AUGUST   2020


Friday, June 14, 2013


I have a theory about politics, and it goes like this: each generation fights its father's battles. The prime example of this turns out to be conspiracy’s step-child, Richard Milhouse Nixon. After his two brothers died of tuberculosis, “Tricky Dick” became an over achiever riddled by survivor's guilt who inherited his father's inferiority complex and explosive temper along with his mother's stoic martyrdom in the face of her husband's violence. I shall now pause for a round of applause from all amateur psychologists reading this blog. But to go a step further - this oversimplification explains how the only President forced to resign could still insist, long after the Watergate scandal brought him down, “when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal”. Worse, Nixon's driving ambition, combined with his sense of persecution and his faith in his own entitlement would get 21,257 Americans killed.
In 1968 there were half a million Americans draftees fighting in South Vietnam. The 12 year war had already killed 30,000 Americans, almost as many as died in the Korean War. Three hundred more Americans were dying every week.  And every week the Pentagon was spending $1.5 billion on a war President Lyndon Johnson was belatedly trying to end. The complication was that 1968 was also a Presidential election year. The war had grown so unpopular that in March, Johnson had withdrawn from the election, removing himself as an issue. And despite the blood and treasure spent in Vietnam by their party, almost any other Democrat, either New York Senator Robert Kennedy, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, or Vice President Hubert Humphrey, still held a slim lead in the polls over the likely Republican challenger, one time Vice-President Richard Nixon.
On Friday, 10 May, 1968 North Vietnam and the United States began secret talks in a Paris hotel on the Avenue Kleber (pronounced clay-bear). The first difficult issue to be decided was the shape of the table, because it really should have been three party talks. South Vietnamese President, Nguyen Van Thieu (above), had gambled his life, and the lives of everyone he loved, on defeating the communist Viet Minh guerrillas, controlled by North Vietnam. That struggle had so far cost South Vietnam over 100,000 military, and close to 200,000 civilian deaths. Thieu and his supporters had earned a place at the table in Paris. President Johnson wanted them there. But North Vietnam stubbornly refused to recognize Thieu's government, or even sit down at any shaped negotiating table with them. And Thieu agreed. He was worried the Americans might compromise him into a corner, allowing the communists to easily take power once the Americans left.
On Sunday, 12 July, 1968 another secret meeting took place, this one in Richard Nixon's 39th floor suite at the Pierre Hotel, just off Fifth Avenue on East 61st Street, in Manhattan. Nixon's co-hosts were his closest adviser John Mitchell, and Republican activist and unofficial leader of the Taiwan lobby, Anna Chennault . The single guest, brought there by Mrs. Chennault, was the South Vietnamese ambassador to the United States, Bui Diem.  Both Chennault and Diem have left accounts of the meeting, at which Nixon assured Diem the South Vietnamese would get “better treatment from me than under the Democrats,” and that “his staff would be in touch with (Diem) through...Anna Chennault.”
Anna was the widow of American Lieutenant General Claire Chennault, commander of the “volunteer” Flying Tigers, American flyers who battled Japanese bombers over China before Pearl Harbor. After the war the general had set up the Flying Tiger Line, an air transport service based in Taiwan, and bankrolled by the CIA. When the 65 year old general died of lung cancer in 1958, he left his 33 year old widow a multimillionaire. She was brilliant in her own right, and a constant supporter of the man who had actually “lost” China to the communists, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Under Eisenhower, “The Dragon Lady” had become a powerful Republican fundraiser. Her sole drawback, in Nixon's own words,  was that, “she's a chatterbox.”
After the secret meeting in the Pierre, Diem became a regular at parties Anna hosted in her Penthouse in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. And she became a regular in Saigon, capital of South Vietnam. There she talked directly with President Thieu. What they talked about is not recorded, but Thieu began to take a harder line regarding the now weekly secret Paris talks. Nixon was aware of the lack of progress in Paris, thanks to Bryce Harklow, an Eisenhower aide and self described “double agent”, who had stayed on through the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. And as the election approached. Harlow told Nixon, Johnson was planning an “October Surprise” and a “Halloween Peace”, to make Humphrey President. Nixon had no doubt it was true, thanks to his other mole, Professor Henry Kissinger.
