Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Category: Ceylon Today

China and Sri Lanka Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday February 16 2017

http://epaper.ceylontoday.lk/TodayEpaper.php?id=2017-02-16

 

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CBK

On April 21-27, 1996, President Kumaratunga made a state visit to China at the invitation of then Chinese President Jiang Zeming. Two agreements were signed to enhance economic cooperation. On August 30 2005, Kumaratunga began a five-day state visit to China at the invitation of then Chinese President Hu Jintao. The two countries signed eight agreements on cultural, economic, financial and tourism cooperation. However, she turned away from China (accounting for only 18%) as a supplier of weapons for the war against the LTTE.

CBK’s recent statements on China aroused the wrath of Dayan Jayatilleka (former Sri Lankan ambassador to Geneva, Paris and UNESCO) for her “shameful description of the Nelum Pokuna as a “commode” (“kakkussi pochchiya”). The building was a gift from China and modelled on the magnificent Lotus Pond of King Parakramabahu’s Polonnaruwa. A greater contrast with the conduct of Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who never forgot China’s generosity in gifting the BMICH, cannot be imagined”.

Harim Pieris, a former advisor of Kumaratunga recently recommended that Sri Lanka be to India as Hong Kong is to China, overlooking the fact that Hong Kong is a part of, and belongs to China while Sri Lanka does not belong to India.

War and Reconstruction

 

During the war against the LTTE, Sri Lanka’s traditional arms suppliers imposed restrictions. GOSL had to look elsewhere and China was willing to help. The Chinese arms supplier, Norinco, maintained  a  weapons dump in Colombo.

Following the defeat of the LTTE, the Rajapaksa regime chose to focus on rapid economic revival and development of infrastructure. Most western countries wanted accountability and reconciliation addressed first and imposed conditions on whatever financial assistance they might provide. The US reneged on its commitment to provide $500 million from the Millennium Development Account for road development. There was reluctance among the major Western countries resisted Sri Lanka’s approach to the IMF for a standby loan of $1.5 billion.

GOSL turned to the source that most Western countries themselves, including the US and the EU, rely on for funding. China was not bothered by fripperies like human rights and won contracts for substantial post-war development projects in Sri Lanka’s North and South with ongoing and projects concluded estimated at more than US$ 6.1 billion. The Rajapaksa Doctrine – give the North to India to develop and give the South to China – backfired because India felt slighted that Sri Lanka was giving more projects to China because Chinese companies were bringing the funds.

 

Critics saw Sri Lanka being in danger of becoming a Chinese colony and India was alarmed at China’s military presence in the island. India insisted on opening a consulate in Hambantota, an area which rarely sees an Indian citizen. The suspicion was that the consulate’s real purpose was to spy on the Chinese. Western governments punished Rajapaksa for his alliance with China. The first phase of the Hambantota Port project was inaugurated on August 15 2010. On the same day, the EU rescinded Sri Lanka’s GSP plus facility.

 

Rajapaksa is today critical of the current government’s subservience to China. He contends that by giving 80 percent stake in Hambantota port to a state-owned Chinese company, and making the deal valid for 99 years, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime has handed over a huge national economic and strategic asset to a foreign company.

 

Trade

Sri Lanka has been trading with China for centuries and China is still an important partner. However, there is a trade imbalance. Sri Lankan exports to China are worth less than USD$  million – coconut coir, rubber, tea, apparel, and gems and jewellery while Sri Lankan imports from China now exceed USD$ 3 billion – machinery, fabrics, apparel accessories, cotton and fertilizer. China was  Sri Lanka’s third largest trading partner in 2012, accounting for  17.1% of Sri Lankan imports (the second largest import source after India, which accounts for 19%. Exports to China amounted to 2.3% of Sri Lankan overall exports, making it the fifth largest export destination after the US, the EU, India and Russia. In May 2013, Sri Lanka proposed an FTA, to which China agreed. Sri Lanka does more trade with India than China but India is not happy about cheap Chinese consumer durables undermining its own markets.

