The absolute batshit-crazy lurch to the right in this country with the election of Donald Trump in 2016 set my hair on fire (scroll blog for reference) and since that time I just can’t seem to stop complaining about THE DONALD. My fear is that his dumb, red hat wearing minions will go down the slippery slope of stupidity with him (see the creepy Mark Meadows, Tom Cotton or Devin Nunes for reference) toward outright anarchy – in what we might best describe as ‘mobocracy.’ With the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper’s assessment that the Russians swung the election in 2016 to Trump, I have to remind myself that these intelligence folks usually have their hair on fire more than I do – and Clapper is totally bald. I have a full, luxurious head of hair so I’m trying not to panic and begin building a bomb shelter, but Trump’s latest fumble on the international stage, with Kim Jong-untrustworthy in charge, has got me drawing up escape routes, just for fun!
Looking back on the last election, it struck me as strange that the Democrats were holding off an aging, grumpy Socialist from Vermont from upstaging standard-bearer and front-runner, Hillary Clinton. To this day, I can’t figure out how Bernie got so many damned votes. Isn’t it entirely plausible to believe that the coordinated Russian, Saudi and Emirates attack on our election had some effect on the Democratic nomination outcome? Isn’t it also strange that certifiable idiot Donald Trump beat out the best the Republicans had to offer after eight, long years of ‘Obamacare’ during the nomination process? If Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina and the dozen or so other serious Republican contenders in the 2016 election don’t realize that they were compromised in the same way the entire country was compromised just a few short months later, then maybe they’re just a big bunch of idiots as well, but we all knew that – except for John Kasich of Ohio (maybe)?
The byline under this website has been in the name of John Underhill since our inception back in 2012, because when choosing a name, I found that ‘NewsFromAmerica.com’ was taken by a company called ‘Buy Domains’ dot com and I wasn’t about to pay a lot of money for a long website address, no matter how grammatically correct. WordPress offered a few suggestions to available websites and right there, http://www.NewesFromAmerica.com was sitting like a cute, little puppy. I then discovered that one of the earliest newspapers in America was a broadside titled Newes From America (see masthead), written by a man named Captain John Underhill. The Olde English spelling of ‘Newes‘ kind of summed up what this blog was all about – old fashioned ideas, cast aside in modern times – and I was sold! The full title of Underhill’s single edition newspaper was the Newes from America; Or, A New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England; Containing, A True Relation of Their War-like Proceedings These Two Yeares Last Past, with a Figure of the Indian Fort, or Palizado.
Captain Underhill may be a war criminal, but that fact was little appreciated by me when I chose the nom de plume, however that’s just half the story. What really interests me is the history of the United States prior to the Revolutionary War. We were known as ‘British America‘ for almost as long as we’ve been the United States of America and that history – the history made before we were an independent nation – is far more interesting to me than recent American history. I learned very little about our country’s pre-Revolutionary history in classrooms, even through college, where it seemed the history track operated on two gauges: Western Civilization (or Western Civ) and straight-up American History. In Western Civ, we studied the Greeks and the Romans until the decline of the West and the onset of the Dark Ages (sometime in the 1200-1300’s). American history, accordingly, goes far beyond the common knowledge that George Washington once fought for the British government (against the French) in the French and Indian War, many years prior to the American Revolution. The great-grandfather of our nation was a man named John Washington, the English immigrant and paternal great-grandfather of George Washington. As with the Washingtons, the Underhills were also early ‘immigrants’ to British America (Underhill’s family having previously fled his home in Warwickshire, England to the Netherlands), and as keepers of the Queen’s wardrobe for many generations, the Underhill family found themselves pushed by the Puritan-fueled migration that populated early British America. He served in the army of the Prince of Orange before coming to New England, yet ultimately rejected Dutch claims to America and strongly asserted his patriotic commitment to Britain. In 1630, Underhill was hired by the Massachusetts Bay Colony and assigned the rank of Captain, he was then asked to help train the Colony’s untested militia and he and his Dutch wife emigrated on the ship Arbella later that same year. In 1634, Captain Underhill was appointed to the General Court and later elected Selectman from Boston. Starting construction of the first fortification in America on Castle Island in Boston Harbor with future Founder of the Connecticut Colony, Major John Mason, Underhill’s association with Mason in the Peqot War laid the foundation for almost 250 years of American ‘Manifest Destiny.’
The United States Constitution, enacted in 1779 in Philadelphia, was really just a ‘compendium’ of grievances that cropped up many years before. Included in the language of the Constitution are early contributions by Benjamin Franklin to the under-appreciated Albany Congress as far back as 1754 – dealing with a common defense against the French and Indian threat. This period of time in North American history fascinates me, for this is the time our great nation was forged, a continuing process that runs through the American Revolution, through the Civil War, through two World Wars and now, through the reign of one Donald J. Trump. When Alexis de Tocqueville toured America almost 200 years ago, he carried with him a copy of French compatriot Charles-Louis Montesquieu’s book on politics, The Spirit of the Laws, published in the English language in 1750. The book was influential to Founding Father James Madison as well, following where Montesquieu laid out a fine comparative law argument for republican democracy and the constitutional form of government – with the separation of powers and the preservation of civil liberties at it’s core. Montesquieu borrowed heavily from English philosopher John Locke, the ‘Father of Liberalism,’ who in turn also profoundly influenced Madison and the other Founders. Montesquieu defined three forms of leadership that were revealed in most governments: despots, monarchs and demagogues. He discussed the benefits and drawbacks of each form of government in his work and ultimately reasoned that democracy was the best of all forms of government, finding that a blend of representative democracy in a republican system to be the most successful. He strongly advocated for constitutional monarchy over despotic rule of any kind, revealing that all – Montesquieu, Locke and Tocqueville – feared pure ‘democracy’ the most of all forms of government. Democracy, they worried, would create the ultimate demagogue – observed hundreds of years before Adolph Hitler was ‘freely’ elected Chancellor of Germany.
That great voice of democracy, the Roman historian Polybius, author of The Histories, 40 volumes in all, was a scholar with an unmatched appreciation of the underpinnings of Greek history to Western thought. His voluminous study on the Roman Constitution, really one of the first ‘compendiums’ of law in the West, stands as a first-hand, observational account of Roman politics and history. His writing on the exploits of Scipio Africanus, the name (or cognomen) given after his conquest of Hannibal in 203 BC and the routing of the armies of Carthage under Hannibal’s brother, Hannibal Barca, are his most controversial. Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, or ‘Scipio Africanis’ would return to Rome a hero of unequaled accomplishment, yet his two stints as Consul of Rome were bitter experiences (including trials for treason) that soured Scipio’s love of Rome. He retired to self-exile, vowing that his remains would never rest in his hometown, which so scornfully spurned him. To this day, Scipio Africanus’ burying place has never been found. Scipio and his adopted grandson, Scipio Africanus the Younger, or Scipio Aemilianus (himself a war hero and Roman Consul) had their greatest defender in Polybius, a contemporary and associate of Aemilianus, yet regardless of favoritism, Polybius’ dedication to fact and his deep understanding of political philosophy make him one of the greatest Western historians and political thinkers after Aristotle. Especially in Book Four of Polybius’ epic history, his observations were deeply influential in the formation of the Constitution of the United States.
One mustn’t overlook the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, a monarchist and a favorite of King Charles II, he was best known for his concept of the ‘social contract’ put forth in his 1651 book, The Leviathan, which presented the most influential work on social contract theory. His ideas would be refashioned in a liberal-democratic government (as opposed to a monarchy) by John Locke, also a forefather of our radical Founders – Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, Jay and Adams – and all pay homage to the brilliant historian Polybius. Western scholarship was molded by the minds of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle – yet the modern West, in a Realpolitik sense, began with Polybius and the Romans, which was refined and perfected by the English, French and American philosophers Edmund Burke, John Locke, Montesquieu, Madison, Adams and Hamilton. Alexis de Tocqueville, the historian and political philosopher most favored by history to examine the success or failure of the early American experiment in democracy, found the most perfect expression of democratic government in his travels through our new country, yet he also worried of the death-knell to democracy, tyranny and despotism:
[W]hen citizens are all almost equal, it becomes difficult for them to defend their independence against the aggressions of power. As none of them is strong enough to fight alone with advantage, the only guarantee of liberty is for everyone to combine forces. But such a combination is not always in evidence.
Since Aristotle, the idea that governments ‘evolved’ was understood as an essential component to an understanding of political philosophy; Polybius, seeing three distinct ‘good’ forms of government that could take hold, matched them with five forms of ‘bad’ government, in what he termed Anacyclosis, where the sequence follows: 1. monarchy, 2. kingship, 3. tyranny, 4. aristocracy, 5. oligarchy, 6. democracy and finally, 7. ochlocracy (or mob rule). As Polybius explains, people will by this last stage in political evolution decide to take matters into their own hands. This concept was based on Aristotle’s concept of Kyklos, and the idea of anacyclosis was a central theme in political thought and practice prior to the American experiment in democracy. This cycle sees the emergence of what we now call ‘liberal democracy’ as well as the full expression of the ‘rule by the many’ – and in the same way that the descendants of kings and aristocrats abused their political status, so too the descendants of democrats have abused theirs. Unchecked Democracy degenerates into ‘ochlocracy‘ where according to Polybius, the people will have become corrupted and develop a sense of entitlement – and will be conditioned to accept the pandering of demagogues. Eventually, the state is engulfed in chaos and the competing claims of tyrants culminate in a single (sometimes virtuous) demagogue claiming power as absolute ruler, bringing the state full-circle back to monarchy.
General George Washington, the Father of our Nation, famously preferred the title (and limitations) of a president over a king, yet for some reason lately, I’ve been thinking about the attraction of a benevolent dictator. I’m a really big fan of liberal democracy, yet if you told me that instead of invoking The 25th Amendment or impeachment in the next year that we could just appoint someone like Kenneth Feinberg, the effective and officious Special Master charged with overseeing the September 11th Victim’s Compensation Fund, I’d say ‘Go for it!’ In Western history, we have the example of Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus, or simply ‘Cincinnatus,’ a Roman patrician, statesman and military leader of the early Roman Republic who’s become a legendary figure of civic virtue. A conservative opposed to the forces of egalitarianism taking hold among Roman plebeians during the reign of King Tarquin, the last King of Rome, Cincinnatus was sought by the Roman citizens in his retirement after they were besieged by their enemies, the Aequi, in 458 BC. A Roman delegation was sent to him and found him working his fields. They then hailed him as dictator and ordered Cincinnatus back to Rome, where he crossed the Tiber and was greeted on his return by his three sons and most of the Roman Senators. After soundly defeating the Aequi, Cincinnatus disbanded the army and promptly returned to his farm, ceding dictatorial control fifteen days after it had been granted to him, with the crisis averted.
When King George III was our sovereign ruler, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay all wrote in America as Publius, a pseudonym, with Jay writing the earliest articles on the law and Hamilton and primarily Madison writing on the formation of a federal republic. In 1788, Madison used familiar language surrounding America’s Puritan founding to convince fellow citizens of the need for a diversity of thought in Federalist 51:
Society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, [so] that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority. In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects.
Tocqueville directly observed this ‘diversity system’ at work in early America, himself a modern thinker, smart and perceptive, he convinced the French government, then busy examining the results of the bloody Reign of Terror (which followed the British Glorious Revolution) to send him off on an all-expenses paid junket to the then-adolescent United States of America. He would meet presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, as well as Senators Daniel Webster and Sam Houston on his famous trip, however it was the ordinary American citizen that interested him the most. He traveled through American cities and small towns with his notebook in hand, and after returning to France, delivered his required report about U.S. prisons, then set about to publish his expanded findings in the seminal work, On Democracy in America (1835). The book examined why republican democracy had succeeded in the United States while failing in so many other places such as his home country of France.
Tocqueville’s tour, starting in New England and passing through Ohio toward the West, couldn’t have given him a better view of the new democracy that had taken hold in the former British America. He made sure to visit old Virginia and Connecticut, along with Rhode Island and Massachusetts and the northern plantations before venturing to the South and the West on his epic journey. In 1998, C-SPAN’s wonderful Brian Lamb invited viewers on a bus tour of Tocqueville’s original visit to America, titled the Alexis de Tocqueville Tour: Exploring Democracy in America. The inimitable TV host stopped at 55 communities in America, starting in Newport, Rhode Island on May 9, 1997; visiting Cleveland on July 22nd; Boston on September 9th; Philadelphia on October 13th and Cincinnati on December 1st. The C-SPAN tour roughly followed Tocqueville’s original route of 1831, stopping in each American town, as the great writer had before, to examine a different part of America’s test case in democracy. Lamb visited and conversed with Americans for the whole year (the year prior to Bill Clinton’s impeachment) about the idea of democracy in our country, using Tocqueville’s famous voyage as a template for the fantastic TV series. Come to think of it, I sure miss Brian reading his yellow-highlighted morning newspapers every day on C-SPAN.
In 1671, the so-called ‘river towns’ of Connecticut petitioned the Massachusetts Bay Colony to separate from the agreement, and in doing so, Connecticut formed their very own ‘constitution’ long before the drafting of our United States Constitution. Today, this history is commemorated in the Connecticut state motto: the ‘Constitution State.’ The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut were earlier adopted by the Connecticut Colony on January 14, 1639, and Tocqueville believed that the Puritans who came to British America established an unwavering principle of equality, beginning with the basic rights enumerated in Fundamental Orders and the American Revolution then popularized this equality principle for all. The ‘Manifest Destiny’ of America, then, began in earnest with the opening of the Connecticut Western Reserve in what is now northeast Ohio. Many similarities still exist between Northern Ohio and the State of Connecticut because of this history and many place-names in the Cleveland metro area derive their names from their original Connecticut lineage. General Moses Cleveland, a land speculator employed by the Connecticut Land Company in 1796, laid the blueprint for almost all Western expansion in the first half of the 19th Century, with each town square spreading outward as more and more immigrants relocated and called these new American towns their home. Unshackled from the binds of Old Europe, this new American democracy, the French Revolution clearly fixed in the rear-view mirror, attempted to forge a new government, utilizing the very best ideas in the West, put forth from the best minds in Western political thought. Alexis de Tocqueville saw the separation of powers as the only remedy to any possible ‘mobocracy’ in a republican system and found no better place than Ohio to observe this phenomenon, where once the citizens of ‘Cincinnatah’ tore down the county courthouse for no other reason than they were just a bunch of pissed-off assholes. Tocqueville’s prescience about the world is one of the hallmarks of his work, as true today as when he wrote his study on American democracy in 1835. He foresaw the ascendance of America as a world power and predicted a competing superpower to our hegemony, on the other side of the planet:
There are now two great nations in the world, which starting from different points, seem to be advancing toward the same goal: the Russians and the Anglo-Americans… Each seems called by some secret design of Providence one day to hold in its hands the destinies of half the world.
Tocqueville was a realist and his thinking was seasoned with an upper class, aristocracy-weary view of society and government that was complicated, to say the least. He wrote of the differences between aristocracy and democracy, “Aristocracy links everybody, from peasant to king, in one long chain. Democracy breaks the chain and frees each link,” yet was opposed to slavery and highly critical of the treatment of Native Americans in America and after he returned to France and staked his claim as an expert on government and policy in Europe, was named colonial administrator to Algeria – and his time in office was a disaster. The geopolitical importance of France’s stake in Algeria meant that Tocqueville would suffer the ‘victimization’ of many great historians, or the results their decisions. To this end, Tocqueville recognized the inherent weakness of democracy to deal with tyranny, defined in his famous “tyranny of the majority” line, so similar to Madison’s thinking when writing in the Federalist Papers, his ‘violence of majority faction’ idea published in Federalist 10 spoke directly to the antidote to tyranny and despotism: a system of checks and balances for a separation of powers. With the publication, wide readership and acceptance of the so-called Federalist Papers (really just opinion articles printed in US newspapers), James Madison sat down at his desk and wrote our system of government into reality.
The demarcation line of Western expansion are the meandering Appalachian Mountains and the great Mississippi River, separating the Northern Territory of Ohio (including Cleveland and Columbus) from the southern half, the commercial center of which became known as the City of Cincinnati. It’s unlikely that Tocqueville met Harriet Beecher Stowe during his time in ‘The Queen City,’ twenty years before she would write her landmark novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, (1852) however, he endorsed the power of her world-changing book in 1867 – in a blurb. Her novel was the best selling book, after the Bible, of the 19th Century. Stowe was inspired to write the book after reading the 1849 autobiography The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. Stowe’s title character was based on the heroic Reverend Henson, a Canadian national hero, born into slavery in Maryland in 1789. Today, near Dresden, Ontario, lies the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, a 5-acre complex that’s part of the original 200 acres of land purchased by Josiah Henson in 1841 to establish the British-American Institute (today, Anti-Slavery International) and the famous Dawn Settlement, a community for escaped slaves. Harriet Beecher Stowe also based many of the characters in her book on interviews conducted with runaway slaves as part of her work in support of the Underground Railroad and also in her writing for the abolitionist periodical the National Era.
Areas of Cincinnati had been destroyed in the Cincinnati riots of 1829, when Irish settlers attacked African-Americans to push them out of the City, and Stowe met a number of these citizens who’d suffered in the attacks – and their experiences contributed greatly to her book as well. Riots in Cincinnati took place once again in 1836 and 1841, also driven by native-born anti-abolitionists. It seemed that race riots were as reliable in Ohio as the infamous Mississippi River floods – In 1829, 1846, 1853 and 1856, white immigrants from Ireland, then Germany, ran as many free blacks and abolitionist supporters out of the town of Cincinnati as they possibly could. The famous Wilberforce Colony of Ontario, Canada was also established by African-Americans fleeing Cincinnati and the State of Ohio. We all remember the 1992 LA Riots, a terrible blemish on our democracy that has yet to heal, yet the Cincinnati Riots of 2001, sparked after 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, an unarmed African American man shot and killed by Cincinnati Police, stands as the largest civil unrest in America since those tumultuous times.
It was after his visit to Cincinnati that Tocqueville wrote his most pointed remarks about the nature of this new, expanding American democracy, spreading to the South and West. He noted that the Puritan ethic of independence and grit – with it’s built-in acceptance of a variety of political and religious opinions – marked these new Americans as firebrands in a new style of government, but he would later compare his visit to Cincinnati to his experiences in Algeria, of all places. In the first pages of On Democracy in America, Tocqueville wrote poetically about the biggest problem to face our young country, while traveling up the Ohio River between slave State Kentucky and free State Ohio. On the C-SPAN bus tour following Tocqueville’s path, host Brian Lamb interviewed African-American Judge Nathaniel R. Jones on his stop in Cincinnati, discussing Tocqueville and the law on December 1st, 1997. The show opened with this clip of Tocqueville’s keen insight while traveling by steamboat along the banks of the Ohio River, from Wheeling, West Virginia to Cincinnati:
The stream that the Indians had distinguished by the name of Ohio, or the Beautiful River, waters one of the most magnificent valleys which have ever been made the abode of man. Undulating lands extend upon both shores of the Ohio, whose soil affords inexhaustible treasures to the laborer; on either bank the air is equally wholesome and the climate mild, and each of them forms the extreme frontier of a vast state: that which follows the numerous windings of the Ohio upon the left is called Kentucky; that upon the right bears the name of the river. These two states differ only in a single respect: Kentucky has admitted slavery, but the state of Ohio has prohibited the existence of slaves within its borders. Thus the traveler who floats down the current of the Ohio to the spot where that river falls into the Mississippi may be said to sail between liberty and servitude; and a transient inspection of surrounding objects will convince him which of the two is more favorable to humanity.
The famous individualist and conservative firebrand Ayn Rand fashioned herself a reason-based superman, embodied in protagonist John Galt in Atlas Shrugged (1957), representing for her and millions like her the ultimate in individuality – directly the opposite of the self-sacrifice praised by Tocqueville. Rand saw the selfless man as no better than one who commits suicide and according to her, the altruist is the very worst sort of person – one who sacrifices friends and family for his enemies. Fans of Ayn Rand’s dry best-seller have long toted dog-eared copies of the book, dewy-eyed, railing against the Socialist state America has become under this dystopian view. I have to remind myself that this is one of the best selling books of all time. Rand’s upbringing in Soviet Russia informed her hatred of Socialism and gave her a shiny pair of rose-colored glasses that made most millionaires look like upstanding, moral agents-of-change. Her open hostility to altruism (and empathy) was so off-putting to conservative icon William F. Buckley, after a scathing review of the book, Rand refused to speak to him ever again.
