Nixon was good, he was bad too, very bad, and he beats any candidate today…

June 28, 2015

It’s almost like having history turned on its head or everything you ever thought you knew being shown as wrong  — or is it?

I’m describing my reaction to a book I have begun to read about Richard Nixon, 37th president of the United States, who became the only American president to resign his office, doing so into his second term after winning by a landslide, as the result of the Watergate scandal, in which it was shown, among many other things, he approved a break-in of the Democratic campaign headquarters.

Unless you were a die-hard Nixon supporter, if you are my age (65) or older you know that man as a slime ball they called “Tricky Dick” or the guy who proclaimed to the people when he was on the ropes “I’m not a crook”, when the evidence already indicated he was dirty as heck.

But I’ve begun reading something that seems so far to portray him in an at times more favorable or and at least much more sympathetic light, although admitting from the start he had a dark side that eventually became his downfall.

And really some of this is not new to me — in fact the book is not new research, just a compilation of anecdotes and bits from the archives and passages from other books over the years on one of our most controversial political personages ever.

The book is: “Being Nixon, A Man Divided,” by Evan Thomas. I caught wind of the book by an interview I chanced to hear on the radio (NPR I’m sure). Thomas is a self-described Eastern Establishment reporter who covered Nixon and seems to own up to the fact that he and many of his colleagues did not always give Nixon a fair shake. Answering an interviewer’s question he acknowledges that in some way the book may be the result of a guilt feeling on his part.

A lot of the book is about Nixon’s strange loner personality and quirks. But heck everyone comes off a little strange when observed up close or perhaps in private, or to borrow a phrase from one of those bar girls in the movie Fargo, he was “stranger than most”.

In my young adulthood I really came to detest Nixon. I followed him along with all current events from a young age. However, as interested in current events as I was and in politics in general, I missed out on the whole presidential campaign of 1968. I had just joined the army. I was standing in a chow line on an icy November morning in Baumholder, Germany when I saw the headline on a Stars and Stripes newspaper that Nixon had won the presidency.

So I missed out on the whole thing of him having a “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War, a war that was becoming unpopular among much of the American public, not just the standard war protestors, and was becoming more so every day as we saw our combat deaths in the hundreds each week reported on TV, adding up thousands over the decade it was waged, eventually resulting in some 60,000 American war dead. And with that we saw how innocent civilians, including little children, were being killed or gravely wounded. There was that iconic photo of the little girl running naked along with many other children after being hit by a fiery napalm attack performed by American aircraft. And we saw the senseless battles on the TV news where we would take a hill in conventional war fashion in this unconventional war just to give it up afterwards because it had no value to anyone — never mind all the soldiers and marines killed in the process.

(Actually that iconic shot of the little girl I mentioned happened on Nixon’s watch in 1972.)

But Nixon, the Republican challenger in the 1968 presidential race, had a plan to end the war, or so he led everyone to believe (the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey, was stuck with Lyndon Johnson’s unsuccessful war legacy). It had become a war owned by the Democrats since LBJ had committed regular forces to it where there had just been a relative handful of advisors.

But Nixon’s plan to end the war history seems to show was not that at all or at least Henry Kissinger could not work it out at the Paris Peace Talks. And Nixon refused to pull out. He was stuck to the Vietnam tar baby just like LBJ. Nixon did not want to be the one who lost the war. He wanted to withdraw through some kind of peace accord — “peace with honor”. So the war dragged on and more American soldiers died and more were gravely wounded.

In the end, we quit with little to no honor, but when you dig yourself into a hole you have to quit digging at some point if you ever think you might have a chance to get out.

(I always must interject that it was not our troops who lost the war but the leadership, civilian and military, and in reality it was the kind of war where real victory, due to circumstances beyond our control, was likely unattainable.)

Nixon was obsessed with the anti-war movement and had his henchmen do all kind of illegal things to stop it, to include breaking into a psychiatrist’s office to discredit Danielle Ellsberg who leaked the “Pentagon Papers” to the press, the secret U.S. government documents that showed the government knew we were losing the war despite its own propaganda to the American people that we were winning. You remember, the inflated enemy body counts and all.

And I have gotten off track here. What I was trying to say, even though this is not all completely new to me, the book I am reading tells of Nixon’s humble beginnings and his scholarship and his patriotism and his early concern and actions on civil rights, both on a personal level and governmental level. And it tells of his intense interest in and knowledge of world affairs and how he reportedly impressed world leaders, surprising them that he was not just some low-class dunderhead as they had been led to believe by what they had read.