Since he was very smart, as far back as 1966 Harvard Professor Henry Kissinger (right, above) became convinced any military victory in South Vietnam would prove useless, unless it also produced “a political reality that could survive our ultimate withdrawal” Because of this he helped start the two party Paris talks. But he was also intensely ambitious, and in August, when the North Vietnamese ordered their troops in the two northern provinces of South Vietnam to stand down, Kissinger warned Nixon (left, above) that the war might be coming to an abrupt end, thus invalidating Nixon's twin campaign ads of “Peace With Honor”, and “Nixon's The One” - the who would end the war. John Mitchel immediately called Anna Channault (center, above).
Anna said latter that Mitchell called her “almost every day” that summer,, always with the same message – don't let Thieu go to Paris. In her autobiography Anna explained, “My job was to hold him back..” Negotiations with North Vietnam might be part of Kissinger's “political reality”, but Anna assured the “Little Dictator” (above), that Nixon would secure a better peace for South Vietnam. She later wrote “Throughout October 1968 Thieu tried to delay... as long as possible to buy time for Nixon.” Thieu would later tell Ambassador Diem that “a Humphrey victory would mean a coalition government in six months.” And, of course, an end to the war.
But Johnson (above) had heard hints of Nixon's back channel, first by Florida Democratic Senator George Smathers, who was friends with both Johnson and Nixon. And the President was also warned about a stock tip being offered by Wall Street money man Alexander Sachs. The Nixon supporter was quoted by Walt Rostow as saying a quick peace was unlikely because Nixon would, “ incite Saigon to be difficult and Hanoi to wait.” In response Johnson ordered the National Security Agency and legendary director of the F.B.I, J. Edgar Hoover, to bug his own government, including ambassador to South Vietnam, Ellsworth Bunker, and the Nixon campaign's leadership. Hoover won the race for the dirt, quickly producing a call on Bunker's private phone from Anna Channault, who urged the ambassador to tell Thieu to “Just hang on through the election.”
Finally, on 31 October, 1968, Johnson announced on national television that because of recent conciliatory moves by North Vietnam, he was halting American bombing. Johnson also went public about the Paris peace talks, next to be held the day after the American election. But he was able to announce only that South Vietnam was “free to participate” in the talks as well. Two days earlier, President Thieu had informed Johnson that he would absolutely not be attending the Paris talks, relying on Nixon's promise of a better deal after his victory in November.
Two days later, on 2 Novemb, Johnson called the Republican Senate Minority Leader, gravel voiced Everett Dirkson. The recording of that call is in the L.B.J. Presidential Library. On the tape Johnson quoted from Anna Channault's call to Bunker, so Dirkson would have no doubt he had the evidence. He then told the Republican, “They oughtn’t be doing this. This is treason.” Dirkson replied, “I know,.” and promised to call Nixon. Johnson then brutally drove his point home. “They’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war...and if they don’t want it on the front pages, they better quit it.”
A day later, Nixon called Johnson and smoothly lied. He assured Johnson, concerning sabotage of the Paris peace talks,  “There’s absolutely no credibility as far as I’m concerned.”  But unknown to Nixon it was caught on tape by the National Security Agency. The NSA also had recording of a phone call between Republican Vice Presidential candidate Spiro Agnew and Ann Channaut discussing her lobbying of Thieu. With still 2 days before the election,, Johnson might have released some or all of those recordings. He decided not to only because, so close to the election, it would taint the credibility of whoever won.  For the good of the nation, Johnson kept his mouth shut.
