RFK and the End of an Era

A just published book on the RFK murder re-examines the evidences and asks what the world might be like if the four 1960s assassinations never occurred.

By James DiEugenio Special to Consortium News

Authors Tim Tate and Brad Johnson begin their new book, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy:  Crime, Conspiracy and Cover-Up – A New Investigation (Thistle Publishingwith this quote from RFK the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed: “What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet.”

Just two months later Kennedy would become the last in a series of four assassinations of American leaders from 1963-68: President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. The cumulative political impact of those murders is hard to overstate. Toward the end of their bookthe authors try to estimate what that impact was.

Though it’s impossible to say for sure, they conjecture that, at the very least, the Vietnam War would have ended much sooner and would not have expanded into Laos and Cambodia. We know for certain that President Richard Nixon’s decision to expand the war caused the collapse of the government of Cambodia’s Prince Sihanouk, the eventual takeover by the Khmer Rouge and the death of two million people.

The murder of Bobby Kennedy has always seemed to get less attention in the mainstream media than the other 1960s assassinations, perhaps because it’s been considered an “open and shut case.” There were, after all, seventy witnesses to RFK’s murder. But the Los Angeles Police Department decided very early, and quite literally, that what happened in the wee hours of June 5, 1968 would not be another Dallas, as Tate and Johnson say.

It’s not widely known that Sirhan Sirhan’s attorneys did not mount a defense to the charges against him. Instead they resorted to what’s known as an alternative defense called “stipulation to the evidence.” In legal terms this means the defense accepts the testimony and exhibits presented by prosecutor as valid. Therefore, there was no argument in court over the medical, eyewitness or ballistics evidence.

What the trial was really about was Sirhan’s mental state. Since his legal team thought he was guilty, they tried to avoid capital punishment by arguing he was mentally unbalanced at the time. This failed, and Sirhan only escaped electrocution because California later outlawed the death penalty.

As Tate and Johnson show, this defense strategy doomed Sirhan. For example, when coroner Thomas Noguchi was on the stand, lead defense lawyer Grant Cooper actually tried to curtail his testimony by saying, “Is all this detail necessary? I think he can express an opinion that death was due to a gunshot wound.”

Noguchi should have been Sirhan’s star witness, and Cooper should have had him on the stand all day, the authors argue. Noguchi’s 62-page autopsy report proved that all the bullets that hit the senator entered from behind Kennedy. They also entered at extreme upward angles and at close range, i.e. from 1-3 inches.

Sirhan Not Close Enough

Every witness in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel placed Sirhan in front of Kennedy, and at a distance of 2-5 feet. The fatal headshot struck RFK behind the right ear at point blank range, with the barrel almost touching his skin. As the authors note: How could not one single witness recall such a horrifying image? Witnesses put Sirhan in front of Bobby Kennedy and therefore he could not have been close enough to fire the shot that ended Kennedy’s life.

As Tate and Johnson describe, Noguchi was struck by the deep circular powder burns in Kennedy’s hair. He did experiments with pigs’ ears, firing at them from differing close ranges. The only distance at which he could duplicate that imprint was 1.5 inches. This is considered a point blank or contact shot. If Cooper had walked Noguchi through those experiments, the prosecution would have had the steep challenge of countering that evidence. But it never happened.

We know today that the police understood the problem they had. As the authors show, using the LAPD’s own secret exhibits, the authorities had performed three different reconstructions of the shooting. Each one of these reenactments featured certain key witnesses from the Ambassador Hotel pantry. In each of them, at the direction of the witnesses, Sirhan was placed several feet in front of Kennedy. Since the two earliest reconstructions were done in 1968, before the trial, they could have been used as strong evidence for the defense.

Because Noguchi’s testimony was curtailed, his autopsy report was not entered into the trial record. But perhaps worse, because the defense stipulated to the evidence, the work of prosecution witness, DeWayne Wolfer, head of the LAPD crime lab, never underwent cross-examination. One of the most serious problems for the official case is that Sirhan’s handgun held a maximum of eight shots. Yet in addition to the four shots that struck Kennedy there were five other victims. Three bullets hit Kennedy and one passed through his jacket shoulder pad. That’s nine shots and Sirhan could only have fired eight. Here is where Wolfer borrowed a device from the John Kennedy case: a Magic Bullet.

In addition to these nine shots, there was also evidence that there were bullets in door frames, ceiling tiles, and the swinging gate into the pantry. But Sirhan’s lawyer agreed that the prosecution would not have to prove which bullet came from where.

