Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Secret Messes of Yesteryear: Nixon Tricks Pre-Watergate

Gosh, it's forty years ago since Nixon resigned the presidency.  That was closer in time to the end of WWII than it is to us.  

I almost nailed Nixon four years before he resigned. Therefore it seems even longer ago that the perpetually ill-shaven Nixon strode up the steps of that plane and then turned to face us, raised his arms, flashed his phony smile and gave the V-shaped peace sign with both hands as a final gesture.  He's the only man who could give the finger with two of them, four if you count both hands. 

It was his signature gesture, going all the way back to his first dirty trick, the beginning of Watergate before there was Watergate.  In 1970 he came to San Jose, California, quite near where I lived and where I was active in Democratic politics. He was there to campaign for a failing GOP senator, movie tap dancer George Murphy, challenged by John Tunney, son of the great prizefighter.  California had just invented the weird candidate thing and was having a lot of fun.  

But Nixon wasn't there for fun.  He was there to start a riot.

To that end he left the auditorium where he had spoken, climbed on a car, and did the double-wave double-finger.  To flash a pseudo-peace sign at the crowd facing the car was to invite a riot indeed.  In the crowd were a brown-shirted (I'm not kidding) torch-carrying, wildly anti-war and anti-Nixon contingent.  They were the cadres summoned to the site by a pair of Stanford U's avowedly Communist professors.  Earlier that day I'd asked the wife prof of the Communist couple what their goal was. "To overthrow the government and introduce anarchy."  Well, at least they had a clear goal, though not particularly Communistic.  "We want to egg the government into over-reacting with violence so people get rid of government."  A goal and a plan.

So there were two agendas running that night, both with the same idea. Nixon wants a riot because he wants to blame the "anti-war Democrats" and so do the only avowed Communists I've ever encountered.  (Communists particularly hate liberals because we stand in the way of their extremism.)  But the Communist couple and Nixon didn't get their riot. There were other people in that parking lot, the ones I'd brought who were just angry at high unemployment and the war but definitely not interested in a riot. I also now suspect that the Stanford profs had cut a deal with Nixon:  Let us alone when our guys show up virtually jack-booted and we will be the backdrop for what doesn't really happen, for what you pull off as a fake riot. 

Of course, the foregoing presumes some sort of conspiracy against the Democrats but what else did the Communists and Nixonists do but conspire?  Even we paranoids have real enemies.

To guarantee that Nixon got the riot he wanted, Nixon's people had a group standing on a traffic island with stones and boards in hand.  After Nixon got off the car and drove past, this group let loose on the press bus following Nixon. Nothing else happened.  That was it.  A modest attack on a press bus.  It was enough, however, to dupe a lot of the Washington press corps into writing about Nixon's "riot". And at the airport, Nixon's people proudly showed off some "dents" created by stones thrown at Nixon's vehicle. I subsequently found the San Jose firemen who had washed the vehicle on its arrival in San Jose, and they said the dents were already there. We all know that firemen don't lie, even if presidents do.

Nor do some cops.  Two of them got hold of an attorney friend of mine and told him that the White House advance had met with the police and said, "There will be a hot time in the old town tonight.  No matter what happens, don't try to stop it." The two cops were pissed at being put in harm's way for a political agenda. 

But their story and that of the firemen never got public. These guys were scared and wanted the protection of a Congressman.  GOP Rep. Pete McCloskey got wind of it and stepped forward to be that Congressman, with me as the go-between.  Only he didn't really step forward with both feet.  He put the informants off and put them off until they got disgusted and walked away.  I was never so disappointed and angry in my life.  The fate of the nation was in the hands of a scheming ruthless crook, but hypocrite Pete McCloskey, the Republican pride of the intellectual anti-war Democrats, sells out the country just to gain points with the Nixon wing of the GOP, which loathed him and was always trying to unseat him in primaries.  

With the help of a KQED-TV reporter, I got the Washington Post and some other reporters to raise questions about the authenticity of the "San Jose Riot", and the Democrats took the  GOP tap dancer's Senate seat and did well elsewhere on election day. 