Ayn Rand’s personal story, so mythologized by conservatives who adopt her as their own (Paul Ryan’s Catholic version and lest we forget, Rand Paul was named after the author for God’s sake, etc.), revealed a far more complicated personality, as with Tocqueville. When Rand emigrated to the United States, she committed perjury after she lied to a visa officer that she had a fiancé waiting for her back in Russia whom she intended to marry after a short visit with relatives in Chicago. Rand quickly married in 1929 and became one of the most appreciative naturalized Americans in history. Under Donald Trump, it’s highly unlikely someone with Ayn Rand’s deep character flaws would have been allowed entry into the Greatest Country on Earth, even back then she was unable to arrange for her family to join her in the US and was separated from them for the rest of her life. Born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum, Rand benefited the most in her life from the fruits of Soviet communism – getting a free education at Petrograd State University (now Saint Petersburg State University), the oldest university in Russia – when a college education was nearly impossible to achieve for a woman anywhere in the world. She graduated in 1924 at the age of 19, taking along with her a nasty hatred of religion, and by 1929 Rand had arrived in New York and later married actor and artist Frank O’Connor in Los Angeles, where she would then gain American citizenship in 1931.
With the famous refrain, ‘Who is ‘John Galt?‘ Rand sets her futurist fantasy as a whodunnit, (a screenwriter, she was then working for uber-racist Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille when she met her husband) written in weird, stilted prose – really a compilation of conservative set pieces than a well-told story, and I’d bet 99% of the American population couldn’t say what Atlas Shrugged or Rand’s other, best selling book about selfishness, The Fountainhead (1943) was really about. She optioned the latter book into the movie with Gary Cooper playing Howard Rourke, Rand’s virtuous CEO in this far-better rendition of the individualistic ‘superman’ as an agent-of-change. In Atlas, Rand imagines that the defeated, corrupt Socialist regime that America had become in the novel could only be saved after it had been totally destroyed. Near the end of the book, the corrupt American State, fearing the teeming mobs, begs – then demands – John Galt to play ball and fix the corrupt economy. When Galt refuses and suffers the consequences of his inaction, society finally revolts in full and Galt and his acolyte-lover are left as the most super of supermen left on Earth. He can fully exercise his mantra: “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” Having studied history and philosophy in Russia, Rand’s Aristotelian underpinning formed her Objectivist ideology, a largely forgotten philosophy of individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism and corporate individualism and she favored a “full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire Capitalism.” In Rand’s famous quote, “Every dictator is a mystic, and every mystic is a potential dictator,” she conjures Trump:
Reason is the enemy he dreads and, simultaneously, considers precarious; reason, to him, is a means of deception; he feels that men possess some power more potent than reason—and only their causeless belief or their forced obedience can give him a sense of security, a proof that he has gained control of the mystic endowment he lacked. His lust is to command, not to convince: conviction requires an act of independence and rests on the absolute of an objective reality. What he seeks is power over reality and over men’s means of perceiving it, their mind, the power to interpose his will between existence and consciousness, as if, by agreeing to fake the reality he orders them to fake, men would, in fact, create it.
Rand also spoke forcefully against totalitarianism – both Fascist and Socialist – and I can imagine her take on Donald Trump would be nuanced, at best. She often told conservative friends that they were “Too smart to believe in God,” yet her almost religious devotion to Aristotelian logic would have undoubtedly caused her to reject Donald Trump as a modern version of John Galt or Howard Rourke. If anything, Trump’s abuse of the social welfare system in winning his fortune lend most conservatives to conclude that Trump is actually the embodiment of Ayn Rand’s uber-villain, Jim Taggert. In Democracy in America, Tocqueville reasoned that America’s strengthening democracy, pushing outward from each town square in America, was effective at connecting citizens to each other in the body politic, casting aside the isolation of selfish individualism:
In times of equality people tend to be individualistic, disposing each citizen to isolate himself and limit his interests to a small circle of relatives and friends. This individualism is dangerous to society because it eventually merges into egoism, which “sterilizes the seed of every virtue”… Because despots have every interest in keeping people isolated, the individualism resulting from equality makes despotism a great danger to democracy. Exercising freedom through participation in public affairs is therefore extremely important, because it gives people a personal interest in thinking about others in society. Local self-government forces the people to act together and feel their dependence on one another.
France, long England’s archenemy, especially after the upheaval of the French Revolution and the resulting ‘mobocracy’ that followed, looked to America as a ‘petrie dish’ of democracy, a double-blind study in a new form of government. Tocqueville studied the 700 year history of democracy, beginning with the Greeks and Romans, drawing upon this knowledge to map the future of our burgeoning nation. His chief worry about democracy and it’s chances for success were the same as Aristotle, Polybius and Montesqieu: despotism. Tocqueville saw the finest examples of American democracy in the rural counties and small towns dotting the lush American landscape and he viewed these simple folk as our ultimate strength. Liberty requires constant effort and vigilance and if we are ever to fulfill the demands of our forebears – as we dive headlong into the 21st Century – we must never forget where we’ve come from.
May 29, 2018
– Sir John Harington, 1618
I almost reactivated my Facebook account this week, after Mark Zuckerberg finally admitted that his company was actually in the business of eavesdropping. After the beautiful London Observer piece highlighting Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix caught on video selling his company’s wares (blackmail, ratfucking, extortion, racketeering and money laundering), the same employer of ‘Sloppy’ Steve Bannon (then running the American branch) I really wanted to write that I’d actually reactivated my account after Zuck went on CNN and finally admitted that his company took blood money. This week’s announcement that Facebook was cutting ties with data mining companies is a sign that I might just come back. Zuckerberg said that he wants to be proud of his company going forward because he has two daughters now, as opposed to before when he was an asshole Harvard hacker who cared about nothing except making lots of money.
When I first became aware of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, one fact stood out for me above all others: Zuckerberg was a hacker. Hacker culture is what the internet was all about back in the early days, and tech titans Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were no exception. In screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network (2010), Zuckerberg, Saverin and the Winklevoss brothers were portrayed as savvy hackers without much going on in the way of morals. I suspect the dark score and lighting in the film lends a hint that it was much worse than that. Born as ‘Facesmash’ as a prank by the merry Zuck against his fellow students at Harvard – stealing their identities (or head shots) from the easily hackable Harvard Yearbook Publications computer, a student-run server hosting the earliest editions of the ubiquitous Freshman Register, known by everyone in the first year as ‘The Facebook.’ I’ve always cast a jaundiced eye at those who would just as soon steal your data as look at you. These hacker dweebs, many with tape firmly affixed on glasses, proudly displaying gleaming breast pocket organizers and bad skin are now worth millions. Many of those weenies from the old high school computer club could buy and sell their high schools many times over and some even contribute millions to alumni organizations and philanthropic endeavors, yet most are still just like Martin Shkreli, only nerdier.
Have you ever sat and wondered how Facebook pays for all those great services it offers to you, free of charge, hour-after-hour? I can’t read but a few articles in the New York Times or the Washington Post without being locked out and asked for money every month. My cloud storage costs money; this here blog on WordPress costs money; registering with WHOIS costs money and even my useless business email (info@newesfromamerica!) with Google costs me five bucks a month. So how does Facebook pull it off? Yes, they raised $100 billion at their IPO and the stock has been boffo since, but have you ever wondered why Facebook was so highly valued in the first place? How does a company with no tangible assets save for zeroes and ones value themselves more than the Ford Motor Company? Well, they did – and investors have agreed with their wallets. Google’s ‘Don’t Be Evil‘ policy, famously agreed upon by principals Larry Page and Sergey Brin when Google was born, proves that I have more trust in this particular Russian than my own president. I love you too, Larry.
Imagine that when Samuel B. Morse invented Morse Code or when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone that Western Union or Bell Telephone listened in on your messages and then sold the call logs and transcripts of all the conversations that you had with your friends and business associates to advertisers. That’s exactly what Facebook (and Google, but with less evil) does today. Back in 2012, however, I didn’t quite understand that and I just couldn’t make any sense of why the top of the Facebook news feed looked more the bottom of the news feed on websites like the New York Post – or practically any news feed on the web today – populated by ‘news’ that’s actually advertisements from ‘third party’ sponsors. Tempted by clickbait such as “You won’t believe what happened to THIS beloved child star!” or “This one weird trick will make you rich,” or “Donald Trump is running for president” and we click, click, click away. The experience felt so phony and packaged that I got off Facebook with nary a care. Then, it happened – everybody resented me for disappearing from the social network. Sure, they argued, Facebook promotes ‘sponsored’ news, but we’re all just here to trade pictures and to catch up! What’s so scary about that? My Aunt Joanne, after I emailed her that I wouldn’t be on Facebook anymore and that we should email each other more from then on, met me with an icy silence. She thought I’d ‘unfriended’ her, (like in that hilarious, Esurance ad where offline over-sharer Beatrice ‘unfriends’ her acquaintance who says, “That’s not how this works, that’s not how ANY of this works!) and my Aunt took my digital decision personally and we’ve not been as close since. Therein lies the rub: Facebook’s amazing social platform is there for you to use – free of charge – as long as you’re willing to allow them to listen in on your private conversations and sell that info to advertisers, whomever they might be. Facebook’s recent announcement that they are ending third-party agreements with companies like Acxiom and Experian show that they are finally getting the message about their shady business model.
The revelations about sleazy third-party data-mining operation Cambridge Analytica and the involvement of the Russian Federation in the subversion of the U.S. Presidential Election of 2016 brings home the point that your personal information is extremely valuable to those who want to manipulate you. Whether it’s to get you to fall for clickbait such as to buy a selfie stick or to vote for a corrupt fool, it’s not based on the highest quality, most accurate information about what’s best for you and your family. It’s always been about what’s best for Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg and the (weirdly large) group of Russian billionaires that invested heavily in this company (and Twitter) – which sells your private information to anybody willing to pay for it. Do you think that if Facebook charged actual, hard-earned cash that it would be the Wall Street darling it’s been for the past ten years? If Facebook announced today that it was truly changing it’s model and doing away with mining all private information to sell – and will instead keep all communication on the platform ‘unconnected’ to advertisers and completely private, I’ll tell you this, even if Facebook charged a minimal fee, say the same $99 annual fee that I pay Dropbox (BTW Dropbox just went public recently with a valuation of $21 billion), I’d predict that Facebook’s vaunted user-subscription base of billions would shrivel to a few million. One thing the early pioneers of web commerce found out is that folks don’t like to pay for stuff. Go figure? If Facebook was charging what they need to charge to pay for all those tech dweebs setting up all those video and chat rooms all day, they’d have to bill you at least $100 a year. Instead, all active Facebook users offer their time (time is money!) to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars worth of volunteer effort to participate in surveys that test out political attack phrases and product jingles for effectiveness, while targeting ads to you (about anything at all) based on your psychological profile.
The fact is that Twitter, Google, Facebook, Instagram (also owned by Facebook) and so many of the digital platforms that we use everyday are subject to the very same privacy laws that have been around for the past fifty years. From the landmark protections gained under the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Katz v. United States (1967), where the court ruled that a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ is enjoyed by all Americans and that phone wiretapping counts as a ‘search’ under the constitution, to Smith v. Maryland (1979) where the court held that citizens voluntarily conveyed information to the telephone company (replace Facebook here instead of telephone company for modern reference) and that any use of that information is not considered a ‘search’ under constitutional protection. In the Majority opinion of Smith, Justice Harry Blackmun rejected the idea that the installation and use of a ‘pen register’ (or digital recording device) constitutes a violation of the ‘legitimate expectation of privacy’ since the numbers would be available to the phone company and recorded as a matter standard of billing practices. Those practices have expanded since then, obviously.
Ask the average American citizen what the First Amendment is and most know that this right preserves our freedom of speech, tested in the 1980’s by pornographer Larry Flynt before the Supreme Court in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell (1988), made into the 1996 movie The People vs. Larry Flynt by director Oliver Stone. Most Americans also are aware of their Second Amendment right to bear arms – and that right, strangely, has never been tested since 1779, save retired Associate Justice John Paul Stevens’ recent harangue. I don’t blame any American for not knowing their Third Amendment right against quartering soldiers in their houses during a time of war, but I’m damn glad that I can pull out my mini U.S. Constitution and show any militia that they’ll be welcome at the local Holiday Inn and not Chez Underhill during the next war. Our Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, tested in the Supreme Court’s landmark Miranda v. Arizona decision, preserves our right to remain silent, and is well known to most Americans, but the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, our right against unlawful search and seizure, is barely understood by most.
Any understanding of our Fourth Amendment begins with the idea that this right prevents any search by the police without a judicial warrant (without probable cause). Since Weeks v. United States (1914), this has been enforced as the ‘exclusionary rule,’ which excludes evidence gathered through Fourth Amendment violations from criminal trials, challenged and strengthened in Wolf v. Colorado (1949). Important in the ongoing debate about privacy on the internet, the court’s 2012’s decision in United States v. Graham held that cell tower location data is not protected by the Fourth Amendment, according to standing ‘third party doctrine.’ Based on these precedents, it’s clear that our shared Fourth Amendment right to privacy has been abused by the Trump campaign and the Russian government and it’s high time that the people of the United States stand up and demand accountability.
Narrow down the concept of ‘law’ in America, it would be the legal concept of ‘stare decisis.’ Think ‘Starry Decisiveness’ to pronounce, from an old Latin proverb which means ‘to stand by decisions and not disturb the undisturbed.’ The everyday term for stare decisis is precedent, or more precisely, legal precedent. It’s the single most important notion in the foundation of our system of government. After the Constitution was ratified and our country finally won it’s freedom, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (appointed by George Washington) John Jay; co-author of The Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison under the pen name Publius (writing 5 of the 85 essays), the title ‘Chief Justice’ was created for him, which Washington said “must be regarded as the keystone of our political fabric.” Washington nominated Jay on September 24, 1789, the same day he signed the Judiciary Act of 1789, leaving Congress the task of creating the lower federal courts. After John Adams and the Federalists lost to Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans in the Election of 1800, the lame-duck Adams Administration enacted the Midnight Judges Act, stacking the courts with Federalists before the Jeffersonians could take over. The result of the Act, otherwise known as the Judiciary Act of 1801, resulted in the landmark Marbury v. Madison decision and ultimately led to the impeachment of Associate Justice Samuel Chase of Maryland. Justice Chase was impeached because he was considered too partisan (as a Federalist) in his decisions and the resulting lopsided dismissal on all counts in the United States Senate in 1804 set the limits of the impeachment power and permanently fixed the concept that the Judiciary was prohibited from engaging in partisan politics. The only reason that this process has continued for almost 250 years is because of the concept of stare decisis. In America, we stand by decisions and we do not disturb the undisturbed.
This is all particularly relevant today because the President of the United States is about to be impeached. Donald John Trump will be our third president to suffer impeachment, with Richard Milhous Nixon avoiding all the unpleasantness at showtime. Only Andrew Johnson and William Jefferson Clinton have suffered the ignominy associated with a Senate trial. With Bill, it was all about Whitewater; Paula Jones; that Trooper in Arkansas and finally, the blue dress. With Andy, well, that was probably more about the him being an awful president than anything else. With Donald Trump, it’s the first time a president will be impeached for the very essence, the mother lode of reasons for impeachment – criminal conduct. An examination of Trump’s dealings: almost every business transaction; his bizarre political rhetoric; his twisted ‘family values,’ reveals him worthy of impeachment. Donald Trump’s behavior as president is unprecedented, which means that Trump is anti-American and anti-democratic by very definition. “Yeah, and that’s who we voted in – and that’s who you gotta listen to for four long years” cry the Red Hats. Oh yeah?
March 31, 2018
(PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY KATHY GRIFFIN)
Last year’s bombshell New York Times article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey may have initiated the #MeToo movement, but the momentum really gained steam after Ronan Farrow’s excellent back-to-back, in-depth reports in the New Yorker detailing Harvey Weinstein’s use of private detectives to harass and discredit his accusers. Farrow’s investigations add valuable accounts of the Miramax mogul’s scumbag ways, where it seems every day of his professional life, Mr. Weinstein committed some form of sexual harassment. Looking at the cut of Mr. Weinstein, we can guess that this ugly, fat asshole used his power as a Hollywood producer to get laid. In Casablanca, Claude Rains is ‘Shocked, shocked!’ Perhaps the original push behind the #MeToo movement was Donald Trump’s (well recorded) conversation about bush – with Bush – which sparked the up-and-running Pink Parades, either way, sexually abused and harassed victims have finally been given voice. Farrow’s latest article in the New Yorker, Trump, a Playboy Model, and a System for Concealing Infidelity reveals the next woman in the can-can line of Trump mistresses. Here, Farrow outlines how Trump’s friend David J. Pecker, CEO of American Media and publisher of parody newspapers the National Enquirer and the hilarious Weekly World News among others, protected him from damaging allegations during the election. Trump said during his campaign that the supermarket tabloid ‘Does have credibility and should be very respected’ after the Enquirer linked Ted Cruz’ father to the Kennedy Assassination. Inquiring minds want to know! Pecker (middle name Johnson) ‘captured and killed’ this particular Playboy model’s story about her affair with The Donald for $150,000 (about the same time that Stormy Daniels was spanking him with Malcolm Forbes’ masthead), with Pecker explaining recently that it ‘wasn’t believable enough’ – choosing not to publish the accusation back in October, 2016. I guess the Playboy model story should have included a bit about her bat-child, then Pecker may have thought it believable enough to bury somewhere in his mindless rags. This is the same National Enquirer which once ran full-color, front-page headlines complete with images of an innocent young woman named Vera Baker titled ‘Obama Caught in Hotel With This Beauty’ – which Pecker had to pay dearly for in an all-cash settlement. My favorite Weekly World News headline of all time is ‘Famed Psychic’s Head Explodes.’
It seems everything Ronan Farrow touches turns to gold, yet his latest article was as poorly timed as could be, with Robert S. Mueller’s bombshell indictments of the Russian Internet Research Agency unsealed on the same day, which no doubt cut into Ronan’s overall clicks. The two previous New Yorker articles Farrow wrote were ultimately inspired by his passionate defense of his adopted sister Dylan. His entire life, Mr. Farrow has sided with his mother and sister in the tumultuous separation drama between Mia and Woody. I say separation instead of divorce because Woody Allen and Mia Farrow never married. That’s not to say that Woody, Mia and her biological and adopted kids weren’t a family. As a member of a ‘blended family,’ I’ve felt the awkwardness associated with sitting around a dinner table with folks that I’d never met or had any blood relation to, all acting like it’s entirely normal to call ourselves a brand-new ‘family.’ My mom and my sisters were my real family, not this new woman and ‘family’ that my dad took up with years later. I also had the unique opportunity to watch my second ‘family’ fade into memory as my father divorced for a second time, inviting my two sisters and me to another dinner table with ‘family’ that we didn’t know from Adam. A child of the depression, my father was independent if nothing else. He worked hard his whole life, served when asked by his country during the Korean War, bought homes, a small boat, a Florida place (mobile home), retired young and clipped coupons to rival any HSN-watching housewife. In other words, he was cheap, folks. We both loved the Boston Red Sox, but never went to a game at Fenway Park together. Better to watch it on TV for free. Obviously like Ronan, I have daddy issues, so I can somewhat relate to him – even though I’m a nobody and he’s the living, breathing progeny of Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra. On December 27, 1987, the New York Times blurbed Ronan’s arrival on Manhattan:
Satchel Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow is the first child for Mr. Allen, who is 52 years old. The director is also the legal father of two of Miss Farrow’s five adopted children. The 42-year-old actress has three other children in addition to Satchel and those she has adopted.
