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  • Mayor says Lee statue must go as debate over U.S. slave past rages August 18, 2017
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Impeach The Witch!


After 20 people had been brutally put to death in 1692 (one pressed!) for the crime of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, merchant Thomas Brattle, Jr. wrote a letter to a cleric associate that was widely circulated among the citizens of a fearful and angry Salem. His thoughtful, reasonable answers to the religious and legal questions at hand were a carefully worded argument against the ghastly trials. His letter could be considered a founding document of the United States, a forceful rebuff to the judges and accusers in the ‘oyer and terminer‘ court of the time. The ultimate proof of power was that the trials ended less than a month after it’s circulation and opinion shifted virtually overnight. No one has ever been convicted of witchcraft in America since. That, of course, until the sad case of United States v. Donald Trump – as he has continuously tweeted, the Russia investigation is nothing but a ‘WITCHHUNT.’

Brattle attended Harvard College in 1676, after graduating from the Boston Latin School, where classmate Cotton Mather (son of Harvard President Increase Mather) would go on to become one of the leading prosecutors of the Salem Witch Trials. Donald Trump is such a blithering moron that his cries of ‘WITCHHUNT’ have little meaning when Twittered to his 30 million Celebrity Apprentice fans. The red hats will probably confuse the reference with Frankenstein anyway and carry torches to Congress in some midnight, Roger Stone-led ‘protest’ when he finally gets impeached.

The 1692 trials have spawned eternal clichés about witch hunts since the servant and sassy slave got devilish in the forest. Their acts and words have had reverberations throughout American history, lately verbed by our President, Donald J. Trump. He claims he’s the worst treated president ever! The Russia investigation is fake news cooked up by the Democrats! The case against him for obstruction of justice (real or not) is a WITCHHUNT! What’s lost in much of the discussion, as per usual with Don John, is what actually happened. Playwright Arthur Miller struck back in the same way Thomas Brattle struck back at the original time of the trials, only in his medium, drama. The Crucible stands as a powerful indictment of lying and manipulation, highlighted by the powerlessness, fear and humiliation associated with an aggressive and unjust prosecution. Cotton Mather, stung the most by Thomas Brattle’s even-handed indictment, never recovered his reputation and was denied the presidency of Harvard College. He is remembered today as the personification of pompous and brutal judgement.

With the Salem trials, Miller saw a weapon to wield against the folly of Cold War fear-mongering, namely Joseph McCarthy and the obtuse House Committee on Un-American Activities. His defiant stance (insuring his blacklisting in 1956) culminated in 1953, when The Crucible opened in New York – and it’s been performed to this day as a canon of the American stage. “I began to despair of my own silence,” he said, “I longed to respond to this climate of fear.” Miller, a ‘Presbyterian’ Communist more interested in attracting bombshells like Marilyn Monroe than politics, was caught up in the storm of fear that swarmed around Joseph McCarthy like flies. In Miller’s play, he wanted to dramatize the powerlessness of being persecuted, “Rather than physical fear, there was a sense of impotence,” he said. McCarthy and the committee blacklisted him and made his life miserable during the Red Scare. In 1956, the committee subpoenaed him to testify and Miller complained that it was only because of his marriage to Marilyn, and that House prosecutors were only seeking yet more publicity. When he refused to name names, Miller was cited for contempt of Congress.

Of the many dramatic works of the Salem trials, few can compete with Arthur Miller’s groundbreaking play. He was aware of the strain created while being under investigation, and the consequences for fighting back. His passport was denied by the State Department and he was unable to attend the European premiere of his play and he would suffer years of scrutiny and humiliation under red baiters. It’s interesting that Donald Trump would choose the same trope that Miller so adroitly staged, more interestingly, witchcraft is currently a crime in Saudi Arabia. Trump made sure to visit the King of Arabia first in his inaugural trip overseas, the first president ever to do so. It’s not like the crime of witchcraft is some outdated misdemeanor in Saudi law, as with most Sharia Law guided nations, Saudi Arabia regularly features a witch or warlock in Chop Chop Square, the most recent executed in 2014. I doubt that Trump really knows anything about the Salem trials, and as he has done repeatedly since being nominated, he has inspired me to read up on my history! I suppose I should give him some credit for that and for every stupid thing he blathers, he inspires millions to refute him with knowledge and fact.

The investigation of the Trump campaign began last year, started by James Comey and the F.B.I. as part of the overall attack on our election system. The Russian involvement in tampering has been confirmed by all U.S. intelligence agencies and that is the main thrust of Special Investigator Robert Mueller’s job. The Trump campaign’s Mike Flynn (along with son, Mikey, Jr.) is directly implicated in illegal election tampering. Peter W. Smith, in his final act of ratfucking after a long, fulfilling life of ratfucking, just rat fucked Donald Trump from the grave. This is only what we know now, what the so-called ‘fake news’ journalists have somehow stumbled upon these past 160 days.

Joseph Story, famously remembered as the presiding judge in United States v. The Amistad case, was portrayed by Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in one of Steven Spielberg’s finest films, The Amistad (1997). Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1812-1845, Dane Professor of Law at Harvard University and one of the most articulate voices of American Federalism, Story was one of John Marshall‘s strongest allies on the Supreme Court – of the Marshall Court’s landmark opinions, Story wrote more than any other than Marshall himself. Story argued that the language and intent of the Constitution made it clear that federal power and the power of the judiciary was total and absolute. He saw state power as a threat to stability in America, asserting the sovereignty of the people of the United States, rather than the states themselves, as integral to the successful founding of our republic. Story noted that, “The Constitution of the United States was established, not by the states in their sovereignty capacities, but emphatically, as the preamble declares ‘by the people of the United States.” After Justice Marshall died in 1835, Story fell out of favor with the Taney Court during the Jackson Administration and his opinions were far more often in dissent. In the famous case preceding the Civil War, which foreshadowed the conflict between the states, Story dissented in Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge in 1837:

I seek no new principles, but I apply such as are as old as the very rudiments of the common law. Upon the whole, my judgment is, that the act of the legislature of Massachusetts granting the charter of Warren Bridge, is an act impairing the obligation of the prior contract and grant to the proprietors of Charles River bridge; and, by the constitution of the United States, it is, therefore, utterly void. I am for reversing the decree to the state court (dismissing the bill); and for remanding the cause to the state court for further proceedings, as to law and justice shall appertain.

The case went back to the 1640s, where Harvard University operated a monopoly ferry service across the Charles River for over two hundred years. After years of handsome profits, when an enterprising engineer proposed to build a bridge across the Charles River, Harvard and the State of Massachusetts were vehemently against it. The bridge builder, true to his name, proposed a solution: a toll bridge, of which all three parties would share in the profits for 40 years. The contract was signed and the bridge was built and became a big hit, connecting the towns of Boston and Cambridge to this day. Six years after the first bridge was built, the state entered negotiations with a different bridge builder (after public outcry ensued when it was revealed that the first bridge had already paid for itself) and signed a new contract with the Warren Bridge Company to build a cheaper bridge 240 yards upstream.

In his dissenting opinion in 1837 America’s version of Bridgegate, Joseph Story wrote that the federal government, in the role of defending American and international rights of contract over local and state interpretation, should not allow the new Warren Bridge to be built. After the 7-5 ruling, the new bridge was built and the old bridge went out of business, bankrupting the speculative investors of the first bridge who bought the company from the original builder expecting 40 years of steady returns. In the twenty years prior to the Civil War, the Supreme Court changed the foundation on which the Constitution was based – from federal power to state power. This move reflected the the times and in doing so, helped shape them. The Civil War was 100 years in the making, yet there were crucial moments in American history that pushed us toward civil war. This landmark case was one of them.

The work of the U.S. Supreme Court, while often the final arbiter on decisions at the state level, such as with the Christian school Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, where the court recently ruled, is primarily concerned with issues that meet a constitutional standard. The court seeks to hear cases that represent larger constitutional issues that are (hopefully) drawn from the lower court cases at hand. In Trinity v. Comer, the Roberts Court made a decision on whether the Trinity Lutheran Church could participate in a federal voucher program (it may) and the opinion speaks to the current court’s interpretation of the Establishment Clause:

Establishment Clause erects the backstop. Government cannot, through the enactment of a “law respecting an establishment of religion,” start us down the path to the past, when this right was routinely abridged. The Court today dismantles a core protection for religious freedom provided in these Clauses. It holds not just that a government may support houses of worship with taxpayer funds, but that— at least in this case and perhaps in others, it must do so whenever it decides to create a funding program.

Cases that are heard by the Supreme Court meet larger constitutional requirements that can only be resolved by amending, or leaving in place, current law as written in the document of the Constitution itself. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court has ‘amended’ or interpreted the Establishment Clause in favor of making taxpayer funds available to religious organizations. In it’s wisdom, the court sought this case of the thousands of disputes that it could have chosen for review. Another case decided in this term, the limited, idiotic, immigration ban – held for the Trump Administration as well. This ruling increases Executive Branch power (incrementally) in the area of immigration enforcement.

In another case the Supreme Court heard this term, Davis v. Bandemer, the court held that claims of partisan gerrymandering were subject to trial, but failed to agree on a clear standard for judicial review. The word ‘Gerrymander,’ by the way, is a blending of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry‘s last name, ‘Gerry,’ and the word ‘salamander‘ – the weird shape his partisan district in Massachusetts then resembled. Gerry was also involved in a famous secret negotiation scandal named the XYZ Affair, which was a political and diplomatic scandal in 1797-98, early in the John Adams Administration. It was a diplomatic situation between the United States and France that led to an undeclared war (the Quasi-War), where an American delegation to France had been told that the American government had to pay $250,000 just to see the French ambassador. The affair was scandalous in America, infuriating both the Federalists and the Democrat-Republicans. The diplomats, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Marshall, and Gerry, were approached through informal channels by agents of the French Foreign Minister Charles Talleyrand, who demanded bribes and a loan before formal negotiations could begin. This revelation caused a political firestorm in the United States when the commission’s reports were published. The Federalists, who controlled the government, took advantage of national anger to build up the U.S. military. They attacked the Jeffersonians for their pro-French stance, calling them ‘Jacobins,’ and the Federalists also attacked Elbridge Gerry (nonpartisan at the time) for his ultimate role in the failure:

Nicholas Hubbard, an Englishman working for a Dutch bank used by the Americans (and who came to be identified as “W” in the published papers), notified Pinckney that Baron Jean-Conrad Hottinguer, whom Hubbard described only as a man of honor, wished to meet with him. Pinckney agreed, and the two men met the next evening. Hottinguer (who was later identified as “X”) relayed a series of French demands, which included a large loan to the French government and the payment of a £50,000 bribe to Talleyrand. Pinckney relayed these demands to the other commissioners, and Hottinguer repeated them to the entire commission, which curtly refused the demands, even though it was widely known that diplomats from other nations had paid bribes to deal with Talleyrand. Hottinguer then introduced the commission to Pierre Bellamy (“Y”), whom he represented as being a member of Talleyrand’s inner circle. Elbridge Gerry resolutely refused to engage in any substantive negotiations with Talleyrand, agreeing only to stay until someone with more authority could replace him. The release of the dispatches produced exactly the response Adams feared – Federalists called for war, and Democratic-Republicans were left without an effective argument against them, having miscalculated the reason for Adams’ secrecy.

