Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Trump Triumphant Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday January 12 2017.

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The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States will take place on Friday, January 20, 2017, in Washington DC. The election result was immediately followed by street protests and legal attempts to challenge the result. A friend commented on one of my previous articles to the effect that these people should “accept ballot results like mature adults”. It is not immature to be alarmed at the prospect of the radical changes Trump is likely to make on the strength of a very meagre mandate.

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Some people have coped with the result by saying Trump will not really make a difference or that he will not do half of the things he promised (threatened). Perhaps he will not follow the Sri Lankan example; perhaps he will not put his defeated opponent in jail. Now that we see who Trump will have in his cabinet, we have a better idea of what the future might be like. Trump’s cabinet choices are mostly recognised enemies of the departments they will be heading – foxes in charge of the henhouse.

 

Health

Tom Price, a Republican congressman from Georgia, is Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, which means he will lead the federal agency overseeing Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Price has long been a critic of Obamacare and in every Congress since the Act was passed he has put forward his own bills to replace it. The common theme of Price’s plans has been something that does more to benefit the young, healthy and rich to the disadvantage of the sick, old and poor. Price is a doctor and knowledgeable about the system. Doctors have always fought health reform because they usually see it, whatever high-flown reasons they express, as endangering their own financial interests. Remember Nye Bevan “stuffing their mouths with gold” to persuade them to allow the NHS to function. About 5.5 million of the victims of repealing the Affordable Care Act. would be Trump supporters.

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Attorney General

The new Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, was junior Senator from Alabama. Jeff Sessions has a history of turning his personal bigotry into political reality. Senator Edward Kennedy, called him a “throw-back to a shameful era” and a “disgrace”. In 1984, as US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, he supported an investigation of black voter fraud in Alabama. On the basis of only 14 allegedly tampered ballots, Sessions prosecuted three African-American community organizers including Martin Luther King Jr’s former aide Albert Turner. The defendants, known as the Marion Three, were acquitted by a jury.

In 1986, Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to be a judge of the US District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. Sessions became only the second nominee to the federal judiciary in 48 years whose nomination was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee. At Sessions’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, four Department of Justice lawyers testified that he had made racially offensive remarks.

Sessions was elected Attorney General of Alabama in November 1994 and led the state’s defence of a schools funding model found unconstitutional because of disparities between rich, mostly white, and poor, mostly black, schools. As Attorney General of Alabama, Sessions argued that funding should not be provided to student groups that advocated unlawful behaviour, including the breaking of sodomy and sexual misconduct laws. As a Senator, he voted against the Matthew Shepard Act, which added acts of bias-motivated violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate-crimes law.

Sessions voted against strengthening the ban on torture and against criminal-justice reform. He worked to block immigration reform. Sessions is against legalizing marijuana for either recreational or medicinal use – “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Sessions believes “that sanctity of life begins at conception.” Sessions was one of 34 Senators to vote against the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007.

Sessions is sceptical of the scientific consensus on climate change. He has voted in favour of legislation that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. He has voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

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Labour

Andrew Puzder, Donald Trump’s choice as Secretary of Labor was the CEO of CKE Restaurants, parent company of fast-food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. Puzder donated to Trump’s campaign and served as an adviser on job creation. Puzder has complained about regulations and overtime laws and opposed minimum wage increases. Puzder is even critical of the federal relief programs, such as food stamps, that subsidize the poverty wages that he pays his employees. He has talked openly about replacing workers with automated ordering kiosks. Puzder supports repealing the Affordable Care Act and has been critical of paid sick leave policies. He is a determined opponent of trade unions. Unlike the rest of the cabinet, he is in favour of immigration because it provides him with cheap labour.

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Education

Betsy de Vos, who has been named as Education Secretary, is known for her advocacy of school choice, home schooling, voucher programmes, and her ties to the Reformed Christian community. She is the daughter-in-law of Richard De Vos, the founder of Amway (the pyramid -selling organisation that has been accused of fraud and cultism). Her brother, Erik Prince, is the founder of Blackwater Worldwide the private military contractor accused of killing civilians in Iraq.

The person charged with overseeing the education of 50 million American children has, since the early 1990s, been active in supporting the charter school movement. Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press, wrote a searing indictment of the Detroit experiment supported by de Vos. “This deeply dysfunctional education landscape—where failure is rewarded with opportunities for expansion and ‘choice’ means the opposite for tens of thousands of children—is no accident. It was created by an ideological lobby that has zealously championed free-market education reform for decades, with little regard for the outcome.”

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Environment

Trump placed Scott Pruitt in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, effectively outsourcing his environmental policy to the oil-and-gas companies who funded Pruitt’s campaigns in Oklahoma. After his election as Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt established a “Federalism Unit” in the Attorney General’s office dedicated to fighting President Barack Obama’s regulatory agenda, suing the administration over its immigration policy, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Pruitt’s office has sued the EPA to block its Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States rule. Pruitt has also sued the EPA on behalf of Oklahoma utilities unwilling to take on the burdens of additional regulation of their coal-fired plants, and criticized the agency in a congressional hearing. All of Pruitt’s anti-EPA suits to date have failed but now he can demolish it from within.

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Secretary of State

The chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, will be Secretary of State. Like the tobacco companies, the oil companies have been adept at hiding the truth about their product. ExxonMobil in particular has a long history of peddling misinformation on climate change. Investigations by the LA Times and Inside Climate News showed that the company had conducted extensive scientific research that proved the reality of climate change but publicly stuck to the official line: “Currently, the scientific evidence is inconclusive”.

Tillerson, like his president, has no experience in politics. However, he has been the head of an organisation that has had its own foreign policy independent of the official government of the USA. Tillerson has favoured doing business in countries that offer political stability, even if this stability was achieved through dictatorships with no regard for human rights.

Like his president, Tillerson has forged a friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin. As Secretary of State, Tillerson would be in a position to benefit ExxonMobil by, for example, easing sanctions against Russia. He has also established close relations with Igor Sechin, the close Putin ally who runs Rosneft, one of Russia’s oil-and-gas giants. In 2011, Tillerson signed a joint-venture agreement with Putin under which ExxonMobil would partner with Rosneft to produce oil from the Arctic.

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These people are out to destroy our world for their own profit. Should we just accept without complaint?

Nixon Part Five

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday January 5 2017

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A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.

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Nixon inspired   widespread loathing and derision; I recall a sketch on Monty Python Live at Drury Lane in the early 70s; a group of men are gathered around a bar: “Have you heard the news? Nixon’s had an arsehole transplant. The arsehole rejected him”.  We must balance this with the more positive view presented in Evan Thomas’s biography, Being Nixon: A Man Divided.

Nixon’s Good Points

Chekhov’s criterion for calling a man good was a daughter’s affection and Nixon’s daughters Tricia and Julie certainly seemed to have a genuine deep love for him, which was reciprocated.

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Thomas believes that, despite the references to ‘jigaboos’ and ‘jungle bunnies’ on the Watergate tapes, Nixon was not a racist. When Nixon was at Duke University, he made sure that a black student called William Brock was welcomed into his fraternity, at a time when almost all fraternities around the country were segregated.  Nixon spoke out about segregation in Durham, and one of his classmates recalled: “He looked upon the issue as a moral issue”.

 

One of his classmates at Duke, Fred Cady, had been disabled with polio. Every day, Nixon carried him up the steps to class. Those who worked closely with him in later years regarded him as kind and considerate. He was shy and introverted by nature and did not like confrontation. Chuck Colson said that Nixon could be “brutally cold, calculating, a manipulator of power”—but “could never bring himself to point out to a secretary her misspellings”. Nevertheless, he showed great courage facing angry mobs who were spitting and throwing rocks on his foreign tours as vice president.

 

In Thomas’s judgement, Nixon, even as a congressman and a senator, had a long-range vision that most of his congressional peers lacked. He voted for the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe because he understood that the Republican Party was doomed to irrelevance if it regressed to pre–World War II isolationism.

 

China

 

There were certainly achievements. In April 1971, Nixon approved a trip to China by the US Ping-Pong team and announced a plan to ease travel and trade restrictions. At the same time, his national security advisor Henry Kissinger was making secret trips to Beijing.

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Nixon said that one of his long-term aims was the normalization of relations with China. His foreign policy was bogged down by the seemingly intractable Vietnam war and he was trying to find ways of containing the Soviet Union. Nixon saw advantages in improving relations with both China and the Soviet Union; he hoped that détente would put pressure on the North Vietnamese to end the Vietnam War.

