Tag Archives: Nixon

The day the music died

Something sinister must have occurred to start the cycle we are in now.

A cycle in which our political center has moved. When being “pro-business” became more politically popular than being “pro-worker.” When being for “free markets” could rally crowds and “consumer protection” would bring on “boos.” When prosecuting a “war on terrorism” stokes jingoism instead of fears of “nation building,” while “presumption of innocence,” “due process” and the “right to counsel” was the treasonous coddling of our enemies. When “gun rights” became more important than “insuring domestic tranquility.” When “faith” could claim a higher standing than “fact,” or “truth,” or “science.” When a call for “tort reform” was politically correct and “rights to redress grievances” became archaic. When discrimination based on “immigration status” became acceptable and mainstream. When clean water and air became associated with our world “competitiveness” and the cost not to pollute became associated with jobs. When “illegal” addiction would become criminalized with three strikes and you’re out while “legal” addiction would be promoted in prime time and on nightly stock market reports. When farm subsidies turned into corporate farm subsidies and small farms began disappearing throughout our hemisphere. When simple charity and kindness came mean “socialism” or worse? When we forgot why we had had anti-monopoly laws, taxed inheritance and regulated trade. Exactly when did “corporations” begin to have the rights of people, but so much more power? When did the music of the great society die?

There are cycles to our young republic that affect individual rights, justice, fairness and equality. Since our beginning we have moved from plutocracy to populism to oligarchy to kleptocracy and back. And forth. From idealism to materialism. From racism, to closet racism, to pragmatic racism. From nationalism, to imperialism, to isolationism, to exceptionalism. From secular, to criminal, to “in god we trust” to “born again” rule. From open immigration toward closed borders. From due process, to no process and interdiction. From hope to fear. Boom to bust. Republican to Democrat. From divided, to united, to polarized. And variations in between.

November 5, 1968.

1968, as years go, was a hellish time. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Lyndon Johnson was losing wars, Vietnam and the one on poverty. These wars divided our politics, our families and our generations. The US went off the gold standard. North Korea captured one of our spy ships and held its crew hostage for almost a year. The Civil Rights Act was signed amid protests from last generations’ Tea Party. We installed Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The Pope condemned the use of birth control. Russia re-invaded Czechoslovakia. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their arms in a black power salute during the worldwide telecast of the Olympics. NBC cut off the final 1:05 of the Raiders-Jets football game to air the movie, “Heidi.” Airlines were hijacked to Cuba. Yale began admitting women. Jackie married Ari. During a violent Democratic convention, the sitting Vice-President from Minnesota defeated the populist, anti-war Minnesota senator, leaving most of the country wondering where the hell Minnesota was, and why the Democrats would think that we would want four more years of what we’d just lived through. Richard, aka: Dirty Dick, Milhous Nixon, with future felon, Spiro Agnew, became the Republican nominees. And “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” former Alabama governor, George Wallace with insane pro-nuke sidekick General Curtis LeMay, ran on the American Independent ticket and went on to garner over 13% of the vote.

November 5, 1968 was the day America elected the former Joe McCarthy inquisitor and former and almost-never-was-because-of-illegal-campaign contributions Eisenhower Vice President, former failed Presidential candidate, confirmed paranoid, anti-semite, homophobe, scare-mongering, foul-mouthed, dirty-campaigning, compulsively obsessed with a war on drugs, FBI and IRS abusing, media manipulating, Southern strategy architect, Bebe Roboso campaign money laundering, wire-tapping, lying, future-Watergate-burglary-conspirator, justice obstructor, power abusing, contempt of Congress, but pardoned, future impeachee, bigot, “I’ve got a secret plan to end the war, but I’m not going to tell you what it is because I don’t have one,” president.

It should be noted, that when Richard Milhous Nixon was elected, most of us didn’t know with certainty that he would one day be impeached for being so mind-bogglingly paranoid that he would do something as stupid as Watergate and actually get caught. The rest, however, was pretty common knowledge at the time.

So, how did this change things?