Nixon then went on to Watergate, the Daniel Ellsberg burglary, the IRS auditing of Nixon's "enemies", the bribing of the burglars, the "deep-sixing" of evidence by the head of the FBI, fraudulent post-dating of Nixon's tax returns, etc. etc. etc.  He looked out at the American public on TV and solemnly said, "I am not a crook."  No, he was a lot worse.

Well, it was probably all for the best that Nixon slipped though my fingers in 1970.  We Democrats all had a peachy good time later with Watergate. A couple of good young reporters got a good book out of it.  And we got a good movie out of it too. 

I don't like to think of the additional GIs and Vietnamese who died because Nixon didn't get caught earlier.  That's the part that really is enraging.  But I had tried.  I really had.  Even when the FBI began calling me and following me, I didn't stop trying. 

So, yes, this is a very happy fortieth anniversary for me, the downfall of Richard Nixon.   

I wonder if it is too for those firemen and the two cops.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Obama: The Right Man for These Troubled Times

Some well-meaning folks are bemoaning the fact that all hell seems to be breaking loose on Obama's watch.  "Poor man," they say, "he just can't catch a break.  All this trouble and his hair getting so gray."

Stop it.  This is exactly the time for Obama to be where he is and doing what he does so well.  Namely, keeping a cool head.  Yes, a lot of stuff is happening, from Putin acting badly to ISIS starving 40,000 people on a mountaintop.  But Barack Obama was made for bad times such as these.  He figures out what to do, calmly and thoroughly.  He's not always exactly right but he's always in the ballpark.  He's never on the moon side like GW was about invading Iraq or Clinton was about Rwanda and about not killing Bin Laden when the monster was in his sites and hadn't yet done 9/11.

Obama is doing just fine in a world that is still working its way out of the aftermath of WWI.  Indeed, it's ironically suitable that all this bad stuff is happening on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that senseless and stupid war.  From that war sprang Communist Russia and Putin.  From that war came the Europeans carving up the former Ottoman/Turkish empire without regard to tribes but only with regard to what was most advantageous economically for the Big Powers that would now control those Muslim "nations".  Go see "Lawrence of Arabia" again.  Yesterday explains today, and art explains them both.

If you perceive the Middle East and some other troubled places as in a process of evolving, then the current troubles seem endurable.  I say "endurable" advisedly.  We had almost 200 years to evolve from our earliest beginnings as collection of colonies in the early 1600s to a viable democratic country by almost 1800, and even after viability we had a horrible Civil War. The Middle East has had only a fraction of the time we had.  And look how slowly India has gone even though it had the advantage of a lot of self-governing under Britain and training by the Brits of cadres of native bureaucrats.  We mustn't get sucked into the GW Bush silliness of expecting overnight nation-building.  Outsiders don't build a nation.  The people of a land decide to do it and then they get on with the job.  That's why Obama got us out of Iraq.  We have to get out of people's way.  They sometimes keep killing each other until they decide to stop.  To make them stop earlier than that, there has to be a "strong man".  You want to put those guys back in charge?

This nation-building thing can be very messy.  Ours sure was.  We get a sanitized version of it in our "history", mainly several dozen good-natured but passionate wigged "fathers" battling over the wording of the Constitution.  We forget that the first "Articles of Confderation" hadn't work out and we had to scrap that whole first damn effort.

We also conveniently forget that almost half our people had to run for their lives.  They were the forty per cent who had remained loyal to King George.  Fleeing to Canada, they lost everything.  Some never made it to Canada. We caught them and killed them after first tarring and feathering them. It was as brutal as almost everything ISIS is now doing to its rivals.

We also wreaked vengeance on the Native American tribes which had sided with the British.  We burned their orchards and fields of corn to guarantee their starvation and, not completely satisfied with that, we also slaughtered their women and children when we found them.  The blacks also suffered.  The English had promised freedom to any slaves who fought against us rebels. Some blacks took them up on it and then watched the English sail away after surrendering.  You can imagine what happened to those blacks.

