Bill Black: Fair Seas and Following Wind John McCain

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By William K. Black, Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One. Jointly published with New Economic Perspectives

As a savings and loan regulator, on April 9, 1987, I experienced Senator John McCain at his very worst.  He, and his four Senate colleagues, collectively, the “Keating Five,” pressured my colleagues and me to withdraw our recommendation that our agency place Charles Keating’s Lincoln Savings and Loan into conservatorship. Keating was looting Lincoln Savings and would soon defraud thousands of widows.  Lincoln Savings became the most expensive failure because the combination of the ‘Keating Five’ and Speaker of the House James Wright, Jr. successfully intimidated the new leadership of our regulatory agency.  The cowardly new leadership team refused even to consider our conservatorship recommendation and took the unprecedented action of removing our regulatory jurisdiction over Lincoln Savings.  Senator McCain and his colleagues acted badly for poor reasons and caused grave harm. Senator McCain has said that his actions on behalf of Keating caused him greater pain than his North Vietnamese torturers.

I write because of the despicable treatment of Senator McCain in his dignified struggle with what may be his end of days on this mortal plane. President Trump and the loathsome failures – his promised “best people” – are enraged at Senator McCain for his best actions.  At the April 9, 1987 meeting, Senator McCain acted contrary to his personal moral code, which together with the harm it caused to the public he had spent much of his life defending, is what caused him such pain.  Trump’s troglodytes are enraged at Senator McCain’s actions to protect the public and live up to his personal moral code.

I will not mention the name of the staffer who made the ‘joke’ about Senator McCain’s approaching death or her bosses who have refused to act. I will not waste my breath urging Trump to act.  None of us is surprised that John Kelly has again deserted honor.  I will speak no more of Trump in this letter for he and his ilk are so devoid of honor that they cannot understand the concepts that lead me to write.

For whatever comfort it may offer to Senator McCain and his family I offer this assurance.  We who suffered when you made your greatest mistake never saw you as a villain.  My regulatory colleagues and I had many discussions about the five Senators’ actions.  We were appalled and desperate to counter those actions.  We were never callous.  If any of us had ever uttered a statement one-hundredth as callous as that made by Trump’s staff about Senator McCain, the other three senior regulators would not have leaked the statement to the media.  They would have immediately called the person to task and demanded that there be no repeat of such callous comments.

Each of the five Senators that we saw at their worst had a distinguished record of public service.  We treasured even Senator Cranston, for example, who with Senator DeConcini was deepest in Keating’s pocket, for a wondrous act.  Cranston lost a civil suit for copyright violation when he was a young man because he translated into English and published extensive excerpts of a book without the author’s permission.  Cranston’s goal was to warn the American public of the author’s dangerous polemic.  The author was Adolf Hitler and the book was Mein Kampf.

We, the four regulators who had the awful meeting with the ‘Keating Five,’ always had a special reverence for two of the Senators – John Glenn and John McCain – for their lifetime of courage and service to the people of America.  I want John McCain to know that even in the very worst moments of the Lincoln Savings’ catastrophe we never forgot that lifetime of service and never ceased in our private conversations to remind each other of your life of courage and honor. Yes, we were disappointed in your actions, but John Glenn and you never lost our deepest respect.  We saw you as kindred spirits, for our goal was to protect the public from the Keatings of the world.  We always knew that the world was a far better place because of John Glenn and John McCain.  We never lost sight of the fact that the April 9, 1987 meeting was the only meeting of our lives with two authentic heroes.

Fair seas and following wind John McCain.  You and your family are in my prayers.  As a fellow Irish-American, if you predecease me I will gather my family, stand, and offer a toast celebrating your life and sacrifices.  Thank you for all you have done for America.  I pray that you may recover and render further service.

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  1. readerOfTeaLeaves

    Thanks to NC and Prof Bill Black for this reminder of sanity, decency, and humanity.

  2. clarky90

    “Kelly Sadler was discussing McCain’s opposition to President Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA director, Gina Haspel, when she allegedly claimed, “It doesn’t matter” because “he’s dying anyway.””

    How is this a “joke?”, and not simply a statement of fact?

