H2O Man's Journal
Member since: Mon Dec 29, 2003, 07:49 PM
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Former heavyweight champion Charles "Sonny" Liston is believed to have died on this day in 1970. The exact date of his death is, like that of his birth, unknown. He was an enigma, even in the curious sport of boxing. In my opinion, he ranks high among boxing's all-time great heavyweight champions, with Ali at #1, Joe Louis at #2, followed closely by Liston. When Liston won the title, the majority of boxing writers compared him to Louis; it was his two loses to Ali -- and Ali's domination of the sport -- that overshadowed Sonny's career.
Liston's father was a sharecropper who had fathered 13 children with his first wife in the early 1900s. He re-married when he was in his mid-50s (to a 16-year old), and had another dozen children. Charles was reportedly the last-born, and although different records (mainly from jail and prison) indicate he was born by 1930.
By the age of approximately 12, Liston was "man-sized" -- standing close to 6 feet tall, and weighing close to 200 pounds. Around that age, he ran away from his father's home, to avoid the violent beatings his father routinely administered. Coming north, the man-child found he could best survive by serving as an enforcer for street gangs, and the lower rungs of organized crime. He accumulated quite a police record as a minor, and was in and out of jail frequently.
Liston graduated to state prison when, cornered by a police officer in a dark alley, he disarmed the cop, broke both of his arms, and stuffed him into a garbage can. While in prison, he learned to box. A Catholic priest who counseled inmates found that Liston, while illiterate, was actually very intelligent. That priest would help guide Liston's amateur and professional boxing career. (In response to charges that Liston was "owned" by the mob, the priest noted that these were the only people who would invest in a young man like Sonny.)
His amateur career lasted about one year. Liston quickly became recognized as one of the top three amateur heavyweights in the world. Indeed, with proper backing, he would certainly have become an Olympic champion. But boxing, reflecting society's values, was not ready to welcome Sonny Liston with open arms.
When Liston turned pro in 1953, Rocky Marciano held the title. A promoter offered "the Rock" big money to face Liston in his pro debut; Marciano declined the offer. (After Liston won the title, Rocky was offered $1 million to come out of retirement to fight him. Rocky's response was, "Are you crazy? You fight him!") Sonny would rise in the ranks in the next few years, defeating most of the top contenders of the era. Ali's future trainer, Angelo Dundee, told of watching Liston break opponents' teeth off with his left jab.
Floyd Patterson won the vacant title after Rocky retired. His trainer/manager, Cus D'Amato, was famous for not doing business with what he considered the mob. That was, of course, not the only reason he had Floyd avoid facing Liston. Eventually, Floyd and Cus parted ways, and Floyd opted to defend the title against the #1 challenger. President John Kennedy invited Patterson to the White House, and told him it was essential that he defeat Liston. But that didn't happen: Sonny destroyed Floyd in the first round, and did it again in their rematch.
In his second defense, he fought the undefeated contender Cassius Clay, and was TKOed in seven rounds. The scheduled rematch would be delayed, because the now Muhammad Ali had a hernia. Reporter Howard Cosell had, after visiting Liston's training camp before the originally scheduled date, felt that Liston was in great shape, and favored him to beat Ali. The delay harmed Liston, which is evidence of an aging fighter. He would be TKOed in the return bout in the first round, due to the referee's confusion.
Liston had a successful comeback after that, but promoters refused to include him in their title searches after Ali's forced retirement. But his career is remembered best for the losses to Ali.
In truth, his prime came before he even won the title. He had nine bouts in 1959-60, and the films of those bouts suggest that he likely would have beaten anyone, except Ali and possibly the great Joe Louis. Styles make fights, and I can't see many of the greats who could have competed with Liston in his prime. Yet he remains the sport's forgotten champion.
Posted by H2O Man | Mon Dec 30, 2013, 08:07 PM (1 replies)
"Well, we have ALL, from time to time, been prisoners of one kind or another; we have all, at times, been prisoners of our own assumptions." -- Dr. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter
Yesterday, I joined an on-going DU:GD debate about the battle of the sexes. In doing so, of course, I was running the risk of offending segments of the DU community. From past experience, I knew that to even put forth some of the lessons taught by Erich Fromm in his classic 1955 book, "The Sane Society," was likely to upset the minority of people who seem more invested in arguing, than in identifying ways in which we might resolve the tensions between the male and female species.