Nixon won the Tuesday, 5 November, 1968 popular vote by just over 500,000 – about 0.7%,, but he took the electoral college decisively, with 31 votes to spare, 301 to 191 for Humphry. During November and December, despite pleadings from Johnson to push Thieu to come to Paris, Anna Channaut kept up reassuring The South Vietnamese President to hold out until Nixon took the oath in January. Once elected, President Richard Nixon did begin withdrawing American troops, but he also funded an increase in the South Vietnamese Army, from 800,000 in 1968, to a high of 110,000 in 1973 – just before their collapse. What happened in 1973 was Watergate, a scandal which increasingly consumed Nixon's time and political power. And that started with the failed break in on 17 June, 1971
On that day the White House recording system heard President Richard Nixon ask his chief-of-staff “Bob” Halderman a simple question:”Do we have it?” He was searching for Lyndon Johnson's copy of Anna Channault and Spiro Agnew's phone calls from the fall of 1968. When Halderman hinted there might be a copy at the Brookings Institute on Long Island, Nixon ordered, “Goddammit, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.” Two weeks later, still demanding action from his wary staff, Nixon told Halderman, “Talk to Hunt. I want the break-in.” And thus began a two year search, largely conducted by ex-CIA agent E. Howard Hunt and his “Plumbers” unit, to find the record of Richard Nixon's duplicity on the Vietnam War, and failing that, to collect dirt on anyone who might have the file, such as Daniel Ellsberg, the source of the “Pentagon Papers”. But the files were no longer in any of the places Nixon was looking.
Just before he left the White House, Lyndon Johnson had entrusted the file to Walt Rostow, who kept it with his personal papers. As Watergate took flame over the summer of 1973, he wrote a memorandum (above) to be included in the file, and then wrote on the cover, “Top Secret. To be opened by the Director, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, not earlier than fifty (50) years from this date, June 26, 1973.”  But the library waited only twenty years, and then began the protracted process of declassifying the contents. That took another twenty years, before the great question of the Watergate scandal was finally answered - why did Nixon send a collection of ex-CIA Cuban-Americans into the DNC headquarters on 17 June, 1972? And the answer was; the 27,257 Americans who died in Vietnam, the tens of thousands wounded and the hundreds of prisoner of war who suffered during the years Richard Nixon kept the war going for his personal benefit.
- 30 -

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


“I grant him bloody, Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful, Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin
That has a name.” Malcolm describing Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 3
In Shakespeare's tragedy of “Macbeth”, Prince Malcolm is the answer to the question 'what should Hamlet have done?' Like the 'unhappy Dane', Malcolm was the spoiled son of a King. When his father is murdered by Macbeth, the boy suffers indecision, just like Hamlet. But then Malcolm adopts all the worst traits he sees in Macbeth, and methodically lies his way to the top, pausing only to kill Macbeth along the way. If there was one thing William Shakespeare was familiar with it was human frailties of greed and self justification. I mean, it brought down his house, for God's sake.
The 'immortal bard' was born in the English midlands town of Stratford-upon-Avon, where the the road - or in old English the 'strat', which gives us our modern word 'street' – forded the river Avon, about 22 miles south-east of modern day Birmingham. At 19 William married a Stratford girl. But it was a very unpleasant place to live. Stratford was the final destination for herds of sheep from the rolling Cotswold county just to the south, which were fuel for a 16th century agro-chemical industry. Stratford was dotted with noisy, stinking slaughter houses and reeking tanneries, which produced meat and wool and glue and soap and leather and a myriad of other animal by-products the world has forgotten it ever needed. Shakespeare's father was a glove maker, and his raw material was sheepskin. As a layer of smog envelopes modern cities, the residents of Stratford lived under a permanent cloud of stench and flies.
Perhaps the flies explain why a good Catholic boy like William left Stratford, abandoning his wife and children, to pursue a career then viewed as sinful – in the theater. Against all odds he became a success, so well paid on the London stage that in 1597 he was able to pay sixty pounds for a 17 acre estate at the corner of Stratford and Chapel streets, in the middle of Stratford.  It had two gardens, two small orchards, two barns and outbuildings, and the second largest house in Stratford, a two story Tudor stucco and beam affair, with a brick foundation - even the cesspit was brick. Though it was already a hundred years old, it was still called called “New Place”, and William deposited his wife and two daughters here, while he returned to London.
But even then the theater was a tough way to make a farthing. Between 1603 and 1610 the London theaters were closed more often than they were open, because of plague. New Place, with its gardens and the mulberry tree William had planted himself, became a sanctuary where he composed his last play, “The Tempest” - about an old man named Prospero, who is exiled on an island with his daughter, and a son-of-a-witch who makes his life miserable. To keep his sanity William often returned to London to go drinking with his friends William Burbage and Ben Johnson. But he was not a spring chicken anymore. He was in fact an ill man. And in 1616, at the age of 53, just two months after marrying his youngest daughter to the guy who owned the liquor store next door, William Shakespeare died. In his will William left his wife, Ann Hathaway, his “second best bed”, but he left the house it sat in, to his eldest daughter and her doctor husband.
