Posts Tagged ‘ Henry Kissinger ’

Trump’s Day After

I must say either Donald J. Trump is a politician, whose brilliance we have not seen since Talleyrand, or he is so subservient to his personality disorder that he is acting out the role of a Shakespearean tragic figure. Not, of course, like the ones we can sympathize with; perhaps more like Edmund in Lear. Either way, it’s insufficient to explain yet another highly unhinged day in Trumplandia.

It has been a little more than a day since Trump fired the man who is leading a counter-intelligence investigation into his Presidential campaign. (Has that really sunk in yet? The investigation is about either terrorism directed at domestic U.S. targets or espionage directed at our government. That is what the counter-intelligence part of the FBI investigates. Only those two thing. And the subjects are high officials in the campaign that successfully put Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office. And we are less than four month into this administration.) Because no one with any influence in the White House had thought through the consequences, the White House felt the need to bring back once-sidelined Kellyanne Conway and audition new-comer Sarah Huckabee Sanders to entertain us with their unique brand of performance art in which they offer up lies and nothing but lies. In this new art form, it doesn’t even matter that the various lies spewed forth are inconsistent with each other; the only important thing is that they are lies. What the president likes is the purity of deceit, not its coherence. Meanwhile the President wakes up (or stays up) and in early morning limbers his thumbs up by lashing out at a Senator—an exercise which Trump must consider some sort of political discourse. It’s is the kind of discourse that is more commonly heard in construction sites in New York City between contractors and building developers each trying to cheat each other than heard between statesmen. But, after all, the charm of Donald Trump, according to his ardent supporters, is that he is not a statesman.

That was just a warmup for the man who had been roundly described overnight as playing the role of President Nixon just as he was about to wallow in his greatest disgrace. Trump who received his professional education in construction sites in New York City where he was the developer trying to cheat someone, evidently doesn’t associate Richard Nixon with disgrace or doesn’t believe disgrace is all that bad a thing, for during the rest of the day he one-upped Richard Nixon. First, the man who greatly increased the suspicion that he had secret dealings with the Russians, had a secret meeting with the Russian ambassador at which, even for photo ops, the American press was not invited. But the Russian press was.  After the meeting Vladimir Putin (dressed in what looks like a hockey team uniform sold by an unlicensed internet merch site), responded to a question from a reporter (Putin evidently responds to his own country’s press) and opined that the American President had acted “in accordance with his law and constitution.” So there you have it; the ultimate authority on American law and constitutional issues, in Trump’s mind, has cleared him. What a coincidence that it is the same person that his campaign was being investigated for conspiring with. But Putin denied any involvement in that. He’s as innocent of that as Russia is innocent of invading Ukraine.

But Trump’s stage management had not ended. He had a private meeting today with the closest adviser of Richard Nixon back in the day, Henry Kissinger! It’s as though the man who saved himself from having to earn a living after he drove his real estate empire into insolvency by playing an executive on a television reality show wanted to ensure that the documentary makers filming the decline of the Trump administration had enough usable footage. After all, even the dumbest of documentary filmmakers will now be able to show Trump with Kissinger after firing Comey and then Nixon with Kissinger after firing Cox. (It was not the day after, however; Kissinger was in Moscow negotiating with the Soviets over the crisis in the Middle East when Nixon decided to create his own domestic crisis in Washington.)

Consider that in this crucial 24-hour period, when key members of his own party in Congress are trying to make up their mind how much to throw their lot in with his , Trump, instead of acting Presidential, continued his display of arrogance for all to see. And instead of leaving well enough alone with the hastily planned rationale for the firing (laughably incredible as it was), he gratuitously offered that Comey was fired because he was “not doing a good job.” This man that Trump needlessly keeps insulting, as though he were Gary Busey on the Celebrity Apprentice, is scheduled to testify about the nature of the FBI’s counter-intelligence investigation of Trump’s campaign before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week. Trump really ought to take some advice from a real lawyer, not the ghost of Roy Cohn from the 1970s.

Or maybe Roy Cohn was right. His advice deeply wormed its way into Trump’s psyche. (It is perhaps a poor metaphor to suggest that Trump has a deep psyche.) Always attack! Never explain or apologize! Everyone else is wrong, no matter what the evidence says! The unethical mob-lawyer profoundly affected Donald Trump’s worldview. That this was so is odd since Cohn achieved a very poor result in the racial discrimination case brought by the Justice Department against Trump, his father and their leasing businesses: record fines and a consent decree that required the Trumps, under pain of contempt citations, to do what they claimed their were not required to do. But Trump doesn’t live in a world where anything untoward happens to him, especially anything that results from his own decision, or maybe better put, his own will. So maybe Trump is right. If so, a new lesson will have been learned by our politicians. It, however, will not be a lesson that will benefit the mere citizens of this country.


From radical to commercial in one generation

I was surprised to find that the opening bars of the version of “Star Spangled Banner” performed by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock is used by Major League Baseball as its unofficial theme. I doubt that the favorite sport of George Will and Henry Kissinger was making some radical critique that reactionary forces have distorted our country’s ideals in this time of national polarization just as they did in 1969, the last time we were so riven. It probably is simply just another example of something I observed: that in our hyper-commercialized form of popular culture, where “art” is simply “content” which has been successfully marketed by profit-driven actors rather than cultural critics, it takes only about 50 years for advertisers and corporate image polishers to take even the most radical forms of expression and turn them into commercials. At one time abstract expressionism was thought shocking, but now it decorates the offices of even the most staid Wall Street firms (provided of course that the colors match the surroundings). I noticed that around the mid-1990s Saks of Fifth Avenue (the one in Manhattan) started playing Charlie Parker (just barely heard of course) in the background. (I wonder if the stores around the country did so at the same time or have caught up.) Munch’s Scream and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers of course have been decorative items for a long time.