The XYZ Affair, when you really look at it, was a fart in the wind. John Adams sent diplomats to France who refused blackmail and seemed to act with good judgement and integrity. The media-fueled backlash resulted in a pyrrhic victory for Adams and the Federalists – their overreach in the subsequent Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which allowed the president to arrest and deport anyone who was not an American citizen and called dangerous, or to jail and fine anyone who criticized Congress or the President, pissed off a lot of Americans. The Adams Administration shut down the press and arrested the editors of many newspapers – and the public reaction was so severe that Adams lost to Jefferson in 1800 and the Federalists were all but finished as a political party twenty years later.

The investigation into Trump and the Russians, and the subversion of our election, portend to make the XYZ Affair look like a pastoral primer for the Republicans. If the Grand Old Party intends to last the next twenty years, they better get used to the idea of impeaching another of their own. Joseph Story believed that the government represented, above all, the people, and wrote in Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States in 1833, regarding the parliamentary history of impeachment in England,

It will be found that many offenses, not easily definable by law, and many of a purely political character, have been deemed high crimes and misdemeanors worthy of this extraordinary remedy. Thus, lord chancellors and judges and other magistrates have not only been impeached for bribery, and acting grossly contrary to the duties of their office, but for misleading their sovereign by unconstitutional opinions, and for attempts to subvert the fundamental laws, and introduce arbitrary power.

Story makes a distinction between advisors to the king and the king himself. He relates the case of Charles I, second son of King James VI of Scotland. After his succession, Charles had major problems with the evolving Short, Long and Rump Parliaments of England, which severely limited his royal prerogative. Charles held the divine right of kings and thought he could govern according to his own designs. The Recall and Impeachment of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford stands, for William Blackstone, Edmund Burke and the history of the Commonwealth of England itself, a cornerstone in English law, right up there next to the rights of habeas corpus enshrined in the Magna Carta.

The impeachment of Strafford was the first time in history that a Parliament, and a people, stood firm against the military power and immense wealth of the sovereign kings, in this case the Stuart King Charles. It was less than a year later that Charles, himself, would be impeached by Parliament. His prosecutor, John Pym, was grouped with five other Parliamentarians after his clear and concise prosecution revealed a possible treasonous Royal Army plot involving arch-enemy France and the Catholic Church. The ‘Gang of Five’ flew the coop when Charles and his troops barged into Parliament seeking their arrest – to this day, on the State Opening of Parliament, an emissary from the House of Lords must knock three times with a big ‘ol stick before entering the chamber because of Charles’ rude behavior.

From 1642, Charles fought the English and Scottish Parliaments in the First English Civil War. After his defeat in 1645, he surrendered to the Scots, who handed him over to the English. Charles refused to accept his captors’ demands for a constitutional monarchy, and escaped. The legal history of impeachment was born during the reign of King Charles I, where impeachment was nearly identical, in definition and application, to trial and execution. Before the First English Civil War, the despotic and tyrannical leadership of the Stuart Kings paved the way for the rise of Parliament and the birth of the English Commonwealth as a democratic republic. Story closely examined this British precedent and found the keystone for impeachment:

Some of the offences, indeed, for which persons were impeached in the early ages of British jurisprudence, would now seem harsh and severe; but perhaps they were rendered necessary by existing corruptions, and the importance of suppressing a spirit of favoritism and court intrigue. Thus, persons have been impeached for giving bad counsel to the king, advising a prejudicial peace, enticing the king to act against the advice of Parliament, purchasing offices, giving medicine to the king without advice of physicians, preventing other persons from giving counsel to the king except in their presence, and procuring exorbitant personal grants from the king. But others, again, were founded in the most salutary public justice; such as impeachments for malversations and neglects in office, for encouraging pirates, for official oppression, extortions, and deceits, and especially for putting good magistrates out of office and advancing bad.

What a wonderful, little used word malversation is, from the Latin male or bad, and versari or behave. Described as ‘corrupt behavior in a position of trust, especially in public office,’ it’s been forgotten in the English speaking world today. From Old French, the word shows up more often in places like Angola and in the Philippines. Strangely, it has also survived as a legal definition in another foreign place called ‘New Jersey.’ In fact it was one of the charges levied against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in Bridgegate, or the innocuous-sounding Fort Lee lane closure scandal.

In recent weeks, moderate people who are paid (handsomely) to talk about this stuff, people like David Brooks, Chris Matthews and David Gergen have been warning against impeaching Trump. Some argue ‘too soon,’ and ‘let the investigation take it’s course.’ Some say, ‘look, Trump won.’ David Gergen and others go so far as to imagine Trump winning again in 2020 because of the overreach of a failed impeachment. If the lies of Donald Trump (that we already know) haven’t been enough to tip the balance of the impeach-o-meter, let’s consider this list of malversations. We have a dishonest, uniformed, obnoxious, corrupt and potentially treasonous Commander in Chief. If we are unwilling to face facts, then we are as philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce pitied,

The person who confesses that there is such a thing as truth, yet dares not to know the truth and seeks to avoid it, is in a sorry state of mind indeed.

Remember James Rogan? No? He was one of the House Managers in the 1998 Impeachment of Bill Clinton. One of Georgia Representative Bob Barr’s attack dogs, he lost his House seat in the 28th Congressional District of California as a result of his constituency blaming him and his role in the failed impeachment. Nonetheless, Rogan was rewarded by George W. Bush with a plum appointment to the federal bench. The man who defeated him? That would be Democrat Adam Schiff, the current Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, who recently said that there is “more than circumstantial evidence now” that Trump and his advisors colluded with Russia and who is also currently seeking any and all secret recordings made by Trump regarding James Comey. And Trump calls it a WITCHHUNT.

In I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, writer Maryse Conde brings Tituba to life as an amalgamation of her possible Arawak and African-American identity. She represents a post-feminist view of the trials (the book’s forward was written by Angela Davis) from the perspective of the least powerful – yet perhaps the most intelligent – participant in the Salem trials. A cynical, smart and frankly lovable character, Tituba is the ultimate survivor. She was also a liar. After slavery and imprisonment, her survival may have depended on her gift of gab, yet in saving herself (she survived, but is lost to history), she condemned others to die in her place. In an illuminating article written for Smithsonian, writer Stacy Schiff tries to make sense of the life of Tituba and the witch hunts that have followed since:

We continue to favor the outlandish explanation over the simple one; we are more readily deceived by a great deception—by a hairy creature with wings and a female face—than by a modest one. When computers go down, it seems far more likely that they were hacked by a group of conspirators than that they simultaneously malfunctioned. A jet vanishes: It is more plausible that it was secreted away by a Middle Eastern country than that it might be sitting, in fragments, on the ocean floor. We like to lose ourselves in a cause, to ground our private hurts in public outrages. We do not like for others to refute our beliefs any more than we like for them to deny our hallucinations.

Trump is caught up in a perfect storm of prosecution and hysteria, caused by his incessant lying – and his impeachment should be a foregone conclusion. What will 65% of the American population who might want to see President Pence do? What of the 35% of the public who want President Trump to keep up the good work? The framers of our Constitution, aware of the brutality and violence of Stuart Kings and Short and Rump Parliaments, gave the power of impeachment to the people, through representatives who speak for them in Congress. These powers reside in the very House and Senate Committees that are coordinating with Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller, III, who is then under the jurisdiction of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself in this investigation leaving Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein in charge.

Trump’s Russia ties include associations with Russian organized crime figures, Russian, Azerbaijani and Ukrainian intelligence operatives (Army, GRU and former KGB) and Russian government spies under the control of Putin himself. When we click on the final Mueller report, a .pdf file to be posted on the Bureau web site, Republicans and Democrats will have to seriously consider articles of impeachment against an undeniably corrupt and untrustworthy president. As our American image suffers internationally to historic new lows, it’s interesting to note that America still wins praise for its people, culture and civil liberties, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. Our people and our civil liberties. That Trump can’t seem to manage normal press briefings and flouts open meeting law indicates how he feels about the people and our civil liberties. From Benjamin Franklin’s copy of Cato’s Letters

Guilt only dreads liberty of speech, which drags it out of its lurking holes, and exposes its deformity and horror to day-light. Horatius, Valerius, Cincinnatus, and other virtuous and undesigning magistrates of the Roman commonwealth, had nothing to fear from liberty of speech. Their virtuous administration, the more it was examined, the more it brightened and gained by enquiry. When Valerius, in particular, was accused, upon some slight grounds, of affecting the diadem; he, who was the first minister of Rome, did not accuse the people for examining his conduct, but approved his innocence in a speech to them; he gave such satisfaction to them, and gained such popularity to himself, that they gave him a new name. Misrepresentation of publick measures is easily overthrown, by representing publick measures truly: When they are honest, they ought to be publickly known, that they may be publickly commended; but if they be knavish or pernicious, they ought to be publickly exposed, in order to be publickly detested.

An honest man would welcome an open and thorough investigation. What does that say about a man who thwarts an investigation and seeks to discredit the investigators? What of the people who continue to support his lies and innuendo? Perhaps we should look back to the old days when America was really great, when the Constitution was framed in Philadelphia – the Founders considered these issues and wrote for all Americans on what we should do. Joseph Story, too, considered what might arise if we were to elect a corrupt Commander in Chief, at the dawn of the Age of Jackson:

Cases may be imagined where a momentary delusion might induce a majority of the people to re-elect a corrupt chief magistrate, and thus the remedy would be at once distant and uncertain. The provision in the Constitution of the United States, on the other hand, holds out a deep and immediate responsibility, as a check upon arbitrary power; and compels the chief magistrate, as well as the humblest citizen, to bend to the majesty of the laws.

When Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, I walked among the symbols of our democracy at the Mall in Washington as I listened to the Senate votes being counted one-by-one on my Walkman. I had voted for Bill twice, and even though I was totally pissed off about Monica Lewinsky, I thought his impeachment was an overreach. I found myself in the nation’s capital on that sunny day, the first and only time since, fully participating in our national democracy.


John Underhill
June 29, 2017


OC Weekly/Kevin McVeigh

With reported leaks of ‘back channels’ and secret negotiations with Russia in the news recently (as well as the ongoing furor over the firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey), I thumbed through Richard Reeves’ excellent bio, President Nixon: Alone in the White House to bring myself up to speed on the master secret negotiator and power broker himself.

After World War II, the transition from war and conflict to peace and stability was the main problem in which most U.S. presidents grappled. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts and also U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam from 1963-1964 during the Kennedy Administration, which viewed South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem as an ineffective leader, tacitly supported the coup d’etat that overthrew his presidency. In reviewing the conditions that lead to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Lodge said in an interview in 1979:

Well, there was a big to do in the Eisenhower administration. Vice President Nixon took part and Admiral Radford took part, about uh sending US forces into…into Vietnam. And Eisenhower let them all talk and the upshot was he was against it and we didn’t do it. It was just as simple as that.

The interviewer pressed:

Interviewer: Do you think perhaps the attack on the pagodas was calculated to impress you as you were on your way out to Saigon? In other words, do you think the attack was staged to coincide with your appointment and your imminent arrival in Saigon?

Lodge: That might have been. I’ve often thought of that but you can’t tell. You don’t know.

Interviewer: Now, just the day, about the day after your arrival, two South Vietnamese generals, Le Van Kim and Tran Van Don, made contact with two CIA representatives in Saigon, Rufus Phillips and Lucien Conein and the generals wanted to know whether the United States would support the army in a coup against Diem.