The name Satchel comes from Satchel Paige, perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time, and this was Woody’s sole contribution. Ronan Farrow was later accepted to Yale as a child prodigy at 15 and was a Rhodes Scholar, continuing his advanced studies at Oxford University, later working for the Obama Administration as a special advisor under Richard Holbrooke, then U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. His last name is taken from his mother, actress Mia Farrow (born María de Lourdes Villiers Farrow) and his middle name, O’Sullivan, is Mia’s mother’s maiden name, the legendary Irish-born actress Maureen O’Sullivan. Ronan’s ‘daddy,’ Woody Allen – real name Allen Konigsberg, remember – is a well-known, neurotic intellectual constantly questioning the meaning of life and existence through his work as a film director. Behind the entire saga hides Soon-Yi Previn, one of Mia’s adopted children with her then husband, Andre Previn. After Mia moved on from Previn, she took up with Woody and brought her clan to Manhattan to form a new, blended ‘family’ with Woody – eventually adopting two kids of their own. Woody and Mia maintained separate homes in Manhattan (never staying at each other’s place) and in 1986, following the completion of Woody’s 15th film, the great Hannah and Her Sisters, Mia announced that she’d become pregnant with Woody’s first child while filming September with Woody in 1987. A surprise to the couple – Woody had cast his actress-muse Mia, as he had for his three previous films, to play the lead in his next film, Another Woman (1988), however her pregnancy forced Woody to assign Mia a supporting role and chose actress Gena Rowlands for the lead instead.
The genius of Woody Allen lies in his unblinking honesty, rooted in his uniquely New York, Jewish humor, undoubtedly sown into young Allen Konigsberg by his parents and extended family back in Brooklyn. His childhood, idealized in his film Radio Days (1987), sets the stage for his adolescent life at the dinner table, not so side-splittingly hilarious as in Woody’s brilliant split-screen depiction of his family vs. WASP-y Diane Keaton’s family at the table in the groundbreaking Annie Hall (1977). These experiences obviously gave the young Allen ‘Woody’ Konigsberg all the tools his vocation would require. Woody’s first wife, Harlene Rosen, left him after he called her ‘Quasimoto’ in his stand-up act. You couldn’t make that up. After that, Woody married Louise Lasser (anyone remember Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman?) from 1966-1970 and then took up with actress-muse Diane Keaton for ten years. Mia Farrow came along in 1980. After the smashing success of Hannah, one would think Woody would be on a high, returning as it were to the standards that he set for himself in the late 1970’s with films like Annie Hall and Manhattan (1979) with Diane Keaton. But as art imitates life – imitating art, Woody’s breakup with Keaton birthed his first, less successful ‘unfunny’ stage with films Interiors (1978) and Stardust Memories (1980). His breakup with his second actress-muse, Mia Farrow, followed Hannah and Her Sisters in 1986, where Mia chafed that Woody had exposed her personal affairs in the film:
It was my mother’s stunned, chilled reaction to the script that enabled me to see how he had taken many of the personal circumstances and themes of our lives and, it seemed, had distorted them into cartoonish characterizations. At the same time he was my partner. I loved him. I could trust him with my life, and he was a writer, this is what writers do. All grist for the mill. Relatives have always grumbled. He had taken the ordinary stuff of our lives and lifted it into art. We were honored and outraged.
In the film, Woody practically lifts these words in a scene between sisters Hannah and Holly (Diane Wiest), shot in Mia’s actual Manhattan kitchen, where Holly’s success as a novelist irks Hannah at the second of three Thanksgiving get-togethers and Hannah clearly understands that her sister’s new book was based on her (Hannah’s) life, yet she can’t understand how her sister would know such intimate details between Hannah and her husband Elliot (Michael Caine). Holly reveals that their other sister, Lee (Barbara Hershey) told her some of the stories, leaving the audience cringing because we know that Lee is having an affair with Eliot. Michael Caine said making the film was like ‘watching an intimate home movie,’ and in fact it was mutual friend Caine who introduced Mia Farrow to Woody Allen nearly 20 years earlier. After Hannah leaves the kitchen in anger, their mother Norma (Maureen O’Sullivan) enters and tells Holly that she absolutely loves the book, ‘I particularly liked the character of the mother, just a boozy old flirt with a filthy mouth. I’m so proud!’ If you look closely during the final Thanksgiving scene, also shot in Mia’s Manhattan home, you can just make out Soon-Yi Previn and Farrow’s other adopted children with Andre Previn. It wasn’t until six years later, on January 13, 1992, that Mia discovered that Woody was having an affair with Soon-Yi and she promptly ended their relationship – both as actor-muse and partner.
Back in 1986, however, Hannah and Her Sisters was consistently selling out Theater One at the Harvard Square Theater and as an usher, I remember well the final scene with Woody and Diane Wiest just before the final Thanksgiving dinner scene. One of my favorite Woody Allen films, the movie portrays the intertwined lives of these three Manhattan sisters, enduring infidelity and jealousy – complete with a Hollywood ending where Woody ends up marrying a different sister (Wiest) after having divorced the other sister (Farrow). Woody admitted that the role of Hannah was based on Mia Farrow, being ‘a romanticized perception of Mia.’ He borrows the structure of the film from his director-muse Ingmar Bergman, most notably two films: Fanny and Alexander (1982) where a large theatrical family gathers for three years’ celebrations (Thanksgiving dinner with Woody, Christmas in Bergman’s film) and Bergman’s Rocco and His Brothers (1962).
Woody’s next project was September, a film based on Anton Chekhov’s brooding Uncle Vanya (1898) and again, after a run of five feel-good, successful films – Allen chooses an ‘unfunny’ theme to explore as his relationship with his actress-muse goes South. If one does the math back from December 27, 1987 – this timeline perfectly coincides with Ronan Farrow’s conception. The production on September was notoriously fraught with difficulty and the chaos behind the film was noticed by the cast and crew. Originally supposed to be filmed at Mia’s Connecticut home (the home which inspired Woody to write the film and the same home that Woody is supposed to have ‘molested’ his adopted daughter Dylan in the attic a few years later) the location was changed to Vermont and the film was cast with Mia in the lead role and her mother Maureen O’Sullivan returning to play Mia’s mother on screen once again, as she had in Hannah and Her Sisters. Woody shot and edited September by the end of 1986 and it looked like it was on schedule to be released by the summer of 1987 – then something happened in March, 1987 that changed everything: Mia Farrow got pregnant. Woody Allen then did something he had never done before – he recast and reshot the entire film all over again.
In May, 1987, it became an open secret that Woody’s production of September was having major problems and actor’s actor Charles Durning wondered aloud to the LA Times why he’d been cut from the film and it was then revealed that he wasn’t alone. A-list Actors Christopher Walken and Sam Sheppard were jettisoned, as well as Mia’s mom Maureen O’Sullivan, whom Woody claimed had pneumonia and was unavailable to redo her scenes.Woody cast the strident stage actress Elaine Strich to play the role that Maureen O’Sullivan had already completed in the first go-round and he made Mia reshoot all of her scenes. The film is the worst reviewed in Woody’s career and stands as the worst performing film that he has ever made. The climax of the film, ultimately released in December, 1987, comes when an anguished Lane (Mia Farrow) cries out to her mother, now played by Elaine Strich, “You’re the one who pulled the trigger! I just said what the lawyers told me to say!” thus revealing that her mother was the one who shot her abusive lover, but her lawyers thought it would be better if Lane took the fall, where she would be treated more leniently.
Now stop here. I ‘d love to ask Woody a question – why the Lana Turner/Johnny Stompanato angle? It’s totally wrong for the preparation and payoff of the screenplay. How did he decide this goofy ‘twist’ gets him satisfactorily to Chekhov’s ennui-laden “Just get over it” coda? This remarkably weak tribute to the great playwright is probably why Woody said he’d like to shoot it all over again, as he admitted in a 2014 interview. Third time’s the charm! My guess is that Woody wanted to say something snarky about Frank Sinatra, without ever having been accused of it. After all, Sinatra’s involvement in the Stompanato knifing only references his connection to mobster Mickey Cohen, right? For those unfamiliar with the story, this article from the Boston Herald sums it up nicely:
Frank Sinatra appealed to Cohen who ran a sex extortion ring to stop Stompanato from dating his ex-wife Ava Gardner. Stompanato’s life ended abruptly when he was killed on April 4, 1958 by a knife thrust into his abdomen in movie queen Lana Turner’s bedroom. Turner had refused to take Stompanato to the Academy Awards ceremony when she was nominated as Best Actress for 1957’s Peyton Place, going instead with her teenage daughter and mother. When she returned home, a furious Stompanato showed up. Turner’s daughter, hearing them argue, feared he was going to beat her mother and ran into the bedroom, stabbing the swaggering stud just once, which was more than enough. In the subsequent celebrity trial, wags said Turner gave the greatest performance of her life on the witness stand.
So back to March 21, 1987, while performing routine maneuvers in his F-4 Phantom jet over the San Bernadino Mountains as part of his Air National Guard training, son and namesake of legendary crooner Dean Martin, Captain Dean Paul Martin, 35, died in an accident along with his wingman, Weapons Systems Officer, Captain Ramon Ortiz. Dean-o was understandably crushed by the awful tragedy and never got over it. His closest amigo and Rat Pack founder, Frank Sinatra, was also blindsided by the sudden death of Dean Paul, so similar to his own child and namesake Frank Sinatra, Jr. A great picture of fathers and sons together reveal the genuine brotherly and fatherly love between them. Frank’s mother Dollie had died in a plane crash in the same mountains not long before and to say that Frank Sinatra was distraught in late March, 1987 would be a huge understatement.
Principal photography for September started in late October, 1986, and the production shoot wasn’t completed until about eight months later, in June, 1987. Mia Farrow knew Dean Paul Martin well and after completing the (original) shooting schedule for September with Woody, principal photography for their next film, Another Woman, wouldn’t begin until summer. Mia Farrow would have ample opportunity to console the man she says later she ‘never split-up with’ and this is where things get weird. Woody decides in April, 1987 to reshoot the entire film, however this time his script dramatizes the mother-daughter relationship in far starker terms with an undoubtedly strange twist that wasn’t in the first version of September: the plot point that references the Stompanato killing.
Now, beyond being the spitting image of the Chairman of the Board, both Ronan Farrow’s mother, Mia and his considered father, Woody, have all but said that he’s Frank Sinatra’s son. Mia stated in a 2013 Vanity Fair article that Sinatra might ‘possibly’ be Ronan’s father and in October, 2013, after the rumor became a meme, Ronan Farrow joked on Twitter, ‘Listen, we’re all *possibly* Frank Sinatra’s son.’ Not me! Ronan has steadfastly refused to discuss DNA, saying, “Woody Allen, legally, ethically, personally was absolutely a father in our family.” Sinatra’s fourth and final wife Barbara, understandably, called the suggestion that her husband fathered Farrow ‘a bunch of junk’ at the time, yet Frank’s own daughter Nancy Sinatra said in the same article that, “He is a big part of us, and we are blessed to have him in our lives.” In a 2015 CBS Sunday Morning interview, however, Nancy Sinatra denied that Farrow was her half-brother, Nancy is Frank’s first born with his first wife Nancy Barbato, whom Frank divorced on Valentine’s Day in 1950. She sang the hit These Boots Are Made For Walkin (1966), yet she walked back her Vanity Fair statement in 2015:
I got cranky with Mia because she knew better, you know, she really did. But she was making a joke! And it was taken very serious and was just silly, stupid.
Tina Sinatra, Nancy’s sister, said that Frank couldn’t be Ronan’s father because Frank had a vasectomy prior to 1987 (offering no evidence). In biographer James Kramer’s thin, second volume of his biography of Frank titled Sinatra: Chairman of the Board published in 2011, he claimed that Frank Sinatra’s diverticulitis operation in November, 1986 – and subsequent complications which arose in January, 1987 – prevented him from fathering any child (with Frank then at over seventy years of age). One thing that I’ve learned about the life of Francis Albert Sinatra was that he really liked to get laid. A LOT. Ava Gardner said that although Sinatra was only 5’4″ and 120 pounds, 110 of those pounds were his manhood. She used a different word for it, but you get the idea. If Frank Sinatra was in the mood – after a healthy bowl of Wheaties – he certainly could have whipped off his colostomy bag and given Mia the gift that has keeps on giving. Hell, even if Tina Sinatra was right, Frank could have felt so great after finally getting rid of his bowel problems that the January, 1987 ‘setback’ may have been a reverse vasectomy for all we know!
Sinatra’s life and times are particularly relevant in the Age of Trump, where Donald Trump’s talent lies in his overwhelming confidence and ability to impress others with bravado, Frank Sinatra had all that, yet could also impress people with his extraordinary voice. Each time these men faced true adversity, they emerged stronger. The most interesting similarity between Trump and Sinatra is that each man will have been hurt (and helped) by the Federal Bureau of Investigation – and each man’s supposed mob ties were the entry to the threat of prosecution, ultimately brought on by their political beliefs. Hoover’s FBI had Sinatra in their sights as early as 1945, when Sinatra performed in a short film created for the War Film Office called The House I Live In where he stood up for the Jews. Only Elvis, and later, The Beatles could conjure up the shrill, shrieking noise that frightened the crap out of middle-class, post-war America. Herbert Hoover’s lover/underling (and early #MeToo survivor) Clyde Tolson were absolutely, fabulously catty in their disgust for Sinatra, who they saw as a Commie sympathizer if they’d ever seen one. Judith Campbell Exner, as we’ve learned through the (best ever!) Freedom of Information Act, was a ham-handed attempt by the Chicago mob, particularly Sam Giancana, to take advantage of U.S. Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the Junior Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Giancana and Kennedy both slept with Judith Campbell Exner – Kennedy first, then Giancana – with Frank Sinatra introducing Campbell to them, and as it turned out, both Kennedy brothers to Marilyn Monroe in a carousel of women hand-delivered to Sinatra’s powerful friends.
In a book called The Way it Was: My Life With Frank Sinatra, (2017) Eliot Weisman, who managed Sinatra from 1975-1998, recounts his negotiations surrounding the 1990 opening of Trump’s Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, where Sinatra had been hired to perform. After a tragic helicopter accident that claimed the lives of the Taj Mahal’s CEO and others, Donald Trump decided that he would personally renegotiate all outstanding contracts – and that included an agreement-in-principle with Sinatra to perform for an extended run to open Trump’s new Atlantic City casino and hotel. After The Donald exhibited his now famous negotiating skills by changing the agreement at the last second (in his favor), Sinatra’s manager Weisman walked out of the meeting and called Frank immediately. More pissed off that Trump didn’t know who Steve Lawrence and Edie Gormé were, Weisman related the details of the discussion with Trump, yet Frank was far more pissed off that The Donald had monkeyed with an agreement that only required a signature. As far as Frank saw it, Trump took advantage of a tragic situation involving his own crew to make a little more money for himself. Frank told Weisman what to do and his manager walked back in, up the elevator, past the alarmed receptionist into Trump’s office where he told The Donald loud and clear: ‘Sinatra says go fuck yourself!’ Another reason to like Frank.
Weisman also recalled in the same book that Frank Sinatra had instructed his closest associate and friend, Ermenigildo ‘Jilly’ Rizzo, to bring Mia Farrow money after Woody took up with Soon-Yi. Later ‘Jilly’ personally told Woody Allen that Frank was unhappy with his conduct and says ‘Straighten up and fly right.’ Apparently Woody got the message, however opaque. Sinatra was a complicated man, an artist of unequaled talent and drive. His dalliances with the mob, and there were a few, were a protective armor for his sensitive and intelligent persona. They were the protection racket for the utterly vulnerable voice behind the mic. Ava Gardner said that ‘at times Frank was so gentle that she thought he would break.’ Sinatra was a legendary ladies man, slowing only slightly after his longest and last relationship with Barbara Sinatra, former wife of Marx Brother Zeppo.
Trump’s bleating about a petty, abusive FBI certainly rang true in 1960, just after HUAC and the Red Scare, with Hoover and the FBI exerting undue, illegal pressure on their political enemies. It’s hard to believe under today’s rendition of the GOP that Republicans once abhorred ‘immoral’ behavior such as adultery, gambling – or political extremism for that matter. Hoover’s FBI was the template for Trump’s ‘deep state’ assault on the FBI and the apparatus of surveillance which has made gossip the currency of Washington. Hoover’s interest in Sinatra started just six months after Sinatra performed in what he’d consider his greatest achievement, The House I Live In (1945) a short film he created which woke the HUAC – and the FBI – to action, opening the very first FBI investigation into Sinatra. Hoover’s FBI couldn’t find any direct links to any Communist organizations, and other than a tawdry incident from a 1938 newspaper article with the lurid headline ‘Crooner arrested on morals charge’ where Frank got his freak on with a married lady, Hoover was stymied. Fast-forward twenty years later and JFK is screwing Judy Campbell Exner (born Judith Eileen Katherine Immoor) in Frank’s guest bedroom and shortly after that, wins the closest presidential election in U.S. history. Sinatra would produce the Inaugural Gala for JFK, packed with a-list celebrities, yet one of Hoover’s first calls on U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, other than to welcome the Kennedy brothers to Washington, was to extort them into ending their relationship with one Frank Sinatra. The often told story about JFK stiffing Frank for Bing Crosby is the stuff of legend in the halls of the J. Edgar Hoover Office Building, where during a 1962 West Coast trip, RFK encouraged the President to change his plans and stay at Republican Bing Crosby’s home instead of Sinatra’s place, which (it was maintained) could provide better security for the president. Sinatra blamed Peter Lawford for the sleight, because he felt that Lawford hadn’t gone to bat for Frank:
The change came at the last minute, after Sinatra had made extensive arrangements for the promised presidential visit, including the construction of a helipad. Sinatra was furious, believing that Lawford had failed to intercede with the Kennedys on his behalf, and ostracized him.
Peter Lawford organized the 1962 Madison Square Garden gala for JFK, where Marilyn infamously slurred ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President.’ Frank never forgave Lawford, who believed that he was unfairly blamed for the snub. In the last year year of his life, Lawford sent a message to Sinatra, ‘but Frank never even acknowledged that he got the letter,’ however the rift between them ran deeper than that, going back to their common interest in Frank’s ex-wife Ava Gardner, but Frank was used to that. While seeing Sinatra, Ava Gardner also had an affair with the married actor Robert Mitchum. ‘I was crazy about him,’ she said, yet when she told Mitchum that she was also seeing Sinatra, he ended it immediately, saying “Get into a fight with him, and he won’t stop until one of you is dead,” Gardner said. “He didn’t want to risk it being him.” You just didn’t fuck with the Chairman of the Board.
Sinatra famously ended his marriage to Ava when he fell head-over-heels for Lana Turner after seeing her in the sultry The Postman Always Rings Twice (1958) and he began a new episode in his life that was perhaps inspired by his upbringing above the saloon that his parents Marty and Dolly Sinatra kept in Hoboken, New Jersey called ‘Marty O’Brien’s’ – a hint of the craftiness with which the Sinatras had always operated. Frank’s mother Dolly was a dynamo, once chaining herself to Hoboken City Hall in support of a women’s right to vote while also running an Italian-English interpreter business that juiced her in with the local Democratic Party. She could be counted on to deliver almost a thousand votes in local elections and her other side businesses included midwifery – and other needs not met by the hospitals or doctors of the day. A real character, most likely Dolly knew and worked with small-time mafia figures who appeared at the bar from time to time. Before he formed the Hoboken Four, young Frank Sinatra, between homework and bar backing, would occasionally belt out a few songs for the ragged crowd. Can you just imagine the scene?
The end of Sinatra’s third marriage (to Mia Farrow) was apparently sparked because production photography for her film Rosemary’s Baby (1968) overran and she was unavailable to begin a new project scheduled with Frank. He famously served her divorce papers right on Roman Polanski’s set and just after that, George Jacobs, Sinatra’s valet of 15 years, was seen dancing in an LA nightclub with Mia Farrow, whom Frank was still in the process of divorcing. Jacobs returned to Sinatra’s Bel Air compound to find the locks changed and a lawyer’s letter telling him he’d been shit-canned. Mr. Jacobs, an African-American, died in 2014, yet from 1953 to 1968, he served as Sinatra’s live-in valet at his homes in Bel Air and Palm Springs with a roster of duties that, he wrote:
Included cooking Italian meals for Sinatra’s underworld associates; securing the nighttime services of women in a storied profession; and, in the wee small hours of the morning (Sinatra liked to do his actual sleeping solo), settling their bills before sending them on their way.
