Posts Tagged ‘nixon’

The People Against America

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary traces the rise of the “white rights” movement that elected Donald Trump. This movement, of mainly white blue collar males, promotes the distorted image of white people as a disenfranchised minority. According to the filmmakers, it has its roots in Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. By heavily emphasizing “states rights,” Goldwater successfully exploited the anxieties of Southerners over forced integration by the federal government. It would be the first time Southern states had voted Republican since the Civil War.

Nixon’s Southern Strategy

In 1968, the Nixon campaign built on Goldwater’s success by implementing a formal “southern strategy.” By reaching out to the “silent majority,” and emphasizing law and order in the face of race riots and anti-war protests, his campaign sought to win the votes of northern blue collar voters. In subsequent elections, Democratic Party strategists would seek to win back blue collar voters by recruiting two conservative governors to run for president (Carter and Clinton).

As the Watergate scandal undermined all Americans’ confidence in government, corporate oligarchs would build on growing anti-government sentiment by massively funding right wing think tanks, lobbying and conservative talk radio. This, in turn would lay the groundwork for Reagan’s 1980 massive deregulation and tax and public service cuts.

Corporate Giveaways By Clinton and Obama

When Clinton was elected in 1992, he quickly surpassed Reagan’s record of corporate giveaways, with his total deregulation of Wall Street, his Three Strikes and Omnibus Crime Bill (leading to mass incarceration of minorities) and his creation of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These free trade treaties resulted in the wholesale export of rust belt industries to Mexico and China, effectively ending any incentive for working class males to vote Democratic.

Obama, elected on the back of the 2008 financial collapse, would prove even more pro-corporate than Clinton or Bush. Instead of prosecuting the banks who caused the 2008 economic crash, he granted them massive bailouts, while ignoring the plight of millions of homeowners who lost their homes when these banks foreclosed on them. He also significantly increasing mass surveillance and aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers. He also effectively repealed posse comitatus* and habeus corpus.**

The Rise of Occupy and the Tea Party

Obama’s pro-corporate policies led to the rise of both left wing (Occupy Wall Street) and right wing (Tea Party) popular movements. The latter received major corporate backing (largely from the Koch brothers), enabling Tea Party Republicans to shift the blame for the loss of good paying industrial jobs from Wall Street to minorities, immigrants and women.

Is the US Moving to the Right?

For me, the highlight of the documentary is  commentary by former Black Panther Party president Elaine Brown, the only activist featured. Brown, who is highly critical of the left’s failure to acknowledge the problems of poor white people, is the only commentator to dispute that the US is “moving to the right.” She points out that prior Republican campaigns used coded language (such as “state rights,” “law and order”) to target racist fears of blue collar whites. Trump, in contrast, openly caters to these sentiments. Brown reports that some blacks welcome the end of political hypocrisy and greater openness about the pervasiveness of white racism.

She believes this new openness offers a good opportunity to build a genuine multiracial working class movement. She gives the example of successful collaboration in Chicago between black activists and the Young Patriots (a white separatist group) against corrupt landlords.


*The Posse Comitatus Act, enacted in 1878, prohibited the use of federal troops to enforce domestic policies within the US.

**The right of Habeus Corpus, guaranteed under Article I of the Constitution and the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, prevents government from illegal detaining US citizens without charging them.

 

How Do We Build Movements That Can Win

Naomi Klein (2017)

In this presentation, Naomi Klein  outlines the strategy she feels grassroots activists need to pursue to resist the growing attacks on working people while building build a genuine alternative to post industrial capitalism. It’s very similar to the one Kali Akuna proposes (see Don’t Just Fight, Build).

While she begins by focusing on climate change, she heavily emphasizes that environmentalists alone can’t solve the crisis of catastrophic climate change – that it will require a large diverse coalition of activists organizing around a broad array of environmental and social justice issues. While she doesn’t state directly that it’s impossible to prevent climate change under capitalism, this is strongly implied.

Another concept Klein stresses is the importance of radical ideas in creating the conditions for major reform. She gives the example of the calls for socialist revolution following the 1929 Depression and during the Vietnam War – how serious discussion of revolution scared the corporate elite so much that they granted major economic reform (the New Deal) under Roosevelt and major environmental reform under Nixon (creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, etc.).

Klein also gives the example of the Leap Coalition in Canada, which is working for bold social and environmental justice reforms, as well as the development of community controlled energy systems (similar to Germany’s) – where the profits from energy production fund community services, such as teaching, daycare and senior care – rather than distant corporations.

In this presentation Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seal talks about the joint role he and Huey Newton played in forming the organization in 1966.

Seal’s genius as a grassroots organizer is what comes across most clearly in this talk. His initial vision in starting the Panthers was to use the 1965 Voting Rights Act to achieve “power” for African Americans by electing more black representatives to local, state and federal government. He maintains that monitoring police brutality and other tactics (like the children’s breakfast program) were merely a strategy towards this end.