The trouble was, none of Williams children's children had children who had children. Call it the Shakespeare curse, but within a hundred years his blood line had dried up completely. In 1702 the house and garden was sold to Sir John Clopton, whose family had originally built the house before Columbus left for America. John gutted it to the exterior walls and then rebuilt it. But he regularly allowed the public in to tour “Shakespeare’s garden” next door, including the mulberry tree. Then in 1757 John Clopton died suddenly and his family was forced to sell the house to pay his debts. The buyer this time had no connection to the house, nor an interest in Shakespeare. He was an arrogant neuveau riche Bishop from Chester named Francis Gastrell. We will pause here for a moment so you can boo and hiss this villain’s entrance upon the stage.
Done? Okay. Francis (above) inherited his money when his father, the previous Bishop of Chester, died in 1748 without a will. And he needed one because Daddy had been a very acquisitive clergyman who left behind a lot of investment properties. Now, you might ask how a man of God had obtained all that money – I would - but that is another story. This story is about his son, Francis.
The courts sold the old man's property, and then divided the money between his two sons. It took a few years, but by the time he was 50 Francis was finally “independently” wealthy. Like any good upwardly mobile Englishman of his time, he used his money to mobile upward further. In 1752 he married the daughter of a Baronet , and then he retired.. Upwardly mobile Englishmen did not “labor” for a living. Even Bishops. In 1756, Francis bought New Place in Stratford as a vacation home. And the first thing he noticed was the crowds of tourists who still expected to wander about in Shakespeare's garden. Except Francis saw it as “his” garden. He put up a fence. And padlocked the gate. Francis saw no reason he should allow strangers on “his” private property. Of course at the same time he saw no reason why he should be paying taxes on “his” property, either.  Does any of this sound like rich bastards around today? You're damn right it does.
The local merchants recognized that keeping the town looking nice was an investment in the tourist trade, which even in 1760 was proving profitable. And keeping the poor off the streets kept Stratford looking prosperous and safe, not to mention it being the “Christian” duty of every believer. But Bishop Francis Gastrell did not see why he should care about the poor. In fact he asked for a tax cut, arguing that he didn't live in Stratford year-round (he wintered in Lichfield) and should not have to pay the poor taxes when he was not in residence. The town council disagreed. The poor did not stop needing food just because Francis was out of town. Francis still owed his forty schillings for the “Poor Tax”. And that made Francis angry. So he cut down Shakespeare's mulberry tree.
Oh, when challenged he explained the 150 year old tree had cast a shadow over the house, making it feel dank and dark. Like Tudor houses don't all feel dark and dank.  But while the entire town went into shock, one man showed Francis how to turn his problem with the tourists into a gold mine. His name was Thomas Sharpe, and he was a local clock maker. He bought the corpse of Shakespeare's tree, at firewood prices, and carved it into Shakespeare mementos, which he sold to the tourists – clocks, statues, medallions, trinkets and cameos (above). He sold so many and he made so much money, that he was accused of fraud. Sharpe was forced to issue a statement. “I do hear by declare and take my solemn oath, upon the four Evangelists, in the presence of the Almighty God, that I never worked, sold, or substituted any other wood than what came from, and was part of, the said tree.”
But rather than sell tickets to the garden for a few days each week in the summer, when he wasn't in town anyway, Francis Gastrell went the other way. To protest his “Poor Taxes”, he boarded up the house (above) and refused to pay any taxes at all. He was a Tea Party thinker before there was a tea party. Of course this meant his servants were now unemployed and without a residence – in other words, poor. Besides being insulted by Francis' treatment of their citizens, the Stratford council did not agree with Francis' morality or his logic. The house might not be occupied, but it was still in the town, so there were still taxes to be paid.