Maybe the time period has something to do with the length of copyrights. Or maybe pop culture simply takes 50 or so years to assimilate innovations. It took Hollywood until about the late 1950s before it began using riffs from atonal compositions made in Vienna at the beginning of the twentieth century, even though composers like Korngold, who witnessed and participated in it in Vienna, composed film music.

I suspect that time frame will speed up in the near future because fewer and fewer oases of non-commercial art exist, because popular art is largely conceived from the beginning as a commercial endeavor (with product placement, embedded advertisements, considerations of licensing possibilities), and because a generation has grown up immured against the idea that art is something outside of mass, commercial entertainment.

This may not be an entirely new development. Hemingway, for example, designed For Whom the Bell Tolls for a movie with Clark Gable in mind. Maybe it was inevitable with the twentieth century’s mass distribution inventions: movies, recordings, broadcasting. Maybe it would never have occurred to anyone to make “absolute music” independent of considerations of what records would “sell,” and more importantly, how much profits could be generated. Maybe Bach today would be writing television theme music, Virgil writing ad copy and Bernini trying to make cars look sleeker.

Even so there still seems to me to be a disconnect between the beer swilling fans in Boston screaming “Yankees suck!” and the “turn on, tune in, drop out” crowds at Woodstock. Maybe the forces of conformity have simply changed society. God knows there has been no real anti-war movement, despite over a decade of conflicts around the world. So maybe the forces that allow Hendrix to be play while watching the interminably slow pace of baseball has simply homogenized us all. It doesn’t matter what is sold, we will buy it as long as it is packaged in the way we have come to expect.

A Brief (Recent) History on How the National Security State Manages the News (Part I: All Politics is Local)

In the cross-hairs of an Apache gun: This image captured from a classified U.S. military video footage shows a wounded Iraqi person being loaded onto a van during a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff on July 12, 2007, and released to Reuters on April 5, 2010 by WikiLeaks, a group that promotes leaking to fight government and corporate corruption. Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his assistant and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, were killed in the incident. The helicopter initially opens fire on the small group. Minutes later a van comes by, and starts assisting the wounded, and the helicopter opens fire on the van. From video leaked to Wikileaks.

In the cross-hairs of an Apache gun: This image captured from a classified U.S. military video footage shows a wounded Iraqi person being loaded onto a van during a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff on July 12, 2007, and released to Reuters on April 5, 2010 by WikiLeaks, a group that promotes leaking to fight government and corporate corruption. Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his assistant and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, were killed in the incident. The helicopter initially opens fire on the small group. Minutes later a van comes by, and starts assisting the wounded, and the helicopter opens fire on the van. From video leaked to Wikileaks. Click to enlarge.

The hearing in the case of Bradley Manning has no currency in the mass “news” media. It barely merits network mention. The New York Times has no reporter at it, much to the embarrassment of its public editor. If it weren’t for liberal blogs, it would probably have no coverage. At one time, this would have seemed astonishing. This after all is the defendant who (together with Wikileaks) Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, breathlessly claimed had “on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.”  The Pentagon’s website still posts the AFPS article quoting him. That’s how proud they are of his bombast. Evidence that the disclosures were important is that  The New York Times published numerous of the documents. But most importantly, Manning is said to be the source of the video, hid by the Defense Department, showing the callous murder by (and giggling excitement of) an Apache helicopter crew of several non-combatants including journalists on July 6, 2010 in Baghdad. After the brutal, long distance murder, the crew then attacked those who came to provide medical care to the innocents, seriously wounding two small children in the process. One crew member is heard on the video, unrepentant, blaming the civilians for the harm to the children. The U.S. military, of course, justified this war crime. Instead it is prosecuting Manning. You can view the entire video, the one the military tried to hide, here, and decide for yourself who should be prosecuted.

Photo taken by United States Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle on March 16, 1968 in the aftermath of the My Lai massacre showing mostly women and children dead on a road. Wikipedia.Click to enlarge.

Photo taken by United States Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle on March 16, 1968 in the aftermath of the My Lai massacre showing mostly women and children dead on a road. Wikipedia. Click to enlarge.

But of course the military is in the business of bloody hands and doesn’t like anyone to learn exactly how increasingly unsqueamish it has become in the manner, number and circumstance of the killings it does. It’s first reaction to anything untoward is to baldly lie. When that becomes problematic it ties to cover up. It’s principal strategy of course is to prevent disclosure of any details  or at least as many as it can keep hidden. Sometimes that is not possible, and great crimes are disclosed, such as the My Lai massacre. But before the truth of what happened on that hellish March 16, 1968 in that little hamlet in Quang Ngai province not far from the South China Sea, many official lies were handed out, including the whitewashing by then Major, now sainted, Colin Powell. (Of course General Powell has since then been called on to do other whitewashing, for example, at the United Nations.) The eventual disclosure of the Crime against Humanity that took place there does not, however, show how the Pentagon eventually does the right thing. Quite the reverse. One of the many soldiers who came forward in the hope that our military machine might do the right thing wrote that in the Ninth Division alone there was “a My Lay each month for over a year.”* Only one was investigated; and that after much pressure from Congress.

U.S. Army Major Colin Powell around the time he was whitewashing the My Lai massacre.

U.S. Army Major Colin Powell around the time he was whitewashing the My Lai massacre.