Seal, who was employed in an Oakland jobs program for African American youth, recruited Huey (who had just started law school) because of his knowledge of the law. As brilliantly portrayed in Marvin Peeples 1995 film Panther, Huey became notorious for quoting large sections of the US Constitution and California law to Oakland police.

Seal is somewhat critical of Peeple’s docudrama, largely because it omits important historical details. An example is the crowd reaction – of supreme importance to Seal as an organizer – to the first confrontation between the Panthers and the cops. Another is the Nixon tape (which Seal, impersonating Nixon’s voice, describes in detail) in which the former president orders FBI director J Edgar Hoover to destroy the Panthers.

Seal also has some fascinating comments at the end about the Koch brothers and catastrophic climate change.

The film has an extremely long introduction and Seal’s talk begins at 21:00.

Part 8 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States covers the Ford, Carter and Reagan presidencies.

The Ford Presidency

Gerard Ford, appointed to the vice presidency after corruption charges forced the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, assumed the presidency (with Nelson Rockefeller as vice president) when Nixon resigned in 1974. Ford’s most notable foreign policy was to end the détente* negotiations Nixon initiated with the Soviets to minimize the risk of nuclear war.

The Carter Presidency

Peanut farmer and former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter narrowly defeated Ford in 1976 on a platform that promised to end the arms race, reinstate détente negotiations and end US military intervention in third world countries.

According to Stone, Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (also Obama’s long time member) destroyed Carter’s presidency by forcing Carter (who had no foreign policy experience) to renege on his election promises. Under pressure from Brzezinski, Carter refused to return the Shah to Iran for trial following the 1978 Iranian revolution,** as well as restoring military aid to El Salvador’s right wing dictatorship in 1980 and secretly funding and training a jihadist Muslim insurgency to oppose the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The Reagan Presidency

Like Carter, former California governor Ronald Reagan also had no foreign policy experience and allowed anti-communist CIA and Pentagon hawks to fill this vacuum. Under Reagan, CIA director William Casey stripped the CIA of any officials who resisted his policy of falsely blaming the Soviets for CIA-inspired terrorist activities. Casey also started the illegal Contra army that tried to overthrow Nicaragua’s democratically elected government, in addition to funding and training death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala to assassination union officials, intellectuals and human rights advocates. Casey and National Security Council member Oliver North also initiated the illegal arms deal with Iran that financed the Contras after Congress discontinued their funding.

In 1985 President Mikhail Gorbachev approached Reagan about negotiating a bilateral disarmament package that would phase out all nuclear weapons by 2000. Initially receptive, Reagan rejected Gorbachev’s condition that the US keep their Strategic Defense (Star Wars) Initiative in the lab. Reagan also refused Gorbachev’s proposal to participate in a joint peacekeeping force in Afghanistan following Soviet troop withdrawal.

Reagan left office in 1988 in disgrace over the Irangate scandal. He was also responsible for doubling the national debt, thanks to a massive increase in military expenditures coupled with sizeable tax cuts. In 1985, the US switched from being a creditor nation to being the biggest debtor nation.


*Détente is defined as the easing of hostility or strained relations between countries.

**This decision would cost Carter the 1980 presidential race when Iranian militants took 52 US Embassy employees hostage in 1979.

Part 8: Reagan, Gorbachev & Third World: Rise Of The Right

Part 7 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States concerns the Johnson and Nixon presidencies.

The Johnson Presidency

Johnson continued Kennedy’s glorious tradition of overthrowing foreign democratic governments. He openly admitted the military aggression he authorized wasn’t about fighting communism – but about fighting third world peoples for their resources. He saw no other way 6% of the world’s population could control 50% of its wealth.

  • In 1963 Johnson reversed Kennedy’s order to draw down US “military advisors” and introduced ground troops to Vietnam.
  • In 1964 he ordered US troops to overthrow the democratically elected government of Brazil.
  • In 1965 he invaded the Dominican Republic to crush a popular insurrection against a CIA-inspired right wing coup.
  • In 1966-67 he authorized a bloody CIA coup to oust President Sukarno in Indonesia and replace him with the right wing dictator Suharto.
  • In 1967, he ordered the CIA to (illegally) spy on anti-Vietnam War protestors through Operation Chaos.
  • In 1967, he fired Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara when he opposed escalating the bombing in Vietnam.

When a bipartisan group of elder statesman called for US troop withdrawal from Vietnam, Johnson decided to focus on Vietnam peace negotiations instead of running for a second term in 1968.

The Nixon Presidency

Robert Kennedy was the clear front runner in the 1968 election prior to his assassination in July 1968.

Despite basing his campaign on a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger (who secretly undermined the Paris peace negotiations to help Nixon win the elections) vastly expanded the war, which would last seven more years. More than half the GI deaths in Vietnam occurred under Nixon.

As president, Nixon made 13 separate threats to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Stone believes it was only the massive anti-war protests (which deeply unnerved Nixon) that prevented their use.