Lodge: I [had] discussed it with uh, um, with Tran Van Don.

Recognizing that this was not going to be a relaxing, nostalgic interview about the good ‘ol Kennedy years, Lodge quickly lost interest in answering any further questions. As Ken Burns and Lynn Novick revisit the Vietnam War this summer with their new PBS documentary, I recommend also the seminal Vietnam: A Television History as well.

I have something of a soft spot in my heart for Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., after all, he was truly a man for his time. Privileged and educated with limitless opportunity to succeed in life – he laid it all on the line to serve his country in combat during World War II. He resigned as the Senator from Massachusetts and went back to France to serve his country with distinction, among other heroics, winning the French Legion of Honor as well as taking out a four-man German patrol all by himself. When he returned to the United States after the war, his experiences shaped his life and the collective life of our country developing at such a frenetic pace around him. He also died in the same year, and is buried in the same cemetery, as my grandmother or ‘Gram’ as I lovingly called her.

While serving in the war, Lodge made an association and lifelong friendship with French-born Lucien Conein, who became a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and Lodge’s liaison or ‘back channel’ to coup plotters and the ultimate assassins of the President of South Vietnam. Lodge was then working for President Kennedy, and agreeing with administration policy in trying to ‘shake things up’ in Vietnam because the U.S. needed a bulwark against a surging Communist China (as we now know from the release of the Pentagon Papers and after Nixon admitted as much). This tragic decision lead to a failed policy of mass bombings, torture and threats to go nuclear. Literally.

Lodge was Nixon’s running mate in 1960 and Nixon calculated that John F. Kennedy’s arch-rival, the Boston Brahmin dynasty’s heir-apparent, would help divert Kennedy’s attention closer to home and away from the swing states. That analysis was proven incorrect and Nixon/Lodge lost to Kennedy/Johnson in one of the closest presidential elections in American history – yet unlike Trump – Kennedy still won both the electoral and popular vote.

John and Bobby Kennedy had a hand in the assassination of Diem and Richard Nixon was outraged that they got away with it unscathed. It was no secret that he hated Robert Kennedy, saying that Kennedy got Hoover to ‘bug’ everybody in Washington and wondered if he was also ‘bugged’ by Kennedy as well. As he perceived it, Nixon was blamed and hampered for the billowing fiasco of the Vietnam War with the (illegal) release of a yellowing, Rand Corp. study written by eggheads that he had nothing to do with.

He never read the report and knew nothing of its existence. The Pentagon Papers were compiled by low-level ‘think tankers,’ like “James Jesus Angleton’s weirdos at the CIA,” as Nixon called the agents, and ‘know-it-all’ Harvard assholes such as Daniel Ellsberg that were associated with Robert McNamara in the military-industrial corner of the shop with their charts and graphs. When the Tet Offensive tipped the balance of the Vietnam War, too much blood had been shed, and regardless of the cries of ‘you started it!’ Democrats and Republicans were locked in an internecine battle to the death. This was the background to Watergate.

The U.S. was embroiled in an unwinnable war and public opinion turned decidedly sour. Nixon needed to change the news cycle fast and began to secretly negotiate a peace deal with North Vietnam while continuing to leverage against China, now further West, in Pakistan and (the future) Bangladesh. These policies were set forth in secret negotiations (and illegal military support) for the Pakistan government in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, as it became known. As the war progressed, it became clear that India was going to invade Pakistan in matter of weeks, so Nixon spoke with USSR Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev on a hotline on December 10, 1971, where Nixon urged to Brezhnev to restrain India “in the strongest possible terms, which you [Brezhnev] have great influence and for whose actions you must share responsibility.”

This period of time shaped Nixon in ways that no one could have imagined. If there was a ‘turning point’ of Nixon’s support within the goverment, regardless of his popular support, this was surely the moment. The military was probably trying to figure out why the hell the U.S. would support a war against a democratic India. The Joint Chiefs decided to do something about it by leaking the developments to the press:

At 6:09 on the evening of December 21, 1971, President Richard Nixon convened a tense and confidential meeting in the Oval Office with his three closest advisers—John N. Mitchell, his Attorney General; H. R. Haldeman, his chief of staff; and John D. Ehrlichman, his top domestic-policy aide. Notably absent was Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national-security adviser. The men had come together to discuss a crisis unique in American presidential history—”a federal offense of the highest order,” as Nixon would put it in the meeting.

The Moorer-Radford Affair was a seismic shift in Nixon’s White House. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, through Admiral Moorer and Lt. Colonel Alexander Haig at the N.S.A., tasked a lowly yeoman stenographer (Radford) to spy on Kissinger and Nixon for over a year. By the time Nixon secretly ordered the moving a carrier group out of the Mekong Delta and into the Bay of Bengal to support Pakistan, the military chiefs were fed up and columnist Jack Anderson took it from there. From Fox News:

Nixon’s team of in-house investigators — informally known as ‘The Plumbers,’ since their primary mission was to stop leaks of classified materials to the news media — discovered Radford’s covert activity in December 1971, during their probe into a sensational series of stories published by the syndicated newspaper columnist Jack Anderson. A thorn in Nixon’s side since the 1950s, Anderson had obtained highly classified minutes of NSC meetings about the India-Pakistan War then roiling South Asia, and published excerpts from the documents just days after they were typed up. In addition to disclosing sensitive information about the movement of a carrier task force in the Bay of Bengal, the series showed that the Nixon administration had deceived the public about its true aim of supporting Pakistan in the conflict, and later won Anderson the Pulitzer Prize.

A joint Plumbers-Defense Department investigation quickly zeroed in on Radford, who was known to have had contacts with Anderson, a fellow Mormon, and to have enjoyed access to virtually all of the documents the columnist had published. Under intensive polygraph testing in late 1971, Radford denied having leaked the India-Pakistan documents to the columnist. Anderson died in 2005 without ever disclosing who had been his source, but he told author Len Colodny in November 1986: “You don’t get those kind of secrets from enlisted men. You only get them from generals and admirals.”

When highly-classified COINTELPRO documents were stolen by a leftist activist group from an F.B.I. office in Pennsylvania on March 8, 1971, and leaked to the press, it had to be clear to Nixon by then that both law enforcement and the military were positioning their agencies against him. Watergate was just another job for the Plumbers, yet perhaps Mark Felt, Deputy Director of the F.B.I. and the future ‘deep throat’ of Woodward and Bernstein fame – may have been waiting for them all along.

Alan J. Pakula’s film All The President’s Men (1976), based on the Woodward and Bernstein book, vividly dramatizes the night on June 17, 1972, when security guard Frank Wills (playing himself in the film) found tape on a door in the Watergate complex and called the police. A four-man, undercover (plainclothes) detail just happened to be working a drug bust in the neighborhood. They responded to this ‘third-rate burglary’ call without the use of a squad car. This unlucky, unexpected arrival at the Watergate complex went unnoticed by E. Howard Hunt – encamped across the street in the Watergate Hotel – monitoring the job for the Plumbers team now inside the Democratic National Headquarters. Watching the professional, intense actor F. Murray Abraham surprising and arresting the petty thieves, one wonders – Hoover’s F.B.I. certainly had the assets to make such a thing happen.

Conspiracy theories aside, after the break-in, Nixon said the reaction is going to be primarily in Washington and not the country:

I think the country doesn’t give much of a shit about it other than the ones we’ve already bugged… Everybody around here is all mortified by it. It’s a horrible thing to rebut… However, most people around the country think that this is routine, that everybody’s trying to bug everybody else, it’s politics.

Richard Reeves writes in Alone in the White House that gave Nixon an idea. Nixon said whenever there was a leak about Republican plans, the campaign should say that McGovern was bugging them – and maybe they should plant a bug on themselves and say McGovern did it. Creative! The next day, presidential advisor Charles Colson said, “I think we could develop a theory as to the CIA if we wanted to, we know that Hunt has all these ties with these people.” They talked for more than an hour about how to subvert American democracy, then the president finally said, encouragingly, “Don’t let the bastards get you down, Chuck… I don’t think they’re going to see a great uproar in the country about the Republican committee trying to bug the Democratic headquarters.”

Impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon began on February 6, 1974, and on August 9, Tricky Dick was waving goodbye to the nation after resigning, boarding Marine One and escaping clear across state lines. The obvious affinity of Donald J. Trump for Richard M. Nixon missed me at first. In previous posts, I’ve compared him to Herbert Hoover and Benito Mussolini (little bit). I did think his connections to Roy Cohn were creepy, but I just didn’t put 2 and 2 together to come up with 4. While perusing the Wikipedia page on the Committee to Re-Elect the President or CREEP as it was derisively known, the last name on the committee caught my eye. Trump’s creep frenemy, Roger Stone. Now how the fuck did I miss that?

Roger Stone was then a boy at the knees of cold war men such as Mitchell, Ehrlichman, Haldeman and all the 50-100 president’s men who betrayed him and let him down. Of course they only did this because they knew that’s exactly what he would’ve wanted. Nixon was a maladapted, paranoid, alcoholic loner with an unhealthy death drive. He was democracy’s version of Adolf Hitler to totalitarian dictatorships. He got away with about as much wrongdoing as you can get away with it in a western democracy, pushing the limits decency and morality far beyond what John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson ever dreamed of.

Before the Supreme Court rules on the latest smackdown from the federal courts on Trump’s idiotic executive order on immigration, they may perhaps take up a case, soon to come, about executive privilege. As Nixon believed in his famous interview with David Frost when he said, ‘Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,’ he found out the hard way that the political requirements of the presidency demand that he or she may be removed from office for simply being an obnoxious asshole, forget about what the definition of ‘is’ is. He looked at his interview with David Frost as a chance for redemption, as in his famous Checkers Speech where he used television in a way no politician had before to change public opinion. 

At the height of the Watergate investigation, Nixon was recorded in a conversation with Kissinger saying, “Maybe will even consider the possibility of, frankly, just throwing myself on the sword… and letting Agnew take it. What the hell.”

“No!” Says Kissinger:

That is out of the question, with all due respect, Mr. President, that cannot be considered. The personality, what it would do to the presidency, and the historical injustice of it. Why should you do it, and what good would it do? Would it help? It wouldn’t help the country.

Kissinger continued, “You saved this country, Mr. President. The history books will show that, when no one will know what Watergate means.” Nixon replied, “Yup. Well, it’ll be a great day on the other side for all of our enemies, won’t it? The Times, the Post, the rest – shit.” As we know now, the Times and the Post prevailed while David Young, Jr., Dean, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Liddy, Hunt, McCloy and dozens of other co-conspirators assured that Nixon’s memory would never escape the taint of scandal and crime.

Will Donald Trump’s legacy be similarly defined by Steve Bannon, Kushner, Flynn, Manafort, McGhan and others? What Bannon’s done has changed the optics of the impeachment debate (that he knew was coming) to position Trump to the left of Nixon, literally sitting with the 94 year-old Kissinger the day after firing the director of the FBI. This was political theater at its most subversive – Henry Kissinger, beside Pat Buchanan, is one of few to the escape the void of darkness that was the Nixon Administration. He represents a faint image of Watergate, yes, but more of the Nixon of the Paris Peace Accords, détente with China and other secret wars and treaties. Say what you will about Henry Kissinger, he is a uniquely American celebrity and will be remembered as a legend in politics for his cultural identity, nerdy Republican style and international influence.