(A more recent Republican president brought no such surprise to world leaders.)

It tells of how he and his wife were snubbed by the establishment or the upper crust in social and political circles.

I’m a sap maybe for sob stories, but parts of this almost have me in tears and rooting for the underdog.

So far, except for the early-on qualification that in the end he did dark things, the book is a glowing account of a most committed public servant. I don’t know how the book concludes, but really we all know how it ends. I mean we know the guy did bad, bad things. If nothing else he admits it himself on the Watergate tapes.

History probably shows a lot of historical icons or heroes did underhanded and even immoral things in private — I think the trick is keeping it secret — damn near impossible these days.

Like I say, the early chapters in this book had me feeling so much sympathy and even righteous anger on behalf of a misunderstood and much maligned hero. But then I was jolted back into reality — I did not skip forward, but I happened to read a synopsis of Nixon’s sins by Woodward and Bernstein, authors of “All the President’s Men”. I also refreshed my memory via other articles on the internet.

Even though Nixon always portrayed himself as a political conservative, some have noted that he turned out to be one of our more liberal presidents in many ways. He created the Environmental Protection Agency and he made amends with Communist China among other things (not because he became communist but because it was seen as a better way to deal with our communist foes at the time).

Nixon had a penchant for digging up dirt against his opponents in political races. And that’s what led to the Watergate scandal. But, law-breaking notwithstanding, that is how politics is played and if you are too pure for that you just don’t want to win bad enough. Just ask Mike Dukakis.

Of course actual lying or plainly distorting your opponent’s record is wrong. Or how would Nixon put it? “I could do that but it would be wrong,” Just like he famously proclaimed: “I’m not a crook.”

And still:

If Nixon were the Republican candidate today I might be tempted to vote for him. There are few to none in that crowd of  GOP candidates today who could even come close to him in love of country and fair-mindedness (despite his bigoted outbursts on those tapes) and understanding of world affairs.

P.s.

I told you I watched stuff when I was just a youngster:

Boy did Nixon stand up to and in fact get the better of that fat little bully Nikita Khrushchev in the famous Kitchen Debate.

I was so proud of him. What happened Dick?


It is a gay day at the U.S. Supreme Court…

June 26, 2015

As a newspaper headline might have read back in the day: A gay time is had by all today in front of the Supreme Court.

That was back when “gay” meant happy. But of course now I’m talking about the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority decision to make gay (same-sex) marriage legal nationwide, meaning that states or jurisdictions that still ban it can no longer do so (at least that is what I am reading in this morning’s interpretations about the ruling just made).

Ultra conservatives and reactionaries must be perplexed. What is their predominantly conservative supreme court doing, upholding Obamacare yesterday (for the second time) and now this?

Interestingly, yesterday it was the conservative Chief Justice John Roberts delivering the majority opinion, but today he was with the dissent, and it was the more usual swing vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who also authored the majority opinion.

I’m not going to go into the law on this now, if ever, but as I have noted in the past when a favorable ruling was made by the high court majority on the issue of same-sex marriage, the court is just following a change in public opinion and culture and maybe just being practical. I mean same-sex marriage seems so much more acceptable nowadays, so why get in the way?

And how practical would it have been to put a wrench into the whole health care delivery system by effectively gutting Obamacare had the court held against a major provision in it?

What is my own opinion or feeling on today’s high court ruling? I’m ambivalent on it, except that maybe it is good to get this wedge issue out of the way so the reactionaries have one less weapon in their arsenal and that political debate can move onto other subjects, such as economics, defense and war policy, employment, and improving rather than destroying Obamacare.

I don’t mean to dismiss the importance of the same-sex marriage ruling to those same-sex partners who either want to be able to enjoy the benefits of marriage or want to preserve what they already have. At one time I might have thought separate civil unions would have sufficed, but since then I have seen that might not always guarantee equal protection. And the high court ruled long ago now that separate is not equal.

P.s.

Reactionaries go crazy when liberals use the high court to effectively make law that cannot be made through the legislative process at the time but they run to the court to tear down law that has been passed — go figure.


Obamacare second high court victory is good, Republicans should actually breathe a sigh of relief

June 25, 2015

Even though I continue to be neutral on Obamacare I am pleased, very pleased, that the Supreme Court has made a second ruling in its favor.

In my mind the opposition is just afraid that it is working or will work and they are doing anything to stop it.