When Sinatra and Farrow were married in 1966, Maureen O’Sullivan was only 4 years older than Frank when she announced her daughter’s engagement in the New York Times. After her divorce from Frank, Mia then traveled with her brother and sister Prudence Farrow to an ashram in Rishikesh, India to meditate and recuperate. The Beatles were also seeking guidance from the ashram’s Yogi, Maharishi Mahesh, at the same time and Mia’s sister Prudence inspired John Lennon to write the song ‘Dear Prudence‘ (1968), where Prudence Farrow spent all her time meditating and had no time to ‘come out to play.’ Mia, however, found plenty of time to play. She’d return to the states ready for a new start, then became pregnant with composer Andre Previn’s child(ren). He left his wife Dory and filed for divorce, then Farrow gave birth to twin sons in February, 1970 and Previn’s divorce from Dory became final in July of the same year. Dory Previn later composed a song about the affair, entitled Beware of Young Girls about the loss of her husband to Farrow. Andre Previn and Mia Farrow later divorced in 1979.
In February, 2014, Dylan Farrow publicly renewed her claims of sexual abuse against Woody Allen in an open letter published by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, a friend of the Farrows. Ronan Farrow wrote at the time in The Hollywood Reporter:
My sister’s decision to step forward came shortly after I began work on a book and a television series. It was the last association I wanted. Initially, I begged my sister not to go public again and to avoid speaking to reporters about it. I’m ashamed of that, too. With sexual assault, anything’s easier than facing it in full, saying all of it, facing all of the consequences. Even now, I hesitated before agreeing to The Hollywood Reporter‘s invitation to write this piece, knowing it could trigger another round of character assassination against my sister, my mother or me.
Earlier, Ronan told Life magazine about his relationship with Woody Allen, “He’s my father married to my sister. To say Soon-Yi was not my sister is an insult to all adopted children.” Whatever. When asked directly by Vulture in 2012 about his parentage and DNA testing, Ronan said:
It was somewhat surprising to see it break in such a huge way of late. I’m fairly … I mean, I appreciate how hilarious it is. I mean, it’s a ridiculous situation. That said, I’m pretty unfazed by it in substance, because it’s been out there both publicly and privately for so long. You know, I have a relationship that I’m very happy with, you know, with all parties involved. For me, the imperative is ‘all right, we’ve talked about it, I get a kick out of it, everyone gets a kick out of it. Let’s move onto the substance,’ — which is one reason I’m so excited to be rolling out this show.
Ronan sure gave a song and dance around that one! Anyone who reads Ronan Farrow in Vanity Fair knows that he’s a lot more articulate when he wants to be and it seems to me that all he wanted to do back then was hump his new cable show, won for him after Mia’s bombshell Vanity Fair article in the first place. The MSNBC show was cancelled shortly after the premiere and it wasn’t until last year – when Ronan wanted publicity for his #MeToo inspired, Vanity Fair articles – that he once again renewed his allegations against Woody. As a result, ugly spats have been bubbling across Actors Equity since January, when Dylan Farrow again leveled accusations against Woody Allen in yet another New York Times article. Taking sides, actors Alec Baldwin and Diane Keaton defended Woody while director Judd Apatow condemned Diane Keaton for her support. Actress Hayley Atwell said she won’t work with Woody again and Kate Winslet expressed regret in working with him at all. Greta Gerwig, Mira Sorvino and Timothée Chamalet have all denounced and publicly acknowledged their regret in appearing in films for Woody Allen. Actress Rebecca Hall donated the wages she earned while working for Woody and finally, actor Colin Firth (who?) will never act for Woody again. My prayers have been answered! A production of Woody’s Bullets Over Broadway play was also canceled in Connecticut. The Onion couldn’t resist the obvious satire, with an article, ‘Aspiring Actor Dreams Of One Day Publicly Voicing Regret For Working With Woody Allen.’
Robert B. Weide is a documentary filmmaker that produced and directed the two-part PBS special, Woody Allen: A Documentary that premiered on the American Masters series. Weide later defended Woody in an article in the Daily Beast that may be the most concise and objective opinion on the ‘case’ out there. It preceded Dylan Farrow’s first open letter to the New York Times, and if you read one article on the Woody Allen allegations, other than Dylan and Woody’s own statements, read this one. It provides clear context to the murky debate and offers some inside pool on the story from behind the scenes. Weide recalled that Mia Farrow played both sides of the fence at the Golden Globes in 2013 where Mia gave the show runners full approval for a clip to be rolled at the event – only to denounce it on Twitter immediately after it was shown. Weide makes a convincing case that Mia has been lying about the charges for decades, coaching a young and impressionable Dylan Farrow on what to say at the time of the original accusations. Moses Farrow, Dylan and Ronan’s adopted brother, revealed that Mia coached him as well on what to say – and has defended Woody Allen of the charges in People Magazine.
I have to say that I’m actually a big fan of Ronan Farrow. He’s a far better writer than I’ll ever be and would’ve probably summed up this article about two thousand words ago (without ever having interjected himself once into the conversation) – and that’s the only problem I have with him. In his latest Vanity Fair piece, Ronan gave a tight, detailed account of Donald Trump’s tryst with a former Playboy Playmate, yet all I want to know is: does Ronan ever sing karaoke? His revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s sleazy dealings are certainly eye-opening, but all I care about is what’s Ronan’s favorite color? Frank Sinatra’s favorite color was orange, by the way. When Ronan Farrow visited Stephen Colbert back in 2013, the comedian played Fly Me To The Moon to introduce Ronan’s segment. I’m not alone in my discomfort, folks. Just after Ronan Farrow was born, Woody Allen’s dreary Another Woman, was released and Woody worked out his angst with Mia in a scene where he flips gender roles and speaks his mind as Marion to Mia’s Ken:
Marion: Why have you stopped sleeping with me?
Ken: We are simply going through a less active period, that’s all. Its not uncommon.
Marion: Why? I just want to know why?
Ken: Why don’t we just go to bed.
Marion: There was a time that we were dying to be together.
Ken: Marion, you’re still the most desirable woman that I know.
Marion: But, we won’t make love tonight, because, they’ll be some excuse. I hadn’t realized how much of that had slipped away, until today.
Later in the film, Marion speaks to her father about the loss of her mother and says “But you want nothing around to even remind you of mother?” The great actor John Houseman, playing Marion’s father says, “Well, there are times when even an historian shouldn’t look at the past.”
February 28, 2018
One year into Donald Trump’s presidency and one thing is clear, we know Donald John Trump a lot better now. As a nation, we didn’t quite understand how much of a ‘winner’ Donald Trump really could be. Now we know that the President of the United States is a habitual liar about all that ‘winning,’ but of course that’s just more liberal Fake News according to The Donald. We knew that the president wanted to improve relations with Russia, we just didn’t fully understand that he wanted better relations with Russia because Vladimir Putin has video of him with hookers at the Ritz Moscow. Melania Trump may be a very interesting story line in the ongoing American Apprentice reality show, and at tonight’s State of the Union speech, the President may invite up to 24 guests to attend with the First Lady, so let’s see who shows up! Instead of wasting my time watching Trump lie for another hour, I’ll be watching the Jimmy Kimmel show tonight instead. I should’ve figured The Donald would be sunk by something as trivial as a tryst with a porn star, “who are ya goin’ to believe, me or the lyin’ eyes of the Wall Street Journal?” Donald begs Melania on her (separate) bedroom phone in the White House before she hangs up on him. BDSM with a porn star – while your wife is recovering from childbirth – is just modern presidential, Melania. Get used to it, there’s a LOT more where that came from. As Stormy put it, “Ugh. Here We Go…”
Outside the boudoir, Trump hasn’t fared much better. After his success with the low hanging fruit of a (typical) Republican tax cut, The Donald has petulantly looked for someone else to pick on, while his equal on the world stage, Kim Jong Un, (Do we think of Trump as equal to Putin, Macron, Merkel, Trudeau, Xi, any serious world leader?) outwitted Trump and brought North Korea to the Olympic Games, scuttling Trump’s crazy plan to attack North Korea (holding off the until just after the Olympics, Hitler-style). Trump said recently that he ‘gets along well’ with the man who called him a ‘dotard’ just a few months ago, another nutcase world leader, Un (along with Trump pal and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, currently topping the wacko world-leader charts) clearly bested our dumb president by uniting with the South for the 2018 Games in PeongChang. How dare South Koreans make The Donald look like a dotard! Double dotards! In the meantime, Trump’s stupid swagger surrounding the budget debate has awakened Democratic ‘lions’ Charlie Schumer and Nancy Pelosi back to national prominence, if only for a long weekend, in the ridiculous budget drama, scheduled for reruns in one week, where Trump keeps the audience tuned in for another episode of chaos and dysfunction in Washington.
During the run-up to the election last year, three locals stood out as Trump supporters: my (then) barber, a Rotarian named ‘Peter’ and another guy who’s the son of a contractor who painted TRUMP onto the entire roof of his house. The barber yakked nonstop about Trump during my haircuts and proudly displayed all Trump’s books for his patrons to peruse while enduring their interminably long waits. I haven’t been back to his shop since election day (God forbid I have a MAGA red-hat with a razor in his hand that close to my neck). The Rotarian who voted for Trump is 80-years old and the last time I saw him, I asked him about Trump’s latest outrage and all he had to say was that Trump appointee, football great Jim Brown, was working tirelessly in Chicago to reduce crime in the ‘black community.’ I looked for some evidence of this claim, yet all I found was this:
“I fell in love with [Donald Trump] because he really talks about helping African American, black people and that’s why I’m here,” Brown said at the time. “The graciousness, the intelligence, the reception we got was fantastic.”
Enough said about ‘Peter.’ The last time I heard about the contractor’s kid, he flipped his truck into a ditch at 3AM, according to local court reports. I knew of only one other Trump voter, a woman by the name of ‘Gretchen’ who runs a house-sitting business. After a Facebook spat with a common friend (about Trump’s victory) she’s no longer in our circle of friends. SAD! Honest to God, I personally know of no other American citizen who supports Trump. I come across hundreds of ’Never Trump’ people every week, (Welcome to Massachusetts!) yet as a libertarian-liberal (huh?) ready to weigh the facts, I’ve never seen so few Republicans willing to speak up and support their party’s standard bearer. The standard bearer of the Democratic Party is former president Barack Obama, former editor of the Harvard Law Review, former U.S. Senator and a man capable of speaking in complete sentences – and who doesn’t blurt out hate speech like he’s suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome. Obama traces his roots through Kenya, in Africa, a place that Donald Trump thinks is a ‘shithole.’ Whether Jim Brown admits it or not, our president is a racist in word and deed, just last week, Trump quietly revoked all H2B and J1 visas from Haiti, backing up Trump’s overtly racist policies toward ‘shithole’ countries such as Kenya and Haiti. Over 300 Haitian-Americans walked on Boston City Hall this week to protest the president’s remarks, with protest organizers calling on the Trump administration to re-examine the decision to end Temporary Protected Status for tens of thousands of Haitians, effective this July, 2019.
I went to the same high school as Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, yet I went to an entirely different high school altogether. Matt and Ben were enrolled in the so-called ‘Pilot’ school located on the top floor of the main school building. It was a new program designed for parents who went to PTA meetings and blamed teachers for all their kid’s problems. It was a faddish approach to learning where students referred to their teachers by their first names and sat in desks arranged in circles instead of rows. I was placed in ‘House D’ on the bottom floor of the school – in the basement – where in post-busing Boston, liberal yearning to mix races and cultures meant that this white boy was going to school with far more Haitian boys and girls than Norwegian ones. Boston has one of the largest contingents of Haitian-Americans in America and today, between one to two million people of Haitian descent live in the United States, 60% of whom are American-born.
We had a joke about Haitian kids in Cambridge – all of them had three jobs. All of their parents had three jobs and so did all of their brothers and sisters. Their grandparents only had two jobs because they were old. That Haitians are too hard working was the worst insult that we could hurl (and we were very creative insulting different races and religions, I assure you) was an indication to me that these are good people, by and large. Full disclosure, we also said that Haitians smelled like lotion and they were so black that they were they were actually purple – or ‘blurple.’ If black is beautiful, then Haitians and Africans are the most beautiful people in the world. Massachusetts-born (and Haitian-American) W.E.B. Du Bois:
From my childhood I have been impressed with the beauty of Negro skin-color and astonished at the blindness of whites who cannot see it.
After the Brownsville Affair and the Atlanta Riots of 1906 where 25 blacks were killed by an angry mob of 10,000 whites, Du Bois urged blacks to withdraw their support from the Republican Party because Teddy Roosevelt didn’t support black folks in the aftermath. African-Americans had been loyal to the Republican Party since the time of Abraham Lincoln, for reasons even the stupidest GOP hack would know, and African-Americans were lost to the Republicans ever since Du Bois’ passionate argument. I’d bet that Donald Trump’s grandaddy was a Booker T. Washington man in the famous Atlanta Compromise debate – pitting Du Bois against Washington in the most important question for black Americans of the day – teach oneself to fish versus letting others fish for them. Du Bois wanted to bring the black race up with the leadership of the top 10% of the black American population, educated as an elite corps to guide the race, envisioned through his co-founding of the NAACP in 1901. The dream Du Bois put forward in his great 1903 book, the Souls of Black Folk, would be that the black race, if educated and nurtured, would send out into the world 10% of the very best in every field – from the sciences, politics, education and the arts. Based on the last one hundred years of American history, in positions of influence and power possessed by African-Americans across the nation, it speaks to the overwhelming success of the argument won by Du Bois at the Atlanta Compromise. The next guiding vision for the NAACP, leading the organization from 1917 until 1930, was author, educator, lawyer, diplomat and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson, another great man to trace his origins through ‘shithole’ Haiti.
Haiti was born of a slave rebellion, the second oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere. After the French got their asses kicked for first time in 1802, they finally figured out these black people were not to be fucked around with and in 1805, they banned slavery and left Haiti for the Haitians. A great location, just two hours by plane from Florida, insured that Haiti would suffer for decades as a satellite dependency to the United States. From Benjamin Harrison and Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, US-led military incursions were more often viewed as signs of colonialism than friendly neighbor policy. It’s no wonder, as Native Americans had before, that the Haitians would be suspicious of of the motivations and intentions of white people. It all fell apart for the dream of a black republic, with slavery shortly taking hold even among Haitians, and the yawning chasm that lies between the Dominican Republic and Haiti as a cultural wall has never come down.
The Haitians I went to high school with were the children of those who escaped from their homeland, a country that had become untenable, and although described as a ‘shithole’ by our president, most of the Haitians that I met and got to know were educated, enterprising Catholics. The Tonton Macoute, the paramilitary organization born under dictator ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier (who was fully supported by the U.S. government) laid the groundwork for a Haiti today that is at once a paradise and a hell. In the war weary years of the past century: Haitian President Leconte was blown up by a bomb in 1912; in 1913, President Auguste was poisoned; in 1915, while returning from a massacre of his political enemies, President Sam was impaled on an iron fence in front of the French Embassy and his body was torn to pieces by an angry mob. With this rich backstory, ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier was also known to enjoy watching torture through a peephole behind his desk and was an adherent of the religion of Voodoo, and strangely, his son and successor as President of Haiti, Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ (isn’t that cute?) Duvalier bought his ‘getaway condo’ from – you guessed it – Donald Trump when he was deposed and expelled from Haiti in 1983.
I visited the island of Haiti last year, or ‘Hispaniola’ as Christopher Columbus called it when he landed on the ‘New World’ in 1492. The other side of the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic, has also been a pawn of U.S. interests, most notably the brutal military dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, which was a direct result of policies beginning under the racist, empirial Roosevelt Corollary and ‘Good Neighbor’ Policies. I stayed in a five-star resort in the DR last year, where the air-conditioned courtesy van whisked us past the abject poverty and street crime to our gated resort, staffed with a beefy security team that would rival any American small town police force. Haiti and the Dominican Republic have been pulled by the orbit of the United States for almost three hundred years and Western democracy is itself as much to blame for Haiti and the DR being such a ‘shithouse’ (as Tom Cotton and David Perdue vaguely, politely remembered the president uttering in the so-called ‘conference’ that Trump’s staff made certain would go off the rails).
Trump’s unfitness for office – especially his disturbing lack of knowledge about American history and democracy – lead many to believe that he’s a complete and total moron. His recent mental exam, which he insisted on taking, (who the fuck does that?) not only gave him ‘cover’ to prove that he’s the smartest U.S. President ever, according to him, it also gave him the ‘certificate’ he needs of his famously stated genius. The test administered by his ‘doctor,’ the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, is about as worthless as a degree from Trump University. It’s usually given to first-year high school students to determine which ones need to go on the occupational education track. Further full disclosure here, I once took the WISK-R test as a favor to a (very cute) young Harvard Graduate School of Education Ph.D. candidate many years ago. During her opening intro to the exam, she told me to relax and not to worry about the test and that no one will ever see the results. She thanked me and said that it was helping her a lot by taking the time to submit to the session. She then said that she would be asking me about a hundred questions and that I should give her the answers verbally, “For example, when I say that the sun rises in the…” I stared at her in bewilderment, unable to figure out what the hell to say. She continued, hesitatingly “So, when I say the sun rises in the blank, and sets in the blank, you say…” That, amazingly, didn’t help me. After an agonizing few ticks on the wall clock, in the interest of simply moving things along, I said, “West?” She looked at me as if I said “I pissed myself.” “Obviously, you’re nervous,” she offered and politely moved on to the first question. At least I didn’t guess North.
Donald Trump’s weird Tweets that he’s a genius have been roundly ridiculed by most regular intelligence people, yet perhaps he’s revealed his true genius for all the nation to enjoy. In the early Roman Republic, military leaders often consulted the many genii deity (latin base word for the English word genius, meaning overflowing, bountiful, lucky, WINNING) that would then be offered to lower class men, families and local communities in their legions. Italian crossroads ‘churches’ – where these genii were venerated in Rome and the suburbs – were primarily administered by freedman and slaves, and what is known today as ‘May Day,’ the celebration of the fruits of labor on the first of May every year, is a direct descendant of the very first Western festival celebrated to idolize the genii at all the little crossroads churches across the Roman Empire. Of course, the architecture of what we think of today as parish or congregational churches was born in these pre-Christian ‘churches’ as well. There’s been a lot of kibbitzing about The Donald channeling Caligula, Nero or even Augustus lately and I have to throw another Roman leader into the mix: Tarquin The Proud.
Titus Livius or ‘Livy’ was a Roman historian born of the same generation as Jesus Christ. His life’s calling was to “Preserve the memory of the deeds of the world’s preeminent nation,” which stood as the only Western superpower after the decline of Greece in 146 BC. The history of the Roman Empire stretches back some 800 years before Livy’s time, where mythical brothers Romulus and Remus, after arriving in the area of the seven hills, disagreed about which hill upon which to build the great City of Rome. Romulus preferred the Palatine Hill and Remus the Aventine Hill – and when they couldn’t resolve the dispute through dialogue – they sought the gods’ approval through a contest of augury, or divination. Romulus later killed Remus and went on to found Rome, its government, institutions, military and religious traditions – and reigned as the first King of Rome. The ancient history of Western Civilization is the history of Greek and Roman Civilization, so an understanding of the underpinnings of liberal democracy demand a reading of the great, epic histories – yet famed historians such as Herotodus, Thucidides and Livy didn’t have Google and Wikipedia to access on their research into the foundations of ancient Western history, and their accounts are weakened by inaccuracies of described events recounted in other historian’s work. The writing of Livy, however, stands as a first-hand account of Augustinian Roman history – yet also serves as a road map to the true, empirical history of the Roman Empire.