Without question, western culture rests upon a patriarchal foundation. This involes the majority of social structures, from the family to religious institutions. I mentioned those yesterday, and again today, because any system that is patriarchal at these levels cannot avoid the negative potentials that patriarchy contains. This does not imply that every aspect of that society is saturated with those negative potentials: we see, for example, that Amendment 1 attempts to create a wall between church and state. However, even among those Founding Fathers who were not "religious" in the context of their time, the willingness to deny large segments of the population the rights and protections of the Constitution.
Indeed, even the greatest of (known) American thinkers from that era were infected by both racism and sexism. And that is not a coincidence: for both racism and sexism are assumptions that go hand-in-glove with patriarchy.
The September, 1987 edition of National Geographic features a wonderful article about "James Madison, Architect of the Constitution." It's worth reading. That article is followed by one on the "Living Iroquois Confederacy." It, too, might well be of interest to DUers.
The Haudenosaunee played a significant role in the founding of the United States. (See: "Exiled in the Land of the Free," by Oren Lyons, John Mohawk, and Vine Deloria, Jr.) One cultural tradition that didn't get across that divide was the concept of an equality between the sexes. They knew "equal" did not mean "exact." But they knew that equality was best obtained by a matriarchal social structure
That structure was found in family systems and religious/spiritual systems. When that is the family and religious structure, it leads to political systems (likewise, if we apply the positive social values that we advocate for politically, we can be sure they will impact other systems, from family to church). This did not reduce men's rights and responsibilities. Far from it: it strengthened them.
That edition of National Geographic has a map that showed Haudenosaunee influence during the colonial era as covering a quarter of the current United States. But their influence didn't stop with the Revolutionary War. As I noted yesterday, Engels' inspiration for his 1884 "Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State" was the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. (Engels learned about the Haudenosaunee by reading "Ancient Society," by Morgan.)
So long as we continue to define "family" in the manner prescribed by patriarchal society, a great number of social inequities will continue. That doesn't mean we should attempt to return to pre-Columbian times, of course, but we do not have the luxury of ignoring those principles that promote social justice. Such principles are constant, even within the context of a changing society. The truth is the truth. Respect is respect.
Obviously, no society is perfect. But what I suspect was the most promising of Haudenosaunee principles was that children were, as human beings, not to be abused. They had the right to be fed and clothed, and loved by an extended family. They were not to be beaten or molested.
There are lots of good and dedicated parents today. Mothers and fathers. And there are many good grandparents, aunts, uncles, and step=parents. Likewise, there are numberous good teachers, babysitters, ministers, and neighbors. While no childhood is "perfect," a lot of children in our country enjoy a fairly stable, nurturing environment.
On the flip side, a lot of children in our society do not have enough of these supports. And that doesn't mean that they have a bad parent, or terrible school teachers. There are parents who, due to the economy, do not have all of the resources that they need. Same with teachers. More, just as not every child who grows up in comfort turns out to be good (think of George W. Bush), lots of children who are deprived are Good their entire lives.
Yet, as Gandhi often said, poverty is the worst form of violence. Societies with the economic stratification like the USA will perpetuate violence, in many, many forms. I've mentioned sexism and racism, but there is a wide range of social pathology that is institutionalized in this nation. (Which is not to deny either other equally bad or worse places, or to ignore the many good things in and about America.)
In the introduction to his book "Gandhi on Non-Violence," Thomas Merton speaks of the potential benefits of combining western culture's intellect with eastern culture's wisdom. A similar benefit is found in making use of all people's full potential to be Human Beings, no matter if they are male or female. We need to recognize the value and dignity of all people. And that requires a conscious awareness that we are all connected, part of the human race, a large extended family.