The court says that although some of the wording in the law, officially the Affordable Care Act, is sloppy, it was clear that the intent of the law was to provide all with healthcare or make it possible for all to have it.

Had the opponents had their way, federal subsidies in states that had not set up their own health exchanges but let the federal government do it would have been eliminated. The result would be counter to the intent of the law.

Now some opine that had the opponents had their way — and most of the opponents are Republicans — it would have had a negative impact politically with millions losing health care coverage. So some might think it would have almost been better, in a political sense anyway, for Obama to have lost this one. So Republicans really ought to breathe a sigh of relief.

But I am pleased that the act has been preserved.

I realize that so-called conservatives will always fight anything that smacks of socialism (and this is really not socialism in that it still depends upon the private market), but they need to get over this one.

What we really needed to do in my mind was expand Medicare and Medicaid  (although I cannot really say that would have not been without pitfalls).

Healthcare is vitally important to our society in order to keep it productive and to alleviate human suffering. Why are people against that? They are against the cost. But there is no free lunch either way. The old system clogged emergency rooms where people could get help when they could not afford a private doctor. And under the old system we have had a large portion of the society in poor health and not productive (this is still so, but hopefully it will change over time).

I will say that I have not seen evidence that Obamacare has done anything to cut down on costs — quite the opposite.

But getting everyone covered is the most important thing to me. I think there will be cost savings in that over the long run.

I don’t think fighting Obamacare is a good issue for the Republicans.


Like Germans recognizing horrors of the Holocaust, some Southerners now feel shame over slavery

June 24, 2015

It appears that the horror of the shooting and murders by a young white man, somehow influenced by extreme racism, of several people in a Bible study class at a black church in South Carolina has had something like the effect the horrors of Nazism had on the German public, especially the generations that came after World War II.

Even though Southerners are still proud to be who they are and to be from where they are, they are not necessarily proud of what their ancestors did — I’m not saying all southerners feel that way, but according to a news story I just read it has become fashionable to recognize or admit that what the old Confederacy did was basically fight to preserve slavery, and as someone in that story said, all the terrible things that go along with human bondage.

(And one article I read claims that the notion that the Civil War was about more than just slavery is a false one, that in fact that is what it was about; I’ll comment on that some paragraphs down.)

Although there is the disturbing presence of Neo-Nazism in Germany today, the mainstream of German society recoils at its World War II-era past in which some 50 million Jews and others not meeting the qualifications of the “Super Race” were condemned to death in what is termed the Holocaust (gassed to death and incinerated in ovens) or at the very least slave labor, which often killed them by the physical abuse and starvation.

With this recent shooting and all the recent deadly confrontations between blacks and white police, with deaths being suffered by the blacks, many who before might have continued to defend the flying or other display of the old Confederate battle flag, the Stars and Bars, as nothing more than an innocent, prideful recognition of Southern heritage realize or own up to the fact it is among other things a symbol of white supremacy and the right to deny civil rights to non-whites (or more specifically blacks). Yes there may also be a symbolism for the nostalgia of the antebellum South and the genteel, rural way of life with grand plantations over a beautiful landscape. But a major component of that old way of life was the use of human beings as slaves. And really, in this day and age, one cannot with a straight face defend slavery and at the same time call him or herself a believer in American democracy.

I do not really know what the real attraction of the Stars and Bars is. It goes beyond a symbol of the old Confederacy. Many with no Southern heritage like to use it, adorning their pickups trucks and such. It’s sort of a symbol of anti-establishment, anti-intellectual, certainly anti-liberal, feeling. It is maybe a symbol of individualism, as in “I’m a rebel”. And to some extent just something to have fun with and enjoy when you’re out and about or when you are kicking back and having some brews.

—————

He’s a drug store truck drivin man
He’s the head of the Ku Klux Klan
When summer rolls around
He’ll be lucky if he’s not in town…

(Recorded by The Byrds. Song authors: Gram Parsons and Roger McGuinn.)

———————

I feel somewhat neutral as to whether it should be displayed (I mean this is supposed to be a free country with freedom of speech and expression).

Some Southern states have actually at times incorporated it into their own flags, while the Stars and Bars itself may also fly at the capitols of some Southern states, and some states offer or allow or have allowed Confederate license plates.

I do think one has to realize what the history of that symbol is. If not, then one is ignorant or being intellectually dishonest.

And it would seem good judgment to tone it down in the interest of a more harmonious society.