As Geoffrey of England, Livy dedicated his life to the singular work of preserving the history of his people as his vocation. Geoffrey was a Christian abbot, author of the The History of the Kings of Britain in 1136, where Livy – a contemporary of the charismatic man in Jerusalem – was a disciple of Jupiter and the many domestic ‘genii’ or spiritual guides which were central to Roman life and culture. The first Roman Consul, Brutus, founder of the Roman Republic after he betrayed his tyrannical uncle King Tarquin, was a possible founder of the Roman Republic. Brutus undertook the mission of convincing the king’s legion of bodyguards, the king’s Secret Service if you will, to apprehend Tarquin and banish him to prison. Shakespeare’s Julius Cesar, where ‘Et tu, Brute?’ put meaning to the word ‘brute’ by his participation in the most famous knife fight in history, was a direct descendant of the original Brutus. Livy’s account provides the original ‘modis operandi’ for the murder of Caesar: the rape of Lucretia, and Shakespeare’s 1593 narrative poem, The Rape of Lucrece, explores the mythical theme of the birth of Rome, directly quoting from Livy’s accounts. British fascination with the last King of Rome, Tarquin, has persisted to this day, with the Urban Dictionary describing a Tarquin as:
Used for a pompous little posh boy who strolls around ‘uni’ with wavy hair and wearing a Jack Wills shirt and [driving] a Gillet. Daddy has obviously sent this little weasel to private school and has spoilt him throughout his life. Looks down to the ‘dregs’ of society (basically everyone not dressed in Jack Wills clothing) and turns his nose up at them whilst laughing at what their probable and less unfortunate upbringing was like.
Sounds like someone we all know. Anyway, King Tarquin was an ass-wipe because he killed his mom (in the long tradition of royal matricide, or regicide) as well as killing a bunch of the leading opposition Senators. He didn’t even have the tyrannical energy to replace them – leaving their seats vacant – relegating the earliest Roman Senate weakened and neutered. But this wasn’t enough to incite the Roman people (and his ambitious, surly nephew Brutus) to revolt against him and the Tarzian monarchy, after all, King Tarquin began building the first sewers for the greater good of Rome! No, it was the infamous Rape of Lucrecia, also described in Ovid’s narrative poem Fasti, where the son of Roman King Lucius Tarquinus (or Tarquin), also known as Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud). His son, Sextus Tarquinius, heir to the throne and the infamous rapist of the story, because in 509 BC, Sextus drew his sword against Lucretia’s neck and forced himself upon her. The wife of Collatinus, one of the king’s rich and powerful benefactors, Lucretia revealed the evil deed to her husband and promptly killed herself. In his maniacal rage, King Tarquin had her body paraded through the Roman Forum – and this irrational act incited a full-scale revolt against the royal family – led by one of their own, Lucius Junius Brutus. The First Consul of Rome, Brutus banished the royal family forever in Italy, ushering in the foundation of the great and powerful Roman Republic. From the Encyclopedia Brittanica:
The Etruscan cities of Caere, Veii, and Tarquinii were defeated by Rome at the Battle of Silva Arsia. Tarquin, whose family was of Etruscan (Northern Italian) origin, finally allied with Lars Porsenna, also an Etruscan who retook Rome. This led to a Roman defeat, but not to Tarquin’s restoration. Finally he roused his son-in-law, Octavius Mamilius, dictator of the Latin League, to fight Rome at Lake Regillus. After the defeat of the Latins there, Tarquin fled to the Greek tyrant Aristodemus of Cumae.
The text of a treaty between Tarquinius Superbus and the city of Gabii, just outside Rome, was preserved in the First Temple of Sancus in Rome until at least the time of Christ. If Tarquin did exist, his genii must have all been deranged. So perhaps Donald Trump really is a true genius, represented by the Roman genius Mania (or Lares), with Trump embodying this deranged, erratic genii – figuring out a way to get elected Consul in Chief of the great American Empire – all by deceit and guile. The bombshell report that Trump was ready, willing and able to sack Bob Mueller (of the ongoing Robert Swan Mueller III Investigation) should indicate to all that the president has finally gone mad. He’s even admitted that he’s affected by some sort of ‘genius’ that can only be described as a ‘mania.’ If Bill Clinton had fired Investigator (and hypocritical asshole) Ken Starr back in 1998, I’d have supported his impeachment.
January 29, 2018
N.B. Furthest disclosure, I dropped out my high school because I thought it was a shithole. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck went on to become A-list celebrities, loved by millions of adoring fans. The moral of the story? Parents, make sure you attend all those PTA meetings!
Whatever the ring of spies that entrapped the Trump Organization ends up being called, this so-called ‘Russian meddling’ plot will have some damned difficult names to pronounce when all is said and done. As former President George W. Bush used to like to do, I suggest a few nicknames to keep track of all these characters, and we’ll start with ‘The Professor,’ Joe Mifsud. He dangled Olga Polonskaya to the Trump dupes, calling her ‘Putin’s niece’ to entice the star fuckers in the Trump ‘brain trust.’ Olga was actually a dupe herself, apparently only Facebook friends with ‘The Professor’ Mifsud – who flew (on a whim!) to New York with Olga to attend a shady meeting at Trump Tower with a bunch of guys in shiny suits. In what the Papadopoulos Complaint described as a ‘Female Russian National’ attending the infamous June, 2016 Trump Tower meeting, The 31-year-old lives in St. Petersburg and apparently graduated from St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. Her Russian Facebook page says she works for a wine import company, but there’s no picture of her, so we can’t see if she looks anything like old Uncle Putin. Also apparently, Olga Vinogradova was her maiden name, and the New York Times has reports that her name is now Polonskaya, so I don’t know what the fuck to think. Let’s call her ‘Olga.’
The other ‘carrot’ offered to the Trump dupes was the so-called ‘Crown Prosecutor of Russia,’ Natalia Veselnitskaya, who said that they only talked up the Magnitsky Act, before Donald Jr. stupidly blabbed about the real reason for the meeting: dirt on Hillary! Anyone know who Magnitsky was? He was murdered in jail after he revealed bad stuff about Putin (while doing his job as an accountant) and the U.S. placed sanctions on Russia as a result. We’ll call Natalia, (while wishing her name was Natasha) ‘The Crown Prosecutor.’ Then there’s Rinat Akhmetshin, the shady ‘lobbyist’ who attended the Trump Tower meeting as well, taking copious notes. This one I’ll call ‘The Spy,’ because Akhmetshin is a ‘former’ Russian counter-intelligence officer, by his own account. Back to Moscow in 2013, the Agalarov father/son team, promoters of the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow (all mixed up with hookers and other blackmail-able shit) we’ll call ‘The Russian Trumps.’ Then we have Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch who received daily briefings from the campaign from Paul Manafort in exchange for – what exactly? He’s ‘The Olegarch,’ oh, and there’s also another Russian businessman Sergei Millian, who once said about Trump, “He likes Russia because he likes beautiful Russian ladies. He likes talking to them, of course. And he likes to be able to make lot of money with Russians, yes, correct.” Millian is head of the so-called ‘Russian American Chamber of Commerce (RACC),’ and he insists the organization has nothing to do with the Russian government. Millian was a BIG source in the mysterious Steele Dossier, even though he denies that he’s the nattering nabob that forwarded the most salacious accusations. His real name is Siarhai Kukuts, but who cares, we’ll call him ‘Source E.’ He also appears in the ‘Paradise Papers,’ revealing Russian government-linked VTB Bank and Gazprom among his organization’s ‘angel’ investors. A Russian named ‘Yuri’ is Yuri Milner, a high-tech billionaire and an early investor in Twitter – plopping down a whopping $800 million on Twitter in 2011. Nice play! Along with his business partner Alisher Usmanov (a close associate of Vladimir Putin) they paid $200 million for a 2% stake of Facebook in 2009 and sold it for $525 mil just four years later, in 2013. Another nice play, but they probably should have held that one.
Eric Trump’s Georgetown bro, Boris Epshteyn, is an interesting character, born in Mother Russia, a friend and confidant of the ‘other Trump kid,’ Boris had a Trump love fest with Bill Maher that you gotta see to believe, and for that reason, he’s ‘Boris Badanov.’ This is fun! Felix Sater is ‘The Rat,’ who did time for stabbing a guy in the face with a margarita glass. Any questions? Okay, moving on, Viktor Khrapunov, a former government minister (and mayor in Kazakhstan) is ‘Borat,’ (your welcome) and Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian foreign minister, is ‘Russian Mike.’ Sergei Ryabkov, another Russian foreign minister is ‘The Contact,’ because he contacted the Trump campaign, by his own admission, during the campaign. Jared Kushner decided to ‘pass’ on an offer of help from the Russians because it didn’t strike Jared as particularly plausible, warning the email chainers that they should be careful who they trust. Kushner’s attorney Abbe Lowell, the lawyer who successfully defended Bill Clinton against impeachment in 1998, said Monday,
If you look at the content of these emails, he’s the hero. He’s the one who’s saying there shouldn’t be any contact with foreign officials or foreign entities. That’s what the Senate Judiciary Committee should pay attention to and not create some sort of partisan gotcha game.
Some hero! A hero would have done the right thing and gone straight to the FBI to set up these bastards in a sting! It seems Kushner rarely does the right thing. Abbe Lowell would go on to say, “In my communications with the Senate Judiciary Committee, I said, ‘Take these documents, and let’s talk about what else is relevant. They jumped the gun to make a media event.” In other words, the Kushner team said to Mueller, “Hey, here’s a few documents directly related to Russian meddling, let’s see if you find any more and we’ll talk then!” Does Lowell even hear himself? Mueller’s team caught his client in a lie of omission, then Lowell calls it a ‘media event’ because the committee is using it as leverage? That’s their fucking job! At least lawyers are paid to lie, and Abbe is well paid. Trump campaign officials handed over “communications with Sergei Millian, copied to Mr. Kushner,” that Jared had failed to disclose voluntarily. Kushner also received an email that discussed ‘RE: Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite’ (the email subject header, I shit you not) from Alexander Torshin, the deputy head of Russia’s central bank, according to NBC.
The Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, is obviously ‘The Ambassador’ in our continuing saga and should be played in the movie by the versatile character actor Toby Jones – who played ‘The Tinker’ in Tomas Alfredson’s 2011 film adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Lesser players on the Russian stage, and also of great interest to grand juries in Virginia, New York, Maryland and elsewhere, include: Arkady Dvorkovich; Shlomo Weber; Ivan Timofeev; Andrey Baranov; Igor Sechin; Randa Kassis and Dmitry Peskov among an expanding list of difficult to pronounce names.
We haven’t had such interest in spying and espionage since the end of the Cold War, so it’s a real shot in the arm to the genre, as far as I’m concerned. Spy novels and films have a largely male audience and most spy movies are eye-rollers to wives and girlfriends everywhere. A few films try to play up the romance and exotic scenery along with the complicated plots, like the cheesy Bond films and Hitchcock’s wonderful North By Northwest (1959), but for my money, Hitchcock’s 39 Steps (1935) and Notorious (1946) are the best examples of spy movies, with precise casting and direction, shot in beautiful black and white. Nazis and Russians have a monopoly as spies since as long as anyone can remember, and either Germans during the world wars or Russians after, spy vs. spy has been a fairly black and white game.
Donald Trump is a big movie buff, once sitting down with the intelligent, missed by millions, Robert Osborne on TCM’s guest programmer series, currently featuring David Letterman and Alec Baldwin. Trump’s favorite film, Citizen Kane, was inspired by the huge blowhard William Randolph Hearst – more on that in my next post – and it turns out that The Donald and I actually like a lot of the same movies. I bet we would get along fine if we only talked sports and movies instead of politics. Unfortunately, he’s the President of the United States. I relish with anticipation all the unwritten books and undirected movies that will be made about the Trump Administration, and this ‘Russian thing’ is a central plot in the mystery. I hope it plays out like the Coen Brothers’ funny and imaginative Burn After Reading (2008), with Trump the bumbling hero versus their latest Cold War spy effort, Bridge of Spies (2015), a collaboration produced and directed by Stephen Spielberg dramatizing the ‘Hollow Nickel Case’ and the high stakes prisoner exchange of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers with captured Russian spy Rudolph Abel.
Abel was convicted of the same charge that Paul Manafort’s attorney says are ‘old and never prosecuted’ and well, here the ‘old’ FARA charges were concurrent with a criminal conspiracy charge, in addition to conspiracy to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government, without notification to the Secretary of State. On October 25, 1957, a U.S. jury found Abel and his accomplices guilty on all counts and they received three sentences to be served concurrently, equaling 45 years of hard time. Perhaps Manafort might also be available for a prisoner exchange with Russia for, say, Russian turncoat Colonel Alexander Poteyev? I’m sure the U.S. government would love to catch up with ‘ol Alex.
We all learn about Benedict Arnold in grade school, his name synonymous with the word ‘traitor.’ Prior to the Revolutionary War, Arnold dueled with a British sea captain in South America who called him a “damned Yankee, destitute of good manners or those of a gentleman.” The captain won the argument, but lost the duel, apologizing for his heated remarks while tending to his gaping leg wound. Arnold later famously tried to hand West Point over to the English and then fled to the Redcoats to lead them in future battles against his former brothers-in-arms. Benedict Arnold will forever be a byword for treason and treachery.
Some of our earliest, most legendary heroes were spies. Nathan Hale, caught behind enemy lines in New York City during the American Revolution and executed just after uttering his famous line, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.’ Hale’s last words were paraphrased – inaccurately – from a report on his death the Boston Chronicle published six years after his execution. He actually said, “I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged, that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service.” I like the Reader’s Digest version better.
We also know the story of the heroic Harriet Tubman, Union spy among her many history-making feats, and yet another African-American hero (and spy) known to us only as ‘Cato‘ may have done more to promote what would become known as abolition more than any man in history. As part of the famous Culper spy ring, Cato may have saved George Washington’s life more than once during the Revolutionary War, and was credited by his former ‘master’ Hercules Mulligan by introducing the first society to end slavery in America. Other famous Confederate spies include Rose O’Neal Greenhow, prominent Richmond, Virginia socialite and spy credited by Confederate President Jefferson Davis with ensuring the South’s victory at the First Battle of Bull Run in July, 1861. The value and effectiveness of spies has been obvious long since, highlighted by the most common punishment for spying: death by hanging.
Pinkerton Security was born as a counter-intelligence network in Washington, D.C., with Alan Pinkerton sending undercover agents to infiltrate the Confederate capital of Richmond at the outbreak of Civil War. A spy associated with John Wilkes Booth – Sarah Slater – was extremely valuable to Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon, (impressed by her beauty, french-speaking skills and bravery). Slater was the granddaughter of a Revolutionary War veteran, and during the Civil War, began carrying messages for the Confederacy, and although she only served as a spy for a few months, managed to work her way into John Wilkes Booth’s inner circle, occasionally staying at co-conspirator Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse in Washington D.C.. Lost to history, Sarah Slater, as many spies before and since, vanished without a trace.
By WWI, the infamous German spy Mata Hari (executed by a French by firing squad) offered up her body to enter the shady world of ‘spies among us,’ especially those that are beautiful and horny. Spying for the Good ‘Ol USA during WWI, the femme-fatale (and founding member of the Society of Women Geographers) Marguerite Harrison and the estimable General Julius Klein worked for the good guys versus the Imperial German war machine, however it really wasn’t until WWII that spies, and spy fiction, really got into gear.
We start with the odd cases of Julia Child, TV chef and foodie icon who spied for the OSS (precursor to the CIA) during WWII, going on to marry her sweetheart – also an OSS spy; and Moe Berg: a Princeton and Columbia Law School-educated, multilingual Boston Red Sox catcher in the summer – and U.S. spy in the off season, gathering information on the Nazi nuclear program while barnstorming in Europe. Other famous spies include the Rosenbergs, of course, and the meek Klaus Fuchs, and the meeker Ted Hall, the Russian-born spy who gave the Soviets the blueprints to the Little Boy in perhaps the world’s greatest espionage coup. The Manhattan Project bore a slew of Russian spies, names like David Greenglass; Jones Orin York; Bill Weisband; Harry Gold; Alger Hiss; Whitaker Chambers; Nathan Silvermaster (of the Silvermaster spy ring); Henry Dexter White; Alexander Koral; Frank Coe; Jacob Golos; Charles Kramer; Laughlan Currie; Victor Perlo; J. Peters; John Abt and the sneaky Elizabeth Bentley, who confessed to everything and exposed the entire Soviet plot after her defection. Lee Harvey Oswald said in his only public statement, after being arrested in Dallas, “I want that attorney in New York, Mr. Abt. I don’t know him personally but I know about a case that he handled some years ago.”
The whole ‘atom spies‘ case was blown open by a few cryptanalysts working at Arlington Hall, Good ‘Ol USA’s version of England’s Bletchley Park, the famed breakers of the Nazi ENIGMA code. Meredith Gardner and a few intrepid linguists and mathematicians, after making short work of the Japanese government’s diplomatic PURPLE cipher, got to work on coded Soviet diplomatic cables from New York to Moscow during the war, over 200,000 intercepted in 1946 alone. These unsung heroes of WWII figured out that the Soviets had made a big mistake, by repeating identical passages of text, opening up the ‘unbreakable’ code to solution. The VENONA project revealed many Russian atomic spies and was a huge success, and by May, 1947, Lieutenant Richard Hallock, working on Soviet diplomatic codes (and who first discovered that the Soviets were reusing pages) with Genevieve Feinstein, Cecil Phillips, Frank Lewis, Frank Wanat, and Lucille Campbell, went on to break into a huge amount of Russian ‘trade’ traffic. Gardner then used this info to crack the KGB codes:
Gardner read a decrypt that implied the Soviets ran an agent with access to sensitive information from U.S. Army Air Corps Major William Ludwig Ullmann. It became apparent to Gardner that he was reading KGB messages showing massive Soviet espionage in the United States. Meredith later related how a young pipe-smoking Englishman named Philby used to regularly visit him and peer over his shoulder and admire the progress he was making. Gardner “was appalled at the fact that his discovery had led, almost inevitably, to the electric chair, and felt that the Rosenbergs, while guilty, ought to have been given clemency.”
Meredith Gardner died on August 9, 2002, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, at the age of 89 – a true American hero. By the way, the Russian code name that Gardner revealed for Washington D.C. was Carthage, a Phoenician city-state which gained independence around 650 BC, and by the beginning of the 5th century BC, Carthage had become the commercial center of the West Mediterranean. An oligarchy marked with a few democratic social reforms, a code name for Moscow today could easily be Carthage.
The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service or ‘SVR’ is the successor to the foreign agent branch of the KGB under Soviet leadership. Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent and the President of Russia, is a card-carrying member of this clandestine class. He oversaw the Russian Federation’s transitional baby-steps from the KGB to the current GRU (army) and SVR (diplomatic) clandestine services, and as President of Russia since 1999, he directly oversaw the Russian ‘Illegals’ program in the United States. Looking suspiciously like so many Russian spy operations under Stalin and Khrushchev before, the ‘Illegals Program‘ was blown by Russian double-agent Colonel Alexander Poteyov, and on July 9, 2010, the Russian spies were busted. Anna Chapman and others tried to compromise the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton for two years, which was set into motion many years earlier. Anna’s ex-husband, Alex Chapman, told the London Telegraph,
When I saw that she had been arrested on suspicion of spying it didn’t come as much of a surprise to be honest. Towards the end of our marriage she became very secretive, going for meetings on her own with ‘Russian friends’, and I guess it might have been because she was in contact with the Russian government.
The FBI tried to warn us back in 2010, saying that these Russians were a ‘new breed’ of spy, revealing that we were entering a new arena of ‘political warfare,’ building on Russia’s nearly century of experience in espionage. Since 1919, the Comintern (or Communist International) set into operation hundreds of plots to discredit and slander Western leaders and undermine democratic elections worldwide. They trained agents for infiltration into the capitalist West with the purpose of advancing Marxist ideology and sewing doubt about social democracy. America has done this as well, of course, advancing Western ideology and democratization around the world, and yes, we have committed some pretty heinous acts in the defense of our liberty since 1776. I’ll leave that discussion to America’s critics, for now. Donald Trump, when asked by Bill O’Reilly in February if he was repelled by Putin’s record of human rights abuses and the remarkably short life spans of (good) Russian investigative reporters under his leadership, Trump retorted dismissively, “We have a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?” Nice. What the ‘illegals’ plot reveals is that unlike the United States, a free and open democracy where we have always revealed wrongdoing through commission after commission since our first days a a nation, the former Soviet Union, or Russia, has continued to deal from the bottom of the deck without so much as a slap on the wrist. Since the founding of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1991, Russia has been an Autocracy.