Wolfer said that the bullet that went through Kennedy’s jacket shoulder also hit labor leader Paul Schrade in the middle of his forehead. Yet that bullet was fired from behind the senator and Schrade was walking behind Kennedy. As Schrade told the authors, when he heard that, it was the end of innocence for him on the RFK case.

Schrade said he would have had to be nine feet tall and bending over at his waist for that bullet to hit him in the head. 

Wolfer had an interesting explanation for the bullet that hit bystander Elizabeth Evans. Because the police needed to account for holes in the ceiling tiles, Wolfer said that this projectile went through the tiles, and struck the ceiling behind them. It then ricocheted off that surface, making another hole on the way down, and then struck Evans. Yet, the hospital report on Evans said a bullet hit her in the front hairline traveling upward. In other words, like in a master pool game, this must have been a double bank shot.

Too Many Holes

But even Wolfer’s fertile imagination could not account for the evidence of the multitude of shots fired. This created serous problems because, as the authors describe, these extra bullet holes were witnessed by law enforcement professionals. 

William Bailey was an FBI agent in Los Angeles who had been watching the California primary results on television in which Kennedy had just defeated Eugene McCarthy. After Kennedy proclaimed victory and said, “On to Chicago, and let’s win there,” Bailey fell asleep. He was awakened when a fellow agent knocked on his door and said they were assigned to the Ambassador to interview witnesses.

Bailey and his partner were there for a good part of the next two days. During that time, Bailey said he saw at least two bullet holes in the center divider of the swinging gate leading into the pantry. He also added that there appeared to be the base of two bullets in the holes. He was certain they were not nail holes.

Martin Patrusky, a waiter and crime scene witness, later said police told him there were two bullets that were taken out of the divider. In addition to this, there were two policemen who saw a bullet hole in the doorframe leading into the pantry. When the late Vincent Bugliosi, a lawyer who worked in the LA district attorney’s office at the time, called police officer Robert Rozzi to ask him about this, Rozzi said he saw what appeared to him to be a bullet about a foot and a half from the bottom of the floor embedded in the door frame. Bugliosi then called Sgt. Charles Wright who confirmed that there was a bullet hole in the frame and that it was later removed. This evidence, if true and which was kept out of the trial, appears to indicate that there were more shots in the pantry than Sirhan could have fired.

Co-author Johnson managed to locate an audio recording made by a Canadian journalist as he followed Kennedy from his victory speech in the Embassy Room to the pantry. That audiotape was in the archives of the RFK case in Sacramento. Johnson had it analyzed by Philip Van Praag, a master audio technician. After a long, detailed technical study, Van Praag concluded that there were at least 13 shots on the tape. Further, two pairs of shot sounds are too close to each other to be fired by one man.

As the authors note, the vast majority of the RFK evidence was supposed to be available for viewing after the trial of Sirhan. This did not happen. The fact it did not allowed certain officials involved to misrepresent the facts of the case to the public. Senator Kamala Harris, now the darling of the Democratic liberal establishment, then continued to deny Sirhan’s lawyers an evidentiary hearing while she was California attorney general.

RFK Jr. Visits Sirhan

Robert Kennedy Jr. has now become the first Kennedy family member to openly question the verdict in the murder of his father. A few months ago, he did what what Martin Luther King’s son, Dexter King, did in 1997 when he visited James Earl Ray in prison, leading Dexter to believe in Ray’s innocence in the murder of his father.

A few months ago, Kennedy Jr. quietly visited Sirhan in prison. After months of sifting through the evidence at the behest of Schrade, he came to the conclusion that Sirhan had not killed his father. This startling news was reported by the The Washington Post. Kennedy Jr. supports Schrade’s plea for a new investigation. Kennedy’s son is an experienced attorney who is partly responsible for getting his cousin Michael Skakel out of prison. Kennedy’s book on that case was a powerful exposé of how the justice system failed when it was improperly influenced by outside factors.

Kennedy Jr.’s pronouncement may finally give his father’s case the attention and the serious analysis it deserves. Reading Tate and Johnson’s book shows how poor of a job the mainstream media has done. As late Congressman Allard Lowenstein said:

Robert Kennedy’s death, like the President’s was mourned as an extension of the evils of senseless violence….What is odd is not that some people thought it was all random, but that so many intelligent people refused to believe that it might be anything else. Nothing can measure more graphically how limited was the general understanding of what is possible in America.”