On June 23, 1972, just 6 days after the break-in, Nixon said that the administration should go to the Deputy Director of the FBI and ask them to request the Acting Director to halt the Bureau’s investigation on the grounds that it was of national security interest. This information was recorded on audio tapes that Nixon himself had ordered, and as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in United States v. Nixon, issued July 24, 1974, it limited the power of any president to claim executive privilege in criminal proceedings argued in U.S. courts.

As much as Donald Trump wants to make the Russia story a debate about executive privilege, he has again miscalculated. The vast majority of American citizens are simple, honest, hard-working people, who are at times living lives of ‘quiet desperation’ as Henry David Thoreau lamented. We yearn for change, yet are also creatures of habit. Historian Stephen Ambrose wrote in his great study of Nixon that, “Nixon wanted to be judged by what he accomplished. What he will be remembered for is the nightmare he put the country through.”

John Underhill

May 29, 2017

100 Crazy Nights

Photo: NBC News

The first 100-days (and nights) of Donald Trump as president has gone just about as well as I had expected: Not. Republicans usually enjoy such a low bar of expectations that most people I know are just happy that the world hasn’t ended since he took office. His latest dumb remark about Korea once being a part of China, and the problem that caused with all Koreans, is an allegory for his dumb presidency and his first 100-days. Trump is an absolute lightweight politically and his presidency a real-time, abject failure. Can you imagine if half of his lousy executive orders had become enacted, save a few judges stopping the most egregious because of their lousiness? What effect on the U.S. economy would that first idiotic executive order on immigration had wrought hadn’t the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit not struck it down?

It makes sense that when faced with a metric, in this case the first one hundred days as president, that Trump simultaneously blunts expectations by Tweeting that it’s a ridiculous standard while holding a media event to trumpet his massive 100-day successes. Of course any standard to Donald Trump is a ridiculous standard. Standards can be met and unmet. When you’re always right, you don’t need standards. My mother once told me (actually, often) “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.” That’s an apt analogy to Trump’s veracity. He averages about 1 out of every 12 statements as being true. Full disclosure, my dear, sainted mother was a Reagan Democrat – who would have probably voted for The Donald – bless her sweet heart.

Donald Trump really believes that he is always right. Take that in for a second. If you’re always right, you never have to look back and think to yourself, “What could I have done differently?” Or, “What could I have done to have a more favorable outcome?” His decision-making has proven to be very unstable and erratic, yet this we knew before the election. I wish he would just get it over with and fulfill his campaign promise to go down to Madison Avenue and actually shoot someone. ‘C’mon, Donny? Whattya chicken?’ Nothing serious, just a Dick Cheney shotgun burn-type shooting and a few pieces of lead to pick out, that’s all I ask. Then, maybe, folks will say that (perhaps) we would be better off with President Mike Pence. Since becoming our president, other than admitting that it’s a harder job than he thought (duh!) Donald Trump has been the best president ever.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, reviled by every conservative that I’ve ever met (as a traitor to his class), set the standard for the first one hundred days of any presidency. Gripped by the maw of the Great Depression, fast action was required by the government to immediately enact a ‘New Deal’ with the American people to weather the brewing economic storm of the 1930’s. This emergency legislation was required, in large part, to of the awful presidency and decision-making of one Herbert Clark Hoover, the 31st President of the United States.

On close examination, Donald Trump’s tenure in office is beginning to look a lot more like Republican Herbert Hoover’s than either Republicans Ronald Reagan’s or Teddy Roosevelt’s. Herbert Hoover was a far more successful businessman than Donald Trump ever was, having established a multi-national mining operation before being elected president. Hoover was a leader in the Progressive Era’s Efficiency Movement, believing that every public and private institution was hindered with built-in inefficiencies. In the presidential election of 1928, Hoover easily won the Republican nomination despite never before holding elected office.

Hoover specialized in rejuvenating troubled mining operations, taking a cut of the profits in exchange for his technical and financial know how. His most successful venture was with the British Burma Corporation, producing silver, lead and zinc in yuge, excuse me, huge quantities. He helped increase copper production in Kyshtym, Russia, using new smelting techniques and managed one of Russian Czar Romanov’s royally sanctioned ‘Cabinet Mines’ in the Altai Mountains, a mountain range in Central Asia where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan meet. According to Hoover, “It developed probably the greatest and richest single body of ore known in the world” before the Communist Revolution.

In his single term, Hoover also authorized the ‘Mexican Repatriation’ program to help unemployed Mexican citizens return to Mexico. This program was a thinly veiled forced migration of approximately a million people south of the border. Where was the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals then? Later, after enacting the biggest tax cut in U.S. history (over the objection of many noted economists) Congress also passed and Hoover signed into law the hilariously sounding Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act of 1930. This legislation raised tariffs on thousands of imported items to the United States. The intent of the act was to encourage purchase of American-made products by increasing the cost of imported goods, while raising revenue for the federal government and protecting farmers. However, economic depression had spread worldwide and other nations retaliated by raising tariffs on imports from the United States.

Like Ferris Bueller on his day off, Donald Trump must have been absent from class when high school economics teacher (and real-life economist) Ben Stein lectured the class that the result of these tariffs was to shrink international trade and for the U.S. to sink deeper into the Great Depression. To pay for government programs and to make up for lost revenue, Hoover signed the Revenue Act of 1932. The act increased taxation so that top earners were taxed at 63% of their net income – up from 25% when Hoover took office. Additionally under Hoover, the estate tax was doubled and corporate taxes were raised by almost 15%.

Trump’s first 100 days have revealed a strikingly similar approach to the economy as Hoover’s, even dusting off the populist poison of tariffs, such as Trump’s recent tariff on Canadian softwood and the unintended result of Mexico’s victory in the WTO over the U.S. in trade sanctions related to tuna fishing. Now that the WTO has ruled in Mexico’s favor over tuna quotas, this paves the way for another stupid trade war – which economists generally agree sucks ass. 

After promising an astonishing 4% growth in GDP during the campaign, Trump actually delivered an anemic 0.6% GDP growth in his first hundred days, marked by slumping retail sales. I hear some good numbers on Wall Street and I see some green shoots in the overall economy, but I’m investing in gold, I’m buying an electric car and I’m moving to Martha’s Vineyard. Seriously, I pray every night before I go to bed that Warren Buffet lives long enough to blow out 100 candles.

In Trump’s first hundred days, his inability to work with Congress has proven as difficult a proposition as his lousy track record in the federal courts. As historian Michael Beschloss recently said about Trump’s 100-day legislative record, he is ‘low on the list’ of successful presidents. Trump claims to have the most successful 100-days ever, yet even his (good) choice of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, chosen during the heat of the election, was low hanging fruit to claim as some big victory. If that’s the best he can come up with, that’s a sorry state of affairs for him and his administration. His action against the Syrian airbase was measured and almost presidential. It showed a little rational thought behind his decision-making and was the only successful thing he’s done in his first hundred days, in my opinion, yet even that good news was torpedoed by Sean Spicer in comparing Adolph Hitler to Bashar al-AssadIn a good way.

Sean Spicer said he let down his boss (and by extension, his country) on that day and I couldn’t disagree more. He represented in typical fashion the idiocy that Donald Trump displays on a daily basis in 140 characters or less. To say, out loud and in front of microphones set up behind the Seal of the President of the United States, that Hitler wouldn’t even gas children, or his ‘own people,’ shows such a contempt for history that it’s mind-boggling. Saturday Night Live had to track down Melissa McCarthy (like in her car commericials) just because of Spicer’s few dumb sentences.

Hitler devised such efficient ways to gas people, yes, Sean, his ‘own people’ and children, ever more efficiently with Zyklon-B, an industrial, cyanide-based pesticide, because transporting them in the back of ‘gas vans’ while pumping the carbon monoxide from the exhaust pipe into the back of the van – while driving them to their mass graves – wasn’t efficient enough. ‘Spicey’ still has a job as the United States Press Secretary and that speaks louder than all the stupid things he has said. He represents the Trump Administration exceptionally well, and from what I hear, is a super nice guy.

We’ll gloss over any examination of the world leaders that Trump has offended in his first 100 days, both in person, on the telephone, and by Tweet, because it’s just too embarrassing to enumerate. The list includes former Mexican President Vincente Fox (Who told him to “Go To Hell!”); current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto; Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (Trump hung up on him halfway through the call) and many others.

Then there was that time that Trump offended the entire British government when he said that James Bond helped Barack Obama tap his phone. He threw former Judge Andrew Napolitano and Fox News under the bus so fast that they must have seen the writing on the wall. For a guy who respects loyalty so much, I have to say thank you very much, Mr. President, for being super quiet while Roger Ailes, Greta Van Susterin, Bill O’Reilly and a bunch of other Foxholes got fired. Now could you please come up with your famous catchphrase for Sean Hannity too? Pretty please?

Meanwhile, just prior his tax cut for rich people, Trump tried to ax Meals on Wheels, tried to pull the plug on Ken Burns and PBS, and then Budget Director Michael O’Mul-vain-ey announced that the U.S. was getting out of the business of saving victims of starvation – on Irish Famine Memorial Day. Also, remember when Trump said that Representative John Lewis “Talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk” when Rep. Lewis had the temerity to raise the serious question of Russian meddling in our election? John Lewis! Trump said that American hero John Lewis doesn’t walk the walk! I’ve had the honor of meeting Congressman John Lewis and I’ll tell you this, he is a fearless warrior for Democracy. He walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in peaceful protest and was nearly killed for his walking.

That’s not why you wanted to be president, is it Donald? To insult American heroes like John Lewis, John McCain and Gold Star Families and actually get away with it? Forget all that bullshit about making America great again – you got into this to make heavy, massive amounts of money for you and your organization. All this government stuff isn’t for you. It’s hard work. Please, before Kim Jong-un makes you feel inadequate and you do something really dumb, please consider this possibilty: Quit. Just imagine the ratings! You then retire on the top of your game, I mean after all, a four-year term is a ridiculous standard! You’ve gotten more done in four months than all the other presidents got done in four years – combined!

You should get out while the gettin’s good and not end up like Herbert Hoover. You should remove yourself to Mar-A-Lago, the Legendary Pinnacle of Palm Beach, and be a superhero in the Ex-Presidents League, overseeing an international business empire that transcends the measly Office of the President of the United States. You and your company will become the most successful and yugest, excuse me, hugest brand the world has ever seen. You just have to resign first. And please, take Sean Hannity with you when you go. Thank you!

John Underhill
April 29, 2017

Warning: Fake News Alert!

Let’s get this out of the way: The Newes from America is Fake News. We are as fake as a $2 bill. Even our name, the ‘Newes’ isn’t real. It’s Olde English. I’m not John Underhill. We’re not even a real news gathering site. Our only agenda is to provide links to the stuff we like and tell the stories we want to tell while trying to make you laugh every once in a while. Donald Trump may have introduced the term Fake News into the lexicon, however, he is far from the first politician to call into question what’s real and what’s fake. Manipulation of the truth is a human trait, and Trump is correct in pointing out that sometimes, even the New York Times is Fake News and sometimes, even the National Enquirer is Real News.