  • Campaign money. A little background: on this day, campaign contributions were limited by the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (revised in 1925 and several other times), which required Senators and Congresspersons to limit contributions by any single contributor (individuals, unions and corporations) to $5,000 and to report contributions within 10 days of the election. It had never been enforced. After the election of 1968, the Clerk of the House, Pat Jennings, decided to report violators to the Justice Department. The Justice Department, led by should-have-been-a-felon AG Ramsey Clark, and later by, future-felon AG, John Mitchell, ignored it.
    Corruption hardly began with Nixon, but his presidency set a new standard for the accumulation huge amounts of illegal and off-the-books contributions. They raised millions, and actually kept hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in the White House to fund secret campaign operatives, operations and dirty tricks. Post-Watergate, the rules changed a bit, but the cycle had begun: the quiet corruption changed overnight into an all out assault for campaign money. Everyone did it. Everyone got away with it and still does. And every large corporation knows they can bribe anyone in politics for special tax breaks, limited oversight, limited liability and most anything we don’t want to think about. This tiny event in our history, may have been the seed for most everything in the cycle that followed.
  • The Courts. Richard Nixon was in office for just five and half years, but was able to appoint four justices to the Supreme Court: Warren Burger, Harry Blackmum, Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist. Their appointments set the court solidly conservative as it remains today (Republicans had the White House for 32 of the 42 years before Obama). Combine a solidly conservative Supreme Court with 32 years of a solidly conservative Justice Department and the cycle begins to seem obvious.
  • Farm Subsidies. Yes, blame Nixon and Earl Butz. For corporate farms, monopolistic control of our food supply, genetic mutant seeds; excessive run off, huge pig farms, corn subsidies which have led to high-fructose corn syrup which has helped fuel the obesity problem, corn subsidies, which led to corn-based ethanol ,which sucks all the momentum from efficient alternative bio-fuels, subsidized, unfair trade, which undermined the family farms in our southern hemisphere, and deserves a great part of the blame for our immigration problem. When bread prices shot up before the election in 1972 because of a deal to ship huge amounts of grain to Russia, Nixon called in Earl Butz and told him that this was never to happen again. It hasn’t. The administration changed the subsidy system to stimulate production, resulting in a market glut and continually depressed below what-it-even-costs-a-farmer-in-Mexico-to-produce prices. And those subsidies underwrite the campaign donations to the small states that every year elect two Republican senators.
  • Deregulation. It was Nixon who proposed deregulation of the transportation industry and his appointed successor/pardoner, Gerald Ford, who signed into law the bill that first deregulated trucking and trains. Future Republican administrations continued his phased plan by deregulating shipping and airlines. Then energy, communication and banking. Yes, Nixon is responsible for the cycle that created the mess in airline travel, the mess on Wall Street and the mess in the Gulf.
  • The Southern Strategy. Nixon is most often credited for it, or Harry Dent, but some suggest that Nixon learned of it from George Herbert Walker Bush, who first reached out to the those disenfranchised former Southern Democrats in 1966 to become the first Republican to win a Congressional seat in Houston. The strategy was pretty simple: reach out to the former Southern civil war states with a pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-busing, anti-civil rights, anti-union, anti-hippie/free speech, anti-elite, anti-journalist, anti-evolution, anti-welfare, antebellum states rights message. Basically, the same party of “no” issues we have today.
  • The War on Drugs. Nixon flat out hated drugs. Not because of the pain it causes society or individual addicts, but because he believed deep down in his dark soul that it was in the nature of African-Americans to use drugs and that they sold it to young whites to turn them in to hippies (I’m not making this up). Under Nixon, the drug laws were re-written, which were the basis of the infamous Rockefeller drug laws creating easy prosecution and long prison terms for small amounts of drugs classified with these rules as “narcotics.” Under Nixon, and with the help of J. Edgar Hoover and Elvis Presley, the DEA was created. Under Nixon, we began sending weapons and money to tyrants in South America to execute a war on drugs (and revolution) on our behalf. The groundwork was laid to put a million people a year in prison, disproportionately black – which also, of course, got them off the voter rolls.
  • Anti-Communist Witch Hunts. Nixon cut his political teeth prosecuting Alger Hess and working for Joe McCarthy. His legacy of looking for “pinkos” reverberates on Fox news to this day. It may not be the reason that the “nabobs of negativism” no longer flourish in newspapers across the country, but the stench of the cycle seems to emanate clearly from this day.
  • China Policy. Seems pretty weird that this anti-communist would open up China? For Nixon, this was about his fear of red horde; it was about his legacy, his debt to campaign contributers and global trade. Cheap labor. Political payback to unions and industrialized states. His last snicker.