So the birth of America was as bloody as births usually are.  But the idea of people governing themselves and settling their internal disputes peacefully has endured that bloody birth.  The idea lives, even now when we Americans are not living up to it very well.  Hopefully we will pull our socks up and start acting like Americans again soon.  Hopefully the people everywhere who now are free of the Europeans' control will make their way forward to that remarkable dream we created and take so for granted.

Obama is said to take the long view.  Well, my darlings, in nation building, it is not just his view.  It's the way things actually work.

Obama, the realist, isn't worried about how he looks right now. He's worried abut those 40,000 people on that mountaintop. Though he often takes the long view, sometimes he takes the immediate view and this is one of those times.  Time is running out to save those people by air drops of food and water.

Yes, Mr. President, save those people.  And let's hope that over time the new Muslim nations will save themselves.  Like we finally did.  Sort of.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Why This Year Matters

Democrats have a bad history of sitting back in non-presidential campaign years and not turning out to vote in sufficient numbers.  Or not working to get others out to vote.  Back when we held comfortable margins in the House and Senate that didn't matter too much.

But now it does.  Big time!

Unless we win back the House this November, Obama will continue to run a three-legged race legislatively with a tree for his partner.  He ain't going nowhere. There will be no new legislation about anything.

Even worse, unless we hang on to the Senate, we can lose everything we already have, provided the GOP can muster a large enough majority to override Obama's veto of their attempts to take our country apart.  Kiss goodbye to Obamacare, aid to the poor and students, environmental and consumer protection, voting rights, women's rights.  You name it; we lose it.  And so we get rolled over into Ayn Rand Land where might makes right and the Right make a lot of money.

Come off it, you say.  The GOP will never get a veto-busting majority.  Oh, honey, don't you wish.  If the GOP holds the House and takes the Senate while the economy is hitting on all cylinders, as it now is, and Obama is low in the polls, you will see Democrats  -  yes, I said DEMOCRATS  -  in the Senate and in the House mooching over to vote with the GOP and against Obama.  The name of the game will be "Every man for himself!"  Or woman for herself.  It won't be pretty.

And what about state and local races?  Are we going to hand those over to the GOP too?  Like 2010?    We stayed home in 2010 and ignored politics and our kids' and grandkids' future and let the GOP scoop up lots of state legislatures and governorships just in time for redistricting.  Oh, yes.  They scooped like crazy, and thus they controlled a redistricting so severely lopsided that they won a majority of House seats even though the Democrats outvoted the GOP by ONE MILLION VOTES nationally in the Congressional House races.  The GOP won 49% of the popular vote but won 54% of the House seats.

Thanks, all you Democrats who sat home and neither voted nor tried to get others out to vote.  You shafted the rest of us royally.  Those same GOP state legislatures and governors you greased into office have gone beyond redistricting and in 36 states have blocked our people from getting federally paid health care.

Let me put this plainly.  Your laziness has killed people.

And caused others to lose the right to vote through obscenely restrictive voting laws.  And started resegregation of schools.  And taken control of women's health access.  And how about those cuts to school budgets?  You've created monsters in many states.  Was your slacking off really worth all this pain and misery.

Don't kid yourself.  Your neglect of local races has also been very bad.  Who controls your zoning?  Your kids' schools?  Your justice system?  Your local health department?  Your road building?  Your hospitals?  Your transit?  You did, back when you voted on these offices.  Now the GOP is running all this into the ground in many places where folks tuned out "just this once".

Get back in the game and save yourselves, your kids, and the rest of us.  No one else is going to do your job in making things work.  If you don't save our government from the crazies we are all going to suffer horribly from global warming these next decades as we slide into hell.  I won't be here to perish with you but you know what?  You will be getting exactly what you deserve.  Too bad your little grandkids will have to pay the price too.

This year indeed matters.  It's a question of life or death.

Your life and your grandkids's deaths.  


Saturday, July 19, 2014

To Our Dear Ukrainian Friends

Somewhere in Ukraine, in spite of the frightening Russian threat to that country, there is a group of people who read this blog almost every day, even going back to posts written several years ago.