Fake News is not a new thing. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams trolled each other on ‘Colonial Twitter’ – pamphlets and gazettes – before they became cordial and even friendly in old age. Bad mouthing and planting lies in the press is standard practice in American political life since before our founding – and it’s been the task of citizens ever since to sleuth out the fact from the fiction. Coherent arguments, supported by facts, are the only way to achieve a meaningful understanding and trust in our institutions. Democracy is like the social scientific method – a free and open inquiry style government.

We at the Newes from America do cite our sources with the help of links that take you to articles and information available on the big, wide, world web. Readers have always been responsible to figure out for themselves what’s true and what’s not. It’s called freedom. When your government gives you one newspaper, radio channel, blog and TV channel to watch – and tells you what to think – the true propaganda danger of Fake News comes to life.

As Fake News site Breitbart moves from it’s humble origins in the basement of Steve Bannon’s parents’ Washington townhouse, The Newes from America toils on beneath the kiosk of Out of Town News at Zero Harvard Square. On the walls of our subterranean offices adjoining the Harvard Square ‘T’ station, the portraits of Thomas Nast and Walter Lippmann oversee all of our daily activities. Our foreign desk, managed by the estimable Myron ‘Mucky’ Taylor, is supervised by an enormous portrait of emeritus editor Hubert Renfro Knickerbocker, or ‘H.R.’ to his admirers.

H.R. Knickerbocker was born in Yoakum, Texas in 1898, the son of Reverend Hubert Delancey and Julia Catherine (Nee Opdenweyer) Knickerbocker. His career in journalism began in 1920, when he became a reporter for the Newark Morning Ledger and in 1922 he worked for the New York Evening Post and the New York Sun. He went to Germany to further his study in psychiatry, but history gave him a psychotic to study in Adolph Hitler.

Fluent in German, he was witness to the Beer Hall Putsch on November 8, 1923, where he saw for himself that the only way to stop the Nazis was to confront them with greater force. He became assistant Berlin correspondent for the New York Evening Post and the Philadelphia Public Ledger and then chief Berlin correspondent from 1928 until 1941. He won a Pulitzer in 1931 for his series of articles on the Five Year Plan in Russia and later, in his book The Boiling Point: Will War Come In Europe? he correctly predicted the outbreak of World War Two.

Right up until November, 1941, Knickerbocker argued for U.S. military intervention against Nazi Germany. His stance left him an outcast among much of the New York cognoscenti. When his book, Will War Come In Europe? was published in 1934, Kirkus reviewed it with it’s nose thrust high:

Lots of personal impressions, interviews, anecdotes about people. Knickerbocker is a rabid interventionist. He writes well, but he has nothing particularly startling or new to say.

Yes, one could call Knickerbocker a ‘rabid interventionist.’ His writing had a clear agenda at moving public opinion in favor of the individual over the state. He believed in democracy and knew how to frame the tough positions of the day. He advocated that the United States needed to go to war with the Nazis as early as 1929 and his opinions made him a target of the powerful isolationist movement of the 1930’s in America. I wonder what the masthead at Kirkus Reviews might have looked like had the Nazis succeeded in their goal of world domination just ten years after their snooty review.

One of the first journalists to call out Charles Lindburgh as a Nazi sympathizer, Knickerbocker likened him and his kind to the Copperheads – Democrats prior to the Civil War who wanted to avoid conflict by offering to keep slavery in place to placate the South. U.S. soldiers’ rejection of Copperheads and their overwhelming support for Abraham Lincoln’s reelection in 1864 was decisive in securing Northern victory and preservation of the Union.

Knickerbocker died just after the war, in 1949, in the line of duty. A plane carrying a delegation of journalists on a dangerous tour of Indonesia reporting on post-colonial independence movements in Southeast Asia went down, killing all on board. I have a sneaking suspicion that H.R. was also working a story about a little known French colonial outpost called Vietnam.

Many of today’s conflicts are woven directly back to the end of World War Two. The Soviet Union, with the help of the United States, won the war against Germany and thus were entitled to enjoy some of the spoils. As Germany had in the 1930’s, The Soviet Union attempted to create, again, a centralized state based on the national pride won at the expense of millions of Soviet war casualties. It was a dream that somehow, post-war Russia would make amends with the Revolution of 1917 and move into a post-war leadership position as a fully communist government.

As Knickerbocker pointed out in his biting criticism of Stalin’s First Five Year Plan and the overall dysfunction of Communist Economics in general, the dream of 1917 was to be the nightmare of 1946 for neighbors surrounding mainland Russia. Just as Hitler and Mussolini began their careers in the ashes of World War One, Russia, or the newly minted Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was all the rage. They went about consolidating the assets of unfortunate wealthy (and not-so wealthy) folks – and things didn’t go so well for the royal family either. The wealth and influence of most of the churches were consolidated into the state, and by the time all the big companies were owned and run by communist power brokers, Trotsky got an ice axe plunged into his head.

Forty plus years of political repression and the inevitable economic collapse that followed, the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor indicated the meltdown of Soviet communism itself. In the blink of an eye, Reagan acolytes will tell you that America’s Strategic Defense Initiative and years of hard-line military budgets paid off and the U.S.S.R. collapsed in a heap. What they don’t tell you is that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was written during the historic 1977 Soviet Constitution, or the Brezhnev Constitution, effectively stating that the dictatorship of the people had succeeded and that the people, the true leaders of the Revolution of 1917, would finally be allowed to rule themselves – unintentionally leading to the dissolution crisis ten years later.

The original four states of the Soviet Union wanted out bad, including Russia itself, and in 1991 the Commonwealth of Independent States was born. As we remember, the old, Soviet order was supposed to be replaced with a new openness (or Glasnost) and baby steps were made toward a new Russian form of democracy, given voice in a movement called Perestroika. Moscow at this time was at a crossroads – the ‘Unions’ of the former Soviet Union decided, largely, to break away from their former Russian overseers. In heartening displays of democracy the world over, people from the former communist bloc took to the streets and demanded freedom. These ‘Breakaway Republics’ represented one of the best opportunities to spread democracy since Woodrow Wilson declared that the U.S. was making the world safe for it after The Great War.

Western democracies emerged from the wars determined to create a framework that would never again allow nations to ‘go it alone’ in the world. The hundreds of nation states that were born after the war needed a common language to allow for new cycles of peace instead of war. The strangled League of Nations and the ridiculed United Nations were created to give a voice to all nations on how each would interact with one another. The U.N. Security Council, represented by the five top nations of the world, would oversee any future conflicts and vote democratically on international declarations of war.

Russia was an important partner in the formation of the U.N., after getting up off the mat and dusting itself off after decades of devastating war. The grand plans of Soviet Communism finally flickered out during the heady days of Perestroika, when free markets, it was hoped, tightly controlled by the state, would return Russia to a functioning economy. A little known fact is that Russia retained their coveted seat on the U.N. Security Council (in negotiations leading up to the C.I.S.), still representing these newly born ‘republics’ in all international security matters.

It’s 1129 miles from Berlin to Moscow, less than a day by car. I once drove on a whim from Boston to Naples, Florida. I can’t say I’d do it again, but no Donner Party as it turned out – I grabbed a bite at South of the Border and was poolside by noon. Europe seems to Americans to be worlds away from Russia, yet Google Maps show you that a day’s drive from Moscow to Paris is some 1758 miles. New York to Denver is 1780 miles.

In 1991, the broken, former Soviet Union (and the resulting hopes of Glasnost) were dead, replaced by the bumbling Boris Yeltsin and the remnants of the old Soviet guard. I remember Boris playing tennis with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes back in the day. The next thing I remember was a power struggle between intelligent, liberal Dmitry Medvedev, the current Prime Minister of Russia and the KGB’s hand picked successor, Vlad (The Impaler) Putin. Fifteen years of phony Russian ‘democracy’ later, Instead of playing tennis with Anderson Cooper, Putin decides to fuck up the U. S. Presidential elections – as if the former Soviet Union didn’t have enough to concern itself with. Today, Medvedev is busy cracking down on opposition leader Alexei Navalny, arresting him along with hundreds of protesters in the latest display ‘free’ Russian elections in action. So much for hope in Medvedev. Apparently, eight years of a real democrat in the White House pissed the Russians off so much that they decided to give the NSA some serious payback: Donald John Fucking Trump.

Fifteen new nation-states, frozen in place since 1945 by communist bureaucracy, began to sprout from the edges of the former Soviet Union in the 1990’s, each created with national identity as their rallying cry (with ethnicity and religion being of primary importance). One of the breakaway republics after the fall of the Soviet Union was the country of Azerbaijan. According to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, Azerbaijan is among the most corrupt nations in the world. President Ilham Aliyev, the son of the former President Heydar Aliyev, has just appointed his wife Vice-President. He was first appointed, then ‘elected‘ President in 2013.

Azerbaijan is the bridge which links mainland Russia to the Middle East, and like Texas, it’s where most of the oil is found. Baku is like Dallas, only this boom town sits on the largest oil deposit on the planet. The Baku is the geological faucet for the ocean of oil that pools under Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is a never-ending gush of sweet crude that was so important to world domination that Hitler went South (in vain) to take it when he could have waltzed into Moscow instead.

The Azeris are the proud people who populate this area of the former Soviet Union, yet you would be hard pressed to find a cultural heritage museum to take in while you stay at the Trump hotel complex in Baku. Actually, the Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku has never opened. The Azerbaijanis behind the project were close relatives of Ziya Mammadov, the Transportation Minister and one of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful oligarchs. U.S. diplomats described Ziya Mammadov as “notoriously corrupt even for Azerbaijan.” After the election, The Donald reluctantly pulled the plug on the obligatory TRUMP sign atop the totally awesome Trump Baku.

Ivanka Trump, the nation’s ‘First Daughter’ as evidenced by her new West Wing digs (filling the vacant Melania Trump Anti Bullying Campaign offices) was the most senior Trump Organization official on the Baku project. In October, 2014, she visited the city and “had very strong feelings, not just about the design but about the back of the hotel—landscaping, everything.” an Azerbaijani lawyer said, “Ivanka personally approved everything.” From The New Yorker:


On her Web site, Ivanka posted a photograph of herself wearing a hard hat inside the half-completed hotel. A caption reads, “Ivanka has overseen the development of Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku since its inception, and she recently returned from a trip to the fascinating city in Azerbaijan to check in on the project’s progress.”

Mammadov has been financially entangled with an influential Iranian family tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the year that the project was announced, in his role as Transportation Minister, Mammadov awarded a series of multimillion-dollar contracts to Azarpassillo, an Iranian construction company accused of supporting criminal activity such as drug trafficking, terrorism and money laundering.

Paul Manafort’s dealings with that other breakaway republic, the Ukraine – one of the original four of the Soviet Union – have been well documented and reveal the Trump Administration’s problem with capitalism over democracy. When companies and their officers look the other way when doing business with dictators and terrorists, and cover up their illicit financial dealings, well that’s just bad business. When the President of the United States does it? That’s an impeachable offense.

To see what the Ukraine might look like after the Russians complete their reacquisition of it, one should look no further than Azerbaijan. Like Kim’s North Korea, Azerbaijan has a dark, scary tension surrounding it that can only be described as dictatorial. Putin’s Russia has lately turned it’s attention West, to it’s lifeline of natural gas pipelines to Europe which cross the Ukraine like fractures in stone. As we find out more about Trump’s fascination with all that’s Russian, the reports of H.R. Knickerbocker sound like something you might read today in the New York Times or the Washington Post.