Fifty years later our understanding of what is possible in America may not be so limited after all.

James DiEugenio is a researcher and writer on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other mysteries of that era. He is the author of The JFK Assassination : The Evidence Today. His most recent book is Reclaiming Parkland.

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Distorting the Life of Bobby Kennedy

As the 50th anniversary of his assassination is being remembered on Tuesday, it is vital to have a complete and accurate picture of the complex figure of Robert F. Kennedy, explains James DiEugenio.   

By James DiEugenio  Special to Consortium News

TV commentator Chris Matthews’ book, Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, has been a best seller since it was released last October, but there’s a lot of important material that Matthews left out about Kennedy, whose assassination on June 5, 1968 is being remembered on Tuesday.

In recapping his early life, Matthews tells the story of Kennedy graduating from Harvard and going on to pursue a law degree at the University of Virginia, where he was chair of the Student Legal Forum. In that role, he invited some high profile guests to speak in Charlottesville.

One guest, Nobel Prize winner Ralph Bunche, would augur Kennedy’s later support for civil rights.  Bunche, both a diplomat and professor at Howard University, was African-American, and the invitation was to a state where most of everyday life was still segregated.  When Bunche told Kennedy he would not speak before a segregated audience, RFK appealed the issue through four levels of the college administration—saying he would not back down for moral reasons—and won. Bunche ultimately addressed an overflowing, integrated audience that was about one-third African-American. As Matthews correctly notes, Bunche stayed at Bobby’s house that night, which was pelted with stones.

A Transformative Trip Abroad

In 1951, after he graduated, Bobby traveled with his brother, then Congressman Jack Kennedy, to the Middle and Far East to learn about U.S. foreign policy and raise his credentials in that area. Matthews mentions the trip, but omits the name of Edmund Gullion, a respected State Department diplomat whom the brothers contacted in Saigon to assess whether France could win its war to re-colonize Indochina.

Matthews’ excision of Gullion is inexplicable, given his importance: he told the Kennedy brothers that  France could not win, since Ho Chi Minh had inspired the Viet Minh to fight until death, rather than return under colonialism’s yoke. Guillion also said France could not win a war of attrition, because the home front would not support it.

Bobby later said Guillion deeply affected JFK’s foreign policy views. Thus, soon after, JFK attacked both parties’ positions on thwarting Communism in the Third World. That lonely campaign continued for six years, climaxing in the senator’s speech protesting Eisenhower’s second attempt to support France’s desperate effort to maintain an imperial empire, this time in Algeria.

During the next year (1958), JFK bought 100 copies of the best-selling book, The Ugly American, one for each senator, a story Matthews fails to tell. The thinly disguised novel was an unsubtle critique of America’s growing involvement in Indochina and the State Department’s incompetence in dealing with the Vietnamese.

As JFK aide Arthur Schlesinger noted, when Senator John Kennedy opposed the Eisenhower/Nixon proposed intervention at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, RFK agreed, believing one could not consider anti-Communism in the Third World without considering colonialism’s impacts.  Bobby noted this in a 1956 article for The New York Times Magazine:

. . .because we think that the uppermost thought in all people’s minds is communism….We are still too often doing too little too late to recognize and assist the irresistible movements for independence that are sweeping one dependent territory after another.”

At a talk at Fordham University, Bobby told the audience that the fatal flaw of American foreign policy was the commitment to European colonialism, noting “We supported France in Indochina far too long.” Although this is a stunning critique, Matthews does not include it in his book.

RFK and Joseph McCarthy

By leaving out such stories, it seems Matthews is trying to position Bobby Kennedy closer to Senator Joe McCarthy than he really was to paint RFK as an ardent Cold Warrior. After Bobby successfully managed his brother’s Senate campaign in 1952, his father suggested he work for McCarthy, who was Joe Kennedy’s friend. Matthews devotes seven pages to this part of the history, though he omits some key points.

For example, Bobby resigned in protest from McCarthy’s committee after only six months. During this time, he worked on what many think was the Committee’s most valuable report, about how some American allies’ trade practices benefited China and North Korea during the Korean conflict. Unlike Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s choice for chief counsel, RFK’s report did not accuse individuals of being traitors.  

Further, RFK did not participate in Cohn’s pursuit of alleged Russian spies in the State Department.  In fact, in private, he clearly admitted his dispute with Cohn, whom he found reckless and pugnacious, attracting the wrong kind of publicity to the Committee. Once he resigned, he kept a low profile for a short while and then the Democratic minority appointed him their chief counsel.