Within the past ten years, Russia planted spies among the Democratic Party and specifically, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The Obama Administration made short work of the plot, with the FBI exposing the smokin’ hot Russian spy from England, Anna Chapman, before she could spring her trap. She was the bait, the Mata Hari if you will, prepared by her handlers in Moscow to trap a particular Obama Administration official in a standard ‘honey pot’ arrangement, cooked up to embarrass Obama after it was clear that he wasn’t going to play ball with Putin. In another part of the plot, a big-time Hillary Clinton donor and Democratic big-wig was targeted the dupe. The whole thing was handled very quietly and ‘in house’ by U.S. intelligence agencies, but the British tabloids had a field day, revealing Chapman and her 10 co-conspirators, charged with (surprise!) FARA violations. They couldn’t be charged with anything else, because there was no evidence that any part of their plot succeeded – except for the ‘Trump piece’ that may have emerged last year. According to the complaint, Chapman used a laptop computer to transfer intelligence to another laptop computer, operated by another spy for the Russian SVC, from a Starbucks on 47th Avenue in New York City and a Barnes & Noble on Warren. “They’re not all sneaking around in capes and floppy hats.” said CIA analyst Peter Earnest recently, ‘It’s a carefully executed influence campaign, and might be more like lobbying and fundraising than what we traditionally think of as espionage.” While some, like Anna Chapman, were more active, others were doing little more than low-level networking and information gathering in the final years – not unusual in a long-term influence campaign. Current Prime Minister of Russia, (then) President Dmitry Medvedev bestowed the highest state award on Chapman during a Kremlin ceremony in 2010 where (then) Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (who served as a KGB agent in East Germany in the 1980s) met with the agents and sang patriotic songs with them over toasts of Stolichnaya.
Before the Berlin Wall went up, on November 10, 1958, Nikita Khrushchev issued to the West an ultimatum to withdraw from Berlin. Shortly after that, President Eisenhower and Khrushchev met at Camp David and talked turkey while negotiating over a few days and made real progress toward peace. Khrushchev reportedly came away thinking that a deal was possible over Berlin and they agreed to continue the negotiations at a summit in Paris in May, 1960. However, the Paris Peace Summit that was to resolve the Berlin problem was cancelled after the fallout from Gary Powers’ failed U-2 spy flight on May 1, 1960. A year later, the Berlin Crisis of 1961 brought East and West to the brink of World War III, where the legendary U.S. Army General Lucius D. Clay, John F. Kennedy’s Special Advisor in West Berlin, faced down the Russians as if he were Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper from Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant Dr. Strangelove (1964). From October 27, 1961 until October 28th, American and Russian troops lined up against each other across the Brandenberg Gate, and as per standing orders, both battalions of tanks were loaded with live munitions and both sides’ commanders had issued orders to fire if fired upon. At that time, Robert F. Kennedy secretly negotiated with Russian spy Georgi Bolshakov, a Soviet operative under journalist cover posted to Washington, D.C. and the Kennedys used this ‘back channel’ to Moscow to diffuse the volatile standoff, and then they used Bolshakov again to set up the successful Vienna Summit in June, 1961, which was in turn scuttled by the Cuban Missile Crisis. It seems that every time the Russians talked peace, weird things began to happen – just like last year.
I’ve always been partial to actor Michael Caine. Born Maurice Mickelwhite, Jr., Caine was born to play a real spy, most notably the middle-class Harry Palmer, the workaday British spy who resented the high hat aristocrats in charge of London’s Foreign Office in author Len Deighton’s spy novels. In movies like The IPCRESS File (1965), Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967), Caine delivered that unmistakable, understated British sense of duty and honor, portrayed best by stalwart actors such as Alec Guinness, Robert Shaw and Laurence Olivier. Later, in 1987’s The Fourth Protocol, based on the Fredrick Forsyth book, Caine matched wits with a Russian spy played by Pierce Brosnan in one of the best roles delivered in either actor’s career.
Kevin Costner, before he was famous, was only known as the ‘dead guy’ – his character committed suicide in The Big Chill, providing the plot device for the film, and he is never shown in 1983’s Best Screenplay winner. In his film No Way Out (1987) with Gene Hackman – spoiler alert (thirty years after the movie premiere) – Costner was revealed as the Russian sleeper spy at the end of the movie. This extremely clever casting, with Costner remembered as the Western sheriff archetype Wyatt Earp in Silverado (1986) and starring as the squeaky-clean Eliot Ness in The Untouchables (1987) in his previous two films, provided a great twist – that Costner was the Russian spy known only as ‘Yuri’ all along.
Yuri Shvets was a Major in the KGB during the 1980’s and from 1985 to 1987 worked in the Washington D.C. ‘rezidentura’ (residence) of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, the predecessor of the current SVR, and may have been the inspiration for the character. Costner’s Yuri, working as a double-agent for the Russians, is put in charge of finding a Russian mole, implicated in a political murder with a faint Polaroid image of Costner, himself, providing the film’s MacGuffin. Another famous Russian spy named ‘Yuri’ was Yuri Nosenko, who arrived at the CIA’s doorstep a scant two weeks after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. To this day, there is significant debate in U.S. intelligence circles about the truth behind Nosenko’s ‘defection’ to the West in 1963. Yuri offered up that he was a former KGB agent with direct knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald’s connections to Soviet intelligence, and said that no connection existed between Oswald and the KGB. He was kept in isolation and interrogated by the FBI for three solid years and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, after reading a book about the Nosenko affair in 2007, expressed serious concerns about who was behind the Kennedy assassination.
An unsung hero in the world of American counter-espionage is a man by the name of William G. Sebold, who was a German-born, naturalized American citizen who, like Cary Grant in North By Northwest, was an unwitting player in the Cold War who tried to do the right thing. After visiting Germany before WWII, Sebold was confronted by Nazi thugs who threatened him and made him pledge to spy against his adopted country. Sebold immediately went to the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, unlike EVERYBODY in the Trump campaign, and told them what had happened. In one of the greatest counter-espionage stings in American history, Sebold set up dozens of other co-opted German spies, unraveling the famous Duquesne Spy Ring.
A word here about The Americans and the rant in my last post about movie sequels, and how awful they usually are. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) was a good sequel, I’ve been recently reminded, yet I’ll stick to my guns: sequels usually suck. The long form TV series format, begun with David Chase and HBO’s success with the groundbreaking The Sopranos, has changed the game in the entertainment business. The quality and production associated with some of these film series are as good as it gets, and some of these shows will stand among the greatest movie franchises of all time. The Americans, a complex and hard-to-tell story – set during the Reagan years – is a fine docudrama that shows how little has changed with the standard Russian-trained spy. They are capable of offering up their own children to the Russian Federation, to raise them as little baby spies, created in a sham marriage of spies, hatched by a commiserat of spies working just outside St. Petersburg, Russia.
Ramón Mercader, the Soviet spy who assassinated Leon Trotsky in 1940, reversed the standard Russian ‘honey pot’ arrangement, having the suave, debonair Mercado seduce the (butt ugly) American intellectual Sylvia Ageloff from Brooklyn. A trusted friend of the deposed Trotsky in Paris (founder of the Red Army, Trotsky was expelled from Russia in 1929), Ageloff was Mercader’s dupe after he assumed the identity ‘Jacques Mornard,’ supposedly the son of a Belgian diplomat, who followed Ageloff to New York with plans to marry her. He then ‘broke up’ with her shortly thereafter and headed to Mexico City, a location where Leon Trotsky was rumored to be hiding. The dupe Ageloff dutifully followed her (base) instincts, and lead Mercader directly to the archenemy of Joseph Stalin, where he promptly plunged an ice axe into Trotsky’s head, killing him. While in jail awaiting trail for the murder, Ramón Mercader was awarded the Order of Lenin by Stalin in appreciation for his service to the Motherland. The story was recently made into a movie shot in Barcelona, Spain and Mexico City titled ‘El Elegido‘ (2015) or, The Chosen.
The recently released Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the original Blade Runner, was based on the book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Recently, non-traditional film studios such as HBO Pictures; FX; Netflix; Showtime Originals, you name it – have handled the the idea of the sequel, or follow-up, much better than the traditional Hollywood studios. The Amazon Studios-produced The Man in the High Castle (2015-present) is a great example of the high quality of these new long form films. Based on Philip K. Dick’s Man Booker prize-winning, first novel published in 1963. The book imagines a dystopian outcome to WWII, with Nazi Germany using the ‘Heisenberg Device’ (or an atomic bomb) to wipe Washington D.C. off the map, thus winning the war. An uneasy piece then exists between victors Japan and Germany, where the United States is carved up into three zones. The Pacific zone is controlled by the Japanese and the Eastern zone is controlled by the Germans – but the middle zone is neutral – and this neutral zone, a kind of Orwellian ‘Wild West,’ is where the last true Americans have escaped from being chased down, tortured and beaten into submission in this alternate reality set in 1963.
The British actor Rufus Sewell delivers a fantastic portrayal of the Nazi In charge of the German Eastern zone, headquartered in New York City. Philip K. Dick cleverly replaces the United States and Russia with Germany and Japan in this recast Cold War scenario in which Germany and Japan find themselves approaching something like Thirteen Days, Robert F. Kennedy’s book which recounts the United States response to the provocation of Russian nuclear weapons in Cuba in 1962. In the Amazon film series, we have a scenario where Germany and Japan enter territory that the United States and Russia never entered – tactical nuclear war. Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear power has never been used as a weapon against populations. They were used to kill innocent people, yes, during the conflagration of WWII, and the idea that the Nazis could acquire such a weapon drove the scientists at the Manhattan Project, and all civilized societies in general, to defeat the Nazis in 1945. The war was held in the balance in 1943 and to imagine an America in 1963 – defeated and partitioned – is healthy medicine in the Trump era.
The treatment of the Japanese in the series is handled far more delicately than the Germans – Nazism can easily be separated from the idea of the modern, democratized German. The old order in Japan is less easy to explain, with prewar Japan slightly less ‘propagandized’ than Nazi Germany, perhaps, but with a long history of conquest and bushido-based militarism drummed into the culture from the earliest age, with similar ideas to Aryanism – and they were destined to clash. In The Man in the High Castle, the crown prince of Japan, visiting San Francisco, is murdered by a sniper, inviting comparisons to the Kennedy assassination. Philip K. Dick leaves no doubt that he believed that the Russians were involved in Dallas, as Germans were involved behind the crown prince’s murder in the book and the film. It’s a fascinating retelling of the Kennedy assassination yarn – written just after Kennedy’s murder. Later in the series, Nazi General Reinhard Heydrik eventually leads a coup in Berlin to eliminate the ailing, elderly Adolf Hitler. Here, Philip K. Dick imagines that the only guy in the room more evil than Hitler himself would eventually take over if Germany had won. Heydrich, The architect of the Holocaust, would be as good a choice as any. Hitler outwits his would-be killer and survives the attempt in this chilling parable.
On Long Island, New York, just prior to the war, American Nazis met 40,000 strong in the summer during the 1930’s, boarding the ‘Siegfried Special’ train from New York City to Camp Siegfried – the purpose of which was to “Raise the future leaders of America – and make sure they were steeped in Nazi ideals.” The modern day remnant of German Gardens in Yaphank, Long Island is a vivid reminder of just how close the Nazis came to the heart of America: just 50 miles outside New York City, where the German-American Bund paid for the camp with money provided by the German government. Camp Siegfried was just one of many of these camps in the U.S. in the 1930s, including Camp Nordland in Andover, New Jersey; Camp Hindenberg in Grafton, Wisconsin and Deutschhorst Country Club in Sellersville, Pennsylvania. At this time, it was well understood that German financial support came from the blood and treasure of the Jews of Europe, whose wealth and property the German government was expropriating on a massive scale. Camp Siegfried also had swastikas and Hitler Youth flags displayed on the grounds, where you could meet for coffee on the corner of Goering and Hitler streets, and where men were photographed in Italian Fascist blackshirts, SA brownshirts and Nazi military uniforms:
According to a court case brought against the German American Settlement League in 1938 for failing to register with New York’s Secretary of State – a violation of the Civil Rights Law of 1923, which was enacted to control the Ku Klux Klan – to become a member of the League one had to swear allegiance to Hitler and to the leaders of the German American Bund; the court found against the League.
To this day, the owners association of German Gardens has successfully kept out African-Americans and Jews from their neighborhood since the end of the war. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (while also investigating Trump-Russia connections) as recently as this year, (June, 2017) had to employ punitive measures just to get these ex-Nazis to allow the freedoms that all Americans share as a birthright.
Back to Russian spies, Kim Philby, one of the most famous spies of the 20th Century, (and the one peering in on the U.S. Venona team at Arlington Hall) was also a peer OBE (as in, Sir Kim Philby), yet he was also awarded the Order of Lenin (Russia’s highest civilian honor) in 1965 – after he defected from the West. The Cambridge Five spy ring was broken up by happenstance, when American scion Michael Straight (of the rich and famous Whitney family of New York) revealed, when being vetted for a U.S. government position to friend (and Secretary of State) Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., that he had been a Soviet spy while a young student at Cambridge University in the 1930’s – outing Sir Anthony Blunt and four others as spies for the Russians, providing the treasure trove of material for the British spy novels and films that we guys love so much. This because a man by the name of David Cornwell, who worked as a British intelligence officer for both MI5 and MI6 in the 1950’s, said that Kim Philby, along with betraying his country, betrayed his (Cornwell’s) identity to the Russians at the same time, which ended his intelligence career in 1964. Fortunately for us all, that gave him more time to work on his writing. His pen name was (and is) John le Carré, a German language scholar and expert on the German intelligence network created under KGB guidance, the notorious German Stasi, which took surveillance to unprecedented, intrusive levels to gather deep knowledge about what the East German people did and said, which they then used to manipulate and control the population.
In his first book, Call For the Dead (1961) le Carré introduces the earliest days of spymaster George Smiley’s service to country, where his close, German friend ‘Dieter’ worked with him as allies against the Nazis. After the war, as relations between the East and the West began to cool, they found themselves on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall. In a showdown that le Carré only hints about, he reveals that Smiley had killed Dieter – even though his friend refused to raise his weapon against him. Smiley had put country over friendship (or family, as his wife is compromised later in the saga), solidifying his place as Britain’s finest spy, “Dieter had let him do it, had not fired the gun, had remembered their friendship when Smiley had not.” Statecraft is bereft of any kind of ‘moral’ structure – beyond the fact that it is simply an extension of the pure self-interest of governments themselves. “After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens?” Our president said that about China, while on Chinese soil, then he got home and got in a Twitter spat with LaVar Ball, saying he should have left his NBA bound son, LiAngelo, cooling his ‘Big Baller’ heels in a Chinese jail. You couldn’t make this stuff up, folks. Comedian Seth Meyers made the obvious point:
Helping to keep American citizens out of communist prisons is part of your job. That’s not above and beyond… Not only are these tweets childish and embarrassing, they’re also part of a disturbing pattern: Trump is clearly a thug and wannabe dictator who lashes out at anyone who isn’t sufficiently obedient.
Donald Trump is a moron, as his Secretary of State, National Security Advisor and Secretary of Defense certainly know. What isn’t clear is why Trump would take the word of Vladimir Putin over America’s own intelligence professionals. Since our founding, many of these brave and selfless men and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our democracy, and to dismiss the work of the FBI, NSA, CIA and DIA as ‘political’ is counter-intuitive for an American, let alone the President of the United States. The only realistic conclusion is that Putin has Trump by the short ones. As so many ‘cultivates’ before, Trump was entrapped into a plot of some kind, and the Steele Dossier lays out just one of the possible Russian game plans. Trump’s personal body man Keith Schiller recently admitted that the Russians offered Trump ‘five women,’ to which The Donald, apparently, politely declined. I wish I could believe him, but my gut tells me there’s a whole lot more to the Russian story than we know today.
Christopher Steele, the former British agent who wrote the infamous dossier, is no fly-by-night operator. The Clinton campaign and Fusion GPS didn’t waste their $10 million, believe me. In the dossier, Trump associate Sergei Millian has been identified as either ‘Source D or E,’ and the FBI sure as hell knows which one is which. By the way, Steele was head of MI6’s Russia desk when the infamous poisoning of British agent Alexander Litvinenko (the Russian assassin using a Stalin-era umbrella-dart) occurred in 2006. Sir John Scarlett, Chief of Britain’s MI6 from 2000 to 2004, put Steele in charge of the investigation and it was Steele, sources say, who uncovered that Litvinenko’s death was a Russian Federation-approved assassination. Steele also served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, overseeing highly sensitive intelligence operations, and is, by all accounts short of Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, a solid citizen. A graduate of Cambridge University, Steele is a real-life George Smiley, if you will. Better yet, he is a new John Cornwell, driven from the ranks of the intelligence services (yes, even the private ones) – as true defenders of democracy – in defiance of mortal danger from the enemies of the West, straight into the arms of eager publishing houses. You gotta love free speech!
This Christmas, I plan on giving two gifts in my yankee swaps, one is 86-year old John le Carré’s new book, Legacy of Spies (2017), well reviewed, it looks like a fine retrospective of his wonderfully bland and complex characters. I can’t wait to read it. On a recent tour to promote his new book, in a rare public appearance, le Carré worried that,
Something truly, seriously bad is happening and from my point of view we have to be awake to that, and I think of all things that were happening across Europe in the 1930s, in Spain, in Japan, obviously in Germany. To me, these are absolutely comparable signs of the rise of fascism and it’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running [again] in Poland and Hungary.
Another new book I plan to gift is by Guardian journalist Luke Harding, titled Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, written in collaboration with Christopher Steele, in which he predicts that the essential findings in Steele’s eponymous dossier will prove to be “70% to 90% true.” Should be one hell of a read. If that book hasn’t been optioned yet, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. It’s got Best Picture written all over it. Trump lawyer Ty Cobb said this weekend that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III will be wrapping up the probe soon and that the president and those close to him will be exonerated. That’s weird, because the trial of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, for example, is many months away and Mueller’s investigators are still gathering documents and other evidence to present in those cases. So far, at least nine people in Trump’s campaign had contact with Russians during the election or the transition to the White House according to the charging documents and records obtained by The Washington Post. George Papadopoulos is a cooperating witness with the FBI and wore a wire, so who else might be on Mueller’s naughty list? One thing for sure, he’s got a yuge chunk of coal for the Trump dupes.
November 21, 2017
We’ve been here for five years, publishing the first edition of the Newes From America on October 17, 2012. Beginning as a traditional news site, rehashing top stories and writing up celebrity and gossip ‘snacks’ that most web surfers like to read, the work was tedious and boring. When a 20-year old kid confused reality with one of his violent video games, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012 was the first, big news story that we tried to tackle as an editorial story. We wanted to try and make sense of that insane tragedy, and that led directly to the screed that you see here before you. It was impossible to look at the huge problem of gun violence while being overwhelmed with the many, pressing news stories that crop up every day. The still unexplained horror of Sandy Hook, similar in some ways to the tragedy recently unveiled in Las Vegas, reveals deeper, more fundamental issues that go far beyond the Second Amendment or whether the N.R.A. supports the banning of ‘bump stocks.’ Our society has been manipulated by corporate interests that have made a lot of money tapping into our minds, changing our behavior and attitudes through advertising that fill our most important psychological needs – and define our very personal identity.