It is, therefore,  not surprising that no action has been taken against any member of the Apache helicopter group that engaged the civilians. Even so, the treatment of the alleged whistle-blower, Bradley Manning, is unprecedented. Normally, the accuser is not arrested. And normally, a member of the U.S. military is not openly tortured by the U.S. military. And it is unusual in a military court-martial for the Chief Executive to pronounce the defendant guilty before trial. At this point we could mention that the Chief Executive in question was once a supposed Constitutional Law Professor and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But recent disclosures of his actions have only made me conclude that his students wasted their time if they studied anything about “due process” in his course, because he clearly has a non-traditional concept of it himself.

So I thought it worth a bit of time to trace how we went from a military whose journalistic arsenal including basically only lying, to the more “robust” approach we now see. And of course, the best place to take up the story is with Vietnam.

NBC cameraman Neil Davis, worrking solo in Vietnam. Davis was one of a handful of courageous jounalists that brorught the real war into Ameican homes. After the Americans left, he filmed the fall of the Presidential palace in Saigon. A decade later he filmed his own death during a short-lived coup attempt in Bangkok.

NBC cameraman Neil Davis, working solo in Vietnam. Davis was one of a handful of courageous journalists that brought the real war into American homes. After the Americans left, he filmed the fall of the Presidential palace in Saigon. A decade later he filmed his own death during a short-lived coup attempt in Bangkok.

The Vietnam war showed to many that journalism (in the strict sense, not the faux-analysis entertainment that broadcast news has become) can be the most serious threat to the national security state. Hard as it is to believe, journalists risked their lives to tell the story of that war, and they were largely not interfered with by our government. As a result, the three television networks and the major newspapers (particularly The New York Times) brought into our homes an increasingly disturbing account of what our country was doing. It was a view that was strikingly at odds with how we saw our nation. The cognitive dissonance could not continue at this high state of tension, and eventually the United States was forced to negotiate the best outcome it could and leave its erstwhile “ally” to the tender mercies of the godless enemy whose barbarism and threat to our own way of life the national security state had been mythologizing for over a decade. This took place not under the Administration of some leftist Democrat, but rather under the tough-guy poseur Richard Nixon and his Metternich-aspiring advisor/rival Henry Kissinger. It is hard to imagine two collaborators in American history whose immense self-image contrasted so dramatically with the destruction they caused. And only one part of it was the debacle in Vietnam.

Le déluge: Air America's desperate withdrawal of CIA staff from the top of the Presidential Palace in Saigon on April 29, 1975 (Photo: Hubert van Es / UPI.) Click to enlarge.

Le déluge: Air America’s desperate withdrawal of CIA staff from the top of the Presidential Palace in Saigon on April 29, 1975 (Photo: Hubert van Es / UPI.) Click to enlarge.

The outcome, where the National Security State’s most devoutly wished for consummation (whatever it was, but it didn’t involve “cutting and running”) was stymied under America’s foremost anti-Communist and his nuclear war-loving comrade, by a pack of unarmed journalists and the American people (as well as the colossal arrogance and incompetence of the two “experts” in national security), caused immense agony in all corners of the military-industrial establishment. Politicians worried that never-ending-war would be taken out of their quiver of policy options. The military worried that it had been disgraced and neutered, perhaps resulting in a future of less money. (They need not have feared that outcome.) Think tanks and other right-wing idea-spawners pondered how to return to full military glory: if not all the way back to full-bore Vietnamization of the country, at least to unfettered military responses in support of right-wing dictators throughout our own hemisphere, as we had grown accustomed was not only our right but our destiny.

Lyndon Johnson on national television from the Oval Office on March 31, 1968 announcing a bombing halt and his decision not to run for re-election. (LBJ Library C9286-24.) Click to enlarge.

Lyndon Johnson on national television from the Oval Office on March 31, 1968 announcing a bombing halt and his decision not to run for re-election. (LBJ Library C9286-24.) Click to enlarge.

The National Security State all along was vaguely aware of the threat of hostile public opinion, however theoretical, and took steps to direct it. During Johnson’s Administration that part of organized labor represented by the AFL-CIO (that is, the greatest part) was fully coopted into the war movement. The FBI recorded the activities of protestors and activists, including Martin Luther King who had come to realize that the same forces that ground the lives of southern Negroes into the dirt were also grinding the lives American blacks (and others) into the paddies of Southeast Asia. But the great American warriors were never truly comfortable with LBJ, however much he had been onboard at the beginning, however much he understood the great danger of the American right claiming that he had “lost” Vietnam, just as the right had been claiming for a decade that traitors in the State Department had “lost” China. And in the end LBJ would betray great American war-whoopers, when he suspended bombing, declared he would not run for re-election, and sought negotiations. Betrayed but not defeated, the American war machine found its hero in Richard Nixon, a long-time anti-communist and smearer of those who wavered in the least in their war whooping; a politician whose secret plan for ending the war (never disclosed to the electorate) was winning it. And so instead of winding down the long and unsuccessful operation, it was decided to make another bloody push to see if our war machine could quickly break their spirit. So bombing was ramped up and ground troops expanded the war into another country, Cambodia.