Until Nixon’s 1972 visit, China was a pariah country like today’s North Korea and Nixon could claim credit for its isolation. His anti-communist stance when running for Congress against Jerry Voorhis and Helen Gahagan Douglas, his support for Senator Joe McCarthy, his pursuit of Alger Hiss, helped him domestically to get away with approaching China. In 1964, he categorically stated that “it would be disastrous to the cause of freedom” for the US to recognize Red China, but he did it anyway. His record of anti-Communism gave him the credentials for making the bold move of establishing normal relations.

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In 1972, China had a reasonably educated work force of nearly a billion willing to work for low wages. China was not burdened by environmental and health and safety regulations such as those being introduced in the US by Nixon himself. The Chinese leadership   was ready to take the   opportunity offered by Nixon through opening up of Western markets. His initiative hastened China’s technological advance through western transfers and gave China the means to fend off potential unrest by employing millions in an expanding economy. China’s military progress benefited from the huge forex reserves accumulated from the massive exports of cheap Chinese products and China used those reserves to acquire the latest military technology.

Critics have questioned whether Nixon’s initiative was such a good thing either for the Chinese people or for the US economy. As of October 2016, the US debt to China is $1.115 trillion.  China’s role as America’s largest banker gives it leverage. US presidents who followed Nixon did not try to reverse his China policy. Even Bill Clinton became an enthusiastic supporter of trade with China once he took lessons in foreign policy from Nixon in early 1993. Even before he was inaugurated, Donald Trump was calling China an enemy, an “absolute abuser of the United States.”

Liberal Policies

Defenders of Nixon point out that he could have cancelled LBJ’s Great Society welfare programmes, but instead enlarged them. From 1970 to 1975, spending on human resource services exceeded spending for defence for the first time since World War II. Unemployment benefits were extended; social security benefits went up. The Nixon administration expanded the enforcement of affirmative action and signed legislation which banned sexual discrimination in education. He also supported the Constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18 and abolished the draft.

Even while he was being undermined by Watergate, Nixon was proposing a comprehensive national health insurance scheme which was not significantly different from the one that Barack Obama finally pushed through. In May 1974, such a massive piece of social welfare legislation had no chance of success in Congress.

 

He set up the Environmental Protection Agency. This is an example of Nixon’s pragmatism rather than liberalism. Nixon was not interested in environmental issues and delegated them to his aides, saying at one point: “Just keep me out of trouble on environmental issues.” He called the environmental movement “crap” for “clowns.” Nixon spoke of himself as a conservative who wanted smaller government. With an activist Democratic Congress, he recognised the need for compromise.

Some commentators are cynical about Nixon and de-segregation. Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” was to appeal to racial prejudice in the South and among blue-collar workers in the North and West. Nixon told an aide: “I think if we can keep liberal writers convinced that we are doing what the Court requires, and our conservative friends we are not doing any more than what the Court requires, I think we can walk this tightrope until November, 1972.”

In two landmark decisions with Nixon’s appointees providing 4 of the 5 votes, the Supreme Court effectively held that school systems could be separate and unequal as long as this was accomplished through tax policy and the arbitrary drawing of district boundaries rather than through direct pupil assignment. Nixon instructed government agencies to go only as far as required by court orders and no further.

Project Wizard – Rehabilitation

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Elizabeth Drew referred to the inevitable process whereby historians try to find a new angle by rehabilitating a previously scorned figure. Nixon was himself at the forefront of rehabilitation attempts in what was termed Project Wizard. The plan succeeded to a great extent.

Everyone who was anyone on the New York scene wanted to be invited to the dinners (fine Chinese food served by Chinese staff) Nixon gave in his New York brownstone. He made more trips to China and travelled around the US making speeches about great leaders he had known, and wrote many books and op-eds. By late 1979, Gallup ranked him as one of the ten most-admired people in the world.

However, was deluding himself in thinking that he could return to real influence. After Reagan was re-elected, Nixon really believed that he had earned a high-level position in the administration.  Reagan aides were incredulous. Nixon threatened Bill Clinton that if he were not paid proper respect as a foreign-affairs expert he would write an op-ed in a major newspaper attacking the president’s handling of foreign policy. It never occurred to him that many found him a nuisance.

 

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Five presidents attended Nixon’s funeral—he got some respect when he was dead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nixon Part Four

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday December 29 2016

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Hiss Case as Paradigm

Nixon was always proud of his part in pursuing allegations that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy. Alger Hiss (November 11, 1904 – November 15, 1996) was an American government official who was convicted of perjury in 1950. Before he was tried and convicted, he was involved in the establishment of the United Nations both as a US State Department official and as a UN official. Nixon would always consider the Hiss case a defining moment in his career and included it as the first of the “six crises” he described in his political memoir of the same name.

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Anthony Summers, in his Nixon biography The Arrogance of Power, considered that the Hiss case was a paradigm for Nixon’s later career because of several themes that it brought out.

  • Delusion: Nixon could not resist exaggerating his own role. Robert Stripling, chief HUAC investigator, called Nixon’s account “pure bullshit”.
  • Addiction to intrigue: Nixon’s journalist friend Walter Trohan believed Nixon developed “a weakness for playing cops and robbers in the Hiss case. Maybe this led him to countenance Watergate”.
  • Vengeance: Nixon questioned the competence of the judge in the first Hiss trial and wanted to prosecute the foreman of the jury.
  • Resentment of the elite: The Ivy League types that Nixon detested thought Hiss could not be guilty because he was from their class.
  • Persecution complex: Nixon thought people were out to get him because of the Hiss case whereas he was repeatedly out to get others.
  • Rage to blame others: attorneys Vazzana and Stripling who worked on the Hiss investigation said Nixon became viciously abusive with them when evidence was questioned.
  • Cracking under pressure: he drove himself beyond his limits going without food and sleep and family life. During the Hiss case Nixon started using sleeping pills.

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Vietnam

Perhaps Nixon’s greatest crime was to conspire to scuttle the Vietnam War peace talks on the eve of the 1968 presidential election. Nixon tried to project an image of himself as a peacemaker on Vietnam but had been an early adopter, disagreeing with Eisenhower, for sending in ground troops. He plotted to prolong the war for his own political advantage.

President Johnson surprised everyone by announcing a peace initiative in the form of a bombing halt. On March 31 1968, LBJ declared he would not be running for re-election. “I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing.” Peace in Vietnam was the last thing Nixon wanted at that point as it might hand the election to Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Nixon wanted to take the credit for ending the war himself.

Anna Chennault was the Republican party’s chief female fundraiser. She had friends in the South Vietnamese government and at Nixon’s bidding persuaded them not to participate in peace talks. Three days before the election the FBI sent LBJ a wiretap report that Chennault had contacted the South Vietnamese ambassador telling him “hold on We’re gonna win”. President Thieu announced that South Vietnam would not be sending a delegation to the Paris peace talks. LBJ correctly described Nixon’s scheming as treason and the Logan Act of 1799 provides severe penalties against private citizens who interfere in negotiations between the US and foreign governments.

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Humphrey lost the election. With Nixon as president the war went on for another four years; 20,763 more Americans died; 109,230 South Vietnamese soldiers died; 496,260 North Vietnamese fighters died.

Cambodia was secretly bombed without congressional approval and when the truth emerged during Watergate one congressman, Robert Drinan, described Nixon’s actions as “conduct more shocking and more unbelievable than the conduct of any president in any war in all of American history”. The bombing contributed to the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime – two million Cambodians died.

Watergate

Nixon was fortunate to avoid prison for his part in the criminal activity and cover up relating to the Watergate affair. Fourteen of his associates who thought they were doing his bidding served jail sentences. Nixon avoided impeachment by resigning.

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Much has been written about Watergate and I read a great deal of it with great fascination as well as following the news as it unfurled. Briefly here is what happened. On June 17, 1972, a security guard found five men in the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington. FBI agents establish that the Watergate break-in was part of a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon re-election effort. On January 30, 1973, former Nixon aides G Gordon Liddy and James W McCord Jr were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate incident. Five other men pleaded guilty,

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The FBI discovered a connection between cash found on the burglars and a slush fund used by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP or CREEP), the official organization of Nixon’s campaign. An investigation conducted by the Senate Watergate Committee revealed that President Nixon had a tape-recording system in his offices and that he had recorded many conversations and the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the president should release the tapes to government investigators. The tapes revealed that the president himself was directly implicated in trying to cover up activities that took place after the break-in and used federal officials to impede investigations. There has been speculation that Nixon was trying to find out what dirt the Democrats had on him about the Chennault affair, funding from the Mob or his role in Cuba. Nixon resigned the presidency on August 9, 1974. On September 8, 1974, his successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him.

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Watergate led to calls for greater controls on fund raising as well as condemnation of government surveillance. The achievements of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein led to them being portrayed onscreen by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffmann. Aggressive investigative journalism enjoyed a vogue.