Nixon and Kissinger were also responsible for secretly and illegally bombing Cambodia and Laos, the 1973 coup that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected government, and Operation Condor, a secret dirty war against pro-democracy movements in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Part 7:  Johnson, Nixon and Vietnam: Reversal of Fortune – Cataclysm in Vietnam

nixon

Imagine my recent surprise on learning Republican president Richard Nixon, in 1968, was on the verge of enacting an unconditional income for all poor families. It would have guaranteed a family of four $1,600 a year, equivalent to roughly $10,000 in 2016. Here we have yet another historical event that’s been conveniently erased from US history books.

Nixon began by commissioning a study involving a little over 8,500 Americans in cities around the country. Researchers attempted to answer three questions: (1) Would people work significantly less with a guaranteed income? (2) Would the program cost too much? (3) Would it prove politically unfeasible?

Outcomes were surprisingly favorable. Hours of work decreased only slightly and allowed for an increase in other useful activities, such as searching for better jobs or working in the home. Among youth, almost all the reduced work hours were used for education. In New Jersey, the rate of high school graduation for participants rose thirty percent.

Polls showed that 90 percent of US newspapers were enthusiastic about unconditional income for poor families. The Chicago Sun Times called it “A Giant Leap Forward,” the Los Angeles Times “a bold new blueprint.” The National Council of Churches, the labor unions, and even the corporate sector were also all in favor.

In 1970 it seemed that the time for a basic income had well and truly arrived.

With 243 votes for and 155 against, the House of Representative approved President Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan (FAP) on April 16, 1970. Most expected the plan to pass the Senate, too, which was even more progressive than the House. Sadly the Senate killed it.

Writing in Jacobin,Rutger Bregman describes how Nixon adviser Martin Anderson cunningly scuttled Nixon’s guaranteed basic income proposal. A great admirer of libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand, Anderson widely circulated excerpts from sociologist Karl Polanyi’s 1944 book The Great Transformation. The latter describes a historical system similar to Nixon’s proposed basic income: the Speenhamland system enacted in 1795 to alleviate rural poverty in Britain.

In addition to summarizing a Royal Commission Report highlighting Speenhamland’s adverse effects  on both the poor and the community, Polyani cites prominent 19th century economists, such as Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo and Karl Marx, who all roundly condemned the Speenhamland experiment.

It now turns out the Royal Commission Report was based on flawed methodology and essentially fabricated.

Read more about Nixon’s guaranteed income plan, the Royal Commission Report and the devastating impact of dismantling Speenhamland and replacing it with the heinous 1834 Poor Law.

 

Exile Nation: An Oral History of the War on Drugs

Directed by Charles Shaw (2011)

Film Review

In laying out the sordid history of the US prison industrial complex, Exile Nation helps us understand how the US came to have the largest prison population in the world, far exceeding that of China, which has over four times as many people.

A significant proportion of US inmates are African Americans and Hispanics locked up for “victimless” drug offenses. At present 500,000 of American’s 2.3 million prison population is inside for using heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine. Thirty thousand are there for cannabis possession.

The documentary intersperses commentary by “experts” (cops, judges, sociologists, psychiatrists, defense attorneys, jail monitors, medical marijuana activists and prison rights advocates) with those of ex-offenders.

The US Invents Mass Incarceration

Crime rates in the US first reached a high point in 1830, largely due to high levels of alcohol abuse. The US would be the first country in the modern era to introduce mass incarceration as punishment for law breaking. The Pennsylvania Quakers believed that locking people up would force them to “repent” – the origin of the word penitentiary. The experiment failed. Studies consistently show that imprisoning convicts neither rehabilitates them nor discourages them from re-offending.

Nixon’s War on Drugs

Nineteenth century crime rates slowly declined, plateauing during the Civil War era. From then on, they remained constant until the 1970s, when Nixon declared the first war on drugs. His primary target was the immense social movements of the late sixties and early seventies. Nixon couldn’t constitutionally punish hippies for opposing the Vietnam War nor African Americans for demanding the right to vote. Instead he targeted their behavior, ie the widespread use of marijuana, LSD and cocaine that accompanied these movements.

In doing so, Nixon deliberately ignored the recommendation of a 1972 bipartisan commission that recommended that marijuana use be criminalized.

Reagan’s War on Drugs

The prison industrial complex received a second major boost in 1984, when Reagan declared a second war on drugs. Unlike Nixon, who envisioned drug arrests as a form of social control, Reagan used the drug war (particularly against crack, a new bargain basement form of cocaine) to demonize African Americans and win votes from white blue collar workers.

The Mainstream Media Revolts

The media turned against the drug war and prison industrial complex in the 1990s, with Ted Koppel producing several excellent documentaries highlighting the drawbacks of mass incarceration. The resulting shift in public opinion would lead the federal government and many states to begin downsizing their prison populations. Sadly 9-11 and the War on Terror interrupted this process.

A high point for me were the interviews with medical marijuana activists describing the history of their movement (leading to the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes in 23 states sates).

I also really liked the sections on the medical use of MDMA (ecstasy) in treating post traumatic disorder and the psychedelic ibogaine in treating heroin addiction.