It may be that at some future time, we will reach the point where we will be, to borrow from a Good Friend on yesterday's thread, a human-iarchal society. It would be nice if some of the unhealthy tensions that divide the human family were eliminated. But, until that time, we have the right and responsibility to take what steps we can -- as groups and individuals -- in that direction. Obviously, not everyone will agree on the nature of those steps. And that's okay. In fact, that's the way it should be.
Posted by H2O Man | Fri Dec 27, 2013, 02:16 PM (1 replies)
Every so often, there are a cluster of threads on the Democratic Underground that highlight the tensions between the sexes in our society. In the past 72 hours, General Discussion has had quite a few of these, ranging from serious attempts to discuss important aspects of the current culture, to rather shallow efforts to insult the "opposition." Even among the more sincere efforts at rational conversation, we have seen emotions replace reason.
For sake of conversation, if we want to engage in meaningful discussions on this topic, I would suggest we take note of one of the rules that applies to our legal system. This alone will not insure a productive group didscussion, but it is likely a good starting point. In court, most witnesses are not allowed to testify as to their "opinion" ......with the exception being those with the proper background to allow them to be considered an "expert." The simple reason for this is that an actual opinion requires one to have background information, that allows them to examine the facts of the case, and then provide their interpretation.
Without that background knowledge, a person cannot actually have an "opinion," in the legal sense, but rather, they have a bias. In other words, they reach a conclusion that does not have va factual foundation. Hence, we hear people say, "I feel that ....," as opposed to, "I think that ..." It is not a coincidence that some topics -- including religion and the battle of the sexes -- tend to involves feelings, or passions, as opposed to a logical foundation in fact.
Hence, most of the DU:GD discussions on patriarchal versus matriarchal societies have the potential to be meaningful, but are frequently derailed by the misinformation that produces bias. A common example of this involves claims regarding the frequency of "war" among both patriarchal and matriarchal societies. In fact, "war" and "warfare" are specific terms, that can accurately be applied to cultures that have reached a specific level of social order. In the history of human experience on earth, only a tiny minority of nations have had that ability; far more have been at the level that allows for violence to be limited to feuding and battles. Thus, one cannot actually have an opinion on "warfare" in matriarchal societies; at very best, one can speculate on the possibilities.
Religion, as a social construct, has long played a significant role in the levels of both internal and external violence in human culture. Hence, there is value to be found in examining the differences between patriarchal and matriarchal religious belief systems. This is true, even within the cluster of religious belief systems known as "Christianity." It is fascinating to examine the influences of "male versus female" dynamics found within Christianity, from its early days up until the present. Indeed, this is an outstanding example of when a person's feelings are, at very least, as important as their intellect and educational background: for in the most literal sense, it sheds light upon that individual's level of being. And that, far more than a diploma or sex organ, defines one's potential for violence -- morganized or disorganized.
Both patriarchal and matriarchal concepts have to do with general characteristics found in the sexes. They can be best understood -- hence, applied -- when we recognize that human potential is not rigid. For example, in our current culture, there are good and bad fathers, and good and bad mothers. More, even among the very best fathers and mothers, individuals make mistakes -- for parenting is difficult, and we can only attempt to do our best.
Now, let's consider one of the basic differences found between "mothers" and "fathers," and then apply it to a societial potential. Mothers tend to love all of their children the same; they may recognize that one has a unique skill, or another a specific weakness, but each one is of value, with the same right to love and care as his/her siblings. Fathers, on the other hand, tend to have a rating system, in which that child that best meets his highest expectations is his favorite. (A "good" father will favor the child most like himself, while a bad father dislikes the child who most reminds him of himself.)
Thus, the good potential found in matriarchal societies is a sense of affirmation of life, and equality among the group that promotes individuality. The good potential of patriarchal society is reason, discipline, conscience, and individualism.
The negative aspects of matriarchal society include being bound to nature, to blood and soil, and thus blocked from developing the individuality that results from reasoning. The negatives associated with patriarchal society include hierachy, oppression, inequality, exploitation, and submission. (For the best detailed analysis, see Ericch Fromm's classic, "The Sane Society.")