As RFK predicted, McCarthy and Cohn imploded on national television during the Army-McCarthy hearings. After this, Bobby took over the committee and retired two of its most controversial, even absurd, cases, against a Queens, NY dentist, Irving Peress and a Pentagon pastry chef, Annie Lee Moss.  Also, the RFK-run committee never filed charges with respect to McCarthy’s accusation about the infiltration of defense plants.

When the proceedings ended, Bobby wrote the minority report, which was so critical of McCarthy and Cohn that some Democrats would not sign it. It recommended the Senate take action for their abuses. The report provoked hearings on the subject of censure; which was the end result. However, Matthews spends significantly more time on RFK’s earlier Committee work than on his later role, which was longer and more important.

Matthews skims over the next part of RFK’s life, as Chief Counsel for the McClellan Committee.  Here, the 31-year-old lawyer rose to national prominence as the foe of Teamsters’ President Jimmy Hoffa and organized crime. Mathews captures little of the political complexity of this four-year drama. For example, the Committee Republicans, led by Sen. Barry Goldwater, were pleased when RFK began pursuing Hoffa since they thought it would weaken unions, in general. But they were unhappy when RFK expanded the focus to the Teamsters’ relationship with the Mafia, since the Committee now sought to clean up corrupt unions.

It got even worse for Goldwater when, while Bobby was investigating a long strike against the Kohler Company in Wisconsin, he became close to Walter Reuther, the United Automobile Workers’ president, who was running the strike. As chief counsel, RFK made him a featured witness before the Committee. This resulted in the largest fine ever levied against a corporation in a strike until that time. Again, Matthews omits this important biographical material.

JFK’s Presidential Bid

In 1960, Bobby managed his brother’s presidential campaign against Vice-President Richard Nixon. Matthews does note Bobby’s 1959 visit to Johnson’s ranch, where LBJ lied to him about his intention not to enter the 1960 race. Thus, when Johnson did enter, late in the campaign, RFK had to run a two-stage strategy: The first beating Senator Hubert Humphrey in the primaries; the second was to beat Johnson in the local and state delegations in states without primaries. Despite the extra load, Bobby held off Johnson and JFK won on the first ballot at the convention.

At this point, a group of advisors convinced JFK to abandon his original choice for vice-president, Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri, and instead pick Johnson, so he could win in the south.

Matthews’ version of what followed differs from the dominant meme in the literature.  Authors like Jeff Shesol and Robert Caro concluded that, after Johnson accepted JFK’s offer, Bobby tried to get Johnson to leave the ticket.  Matthews’ interpretation is that JFK knew what Bobby was doing and supported it, since he had not thought Johnson would accept the offer.  Whichever version is correct, it made the LBJ/RFK relationship even rockier, and the two were antagonists for the next eight years—which ultimately fractured the 1968 Democratic convention.

The Kennedys and the CIA 

Matthews correctly views the Bay of Pigs operation as one that was designed to fail.  In his previous books, he didn’t admit this, which is odd, since CIA Director Allen Dulles left a handwritten confession to that effect in his Princeton archives. Peter Grose, Dulles’ biographer, discussed this in his 1994 book, Gentleman Spy. Thus, Matthews took two decades to present what Dulles admitted over 50 years earlier. So, finally, Matthews says the goal behind the deception was to have JFK send the Navy and Marines into Cuba to save the day. However, JFK refused, although Nixon–whom Kennedy defeated in 1960 for the White House—advised the President to declare a beachhead and invade. This discredits what Matthews observed in his previous book Kennedy and Nixon, where he implies there was an equivalency between the two presidents.

Matthews virtually eliminates the crucial role Bobby had soon after. The President appointed him as a member of a White House committee that was mandated to investigate the operation. During the inquiry, Bobby granted Dulles no quarter, since he already suspected what Dulles later admitted: that the CIA director had deceived JFK about the operation’s chance of success, hoping he would approve an American armada to save himself from a humiliating defeat.

Thus, the President had authorized the Bay of Pigs given false information; and when RFK understood Dulles’ deceptions, he conferred with his father, who arranged for his son to meet former Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett, who admitted he and David Bruce (at State) had tried to get Dulles fired in the 1950s.  But Dulles was protected by his brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

Lovett advised JFK that he now had the perfect opportunity to do what he, himself, could not. Thus, on Bobby’s and Lovett’s advice, the President fired not just Allen Dulles, but Deputy Director Charles Cabell and Director of Plans, Dick Bissell. Feeling duped by the CIA and the Pentagon–which had also approved the disastrous project–Bobby now became JFK’s trusted advisor on foreign affairs.