Red hunting at HUAC: A staged photo of Rep. Richard Nixon, R-CA, investigator Robert Stripling, and Rep. J. Parnell Thomas, R-NJ, left to right, over transcripts of  testimony in the House Un-American Activities committee spy inquiry August 26, 1948, preparatory to turning it over to the Justice Department. (AP Photo/Bill Achatz)

Red hunting at HUAC: A staged photo of Rep. Richard Nixon, R-CA, investigator Robert Stripling, and Rep. J. Parnell Thomas, R-NJ, left to right, over transcripts of testimony in the House Un-American Activities committee spy inquiry August 26, 1948. (AP Photo/Bill Achatz)

Nixon, who undoubtedly saw himself as some sort of world historical figure along the lines of Frederick the Great, was in the process, domestically, of undoing the alignments of the two political parties in America. The Democrats had for many years (since whites began voting as a majority in the South after the Civil War) a secure base in the old confederacy. But such support as the Democrats provided the civil rights movement in the 1960s offered Nixon a chance to peel southern whites away from the Democrats. So Nixon fashioned a persona which played on southern white resentment as well as middle class white Americans elsewhere who viewed with varying degrees of surprise and horror the emergence of a variety of liberal and radical movements, mostly in the large cities and on college campuses. Nixon called his coalition of resentment and fear the Silent Majority. The “policy” he offered this group was Law and Order. Authoritarian populists always offer this dish up with a helping of Resentment. The objects of the resentment were the classes he intimated got away with the most: principally urban blacks and protestors, especially college student protestors. The latter he once famously called “bums.”†

Before shock politics became nightly entertainment, Spiro Agnew learned that outrageous charges in colorful language got you picture on the cover of popular magazines.

Before shock politics became nightly entertainment, Spiro Agnew learned that outrageous charges in colorful language got you picture on the cover of popular magazines.

No one, however, was better able at cultivating resentment than Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew. Agnew was a priggish, self-righteous man, whose smugness grew as his snide and pompous attacks made him a darling of the war-loving conservatives. He specialized in sneering attacks on journalists, intellectuals and everyone associated with universities. Nixon was also able to use Agnew as an emissary to the southern whites, given Agnew’s confrontation with black leaders while governor of Maryland.

By 1970 the Administration was ramping up its confrontation with antiwar protestors. By then public confidence in the war effort, not great at the beginning of the Administration, had been severely shaken by publication of the My Lai Massacre in November 1969. The Administration was also ruminating on the dangerous course of going all in for a military solution: While officially continuing its policy of  “Vietnamization” it would nonetheless massively support the South Vietnamese army’s invasion of neutral Cambodia to root out the bases from which North Vietnamese regular and Vietcong forces could invade the South. The decision was made on April 25. Nixon would seal the fate of hundreds of American soldiers, thousands of South Vietnamese forces and millions of Cambodians not at a formal meeting of the Joint Chiefs or with his Secretary of Defense, but late at night after Nixon had watched Patton with Bebe Rebozo (a buffoon, one of Nixon’s secret money conduits and man who dodged many an indictment) and Henry Kissinger.

Nixon well knew the public reaction; so it was important to pre-emptively lambast the  sources likely to cause the most problems. And so on April 28, 1970, Spiro Agnew found himself in a tense Republican Party fund-raiser in St. Petersburg, Florida right before the Republican primaries. (This was the night before the Pentagon would announce that the United States would provide “advisors and other support” for the South Vietnamese Army’s action in Cambodia.) The Florida GOP had been riven by a feud between two top party figures, who were themselves each facing challenges (the governor was being challenged in a primary and a U.S. Representative running for Senate (at Nixon’s behest) in another primary, by Harrold Carswell, Nixon’s failed “mediocre” nominee for Supreme Court). Agnew’s balm for the troubles at $250-a-plate dinner was his usual: resentment against intellectuals. This time he publicly called for Yale alumni to seek the dismissal of Yale president Kingman Brewster, who had questioned whether black revolutionaries (about to be tried in New Haven) could get a fair trial. It was perfect Agnew, he could wail against black radicals and disloyal college types all at once. He also jabbed University of Michigan President Robben Fleming, who had criticized a speech by Agnew and permitted a 12-day strike by students. Agnew said that Fleming’s actions “were indistinguisable” from those of the Black Power Movement. Everything seemed to come back to trouble-making Negroes in this southern political enclave. In the course of this diatribe, Agnew made national news when he “also offered ‘one modest suggestion for my friends in the academic community:

‘Next time a mob of students waving their nonnegotiable demands starts pitching bricks and rocks at the student union, just imagine they’re wearing brown shirts or white sheets and act accordingly.

‘It’s better to have a confrontation than a cave-in.’”‡

Six days later at a protest over the Cambodia incursion (as Nixon called it) at Kent State University, National Guardsmen fired 67 rounds of live .30-06 FMJ ammunition at students, protestors and bystanders indiscriminately. The students had been protesting since Nixon’s televised address on April 30, announcing the Cambodia incursion. Two hundred National Guard soldiers were on campus that Monday, May 4, because Governor Jim Rhodes ordered them and authorized the use of live ammunition. He did this because he was losing a political campaign.

DownloadedFileIn 1968 James Allen Rhodes, recently elected to his second term as governor of Ohio by a great margin, had been mentioned as a possible running-mate for Nixon. Not because he was a prominent statesman, of course (he rose from retail ward politics and in any event, Nixon showed he was not interested in having a statesman as a running mate), but because he was thought popular enough to help Nixon carry the critically important electoral votes of Ohio. Rhodes attended the Miami convention as a Rockefeller supporter, and thought he could act as king-maker by withholding Ohio’s first ballot votes. Nixon, however, won on the fist ballot anyway, and the prospect of a Rhodes vice-presidency evaporated. This was only the beginning of the problems for Rhodes and his political ambitions.