  3. David

    More from Sen. McCain,

    In his 1992 Senate bid, McCain was joined on the campaign trail by his wife, Cindy, as well as campaign aide Doug Cole and consultant Wes Gullett. At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain’s hair and said, “You’re getting a little thin up there.” McCain’s face reddened, and he responded, “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.”

    And for his colleagues in the Senate,

    “F— you!” he shouted at Texas Sen. John Cornyn last year (2007).

    “Only an a—— would put together a budget like this,” he told the former Budget Committee chairman, Sen. Pete Domenici, in 1999.

    “I’m calling you a f—— jerk!” he once retorted to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.

    “F— you. I know more about this than anyone else in the room!” McCain reportedly shouted.

    And for the children,

    “Thanks for the question, you little jerk,” he said last year (2007) to a New Hampshire high school student wondering if McCain, at 71, was too old to be President.

    McCain’s irascibility fits with his proud image as a straight talker willing to say what people don’t want to hear.

    So, what’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander?

  4. MichaelSF

    I know a retired Navy captain/Annapolis grad who was there not long after McCain. He says he respects McCain’s refusal to leave prison in North Vietnam before the others. On the other hand, he said McCain milked his status as the son and grandson of admirals to the hilt (he should have been bounced from the Academy for only a small fraction of his misdeeds), and was well known in the Navy as a cad and as not being particularly concerned about behaving ethically.

    Add in to that Sarah Palin and his long history of generally never seeing a country populated by brown-skinned foreigners that he didn’t want to bomb (along with his general right wing neo-liberal stances) and maybe we shouldn’t get too teary eyed over his impending demise. He’s had a long run, become quite wealthy and largely never had to pay the piper.

    1. Doug Hillman

      I wouldn’t wager on it, but I do hope there is a hereafter and a reckoning for war criminals, ’cause there’s scant justice in this realm. McCain is a shameless warmonger; can’t recall any imperial-scionist war he opposed.

      How long has he been senator for life, anyway, since the Roman senate? The MIC will surely mourn his loss, but It will be a good day for humanity when his rigored talons are finally pried from the controls of the Merchants of Death Committee (aka Armed Services). I would lIke to thank Sarah Palin for averting or at least delaying WW3

      Politicians lie for a living, and like all his fellow snakes in suits, McCain sheds crocodile tears on cue. When it came to atoning for his S&L sins by promoting campaign finance reform, he never followed thru and has been gorging at the trough with the rest of the porcine swamp creatures ever since.

    2. Jim Haygood

      ‘He’s had a long run, become quite wealthy’

      McCain is passing his final days at his leafy ranch on Oak Creek a few miles below Sedona. Aerial view:

      Just downstream are several miles of vineyards and wineries along Page Springs Road in Cornville AZ.

      Locals are praying that it won’t be renamed McCain Road or festooned with an outsized statue.

  5. barefoot charley

    “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran!” Spoken like an Air Force career man?

    He was a maverick in not always being a dick, just mostly.

  6. perpetualWAR

    Sorry, I do not give McCain a “pass” on the Keating 5 scandal… one of the abused homeowners in the 2007 financial crisis, the S&L just allowed the banksters to hone their skills. Because McCain did not get thoroughly throw out of public service for his “misdeeds” those in “public service” have no fear of reprisal.

    Nope. McCain is no hero.

    1. Arizona Slim

      One of my neighbors had this to say about McCain: “I worked for American Continental. I knew what kind of crook he was.”

      1. Doug Hillman

        All well before my time, sadly. I think we’ve now (d)evolved into the latter “bread and circus” stage of the empire life-cycle, and the bread is dwindling. Almost all US pols and senators seem to have long since assumed the role of late-stage Romans—mostly charlatans robed in a flimsy veneer of democracy, even while they are securely insulated from it in a swamp of money and broadband deceit. Growing fat and narcotized on power, they try to divert the peasants from their own abject corruption with faux patriotism railing against the agression of Vlad the Barbarian for thwarting two of many fronts in global war of Pax Americana.