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How do the effects of Watergate look after 40 years? The tactics covered by the term “Watergate” were used in the name of national security to attack political enemies. Could that happen today? We were already getting nostalgic about Obama before he left because we were so horrified at the prospect of Trump. Obama may have had the excuse of an obstructionist Congress for failing to achieve some of his aims. However, in matters of national security, he exercised largely unchecked powers. After 9/11, national security concerns (much as during Nixon’s formative years of the cold war) have presented a good argument for unimpeded presidential powers in all areas of national security, just as the Executive Presidency was argued to be a good thing in Sri Lanka in order to defeat the LTTE, but still remains seven years after the defeat of terrorism. I have just been watching Oliver Stone’s film Snowden. It seems that the courts, the Congress and much of the public now tend to agree with Nixon: “When the president does it, it’s not illegal.”

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During his election campaign, Donald Trump seemed to believe that if he were to be elected he could do anything he wanted. He could lock up Hillary Clinton just by telling his Supreme Court to get the job done. He could deport Mexican immigrants by diktat and build a wall to prevent more coming in and expect Mexico to pay for it. He could lock up Muslims. He could stop the press criticising him. Richard Nixon tried all that kind of stuff and ended up losing the presidency he had wanted so much.

Trump probably did not want the presidency as much as Nixon did. To Trump, the election was an advertising campaign for Trump Enterprises and the surprise bonus of the real presidency itself provides a unique marketing opportunity. Nixon was intense about politics, Trump not so much. Nixon was thwarted. Can Trump be thwarted?

Next week – did Nixon have any good points?

 

 

Nixon Part Three

This article was published in Ceylon Today on Thursday December 22 2016

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Henry Kissinger frequently referred to Nixon as a madman but said: “Can you imagine what this man could have been if somebody had loved him? He would have been a great, great man had somebody loved him”.

Oops!

Evan Thomas, in his somewhat sympathetic biography of Nixon, A Man Divided, almost makes one feel sorry for the man’s awkwardness. He was inept at anything requiring hand-eye coordination. When mounting the dais for his inauguration in January 1969 Nixon tripped and the ambassador from Ecuador noted that his last utterance before taking the oath was “Oops!” He frequently stabbed soldiers he was pinning medals on; at a treaty signing he forgot to take the cap off the pen and then dropped it, leaving aides to scramble around on the floor; he danced like a man with three left feet.

Friends

Stewart Alsop the columnist coined a new word Nixonophobia to describe the allergic reaction that many people, including Republicans, had to Nixon. When Nixon was vice-president in 1955, President Eisenhower had a heart attack. Party chairman Leonard Hall was asked what the Republicans would do if Ike died. Hall replied: “We would run him anyway. There is nothing in the Constitution that says the President must be alive”.

Nixon was generally uncomfortable with women and although he used his wife Pat to boost his career he was often cold and impatient with her in public. He would gallantly open doors for other women but march on through in front of Pat as if she were not there. Once she came into the room when he was preparing for a broadcast. He shouted: “Haven’t I told you never to bother me while I’m working?… Now get out”. There were credible allegations that he struck her in his drunken rages.

Many people commented that Nixon was lonely and friendless but he did develop a strong attachment to Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, a Florida businessman of Cuban origin who had grown rich from real estate. When he was 18 in 1931, Rebozo had followed an intense friendship with Donald Gunn by marrying Gunn’s sister Clare. The marriage was not consummated and was annulled. She married and had two children but her husband was killed in the war. Rebozo proposed to her again and she accepted but the second marriage only lasted two years. In middle age, Rebozo formalised what was described as “an antiseptic relationship” with his lawyer’s secretary. An airline steward claimed to have had a long sexual relationship with Rebozo and someone else said Rebozo had definitely been a member of Miami’s homosexual community.

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Gambling

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When he was in the Navy, Nixon showed a flair for poker which enabled him to come home from the war $10,000 richer ($132,879.21 in 2016 value). There is evidence that Nixon lost his winning streak on a trip to Cuba with Dana Smith, a lawyer who was a friend of Nixon’s and managed a fund setup by businessmen for Nixon’s expenses. As well as doing Smith a favour with the IRS, Nixon, in August 1952, had written to the State Department about a problem with a gambling debt of $4,200 ($37,486.98 in 2016 value) run up by Smith at the Sans Souci casino in Havana. To cut a long story short, it seems that it was Nixon who lost the money not Smith. Witnesses claim that Nixon lost $50,000 ($446,273.58 in 2016 value) at the Hotel Nacional in the early 50s and Rebozo bailed him out. Rebozo was friendly with the owner of the Hotel Nacional, Meyer Lansky, the mobster. Nixon was granted complimentary facilities at the hotel. When Robert Kennedy was handed documents showing that Lansky had footed Nixon’s bill he did not use them because of the Mob connections of his own father and brother.

Cuba

Nixon developed something of an obsession with the aborted attempt by the Kennedy administration to overthrow Castro with the Bay of Pigs fiasco. William Pawley was a staunch and rich right-wing Republican who had donated to Nixon’s campaigns. He had grown up in Cuba and detested Castro. His niece said that Pawley was for years “up to his eyebrows” in attempts to topple Castro and that Nixon was one of his key contacts. The last US ambassador to Cuba, Philip Bonsal, had no doubt that Nixon was “the father of the operation” to topple Castro.

Buying the President

Joe McGinniss wrote a book about the 1968 presidential campaign called The Selling of the President in which he described how Nixon was marketed with the help of the J Walter Thompson advertising agency and two television producers. His chief of staff Bob Haldeman came from the J Walter Thompson agency.

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In a previous article, I described how Nixon, in his first Congressional election campaign, used dirty tricks to defeat Jerry Voorhis. Voorhis had made himself unpopular with big business by exposing shady deals and dodgy profits. Nixon’s opponent in his bid for the Senate, Helen Gahagan Douglas, was outspokenly anti-Communist but was also in favour of limiting the power of big business including the oil industry.  Nixon was very different, having made friends in the oil industry in the 1940s. At a meeting in 1946 of 75 executives, Fred Ortman said they had found just the man to beat Voorhis. “If he makes it, he has what it takes to go all the way. He says he can’t live on a congressman’s salary. Needs a lot more than that to match what he would get in private law practice… We’re going to help”. It is interesting to note that President-elect Donald Trump has named an oil executive as his Secretary of State.

Mob Connections.

Murray Chotiner, Nixon’s dirty tricks specialist, and his brother Jack Chotiner, were partners in a law firm which handled 221 bookmaking cases in a four-year period. The betting industry was controlled by organised crime. In his very first campaign, Nixon had taken money (initially five thousand dollars – $44,127.80 in 2016 value) from Mickey Cohen, a flamboyant gangster (and former partner of Bugsy Siegel) who operated in Nixon’s constituency. Cohen was getting his orders to support Nixon from notorious mobsters Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello. Cohen arranged a payment of $75,000 ($751,668.43 in 2016 value) for the campaign against Gahagan. Rackets investigator Walter Sheridan asked, “who would you invest your money in? Some politician named Clams Linguini? Or a nice Protestant boy from Whittier, California?”

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There were allegations that Nixon accumulated vast funds with Rebozo’s help. His net worth tripled during his five years in the White House and investigative journalist Jack Anderson alleged that Rebozo and Nixon both had much more in Swiss bank accounts. A Swiss hotelier who was a fan of Nixon recalled that even during the 80s Nixon travelled to Zurich every year, sometimes with Pat, sometimes with Rebozo.  Rebozo had connections with gangsters that Nixon must have been aware of.

Howard Hughes was not known as a philanthropist but he gave Nixon a large donation, brokered by Rebozo, and his problems with the IRS vanished. Terry Lenzner, who was the chief investigator for the Senate Watergate Committee, speculated that it was Nixon’s desire to know what the Democrats knew about his dealings with Hughes that may have partially motivated the Watergate break-in. Anthony Summers in his biography of Nixon, The Arrogance of Power, presents evidence in the form of a photocopy of a neatly hand-written memo from Hughes setting out what he expected from Nixon in return for his donation to the 1968 campaign. He wanted the Vietnam war to continue so that he could recoup his losses on helicopters. He basically wanted whoever was president to be in his debt: “I Howard Hughes, can buy any man I want”.

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During Nixon’s unsuccessful bid for the governorship of California in 1962, an official of his opponent Pat Brown, visited Mickey Cohen in Alcatraz and obtained a signed statement that Nixon had received Mob money in previous campaigns. Rebozo and Nixon were still dealing with Meyer Lansky during the 1968 presidential campaign.

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Next week – Nixon’s further crimes.

 

 

 

 

 

Nixon Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday December 15 2016.