A major reason for the loss of favor among the political establishment with the Stars and Bars, especially in the South where it did hold favor, is the fact that blacks nowadays, finally, have political clout. And despite the fact that racism persists and rears its ugly head, overall we have a much more tolerant society. And while young racists, such as the one in South Carolina, are still being produced, most young people today I think don’t look at the world through the prism of race.

And here is the biggie: commercial interests, such as Walmart, want no part of losing customers over the issue of race and bigotry. Walmart as an example says it will stop selling Confederate flags.

Earlier this year, the business sector wanted no part of political moves to discriminate against gays. Again, why would they want to lose business?

And what was the American Civil War all about? It was not taught well when I went to grade school and high school. I learned a little more in college but I think either it was not presented quite right there or I failed to see the forest for the trees. I mean as a kid I simply knew that Lincoln freed the slaves. Then one learns that there were the issues of states’ rights and tariffs and such. But when you read and think about it all, you have to come back to the same point, the whole thing revolved around a social and political and economic system that revolved around treating certain human beings as nothing more than livestock. And in no way can that have ever been right. It has been a mark of ever-lasting shame on our nation. But we can get over it. We have made amends. Let’s don’t go backwards.

So definitely I don’t think government entities should have anything to do with flying the confederate symbol, be it the battle flag or anything else associated with slavery.

As to individuals, I would hope we could just leave that up to personal judgment.

Bigotry exists, but it is not as popular as it once was. Or at least I hope not.

P.s.

The guilt or shame or regret over slavery and our racist past is actually shared by all since all parts of the nation had a part in it and slavery was even written into our beloved Constitution. I did not mean to state or otherwise imply that the South holds all the responsibility.


Some think climate change talk is a political ploy; Pope wants to save the planet and the human race

June 23, 2015

Those who decry environmentalism as a ploy by political liberals to gain power are also often those who seem to align themselves with conservative and evangelical religious groups. And that seems strange in that one would think that religious people would want to protect the earth that God created.

But they have things to explain away all that. For one thing some still deny there is climate change (beyond the normal historical pattern). They also claim I suppose that God takes care of everything and that if you believe in the Lord then you are free to use the resources he has given you to your heart’s desire. Actually I think some evangelicals think greed is good, as long as you say your prayers in a good Christian manner.

At any rate, now the world-wide leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has come out with a call to save the earth from climate change, which he says is a result of man’s activity, along with natural phenomenon.

For my part I have to put my trust in the scientific community, and as far as I know, the consensus is that man is the primary cause of climate change. But we can do something about that and not totally give up our way of life I feel certain.

But we do have to look past immediate gain, immediate profits, and think long range. Capitalism may not be good at that, and yet it is capable of it I am sure. And maybe capitalism is better to handle things in that it can respond to changing demand and conditions much quicker than ridged forms of socialistic planned economies.

And while I don’t think we need to go back to the old days (and which time period would we pick?), it does seem to me we have gotten a little carried away, to say the least, with our technology. In the name of making life easier and producing more, we have speeded up our existence to such a pace we have a hard time keeping up mentally, physically, and financially.

And I think that here is something in my own life somewhat related to all of this:

When I was a little boy we used to visit a relative’s farm. It was a sort of bucolic paradise in my little eyes. In the early visits the relative was still operating a small-scale dairy — the product not for fresh milk, but for cheese and butter. The dried manure from the cows was a natural fertilizer that was spread over the pasture and fields that might also be planted to corn, or alfalfa, cut for hay. Water was still plentiful in the area. At an earlier time one had to simply sink a pipe into the ground for an artesian well, and the water would flow. Many of the farms were relatively small, 60, 40, even 20 acres.

Fast forward: the land is now rented out to a neighbor who has a much larger operation (and to survive economically larger is necessary).

Those who live on the small farm now buy bottled water in town to drink, fearing the water table has been polluted by chemicals used for fertilizer and pesticides and fungicides. On a recent visit there I saw a strange space-age-looking tractor applying some kind of spray and another more standard-looking tractor with chemical tanks on the back applying chemical of some type.

Most of the farms have been consolidated into larger acreages.

Right now California is in a major several-year drought. Some of the neighbors there are ratting on each other for over-use of water.

Things were not quite the Garden of Eden I saw in my mind’s eye even when I visited there as a young boy no doubt.

But to some extent now the area seems to have an almost industrial character rather than that of rural farmland.

To me, this is not progress, or if it is then progress has an ugly side.