        I still berate myself for being suckered a decade ago into imagining that the Great Deceiver might be an echo of FDR, in a very similar crisis. In hindsight, it was a comically brief fantasy. But I must give Obama full credit for teaching me the paramount importance of sincerity; if you can fake that, convincingly, you’ve got it made.

      2. Politicians and Psychopaths

        Napoleon’s scathing description of the traitorous aristocrat Talleyrand was that he was a “silk stocking full of shit!”

        That assessment is equally accurate for your other two examples.

        As Lord Acton noted, “great men are almost always bad men.” In fact, the most famous names in mankind’s long and sordid history (from Alexander to Caesar to Genghis Khan to Hitler) have all been murdering pyschopaths — and too many of them in the last couple of centuries have been politicians….

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          And Napoleon is a trustworthy source? Seriously?

          Talleyrand had a consistent set of policy objectives that he pursued throughout his entire career, and they are progressive even by modern standards. He was not loyal to his nominal masters as a result.

          Napoleon’s diatribe against Talleyrand, when it was made, was seen by the people in that very room as a shocking indictment of Napoleon’s judgment and self control. Talleyrand effectively ignored it and continued to serve Napoleon.

          The fact that France preserved its pre-Napoleonic war borders and was not partitioned or diminished is universally acknowledged in histories of that period as solely due to Talleyrand’s success as a negotiator and his having established back channels, most important to Russia. Talleyrand was also firmly dedicated to peace and his maneuvering in the Congress of Vienna, in how various lands that had been seized by France were reconstituted (as in his attentiveness both to principles of legitimacy and balance of power dynamics) was to a very large degree the reason Europe remained at peace for the next century.

  7. The Rev Kev

    In earlier years I too had a lot of respect about people that had great deeds to their names. Of course when that person fell short of their actions it was always a disappointing. Since reading a small passage in a German book I have had to change my mind here. Like the characters in that book, I no longer care that much for reputations or a past of great deeds but what does interest is what that person is prepared to do right here, right now. That is what is most important to me.
    I don’t care how much pain McCain experienced covering for the defrauding all the thousands of those people. The important point is that he did it anyway. He has not changed and it was not that long ago that he got out of his sick bed to fly across the country to take away the healthcare of millions of his fellow Americans. I need not remind fellow commentators about his constantly pushing for more wars or “Bomb, bomb, Iran”. If you want to get biblical on it, it is a matter of every tree being known by its own fruit and his has been most bitter.
    With John McCain I take comfort in something that is commonplace. When a famous person passes away, there is much wearing of sackcloth and tearing of garments. But then the dam breaks and all the stories come out of what that person was really like. We had a taste of that recently with Barbara Bush. When Thatcher died and official Britain went into mourning, the people that came from areas devastated by her actions sang ‘Ding Dong The Witch is Dead’ at her funeral. I can imagine what will be said after McCain is gone and all the books will start coming out. Then the historians will sift his true character, not his public one, and the truth wll be known.

    1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

      I suppose that the definition of who should be listed as being one of the ” Great ” is decided by people like McCain & includes a very long list of people like him. My own definition of greatness would be all of those forgotten by history who despite the actions of the above, have somehow managed to live decent lives while doing little harm. He is now heading into a state in which we all become equal & I feel it would be hypocritical of me to feel sympathy for one who it appears felt so little for others who suffered at his hands.

      ” Within the hollow crown
      That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
      Keeps Death his court; and there the antic sits,
      Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp “. – WS.

  8. RabidGandhi

    Bill Black: “I experienced Senator John McCain at his very worst.”

    Does this mean Bill Black was in Hanoi as McCain was raining bombs down on innocent civilians?

    This article by Black is morally reprehensible. “Deepest respect” for a “kindred spirit”? My only hope is that Black’s “fair seas and flowing wind” bring the war criminal McCain straight to the Hague where he belongs.

    1. Bill H

      Or was watching McCain when he ditched his aging and deathly ill wife, the one who stood by him while he was languishing in Hanoi, in order to marry into a wealthy family?

      1. Arizona Slim

        Indeed he did. And you should see the trucks that Hensley uses for making its deliveries. Nicest ones in the AZ beer, wine, and spirits business.