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Mendacity and Madness

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The Madman on the Stair

Joseph Laitin, of the Office of Management and Budget, told Anthony Summers, author of The Arrogance of Power, that he was on his way to a meeting in the West Wing with Treasury Secretary George Schultz in spring 1974. “Just as I was about to ascend the stairway, a guy came running down the stairs two at a time. He had a frantic look on his face, wild-eyed like a madman. And he bowled me over … before I could pick myself up, six athletic-looking young men leapt over me, pursuing him. I suddenly realised that they were Secret Service agents, that I’d been knocked over by the president of the United States”.

Many people speculated about Nixon’s mental health. Someone who had served with Nixon in the Navy said he had “severe ups and downs” even in the 1940s. Nixon had once “loved” JFK but soon grew to detest him, convinced, with good reason, that Kennedy had beaten him fraudulently in the 1960 presidential election. Kennedy came to regard Nixon as “mentally unsound”. Frank Sinatra, who was campaigning for JFK, wanted to get publicity for a report that Nixon was seeing a psychiatrist. Pat Brown, Nixon’s opponent in the election for governor of California said: “This is a very peculiar fellow.  … I really think he’s psychotic … an able man but he’s nuts …” BBC correspondent Charles Wheeler was Nixon’s guide to East Berlin and described him as “weird …Totally mad.”

Nixon first visited Dr Arnold Hutschnecker, a specialist in psychosomatic illnesses, in 1951, after reading the doctor’s best-selling book, The Will to Live.  Hutschnecker continued to meet Nixon sporadically until shortly before Nixon died. He visited the president twice at the White House and was the only mental health professional known to have treated a president. Although he would not talk about it while Nixon was alive, Hutschnecker had discussed the treatment in several interviews. In the 1950s, he suggested that ”mental health certificates should be required for political leaders, similar to the Wasserman test demanded by states before marriage.”

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Nixon admitted that he started using sleeping pills in the late 40s. Over a long period soon after becoming president, he also consumed, without prescription or medical supervision, large quantities of an anti-epileptic drug called Dilantin. A doctor consulted by Anthony Summers was alarmed that anyone in a position of responsibility, particularly one with access to the nuclear button, was taking Dilantin and drinking alcohol.

Lies and Ethics

Nixon’s lawyer during the Watergate affair, Fred Buzhardt, later remembered him as “the most transparent liar” he had ever met. Even during his farewell speech after he had resigned he embarked on a bizarre stream-of-consciousness in which he claimed that he was not educated and had no personal wealth in fact, he had a good law degree and was very rich. Barry Goldwater, who had long believed Nixon was insane, said when he was trying to persuade him to resign during Watergate: “The danger in this whole thing was his constant telling lies”. Nixon himself said to one of his aides before meeting Mormon elders: “Whatever I say in there, don’t you believe a word of it…” This reminds me of something Rauf Hakeem said in a 2007 interview: “The subject of political morality is a relative thing. The current electoral system does not give any government the confidence to try and deliver on the commitments made during the polls.” Like Hakeem, Nixon believed that “dissembling” and “hypocrisy” were part of political life. Kissinger thought Nixon convinced himself by his distortions.

inoperative

The tendency was already there in his student debating days when his debating coach was disturbed by his “ability to slide round an argument rather than meet it head on. There was something mean in him, mean in the way he put his questions, argued his points”.

In his first days working for the law firm Wingert and Bewley he made a blunder in court which led to the firm being sued for negligence and Judge Alfred Paonessa sternly reprimanded Nixon: “Mr Nixon, I have serious doubts about your ethical qualifications to practise law in this state of California. I am seriously thinking of turning this matter over to the Bar Association to have you disbarred”.

used-car

Madman with a Button

Sometimes Nixon used madness as a political strategy. He told Kissinger to tell the Soviet ambassador that he had lost his senses and might use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Nixon’s Watergate nemesis Senator Sam Ervin said that the main issue was not that the president was a crook – most rational people had long accepted that: “A certain thumb moving towards a certain red button, a certain question of sanity … Query: if the man who holds the thumb over the button is mad …”. Nixon  was heard boasting that he could press a button and in 20 minutes 50 million Russians would be dead.

brezhnev

When Soviet-backed Arab troops moved into Israel there was a real prospect of world war as Kissinger believed that Soviet troops would be sent in. Nixon did not attend a single meeting on the conflict during the first week. US troops and nuclear weapons were being lined up. Nixon was unavailable – drunk or sleeping. At one point, he had to be rescued from an overflowing bath tub. It was alleged that he had hit his wife. He was wandering the corridors of the White House talking to portraits of former presidents.

madman-diplomacy

Violence

Nixon’s anger sometimes tipped over into violence. At a rally in Southern California, he spotted a Democratic party activist who had plagued him. He strode over and slapped her in the face. He physically attacked the producer of a TV programme because he allowed college students to ask him difficult questions. On the same tour, he punched someone in the face. His aide Bob Haldeman recalls that, on a tour of Iowa, a military aide called Don Hughes was sitting in the car seat in front of Nixon. Nixon, frustrated by the way the tour was going, repeatedly kicked with both feet the back of the seat in front of him.  The next time the car stopped Hughes got out and silently walked away. There is film evidence of Nixon manhandling press secretary Ron Ziegler in New Orleans and he seemed drunk when he gave a speech afterwards.

 

Envy, Vengeance and Prejudices

Nixon’s aide Alexander Butterfield recalls the president shaking with anger when talking about the “Georgetown set”. “Did one of those dirty bastards ever invite me to his f***ing men’s club or his goddamn country club? Not once”. Journalist Hugh Sidey could not detect any human bond between Nixon and his wife but Gloria Steinem saw why Richard and Pat bonded although he was cold to her and beat her. “They were together in their resentment of glamorous people who had it easy…”.

familyman

Nixon ordered the army to spy on the young veteran who exposed the massacre at My Lai and griped for hours about the negative publicity: “It’s those dirty rotten Jews from New York who are behind it”.

 

garment

Although he worked with Jews like Kissinger and Leonard Garment, Nixon used the word “kike” and sent an aide to investigate a “Jewish cabal” at the Bureau of Labour Statistics and complained that there were too many Jews at the IRS. Women in government were a pain in the neck; Italians were all dishonest, as were Mexicans. He often referred to African-Americans as “Jigaboos”.

 

jigaboo

vp-nixon-with-mlk-in-1957

With Martin Luther King in 1957

 

A convicted murderer, William Gilday, claimed that he was hired by Nixon aides to carry out dirty tricks, including the ultimate dirty trick of murder. Among those Gilday  was incited to kill were Edward Kennedy and George Wallace. When Wallace was shot, he had to withdraw from the presidential race that Nixon won.

wallace

Wallace harboured suspicions of Nixon’s involvement. Journalists Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson infuriated Nixon with their reporting of secret funding. Gordon Liddy said he was charged with finding ways of stopping them. Liddy came to the conclusion that the only way would be to kill them.

More on Nixon’s crimes  – and his connections with organised crime – next week.

 

Nixon Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday December 8 2016. Unfortunately, the final paragraphs were missing.

Colman's Column3

So much is being written about the election of Donald Trump that I have decided not to add to the verbiage at this point. I have plenty more to say about the Trump phenomenon but I will wait until some dust has settled. The idea occurred to me to write a series about mad American presidents.

nixons_the_one_portrait_1968

Wise and Humane Rulers

Justice Davis wrote in a Supreme Court judgement in 1866, that the nation has “no right to expect that it will always have wise and humane rulers, sincerely attached to the principles of the Constitution. Wicked men, ambitious of power, with hatred of liberty and contempt of law, may fill the place once occupied by Washington and Lincoln.” That is similar to the argument I used against the 18th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution in 2010. It is interesting to note that Richard M Nixon gave serious thought to changing the 22nd Amendment of the US Constitution in order to allow himself a third term (and more). The 25th Amendment, which deals with the succession when a sitting president is impaired, was given much study  during Nixon’s presidency.

As long ago as 1973, people were seriously questioning whether the institution of the presidency could work. American journalist Max Lerner wrote:  “A man with poor judgment, an impetuous man, a sick man, a power-mad man, each would be dangerous in the post. Even an able, sensitive man needs stronger safeguards around him than exist today.”

The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon by Anthony Summers was published in 2000 and provides a very detailed forensic picture of Nixon’s many failings. There have been attempts to rehabilitate Nixon. I recently read Evan Thomas’s Nixon: A Man Divided and was almost feeling sorry for the old brute. That feeling did not last until the end of the book.