Thus, in matriarchal societies, while "warfare" in the literal sense has never been found, the dynamic known as "blood feuds" is not uncommon. And in our current society, domestic violence is not exclusive to men. Even among highly trained professionals, there are flaws in perception, perpetuated by things such as the Duluth Model, which is easily exposed as unable to address much of the domestic violence spectrum. Yet, this in no way invalidates the unacceptable reality of male violence in our culture.
The sad truth is that we are an extremely violent nation. That violence is found in families, in churches, schools, and in Washington, DC. And I say that, without even beginning to touch upon the genius of Gandhi's saying that "poverty is the worst form of violence."
The truth is that we we do not have a prayer of reducing that level of violence in any meaningful way when we allow our energies to become trapped in a male versus female construct. There will, of course, always be some degree of tension between the sexes. That isn't a bad thing, in and of itself. But it surely can be, as we see in our society today -- even on this internet site. No one benefits from the combination of ignorance and hatred that we see.
We can keep going down that path, or we can change directions. That changing of directions begins at the individual level.
Posted by H2O Man | Thu Dec 26, 2013, 10:29 AM (236 replies)
Back in 2007, I posted some photos from a presentation by Elizabeth de la Vega and John Nichols, about impeaching President George W. Bush and/or VP Dick Cheney. I remember when, during the Q&A period, my then 12-year old daughter gave a short, off-the-cuff talk; when she finished, Elizabeth said, "Ladies and gentlemen, here is your future U.S. Sebator." I took photos of my daughter with both de la Vega and Nichols.
My daughter held up a "Democratic Underground" bumper-sticker in those photos. That was at a time when people, including the two presenters, were familiar with DU's "general discussion" forum, which featured posts linking to important news reports, and fantastic analysis of that news. It's not as if "grass roots" reporters have the resources that the large corporate media enjoys -- but in terms of interpreting the news, internet journalists can compete quite well.
A lot has changed in the seven years since. My daughter has graduated from high school, where she was her class's valedictorian. She's in her second year at a nice university, and remains politically-culturally active. She worked on Indian territory, where the environment has been devastated. She has traveled to meet Amy Goodman, Jane Goodall,Cornel West, and Robert Kennedy, Jr.
When she got home for the semester break last week, she requested that I pick some books out for her to read. She started with Chris Matthews' book on President Kennedy; other selections include: God Is Red, by Vine DeLoria, Jr.(1973); Revolution for the Hell of It, by Abbie Hoffman (1968); The Last Campaign, by Thurston Clarke (2008); ans Crimes Against Nature, by Robert Kennedy, Jr. (2004).
One afternoon, she asked me, "What is it about President Kennedy, that everyone finds so fascinating?" DirecTV had on a documentary, "JFK: A President Betrayed." At the end, she said, "Okay, I got it."
One of the things that she needs to do for school -- and wants to do for herself -- is to contribute to a blog. We've decided that we will work on that together. I will post some links (and cross-post essays) as it comes along. It's kind of a neat project for me.
Posted by H2O Man | Tue Dec 24, 2013, 01:46 AM (6 replies)
My younger son stopped by my house today. He said that yesterday evening, as he was driving on an interstate highway, he saw a large truck rear-end a car in front of him. The car spun in a circle, and then went over a steep bank.
My boys live near Binghamton, NY, and there has been quite a bit of snow recently. My boy called 911, then made his way down the bank to the car. It had snow up to the windows, and the doors wouldn't open. There was an elderly couple inside. He got the lady out through her window, carried her up the bank to safety, then went and carried the husband up, too. Then he got their dog.
While waiting for the police and ambulance, he cleared the bumper etc out of the highway. Cars continued to speed by, and a piece of metal got thrown near my boy's head.
My boy was here for over three hours today, before mentioning the incident.
There are some really good people in our world today.
Posted by H2O Man | Thu Dec 19, 2013, 10:04 PM (79 replies)
"It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment." --Oliver Windell Holmes
The recent federal court decision, in which US District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA telephone surveill program is likely unconstitutional, should be seen as a victory for those who subscribe to the radical notions found in the Bill of Rights. However, there are reasons to suspect that the current US Supreme Court will eventually overturn Judge Leon's ruling. If so, it will definitely be a ruling that is not based in law, or shows the slightest respect for the Constitution.