  9. Marco

    Website blog and moderated comments work well for NC. Because Left Twitter would rip this apart.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You are straw-manning how comments work. Comments are not “moderated”. Virtually all appear by default. We have moderation tripwires for certain words like “asshole” and also have put certain individuals who have violated our written site Policies into modeartion

      We have not held any comments back on this post. However, your comment is what Lambert and I call an reader assisted suicide note, which we are only too happy to oblige.

      And we don’t hew to doctrinal loyalty tests here either.

  10. Darius

    Like many here, my view of McCain is jaundiced, at best. However, I tipped my hat when he thrust in the knife and cut down Trump’s destruction of healthcare. I thought about revenge being best served cold. A year earlier, Trump had ridiculed McCain for getting captured in Vietnam and McCain had said nothing. When McCain was captured, Trump, of course, was sitting on his fat ass in Fred’s mansion, eating his chocolate cake, “and it’s very rich,” getting the crap beaten out him every night by old Fred for being a wuss, or just for Fred’s kicks.

    McCain waited a year to ruin Trump’s day. He’s a tough old bastard.

      1. blennylips

        McCain has steadfastly opposed torture since his days in the Hanoi Hilton

        True. There is however, something very dark he is keeping secret from those days:

        John McCain and the POW Cover-Up

        The “war hero” candidate buried information about POWs left behind in Vietnam.
        Sydney Schanberg • The American Conservative • May 25, 2010

        Yes, that Sydney Schanberg:

    1. flora

      It’s not hard to imagine Trump said “torture works” and nominated torturer Haspel just to spite McCain, and in doing so has made America smaller ( or in Trump-ese, ‘much much less great’) in the eyes of the world.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Or maybe even . . . ” much more less greater bigly!” in pure Trumpian Trumpese.

  11. Fuggetabouit

    McCain sure did a snow job on Black and his colleagues.

    As a young intern on the Hill, I had a brief taste of the Senator’s “humanity” after mistakenly stepping into an elevator reserved for Senators. The guy went unhinged and literally shoved me out of the elevator.

    I compare the McCain treatment with my encounter with Congressman Jack Brooks, then Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and one of the most senior members of the House.

    It was my first week on the job and having inadvertently sat on the “Members Only” side of one of the old open Capitol subway cars, I realized my mistake and made my apologies as I stood to step out.

    It was then when Chairman Brooks said to me in a loud Texas drawl, “Siddown, son; you still in America here.”

    McCain’s passing is notable only insofar as the world will no longer have to endure the suffering and pain he caused during his long and nasty tenure, personally and indirectly.

    It’s for God to judge, but if what I have been taught is true, then the mercy I pray his soul receives is something McCain rarely offered anyone in his lifetime.

    1. The Rev Kev

      When the books about John McCain start coming out when he passes away, and they will come out, that anecdote should be in at least one of them for the record. That Jack Brooks sounds like he was a very gracious man. Read his Wikipedia page and found that unlike regular politicians, he did the hard yards and was a Marine on Guadalcanal, Guam and Okinawa while in later life he helped take down Nixon. Quite a comparison between the two.

      1. ObjectiveFunction

        Human, all too human. In my own brief tenure as a lowly House intern in the Gingrich days (following which I fled screaming to the private sector), I recall John Kasich wandering the halls with multiple overstuffed binders under each arm; no sherpas to carry them. A policy wonk who walked his talk and by all accounts a very decent bloke. I also noticed during his presidential campaign he made sure his family stood beside him, never behind.

  12. voxhumana

    And I will continue to admire and praise Bill Black’s service to his country regardless of the occasional misstep. Nobody’s perfect…

  13. Quentin

    The maudlin takeaway from this piece is that Bill Black and John McCain have Irish ancestry in common. Well, blow me over. I don’t, so I’m not in the club. This is supposedly the USA 2018 or isn’t it? So-called ethnicity still trumps being just a plain, boring, old-fashioned, run-of-the-mill American.

    1. Chris

      But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Had he been elected President we would surely be embroiled in WW3.