 

Loans

Currently Sri Lanka is $8 billion in debt to China. The Rajapaksa government argued that it needed to get on with infrastructure development without delay and the Chinese were prepared to step up and help quickly without conditions. Donor agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank provide soft loans at interest rates ranging from 0.25 %, 2% or 3%. However, these agencies stipulated strict conditions and made irritating demands about human rights. The Rajapaksa government argued that long term borrowing from China at interest rates ranging from 2-3% and 6-7% was the only option available to implement post-war development projects. Total estimated construction cost of Phase 1 of the Hambantota Port project was US $361 million, 85% of which was funded by the Exim Bank of China.

Finance Ministry sources during the Rajapaksa years claimed that financial help provided by China fell into three categories: free cash, interest-free loans and concessionary loans. The first two came from China’s state finances while concessionary loans are provided by the Export-Import Bank of China (Exim Bank). Sri Lanka received several soft loans from China at an interest rate of 2-3% with maturity terms of 20 years, with five years expandable on condition, and 2-5 years grace period. The total now owing suggests that most Chinese help did not come in the form of outright grants but as loans at commercial rates from China’s Exim Bank.  Rajapaksa’s Deputy Economic Development Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said, “While the HSBC, for example, was offering loans with 9% interest rates, China has been offering loans for very low rates, such as 1% or even 0.5%”.

Governments that succeed the Rajapaksa regime will be saddled with these debts. In defence of the regime’s borrowing strategy one should look at the experience of Argentina. China has never pushed a debtor to bankruptcy but those who relied on commercial borrowings from the West, such as Argentina, have had a different experience. Sri Lanka has had a good record of meeting its obligations to its creditors.

RW and China

The Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, tried to undo the damage done to Sri Lanka/China relations during the election campaigns of 2015. The effort to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa seemed to require criticism of all the projects he had undertaken. The accusation that these projects were grandiose follies involving massive corruption also entailed painting the Chinese government as corrupt and with dishonourable intentions towards Sri Lanka. The opposition to Rajapaksa described the Hambantota Port as a future Chinese naval base intended to contribute to the PRC’s string of pearls geostrategy to achieve regional hegemony over India. Mattala Airport was, they accused, built with Chinese aid as a future Chinese military air base.

 

Once in power, the Wickremasinghe/Sirisena government had to pay out for some of the promises they had given to the electorate and this made the country’s financial situation worse. Inevitably they had to grovel to China. During his April visit to China, the prime minister reiterated Sri Lanka’s endorsement of Beijing’s Maritime Silk Road strategy. He issued a statement saying: “Projects such as the Hambantota Port and the Puttalam Coal Power Plant Project have become icons for the two countries’ cooperation in infrastructure construction”. Mahinda Rajapaksa was quoted as saying that he stood vindicated by the Government’s recent actions.

 

 

 

 

Easy Lies the Head

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday February 3 2017.

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The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

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Sissela Bok

Sissela Bok is a very brainy person who is the child of two Nobel laureates and the wife of a president of Harvard who inspired the hatred of Richard Nixon. When I was the victim of some particularly egregious lies, I was inspired to re-read her wonderful book Lying: Moral Choice in Private and Public Life. The book was published in 1978 and is still in print and available on Kindle. Everyone should read it.

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Bok argues that everyone benefits enormously by living in a world in which a great deal of trust exists – a world in which the practice of truth-telling is the norm. All the important things you want to do in life are made possible by pervasive trust. In a world without trust one would have to waste a lot of time and psychic energy finding out first-hand the truth about the simplest matters.

Lies and Lying Liars

Donald Trump is certainly not the first politician to have told lies. Ronald Reagan said he did not know about the Iran-Contra deal. Bill Clinton said he did not have sex with that woman. Novelist George V Higgins wrote in 1974 about Richard Nixon: “He became a virtuoso of deception, a wizard as a manipulator of reality and facts, and of the nation’s trust.” George W Bush, like Nixon, used smears and lies to become president. The other day, I watched Robert Redford playing the role of CBS anchorman Dan Rather in the movie Truth. Rather was ousted by CBS for allegedly presenting forged evidence on revelations in 2004 about Bush’s National Guard years. Bush, the coward, was running against war hero Senator John Kerry, but the Republicans discredited Kerry’s greatest asset to compensate for Bush’s liability. Witnesses remember Bush drunk and never going near the National Guard while Kerry was being decorated for bravery in Vietnam. CBS wanted Bush to win and branded one of its own as a liar for exposing the truth.

The Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) was created in 2001 to lie overseas for the US, but after an outcry, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quickly announced its closure. However, he was not telling the truth when he said the US government had stopped lying. The OSI’s duties were taken over by the Information Operations Task Force

Euphemisms

There is a long history of politicians using euphemisms for telling porky pies. Churchill used the phrase “terminological inexactitude”. Alan Clark wrote in his diaries about being “economical with the actualité. Simon Hoggart did not find Clark convincing: “There’s quite a bit in the diaries which appears just a tiny bit fantastical – not in the Jeffrey Archer sense of being outright lies, but a sort of tweaking of the facts.” Journalists have been having a good deal of fun with Sean Spicer’s ludicrous attempts to inflate the size of the audience at Trump’s inauguration. Kellyanne Conway tried to explain Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts”. This was reminiscent of Nixon’s press spokesman Ron Zeigler announcing, “All previous statements are inoperative”. Trump himself used the phrase “truthful hyperbole,” a term coined by his ghost-writer.

A blatant lie is a “now-disavowed claim.” Intelligence is “discredited,” “dubious,” “disputed,” “tainted,” “flawed,” “suspect,” “questionable,” and “faulty”. Many people caught in an untruth bleat: “My remarks were taken out of context”. We are told about “misstatements,” “false pretences,” and “an assertion not approved by the CIA.” We read of “deficiencies,” “distortions,” “questions about pre-war intelligence”.

There were many euphemisms for lying during the GW Bush era. Senator Carl Levin stopped short of accusing Bush of lying about Iraq: “The key question is whether administration officials made a conscious and a very troubling decision to create a false impression about the gravity and imminence of the threat that Iraq posed to America.” Senator Chuck Hagel referred to one of Bush’s lies as “another example of a very serious inconsistency.” Senator Jay Rockefeller said that Bush’s statements were “potentially misleading”.  Al Gore spoke of a “a systematic effort to manipulate facts.” Senator John Edwards talked about the “myths perpetrated by the Bush administration.” One of Bush’s aides said that the president “is not a fact checker.”

Saddam Hussein and Scott Ritter were not so mealy-mouthed. Saddam said, “What will the liars Bush and Blair tell their people and mankind, what will the chorus of liars that backed them say, and what will they tell the world after they wove a scenario of lies against Iraq’s people and leadership?” Former UN weapons inspector Ritter said, “The entire case the Bush administration made against Iraq is a lie.”

Trump’s Lies – a Selection

Truth and Trump have long been strangers. A lot has been made of the fact that Trump won the election by appealing to white working class males who felt disempowered while Hillary Clinton ignored them in favour of harpyish rabid feminism. The Vox journalist David Roberts did a word-frequency analysis on Clinton’s campaign speeches and concluded that she mostly talked about workers, jobs, education and the economy. She mentioned jobs almost 600 times, racism, women’s rights and abortion a few dozen times each.

Maria Konnikova wrote on Politico: “The sheer frequency, spontaneity and seeming irrelevance of his lies have no precedent. Nixon, Reagan and Clinton were protecting their reputations; Trump seems to lie for the pure joy of it. A whopping 70 percent of Trump’s statements that PolitiFact checked during the campaign were false, while only 4 percent were completely true, and 11 percent mostly true.” KONNIKOVA

He lied about the weather at his own inauguration. He lied about releasing his tax returns. He lied about making Mexico pay for his wall. He lied about losing the popular vote and about the election being rigged. He lied about opposing the invasion of Iraq. The more Trump frets about his legitimacy, the more he lies. The more he lies, the less legitimate he appears. Trump relies on the illusory truth effect -the tendency to believe information to be correct after repeated exposure.

 

There is a method in Trump’s Twitter madness. He posts his tweets to divert attention from the real news. For example, his reaction to the polite protest to the vice president by the cast of Hamilton succeeded in making people forget about the settlement of the Trump University lawsuit.

 

Relativity and Truth

Forgive me for quoting American philosopher Richard Rorty yet again. “Language is just human beings using marks and noises to get what they want.” This seems to be how Trump operates. The doctrine that there can be no absolute truth seems to have sprung from the discovery that scientists can err and that cultural factors inevitably colour our perceptions. Other philosophers such as Mary Midgley combat this post-modernist relativism, maintaining that without a concept of absolute truth, “how, then, could we describe the world?”