Dick Deterred

When I was learning about mad presidents on my American Studies course, one of my contemporaries at Manchester University was the playwright David Edgar. He made his name with a brilliant play about the rise of fascism in Britain, Destiny, and won global fame with his work for the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, an 8½ hour-long adaptation of Charles Dickens’s novel. In 1973, he imagined what Shakespeare might have made of Richard Nixon in his play Dick Deterred, the basic joke of which is to cast Nixon as the villainous Richard III.

Now is this winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this Texan bum
And all the crowds who never dodged the draft
Deserting are the bosoms of Saigon
Our brows now bound with wreaths of compromise
Our bruised armies are demobilized
Our napalm bombs are changed to Paris meetings
Our My Lai massacres to diplomatic measures
But I, that am not shaped for aught but tricks
Nor made to court an amorous CBS
I that am rudely stamped, and want capacity
To strut before a wanton East Coast liberal…

dickdeterred

Mendacity

The ‘M’ in Richard M Nixon should stand for mendacity. An editorial in the London Spectator in 1973 noted that in two centuries American history had come full circle “from George Washington, who could not tell a lie, to Richard Nixon, who cannot tell the truth.” Novelist George V Higgins wrote in 1974: “He became a virtuoso of deception, a wizard as a manipulator of reality and facts, and of the nation’s trust.” Like Bill Clinton, Nixon was not bothered that people who were loyal to him suffered because of his mendacity. Because of Nixon’s lies fourteen of his associates went to prison but he was pardoned.

Tricky Dicky’s Dirty Tricks

Jerry Voorhis was a highly-respected Democrat from California who served five terms in the House of Representatives from 1937 to 1947. Nixon defeated Voorhis in 1946 in a campaign cited as an example of Nixon’s use of red-baiting during his political rise despite the fact that Voorhis “temperamentally and philosophically loathed” Communism and was described by Senator Paul Douglas as “a political saint”.

voorhis

Nixon’s defeat of Voorhis was achieved under the guidance of Murray Chotiner. Chotiner explained his philosophy: “I believe in all sincerity that if you do not deflate the opposition candidate before your own campaign gets started, the odds are you are doomed to defeat.” Nixon hired Chotiner again to organise his 1950 Senate campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas.

gahagan-douglas

Chotiner distorted Douglas’s liberal voting record, printed the accusations on pink paper to hint at communist sympathy and referred to her as the “Pink Lady”.

25 Apr 1956, Beverly Hills, California, USA --- Murray M. Chotiner, campaign manager for Vice-President Richard Nixon in the 1952 campaign, looks at a subpoena requesting his presence in Washington for questioning regarding his alleged legal services for a blacklisted government contractor. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

25 Apr 1956, Beverly Hills, California, USA — Murray M. Chotiner, campaign manager for Vice-President Richard Nixon in the 1952 campaign, looks at a subpoena requesting his presence in Washington for questioning regarding his alleged legal services for a blacklisted government contractor. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Chotiner next managed Nixon’s 1952 vice presidential campaign and helped Nixon through allegations of antisemitism (it helped that Chotiner was a Jew) and revelations that there were privately run funds to pay Nixon’s political expenses—revelations that the candidate decisively overcame with his televised Checkers speech. (More on that later.)

Chotiner was investigated in 1956 by Congress on suspicion of influence-peddling. Under questioning by subcommittee counsel Robert F Kennedy, Chotiner disclosed that he had been retained by New Jersey mobster Marco Regnelli in an attempt to stave off a deportation order.  (More on Nixon and organised crime later.) Nixon distanced himself for a while but recalled Chotiner to work on his unsuccessful 1962 campaign for Governor of California, and again for his successful 1968 presidential bid. Chotiner was able to place a “mole” on Hubert Humphrey’s campaign press plane who reported on comments made by the Democratic candidate and his staff, and made evaluations of their morale.

Chotiner was still around at the time of Watergate, but during the Nixon presidency, Donald Segretti was the main dirty tricks man and indeed coined the phrase.

Donald Segretti

The 1972 presidential campaign is remembered as one of the dirtiest in modern times. Segretti’s operatives began their attacks during the Democratic primaries. They printed fliers attacking Maine Senator Ed Muskie’s stance on Israel and put them under the windshield wipers of cars outside synagogues, making it look like John Lindsay was the culprit. They stole Citizens for Muskie stationery and sent out a letter accusing Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of fathering an illegitimate child with a teenager and falsely claiming that he had been arrested for homosexuality in the 1950s.

Paranoia Strikes Deep

The Nixon White House was paranoid. In 1969, Nixon’s staff compiled a list of two hundred politicians, actors, academics and other well-known figures who were considered enemies. http://www.enemieslist.info/list1.php. Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen and Gregory Peck are there, as is, inevitably, Jane Fonda. There was a short list of people targeted for immediate retribution. The IRS, FBI and CIA were directed by the president to harass and dig up dirt on “enemies”. Some celebrities were not listed but harassed anyway, John Lennon, for example.

Wiretaps were used without judicial warrant, not only on opponents, but on members of the government, as factions vied for prominence within the administration. Kissinger ordered wiretaps of officials suspected of leaking to the press; attorney general John Mitchell tapped John Sear, a rival for Nixon’s attention; chief of staff Alexander Haig ordered a tap on speechwriter William Safire; the Joint Chiefs of Staff set a navy ensign to spy on Kissinger at the same time that Kissinger had a spy watching Secretary of Defense Melvyn Laird.

Mental Health

Henry Kissinger said Nixon was the “strangest man I ever met” and aide Alexander Butterfield found him “a strange, strange fellow”. Evan Thomas sympathetically described his social awkwardness, his physical clumsiness, his tin ear for normal behaviour. As a boy, Nixon was a friendless loner but was elected to several leadership positions in high school through sheer determination. He was constantly proving himself. The dark side of all this is that he felt venomous hatred for those who succeeded easily and stylishly. He was self-pitying, jealous, vengeful and resentful. Elizabeth Drew writes: “He was often openly angry, not infrequently depressed, and more than occasionally drunk on the job, but his daughters loved him and remain fiercely loyal.”

The Blair Years Part Seven

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday December 1 2016

Colman's Column3

Blair’s Later Career

deng

Tony Blair has hinted that he may return to active politics. He said he was “trying to create the space for a political debate about where modern Western democracies go and where the progressive forces particularly find their place”. He announced that he will launch a new organisation in the new year to look at the global forces that have led to Brexit and Trump: “The political centre has lost its power to persuade and its essential means of connection to the people it seeks to represent. Instead, we are seeing a convergence of the far left and far right.” Blair plans a consolidation of the various groups and foundations he currently runs. He has already said he is closing his for-profit businesses, which have attracted criticism.

It is rather depressing to read the opening pages of Tom Bower’s book Broken Vows – Tony Blair and the Tragedy of Power – and to think back to the optimism one felt in May 1997. It has to be said that Bowers’s book has not received unstinting praise. Nevertheless, Bower gives a good picture of Blair’s life after he left government. Blair has earned tens of millions through a combination of consultancies, public speaking and facilitating corporate deals.

Delivery Man

Blair’s main pitch was that he succeeded in government because of his ability to “deliver” and that he could pass the secret of this on to others in government through “delivery unit solution packages”. David Runciman reviewing Broken Vows in the London Review of Books noted: “Deliverology is itself a false prospectus. It relies on the assumption that Blair gradually mastered these skills on the job and that he was forced out just when he had got on top of the government machine.”

In order to write this series, I have done a lot of reading, including the following very useful books, whose authors interviewed a great number of civil servants and politicians who had observed Blair at close quarters. I would recommend these books. There were three books by Anthony Seldon – Blair (2004), Blair Unbound (2008) and Brown at 10 (2010). There were two by Andrew Rawnsley – Servants of the People (2000) and The End of the Party (2010). No-one seems to disagree with Bowers’s verdict that Blair could be unfocused, lacking in knowledge and poor at management. None of these writers seems overly impressed with Michael Barber’s Delivery Unit.

Globetrotter

Bower describes how in the last months of his premiership Blair preferred travelling the globe to paying attention to domestic politics. “Some of those journeys were influenced by his ambitions for a career after Downing Street”. Bowers puts some of the blame on Cherie: “He had constantly urged his wife to refrain from her embarrassing financial forays, promising her serious wealth once they left Downing Street. He assumed that a new world of fees and commissions would answer Cherie’s familiar plea of ‘Why can’t we go by private jet?’”