  14. Chris

    Ok, now I have to buy a new keyboard as I just spit my coffee all over this one.

    I’m so flabbergasted I don’t even know where to start.

    John McCain is a murderous traitorous b**tard.

    Have we forgotten Drill Baby Drill and Bomb Bomb Iran?

    McCain has had his fingers in every foreign policy disaster (and many domestic ones) over the last few decades.

    What about his wife who stuck by him during his imprisonment and then dropped her when he found someone more useful. He has no loyalty or honor.

    John McCain’s passing will make the world a dramatically safer place.

    1. ca

      “John McCain’s passing will make the world a dramatically safer place.”

      I wish, but sadly there are already so many psycho neocons with thew same views from both parties, to fill the void.

  15. Jonathan Holland Becnel


    Why should i care about these ‘heros?’ Sure they survived Viet Nam n Space, but politics?

    They should be stripped of their rank and publicly shamed.

    Its time to honor the real heros like the widows who survived the S+L scandal.

  16. MachineHead

    I admire Bill Black but he goes too easy on McCain. No pass from me when it comes to McCain. Reminds me of a song.

  17. Steve in Dallas

    Wow… I really have to give up on the independent media. Of all people I’ve followed Bill Black is the biggest disappointment. Professional/career regulators/civil-servants to audit/inform/enforce/control/investigate/indict/prosecute/convict/punish… I was a huge believer… but now… “moral code” “authentic hero” McCain gets a full pardon from Bill Black (and NC?)? Demonstrating to Trump-ites how to be ‘civil’… as apposed to “callous”… by celebrating John McCain?

    “McCain at his very worst”? Endlessly facilitating war crimes is minor compared to facilitating bank crimes?

    “McCain… acted badly for poor reasons… his actions on behalf of Keating caused him greater pain…”? Euphemisms for McCain’s behavior… and he payed for his mistakes with more “pain” than when he was tortured?

    “enraged… for his best actions… April 9, 1987… acted contrary to his personal moral code… spent much of his life defending… caused him such pain… troglodytes are enraged… actions to protect the public and live up to his personal moral code”? John McCain “moral”, “moral” and “moral”… wow, pass me a puke bucket.

    “We… never saw you as a villain… a distinguished record of public service.”? Yikes… so what constitutes a “villain” for Bill Black? Was I fooled… I thought Bill Black, of all people, thought elite organized criminals were/are villains.

    “Cranston… warn the American public of… Adolf Hitler… Mein Kampf.”? I think your wrong Bill Black… I think McCain and his cronies have consciously/purposefully/methodically/successfully been filling American minds with Hitler-think… McCain knows that his constant fear/hate mongering does nothing BUT transform Americans into Nazis.

    “special reverence.. lifetime of courage and service to the people of America… lifetime of service… life of courage and honor… deepest respect… kindred spirits… protect the public… far better place because of… authentic heroes… sacrifices…. done for America… recover and render further service.” If Bill Black believes all this about McCain… and it’s all true… then the independent media is lying and worthless to me… and I need to go back to the mainstream media and believe everything they tell me.

    Done… I will never read Bill Black again. As for the independent media… it’s clearly not good and not accomplishing anything… it’s nothing close to what’s needed to stop the deep global social corruption…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You’ve lost all sense of proportion.

      First, McCain is dying and the White House just engaged in crass smears. The time to vilify a deserving target is when they are at their full powers and you are trying to hold them accountable or get them to change behavior, or when they are dead for purposes of historical accuracy, not when they are at death’s door. It’s cowardly, crass, and unproductive to go kicking McCain now, and thus empowers people who back the bad conduct he engaged in to do so.

      Second, in case you missed it, it is considered the high path in most of the world’s religions to forgive someone. That is what Black is doing. You may not agree with his personal choice but there is a great deal of tradition behind Black’s post.

      Third, Black asked us to run this piece and with some urgency.