I say this as a person who believes in that Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. And while I admittedly have no formal training in Constitutional Law -- the rulings the Supreme Court makes in interpreting the Constitution -- it's an area of study that I find fascinating and important. Last week, I filled seven large bookshelves in my dining room, with books on politics, sociology, psychology, and state and federal law; the numerous boxes of books had been stored away for several years.
Because Judge Leon's ruling sparked an interest in this area, I've re-read two books that I find of particular interest: The Bill of Rights: Original Meaning and Current Understanding; edited by Eugene W. Hickok, Jr.; University of Virginia; 1991; and Freedom for the Thought We Hate; Anthony Lewis; MJF Books; 2007.
The above quote by Justice Holmes, comes from his dissent in Abrams v United States, a case that had to do with the WW1-era Sedition Act and Espionage Act. "Radicals" who opposed the war were tried for the distribution of pamphlets; the appeal of their convictions failed.
Although that case was based upon Amendment 1, it also has an interesting connection to the Amendment 4 rights that Judge Leon considered. The postmaster general decided that those two Acts provided him the authority to examine citizens' mail. He took it upon himself to decide that the Post Office would refuse to deliver papers or magazines that might claim "that the Government is controlled by Wall Street" (Lewis; 105).
There have been numerous bad rulings by the USSC over the decades. This includes two that have taken place since 2000. Thus, while we should recognize that the federal courts have often made just rulings, there is a history of political/financial influences, racism, and fear and hatred found in the history of Constitutional Law.
Posted by H2O Man | Wed Dec 18, 2013, 05:14 PM (9 replies)
Back in those days everything was simpler and more confused
One summer night, going to the pier
I ran into two young girls
The blonde one was called Freedom
The dark one, Enterprise
We talked and they told me this story
Now listen to this...
I'll tell you about Texas radio and the big beat
-- The Doors; "Stoned Immaculate"
My brother called to tell me about a lecture he heard at the university he works at on the West Coast. The woman who presented on the environmental crisis that the world now faces was inspirational, but like many good people, my brother feels overwhelmed by the ultimate size of the problems we face -- including a corporate "shadow government" that is invested in ignoring the addiction to fossil fuels. And a corporate media that serves daily doses of narcotic nonsense, which dulls the senses of the public, and prevents them from grasping the certain pain and suffering that awaits just around the bend.
Ike issued the famous warning about the military-industrial complex, of course. Much of the public recognized this was a significant warning, but too many valued the statement, more than its implications. Since the end of WW2, the USA had become the most powerful nation on the planet, and the new middle class experience proved comfortable. Yet, by the time JFK took office as a new leader born in the new century, an older form of power-elite had become entrenched in the shadows of democracy.
That group, called the "High Cabal" by Churchill, and the "invisible power structure" by R. B. Fuller, had a governing philosophy based upon four social theories. Prouty notes that these include: "real property," defined by the doctrine of discovery and the rights of conquest; Malthus's population theory, in which humans reproduction is geometric, while resources reproduce at an arethmatic rate, before dwindling; social Darwinism; and Heisenburg's theory of undeterminant synergism.
In this context, Dallas wasn't a coup; it was a re-alignment of power. Likewise for the response to Watergate, in which the congressional actions were merely the visible part of a much larger iceberg. Lamar Waldron's series of three books (the first two written with Thom Hartman) document the "invisible power structure's" on-going re-alignment throughout the 1960s and '70s. (See "Ultimate Sacrifice," "Legacy of Secrecy," & "Watergate: The Hidden History.")
The Reagan-Bush administration demonstrated that corruption alone did not disqualify those fronting for the machine from holding the reins of power. In fact, the Reaganites were more criminal than the Nixon gang, and did more institutional damage to our form of federal government. But the elite prospered: as David Stockman would later admit, "Reaganomics" was a lie intended to redistribute the country's wealth towards the top.
Based largely upon MIT's Jay W. Forrestor's theory of "systems' dynamics," the Reagan-Bush administrations recognized that US resources were dwindling. The example of steel shows how domestic industry was undercut, damaging the entire national economy. Yet the powerful elite became even more entrenched in a modern, updated feudal system.