In 1759, just three years after he bought it, Francis Gastrell had “Shakespeare's” house pulled down to make a political point. It was dismantled and burned, so nobody would profit from even the wreckage. Then, according to the London Gazette and Journal, “Upon completion of his outrages on the memory of Shakespeare ...Francis Gastrell departed from Stratford, hooted out of the town, and pursued by the excretions of its inhabitants.” The council even passed an ordnance that no one named Gastrell would ever be allowed to live in Stratford, ever again – not that there is a line of wandering Gastrells waiting at the city gates, but the law is still on the books
And that is why, if you go to Stratford-upon-Avon today, and you should if you can, you will see the house where Shakespeare was born, and the cottage where his wife, Ann Hathaway was born. You can visit their graves in the local church (above). You can visit his garden, where you will see a plaque where the mulberry tree once stood. But the house he owned, where he died, where Ann died as well, is long gone, thanks to an arrogant selfish jackass who could boast to the world, not that “I built that”, but “I destroyed that”.
But then, that is the only achievement of selfish people.
- 30 -     

Sunday, June 09, 2013


I know we like to think our nation was founded by political geniuses armed only with the best of intentions. But the truth is, if the vast majority of the founding fathers were to somehow magically reappear in today's political arena, they would probably be most comfortable as members of the Klu Klux Klan – being by current definition both sexists and white supremacists. Under the first constitution for South Carolina (signed in 1778) Catholics were not allowed to vote. Delaware's first constitution denied the vote to Jews, and Maryland did not permit the sons of Abraham to cast a ballot until 1828. And, of course, women and both sexes of African-American descent either were or would shortly be arrested if they tried to cast a ballot anywhere in America. But the most fundamental bigotry in America was and is not racial or religious. It is monetary. The most hated, despised and disenfranchised group in America has always been anyone who was “not rich”.
In ten of the 13 original United States you had to own at least 50 acres of land or $250 in property before you were judged qualified to vote. The official price for uncleared land along the frontier was set at just ten cents an acre, but usually sold in lots no smaller than a section of 640 acres. At the same time the average yearly income for a laborer was about ninety dollars (with the income level in slave states being even lower), meaning a section would cost a middle class worker over 8 months salary. Few working people could afford the investment. So the land speculators stepped in. They had the cash, or the credit, to acquire hundreds of sections of land at a time, survey, subdivide and resell the property in plots down to five or ten acres each. It was a system rife with legal and illegal fraud. And the speculators' profit margins tripled or quadrupled the price per acre to the yeoman farmers who usually borrowed to buy the land, often then went bankrupt, lost their investment, and were forced to move even further west to try again, still without the right to vote the legality of such monetary rules.
This explains why, forty years after the revolution, only half a million out of the ten million Americans could qualify to vote, and why in 1824 less than 360,000 actually cast a ballot. The debacle of 1825, when the “corrupt bargain” was seen as reducing political office to a commodity, and the earlier similar debacle in 1800, led to the realization that the first objective of fair elections must be to keep the professional politicians from screwing them up and dictating the outcome. That was why, beginning in the new states beyond the Appalachian crest, the wealth restrictions on voting were dropped. And slowly this influenced the politics back in the original 13 colonies. Slowly.
On October 7, 1825, with John Quincy Adams ensconced in the White House for less than 8 months, Senator Andrew Jackson (above) rose in the Senate chamber. Nominally he was to comment on a proposed constitutional amendment to prevent another “corrupt bargain” from ever happening But, “I could not”, Jackson assured his fellow politicians, “consent either to urge or to encourage a change which might wear the appearance of being ...a desire to advance my own views” (He meant unlike Henry Clay, and President Adams, of course.) And reluctantly he added, “I hasten therefore to tender this my resignation.” It wasn't that Jackson was clearing his schedule for the upcoming 1828 rematch . No, he was resigning so “my friends do not, and my enemies can not, charge me with...degrading the trust reposed in me by intriguing for the Presidential chair.” As he walked out of the Capital that afternoon, it's a wonder his trousers did not burst into flames. The proposed amendment was then quietly allowed to die.