Rhodes was term-limited by the Ohio Constitution. So after 1970, he would be out of office. But there was a U.S. Senate seat open that year. Democrat Stephen M. Young formally announced in October 1969 that he would retire from the Senate. And from that time it was pretty clear Rhodes had his eye on the seat. Rhodes was not a natural fit for the most exclusive gentlemen’s club in the world. He was, according to a long-time Ohio pol-watcher, “a fast-talking, hard-sell Buckeye huckster.”** Carl Stokes said that he looked “like a football player turned mortician.”†† Nevertheless, the Ohio Republican establishment had hoped that Congressman Robert Taft would run for governor and Rhodes for Senate. This would prevent a bloody intra-party rivalry, which was frowned on by GOP boss Ray C. Bliss. “They are enervating, divisive, and drain the party’s financial resources,” said Bliss, once state party chairman.‡‡ (Bliss’s real prominence came from running the national GOP after the disastrous Goldwater campaign. Putting the party back together in one cycle was key to Nixon’s win in 1968.) Moreover, Republicans thought that a ticket with the twice-elected governor (albeit for Senate) and Congressman Robert Taft (for governor), the current representative of the old Ohio (and elsewhere) Republican name, would be unbeatable. But Life Magazine had an exposé on Rhodes, which changed everyone’s calculations.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The May 2, 1969 cover’s headline read “Scandal overtakes the Governor of Ohio.” Inside was a two-part piece. The first, “The governor and the mobster: Commutation of Mafioso Thomas (Yonnie) Licavoli’s sentence by Ohio Governor James Rhodes raises a cloud of scandal,” by Danny Welsh, told the odd story of how Rhodes had commuted the first degree murder convictions of Prohibition Era gangster Licavoli for four gangland slayings. The commutation was to allow the parole board to grant immediate parole. Life related the story that there was a mafia offer of a quarter of a million dollars for anyone that would free Licavoli. It claimed that Licavoli still had strong mob ties, including with his brother, who was one of the ruling dons of Detroit. The second part resurrected a claim from 1962 of mismanagement of campaign funds (actually converting them to personal use) with the added twist that Rhodes was required to pay the IRS $100,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties. John McElroy, the governor’s chief aide, vehemently denied that there was anything crooked involved in the commutation and took the blame on himself for suggesting the commutation. He hedged on the tax issue, claiming that Rhodes had never been required to pay a “penalty,” and suggesting that the Life figures were exaggerated.***

The charges stung Rhodes; particularly the financial irregularity charge because there was no definitive denial. There was talk of suing Life, but time went on and there was no suit. Could it be that there was no defense to the misappropriation and tax charge? Rhode’s vulnerability decided Taft to go for the Senate seat. He had been in D.C. for 6 years, why would he want to be Governor? And the next Governor would be forced to propose an income tax, to solve revenue shortfalls. The political half-life of a politician making such a move would be quite short. Other politicians also smelled blood in the water and started making noises, particularly right-winger Donald E. Lukens, another U.S. Congressman. When the first polls were taken in November 1969, Rhodes was not the favorite: 43% of Republicans favored Taft; 40% Rhodes and 17% for Lukens.†††

Rhodes’s problems increased when Roger Ailes joined Taft’s staff to manage media operations. Rhodes was already at a disadvantage when it came to matters of style. Taft was handsome, Ivy League educated, the son of a Senator and the grandson of a President. The name “Taft” signified traditional Ohio Republican values. But Robert Taft was modern, telegenic and in tune with the times. He was for education and a gradual end to the war and other mildly progressive things. Rhodes, who never finished college, politicked the old-fashioned way, the only way he knew, with all the machine types. Syndicated columnist Joseph Kraft described a Rhodes campaign event:

“A Rhodes dinner here in Cleveland recently was almost a caricature of the old politics.

More than 50 ward leaders from Cleveland and its suburbs were introduced. Then candidates for judicial office. Then some other officeholders. Then the governor.

He started with a couple of jokes about the dinner costing 98 cents. He advised everybody to distribute sample ballots. He compared college education unfavorably with vocational education. He stopped to mispronounce the word ‘allocation’ a couple of times. He hit hard on the importance of jobs.

The high point came with the local issuesraised lovingly and in great detail. Rhodes announcedfor the nth time during the daythat he was stopping construction on part of an interstate highway due to run through the suburb of Shaker Heights. He called on the mayor of Shaker Heights to stand up. When the crowd cheered, Rhodes declared that blocking the construction was ‘the equal of the Crusades and the Renaissance combined.’”‡‡‡

By April Rhodes’ campaign was floundering. The one year statute of limitations on libel claims was soon to expire, so Rhodes sued Life—in New York. Rhodes had avoided debates for as long as it was seemly and now he had to engage them. When the first one took on April 21, it was an undistinguished affair. Both candidates supported Nixon’s efforts to bring peace to Vietnam with orderly withdrawal of American troops and both pledged to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized the whole misfated adventure. Rhodes even went further and opined that “the United States cannot police the world. ‘Asians will rule Asia, Africans will rule Africa and South Americans will rule South America,’ the governor said.”****

Nixon goes all in: On April 30, 1970, he makes the surprising announcement that American forces would provide support for the South Vietnamese kincursion into Cambodia.

Nixon goes all in: On April 30, 1970, he makes the surprising announcement that American forces would provide support for the South Vietnamese actions in Cambodia. (National Archives and Records Administration. NAI: 194674.)

It didn’t matter to the Taft campaign that the debate was a dreary draw. By that time public polls and the polls the Taft campaign itself conducted showed that Taft led Rhodes by as much as 8%.†††† This of course is an extremely great advantage two weeks before the election. Something extraordinary would have to happen for Rhodes to make up that ground. And something extraordinary did happen.