This required their joining forces with the elites of other nations. This is best illustrated by its impact on US foreign policy: the Reaganites created an entity they called "the Enterprise," which ran the series of criminal activities known as the Iran-Contra scandal. A proper understanding of this "invisible government" activity includes not only a foreign policy that ignored the constitutional system, but which violated the very concepts upon which this nation was formed. It planted the seeds for Wall Street and banking "crises," which continue to undermine our society today.
The power elite's goal is not to avoid global crises, it is to prepare the 1% to survive these crises. Hence, Stockman's comments that the actual purpose of Reaganomics was to build the nation's military capabilities, while destroying the social programs that intended to benefit the masses. Often, this economic theology includes the delusional belief system voiced by James Watt, regarding not knowing how many generations were to preceed the "Second Coming."
One can debate which, if any, US President has challenged the power elite since JFK. What is beyond debate is that this tiny group has continued to increase in fortune, while the majority of citizens have endured a cold and harsh economic reality. More, our system of government has become the Jerry Springer Show. The few rational voices in DC are ignored by a media that provides a grand platform for the outrageous histrionics of jackasses unfit to hold office.
No one person, or single group, has "the" answer to the crises we face. However, in my opinion, every individual and group should focus upon the Constitution for a framework of how government can best work. More, we should study the ideas and activitiies of those who have challenged the machine in the past -- people like Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. We need to divest our investments in McAmerica. We need to stop being unconscious and unwitting participants in the destruction of the living environment, which includes humanity.
I can tell you this: no eternal reward will forgive us for wasting the opportunities of Now.
Posted by H2O Man | Mon Dec 9, 2013, 07:37 AM (25 replies)
"All politics is local."
-- Tip O'Neill, Speaker of the House of Representatives
It's been a strange couple of weeks in rural, upstate New York. In one town, I helped run three campaigns; in a town in another county, I helped to run two. Although the record of candidates I've backed in elections in the past two years won five of five contests, this year's results were not so good (two wins and three loses). But we continue the Good Fight.
Early on the morning following one of my letters-to-the-editor being published in a small weekly, I had one of those annoying anonymous calls: "I hope you have life insurance, you big-mouthed asshole." Not having consumed any coffee, I was at a loss for a glib response. And the fellow hung up immediately anyhow.
I did a radio ad, focusing on a republican candidate's record with dumping toxic wastes in the town. I noted that if he wanted, I would be glad to debate him on the issue. After five days of play, he went to the radio station, and demanded the ad be dropped. The station manager offered to arrange a live, on-air debate, if the fellow wanted to "correct the record." He declined; the ad continued to play.
Last Sunday, a friend and I did some door-to-door dropping off of a campaign flier. Most people were interested in the flier. But not all: one fellow wanted to throw stuff at me; another wanted to push me; and a third had to struggle with the urge to punch me. As we left his driveway, he was yelling, "Fuck you! And fuck the environment, too!" Yikes! It's as if "road rage" has seeped into people's lawns and homes.
Posted by H2O Man | Thu Nov 7, 2013, 01:49 PM (4 replies)
Five to one, baby, one in five
No one here gets out alive now
You get yours, baby, I'll get mine
Gonna make it, baby, if we try
The old get old and the young gets stronger
May take a week and it may take longer
They got the guns but we got the numbers
Gonna win, yeah, we're takin' over, come on!
-- James D. Morrison
Happy Daylight Savings Time.
Posted by H2O Man | Sun Nov 3, 2013, 09:18 AM (1 replies)
"What did the President know, and when did he know it?"
I was thinking about that famous line today, on the ride home from doing some campaign work. And not in terms of President Obama; I wasn't thinking about any particular U.S. President, but more about what Michel Crozier spoke of in his 1964 book, "The Bureaucratic Phenomenon" (University of Chicago Press). It's the idea that in most large institutions, be they the French experience of Crozier's focus, or the US government, newly empowered "leaders" find it difficult -- if not impossible -- to enact the changes they believe they have been given a mandate for.