It is said big agriculture is needed to feed an ever-expanding world population. Actually in many countries big agriculture has turned common people from those who could sustain themselves on small plots of land to desperate people crowded into big cities.

The United States has also pushed agriculture exports from our agribusiness sector that in some cases have pushed out small farmers in third-world countries, or so I read.

Now I would not at all propose that our government outlaw big agriculture but on the other hand it could not do so much to encourage it in the way of subsidies, cheap water, and help from public universities. On that last one I mean to say farm advisors or county agents from those universities put most of their effort into helping big farmers. When my relative changed from raising dairy cows to sheep he said he could not get much help from the farm advisors. They were more interested in big operations.

(This was some time ago, perhaps the attitude of farm advisors or county agents has changed. I don’t know.)

There is a renewed interest in sustainable agriculture and buying foodstuffs produced closer to home. I would not suggest we do away entirely with our present way of doing things, shipping the same kinds of food back and forth, some passing each other moving in opposite directions on the highways, but food grown locally on a smaller scale is a nice alternative.

I did not mean to pick on agriculture in general or big agriculture. I have a place close to my heart for it. I have actually been associated with it, big and small, much of my life and made my living thanks to big agriculture.

But imagine, living out on the land and being afraid to drink the water from your own well.

P.s.

For the record, I am not Catholic. But I find it interesting that some climate change deniers say things like the Pope ought to stick to religion and stay away from science and economics (and I think that is in his own faith). Does that mean what is discussed in church, such as being thankful to God for what he has given us and being good stewards of God’s gifts, is just some fantasy we listen to on Sunday and then go about doing everything we can to chase the almighty dollar the rest of the time?

I should stop here, but I will add that even if it were to be proven that much or most of our climate problems are part of a natural change in conditions, we know that man’s activity also has a major effect (to deny that is to deny the obvious). So it is incumbent upon us to do what we can to address the issue on both moral and practical grounds.


Brian Williams belongs in the field of infomercials…

June 18, 2015

I was shaking my head about the decision of NBC to take Brian Williams back into their so-called news organization, even though he won’t be the anchor of the Nightly News. But if he fabricates, what use is he?

Now I realize that his real place would be to perform on those infomercials you see all the time along with the rest of the hucksters. Or maybe on those phony sweepstakes things like Ed McMahon and even Dick Clark did. I don’t think NBC does that stuff, but that’s where Lyin’ Brian belongs.

My initial observations:

I can only shake may head at the news that Brian Williams, the disgraced fabricating anchor, will be returning to work at NBC, albeit not as the Nightly News anchor. It is speculated he may do something for MSNBC (lucky them).

But I mean what use is he to a bona fide news organization? He has no credibility. And he told so many lies and/or embellished so much, he can’t just say, I’m sorry, I’ll stick to the truth now. This is supposed to be grown-up stuff.

Apparently NBC has no pride and apparently the powers that be there thought it would be a better use of their money to pay him to do something than buy out his contract.

One would think there would have been some clause in his contract, much like a morals clause, that would have allowed NBC to void the thing.

But then again, broadcast news is maybe more about entertainment than real journalism. And maybe Williams still has entertainment value.

It really disgusts me though.


The prediction (not a wish): Jeb will win…

June 16, 2015

Sure, it’s just words. It’s just rhetoric. Maybe the same old, same old. But I am always a sucker for a strong political speech, and despite the description of Jeb Bush’s formal announcement for his candidacy for president I heard describing it as “low key” I thought it seemed forceful. I first watched some edited snippets, then I began to watch the full speech from C-Span, but I have to confess, due to time considerations I had to bail out. But I think I got a good flavor of it.

It did not make me a Jeb supporter — I want to see how the campaign progresses. I want to see what Hillary counters with. And wow, I would love to see an eventual debate between Jeb and Hillary. Not the kind where a moderator or people from an audience ask questions, but a formal college-like debate.

I’m writing as if they were the only two candidates. Well to me they are — at least until someone else (most likely on the Republican side) proves different.

This is the first time I’ve heard Jeb speak to any extent. Wow, he is not his big brother. He does not have the fake Texas accent and he can actually talk using normal syntax, and I did not hear any famous W. Malapropism.

I’ll make a prediction: Jeb will win.

And, again, I am not in his camp, at least not at this time.

P.s.

 

Interesting that both Jeb and Hillary are stressing their first names, not wanting to be confused with their last names. Jeb is not his father or big brother and Hillary is not her husband. At least in Jeb’s case that would be good. And probably in Hillary’s case too.

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 34 other followers