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 10: Tony Blair and Cherie Blair seen arriving hand in hand at chiltern firehouse restaurant and memebers club for dinner on May 10, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Davies/GC Images)

 

 

 

Helping Gaddafi

 

Blair resigned as Prime Minister on 27 June 2007, but immediately before leaving office he embarked on a global tour which included a meeting with Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. On 27 April, he had thanked Gaddafi for the “excellent cooperation” between their intelligence services. What this in reality meant was that Blair was helping Gaddafi torture and kill his opponents. MI5 officers, in cooperation with Libyan intelligence agents, had been targeting Libyans living in London who were opposed to Colonel Gaddafi’s regime. When Blair thanked Gaddafi for “assistance” he was probably referring to information extracted by torture in Libya.

gadblair

Human Rights Stuff

For a man who based his “ethical” foreign policy on unseating tyrants, Blair’s relations with dictators have been puzzling. It is difficult to square this with his professed Christian morality. In 2011, he accepted a lucrative offer from the Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev.

kazak

Leaked e-mails revealed in 2016 that Blair had charged Nazarbayev £5 million a year for his services. Kazakh security forces shot dead fourteen unarmed protesters and wounded over sixty others in Zhanaozen in 2011. There were also reports of opponents being tortured. “I don’t dismiss the human rights stuff,” Blair said. “These are points we make”. Blair personally wrote large sections of a speech that Nazarbayev made at Cambridge University. The line Blair advised him to take was “I understand and hear what our critics say. However, I would simply say this to them: by all means make your points and I assure you we’re listening. But give us credit for the huge change of a positive nature we have brought about in our country over these past 20 years… We are going to have to go step by step.” Since Blair began his work with Kazakhstan, the country has fallen eight places in the  Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, to 160 out of 180, and fell in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, to 123 out of 167.

 

The UK government refused to release information about Blair’s involvement with Rwanda through his Africa Governance Initiative charity. Amnesty International has accused Rwandan president Paul Kagame of human rights abuses, including unlawful detentions, restricting freedom of expression and jailing opposition politicians and journalists. A UN report accused his forces of war crimes, including possible genocide, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

paul-kagame

Bad Faith

Blair even accepted donations to his Faith Foundation of $500,000 from Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch, and $1 million from Michael Milken (the model for Hollywood’s Gordon “greed is good” Gekko) who was convicted in 1990 for fraud. Faith Foundation staff attended a conference in Vienna funded by Saudi Arabia.

 

His work towards peace in the Middle East for the Quartet (for which the UK government contributed £400,000 of taxpayers’ money every year) proved ineffectual because of the taint of his closeness with GW Bush. One observer said that he watched Blair’s authority ‘swiftly drip away’, and he was excluded from discussions.

 

This image of a former prime minister touting himself about may be distasteful but Blair is not the first world leader to disappoint and cash in afterwards. It seems a bit pathetic that Blair should use his status to try to sell the Nigerians Israeli drones and other military equipment for use in their fight against Islamic rebels. However, is it so bad to try and make a buck for Tony Blair Associates? This is more serious than just hucksterism and greed. David Runciman was writing before Trump’s election but he presciently wrote in March 2016: “The way Tony Blair and Bill Clinton have conducted themselves since leaving office is a hostage to the fortunes not just of their personal reputations but of the political causes they still represent … If the scandal of deliverology contributes to the election of President Trump, that would be another thing entirely.”

Conclusion

The three most important public servants in Blair’s administration – Robin Butler, Richard Wilson and Andrew Turnbull – concluded that, as prime minister, Blair had not been a fit guardian of the public’s trust. Richard Wilson said: “There are events during my period as Cabinet secretary that make me shudder at what I remember because we had high hopes and we were so disappointed. He promised so much, but in the end, so little was achieved.”

Historian Ian Kershaw wrote in 2007 when Blair left office: “Labour now seems to stand for little more than the claim that it can manage the problems of British society a bit better, and a bit more humanely, than can the Conservatives. And even that claim is open to question…However Blair’s domestic achievements are judged, his place in history will be primarily shaped by the Iraq war. Iraq will forever stand out in bold red in the debit column of his time in office. It was an avoidable disaster. And it was a disaster bearing Blair’s personal hallmark.”

 

The Blair Years Part Six

Colman's Column3Sleaze and Achievements

lord_levy_and_blair

 

Formula for Sleaze

bernie-ecclestone-and-slavica-ecclestone

Much of the reason for the voters’ distaste for the Major administration was because of the “sleaze factor” but the new administration itself became besmirched in its very first year. Labour had pledged to ban tobacco advertising. Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone had donated a million pounds to the Labour Party and this came to look like a bribe when health minister Tessa Jowell, who was fiercely anti-tobacco, was forced to argue the case for exempting Formula One from tobacco advertising restrictions. Blair apologized and the money was returned but it was later proved that he lied about the timing of decisions in this matter.

tessa

The Hinduja Foundation is back in the news after promising to contribute £3.5m to the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Back in 2000 the Hinduja Brothers donated £ one million to the Millennium Project and brought about the resignation of Peter Mandelson in their quest for British citizenship. The Hinduja passport applications also affected Keith Vaz, a junior minister for Europe, whose wife ran a company that advised on applications for British citizenship, which had received money from the Hinduja Foundation.

Elizabeth Filkin, who was Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards between February 1999 and 2002, was subject to a venomous whispering campaign and one political reporter was told she was a “mad alcoholic”. Filkin resigned in December 2002, complaining about the “quite remarkable” vitriol from the Labour MPs she investigated, including Geoffrey Robinson and Keith Vaz.  Vaz is known to Sri Lankans as an LTTE sympathiser and is, as I write, again under a cloud following allegations relating to rent boys and drugs.

Lord Cashpoint

One of the consequences of Blair’s “success” in getting rid of Clause IV was that the trade unions, who had once been the mainstay of Labour Party finances, were no longer inclined to be so generous with funding. New Labour had an enduring problem raising enough cash with which to fight elections. It was alleged that Lord Levy (formerly a pop music entrepreneur whose stable included Alvin Stardust and Chris Rea) was tasked with raising funds for the party and was offering knighthoods and peerages in return. Levy became known as Lord Cashpoint.

levy-eye

Blair himself was interviewed by police. He and the Labour party were not exonerated from acting illegally. The decision of the Crown Prosecution Service not to proceed was made solely on the basis of a lack of evidence and an assessment of the likelihood of a conviction. Some of the police officers involved in the inquiry claim there was political pressure applied to them and that some of the politicians interviewed were less than helpful.

steve-bell

Messiah, Mafia and Porn King

Broken Vows is a recent illuminating (although not beyond criticism) biography of Tony Blair by Tom Bower. Bower also wrote a biography of someone whose support Blair sought – Richard Desmond, proprietor of the Daily Express newspaper.  In 1982, Desmond’s company, Northern & Shell, began to publish the UK edition of the soft-porn magazine Penthouse, including Forum (for which Alistair Campbell once wrote). The company soon moved on to publishing a range of adult (sic) titles, including Asian BabesBig Ones, Eros, Horny Housewives, Only 18 and Mothers-in-Law.

John Sweeney wrote in the London Observer in May 2001 that Desmond had made a deal in 1991 for running advertisements in his “adult” titles for telephone sex lines run by Richard Martino of the Gambino crime family. In October 1992, Desmond’s then managing director, Philip Bailey, had a Taser applied to his testicles in New York as an explicit threat to Desmond himself. Desmond hired James Brown, a convicted criminal, as his bodyguard. An associate of Brown’s has claimed that bags containing £2 million were delivered to an Italian restaurant in Soho, London, to settle the issue with the Gambinos

Blair’s interest in this model citizen was sparked by Desmond’s acquisition of the Express. Blair invited Desmond to meet him at Number 10.  Desmond claimed to be a socialist and donated £100,000 to the Labour Party. Blair did not know that Desmond had also contributed to the Conservative Party and had ordered the editor of his pornographic magazine Readers’ Wives to “put Cherie Blair on the front cover”. Stupidly, Labour spent £120,000 (more than the size of Desmond’s donation) on buying campaign adverts in Desmond’s papers.

 

desmond-eye

Mandelson, Blunkett

Peter Mandelson was renowned for his manipulative Machiavellian skills but had a tin ear about his own actions. He bought a home in 1996, partly with an interest-free loan of £373,000 from Geoffrey Robinson, a cabinet colleague and millionaire whose business dealings were subject to an inquiry by Mandelson’s own department. Mandelson failed to declare the loan in the Register of Members’ Interests, or to his building society. He did not believe he had done anything wrong but his evasions embarrassed the prime minister who persuaded him to resign in in December 1998.  He came back to the Cabinet after ten months. In October 1999, he was appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. On 24 January 2001, Mandelson resigned for a second time, following his involvement in the Hinduja passport scandal.

David Blunkett resigned as Home Secretary on 15 December 2004 after allegations that he helped fast-track the renewal of a work permit for his ex-lover’s nanny. Following the 2005 general election Blunkett was returned to the cabinet as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. He was ousted again because of a directorship in a company proposing to bid for government contracts to provide paternity tests to the Child Support Agency (CSA) – part of his department.