Operation Mongoose

Matthews omits these episodes and then writes that 1962’s Operation Mongoose was Bobby’s idea. Mongoose was the secret campaign of sabotage and covert actions against Cuba that, after seven months of memo shuffling, was authorized in November 1961 and launched in February 1962.

The definitive record of the memoranda—Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume X—shows that it was hardly Bobby’s idea. In fact, it was Walt Rostow, Assistant to National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, who began the discussion by focusing on the “Cuba problem” and suggesting a blockade or an invasion. Others, like Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and CIA officer Tracy Barnes, joined in later; and it was Barnes’ option to infiltrate and sabotage shipping that was ultimately supported.

President Kennedy appointed Bobby to be a kind of ombudsman over the project, since he did not trust the CIA.  As David Corn revealed in Blond Ghost, a biography of Ted Shackley, Mongoose’s day-to-day supervisor, Bobby insisted on seeing every plan for every foray into Cuba.  He also demanded that every plan include a detailed, written description. To put it mildly, after the freewheeling days of Allen Dulles, the Agency chafed at this studious procedure for Mongoose. This is another point Matthews’ ignores.

Battle for Civil Rights

Matthews begins the Kennedys’ battle for civil rights with Bobby’s role as Attorney General and his intervention in the Freedom Riders’ attempt to integrate inter-state busing in the south.  However, this is not the whole story. During JFK’s campaign in June 1960, he said he was prepared to win the Democratic nomination without a single vote from the south at the convention. As author Harry Golden noted, after he was nominated, he told his civil rights advisors that he would break the walls of segregation through legal actions based on three statutes that his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, did not use to any significant degree: the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board decision of 1954, and the 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts.

And this is what Attorney General Bobby Kennedy did, filing more civil rights cases in his first year than Eisenhower filed during his two full terms in office. By the end of 1961, he opened 61 new investigations and by 1963, five times as many lawyers were working on civil rights cases than under Eisenhower.

This approach had been planned by the Kennedy campaign’s civil rights advisor, Harris Wofford.  Before Bobby became attorney general, Wofford had written a long memorandum on the issue, saying it was not possible to pass an omnibus civil rights bill through Congress in 1961, and probably not in 1962—since the Senate would filibuster it. Thus, the Attorney General and White House would be wise to use executive orders and legal actions to build momentum.

This happened, and faster than Wofford anticipated, because some of the things JFK had done before he was president encouraged the civil rights movement in a way that Eisenhower had not. For example, in 1957, he spoke in Jackson, Mississippi, stating that all Americans must accept the Brown vs. Board decision as the law of the land. Further, during the 1960 campaign, JFK called Coretta Scott King to comfort her about her husband’s arrest, while Bobby worked behind the scenes to get King out of prison. In May 1961, as the new attorney general, Bobby declared at the University of Georgia Law School that he would enforce the Brown v. Board decision.

Matthews ignores almost all of this. But without this information, the story of the meteoric success of the civil rights movement from 1961-1963 is incomplete. Vivian Malone, one of the first black students to enroll at the segregated University of Alabama, did so although Governor George Wallace stated he would stand in the schoolhouse door to prevent it. When Vivian’s sister was asked why Vivian did such a dangerous thing, she said her sister trusted that Bobby Kennedy would protect her. And he did, sending over 3,000 troops under General Creighton Abrams to the campus.  Matthews simply does not explain this crucial link between the civil rights movement and the Kennedys’ actions.

Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam

Nor does he shed light on the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam in 1963. As to the former, Matthews notes that Bobby proposed an air strike to destroy the missiles on the island, tracing this to the first meeting of President Kennedy’s advisors. However, I could not find this quote in the meeting’s transcript. In fact, RFK cautioned his brother against both an invasion and bombing campaign at the first meeting. Although he mentioned more aggressive actions at the second meeting, he qualified them with words like ‘if’ and ‘whether.’ Thus, these were contingencies, not commitments.

Matthews then says the brothers acknowledged former Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s view, which is completely inaccurate. In one of the most famous incidents during that two-week crisis, Acheson wanted no negotiations, and rather pushed for a sneak attack on the missile sites to eliminate them. Bobby, then attorney general, recoiled, saying it would be the equivalent of what the Japanese did to America at Pearl Harbor.