Now, obviously, I was tired: how else could my mind dance about from the five local "town" campaigns that I'm helping to run, to presidential politics? While three of the candidates are seeking re-election, two are new to running for office. One of the two is a retired university professor, the other a young business owner. Both are highly intelligent, socially conscious individuals, running for all the right reasons.
But they cannot fully appreciate -- yet -- how difficult it is to make changes, once they are in office. The other three do. They know it, from learning it in their first terms in office (the range there being 2 to 16 years).
"Local" politics is, sadly, beginning to be as raw and acrimonious as the decay in the Congress in Washington, DC. I'm currently working with a three-county bi-partisan group on a range of issues, from an epidemiological study of the most polluted town in the most polluted county in New York State, to endorsing candidates who advocate a balance between economic development and environmental responsibility. Sometimes, I feel that we are but a tiny island of sanity in a sea of madness (though Neil Young was not playing on the radio on my ride home).
Senator Howard Baker, Jr., who made the quote about the President and what he knew and when, joined other former Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole, Tom Daschle, and George Mitchell, in forming the Bipartisan Policy Center. Odd, how much such a thing is needed today. Odder yet how unlikely it is that this type of effort is so far out of style.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not a Howard Baker fan. But I do realize that for much of his career in the Senate, his positions would disqualify him for today's party. That may be meaningless. From time to time, we read where some person or another claims that Dick Nixon was "more liberal" than President Obama -- which is an absolute fucking lie, and kind of true, all at the same time, because there were and are tons of issues, and times change.
Still, it strikes me as worth considering five of the points Baker, as the VP of the Senate Watergate Committee, made in its final report. (Funnier yet, to remember that Nixon wanted to appoint Baker to the US Supreme Court in '71; terrible that when Baker hesitated, Nixon appointed William Rehnquist.)
He felt there should be a full-time "Public Prosecutor" to keep the Executive Branch from engaging in illegal and/or unethical practices .....after all, John Mitchell had shown that the Office of the Attorney General could be inhabited by a crook. Yet, there were questions about the constitutional balance of powers: Congress can impeach; the Courts decide legal cases. But neither prosecute criminal offenses. Baker supported Senator Ervin's suggestion that presidents appoint an independent "Public Prosecutor" to serve six year terms, and that any president would need Congress to okay the appointment (or firing thereof, to avoid another Saturday Night Massacre).
Oversight of intelligence agencies: a novel concept then, which may seem impossible today, but which really deserves attention.
Protection of witnesses' constitutional rights, when testifying before congressional committees. I think that we can have interesting discussions, when we look at how we feel about Nixon's men versus those serving a president we like: what rules create a just balance?
Campaign and election reform: "Only individuals can vote, and I believe only individuals should be able to contribute," Baker noted, when discussing how corporate contributions to Nixon had financed the huge array of crimes known collectively as "Watergate." That attempted theft of our constitutional democracy almost succeeded. Curiously, Baker believed the fallout from Watergate would prevent any president in the near future from attempting such things again. (This relates to #5 and then his gig with Reagan. Older DUers will recall when Baker took over for Donald Regan, towards the end of the Gipper's 2nd term; Regan believed he was the "prime minister" of Ronald Reagan's very Imperial Presidency.)
Baker thought the description "Imperial President" was cliche, and that the "Strong President" -- with increased power and authority -- was a natural development in our maturing democracy. He was, of course, very wrong about that. However, he did express concern that US Presidents were becoming isolated by their growing personal staffs; more, Congress had less ability to exercise the checks and balances defined in the Constitution, because the president's staff, unlike the cabinet, was largely beyond their reach. Again, for both "good" and "bad" administrations, there might be a benefit for placing more power in a cabinet than staff -- from the public's point of view.
What do you think?
Bonus Question: Who was the far too often overlooked "6th buglar" at the Watergate? Hint: he wasn't caught inside, or ever charged. Next Hint: He worked for McCord for quite a while. And he was paid from Dean's "hush money" that was never accounted for.
Posted by H2O Man | Thu Oct 31, 2013, 10:42 PM (5 replies)