When I set out to write this, I wanted to find out what had happened to us. What had turned a generation so idealistic that we wouldn’t trust anyone over 30* to one that seems powerless and motionless on issues so similar today and of such heart-wrenching importance. What was keeping us from marching. What turned us so cynical. What changed us that we are quiet on the spewed and tainted politics and injustice of today.

Was there a moment? A point in time when we gave up and walked away? I kept coming back to the election of Richard Nixon as the moment when this terrible cycle began. There are plenty of others who built on his legacy of paranoia, division and hate – devil spawn of Reagan, Gingrich, Bush, Bush and Cheney. But I have drawn a line from that day to this one and feel it is time he acknowledged for his accomplishment.

Since the beginning, our cycles have always been connected to our wars, and to some degree, to our prosperity. I pray that some years from now, November 4, 2008 will be recognized for the beginning of the next cycle and that our wars will end.



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*Updated, we shouldn’t trust anyone over 75 – When Jack Weinberg was quoted by a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in 1965 saying, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty,” he was being sarcastic. Weinberg was a 24-year old activist at Berkeley and had been asked if the Free Speech Movement was being manipulated by outside adults. Unlike most of the rest of us, Weinberg kept believing, speaking, and, often getting arrested demonstrating. He dropped out of graduate school to work for civil rights in the South. In 1969, believing that societal change couldn’t occur without blue collar America (it was the time of the “silent majority”), he moved to the Midwest, working in automotive and steel plants and being active in the unions. It was in Gary that he’d spend five years working to see that a nuclear power plant would never be built. An economic downturn took him to Chicago where his involvement in the environmental moment turned into a full time job with Greenpeace, where, at 70, he’s still active today, but even Jack, hasn’t been arrested for demonstrating for while (almost 10 years, Manila).

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*Note: the story was edited to reflect a couple of mindless mistakes that are noted in the comments.

Turning an Opportunity into a Problem

mccarthy_complexshitThe storm must have seemed perfect. An issue that had matured since Nixon first introduced it in 1974. An overwhelming Democratic majority in the house. An almost filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate. A Democrat in the White House with 60%+ approval ratings. And polls showing an overwhelming majority of the American people, Republicans and Democrat alike, in favor. Decades of horrific cost increases. A terrible economy. New pressures on business to be globally competitive. A new “transparency” sure to limit the influence of lobbyists. The health insurance industry must have been preparing for the worst. Not a chance.

The health insurance industry wants to turn their problem into an opportunity by turning our opportunity into a problem. The recipe is all too simple.

▪ Provide a dash of spin to the party of no that re-defines “universal healthcare” into a requirement for all Americans to buy private health insurance.
▪ Add equal amounts of cost-fear to business and decreased-benefits-fear to the wealthy, pensioners and the unions.
▪ Mix in gracious amounts of campaign money to incumbents.
▪ Chop up some populist talking heads on cable news and discard.
▪ Mix finely grated experts with talk radio.
▪ Let the mixture sit in a dark, smoke-filled room until the odor rises and forces opponents to run for cover holding their noses.
▪ Season to taste with government subsidies to states to provide their legislature’s version of coverage for their uninsured and the uninsurable.
▪ Heat and serve.
▪ Creates servings for some (the biggest portions to shareholders of the health insurance industry), but far from all. Does, however, ensure that the health insurance industry will live a long, happy and profitable life, safe from single payer universal healthcare for Americans, unlike like the short, miserable, and destitute lives of those who will never be able to afford it.

More reading on the issues involved from Wikipedia (where you can also view supporting links and citations):

The following is a listing of universal health care pros and cons as argued by supporters and opponents.

Common arguments forwarded by supporters of universal health care systems include:

▪ Universal health care systems, in an effort to control costs by gaining or enforcing monopsony power, sometimes outlaw medical care paid for by private, individual funds.