With the pages of flattery on this website for our President, Donald Trump, the reader may have the impression that I’m obsessed with him. Since his nomination, little else has concerned me as dozens of non-Trump related stories have gone unwritten. I’m also certain that Trump supporters who read these pages know that I am an asshole liberal who just likes to hear the sound of my own voice. Beyond the fact that my voice is silky smooth, (and I have a face for radio), I have to admit to acute bouts of Lapham’s Disease, even though Harper’s magazine wouldn’t print my (awful) writing with a ten foot pole. That said, the Trump MAGA phenomenon, feeding on violent and salacious stories such as Sandy Hook and Orlando, channeled popular fear and anger to gain power, now it’s Trump who must confront the results of our broken system. Who better, he argued during the election, to ‘drain the swamp’ than one who knows how the (broken) system works. Pushing the Reagan-era mantra of ‘small government,’ with Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan selling ‘A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats’ to the working class, aspiring to rise to a higher class, was (and is) the deal from Republicans, make it easy to stay rich – and when you get there, you’ll be happy you did! The problem is that 99% of us never get there. As the long odds that most working adults rely on – their weekly state lottery outlay – the hope for a better future is offered at a 1% return on investment, and we voters keep coming back for more.
The legendary ad man Jack Trout passed away this summer at the age of 82, a pioneer of the concept of ‘positioning’ in brand advertising. Positioning is closely related to the concept of subjective value in economics, referring to the place that a brand occupies in the mind of the customer, and how it’s distinguished from products offered by competitors. After a career that began at GE, Trout wrote Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind in 1981 and Marketing Warfare in 1986, seminal books in the advertising and marketing business. A follower of David Ogilvy, founder of Ogilvy & Mather, and known as the ‘Father of Advertising,’ Ogilvy trained at Gallup, attributing the success of his campaigns to meticulous research into consumer habits. After founding Trout & Partners, Jack Trout later headed the ‘Brand America’ program, launched by the George W. Bush Administration in 2002 in the build-up to last Iraq war. When he arrived in Washington, Trout felt the image being projected by the Bush Administration was simply awful. “America had one idea attached to its brand. We presented ourselves as the world’s last superpower,” said Trout, “And that was the world’s worst branding idea.” Over the next few months, Trout and his team groused as W. began to make the case for war in Iraq. In their view, the problem wasn’t policy but presentation. Markets, as Jack Trout knew very well from his years introducing U.S. products to the newly opened Chinese market in the 1970’s and 1980’s, are highly subject to persuasion. Brand USA re-positioned the debate about American power and hegemony to include a discussion about Iraq’s ‘mobile’ chemical weapons program, and how unacceptable that was to American citizens. Mobile? They could drive them down Main Street! It didn’t matter if the weapons turned out to be real, it just mattered that consumers bought into it. Prospects (or marks, as con men call them) enter a communication agreement with a brand that must be simple and straightforward. ‘Coke is it.’ ‘Evildoers are bad.’ ‘Plop, plop fizz, fizz; oh, what a relief it is.’ Then, the marketing strategy must be ‘rolled out’ with the goal of conquering market share. As Bush Chief of Staff Andy Card said truthfully before the Iraq War build-up, you never roll out an ad campaign in the summer, because in brand marketing, timing and positioning is everything. To gain control of market share, brand managers must employ warfare tactics in which very few people actually die in ‘battle,’ but a marketing ‘attack’ is made on the very same ‘targets’ of a war – leading with public opinion. The campaign is designed to be total and overwhelming – as in ‘Shock and Awe.’
The Russian cyber-war against the United States, relying heavily on brand marketing strategies developed by these brilliant American advertising executives, extended the techniques successfully in 2016 to subvert the American presidential election. Russian operatives set up an array of misleading web sites and social media pages to identify American voters susceptible to propaganda, then used targeted advertising on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google with complicated, expensive tools to repeatedly send them messages designed to influence their political behavior. Trump, also, used these marketing techniques to target political consumers who could (and would) be persuaded to vote against their very interests. As a result, Brand America has slipped significantly under Trump’s leadership: U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 ‘Best Countries Ranking,’ reads like the sports pages with America lagging behind Britain, Canada and Switzerland in the standings, slipping 3 slots from the 2016 season finals to #7, risking being relegated to the minor leagues behind surging Germany, Sweden and perennial contenders Japan. With a humming U.S. economy, this baffles, yet nearly three-quarters of survey respondents said they lost some respect for U.S. leadership after the 2016 presidential election. The Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index, which uses the same tools marketing consultants use to value corporate brands, estimates the ‘Obama effect’ raised the value of ‘Brand America’ by over $2 trillion in the first year of his presidency alone.
A case study in business schools the world over, copier titan Xerox is very often used as the prime example of a great brand name gone bad. Once the gold-standard of photocopier brands, creating and expanding the copier market worldwide in the 1950’s and 60’s to find themselves a corporate behemoth in the 70’s with a 90% share of the business. The fall of Xerox in the 80’s and 90’s was paralleled by once great companies across America at that time, old and calcified, these great brands were subject to the same assault that we now face from the marketing warriors, hatched by the ‘me generation’ of the 1980’s. In Republican-speak, the consent letter signed by Xerox in 1975 is what directly led to their fall from greatness. The government fucked up Xerox. But why would the Federal Trade Commission and the Fed destroy a great American company, opening up their sacred patents in photocopier technology to foreign competition? These foreigners would go on to build the same machines smaller, cheaper and faster and sell them back to an eager public drenched in toner ink and service contracts. By the way, my latest Canon all-in-one cost me $99 way back in 2011 and is still going strong. Our Canon ImageClass machine at work has never needed service.
Canon famously used Lanchester’s Laws to attack market share (instead of land and infrastructure as in war) and the ‘Canon–Xerox battle’ as it became known, looked like a classic ‘force concentration’ military campaign in hindsight. In this case, Lanchester’s famous laws, drawn from studying Lord Nelson’s unquestioned inspirational and tactical military skill, were used in Canon’s establishment of a ‘revolutionary base’ by concentrating all their resources on a single geographical area until total dominance could be achieved. In the U.K. this meant Scotland, for Canon defined specific regions to be individually ‘attacked’ again and again, with focused allocation of resources based on changing consumer demand. Sales and distribution forces were built up to support these regions, and in turn, were used in the final ‘push’ into London with a numerically larger sales force than Xerox (or Rank Xerox as it was known in Europe). Within 10 years, Xerox’s market share fell in half to under 40%. Within 20 years, Canon was the number one copier manufacturer in the world. Today, Canon has 75% of the worldwide copier business and Xerox, which once literally meant ‘to photocopy,’ is an also-ran. Since then, ‘divide and conquer’ has prevailed as an ethos in the world of finance.
The genius behind photocopy technology, inventor Chester Carlson, took his inspiration from copying patents for a law office he worked for early in his career, and his curiosity took hold of him as he wondered if he could make perfect copies with light instead of the mimeograph’s messy (and expensive) carbon transfer system. After he perfected the process, he formed Xerox with partners in Rochester, New York and London, England – and within ten years became filthy rich, and in 1968, Fortune magazine ranked Carlson among the wealthiest people in America. He sent them a memo: “Your estimate of my net worth is too high by $150 million. I belong in the 0 to $50 million bracket,” this because he spent many years quietly giving most of his fortune away. He told his wife his remaining ambition was “to die a poor man” and ended up donating over $150 million to charitable causes while he was alive, and was an active supporter of the NAACP. Inspired by his wife, he built various Buddhist temples in the New York area, as well as endowing the New School for Social Research in New York City, The Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Virginia (for parapsychology research purposes only!) among many other pursuits. That Carlson was a humble patent clerk, as Albert Einstein had been, is made even more interesting because the original reason that Xerox was required to sign the punitive ‘consent letter’ was because they created an illegal ‘patent thicket’ that had nothing to do with the copiers that they sold and serviced. The vast majority of Xerox-owned patents were acquired only to block competitors from using similar technology, the judge ruled in 1975. This ‘patent monopolization’ is why the Federal Trade Commission went after Xerox.
Steve Jobs, in his famous ‘lost’ interview in 1994, blamed Xerox for fumbling away one of the greatest brands in history because they got greedy, lazy and stupid. He almost gloats how he and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (then selling illegal AT&T ripoff hardware) were given a tour of the famed Xerox/PARC and the future of computer technology – where the mouse, Mac-style GUI and other goodies that Xerox wanted to ‘park,’ patent and prevent competitors from using in their own product lines were spirited away. This anti-competitive, stupid behavior is why Apple Computer, as we know it, exists today. Jobs said that Xerox could have been ‘bigger than Microsoft’ (and Apple, of course) if they had just realized what they had actually discovered in their precious labs. Instead, the ‘toner heads’ were relegated to the dustbin of history because their marketing-bred management team ran them straight into the ground. Last year, Xerox paid a ‘golden parachute’ package to one of the few female African-American CEOs in the country, Ursula Burns (also an Uber board member), over $17 million for guiding the company through it’s last spin-off, leaving a few thousand employees and a once great brand name in her wake. Earning an average of $18 million a year during her tenure, Burns lamented the ‘terminal niceness’ at Xerox before she left the collegial, old money crowd that nearly bankrupted the company.
The sequel to the original strokes of genius that began some of the world’s greatest brands have oftentimes been their death-knell. I think of the great Edwin Land and the Polaroid Corporation, inventor of instant photography and the revolutionary Land Camera here in Cambridge, Massachusetts – gone forever, a victim of the digital revolution, with Japanese behemoth Canon Corporation a leader in this market as well. Much of Canon’s success against Xerox was on the watch of then company president Fujio Mitarai, a nephew of one of the founders of Canon. He spent 23 years working in New York before returning to Japan in 1995 to head the company. “I never dreamed Canon would eventually match Xerox,” he recalled. “For me, Xerox was a giant.” Interestingly, the brand name ‘Canon’ is an anglicized spelling of ‘Kannon,’ which in turn was named for the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin (short for Guanshiyin), meaning ‘[One Who] Perceives the Sounds of the World.’
A simpler, more concrete example of marketing gone bad is the concept of the sequel. I’m a huge fan of the original Blade Runner (1982), and with the release of Blade Runner 2049, and the rave reviews for the film, I’m apprehensive. Good reviews of sucky sequels have caused me to waste my hard-earned dollars through the many years I’ve been able to get into R-rated movies. The box office for the Blade Runner reboot is lagging, however, (especially considering it’s $160-185 million budget) so I’m going to take this a sign that it might actually be a good movie, after all, the original Blade Runner tanked at the box office as well. The last truly funny movie I remember seeing was The Hangover (2009), with Mike Tyson in a perfect cameo appearance and the introduction of the hilarious Dr. Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow. The $35 million investment returned $44 million the first weekend alone and the film eventually grossed $277 million worldwide. Beyond joining a class-action lawsuit against Warner Brothers and director Todd Phillips for The Hangover, Part II (don’t believe it, it’s a sequel), I promised back in 2011 that I would never pay to see another sequel again. Period. For the record, The Hangover, Part II grossed a quarter of a billion dollars. The Hangover, Part III grossed another $100 million, however with a budget of 100 mil, they just broke even, so we’ll have to wait a few years for The Hangover 2020 – Trumped Up. Producer and director Todd Phillips broke through with Old School (2003), another very funny movie that grew from his previous documentary work, 1998’s Frat House.
In movie sequels, audiences are lured back into the theaters with the promise that a story that they thought was over, was really just beginning. Sequels have never been about great storytelling, they’re really just brand extensions of successful movies. Sequels to the hugely popular James Bond and Pink Panther films from the 1960’s set the stage for the episodic movie franchises such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones and The Lord of the Rings tentpoles to follow, each sucking a little more than the last, except Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, (2005) – which was actually Star Wars 6. The James Bond franchise, starting with Dr. No in 1963, has produced over 20 sequels and not a single one is as good as the original. The only truly great sequel (or prequel) of all time, the Godfather, Part II, (1974) really started the sequel trend in the 1970’s with awful sequels French Connection II (1975), Jaws 2 (1978) and Rocky II (1979) cashing in shortly thereafter.
All the Indiana Jones sequels, except the fourth, were pretty good but they were based on ‘Saturday serials’ on TV to begin with, but I digress. Sequels rarely live up to expectations. Lately, they’re just episodes, designed to carefully lead you to the next three episodes in the boring, effects-driven trilogy. This sucks. All great drama has a beginning, middle and an end. They don’t have to be in that order, but they have to be in your story, unless you’re some genius like Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman or Charlie Kaufman. A story must end in order for it to mean anything. Endless retelling of a successful story will be endlessly boring. Stephen Spielberg, well aware of the conundrum of the follow-up, had the best idea I ever heard for a sequel. After the success of Jaws (1975), the pressure to follow with Jaws 2 was immense. Spielberg wanted nothing to do with reliving his horrendous experience of the soggy production, regardless of the rich payday, and took himself out of the director’s chair – unless he could remake the blockbuster franchise as a comedy. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown thought about meddling with their newfound riches for about three seconds and, as most producers since Jesse Lasky before them, made a shitty sequel instead. Spielberg’s title was going to be: Jaws 2, People 0. That’s absolutely hilarious. We got the comedy 1941 (1979) instead, and that was kinda funny! Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead 2 took Spielberg’s angle and made a spoof sequel that stands, weirdly, as a truly funny flick (and a cult classic), and the only sequel ever made that’s better than the original. Wes Craven, with his Scream franchise made a billion dollars with this tilt on the genre.
You’ve never seen the film The Fall of a Nation, because it’s the first movie sequel of all time – and not coincidentally a lost film. Released in 1916 as a follow-up to D.W. Griffith’s epic, racist The Birth of a Nation released earlier that same year, the film bombed at the box office. Producers and distributors in the ‘70’s figured out the optimal turnaround time to let popular demand build for a sequel is about two years. Blade Runner waited a very long time between sequels and you would think that more time between sequels would be a good thing. It isn’t, as countless stinkers such as Psycho II; Blues Brothers 2000; 2010 (A Space Odyssey) and, unfortunately, The Godfather, Part III prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Only George Miller’s recent Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and perhaps, Blade Runner 2049 will join the very short list of decent sequels. Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money (1986) should be mentioned here for bucking the trend as a fine follow-up, fifteen years after the superb The Hustler. Aliens didn’t appear until seven years after the original Alien and should be included here as well. These few examples pale in comparison to the overwhelming tide of shitty sequels, delayed or not. In fact, what was once known as the ‘summer blockbuster’ has been all but killed by them as a result.
My favorite director, Martin Scorsese, was never tempted to make a sequel to Taxi Driver and we are all the better for it. Robert DeNiro’s searing Travis Bickle is a character for the ages and will be remembered without the distraction of Vince Vaughn in Taxi Driver 2: The Last Fare. Fans of the indie masterpiece Easy Rider (1969) with Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper would be smart to steer clear of the unimaginably bad Easy Rider 2: The Ride Home (2010), easily one of the worst sequels ever made. When tempted by the success of Goodfellas, a perfect film, Scorsese followed it with the almost perfect Casino and even then, the stench of the sequel wafted over to spoil the full enjoyment of this great film, even though it wasn’t even a sequel, just the same theme and style with many of the same actors. The marvelous character actor Frank Vincent, who died this past summer, was totally in his element – I remember him as Frankie Marino using a lollipop to block his lips while whispering to Joe Pesce’s smoldering, violent hitman Tommy DeVito, as the Feds train their mics and cameras on them in this awesomely good movie.
In 2010’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the shitty sequel adage holds, with Oliver Stone returning to helm this steaming pile of (sleepless) money. A brilliant director, even Oliver Stone can swing and miss. Other than starting out in real estate and having a raging case of narcissism, Gordon Gekko is not based on Donald Trump. Stone actually cast and shot The Donald in his Wall Street reboot, only to have his cameo end up on the cutting room floor. Oliver Stone said that Gekko was inspired by Ivan Boesky, the arbitrage king of the 80’s, who unlike Trump, was finally taken down by the SEC in 1987. Boesky also took down Drexel, Burnham Lambert and Michael Milkin with him, Milkin recently having a comeback, though, and is now #200 on Forbes latest list of richest Americans at over $3 billion. Boesky famously gave the actual ‘greed is good’ spiel to UC Berkeley Business School graduates in 1986 and was last seen looking like an actual wizard rather than a financial one. Boesky’s biblical fall from grace – he was a professor at NYU and one of the most successful brokers on Wall Street – prompted him to remove himself from society to live as a hermit in a home he won from his (richer) wife in the divorce settlement.
Wall Street was released in December, 1987, two months after the Black Monday stock market crash and just one week before Boesky was sentenced to three years in prison for securities fraud. Stone said that he also based the Gekko character on Burt Lancaster’s towering performance as J. J. Hunsecker in The Sweet Smell of Success (1957), one of the best films of the Fifties. In my favorite moment of the film, the sleazy hypocrite J.J. Hunsecker, leaving his swanky NY club with Tony Curtis’ sycophant turned ‘hero’ Sidney, encounters the raw energy of the streets of Manhattan at night and whispers, “I love this dirty town.” An ego to match Hunsecker, Donald Trump loves the dysfunction and chaos of life as much or more than the fictional, bilious character so masterfully handled by Lancaster.
As art imitates life, Donald Trump exposed Palm Beach’s racist, anti-Semitic underbelly in order to buy his way in to Palm Beach society (as in Caddyshack!) and that is the first place that Trump divided the electorate in his fledgling career as a rich ‘man of the people.’ Shackled as a sequel, Caddyshack 2 (1988) had to revisit the same plot points and references to the original that distort all sequels, yet it did try to introduce a much more robust defense of the rich ‘everyman’ hero, this time with comic Jackie Mason playing the lead. Donald Trump was the real ‘everyman’ who made it big, never forgetting where he came from. He’s crude and talks plain and likes to take on the ‘establishment’ and their (unfair!) policies. ‘Forget all that shit, let’s party!’ as Trump pushes another supermodel into the pool. Indeed when Trump invaded Palm Beach in the 80’s, the old money knew that the understated, sedate Palm Beach of yesterday was gone forever. They worried that the super-exclusive Bath and Tennis Club, or the ‘B&T’ as they chummingly called it, would come to be known as the ‘Bridge & Tunnel,’ for the crude crowd Trump brought with him from New York – an assortment of celebrities and new money assholes that were an affront to the old Palm Beach set who took pride in being in the news but three times in their lives – birth, marriage and death. Palm Beach also took discreet pride in excluding Jews and African-Americans from mingling with the jet-set: Jewish members had to be content with the kosher Palm Beach Club and black millionaires were still welcomed at the back of the jewel-encrusted bus at the Breakers Club. African-Americans were called ‘blacks’ by the European-American ‘whites’ back then, but that was before The Donald made Palm Beach a haven for African-American and Jewish millionaires and billionaires. For the working-class and the poor, there’s West Palm Beach and the real world beyond, yet back then in the days of Caddyshack and Rodney Dangerfield’s 80’s hedonism, Trump represented the new ethos rising up from urban centers such as New York, against restricting ‘minorities’ – especially if they were rich. Decades before Charlottesville, Donald Trump spoke to the African-American and Jewish communities as equals, as long as they could pay their yearly dues to Mar-A-Lago. This was in contrast to Trump in the early 70’s, when he and his father were still redlining against largely poor, black New York tenants. If Trump had just been accepted in the B&T back in ‘82 in the first place, President Donald Trump* would still be just a punchline. Now we have President Gekko.
In the original Wall Street, Gordon Gekko’s most famous line, lifted from Ivan Boesky, was that ‘greed is good.’ Michael Douglas has said that he couldn’t believe how many business-types told him through the years that they got into finance because of his portrayal. Gekko going to jail at the end of the film is never brought up. The more character-revealing line in the film was when Charlie Sheen’s Bud asks Gekko why he would wreck a longstanding, profitable company, a company where Bud’s father (played by Charlie’s own father Martin Sheen) worked, Gekko yells back at him indignantly, ‘Because it’s wreckable!” For his zeitgeist-inspired icon Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas was rightly awarded the Oscar for Best Actor in 1988. Oliver Stone’s own father was a broker and was the inspiration for the old-fashioned broker in Wall Street played by the commanding Hal Holbrook. President Trump, the unparalleled Wall Street hero, a card-carrying ‘victim’ of liberal establishment regulations – killing entrepreneurial spirit – was at the crest of 80’s Wall Street cool, a new-breed of players placing old school brokers and investors, such as the Hal Holbrooks of the world, out on the retirement rolls. By the late 1990’s, reality had taken hold and Trump went bust for the first time, and for his sequel, he penned another shitty book called The Art of the Comeback, a follow-up to his best-selling The Art of the Deal. Written with (by) Kate Bohner, a knockout CNBC and Forbes magazine writer described as ‘leggy’ by Page Six, wife at the time of Michael Lewis, future author of Moneyball – she left Lewis shortly after he wrote an article for his (then) job for the New Republic magazine titled Scenic Beauty where he unfortunately complained about being married to a beautiful woman. Kate was ‘blindsided,’ by the article, recalled Joshua Levine, who worked with her at Forbes. Apparently, Lewis didn’t tell her about the article before it was published in the spoof ‘sex issue.’ Whoops! With Harvey Weinstein’s recent sexual harassment allegations, the energy between The Donald and his young, attractive employee back then seemed, well let’s just say it was interesting – and the sexual tension between them was palpable. Her good looks were central to Howard Stern’s pubescent fascination, as usual, when Trump appeared with Bohner on Stern’s radio show in 1994:
Stern: Yeah. And evidently she will give you a boner. I bet he [Trump] did her too. I wonder, cause Gary says she’s really hot.
