Harkin had voted to give taxpayer money to Communist Vietnam, Communist Cuba, Communist Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Marxist Sandinista Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and other Communist nations. When this came up in a broadcast debate, Harkin replied: “From now on, I am going to vote against all foreign aid.”


In 1984 he won an Iowa U.S. Senate seat by falsely claiming that his pro-life, pro-death penalty Republican opponent favored the execution of women who had abortions. (Harkin is a Roman Catholic who voted against a ban on “partial-birth” abortions.)


As a newly-elected Senator, in April 1985 Harkin and fellow neophyte leftwing Senator John F. Kerry (D.-Massachusetts) flew to Nicaragua (on a trip arranged by IPS staff member Peter Kornbluh) to give propaganda support to the Sandinistas only days before a scheduled congressional vote on President Ronald Reagan’s requested aid for Nicaragua’s anti-Communist freedom fighters. After embracing Daniel Ortega in front of news cameras, Harkin and Kerry flew back to Washington with a piece of paper signed by Ortega in which he claimed to be “non-aligned” between the U.S. and Soviet Union.


The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, lobbied by Harkin and Kerry, voted against giving aid to the anti-Communist Contras. Harkin and Kerry according to some accounts had been told privately in Nicaragua, but had kept secret from fellow Democrat lawmakers, that at the very moment the vote against President Reagan’s request was taking place Daniel Ortega would be aboard a Soviet airliner winging to Moscow to pledge his allegiance to the Soviet Union.


Kerry’s response was not to criticize the Sandinista leader but to tell the liberal Boston Globe that President Reagan had “forced Ortega to look to the Soviets for help.” 


But years earlier Ortega’s brother Humberto had declared: “We [Sandinistas] are anti-Yankee, we are against the bourgeoisie…we are guided by the scientific doctrine of the revolution, by Marxism-Leninism.” Humberto Ortega also had said that the Sandinistas intended to “crush” all who dissented from their rule.


Harkin and Kerry, said critics, had violated the Constitution by negotiating a treaty directly with a foreign nation (a power exclusive to the Executive, not the Legislative branch of government), and that the two leftwing Senators were “cavorting with, and used by, the Communists.” Kerry said that he was “as mad as anyone” that the Sandinista leader he and Harkin had embraced days earlier had gone to Moscow.


“Where did my colleagues think he was going to go? Disney World?” retorted liberal Senator Christopher Dodd (D.-Connecticut), annoyed by the embarrassment they had caused for other Democrats. “The man is a Marxist.”


Harkin and Kerry had been circulating a study to fellow lawmakers that purported to show 77 instances in which the Reagan Administration had misled  Congress about its Central American policies. The study, which included not a single word critical of Soviet or Cuban involvement in Central America, turned out to have been written by Institute for Policy Studies analysts, at least one of whom was an agent for the Soviet secret police, the KGB.


“The IPS is the perfect intellectual front for Soviet activities which would be resisted if they were to originate openly from the KGB,” the director of the London-based Institute for the Study of Conflict Brian Crozier once said.  But Tom Harkin has continued his close ties and friendship with the Institute for Policy Studies. He was one of only 14 “progressive” lawmakers who have been on IPS’ anniversary celebration committee.  “I want to thank the Institute for Policy Studies,” said Harkin at an IPS reception at Mott House, “and the people who have worked so hard [and] have been in my office a lot.”


Harkin, like some in American agribusiness, has visited Communist Cuba, in part to promote future crop sales and encourage the easing of trade restrictions. The Iowa Senator has also on occasion called on Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to release imprisoned dissidents. Upon returning from one recent trip, Harkin implicitly blamed Cuba’s latest crackdown on dissent on fear caused by President George W. Bush, and Harkin called on the Bush Administration to calm these fears by stating that it has no intention of military action against Cuba.


During the 2004 presidential race, Harkin initially endorsed leftwing candidate and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. Two months before the general election, Harkin became an attack dog for Democratic standard-bearer and old comrade John Kerry, who like Harkin voted to authorize war in Iraq but thereafter relentlessly criticized it.