His example drives us to find out what’s really happening in the world and what we can do to make it a better place. We in America have chosen democracy – with all it’s capitalistic excess as a necessary evil – over kings and dictators. Our brilliant founding fathers (and mothers) – being taxed by the British without a voice in Parliament – constructed a government that limited the power and influence of any one person, or group of people, over another. A plurality of opinion, marked by fair and free elections, must be achieved in a true democracy for the will of the people to be expressed. Our government is based upon the simple idea that the masses decide important matters of state by electing representatives by popular vote (except in the case of the Electoral College).

I’m talking to you, Don John.

John Underhill
March 26, 2017

So-Called President Trump*

Charles Krupa, Associated Press

There once was a time when I actually admired Donald Trump. I had never liked him before – for all the obvious reasons – yet on August 18, 2006, I was watching a Friday night Red Sox game against the Yankees and there he was, throwing out the first pitch in hallowed Fenway Park. There was a different vibe to the usual, let’s say, ungracious response from the crowd to the hated Yanks that evening – it was the kick-off to the annual, late summer Jimmy Fund telethon. The Jimmy Fund is one of those great organizations that make you proud to be a Sox fan. They support the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, raising millions of dollars to help save lives and give hope to cancer patients everywhere.

It was a brutal day for the home team, losing the first game of a double header by double digits, then later in the second game, which the Yankees won 14-11, The Donald visited the broadcast booth and he had a very good appearance with announcers Jerry and Don. They yakked about baseball stuff and then Trump had a lot of nice things to say about the Red Sox organization and the Jimmy Fund. That went a long way with me, and I found myself thinking, “Hey, maybe he’s okay.“ He was funny, engaging and even came off sounding a little humble.

After raising $2.3 million in 2005, they were aiming to reach a target of $2.6 million that year and were only $60,000 away from reaching their goal. Like a golf ball teed high, Trump struck – I’ll cover it! He said without hesitation. PING! It was one of those perfect moments that will be part of the Trump Presidential Library collection, I assure you (admission fee required). It was as if the billionaire from New York swept the broadcast booth and the audience off their feet while his team swept the Red Sox off the field. The Sox would go on to finish third in the AL that year, 11 games behind the first place Yankees.

The Red Sox turned it around the next year and won it all. The Yankees? Well, they suck. And they have sucked ever since. Call it The Curse of the Trumpino. After all, he’s a traitor to his so-called team. Hmmm. “So-Called President Trump.” That has a ring to it. Or, how about “The President Who Cried Wolf?” No. Perhaps “The Leaker of the House?” Nah. I think he’s our So-Called President. That because he Tweeted:

The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!

So our Federal Judges “essentially take(s) law-enforcement away from our country?” Just how fucking stupid is he? Isn’t it the job of the U.S. Courts to arbitrate decisions based on U.S. law? Y’know, that separation of powers thing? If said judge threw out the case based on personal bias, would he then be allowing our country to enforce the law? He just keeps going, and going and going and going…

When a country is no longer able to say who can, and who cannot, come in & out, especially for reasons of safety &.security – big trouble!

Trump Cuck and all-around slimy weirdo Roger Stone noted with glee that the smarter a person is, the more likely they are to hate Trump. So Trump’s fucked up behavior makes far more sense when you consider his warped influences. Here’s a story Stone related about a visit in the 80’s with Roy Cohn:

He told me to ride down to the courthouse with him. He had a young lawyer with him, and it was clear that Roy knew nothing about the case he was going to argue. But he knew it didn’t matter. He used to say, ‘Don’t tell me the law. Tell me the judge.’ Roy knew how the world worked.

Trump’s ridiculous Tweets about his phone being tapped by Obama invoked the ghost of Joseph McCarthy without ever realizing that it is he, our So-Called President, along with his father Fred Trump, who hired Roy Cohn as their counsel to defend them in cases brought by the federal government against them in the 1970’s for racist redlining. Trump is such a pathetic slimeball that he libeled our former president in order to provide ‘limited hangout’ about his voluminous ties to Mother Russia and Azerbaijan. That is exactly what Roger Stone is doing now, trying to get ahead of the story that he coordinated with the Russian hackers before the election on behalf of the Trump team.

Trading in sleaze and blackmail, Roy Cohn is one of the vilest human beings to ever walk the earth. His self-hatred was such that he smeared and denigrated all gay people, leading the U.S. government to ban gays from public office during the Red Scare because they might have been blackmailed and/or compromised. In the late 1980’s, Mr. Cohn lobbied friends in the Reagan White House to nominate Donald’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry to the federal bench. (Questioned about this, Mr. Trump said his sister “got the appointment totally on her own merit.”) Totally fucking laughable.

Trump’s frenemy Stone recently admitted to communicating privately with Russian hackers via their #GUCCIFER Twitter account. Stone’s relationship with Donald Trump goes back to Roy Cohn, Stone being a long-time lobbyist for Trump’s casino business and also the leader of the “Draft Trump” campaign. The Stone-Cohn axis of influence over Donald Trump is the single most important factor in the making of our So-Called President. Stone’s rule: “Attack, attack, attack—never defend” and “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.” Sound familiar? “Remember,” he said. “Politics is not about uniting people. It’s about dividing people. And getting your fifty-one per cent.”

Among other unsavory characters, The Catholic Diocese of New York also hired the disgraced, disbarred Cohn in the 1970’s – but Trump, along with super fat gangsters of the New York mob – relished his association with the closeted, self-hating Jew who once held a pen in a dying millionaire’s hand to forge his signature on a will naming himself executor. Roy Cohn was such a close associate of Donald Trump that Trump felt obligated to appear on Cohn’s behalf during his disbarment hearings:

“If I summed it up in one word, I think the primary word I’d use is his loyalty.”

Ravaged from the effects of AIDS, Mr. Cohn nevertheless managed to attend a dinner with his lover, Peter Fraser at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach shortly after Trump purchased the property in late 1985. Ah, to have been a fly on that wall! “He was a very good lawyer if he wanted to be,” Mr. Trump said when asked about Mr. Cohn in 1980. Trump was more blunt in his assessment later: “He’s been vicious to others in his protection of me.” I should say so.

Cohn’s actual lover, Australian Peter Fraser, inherited all of Cohn’s possessions after he died: Manhattan townhouse, a weekend place in Greenwich, a Rolls-Royce, his private plane and much more. But the Internal Revenue Service, collecting on Mr. Cohn’s tax debts, confiscated nearly everything. With typical, warped conservative logic, Stone once said that Roy Cohn wasn’t gay:

He [Cohn] was a man who liked having sex with men. Gays were weak, effeminate. He always seemed to have these young blond boys around. It just wasn’t discussed. He was interested in power and access. He told me his absolute goal was to die completely broke and owing millions to the I.R.S. He succeeded in that.

Uh, huh.

Cohn’s lover Fraser did get to keep a pair of exclusive Burburry cuff links Mr. Trump had given Mr. Cohn before he died. Years later, Mr. Fraser had them appraised; they were fake, he said.


* Where Donald Trump insulted a Federal Judge appointed by George W. Bush after the judge’s decision to halt his first idiotic Executive Order on immigration, we at the Newes have chosen “So-Called President” to refer to him going forward. What was Trump’s problem with the judge in question? He based his ruling on American law and jurisprudence.


John Underhill

March 15, 2017

What Sank The Titanic?

With President-elect Titan Donald Trump’s cabinet now firmly in place, it’s abundantly clear that he will most definitely not govern with rational thought as his guide. He will, as he has always done, conduct himself in a way that is highly emotional, compulsive and weird. That millions of Americans voted for this buffoon is befuddling enough, yet it’s with this prerogative (if not mandate – the guy lost the popular election by THREE MILLION VOTES), Trump is still Tweeting inane rants about the CIA, Jill Stein and the recount and anything else that keeps him up at night. It’s all so very unsettling. In the elitist enclaves of Harvard Square, liberals are freaking out as never before while my barber, an early Trump supporter, gave way with some back story on Christian Evangelical Trump support during my latest haircut: apparently, some firefighter predicted Trump would win the Presidency back in 2011 and save America. He then prophesied that Armageddon would be next on the agenda. Makes sense to me!

End of the World prophecies are as old as the written word itself and there’s no shortage of end-time entertainment to suit all tastes, from Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement to the film 2012 (2009) when, as you may remember, the world was supposed to end because it was penciled in the Mayan calendar. The Four Horsemen have been corralled since then, but with the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the United States Presidency, our culture is once again primed and ready for some serious Revelation! Make that Revelations 21:8:

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Baba Vanga, the Russian mystic who predicted that the world would end in the year 3793 and who foretold the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Chernobyl disaster, the date of Stalin’s death, 9/11 and the Kursk disaster, also said that America’s last president would be black. The human tendency to self-fulfill prophesies will spawn insane Alex Jones-style theories that wackos who believe in Fake News will greedily lap up, re-tweeted by Steve Bannon’s idiot fear machine – all care of septuagenarian Donald J. Trump at 3AM Washington time. Let the tribulations begin!

I suppose a more quaint analogy to the end of the world may be the oft-used example of the RMS Titanic and the unintended consequences that resulted in her sinking. It was the end of the world for more than 1500 people on the night of April 14, 1912 when the great ship struck an iceberg and sank into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. The Titanic has come to symbolize the hubris of man – the unsinkable ship, sunk on her maiden voyage. The owner of the Titanic, the White Star Line, was one of the many holdings of the industrialist and billionaire J.P. Morgan, who hoped to dominate transatlantic shipping through contractual arrangements with the railroads. That proved impossible because of the unscheduled nature of sea transport, American antitrust legislation, and an agreement with the British government. The cause (or causes) of the disaster have been debated ever since 1912, and in an article published in Physics World in 2012, Dr. Richard Cornfield attempted to explain the top ten reasons for the accident:

The Titanic became fully submerged within three hours before dropping four kilometres to the bottom of the Atlantic. The steel plates of the time may have been inadequate for the task in waters of those temperatures, and the rivets were of inferior quality. Second, mistakes were made by the crew once the vessel was under way: the absence of binoculars in the crow’s nest; Smith’s decision to maintain a high speed despite the abundance of iceberg warnings; the radio operators’ tardiness in getting crucial information to the officers and their emphasis on passenger messages rather than operational ones; and, of course, the almost cynical lack of lifeboats…

… It seems that in 1912, in a way not dissimilar to our own box-ticking, responsibility-avoiding culture today, lack of effective oversight on the part of the authorities caused the consequences of the disaster to be much worse than they might have been… No one thing sent the Titanic to the bottom of the North Atlantic, rather, the ship was ensnared by a perfect storm of circumstances that conspired her to her doom. Such a chain is familiar to those who study disasters — it is called an ‘event cascade.’

This ‘Event Cascade’ continued rolling on when Mr. Morgan’s fortunes sank faster than the Titanic, culminating in the House Committee on Banking and Currency’s investigation into Morgan’s ‘money trust.’ The resulting Pujo Committee investigation found over $22 billion in assets controlled through 341 directorships held in 112 corporations by members of an empire headed by Morgan. The findings of the committee inspired public support for ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913 (authorizing federal income tax), passage of the Federal Reserve Act that same year and passage of the Clayton Antitrust Act in 1914. Talk about unintended consequences! In fact, Morgan partners blamed the April 1913 death of J.P. Morgan on the stress of testifying at the Pujo hearings.