Caplingate

caplincheriel2704_468x744

Although Blair used the media relentlessly for his own ends, Mrs Blair resented intrusions of privacy and did not try to hide her contempt, which was reciprocated by the press. Cherie had asked her “lifestyle advisor”, Carole Caplin, to find her property in which to invest in Bristol where her son was going to university.

chercaplin

Caplin’s boyfriend, Peter Foster, helped to find two flats and got a discount of £40,000 by mentioning the Blairs. Foster had been convicted in Australia of fraud. Cherie lied to Blair about this and the lies were passed on to the press, causing the prime minister great embarrassment.

Carole Caplin and Peter Foster in grabs from BBC documnetary called " The Conman, his Lover and the Prime Minister's Wife " 15/02/03 for paul

Carole Caplin and Peter Foster 

Achievements

Despite the sleaze and the disappointments, Blair did transform the Labour Party and presided over three consecutive general election victories, a feat which had eluded every previous Labour leader. The UK did generally become a more comfortable place to be after ten years of Blair. New Labour adopted the EU social chapter, introduced a minimum wage, reduced child poverty, shifted state aid from the middleclass, increased taxes on the better-off, concentrated considerable resources into deprived areas and used windfall profits from the privatised utilities to create job and training opportunities. A five-year homelessness strategy was effective. Government figures published in 2005 showed homelessness acceptances had fallen by nearly 7,000 on the previous year.

I cannot do justice here to Blair’s impressive achievement on Northern Ireland. I recommend two books by people who followed the process step by painful step. Deaglán de Bréadún was Political Correspondent with the Irish Times. His daily coverage of the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland was published in a book, The Far Side of Revenge: Making Peace in Northern Ireland which is essential reading. In Great Hatred, Little Room, Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff, gives an insider’s account.

ikea

Blair’s success with Northern Ireland was due to his faults as well as his strengths. He was determined to look at Northern Ireland afresh, free from the received wisdom of his predecessors. Ignorance and naivete were assets in this case, helping him to resolve a situation that history seemed to have made intractable. It was a tribute to Blair’s doggedness, communication skills, resilience and creativity that he persuaded Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness not only to govern together but even to become friends. McGuinness wept when Paisley died.

chuckle-bros

Michael Burleigh adds the caveat about the Northern Ireland triumph: “Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell … were surely influenced by their triumph amid the steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone to scale up to the mosques of Basra, Baghdad and Ramadi?”

 

 

Next week – Blair’s later career.

 

 

The Blair Years Part Five

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday 17 November 2016 

https://ceylontoday.lk/print20161101CT20161231.php?id=9430

 

Colman's Column3

The War with Gordon Brown

blairbrown

While journalists and biographers have done much to illuminate the strange psyche of Gordon Brown, there is only one writer who could have done him justice- William Shakespeare. There are countless anecdotes about Brown’s rages during which he hurled expletives and inanimate objects. Tessa Jowell, one of the more placid members of the Cabinet, was provoked into shouting at Brown: “Don’t you ever f****ing speak to me like that again.” Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon groaned, “Why can’t he behave like a human being?”

 

“From day one, it was terrible,” says Jonathan Powell, Blair’s Chief of Staff. In the early days of the new government, one of the most senior figures in Number 10 (not Peter Mandelson) said, “You know Gordon. He feels so vulnerable and so insecure. He has these psychological flaws.”  Peter Mandelson once remarked to Blair that he should put a sign up on his desk with the inscription: “Remember: The Chancellor is mad”.

 

Blair’s team of advisors and Brown’s were in a constant state of warfare. According to Jonathan Powell, “Gordon had a very strong field of gravity. People became infected by his paranoia. Working for Gordon did something to people”. A senior civil servant commented: “The people around Brown were pretty ruthless”.

 

Blair and Brown

blair-brownyoung

I was in the House of Commons on July 27 1983, to hear Gordon Brown’s maiden speech. The speech was impressive in a dour kind of way, showing a great deal of sympathy for the downtrodden in his constituency. He shared a Westminster office with a newly-elected MP from the Sedgefield constituency, Tony Blair. When Labour leader John Smith died in 1994, Blair was shadow home secretary and Brown shadow chancellor. The legend has it that on 31 May, Blair and Brown met at the Granita restaurant in Islington, where Brown is said to have agreed to step aside on the understanding that Blair would one day stand down in favour of Brown. Throughout Blair’s premiership, Brown would shout at Blair: “When are you going to f*** off!”

smithblair

 

smithbrown

 

Financial Wizard

 

Brown liked to portray himself as more socialist than Blair. His record as Chancellor does not support this. Soon after taking office in 1997, the new administration announced, with Brown’s agreement, that it would be continuing Conservative economic policies. Brown wrote: “I wanted to preserve Thatcher’s competitive tax rates. I wanted wealthy people to feel welcomed in the UK”. The Chancellor’s new tax rates favoured speculators, tax-avoiders and the super-rich. According to Tom Bower: “Blair’s grasp on the effect of Brown’s policies on British industry, the City or the economy was indiscernible”. However, Blair realised that whatever about Brown’s self-image as “prudent”, he was spending too much. Blair did not realise how ignorant Brown was about markets and balance sheets or warnings about the property bubble and the effects of deregulation.

 

 

Obstruction

 

Brown, like a sulky child, hindered many policy initiatives, not because he had any rational case against them, but simply because Blair wanted them. Andrew Rawnsley comments, “Brown did not offer much by way of an alternative vision or theory of reform. He just knew what he didn’t like. What he didn’t like was anything coming from Blair”. A Treasury minister commented that “Gordon thought that Tony was shallow. By definition, any idea coming from Tony had to be reckless and unworkable because it was Tony’s idea”. Brown said “Tony doesn’t think more than an inch deep”. There countless stories of Brown refusing to attend important meetings. When he did attend, he would not contribute, spending the whole time working on his own papers.

 

There are also countless tales of Brown interfering in the remit of other ministers. The NHS will serve as the prime example. Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, was incandescent when Brown, without consultation, announced his own NHS review and made critical remarks about the health service’s performance. Milburn complained to Blair that Brown “saw it as his right to trample on everyone else’s territory”.  On health and education, the chancellor adamantly opposed creeping privatisation of services at the same time as being a fervent proponent of public private finance initiatives (PFI) to fund the building of NHS hospitals. Let the sewage flooding the operating theatres at the brand-new Carlisle hospital stand as a telling symbol of PFI.

 

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/the-healthcare-business-in-the-uk/

 

My Indecision is Final

 

Cabinet Secretary Richard Wilson said, “I had Permanent Secretaries wanting decisions and we couldn’t give them because Blair and Brown were in a row. Issues stacked up like aircraft over Heathrow”. Like so many others, Wilson found it difficult to decide what Blair wanted because there was no defined objective, only generalities like “reforming the public services”. Wilson’s request for Blair to explain his message received at best idealistic verbiage.

Sir Richard Wilson

Sir Richard Wilson

Rawnsley quotes one of Blair’s closest advisors: “Tony sits there at the Monday morning strategy meetings screaming: ‘What are we doing about health? What are we doing about crime? What are we doing about transport? And nothing happening.’”

 

Blair put on a good public performance after the London bombings but someone who saw his performance at the Cobra meetings said, “He didn’t understand the machine of which he was the master, so he got in the way of getting what he needed.”

 

New Ways of Governing

 

In 1997, Blair was a complete novice to government, as also was Gordon Brown. Neither of them had managed anything except a political party. The prime minister’s apathy about organisation and management was incurable.  Officials at Number 10 had a set ritual for welcoming a new prime minister. Blair was presented with a thick blue folder, entitled “The Precedent Book”, which set out how previous governments had handled major events, such as the Queen’s Speech and Prime Ministerial statements. Blair pointedly did not open it. The Cabinet was not consulted about Brown’s decision to grant independence to the Bank of England. The Cabinet Secretary was concerned that major decisions were not discussed in Cabinet. “I’m sure they’ll agree,” responded Blair. The Cabinet Secretary persisted: “shouldn’t the Cabinet at least be informed?” “They’ll all agree,” repeated Blair, more emphatically.

 

Cabinet meetings were not held as frequently as under previous prime ministers; they did not last long; there was little substantive discussion. A joke became popular among ministers. “Why does the tea trolley serve only half the Cabinet? Because the meetings are over before it can reach the other side.”

 

Blair was happy for the government to interfere in all the interstices of citizens’ lives. The nation and its administrators became weary with initiative fatigue. According to Andrew Rawnsley: “Units, task forces and review groups, commissars of modernisation on every subject from silicone breast implants to social exclusion, proliferated … councils were instructed on the annual gross weight of dog turds they were expected to collect”.