Harkin has gotten elected and re-elected, in part, by claiming to have served in Vietnam. During his service in the Navy, Harkin told Washington Post reporter David Broder, “One year was in Vietnam. I was flying F-4s and F-8s on combat air patrols and photo-reconnaissance support missions. I did no bombing.” But as the late Senator Barry Goldwater (R.-Arizona) was first to notice, nothing in Harkin’s military service file showed that he ever served in Vietnam. Challenged by Goldwater, an Air Force General, to explain why he was awarded neither the Vietnam Service Medal nor the Vietnam Campaign medal (decorations given to everyone who served in the Southeast Asian theater), Harkin changed his story. Harkin claimed that he instead had flown combat sorties over Cuba during the 1960s.


This was another Harkin lie. Harkin actually served as a ferry pilot who flew aircraft in need of repair between the Philippines and his base in Atsugi, Japan. Harkin at last acknowledged that he never flew air patrols in Vietnam. He began describing himself in speeches as “a Vietnam era veteran.”


The establishment liberal media apparently never checked Harkin’s claims about serving in Vietnam because his politics paralleled those of the reporters covering him. Harkin’s response to the emerging, more diverse media of talk radio and the internet has been censorship. Harkin, observed Australian reporter Gerard Jackson, “proudly announced [in June 2004] that he had sneaked in an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2005 Defence Authorization bill: an amendment designed to drive the Rush Limbaugh Show off the American Forces Radio and Television Service.”


Armed Forces Radio routinely makes approximately 1,200 radio programs – including the entire liberal schedule of National Public Radio (NPR) and one hour each weekday of syndicated conservative talk radio host Limbaugh – available to local program directors of each of its 400 or so military radio stations around the world. The aim is to give American men and women in uniform access to the shows they would tune to if back home in the United States.


Senator Harkin’s amendment was designed to require each Armed Forces Radio station to “provide balanced representation of political viewpoints,” i.e. to balance each hour of Limbaugh with an hour of leftist commentary whether the troops want it or not. As happened with the discarded “Fairness Doctrine” of the Federal Communications Commission, this vague requirement would prompt many military program directors to avoid complaints and problems by removing Limbaugh’s show from their schedules.


Harkin, noted reporter Jackson, during his 1985 mission with John Kerry to rescue the Marxist Sandinistas, urged the editor of Nicaragua’s independent newspaper La Prensa, Violetta Chamorro, “to accept Sandinista censorship.” She bravely refused.


The Marxist-oriented Institute for Policy Studies has given Harkin airtime on its own “In the Public Service” radio syndication to allege, e.g., human rights violations by the government of El Salvador, which has been fighting against Cuban-backed Marxist terrorist guerrillas. IPS made Harkin a member of the board of its leftwing Interlink Press Service.


How has Tom Harkin repeatedly gotten elected in the American heartland state of Iowa? One answer is “narrowly,” because Harkin has never gotten more than 55 percent of the vote in any election.


But Iowa is not entirely the land of hard-working, independent-minded yeoman farmers who never seek a handout, as some believe. (I write this as the son of an Iowa-born-and-raised father. A significant fraction of all the Kerns, McCains and McKenzies in southwestern Iowa are my relatives.)


Iowa is a welfare state. Its farmers collect at least $2.3 billion in federal funds every year in farm subsidies or, in the wake of the “Freedom to Farm” law, in “emergency” payments to farmers.


To keep this cash flowing, Iowa politicians like Tom Harkin have long voted in concert with big city liberals. Farm state lawmakers vote for more food stamps and welfare, and urban politicians reciprocate by voting for more farm subsidies, justifying them as needed to produce the food those food stamps procure. It is a symbiosis of socialism that has hooked people with government largesse addiction from Des Moines to inner city Detroit.