I'm grateful for this loyal readership, but  -  far more than I feel gratitude  -  I feel admiration.  How does someone focus on a political column when their country is confronting all that faces Ukraine?

That takes courage and faith and hope.  It takes courage to focus on the politics of America when your own are so threatened by  Russia's snarling and superior might.  It takes faith to focus on something beyond the current peril, a belief that politics and not war will be your lot.  And it takes hope to believe that democracy and Westernization can come at long last to a people so victimized throughout the twentieth century.  

The world has largely overlooked the travails of Ukraine.  I am old enough to remember what Stalin and Hitler did there and what followed during the long night of Russian control.  But not many my age can remember or even knew originally.  The younger people know nothing of this story.

This week, to the great sorrow of the world, the tragedy of Ukraine reached to the very skies and pulled down a passenger jet loaded with people from all over the world.  Ukraine's troubles are now the world's troubles, and perhaps Europe and the UN will now respond more vigorously on Ukraine's behalf and support President Obama in his determination to squeeze Russia and Putin economically to the breaking point. 

I can't do anything to help you, my Ukrainian brothers and sisters, except this one thing.  I can promise you that President Obama is going to see you through this troubled time and will not let Russia invade your country.  Stay strong.  A brave and very determined man is on your side. 

And so is history.

We salute you.   

Friday, July 18, 2014

Too Late For Billie Holiday

Too late.  It's way too late for Billie Holiday, but today the feds announced they were releasing 50,000 people imprisoned for drug offenses. We are not going to stop locking up hordes of people for sick behavior. The United State imprisons more people per population than practically any other country in the world. Back when there was a Soviet Union, we incarcerated more people per population than the Soviets.  A huge segment of this imprisonment is for drugs.

I don't approve of drug use.  Hard drugs are killers.  But the war on drugs was lost a long time ago.  We have to let those who want to kill themselves with drugs just go ahead and do it.  Moreover, we absolutely have to take the ferocious profits out of drugs, which is what legalization will do.  The profits are "ferocious" because the drug gang wars kill thousands of children every year in our country, even babies caught in the crossfire, and now that same turmoil is producing the conditions which are driving thousands of children to risk death by fleeing across the deserts of Central America, seeking sanctuary across our border. 

The same old sanctimonious segment of our society that opposes decriminalization also created Prohibition and brought gangsterism into our urban world.  And guns.  Up until then there were few guns floating around in American society, contrary to the phony social history you have been fed. Even the cops weren't armed until Prohibition made criminality and gunfire immensely profitable.   

For the past sixty years, the prigs like Nancy Reagan have force-fed us on "Just Say No".  It's vapid advice and silly policy. If we spent the same money on medical care and rehab that we do on incarcerating drug users, maybe we could get them to say no.  I don't know.  But I think it is criminal to imprison sick people.  And treasonous to have public policies that make real criminals rich and cause children to die.

So it's beginning to end now, the long nightmare of delusion about prison for drug offenses.  If the Obama administration gets this monkey off our backs, then that accomplishment is equal to his getting health insurance for our people and full rights and respect for our gay brothers and sisters. 

But it's too late for Billie Holiday, our precious musical genius, who  -  with Louis Armstrong, Frank Lloyd Wright and Walt Whitman  -  transformed the world of art.  They are the greatest of America's artistic geniuses and innovators. They are of worldwide importance.  But Billie died in a hospital room, under arrest for drugs, believing in her last moments that she faced an arraignment the next morning.  What a disgrace!  Not of her but of us.  And the same disgrace coats the federal prison term she had served a few years before.  We jailed a genius for drug possession!  A genius!

No, I won't take your time to bemoan the conditions of her childhood that led her to the world of drugs  -   the poverty, early rape, ignorant mother, homelessness and hopelessness.  It was while working in a whorehouse as a teenager that Billie heard the recordings of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith and knew what she must do.  Terrible the road that led her to that whorehouse, but blessed are we that she heard those recordings.  Hers is a strange and heartbreaking story but she left us a treasure beyond gold.  By contrast, Nancy Reagan and her ilk leave us nothing but a vinegary image already fading away.  And thank God Nancy is fading.  Forget her.  Forget the bitterness and hatred she and her husband sowed in our country.  