 

The deficiencies of Blair’s style of governance is shown starkly by his handling of the invasion of Iraq. One of Blair’s reasons for avoiding formal discussions about Iraq was that he wanted to exclude Brown. In the past, a military intervention of this nature would have involved discussion of thick red files in the Cabinet room by ministers and officials and senior military officers covering the background and options.  Blair kept decisions to himself but subsequently did not give them his full attention. Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon discovered that conversations with Blair about Iraq were invariably undermined by the prime minister’s attention shifting elsewhere.

 

Conclusion

The number of Whitehall press officers had expanded to 1,100. The tally of special advisers –

spin doctors – had more than doubled since May 1997. Millionaire novelist Ken Follett was once a generous supporter of the Labour Party but became disillusioned. He predicted that Blair would be remembered “as the Prime Minister who made malicious gossip an everyday tool of government”. It was an ironic result of the efforts of New Labour’s propagandists that they undermined the public perception of the character of the Prime Minister and obscured his government’s real successes.

 

Next week – what were the successes?

 

The Blair Years Part Four

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday, November 10 2016

 

Colman's Column3

 

The Moral Imperialist Messiah

 

 

Kosovo

tonibler

When Blair visited Pristina in 2010, he appeared onstage with nine boys who were named after him. Tonibler Sahiti’s mother said: “I hope to God that he grows up to be like Tony Blair or just a fraction like him.” The NATO intervention in Kosovo, which owed much to Blair’s advocacy, is often seen as protecting Kosovo Albanians from genocide. However, SNP leader Alex Salmond called it “an unpardonable folly”.  General Mike Jackson exhorted the troops, “with God on our side” “to protect the Albanian good guys from the murdering Serbs”. Days after Blair’s visit to Pristina, Albanian thugs began murdering Serbs.

Cabinet Secretary Andrew Turnbull sees the apparent success in Kosovo as the beginning of Blair’s Messiah complex. “He is saving the world from evil”. While intervening in Kosovo, Blair declared during a speech in Chicago, (partly drafted by Lawrence Freedman, who was later a member of the Chilcot Inquiry) his “Doctrine of the International Community”. Blair advocated the use of foreign troops to protect a civilian population. This doctrine could have been used to intervene in Sri Lanka.

Sierra Leone

The civil war in Sierra Leone began on 23 March 1991 when the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) attempted to overthrow the elected government.  Families were gunned down in the street, children and adults had their limbs hacked and women were raped.

Unarmed UN observers, including a small number of officers from the British Army and Royal Marines, were expected to monitor the Lomé Peace Accord signed in July 1999. The RUF did not honour the peace agreement, kidnapped UN personnel and seemed set to take over the whole country. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he expected the UK as the former colonial power, to intervene in Sierra Leone directly, rather than relying on the international community.

chief-of-peace

Blair described the Sierra Leone operation as one of the things of which he is most proud. Most of the inhabitants of Sierra Leone welcomed it. The motivation was altruistic and there was no strategic or commercial interest in the adventure. The proportionality of 5,000 troops and naval force being sent to deal with a small group of brutal drug dealers was not questioned at the time. Unfortunately, the Sierra Leone adventure was cited by Blair in his rationale for later deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Afghanistan

Immediately after 9/11, Blair was very supportive of GW Bush. Although anxious to prevent the US taking precipitate and inappropriate action, Blair was also puzzled and frustrated by Bush’s initial invisibility and lack of response. Those in the know thought the 9/11 perpetrators might be hiding in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban. At the first meeting of intelligence chiefs in the den at Number 10, Blair had looked a little ‘fuzzy’ at the mention of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network. One official said, “I don’t think Blair knew much about al-Qaeda at this point. It was clear to me that he had not taken in earlier warnings”.

 

On October 7, 2001, the US, supported by allies, began an invasion of Afghanistan. A small contingent of British SAS soldiers supported American special forces who were guiding the US air force’s bombing raids. The Pentagon initially rejected Blair’s offer to send 6,000 troops. Tom Bower comments “Blair’s commitment was driven entirely by an untested philosophy, and he could not provide a definition of ‘victory’ that would end the war.” Six weeks after the bombing had begun, the Taliban were driven out of Kabul but they were not finished.

karzai

At the 2001 Labour Party Conference, Blair gave an impassioned speech in which he stated his case for moral imperialism and made a firm commitment to fighting alongside the US, whatever the cost. One Cabinet member described it as “the inaugural speech of the President of the World”. Andrew Rawnsley commented: “There was a disjunction between his admission that they couldn’t get the trains to run on time at home and his vaulting claim that they could heal the world of conflict, poverty and disease.”

 

 

Waiting for Chilcot

Basra, IRAQ: (FILES) -- File picture dated 29 May 2003 shows British Prime Minister Tony Blair addressing troops in Basra, Iraq.Blair announced 10 May 2007 his resignation after a decade in powerr, saying he will stand down at the end of June. He told party suporters in his constituency of Sedgefield that he would step down as Labour leader, and therefore as prime minister on June 27. AFP PHOTO POOL Stefan ROUSSEAU (Photo credit should read STEFAN ROUSSEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

29 May 2003  British Prime Minister Tony Blair addressing troops in Basra

 

The entire 12-volume, 2.6million-word Chilcot Report into the invasion of Iraq is available online.   I recommend readers to look at the report’s executive summary.

 

http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/247921/the-report-of-the-iraq-inquiry_executive-summary.pdf

 

It was widely expected that the report would be a whitewash and the long delay (the process took seven years) in publishing the report caused suspicions. Previous inquiries related to Iraq – Hutton in 2003 and Butler in 2004 (of which Chilcot had been a member) – had been disappointing.

 

The five appointees who were tasked with disentangling events since 1998 did not inspire confidence. Tom Bower described one of them, Baroness Usha Prashar, as “an untalented quangoist, [who] fulfilled the requirement of diversity.” I worked with her when she was a member of the Social Security Advisory Committee in 1983 and do not recall ever hearing her contribute to a SSAC discussion. On the Chilcot panel she asked Blair questions about post-war Iraq but failed to follow up on his evasions, inaccuracies and contradictions.

 

Nevertheless, the Chilcot report was not a whitewash. It found that military action was not the last resort and that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence. The severity of the threat posed by Iraq, particularly the existence of weapons of mass destruction, was grossly overstated, and presented with a certainty that was not justified. Furthermore, the UK, which did not achieve its stated objectives in Iraq, did not prepare or plan for a post-Saddam Iraq.

Gerard Russell is an author and a former British and UN diplomat who spent 14 years representing Britain in the Middle East and served as a political officer in Afghanistan. He speaks fluent Arabic and Dari and assisted Iraq’s first elected prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, in 2005. He recently commented on the Chilcot Report in the New York Review of Books: “Perhaps there were no quick solutions to be had, but only the slow rebuilding of an abused and shattered state. If so, the most important lesson for us is that we should be doubly and triply cautious about breaking something that is so hard to reassemble.” Russell concludes:” … occupying and trying to run a foreign country is a doomed endeavour.”

 

How not to Fight a War

 

David Manning, who was the British Ambassador to the US from 2003 to 2007, described to the Chilcot committee “a ring of secrecy” that Blair constructed. Cabinet Secretary Andrew Turnbull realised that Blair and his chief of staff’s passion for speed and secrecy “was not a bad habit he and Powell had slipped into, but how they wanted to operate from the start”.

 

Turnbull was excluded from any discussions about Iraq as was Kevin Tebbitt the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence. David Omand, the former head of GCHQ, who had been specifically appointed as the coordinator of security and intelligence in the Cabinet Office could not get Blair to talk, or listen, to him. In his book, Broken Vows, Tom Bower commented: “By excluding the MoD – and Tebbit’s background included seventeen years in the Foreign Office, then [Director of] GCHQ –Blair denied himself direct advice about the movement of manpower and the supply of equipment before and after the invasion.”

 

According to Andrew Turnbull, Blair was “less and less interested in hearing contrary opinions.” Cabinet meetings were desultory. During twenty-five meetings about the war, no official was summoned to write the minutes, and the papers submitted by the Cabinet Office outlining the options were not read. Blair did not enjoy a good relationship with senior military men upon whom he relied to implement his plans for Iraq. Michael Boyce, was succeeded as Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) in 2003 by Michael Walker. When military leaders asked for more manpower or equipment he said, “Go and ask Gordon”.  Walker tried to get more helicopters but found Blair “inattentive”.

 

War with Brown

 

Officials were astonished that Blair “spent more time and effort managing the relationship with his Chancellor than on any other issue”. More on Gordon Brown next week.

 

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