Tom Harkin is the pusher supplying these Iowa addicts. As ranking member and former Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee, he has been one of the biggest promoters and defenders of such subsidies. He also sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee and its Agriculture & Rural Development subcommittee.


Iowa can also be called America’s oldest state, i.e., with the oldest average population and more residents 85 or older than Florida. A higher proportion of people here acquired their political views during the Great Depression and under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt than anywhere else. A higher proportion here are retired and concerned about Social Security, Medicare and other government programs than are younger populations in other states. And seniors tend to vote in higher proportion than other age groups. Harkin claims to serve their concerns as ranking member of the Labor, Health & Human Services and Education subcommittee and as a member of the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee.


Harkin originally won a seat in Congress with money and support from organized labor. In recent years, however, his campaign funds have come largely from other sources.


 During the 2004 election cycle, when Harkin was not up for re-election, more than 80 percent of the dollars contributed to his campaign came from outside the state of Iowa. The three locales from which most of Harkin’s cash came were Washington, D.C., Los Angeles-Beverly Hills and New York City. Harkin might look like a Senator from Iowa, but he is the almost-wholly-owned subsidy of special interests and alien ideological groups very far away from traditional Iowan interests and values.


During the 2004 cycle Harkin’s campaign coffers collected more than $40,000 from nutrient seller Herbalife International and $35,000 from diet and herbal substance maker Starlight International. Starlight, owned by TV producer and concert promoter Steven Goldberg, was questioned in 2003 by a congressional committee about its marketing of products that contained the potentially dangerous herb ephedra. Other big health-related donors include Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Healthsouth Corporation and the American Chiropractic Association. His own Senate biography describes Harkin as “ranking Democrat on the Senate panel that funds most health programs,” as well as “co-chair of the Senate Rural Health Caucus.”


During recent election cycles Senator Harkin has pocketed approximately $32,000 in campaign contributions per cycle from the University of Iowa and at least $15,000 per cycle from the State of Iowa. This apparently means that Tom Harkin has found a way to coerce Republican as well as Democratic taxpayers to pay for his re-election campaigns through partisan political contributions he is given via the taxpayer-funded University of Iowa and the state government.


It seems unsurprising that this farm state senator would get fat campaign contributions from agri-giant company Archer Daniels Midland, especially since Harkin has strongly supported the half-billion dollar annual government ethanol subsidies to this company. But Harkin has also gotten $18,000 per cycle donations from Microsoft, more than $25,000 per cycle from investment firm Goldman Sachs, and more than $20,000 per cycle from defense contractor Northrup Grumman.


Harkin’s wife Ruth, whom he met when both were studying law at Catholic University, moved from the powerful law firm of Vernon Jordan and Robert Strauss – Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLC – in 1993 when appointed by  President Bill Clinton as chairman and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). At OPIC she facilitated deals with Clinton Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.


Ruth Harkin appears to have played a role in President Clinton’s seizure of low-sulfur coal lands in Utah that gave a potential $1 trillion in assets to the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army and the Indonesia-based Lippo Industries, which control the world’s only other major deposits of this kind of coal used by U.S. power plants. These foreign entities funneled huge amounts of money to the Clintons and to the Democratic Party.


While Ruth Harkin ran OPIC for President Clinton, it channeled $748 million to Democratic Party benefactor Enron Corporation as well as billions to her law firm’s clients in Russia. She also directed $65 million to military contractor United Technologies, which hired her as Senior Vice President and head of its Washington office in 1997. She also became a director of the oil company Conoco and, in the wake of its 2002 merger, of Conoco Phillips. (In June 2001 the Des Moines Register reported that Senator Harkin “inadvertently omitted” $200,000 in Conoco stock owned by his wife and another $15,000 of this stock owned by one of his two daughters.)


In 2003 and 2004 the leftwing populist Tom Harkin was again echoing the line of his comrades at the Institute of Policy Studies, blaming oil companies as a prime reason for President Bush’s intervention in Iraq.

Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.

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