On the same day, on the west fork of the Stones river, meeting in St. Paul's Episcopal Church on East Vine Street in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (where their capital had burned down two years earlier), the state legislature unanimously nominated Andrew Jackson to be the next President of the United States – three years hence. What a happy coincidence of timing, with those two events occurring over a thousand miles apart, and on the same day – proof positive that no one could accuse Andrew “Jackass” of “intriguing” to ride the wave of populism about to break over the electoral college. And if any of you reading this are offended by modern pundits theorizing about the next election almost before the last one is completed, welcome to the brave new world of 1825
Of course, if you were looking for more hard evidence of intrigue you might journey to the 9th Congressional District of Virginia, tucked away in the south-western corner of the Old Dominion. The two term representative for this last gasp of the Shenandoah Valley and its encroaching mountains was a transplanted Pennsylvanian, a graduate of William and Mary, and a Crawford-Republican named Andrew Stevenson (above). Like many converts, the dapper Stevenson was heavily financially and emotionally invested in the peculiar institution of slavery, and savvy about the politics of his adopted state. He had been the Speaker of the House of Burgess, where he was considered a member of the “Richmond Junta” which ran Virginia politics. So why would a member of the Richmond Junta decide to join forces with a Yankee from the Albany Regency, to support Andrew Jackson from Nashville, Tennessee, for President?
First, the south had something that New Yorker Martin Van Buren (above) wanted – electoral votes. The institution of slavery was indeed peculiar because although those humans treated as property had no rights, each slave did count as 3/5ths of a person for determining congressional districts and electoral votes. After the census of 1820 this gave the south 22 additional congressional districts – and 22 additional electoral votes – which their white population alone did not entitle them too. This was the deal with Satan the founding fathers from New England had been forced to make in order to form a “more perfect union.” Those 22 electoral votes were more than enough to throw a close election in whatever direction Van Buren wanted.
What Stevenson and other Southerners wanted was a guarantee that the economy of the south would be protected from the growing power of the North.  Practically, this meant low tariffs. The slave states produced few of the machines that were increasingly vital to modern life,  largely because slaves were never  allowed to share in their master's profits, and thus had no incentive to invent or invest of themselves more than was required. Meanwhile, a little over two weeks after Jackson's resignation from the Senate, the Erie Canal officially opened, connecting the produce of  Ohio to the markets of New York City. It was visible evidence of the economic giant the workers and consumers of the "Free States" were becoming.  But in a nation without an income or a sales tax, a tax levied on imported goods, or a tariff, was the only way to support projects like the canal, or the national highway..
The Bank of the United States was a vital part of the infrastructure which John Quincy Adams was advocating. He believed projects such as the National Road and canals connecting the great lakes with the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, would unite the nation both physically and economically. What Adams saw was government preforming the unprofitable investment in infrastructure so that business could use it as a base for their future profits. But Stevenson and his ilk saw “Big Government”, supported by tariffs, as a multi-head snake (above) designed primarily to choke off the South -  and thus a threat to slavery. And they were both right.
In 1831 (six years hence) a young French official, Alexis de Tocqueville, journeyed to America to observe the young nation's institutions and people. And in perhaps his most famous passage he touched upon this central issue. “The State of Ohio”, wrote de Tocquville,”is separated from Kentucky just by one river; on either side of it the soil is equally fertile, and the situation equally favorable, and yet everything is different...(In Ohio the population is) devoured by feverish activity, trying every means to make its fortune...There (in Kentucky) are people who make others work for them...a people without energy, mettle or the spirit of enterprise...These differences cannot be attributed to any other cause but slavery. It degrades the black population and... (saps the energy of) the white.”
So, a hundred years before the Republican Party adopted its infamous “Southern strategy” to convert segregationist “boil weevel” Democrats into a southern Republican block. But Northern Democrats, at very the moment of their party's birth, made a much more disgusting bargain – agreeing to protect real slavery in all its foul existence,  in exchange for gaining national power.
Jackson was a slave owner, and his natural inclination would be to support slavery. He was opposed to the national bank, and Adam's program of “big government” investments. But was that because he saw them as a threat to the South, or because he saw Adams as cheating him out of the White House, and they were Adam's policies? Whatever his priorities it is clear Jackson had no interest in the details of forming a political party. His only interest was in winning over those who “cheated” him. Forming the party that would carry him to victory could be left to his loyal followers, men like Van Buren and Stevenson, who were binding North and South together, Southern slave owning ruling elite to Northern entrepreneurial ruling elite. That accommodation would be the foundation of the new Democratic Party.
- 30 -

Blog Archive