▪ Health care is a basic human right or entitlement.

▪ Ensuring the health of all citizens benefits a nation economically.

▪ About 59% of the U.S. health care system is already publicly financed with federal and state taxes, property taxes, and tax subsidies – a universal health care system would merely replace private/employer spending with taxes. Total spending would go down for individuals and employers.

▪ A single payer system could save $286 billion a year in overhead and paperwork. Administrative costs in the U.S. health care system are substantially higher than those in other countries and than in the public sector in the US: one estimate put the total administrative costs at 24 percent of U.S. health care spending.

▪ Several studies have shown a majority of taxpayers and citizens across the political divide would prefer a universal health care system over the current U.S. system.

▪ Universal health care would provide for uninsured adults who may forgo treatment needed for chronic health conditions.

▪ Wastefulness and inefficiency in the delivery of health care would be reduced.

▪ America spends a far higher percentage of GDP on health care than any other country but has worse ratings on such criteria as quality of care, efficiency of care, access to care, safe care, equity, and wait times, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

▪ A universal system would align incentives for investment in long term health-care productivity, preventive care, and better management of chronic conditions.

▪ Universal health care could act as a subsidy to business, at no cost thereto. (Indeed, the Big Three of U.S. car manufacturers cite health-care provision as a reason for their ongoing financial travails. The cost of health insurance to U.S. car manufacturers adds between USD 900 and USD 1,400 to each car made in the U.S.A.)

▪ The profit motive adversely affects the cost and quality of health care. If managed care programs and their concomitant provider networks are abolished, then doctors would no longer be guaranteed patients solely on the basis of their membership in a provider group and regardless of the quality of care they provide. Theoretically, quality of care would increase as true competition for patients is restored.

▪ A 2008 opinion poll of 2,000 US doctors found support for a universal health care plan at 59%-32%, which is up from the 49%-40% opinion of physicians in 2002. These numbers include 83% of psychiatrists, 69% of emergency medicine specialists, 65% of pediatricians, 64% of internists, 60% of family physicians and 55% of general surgeons. The reasons given are an inability of doctors to decide patient care and patients who are unable to afford care.

▪ According to an estimate by Dr. Marcia Angell roughly 50% of health care dollars are spent on health care, the rest go to various middlepersons and intermediaries. A streamlined, non-profit, universal system would increase the efficiency with which money is spent on health care.

▪ In countries in Western Europe with public universal health care, private health care is also available, and one may choose to use it if desired. Most of the advantages of private health care continue to be present, see also two-tier health care.

▪ Universal health care and public doctors would protect the right to privacy between insurance companies and patients.

▪ Public health care system can be used as independent third party in disputes between employer and employee.

▪ Libertarians and conservatives can favor universal health care, because in countries with universal health care, the government spends less tax money per person on health care than the U.S. For example, in France, the government spends $569 less per person on health care than in the United States. This would allow the U.S. to adopt universal health care, while simultaneously cutting government spending and cutting taxes.

Common arguments forwarded by opponents of universal health care systems include:

▪ Health care is not a right. As such, it is not the responsibility of government to provide health care.

▪ Universal health care would result in increased wait times, which could result in unnecessary deaths.

▪ Unequal access and health disparities still exist in universal health care systems.

▪ The performance of administrative duties by doctors results from medical centralization and over-regulation, and may reduce charitable provision of medical services by doctors.

▪ Many problems that universal health insurance is meant to solve are presumed caused by limitations on the free market. As such, free market solutions have greater potential to improve care and coverage.

▪ The widely quoted health care system ranking by the World Health Organization, in which the US system ranked below other countries’ universal health care systems, used biased criteria, giving a false sense of those systems’ superiority.

▪ Empirical evidence on the Medicare single payer-insurance program demonstrates that the cost exceeds the expectations of advocates. As an open-ended entitlement, Medicare does not weigh the benefits of technologies against their costs. Paying physicians on a fee-for-service basis also leads to spending increases. As a result, it is difficult to predict or control Medicare’s spending. Large market-based public program such as the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and CalPERS can provide better coverage than Medicare while still controlling costs as well.