The ship’s famous sinking – the year before J.P. Morgan’s death – was a financial disaster for IMMC, the holding company of the White Star Line, which was forced into bankruptcy in 1915. Analysis of financial records shows that IMMC was over-leveraged and had inadequate cash flow when the Titanic was pressed into service. Morgan was on top of the world, and in two hours, a cascade of events that he inadvertently set into motion conspired to take him down.

As with Donald Trump, Mr. Morgan was born into wealth and privilege and went on to distinguish himself as a robber baron and textbook narcissist-billionaire. The ‘elites’ in New York City – some of them even friends of mine – are talking in somber, hushed tones about the looming storm that the good ship Trump is bound to endure. These are the voters who know Donald Trump better than anyone else in America. They voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton – 2.1 Million to Trump’s 930,000 in New York City (Kings, Suffolk, Queens, Nassau and Manhattan counties). In Queens and Manhattan, Where Donald Trump was born and raised and where he runs his business empire, Hillary Clinton won the vote by 800,000 votes. What do these urbane people know that the rest of America Doesn’t? A hint may come from the mutant administration that Trump is now assembling. New Yorkers have seen this act before. As Hillary Clinton might have said, The Donald has fashioned himself a Cabinet of Deplorables.

Let’s start with Rex Tillerson, former Exxon Valdez CEO, for Secretary of State. None other than Dr. Evil himself, Dick Cheney lobbied for Tillerson – as the feckless Mitt Romney was summoned twice to prostrate himself in front of The Donald while he quaffed frog legs while Trump snickered at him all the while. To see the video of Trump looking ‘annoyed’ by the camera at his overpriced dinner at the swanky Jean Georges Restaurant in New York City is practiced and priceless. The kabuki theater of the naming of the new Secretary of State exemplifies the weirdness of Trump’s style – he clearly had Tillerson in mind for State, but saw a unique opportunity to humiliate Romney. It was too good a chance to pass up and the opportunist Romney was an easy mark. Take a chair next to ‘tough guy’ Jebbie Bush, Mitt!

Trump and Tillerson’s pal, Vladimir Putin has been accused by the CIA and the FBI of hacking our election – and this can only be seen in the context of: The Oil Play. An indication of this is also seen in Climate Change Denialist Scott Pruitt as head the Environmental Protection Agency. As attorney general of Oklahoma, he described himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” and has openly lobbied for the abolishment of the agency he now heads. In his opinion, the “EPA shouldn’t be in the business of writing regulations.” Cue the blasting of mountaintops, the fracking of what’s left of Oklahoma and oil pipelines as far as the eye can see! More concretely for the white, uneducated voters who backed Trump in the election for better financial prospects, gasoline prices will double within two years.

Rick Perry for Energy Secretary is another pure example of Trump’s decision making in assembling a oil-centric administration. This is the same Perry, who, during a 2011 presidential debate, infamously attempted to list three government agencies he’d do away with. He stuttered and couldn’t think of the third, finally saying, “Oops!” This, of course, denotes his idiocy – Perry is as dumb as a bag of rocks (as The Donald said about Jeb Bush). I suppose he’ll make his boss look good by comparison? Of course, this is all just political payback for Perry’s support of Trump during the campaign as opposed to the treatment of (unemployed) Mitt Romney. Perry will be another compliant cipher in Trumps Oil Play, unlike Romney may have been.

The list of anti-government appointments that Trump has added to his abnormal basket also includes billionaire Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, a longtime and passionate proponent of school choice, as in “we choose to bankrupt the public school system.” And then there’s Ben Carson, Trump’s pick for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He’s a surgeon with no experience in government, housing policy or urban development, who never lived in public housing, once saying, “My stance is that we the people have the responsibility to take care of the indigent in our society,” during a CNN town hall. “It’s not the government’s job.” He mumbled. This pick is Trump’s most basely political, a reward for Carson’s early support for Trump as well as the subtle placement of the only prominent African-American in Trump’s Administration – in charge of America’s crumbling housing projects. Ugh.

In James Cameron’s billion dollar mega-hit Titanic (1997), as the ship slipped slowly into the icy Atlantic below, actor James Lancaster as Father Thomas Byles, a Catholic priest from England, prayed with and consoled passengers during the ship’s final moments. A witness said that “All Father Byles had to do was raise his hand when panic and chaos broke out, and calm returned. “The passengers were immediately impressed by the absolute self-control of the priest. He began the recitation of the Rosary. The prayers of all, regardless of creed, were mingled, and the responses, ‘Holy Mary,’ were loud and strong.” As the witness described it, “After I got in the boat, which was the last one to leave, and we were slowly going further away from the ship, I could hear distinctly the voice of Father Byles and the responses to his prayers. Then they became fainter and fainter, until I could only hear the strains of Nearer My God, to Thee.”

Father Byles was among those who died that awful night and his body was never recovered. The day before, on the morning of Sunday, April 14, he celebrated Mass and preached a homily which, according to news reports, was on the need to have a “lifeboat in the shape of religious consolation at hand in case of spiritual shipwreck.” In the film, Father Byles is portrayed reciting Revelation 21:4 when the ship finally breaks in two and is doomed to Davey Jones’ Locker:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.


John Underhill
December 17, 2016

Donald Trump: America’s First Italian-American President

When Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, there were claims that although he was of English, Scottish and Irish descent, he was really America’s first black president. Writer Toni Morrison, in an article in the New Yorker in 1998 summed it up this way:

Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.

With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, that notion seems almost quaint by today’s standards. Back in the late eighties and early nineties, however, the idea that Bill Clinton represented an alliance and identification with African-American voters was very much appreciated by George H.W. Bush, for one. Republicans were blindsided by a man from humble origins, who worked his way up through Hope High School to Georgetown and a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford and Yale Law School to the governor’s office and the presidency – all the while speaking like a preacher.

We remember John F. Kennedy as the first Irish-Catholic President of the United States, yet on his final visit to Ireland as president, Bill Clinton said on December 12, 2000:

When I started to come here, you know, I got a lot of help in rooting out my Irish ancestry and the oldest known homestead of my mother’s family, the Cassidys, is a sort of mid 18th century farmhouse that’s in Rosleigh and Fermanagh. But it’s right on the – literally right on the border. And in my family, all the Catholics and Protestants intermarried, so maybe I was somehow genetically prepared for the work I had to do. Maybe it’s because there are 45 million Irish Americans, and I was trying to make a few votes at home. The truth is, it just seemed to me the right thing to do.

Here, Bill Clinton suggests that his gift of empathy began in his family and naturally gave him advantages when growing up in the Deep South in connecting with African-American voters – in addition to his Irish brethren. Identity politics, that ugly step-child of the civil rights era, was well understood and embraced by Bill Clinton in a way never seen before. Donald Trump has certainly learned this lesson.

President-elect Donald Trump has long been proud of his German heritage, yet keenly aware that being identified as German was a liability when collecting rent from Jewish tenants, some of whom were survivors of the Holocaust. His father Fred Trump identified himself as Swedish for this reason and this lie may have shaped young Donald’s adolescent thinking back in Jamaica, Queens – his family home. Donald’s mother was born in Scotland in 1909 and I would suggest that Scottish was his considered ethnicity before John Oliver outed him as a Drumpf.

Being German and Scottish is run of the mill stuff as far as U.S. Presidents are concerned. Kenyan Barack Obama is also of Scottish and German ancestry, as are the last five or six presidents for that matter. There have been dozens of German and Scottish presidents, yet there is now one Italian-American president for us to take (some) pride in: none other than Donald J. Trump. The J, by the way, is for John. So yes, his name is Don John Trump. Don Juan Trump. Just suffice it to say that he’s our first Italian president.

What does he sound like, you may ask? Well, he sounds like a New York GC (General Contractor) with a little Tony Soprano sprinkled in for effect when he’s among friends. His weird vocal inflections that Alec Baldwin so perfectly nails on Saturday Night Live are the result of his holding back on his natural country club dragged r’s and jutting chin drawl. How arrrre you? See you at the Cluuuub. He’s figured out a way to talk as plainly as he can, but when a deal is on the table and The Donald wants his way, it’s Queens Italian all the way. Just ask the owners of Carrier, United Technologies, who were somehow convinced by The Donald to change their minds and keep 1000 jobs in Indiana.

Queens, Brooklyn and New York City have more Italians than any other place outside of Italy. (Actually two other places supposedly have more Italians, but I find that hard to believe. I want a recount!) The influence of Italians on New York City identity and culture cannot be overestimated. A product of New York City, Trump is at least as “Italian “ as he is German and Scottish. The neighborhoods of Greater Jamaica, Queens, where Donald grew up, including Woodhaven; St. Albans; Rosedale; Springfield Gardens; Queens Village, Howard Beach and Ozone Park were an enclave of German, then primarily Italian families. The following funny video, featuring comedian Mike Marino, imagines an Italian-American president and was recorded in 2010:

If the US had an Italian President

If you watched the video, I’ll just rest my case. We have an Italian president. Still not convinced? How about Italians themselves recognizing the similarities between Trump and their former Playboy President Silvio Berlosconi? It’s not just the machismo, it’s the Italian way of making it all look so easy. Fuggettiboutit! Donald Trump once told Sir Richard Branson that his life’s mission was to destroy five people who went against him years ago. That’s all he had to say to him. Now that’s Italian.

Joking aside, millions of Italian-Americans hate to be associated with the mafia and are appalled that the history of the United States is rife with anti-Italian hate,  yet the mob is all anyone ever wants to talk about. The largest lynching in American history was committed against Italians and future President Teddy Roosevelt, then heading the United States Civil Service Commission, wrote to his sister Anna Roosevelt Cowles on March 21, 1891 and had this to say about it:

Monday we dined at the Camerons; various dago diplomats were present, all much wrought up by the lynching of the Italians in New Orleans. Personally I think it rather a good thing, and said so.

We’ve come a long way. Trump inner-circle ally Rudolph Giuliani, for all his get-off-my-lawn crazy grandpa routine lately, is a proud Italian American. He did more to change the negative perception of Italians in America since the great Fiorello La Guardia, when in the 80’s, his fearless prosecution of La Cosa Nostra in New York set the stage for a new day for Italian history and culture in the United States. Give him the credit he deserves and as far as I’m concerned, he would make a superb Ambassador to Italy – not so much Secretary of State.

Today over 17 million Americans claim Italian ancestry since Christopher Columbus sailed from Europe, among them the identity of America itself: explorer Amerigo Vespucci. The list of Italian-American sports heroes and entertainers is too long to list and a glimpse of the Pioneers of Italian-American history include such luminaries as New York Governor Al Smith; Bank of America founder Amadeo Giannini; Businessman Lee Iacoccoa; Inventor Enrico Fermi (and an honorary mention to Nicola Tesla); Film Directors Frank Capra, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese; Actors Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro; Artists John Singer Sargent and Frank Stella; Writers Don DeLillo and Camille Paglia; Cardinal Joseph Bernardin; Politicians Mario Cuomo, Geraldine Ferraro and Justice Antonin Scalia.

In fact, the first non-native American to be appointed to a U.S. Cabinet position was Italian-American Anthony J. Celebrezze, Secretary of Health and Human Services during the Kennedy Administration. The current Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General Raymond T. Odierno, is Italian-American, as is General Anthony Zinni, former Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command. And let’s not forget Nancy Pelosi – the first woman in U.S. history to hold the office of Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Someday, an inheritor of this rich Italian-American heritage will hold the office of President of the United States. Until then, we have Donald Trump: America’s First Italian-American President.