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Truth Matters

In his bestselling little book On Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt defines lies as statements that are not germane to the enterprise of describing reality, promises unconnected with an intention to fulfil. All jurisdictions punish perjury, because justice cannot be done unless all parties adhere to the truth. The absolute language of the oath has a pragmatic purpose. Professor Bernard Williams writes about the two virtues, accuracy (doing everything we can to make our beliefs sensitive to the truth) and sincerity (expressing what one really believes without deception).

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Williams sees any person lied to as a victim of an abuse of power who has been put in a powerless position that results in resentment and rage. Trump’s lies have dire consequences.

 

Trump Triumphant Part Three

 

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This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday January 26 2017.

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What does the Trump presidency portend? We are looking at four years of an administration with a meagre mandate that seems likely to threaten the long-term health of our planet as well as the security, health, and safety of many Americans. Polly Toynbee met Trump in 1988 and was chilled then: “He’s sharp as a gold-plated razor-blade.” “Just wait and see what kind of deregulation, anti-working rights, anti-environmental, anti-product safety and food contamination rules he will impose”. As Keith Gessen put it, the new government looks like: “a small right-wing criminal class within the larger corrupt American political class, a mixture of white supremacists, ‘law and order’ fascists, and shutters-down of the George Washington Bridge.” Cornel West wrote: “We are witnessing the postmodern version of the full-scale gangsterization of the world.”

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What Is To Be Done?

In spite of calls to accept the reality of Trump’s presidency and stop being sore losers, it is legitimate to think about how he can be prevented from negating all the gains that have been made in the past eight years and beyond. His platform was resentment, rage and bigotry so we cannot expect him to bring healing and compromise. A number of writers have considered means whereby Trump’s plans can be challenged.

David Cole teaches constitutional law, national security, and criminal justice at Georgetown University Law Centre and recently became the National Legal Director of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Cole wrote: “But if we now and for the next four years insist that he honour our most fundamental constitutional values, including equality, human dignity, fair process, privacy, and the rule of law, if we organize and advocate in defence of those principles, he can and will be contained.”

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Cole recalls how the abuse of power by GW Bush and Dick Cheney was countered by Americans who did not sit back and accept that the executive was above the law. In his recent book, Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law, Cole described how people protested, filed lawsuits, wrote human rights reports, lobbied foreign audiences and governments to bring pressure to bear on the US, leaked classified documents, and broadly condemned the administration’s actions as violations of fundamental constitutional and human rights. The academy, the press, and the international community all joined in the condemnation. When Bush left office in 2009, he had released more than five hundred of the detainees from Guantanamo, emptied the CIA’s secret prisons, halted the CIA interrogation programme and extraordinary renditions, and placed the NSA’s surveillance me under judicial supervision.

Nixon claimed that if the president did it it was legal. George Packer in the New Yorker reminds us that, within months of re-electing Nixon by the largest margin in history, Americans “began to gather around the consensus that their President was a crook who had to go”. The press pursued the story and the courts ruled impartially. Congress investigated in a bipartisan manner. Officials fought the infection from inside and the Washington Post’s key source, “Deep Throat” turned out to be the deputy director of the FBI.

Elite Failure

 

Hilary Mantel put it nicely: “For decades, the nice and the good have been talking to each other, chitchat in every forum going, ignoring what stews beneath: envy, anger, lust. On both sides of the ocean, the bien-pensants put their fingers in their ears and smiled and bowed at one another, like nodding dogs or painted puppets.”

 

That does not mean that we deserve him. Mantel wrote: “Mr Trump has promised a world where white men and rich men run the world their way, greed fuelled by undaunted ignorance. He must make good on his promises, for his supporters will soon be hungry. He, the ambulant id, must nurse his own offspring, and feel their teeth.”

 

Obama understands Trump’s appeal to “The middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.” Minorities are not “just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness…when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment but the equal treatment our Founders promised.” People are already feeling nostalgic for Obama. He bequeaths to his successor an economy that is growing steadily, with large numbers of jobs being created on a regular basis, and living standards edging up. The size of the budget deficit, the level of consumer confidence, and the leverage ratios in the financial system, are also looking better.