Robin: Well that kept him interested in the book probably.
Howard: How did you choose — Please. How did you choose Kate?
Donald: Purely on her looks. She’s very talented.
Howard: There’s nothing wrong with [judging] someone based on their appearance. Did you work nude?
Robin: Where did you work on it?
Donald: In my bedroom.
Howard: Did you work on a laptop? Kate, your last name is Boner?
Kate: It’s Bohner, Howard. I knew you’re gonna go there.
Howard: Did you do it in a hot tub? I — cause Donald loves to relax and he enjoys, you know, fine things in life. Would he take you to somewhere special to work on a book?
Howard: All I know was I’m distracted by your co-writer. Are you wearing — What are you wearing underneath that? Is that — You just have a jacket on, and no shirt underneath. Wow you are cute.
Kate Bohner was, and is, a knockout. Smart and sexy, she’s a real keeper. The character played by Kim Cattrall, Samantha Jones in the HBO hit Sex and the City was inspired by her, and one could draw the conclusion that she was a woman on the make back in the Clinton Era. She would later date the (then) CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt for four years. Her best friend Candace Bushnell, (writer of the original New York Observer column on which the show was based) wrote in a later column that Kate was devastated by the experience. Unable to talk about their relationship due to a confidentiality agreement, bff Bushnell (whose character ‘Carrie Bradshaw’ was played by Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City) spoke up for Kate and related that Schmidt, one of the richest men in America worth more than $10 billion, promised to leave his wife for her and broke her heart when he traded Kate in for a younger model. It all plays like an episode from the TV show. Bohner cleaned up, got her act together and today is one of the few Buddhist nuns to run a PR company, specializing in governance and compliance. For research purposes only, I see that she’s still single. Hmmm. Contrary to popular belief, Carrie Bradshaw’s love interest in the show, Mr. Big, was not based on Donald Trump, even though he did make three cameo appearances on the Sex and the City TV show back in the 90’s. He’s been here for years, folks.
Sex and the City: The Film was a huge commercial success, making $27 million in North America on its first day alone. The three-day opening weekend total was $57,038,404 – the biggest opening ever for an R-rated comedy (or for a romantic comedy, for that matter). The worldwide gross revenue for the movie was $415 million, making it the highest-grossing romantic comedy of 2008. Of course, the awful follow-up had to be made and Sex and the City 2, nominated for seven Golden Raspberry Awards, including worst picture (winning three of them), grossed $295 million for Village Roadshow and HBO Pictures. Although a quarter lower than the first film, it was still 2010’s highest-grossing romantic comedy. No word yet if Kim Cattrall can be coaxed back for one last time for Sex and The City 3. I sure hope so, it has such a nice ring to it.
In the Art of the Comeback, Trump recalls how he singled out a homeless man on the streets of New York and said to (then) wife Ivana, “That guy is rich compared to me. He has $900 million dollars more than I do. He has nothing, and I have $900 million in debt.” Trump did recover from bankruptcy, and as usual, instead of learning his lesson, he capitalized on his experience with America’s rigged laws to figure out a way to actually make money by going bust by the time his fifth bankruptcy was submitted to the courts in Puerto Rico in 2015. When people are too stupid and lazy to care about the truth, pitch men like Donald Trump will always be there with the Next Great Thing. Don’t believe it, it’s just another shitty sequel.
October 17, 2017
Trump’s policy agenda, other than his insane Tweets and obsession with the Russia Investigation, looks to me like a typical, Republican administration. Nominated by the Republican Party, elected president as a Republican, Donald Trump has effectively governed as a tax-cutting, small government conservative – eventually becoming a wartime president. As George W. Bush wanted to go after Saddam, (he tried to kill my daddy!) Trump has chosen the war he wants – North Korea versus Iraq for W. Only then, fashion a rationale for bringing the nation to the carnage. This wasn’t an entirely successful approach for Bush, who famously said at the time that it would be for historians to decide if his Iraq policy was just and sound (spoiler: it wasn’t). The Hussein dynasty was removed from a (then) unified Iraq, and the remaining failed state is obviously less a threat to U.S. interests than before 2004, yet the chaos and disorder following a war usually produces this effect, for a while, and then popular resentment always seems to morph into something else more powerful and deadly. Where Al Queda was defeated in Iraq, ISIS has risen from the blackened ashes.
A recent report from the British Royal United Services Institute, an eminent think tank founded in 1832 to protect United Kingdom interests around the world, is a frightfully drab affair titled, Preparing for War in Korea:
President Trump has shown that he is keenly aware of the impact of his actions on his popularity rating. His unexpected decision to authorize a limited air strike against Syria in April 2017, in response to President Bashar Al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons, led to a temporary improvement in his approval ratings. War against North Korea might produce a similar outcome, at least in the short term, rallying public support behind the commander-in-chief and dividing his Democratic opponents. He could, no doubt, emphasize that he was prepared to take a tough decision that former President Barack Obama, who was wary of military adventures, would never have taken. He might also believe that it would be difficult for the mainstream media to maintain their focus on his past ties with Russia when US forces were fighting and dying in a Korean war.
The report here recognizes that the American media and people generally love a good television war and are willing to back most of them at the beginning. Ouch. The report continues the political punditry with a stiff upper lip regarding Trump’s ‘America First’ policy:
This approach has already been reflected in the decisions to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Trump may also be close to taking a decision on whether to undermine the nuclear deal with Iran…
A decision to attack North Korea, seeking to protect the US from a possible future threat, even if this risks devastating attacks on regional allies, would be the most striking demonstration of America First so far, defining a Trump presidency just as surely as the Iraq War did for President George W Bush.
And how about this for a final buzz kill:
Casualties in such a conflict would likely reach the hundreds of thousands, even if no nuclear weapons were used. There could be far-reaching consequences for the global economy, involving sustained disruption of vital supply chains and markets.
The British are perhaps the most knowledgeable (and fearful) of an ‘American First’ policy, probably since the Battle of Yorktown, and have the most to lose because of our ‘special relationship’ with Dear Old Blighty. The last America first movement that worried the staid British so much was the isolationist movement of WWII in America, who watched patiently as the Rape of Nanking went down in China, and as London and it’s people were nearly razed to the ground during the Battle of Britain, before the cavalry rolled in to save the day. America first means everyone else, including Britain and our closest allies, comes after.
North Korea’s leaders are well aware of the fate of Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya – both coerced into giving up their nuclear weapons programs only to be overthrown in US-led invasions (in which the UK tagged along). The US would never have attacked Hussein or Gaddafi if they had already acquired a nuclear weapon. To demand that North Korea relinquish it’s nuclear weapons program is a fool’s bargain. They already have them.
Korea has, for most of it’s history, been a vassal state to the military power projected from the north and east from Russia, China and Japan. Korean history, though not as ancient as their Asian neighbors in China and Japan, parallels Vietnam and Cambodian history in more often being overrun rather than triumphant conquerors. The dynastic power of the Han people made China a world powerhouse, making the House of Windsor look like a cadet branch of the Saxons. Professor Michael Wood presented a fine series on the history of China called The Story of China on PBS this year and if you missed it, it’s worth a look. Professor Wood’s earnest respect and awe for human culture, especially his curiosity and wonder, make him a great storyteller. Ken Burns has some of that greatness in him as well, displayed in his latest (and my opinion, greatest…so far) documentary produced: The Vietnam War. In Dr. Wood’s and Ken Burns’ stories, we have a perspective on two Asian nations that should directly inform our baby steps to war in Korea. It should be no surprise that Donald Trump still wants to pull the plug on PBS…
Anyone watching The Vietnam War may have caught the unique name ‘McPeak’ among the airmen interviewed as retired four-star general and former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Merrill McPeak. He spoke most forcefully about his desire to do his job well in Vietnam and to stop traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail by delivering his ordinance with deadly accuracy. With such capable war fighters and such high-tech weapons on our side, his analysis that we did everything right in hitting the trail over and over again – to no avail – because a determined enemy was convinced of the rightness of their cause, leads us to his most hard-won conclusion of the war: make sure you fight the right one. Make sure the enemy is actually what you say they are or you will most probably lose.
McPeak holds the Vietnamese to a high level of respect and admiration to this day, earned from their tenacity and belief in themselves. His words should be heard and understood by a generation unaware of the underlying, human and financial cost of a ‘television war.’ Trump knows that the tail wags the dog with American military adventures and he now intends to start using his ancient Chinese secret: Sun-Tzu. Tzu’s The Art of War is what armchair generals and businessmen claim as their extensive knowledge of tactics in war that make them understand the nature of war better than those who have actually served in war. These uber men (and women!) read the book – which basically says lie and deceive your enemies until you can finally annihilate them – and think that because it works (how can a millionaire or a conquering general be wrong?) everyone has to do it to if you want to succeed in the savage world of war and finance.
Donald Trump’s shameful treatment of airman and war hero Senator John McCain – shot down by Russian jets and Chinese flak over Vietnam – for simply voting his conscience on healthcare (while undergoing cancer treatment) is a national disgrace – never to be forgotten. Armchair general Donald Trump let bone spurs and five deferments keep him from serving his country when asked to serve during the Vietnam War. As Joe Scarborough writes in his latest article in the Washington Post, that never kept The Donald from mastering the game of golf.
The greatness of American leadership is in direct proportion to when our leaders take us to war because they have to versus when leaders take us to war because they want to. Sometimes, war is inevitable, such as when innocent civilians are being burned and blown up with rockets or raped and pillaged by foot soldiers. Other times we are tempted to war by the thrill of the kill.
Sun-Tzu’s book was really just an anthology of the well-known sayings and precepts that surrounded the warring, dynastic culture of early China, first written 300 years before the Bible. The fabled ‘36 Stategems’ foretold of Trump’s latest ham-handed attempt at the ‘madman theory’ (handled far better by actor-president Ronald Reagan vs. the Russians) by calling Kim Jong Un ‘Little Rocketman’ and other (modern presidential) epithets. Dotards aside, the madman theory doesn’t work as well when atoms are split over innocent civilians. From the 3,000 year old Strategems:
Feign madness but keep your balance. Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack.
Note that last part of the stratagem: ‘then you may attack.’ Reading the text of Sun-Tzu and the 36 Stratagems, the sane reader is left with an overwhelming desire to avoid war at all costs. The Chinese know well that war is the result of a leader’s loss of the ‘Mandate of Heaven,’ equal to the Western concept of the ‘divine right of kings.’ The mandate differs, however, in that the ruling elite – informed by largely Confucian ideals – must support successive families, or dynasties, regardless of heredity or social position. If peace and stability are returned and maintained to the Chinese people, a leader had won the Mandate of Heaven. The greatest dynasties in Chinese history were born to then unknown families: the all-powerful Han family set the framework as the greatest dynasty, followed in modern times by the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties – each an orphan family, none a cadet branch of the prior. Of the nearly ten dynasties of Chinese hegemony over Mainland China and the Korean Peninsula, five lasted longer than the age of the United States – 241 years or longer. The last dynasty of China, the Qing, and the Last Emperor (following the Boxer Rebellion and the 8 Nation Alliance to overthrow China in 1900) ended the longest, most prosperous kingdom in human history. China had lost the Mandate of Heaven and where Ghengis Khan and his son Kublai and the Mongols brought the ‘outsiders’ to the mainland in 1271, the nations of the West, lead by the United States and President Theodore Roosevelt, were now favored by the Great Mandate – and it has remained in a white house in Washington, D.C. ever since.
Donald Trump inherited this mandate in January of this year and is in terrible danger of losing it for the nation as certain as the Last Emperor of China did in 1900. The unfair(!) treatment of The Donald after his piss-poor response to Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria, (after his super-energetic, poll-enhancing response to Hurricane Harvey) is the result of his frustration with losing this heavenly mojo. Fair or not, the Mandate of Heaven is a harsh mistress, and bad weather and natural disasters are fair game to judge a leader and his dynasty in fitness for leadership. The tragedy in Las Vegas speaks to the loss of mandated-ness going on here. I just pray that The Donald remembers the most important and last of the ancient 36 stratagems, offered to leaders who find themselves in an unwinnable position:
“Of the Thirty-Six Stratagems, fleeing is best”
October 3, 2017
Donald Trump has played so fast and loose with so many hot button topics in his brief political career, none so hot as playing footsie with the Nazis. That’s strange considering that Trump is our oldest president. The son of Tom Brokaw’s ‘Greatest Generation,’ especially as a German, Trump should be extra touchy whenever the N-word is thrown around, in my humble opinion, and not so much with the ‘good people on both sides.’ From what I can see, the only group marching in the ‘Unite The Right’ protest in Charlottesville that had any claim to legitimacy were the weird ‘Promise Keepers.’ The rest were a bunch of asshole quasi-Nazis, spouting hateful, anti-Semitic nonsense.
I often use movie references for understanding things in life and many are films made by director Stephen Spielberg. He’s an unqualified genius and many of his films are the best ever made. He inherited the mantle left by John Ford, Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock as the quintessential filmmaker of our time, matched with David Lean’s epic eye. In Spielberg’s masterpiece Schindler’s List (1993), Amon Göth, the grotesque Nazi commandant of the Płaszów death camp in Kraków, Poland, whom Liam Neeson’s Oskar Schindler must bargain with for names to add to his list of life, was humanized in a way that was at once unsettling and thought provoking. The great British actor Ralph Fiennes, portraying Göth, delivered to Spielberg and his audience a hint of the human within the Nazi. We see Göth’s humanity tempted by his love for a Jewish woman – Göth had two Jewish housemaids: Helen ‘Lena’ Hirsch (now Helen Horowitz) and Helen ‘Susanna’ Sternlicht (now Helen Jonas). In another scene, Schindler encourages Göth to pardon inmates in his death camp rather than kill them for minor infractions, telling him that the ultimate use of power comes from restraint rather than action.
Göth, against character, lets a boy walk away after using soap instead of lye to clean a bathroom. When the boy leaves, Göth looks at himself in a mirror as he practices pardoning someone as a king might, with his two fingers outstretched. He reflects on his effeminate posture and at once, all humanity is drained from him. He stares at his fingernails as the Nazi within him returns to form. Earlier in the film, we know that the Austrian Göth takes pleasure in using his rifle to murder innocent Jewish inmates in the yard. In the next scene, the boy from before is walking the open yard of the camp as a rifle shot ricochets just next to him. He continues walking along, gait unbroken, as a second shot misses, closer this time. We cut to Ben Kingsley’s powerfully moral character, the list-keeper Itzhak Stern, as the sound of a third rifle shot rings out. He walks, gait unbroken, past the lifeless body of the boy as the camera pans past the insane horror.
As the outrages of Donald Trump flow past the desk of Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, not to put too fine a point on it, will cause Trump to feel embarrassment as Göth did in the film. I wonder if Gerald Ford ever felt the embarrassment of that particular empathy? Of course, The Donald couldn’t wait to play with his new pardon bauble, becoming the first president to use the kingly power in his first year since Ford’s singular pardon of Nixon. Trust me, the ingrate Arpaio will say or do something that passes for ingratitude and this will enrage Trump, who will then ‘unpardon’ him, even though you can’t do that.
Our vacillating, wildly unpredictable president has managed to scuttle his vaunted business panel because of his footsie with the Nazis, and this isn’t the first time that The Donald has tempted the wrath of David Rothschild. When Sean Spicer was mealy-mouthing about Adolph Hitler not gassing his ‘own people’ as opposed to Bashar al-Assad back when Trump actually held press briefings, he was just mouthing his boss’s putrid meal. For those who need a refresher on the Nazis, I recommend watching some testimonies of Survivors on the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation website, IWitness, one of the many great things to come from the success of Schindler’s List.
The USC Shoah Foundation was established by Spielberg in 1994 to preserve a visual history archive, one of the largest digital collections in the world focused on genocide. The vast majority of the testimonies contain a complete personal history of life before, during, and after the interviewee’s firsthand experience with the Shoah. They are highly recommended to any Holocaust deniers in the Trump ranks. Another great thing to come from the success of the film was the Emmy-winning PBS documentary Inheritance (2008) by filmmaker James Moll, the Founding Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation. Moll first came in contact with Göth’s daughter, Monika Hertwig, in 2003 while doing research for Schindler’s List. He made Inheritance to document the German Hertwig and Jewish Helen Jonas meeting in person more than 60 years after Göth was executed for genocide and crimes against humanity. Hertwig’s own daughter, Jennifer Teege, has a Nigerian father and wrote the book, My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me in 2008.
With this past month’s job performance, at least Donald Trump is lowering into the grave the notion that the business approach to government is the way of the future. For years, CEO world-beaters have been crowing about how small government would flourish under the hand of a billionaire Commander in Chief. Bye, bye to all that bunk. Trump’s management style is based on his DSM-6 qualification as a narcissist, gamely taking a ‘you’re with me, or against me’ attitude to all things in life. Everything for Trump is a negotiation, so when Trump has to fire Bannon, Chief of Staff Kelly has to allow him to riff about Charlottesville. When Alt-Right Gorka’s gotta go, Trump gets to pardon Arpaio. It’s the art of the deal, only each ‘victory’ that Trump thinks is adding to his base is actually eroding his ability to govern. He’s a lame duck in his first year and has only himself to blame. The ultimate calculation, as Trump’s news dump ahead of Hurricane Harvey proves, is to divert attention from things that matter – such as the Russia Investigation. Trump knows how the world works, as frenemy Roger Stone would attest, and hijacking a news cycle is what he lives for, believe me – Donald Trump doesn’t care if transgendered Americans serve in the military or not, base polling supports a ban – and the work of Robert S. Mueller, III must be ignored! I know when a Russia bombshell will be heading our way via the Times or the Post based on how unhinged Trump’s Twitter feed gets. Trump wants Klinger written off M.A.S.H. and out of the Korean War, and that speaks to the urgency of the matter: the Russia Investigation is a WITCHHUNT! Can you imagine M.A.S.H. without Maxwell Klinger?
From the beginning, I thought the Russia collusion stuff was far-fetched. I mean, how fucking stupid would a person have to be to collude with a foreign government prior to a U.S. presidential election? Pretty fucking stupid is the answer. Even the dumb Donald Trump, I surmised, isn’t that stupid. Or so I thought. Following Roger Stone and Roy Cohn’s political playbook, Trump was elected by dividing the electorate, however, where politicians usually pivot and actually try to govern a little after winning, Trump keeps right on campaigning and campaigning while his approval ratings slip and public appearances grow less and less enthusiastic. My first indication that he’s guilty is because he always acts guilty when this Russia stuff comes up. Why so touchy, Don? As Billy Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, methinks Trump ‘doth protest too much.’ Then, my natural detective’s instincts were heightened by reports of a meeting at Trump Tower on June 9th with The Donald, Jr., et al., and a bunch of Russians. Not a movie scene, an actual happening. Now Trump’s personal attorney (although apparently, he’s never met him) Michael Cohen is caught talking up the totally awesome Trump Tower Moscow with Putin’s team during the election:
Where will it all end? Hint: it’ll come just after his greatest Twitter outrage of them all.
August 30, 2017
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, uninformed, 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.
June 29, 2017
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.”
May 29, 2017