While the two candidates were hitching their wagons to Nixon’s supposed plan to withdraw American troops from Vietnam, Nixon was watching war movies with Bebe Rebozo and seeing himself as Frederick the Great. Unknown to these local Republicans (and America in general), the plan would be greater war. And with that an explosion of protest. On Saturday, April 25, Nixon watched Patton and the die was cast. On Thursday, April 30, he explained the plan on national television. From his description, the plan was not simple logistical support. It was going for broke.

On Friday, May 1, the campus of Kent State University erupted in complete pandemonium. The Mayor of Kent asked the governor for National Guard troops. Rhodes, who didn’t much like college students, didn’t at all like disorder, and hated losing elections, complied. He was going to ride Law and Order for the next four days to the Primary.

On the debate Saturday night May 2, Rhodes struck Taft with full-bore, righteous Law and Order. It was a poor man’s version of Nixon/Agnew. He brayed that he “was cracking down on ‘anarchy’ and accused Taft of preferring to ‘coddle’ students and of having a ‘soft attitude on campus violence.’”‡‡‡‡ Taft would coddle these criminals, he implied. “My opponent’s soft attitude on campus violence is not surprising since in 1968 he voted against an amendment … requiring colleges to deny federal funds to students who participate in serious campus disorders.”***** Just like at Kent State, they would find out later, where the ROTC building was on fire.

The show was not over. The next day he would fly to Kent. To make clear what he intended to happen, and to wrap himself in Nixon and Agnew’s Resentment, he called a press conference during which he described the college protestors:

“They’re worse than the Brownshirts, and the Communist element, and also the Night Riders, and the vigilantes. They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America.”†††††

National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets immediately prior to shooting on May 4, 1970 near Taylor Hall, at Kent State Univesity. Click to enlarge.

National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets immediately prior to shooting on May 4, 1970 near Taylor Hall, at Kent State University. Click to enlarge.

The next day the National Guard, locked and loaded, wound tight by the Governor’s message, filled with the kind of anger and resentment that floated through the county from the commander-in-chief and his chief henchman, fired. Four died. Nine were seriously wounded. One was paralyzed for life.

And that is one way the national security state works. It doesn’t always require a chain of command. In fact, it works best when emotions are hyped by fear and false patriotism, and plans are put into effect not by a grand design, but by the self-interested motives of petty local tyrants. Even ones whose horizons are limited by interstate highways about to invade a politically connected suburb. Those petty tyrants are never disavowed by their betters. unless, of course, there is universal revulsion, as in My Lai or Abu Graib. But revulsion is almost never directed at the perpetrators. Usually it is directed at the victims. And usually the perpetrators are benefitted.

It almost worked for Jim Rhodes. He nearly made up the 8% on that single act of bloody bluster. On May 5, 940,000 votes were cast in the Republican primary. Rhodes lost by only 5,270.‡‡‡‡‡


* Nick Turse, “A My Lai a Month,” The Nation, November 13, 2008 (online).

† New York Times, May 2, 1970, p. 1-A.

 Milwaukee Journal, April 29, 1970, Part 1, p. 1; see also St. Petersburg Times, April 29, 1970, p. 1.

** Richard G. Zimmerman, Plain Dealing: Ohio Politics and Journalism Viewed from the Press Gallery (Kent State University Press: 2006), p. 44. [“Plain Dealing”]

†† Carl B. Stokes, Promises of Power: A Political Autobiography  (NY: Simon & Schuster: 1973), p. 66.

‡‡ David Hess, “Rhodes bid for Senate seat stirs storm of questions,” Christian Science Monitor, November 8, 1969, p. 16. [“Hess”]

  *** Richard G. Zimmerman, “Rhodes’s First Eight Years, 1963-1971,” in Alexander P. Lamis & Mary Anne Sharkey (eds.), Ohio Politics (Kent State University Press 1994), pp. 78-79. [“Zimmerman”]

††† See Hess, above.

‡‡‡ Joseph Kraft, “Taft vs. Rhodes in Ohio Battle,” Modesto Bee, May 1, 1970, p. A 16.

**** Andy Cota, “Neither Rhodes, Taft Triumphant in First Debate,” Toledo Blade, April 22, 1970, p. 3.

†††† Plain Dealing, p. 45.

‡‡‡‡ Milwaukee Journal, May 5, 1970, Part 1, p. 2.

***** Zimmerman, p. 80.

††††† Scott L. Bills, Kent State/May 4: Echoes Through a Decade, Kent, Ohio: The (Kent State University Press: 1988), p. 13

‡‡‡‡‡ Zimmerman, p. 81.

Women killers and baby thieves

Reynaldo Bignone (left) and Jorge Rafael Videla in the courtroom where they would each be convicted for the plot to steal babies from the disappeared mothers who their regimes kidnapped, tortured and killed.

These are the pathetic wrecks of two of this Hemisphere’s once formidable monsters. Jorge Rafael Videla then Reynaldo Bignone led Argentina during the Dirty Wars of the 1970s and 1980s. These right wing dictators relied on “disappearings,” kidnappings and secret execution, of their political enemies to instill terror and prevent opposition. Among the more original and despicable acts they employed was stealing the babies from mothers they kidnapped and then placing them with other families. The mothers were disposed of, sometimes by dropping them from airplanes into the Atlantic Ocean. It was for the baby thefts that these two men were on trial. Among their defenses was the mothers used their babies as “human shields.” Both were convicted. Videla received a 50-year prison sentence; Bignone, 15 years.

It is worth noting that the right wing of our own national security apparatus provided aid and comfort to these criminals. It goes without saying that Henry Kissinger,  who never met a right wing strong man he didn’t like, was initially behind our support for the military dictators in Argentina (during the Ford Administration). And after Carter cut off aid, it was restored by those serving the genial-seeming Ronald Reagan. The military aid helped the Argentine army commit unspeakable crimes.