John Underhill

November 30, 2016

Fidel Castro is (Finally) Dead!

Fidel Castro died today, November 26, 2016, at the ripe, old age of 90. In response to this (not unexpected) news, Donald Trump Twittered© “Fidel Castro is dead!” That Donald Trump is no threat to Cicero is not breaking news. When the adults came to work at Trump Tower (Do they get double time for Saturday?) they released the following statement:

“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,”

Still, Trump didn’t repeat a vow made during the campaign to reverse Obama’s normalization process, saying that his administration will:

“Do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty… While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”

I’ll add this to the expanding list of campaign flip flops in the fervent hope that Trump remains, wait for it – rational in his approach to governance. All elected officials lie – and for good reason. For those who find this appalling, I suggest you pull your head out of your ass. The nuance is how, when and where they use the unique gift of rhetoric called lying. I have some confidence that the Donald Trump that I know from NBC’s “The Apprentice” will be a bright-eyed student on this subject, albeit continuing education for seniors.

To govern well, and to remain in power to govern at all, is underpinned by a field of study called politics, of course. It would be a fool who would get involved in something that they know absolutely nothing about without first learning something about it. As a businessman, I’m certain that Trump has read and can quote from Lao Tzu’s The Art of War. It’s required reading for the potential billionaire, almost as important as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in the halls of the Wharton Business School. For the politician, it is Cicero and more relevantly, Machiavelli that Trump must read and understand, insofar as Donald Trump is now the Orange Prince of America.

As we look for guidance from the Trump Administration on the subject of Cuba, nothing will be as succinct, intelligent and true as his initial tweet that Castro is dead. Exclamation point. Yet the passing of this larger than life political figure is worthy of reflection and analysis. In the fall of 1963, the Monkey was the dance craze in the clubs and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was the top movie at the box office. After two World Wars and a Cold War standoff that brought humanity to the absolute, real possibility that we might all die at once, the American people were in serious need of a break from it all.

While we were looking the other way, our President, John F. Kennedy, was murdered. Had you told an onlooker on Dealey Plaza as they waited to see their President on that fateful day in 1963 that Fidel Castro would outlive JFK by 54 years, they would have rightfully advised you to see a psychiatrist. After all, we are talking about the most powerful, protected office holder in the history of the world compared to the petty dictator of a banana republic.

The fact that Castro outlived Kennedy by well over fifty years is made even more incredible because our government tried – over and over again – to kill him. Castro himself named over 600 attempts on his life. That these illegal assassination programs began under John F. Kennedy, before he was assassinated should not be lost on the casual observer. Let’s remind ourselves at this point what Donald Trump had to say about the Kennedy assassination during the campaign. He hinted that Ted Cruz was involved:

There was a picture on the front page of the National Enquirer, [of Raul Cruz] which does have credibility,” Trump said to a room of volunteers and staffers in Cleveland, adding that the tabloid “should be very respected.”

Putting aside the fact that our new President believes that the National Enquirer “Does have credibility… and should be very respected,” I assumed from his statement that he believes that there was a conspiracy in Dallas and it may have involved Ted Cruz’s father. Not so fast. From what I can glean, Trump believes steadfastly that Oswald acted alone. So in the Machiavellian use of innuendo and smear, Trump couldn’t care less if the hint of political murder was true – only if it was effective.

Manipulating the public’s fascination with the Kennedy assassination is nothing new in American politics and has become a virtual ‘parlor game’ as Donald Sutherland’s Colonel X opined in Oliver Stone’s powerful film JFK (1991). I remember leaving the Harvard Square Theater on opening night thinking to myself that if half of what was in the film were true, I had to change my opinion from lone gunman to conspiracy. Through the prism of Watergate and over twenty years of research since, I’m about 65% certain that there was a conspiracy involving E. Howard Hunt.

With the death of Fidel Castro and the legal force of the JFK Records Act of 1992, specifically that all government documents related to the Kennedy assassination be released within the year, President Trump should allow the American people, once and for all, access to these documents as proscribed by law. He should not quash the spirit of reconciliation and healing that must come from such a big event in our history. Where it was good statecraft to lie to the American people (and the world) about the truth behind the Kennedy assassination in 1963, in the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren, who oversaw the Warren Commission inquiry into the assassination, when asked by a reporter if the full record would be ever made public said, “Yes, there will come a time, but it might not be in your lifetime.”  Or Fidel Castro’s. Or my lifetime.

John Underhill

November 26, 2016



Mourning in America

There is no analogy in U.S. history to compare to the election of Donald J. Trump as our 45th president. Perhaps Ronald Reagan in 1980 is the only case study for historians. What President Trump does going forward will define his legacy – not his past. As with Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump will be the oldest United States President ever. The implications of this were apparent in the final years of the Reagan Administration. Can you imagine an Access Hollywood exclusive about Melania Trump consulting Baba Vanga on how to handle The Donald? Try.

The Reagan comparison was sagely made by Frank Rich on June 1st of this year when he wrote, “All the empty boasts that have marked Trump’s successful pursuit of the Republican nomination, his affinity to Reagan may have the most validity and the most pertinence to 2016.” Unlike Reagan, however, Trump didn’t need to waste money on expensive advertising. He simply blurted out whatever came to his mind on Twitter.

“Prouder, Stronger, Better” was the 1984 television commercial better known as “Morning in America” that defined Ronald Reagan’s successful message in his hard-fought reelection bid against Walter Mondale. It’s interesting to note that Hal Riney, who wrote and narrated “Morning in America,” also wrote and narrated Reagan’s successful “Bear in the Woods” ad in that 1984 election cycle. The ‘Bear in the Woods’ back then was the Soviet Union, of course.

Now, a former communist Slovenian town named Sevnica (formerly Novo Mesto) has gained more clout than any Blue State in America. This is the hometown of Melania Trump (nee Knavs), our new First Lady. She came to America in the 90’s and worked here illegally, taking coveted modeling jobs away from hard-working American girls. All of that is forgiven, and as Donald’s 3rd wife we all hope that the third time’s a charm.

I have to say that even now, after a year of Trump in the news, I don’t know how many kids he has with which wives. Guess I’ll try and find out. The unseemly character of this election has been embodied in guttural speech that has degraded and debased our political and cultural institutions. We now live in a world where The National Enquirer and Mark Burnett hold more power than The New York Times and Don Hewitt ever did.

Turning from Page Six, I see the former Soviet Union, Russia, (as seen from Sarah Palin’s house), will be a strong ally of the United States under President Trump – and Mexico, our biggest trading partner – will be walled off. Cuba has re-instituted compulsory military service and the work of the Obama Administration to normalize relations with the world will be replaced with an aggressive foreign policy.

Say what you want about Barack Obama, he kept us safe from international terrorism for 8 years, he lead the effort to hunt down and kill Osama Bin Laden and he stabilized the fractured U.S. economy in 2008. Donald Trump has big shoes to fill and the time is over for cheap talk and empty promises.

John Underhill
November 11, 2016

The Most Hated Man in America



Now that the sky has fallen and Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Grand Old Party (is there any doubt Trump will win the dumb-ass Florida-take-all primary?), The Democratic National Committee couldn’t have scripted the nomination process better: Donald Trump is the Republican nominee!

Opposition research will remind us that other than George Washington and a few other U.S. generals (and war heroes), no candidate has ever won the U.S. Presidency without having held elected office before. Also, no candidate (including Newt Gingrich) has ever been married three times before they accepted the keys to the highest office in the land. Speaking of which, Melania Trump, the presumptive first lady, would be the first foreign-born first lady since Louisa Adams, John Quincy Adams’ wife. Louisa Adams also played the harp, wrote satirical plays and raised silkworms. Melania Trump, on the other hand, would be one of the few first ladies to have been a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. Oh, and Donald Trump would be the oldest U.S. President ever. That’s right, and yes, that includes Ronald Reagan (and Hillary Clinton by a hair, for that matter).

Many articles have been written during Trump’s long march through the American political process comparing him to Benito Mussolini, and less convincingly, Adolph Hitler (Donald Drumpf!). While ‘The Donald’ does equal Mussolini’s arrogance and clown-like demeanor, as the late, great Lloyd Bentsen might have said, “I knew Benito Mussolini, and you, sir, are no Benito Mussolini.” Donald Trump may be a great dealmaker and self-promoter, but he’s no politician – in fact he’s a political lightweight. He thinks that he’s the first politician to understand that voters don’t want the bullshit that the Washington political class has refined into an art form. He tells it like it is, representing the views of millions of dissatisfied, conservative voters that have been hoodwinked by a rigged system. Wading into this national reality show, this vulgar, crass, loudmouthed New York billionaire seems an odd choice.

That evangelicals voted in such large numbers for Trump lay bare their utterly phony, faithless ideals. These are the real Family Research Council-type moralists, co-opted by billionaires who reveal how they got rich, (and now you can too!). It’s Prosperity Gospel gone off the deep end. So we now have Donald Trump, who made most of his money off the backs of suckers and wannabes like the voters who now support him, giving voice to the lowest common denominations in American cultural life. It eerily shadows the plot line from the very funny film Idiocracy (2006) where the President of the United States is a former professional wrestler.

Trump’s businesses have declared bankruptcy (hugely successful!) four times or more, and other than reality television, Donald Trump has largely made his money by duping individual investors and municipalities out of millions of dollars in development deals, over and over again. “I’ve used the laws of this country to pare debt. … We’ll have the company. We’ll throw it into a chapter. We’ll negotiate with the banks. We’ll make a fantastic deal. You know, it’s like on ‘The Apprentice.’ It’s not personal. It’s just business,” Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in 2009.

That the Trump Brand is successful is beyond dispute. In this he is like Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing Pharmaceutical who jacked up the price of an AIDS drug by 700% to increase ‘shareholder value.’ Shkreli (and Trump) argue that taking advantage of market imbalance is just good business sense. “Here’s a guy (Trump) who’s failed so miserably so many times and it’s not as though he had to claw his way back after seven years in credit hell. He just said. ‘OK, this isn’t my problem anymore.’ For him, it’s just been a platform to the next money-making scheme,” said Dough Heller, the executive director of Consumer Watchdog at the time.

Trump would have us believe that other rich hypocrites take advantage of the system all the time, while average Americans get screwed. With this logic Trump is somehow better than those limousine-liberal billionaires working in arbitrage and derivative markets for Goldman Sachs, bleeding the American economy dry behind closed doors. But Trump, too, takes advantage of America’s rigged laws, especially bankruptcy laws, to line his own pockets. In his latest bankruptcy, Trump’s Coco Beach Golf & Country Club, S.E., appeared in court in San Juan where they listed assets of $9.2 million against debt of $80 million. So in his latest bust, Trump interests – representing creditors here instead of shareholders – took nearly $70 million dollars out of the already bankrupt Puerto Rican economy. Go Donald! Screw the suckers from Puerto Rico (and Atlantic City and New York City and perhaps, the World). His bottom-feeder tactics should surprise no one. He and Shkreli are just brothers from another mother. One man’s Capitalist Superman is another man’s ‘Most Hated Man in America.’ Bring on the general election!

John Underhill

March 9, 2016

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