 

Civil Society

 

Civil society needs to fight the plan to destroy the welfare and regulatory state. The battle can be waged on local, regional, and national fronts by civil society. Civil society comprises innumerable local groups, charities and associations that mediate between the individual, the government, and the market, and whose goal is promoting the common good. There are organizations working against Trump’s ugly agenda and protesters can donate their time and money.

 

ACLU executive director, Anthony D Romero, issued a statement on Trump’s election. “One thing is certain: we will be eternally vigilant every single day of your presidency and when you leave the Oval Office, we will do the same with your successor”.

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The Southern Poverty Law Center is a non-profit that combats hate, intolerance and discrimination through educational programs and litigation, and has played a significant role in monitoring the increase in hate crimes across the US following Trump’s election. OneAmerica, is an organization formed after 9/11 to respond to increased reports of hate crimes targeting Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians. Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a civil liberties group that defends and empowers American Muslims. Muslim Advocates works for freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths, helps strengthen Muslim charities, and works to counter hate. The Coalition on Homelessness works to advance solutions and works for legislation to help combat homelessness. The Anti-Defamation League, the Sierra Club are also worth joining and donating to.

 

Democrats

Some Democratic politicians are doing what they can to sustain civilised values in a Trump world. Anthony Rendon, the speaker of the California State Assembly intends to protect undocumented immigrants. “We are telling the next Administration and Congress: if you want to get to them, you have to go through us”.

Jerry Brown, California’s governor, vowed to fight any efforts by the incoming Administration to roll back efforts to tackle climate change. “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers, and we’re ready to fight …  If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.” Other Democrat-dominated states, such as Massachusetts and New York, are taking a lead from Republican-run states, such as Oklahoma and Texas, which have challenged many of President Obama’s initiatives in court, such as his effort to use the Clean Air Act to reduce CO2 emissions.

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Contact Congress

John Cassidy of the New Yorker still thinks it worthwhile for Americans to put pressure on elected politicians. With a Republican House and Senate one might have little faith in the legislature. However, elected officials do listen to their constituents, especially when they get in touch with them personally in large numbers, so Americans should tell their lawmakers to stand up to Trump. It will be up to legislators in both parties not to cut deals that target the weak, encroach upon civil rights, or enrich the Trumps. “The public will need to be vigilant and involved across a broad range of policy areas.”

Impeachment

Professor Allan Lichtman was one of the few professional forecasters to predict a win for Trump. He has also predicted that Trump will be impeached  by a Republican Congress that would prefer Mike Pence – “an absolutely down-the-line, conservative, controllable Republican. And I’m quite certain Trump will give someone grounds for impeachment, either by doing something that endangers national security or because it helps his pocketbook”. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote: “the guy will probably resign or be impeached within a year. The future is closer than you think”.

Trump Triumphant Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday January 19 2017.

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A friend commented on one of my previous articles to the effect that people who were dismayed at Trump’s success in the presidential election should grow up and “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 with a very meagre mandate. My friend wrote: “Looking at the swathes of communities in the US destroyed by globalisation, deregulation, and neo-liberal economics generally, there is plenty of evidence to support his view” that the liberal elites have destroyed America. My friend notes the irony that ‘blame’ for Trump’s rise has already fallen on the working class white male. “The US political commentators are middle class and insufferably smug”.

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Substantial numbers of people indeed feel marginalized by flat or falling wages, rapid demographic change, and a liberal culture that mocks their faith and patriotism. One can sympathise with them but their resentments are toxic and Trump is not going to help them. The Morlocks have risen against the Eloi.

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Where’s the Mandate?

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Trump won fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote but for millions of illegal ballots cast. Trump is a sore winner. He got about forty-six per cent of the popular vote; he carried several states by less than one per cent, and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.7 million votes. Just a switch of 40,000 votes in three states would have altered the outcome. His Electoral College margin was relatively modest and he had the lowest approval ratings of any president-elect. Obama entered 2009 with a 68 percent favourable rating. Today, Trump’s favourable rating stands at 43 percent. That rating will go down when he takes office.  68 percent describe the president-elect as “hard to like,” and less than half of Americans are confident in Trump’s ability to handle an international crisis.

 

Sore Losers

I do not believe that I am insufferably smug but I am alarmed at what Trump’s presidency might mean, not just for the US but the world. In a previous article, I quoted what the philosopher Richard Rorty wrote in in 1994: “One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion…. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.” It is not elitist to want to retain the gains that were made; it is not PC to mourn the loss of civility that Trump embodies.