Just remember Billie.

Go listen to her now.  And ask her forgiveness.


Friday, July 4, 2014

The Same 35% Still Hate Obama and Say He's the Worst

Headlines scream it:  "Poll Says Obama Worst President".

Oh, for heaven's sake, who cares?

So 35% of those polled by Quinnepac say that Obama is the worst president since 1945?  So what? This is far fewer than the number of voters who voted against him in 2012.  They hated him then and they hate him now.  

It's a warm July afternoon, the Fourth of July to be exact.  I'm going to take a nice nap.  

Wake me when there's some real news.  God bless America and all the ships at sea. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

World Cup: Obama 2 and Putin 0

And now for the score in the World Cup competition for the world.

Obama 2 and Putin 0 as Obama cleans Putin's clock twice.  

My posting yesterday hailed Ukraine's joining with the modern Western world, signing a treaty this week that marked its abandonment of Russia and its alignment with Europe.  And I explained how Obama engineered this by squeezing the hot air out of Putin economically and showing the Ukrainians they were safe to stand up to that shirtless man.

Now comes word in the NY Times that the last of Syria's chemical weapons has gone bye-bye, which means gone to Finland to be destroyed. Obama engineered this nine months ago by threatening to bomb Syria unless Syrian ruler Assad turned over the weapons. By several adroit waltz steps Obama then lured Putin into getting Assad to an agreement, leaving Putin monitoring the removal.   All the pundits right and left blew raspberries at Obama.  He was (a) naive to trust Putin, (b) he was wicked to work with Putin, (c)  he came off as weak and Putin as strong. 


He was smart to trust Putin.  Putin is Syria's near neighbor and didn't want chemical weapons on his doorstep.  He also had stuck his neck out as a once-world-leader and needed to come off okay.

Further, it wasn't wicked to work with Putin when the goal was so good.  Besides, the Cold War is over and we have to adapt to realities as they are. 

Putin did, however, come off as strong.  That was the bait for which Putin fell.  He desperately needs to look strong in order to keep the support of the Russian people while their "empire" continues to melt away.  Obama was right to let him have his empty box. One always has to be aware of what the other guy needs in order to negotiate with him.

And did Obama come off as weak?  Only with the media and the American public. This same misperception has blanketed Obama's method of dealing with Russia over the Ukraine. As with Ukraine, the nature of his play made it impossible for him to explain how he had manipulated Putin.  Why?  Because he may need to do it again about something else. 

Obama did not, however, come off as weak in the view of other countries.  Any leader of a country big enough  to matter knows what Obama has done.  And they appreciate it and admire him for his skill.  Maybe they even learned a few moves as they watched him.

Nevertheless he gets no credit here at home.  His ratings have dropped generally but especially sharply on foreign policy.  The media doesn't get what he's doing and he can't explain it to them. 

Thus the NY Times today salutes the end of Syria's chemical weapons  -  not in the front page news story it warranted  -  but in an editorial.  That treatment downgrades the event in the eyes of the news media.  Further, in this editorial  the NYT buries its acknowledgment that Obama did the right thing.  Buries it in the ninth paragraph of the editorial:  "…the outcome has proved the wisdom of President Obama's decision to threaten, and then back away from, military strikes against Syrian targets when Russia proposed a negotiated settlement…. The chemical weapons are now out of the hands of a brutal dictator  -  and all without firing a shot."

What a contrast between that last sentence and the 100,000+  Iraqui dead and the 4000+ American dead gifted to us by George W. Bush.  A gift that even now keeps on giving…

Nevertheless, Obama has to pay a fearful price politically for his persistence in doing the right thing to save lives and not squander them.  He's gone down personally. The media has let him down.  And so have we. 

Nor will he get any gratitude from those he most benefitted  -  those who didn't die because he refused to be rash.  They will never know what he did for them.

But he will know.  And for a truly good man, that is enough.