A Reagan official, Elliot Abrams, provided deposition testimony in the case against the dictators. He testified about how Washington knew of the baby stealing crimes and “urged Bignone to reveal the stolen babies’ identities as a way to smooth Argentina’s return to democracy.” Bignone ignored the advice, and of course the Reagan Administration did nothing to make the information public, preferring instead to cover up the crimes of its allies in Argentina. Incidentally, Abrams had the title of Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. Ironies abounded in the Reagan Administration. Among them would be that Abrams himself would later accept a plea bargain in the Iran Contra case in which he also was involved in a cover-up; that is, withholding information requested by Congress. He accepted the plea bargain to avoid felony charges against him. But hiding information from Congress of crimes committed by the Reagan Administration in order to permit right wing dictators to continue to commit human rights abuses was evidently the patriotic duty of members of the Reagan Administration, because Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, pardoned Abrams for the crimes he pleaded guilty to. And his tawdry service in the Reagan Administration did not mean he would not be useful to later Republican Administrations. Having done his loyal best to subvert democracy, human rights, and international operations in the Reagan Administration, George W. Bush appointed him to the post of senior director of  democracy, human rights, and international operations at the National Security Council in 2001.

Right wing as our national security policy is in the best of times, remember: in a new Republican administration the ultra right-wingers, the friends of war criminals, like Abrams, always come back.

Elliot Abrams, friend of rights abusers but not of congressional inquiry. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.)

Update [8/19/12]: Not a month after this report which shows that Elliot Abrams was our government’s enabler of official baby stealing, a report emerges that he is one of the top candidates for a big job in a possible Romney Administration. The Cable, the blog of the editors of Foreign Policy, mention his name as the possible National Security advisor to the President. They refer to Abrams as a “technocrat.” I suppose this is because his experience in the Reagan and Bush Administations were “technically” dealing with human rights issues. I say “technically” because he never really discovered any human rights violation that our friends in Latin America and the Middle East ever committed. He therefore had time to occupy himself with other things, such as obstructing Congress and then persuading George H.W. Bush to pardon him right before leaving office. If our National Security is handled as well as he handled Human Rights, we all ought to stock up on duct tape.

The drone addiction

The astonishment that followed the New York Times report on how the “kill lists” are developed at weekly meetings at the White House, how the President makes his assassination decisions, how numbers of “collateral damage” are reduced by inferring that all males in the area of the strike are militants, how the President’s chief political adviser attends these meetings and how ruthlessly indifferent our government is to the deaths of scores of innocents is hard to account for. Is it because we see how the process takes place that we are outraged? But how can that be? We have seen how our government delivers death from unmanned predator drones at an increasing rate and undeterred by numerous civilian deaths. We’ve seen that it’s used not only in Pakistan but wherever our government is pleased to use them. When the administration began using drones in Libya, it argued that the use had become so routine that it did not trigger the War Powers Act, which requires the President to obtain the consent of Congress for the use of force. Drones aren’t “hostilities”; they are politics by different means.

We now use our new political tool in Yeman. The Washington Post reports that civilians on the ground take offense of this new politics and threaten to become our enemies as a result. And how is this remarkable? Hasn’t this been the universal reaction to our liberal predilection to risk civilian death to protect our own military?

We are no longer able to infer conduct from the result. Unless there is a White House press release or a Republican allegation, the press is now powerless to “report.”

Our liberal President engages in acts that Henry Kissinger would not admit to wishing. A country that once officially denied that it engaged in assassination now assassinates its own citizens. And our President, the 2009 Nobel Peace laureate claims, according to that article, that that decision was was an “easy one.” The New York Times did not explain the ease of the President’s decision to later kill the 16 year old son of that same American citizen.

The rule of international law has never had a big constituency in this country, at least so long as we have been the last remaining mega-power. And those few proponents 0f restraint on American power have now been co-opted by the leader of their party. And there is hardly any hope from the opposition, who dispatched a meek proponent of international views when Richard Lugar was turned out by the very right wing of that reactionary party.

So, my dear reader, when the drone becomes the surgical weapon of choice by other countries and other groups, we will of course react in outrage. And the description of how a liberal President convened assassination meetings every Tuesday will have been long forgotten. Because, we can no longer draw inferences from known facts.

The continuing disgrace of the George W. Bush Administration

President Wilson and King George V leaving Charing Cross, December 26, 1918. (Graphic Photo Union.)

When Woodrow Wilson arrived in London on Boxer Day in 1918 (as part of the first presidential visit to Europe) he was escorted by King George in a horse-drawn carriage with a cavalry escort from Charing Cross Station to Buckingham Palace. Along the route 20,000 soldiers with polished bayonets stood at attention. Tens of thousands of spectators came to witness the historic event. When the carriage first emerged from the Charing Cross Courtyard a roar went up and it got louder around West End all the way to the palace. This is how the Guardian described the event:

“In a long memory of London street scenes one cannot recall anything quite like this welcome in its mass and impressiveness, its spontaneous cordiality. All the gaiety pent up through the cruel four and a half years seemed to be released in the great noise of cheering that rose round the leader of the world’s peace. Londoners flocked by the tens of thousands into the narrow two miles of street to see him. There was not nearly room for all and multitudes would know that the President had come only by hearing the boom of the saluting guns.” (“London’s memorable Boxing day: A triumphal progress to the palace,” Manchester Guardian, December 27, 1918.)