      1. The Rev Kev

        I wasn’t going to add to this but I think that I will have to. What the White House did with McCain was absolutely crass and takes decency down another level though we should not be surprised here with this crew. There is a tradition of not speaking ill of the dying as well as the recently dead. It is a long tradition this in most of the world’s religions as pointed out and to be truthful, it is good for the soul. I do feel conflicted here though and so will go into this.
        In religions like Christianity, there is the thought that it is up to an almighty god to make the final judgement of a person’s character and that it is not man’s place to do this. Thus any evil that a person did would be punished in an afterlife and nobody would escape this. We all know that we owe a death but I think that most people would be frightened of giving an accounting of their life to anyone much less a deity. Paralleling this is the thought that a person on their deathbed should confess and repent their guilt, regrets, secrets, or sins. The deathbed confession is deeply embedded in our culture though it is not talked about much. It is like a duality this.
        This I think is the source of the disquiet with John McCain. He has done so many dark deeds throughout his life and I think that most people see that he has never been really called to account and been made to pay for them but has been instead been protected by his fellow travelers. Another person as an example example is Gina Haspel that has indulged in torture but has never been called to account but instead has had a long stream of promotions. Probably he will never feel the need to repent and will go out that way and I think that this is one reason that many people are not prepared to hold back criticisms.

        1. flora

          Rev, I agree with this. There’s one other important aspect to this particular Trump/McCain crassness that hasn’t been mentioned yet: the appearance of bloodlust on the part of the staffer who denigrated and seemed to hope for McCain’s eventual demise. It sounded oddly similar to Hilary’s “we came, we saw, he died, hahahah.” moment.

          Bloodlust is as common to the human condition as sex and money lust, and needs to be equally guarded against. The appearance of bloodlust in ‘bomb, bomb, bomb iran’ and in ‘we came we saw he died hahaha’, and in the WH comment is what is more appalling to me than the breaking of social convention. This is why I think Caitlin Johnstone and Greenwald are wrong on this issue. A reserve in the face of impending death of someone one opposes isn’t normalizing empire or its excesses; it’s guarding against those excesses taking hold in one’s own person. That’s my 2 cents.

      2. S.

        McCain is still an elder statesman with a vote in the Senate and a seat on two enormously influential committees who has won praise from all quarters for opposing Trump for a few laudable reasons, but primarily his poor grasp of palace etiquette. His cancer changes none of that – it enhances his stature, if anything – and I won’t consider him weak in any way that matters unless he resigns.

    2. Steeeve

      I agree with the majority of criticisms of John McCain and criticisms of this article.

      I disagree that one article that conflicts with my personal beliefs render all independent media “not good and not accomplishing anything” and to be “given up on.”

      Media which only voices one perspective and avoids nuance or the possibility of saying something their audience will disagree with is what I would consider “not good.” It does accomplish something though – enhancing group think and confirmation bias, and discouraging critical thinking.

      1. Detroit Dan

        Very well said, Steeeve. I can’t stand McCain, but kudos to Yves for publishing something like this on occasion. A little basic human decency is generally a good thing.

  18. Bill Carson

    I am so pleased that most of the commenters here share my disdain and total lack of respect for the senior senator from Arizona.

    As there ever been a military intervention that McCain opposed? Just one?

  19. RBHoughton

    I’m an old man and I don’t have much to be proud about but I am proud to be a reader of this site.

  20. Allegorio

    I am sure that all the people droned, bombed and beheaded in Syria, Iraq, the Ukraine are all praying for the Senator. The author thinks that the Keating Five was McCain’s lowest moment, I think it was “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”; or passing out cookies to Neo Nazis at the Maidan. Let’s hope the good Lord is as tolerant of War Criminals as was President Barry Obama. Which public did he serve exactly?

  21. pjay

    I have been a huge fan of Bill Black for many years. But I strongly agree with the majority here that his sympathy is misplaced. McCain is a public figure who has much to answer for. No one has yet cited Caitlin Johnstone’s comments on the subject (hopefully they have not been blocked). She has written about it more than once, and as usual she expresses my outrage much more eloquently than I could:

  22. Robert

    Sorry if I’m missing something, but the phrase is “fair winds and following seas”.

  23. arihalli

    I think that biographical sketches are in order, yet, adulation for this warmonger is misplaced.

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