In Good Company?

Fancying myself a rabblerouser, I look around me for guidance and mentors, and even anti-role models.  From my ever growing academic CV, some highlights of contemporary political historymakers (mostly for worse…a sort of political What Not to Wear, if you will):

MIT, PhD, 2009

This article in today’s Boston Globe traces “a historic venture between [the Iranian government] and [MIT] to train the first generation of Iranian nuclear scientists.” 

While we may now question Iran’s need for nuclear reactors, “in 1974, US officials [urged] Iran to invest its windfall oil profits in expensive US nuclear technology.” So the Shah determined to build 20 reactors, surmising they’d cover “domestic energy needs” and release oil “for export.”  “The Nixon administration…sent…the chairwoman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, to Tehran in May 1974 to offer up her agency as a “clearinghouse” for Iranian investments.”  The shah wrote to MIT and requested that “a large number of Iranian students to be accepted into the next year’s nuclear engineering class — nearly doubling the size of the graduate program.”  With Iran paying over $500k for more professors and classroom space, MIT agreed to accept students for a three-year Master’s program “in which they could get hands-on experience with MIT’s research reactor.  The Iranian students also agreed to serve at least two years at the Atomic Energy Organization.” 

Edward Mason, the head of the nuclear engineering department at that time, recalled that the US government had “boundless optimism about nuclear power”:

US officials said one way to have peace [in the Middle East] was to put nuclear reactors there, raise people out of poverty, make the deserts bloom,” he said. “The attitude then was much different than it is today about the potential dangers of somebody diverting plutonium and making weapons. . . . I taught a course in enrichment, reprocessing, fuel manufacture and the like. We were teaching [the Iranian students] how to do it, as we were teaching people from all over the world.”

“Four years later, the Shah of Iran fell, replaced by an Islamic theocracy that Washington considers an enemy to this day.”

The remainder of the article details the students’ experience.  About two-thirds of them remain in the U.S., some working for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and others for defense contractors.  At least three “have spent their careers building the Iranian nuclear program that Washington is now fervently trying to curtail.”  (Article excerpted here while the BBC discusses Iran’s nuclear program on my kitchen radio.)


NYU, MBA, 2001 

This NYU alum recently exited today’s political arena with a slightly more equivocal record.  It’s generally agreed that Alan Greenspan’s influence on global financial markets is unparalleled.  But is this necessarily a good thing?  The jury’s still out.  From Reuters in 2005, comments from one of the more “harsh” critics, Joseph Stiglitz, White House economic adviser during the mid-1990s, a Nobel laureate, professor at Columbia University in New York, and author on my “Globalization & Inequality” reading list this spring:

“‘The legacy he leaves is an America in a much weaker state as a result of a combination of fiscal and monetary policy for which he has to bear significant responsibility,'”…Stiglitz and others maintain Greenspan’s policies “has left both U.S. and world economies highly vulnerable.”

I think these folks might agree.


Brandeis, BA, 1997

Finally, I’ve mentioned at the RP before one of my current favorite Brandeis alums, Jack Abramoff.  In a 2005 article, Mother Jones details Abramoff’s own coming of age and similar fall from grace in today’s political world. 

A born-again Jew, Abramoff had

“his religious epiphany…at 12…when, after watching Fiddler on the Roof, he yearned for the Orthodoxy of his great-grandparents’ generation. ‘I felt a twinge of sadness that that culture had died out in our family.’ And with that, he decided, ‘I’ll be the person to resurrect it.'” …”he says, ‘I believed in God. I believed he did decide the Jewish people would do certain things. I wanted to keep up my end of the contract.'”

A couple towns over from the Iranians at MIT, at Brandeis, Abramoff found both “a like-minded community” and

“members of left-wing groups like the Spartacus Youth League, which held rallies attacking U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan and calling for nuclear disarmament. ‘I was outraged that seemingly normal American students could so hate the country I love,’ he says. Abramoff organized counterdemonstrations, where students sang ‘God Bless America.'” 

“It was during those years that he met Grover Norquist, a Harvard business student who would go on to head the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform. The two became lifelong allies…”

And the rest, as we know, is history.

A trail of nukes, global inequality, and right-wing religious patriotism…I’ve got my work cut out for me!


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