Kennedy before adoring throngs in Berlin, June 26, 1963 (National Archives, John F. Kennedy Library).

It was the beginning of many rapturous receptions for various heads of state of the one country universally regarded for its respect for the rule of law and its promotion of freedom and justice, or so it was occasionally believed. Eisenhower in Berlin and London, Kennedy’s Ich bin ein Berliner speech, Reagan in Berlin to “tear down that wall,” Obama in Cairo and Europe. And even ex-Presidents were accepted with respect  that comes from genuine trust and affection, such a Carter in Africa and Clinton in Haiti.

Even when we occupied the office with duplicitous schemers and their immoral advisers like Nixon and Kissinger, the residual respect for the principles of the country prevented any untoward incidents, and even they had a triumphal tour of China.

And then we had the misadventure of 2000, when we installed (by a ruling by the partisan Supreme Court) a group who lacked any respect for American history, tradition, justice, law or in fact anything beyond money and power. The lies they engaged in to institute a war they had long-planned and the means of conducting it put a significant stain on the honor and good will of our country. And it lasts not only for the country but the very leaders of that unfortunate “government.”

We saw not too long ago that the former Vice President, Dick Cheney, was indicted by corruption prosecutors in Nigeria for his alleged involvement as head of Halliburton whose wholly owned subsidiary paid a substantial, illegal bribe to secure a lucrative energy deal with that Third World country. Even the current Secretary of State was drawn into this sordid spectacle. Halliburton was able to pay a paltry $35 million (probably because the prosecutors expected obstruction by the US Justice Department) to prevent a former Vice President from having to face extradition proceedings.

But that was for behavior before Cheney became Vice President. I suppose it would be asking too much these days to expect our national leaders not engage in international felonies before considering themselves suitable to be our rulers.

But just this week, Cheney’s nominal boss, George W. Bush, had to decline an invitation to speak in Switzerland for fear of prosecution for his conduct as president. Bush had been invited by the United Israel Appeal to address their meeting in Geneva. There had been protests planned and significantly a human rights organization had planned to ask the authorities in Switzerland to apprehend Bush for violation of the international treaty on torture. The organizers claim that the cancellation was over security concerns (evidently Switzerland is unable to protect a former President of the United States from human rights protestors), but the human rights group insists he cut and run in fear of arrest. The group plans on hounding the former president if he sets foot in any signatory to the treaty.

The Washington Post, that bastion of “grown up” pronouncements of the powers-that-be, canvassed the “experts” and concluded that George Bush is not in danger of being arrested. It is undoubtedly true that the current administration would throw its weight behind the disgraced former president, but it’s not at all clear that the law would allow him immunity. The Treaty itself says that a violator can be arrested anywhere he is found. The arrest of Augusto Pinochet (that great friend of Nixon and Kissinger) in 1998 in London shows that there is no immunity from prosecution accorded a former head of state and that there is universal jurisdiction for cases of human rights violations. It is also clear that George Bush’s recent admission that he ordered waterboarding (as part of his tour to drum up sales for his autobiography) shows that he committed torture. Waterboarding has been universally regarded as torture by everyone (from Reagan to Obama) in this country and beyond except for the high-ranking executives who ordered a legal “opinion” to cover their trail.

So whether he is ultimately convicted or not, it’s clear that our former leader cannot set foot in another civilized country without at least being dragged through allegations and procedure that a true American patriot would never have exposed himself too. I hope the ultra-wealthy consider their tax savings worth the disgrace their client inflicted on this country. I suspect that they have as little interest in justice as he does, however.

It was forty years ago this date …

… Paul McCartney starts to litigate.

He brought a bill in equity principally to relieve the partnership of the Beatles and Apple Records of the mismanagement of Allen Klein. The Beatles band was clearly finished before this, but the litigation provided the legal punctuation. McCartney would achieve his chief goal: the appointment of a receiver.

Two years later, on the very same calendar date, December 30, 1972, Richard Nixon called a halt to bombing of North Vietnam. The US had been negotiating secretly with the North for some time and reached a tentative agreement two months before. Henry Kissinger, a man who intended to make himself into the Metternich of our time, was our negotiator and strategic adviser to President Nixon. The president of South Vietnam (which had been excluded from the talks, though nominally the US’s ally), Nguyen Van Thieu, vehemently objected to the agreement because he saw in it his own doom. To demonstrate our friendship (and to hint at our continued support in the future) Nixon employed a particularly Nixonian step: He ordered a massive bombing of the North, operationally known as Operation Linebacker II, but popularly called the Christmas bombings. The strikes were relentless and destroyed much (if not all) of the industrial stock of Hanoi and Haiphong. It lasted from December 18-29, 1970, and was unilaterally called off on December 30, after Hanoi signaled its willingness to negotiate additional concessions. There was in fact nothing left to target. It would be some time before the humiliating final withdrawal from Saigon by helicopter (which Nixon did not have to preside over having resigned in disgrace so as to avoid impeachment), but December 30 was essentially the day that the US gave up on a military solution to the war.

So for the generation that lived through the 60s this date has special meaning for the ying and yang of the 60s: a band that made a kind of pop music universal so it became medium for a generation’s social protest and the war that ignited and solidified that protest. Both symbolically ended on this date in history.

McCartney of course went his own way continuing to make pop music. He received all the awards a pop musician is eligible to receive (I think) and even received the condescension from the British throne  of the feudal title of knight.  Henry Kissinger one-upped his idol. Unlike Metternich, Kissinger survived the downfall of his own prince. And instead of an indictment or public disgrace, Kissinger was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize along with his brutal counterpart Le Duc Tho.