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All of his cabinet appointees are climate change sceptics whose claims that the scientific evidence is inconclusive are plainly ludicrous. The world is warming and they know it. We cannot afford to waste another four years debating whether the world is warming. This man with no political experience and no popular majority is appointing people to his cabinet who will make radical changes that will adversely affect the lives of the very people who voted for him in the vain expectation that he would fulfil his promises to improve their lot. Why should people not protest? Trump’s real ruling-class hostility toward the working class was demonstrated by his vile attack on Chuck Jones, a union leader in Indiana who had dared to criticize him. Jones said he began receiving death threats following Trump’s tweetstorm.

Stephen Bannon

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We cannot expect Trump to be able or willing to spend much time on thinking about running the country. That will be too boring for him. He has appointed as “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, former executive of conservative news site Breitbart, who has been called racist, anti-Semitic and a white nationalist. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said of Bannon’s appointment: “There must be no sugar-coating the reality that a white nationalist has been named chief strategist for the Trump administration.”

Michael Flynn

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Nixon was notorious for barking outrageous orders when angry or drunk. His aides knew his moods well enough to ignore those orders and he expected them to be ignored. One might like to console oneself that an incompetent or mentally challenged president might be restrained by the common sense and caution of his team.  Trump has said: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” Donald Trump will have his finger on the nuclear button.  On November 18, 2016, Trump announced that Michael Flynn would serve as National Security Advisor. The national-security adviser is the person the President turns to when he thinks he might want to do some bombing. A retired army lieutenant general, Flynn previously ran the Defense Intelligence Agency but lost his job after two years because of clashes with officials.

Flynn took an active part in Trump’s campaign and revealed himself as hot-headed conspiracy theorist with a crush on Vladimir Putin and a loathing of President Obama. Flynn has regularly appeared on Russian state-owned television station RT, and once attended a gala hosted by the channel, sitting next to Putin.

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It was something of a shock to see a retired three-star general comparing Hillary Clinton to the al-Qaeda militants he faced in Afghanistan and Iraq, and calling for her to be imprisoned. He has called President Obama a “liar,” declared the US justice system “corrupt” and insisted that he was pushed out of his assignment as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency because of his views on radical Islam.

Putin

Trump is the first incoming American president to have declared, in language noted in Moscow and Beijing, that his commitment to Nato and the security pacts with Japan and South Korea is ambiguous.

Trump’s resistance to claims that Russia used hacking to interfere in the presidential election prompted Joe Biden to tell him to grow up. Trump’s confidence in WikiLeaks has angered intelligence analysts, who think Julian Assange is hostile to the US and a tool of Putin. The Russian government used Internet trolls and RT  to amplify negative reports on Clinton and US democracy. “Who actually is the benefactor of someone who is about to become Commander-in-Chief trashing the intelligence community?” Senator Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, demanded. She answered her own question: “Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, and ISIS.”

Veteran investigative economist and journalist Jim Henry has revealed that for three decades, Trump has profited from his connections to Russian oligarchs, whose own fortunes depend on their fealty to Putin.

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When Trump suffered a string of six successive bankruptcies, how did he keep bouncing back? Since the late 1990s, Trump was greatly assisted by access to abundant new sources of global finance and he spent decades cultivating senior relationships of all kinds with Russia and the FSU. He has an extensive network of unsavoury global underground connections. The illicit outflows from Russia and oil-rich FSU members like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan provided Trump with the kind of undiscriminating investors that he needed. These outflows arrived at just the right time to fund several of Trump’s post-2000 high-risk real estate and casino ventures—most of which failed.

Recent evidence provided by John McCain indicates that the Kremlin has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years, with the aim of encouraging splits and divisions in western alliances. One report claims that Trump and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including information on his Democratic and other political rivals.

The former Democratic Senate leader, Harry Reid, has lambasted FBI chief James Comey for publicising investigations into Hillary Clinton’s private server, while allegedly sitting on “explosive” material on Trump’s ties to Russia.

 

Next week – what is to be done?

 

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.

puzder

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.

tillerson

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

Colman's Column3

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.

tricia-and-julie

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

Colman's Column3

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.”

Trumpery

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

Colman's Column3

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.

Colman's Column3

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.”

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