The transcripts show that JFK asked about each option—an invasion, bombing campaign, and surgical air strikes. For each, he considered the number of casualties. The President even questioned Chief of Staff Maxwell Taylor about the number of fatalities with a “surgical strike.” And when the President visited the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he was appalled by their opposition to his choice of a blockade. What really startled the brothers was when the congressional leaders they called to the White House said they also thought a blockade was too meek—including liberal Senator William Fulbright, who favored an invasion.

Feeling isolated, JFK had Bobby work as his back channel to the Soviets; thus, Bobby communicated with Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and worked out a deal: the Russians would remove the atomic weapons from Cuba in return for the U.S. not invading the island and making a silent promise that JFK would later remove American missiles from Turkey.

If we understand Bobby’s role here, we understand what JFK was doing in Vietnam in 1963, and also RFK’s position on the war from 1964-1968.  Nevertheless, Matthews seems unable to deal with the ramifications of NSAM 263, President Kennedy’s October 1963 order to begin withdrawing American advisors from Vietnam; and, Bobby’s prime role in designing it.

The President had sent Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and General Taylor to Saigon that fall to report on the conditions that would support NSAM 263. But since he didn’t trust the two to write what he needed to justify his withdrawal plan, he summoned General Victor Krulak and Colonel Fletcher Prouty to the White House.  As historian John Newman notes, JFK asked Bobby to supervise their report, which was sent by jet to Hawaii where it was given to McNamara and Taylor to read on their flight to Washington. But you will not read one sentence about this in Matthews’ book.

LBJ and RFK’s Decision to Run for President

This omission points to a larger vacuum. One reason Bobby decided to run for president in 1968 was because he felt that though Johnson had said he wanted to continue JFK’s policies, he obviously had little intention to. As John Bohrer notes in The Revolution of Robert Kennedy, even in early 1964, the Attorney General was advising Johnson not to militarize Vietnam. His advice, of course, was ignored.

Bobby also figured that Dean Rusk, the hawkish secretary of state, would now urge Johnson to escalate the war to heights he and his brother had never contemplated.  But it was Johnson’s signing ceremony for the civil rights bill in 1964 that was a turning point: LBJ asked RFK to pass around pens, after LBJ had already given one to racist FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Bobby had had enough. He left the Administration and successfully ran for senator from New York. After this, he headed the “Kennedy wing of the Democratic party.”

In 1965, Bobby asked Johnson to fire Rusk and tell South Vietnam the U.S. would no longer fight its war. He also railed against the NRA’s influence, insisted on warning labels for cigarettes, and even asked that “right to work” laws—which weakened unions—be repealed. You can read about these courageous stands in John Bohrer’s book, but not in Matthews’.

One thing LBJ did to reverse JFK’s foreign policy was to appoint Thomas Mann to key positions on Latin America. Bobby suspected that Johnson did this to deliberately undo one of JFK’s key diplomatic creations—the Alliance for Progress. Thus, Bobby, as senator, traveled to Latin America to find out what was going on. Matthews gives one page to this central event. Yet some of the things RFK said and did before, during and after this trip are crucial to understanding who he was at the time.

After the State Department briefed him about whom he should meet and what to say, Bobby told a colleague, “It sounds like we’re working for United Fruit again.” He told a crowd in Lima, Peru they should imitate great Latin American revolutionaries like San Martin and O’Higgins.  At almost every other stop he ended his speeches by saying, “The responsibility of our times is nothing less than revolution.” He made it a point to visit the ancient capital of the Inca empire in Cuzco and, on his way back, children were cheering “Viva Kennedy.”  

In Brazil, when sugar cane workers told him they were paid only for three days while working six, the senator walked to the landlord’s house and yelled that he was swindling his workers.  After this, he visited Brazil’s president, who had been installed by a CIA-sponsored coup after JFK was killed. While driving back to his hotel room he saw soldiers striking some of the crowd and trying to keep them away from his car.  As Bohrer writes, he jumped out and shouted, “Down with the government! On to the palace!” I have to share these key incidents with the reader because they are not in Matthews’ book.

That journey south is a fitting prelude to Bobby’s last campaign.  Matthews does include a couple of important incidents in the prelude to RFK’s decision to run against President Johnson. First, he describes a meeting between Bobby and Walter Cronkite, where the CBS broadcaster told he him must run in order to end the Vietnam War. Second, he quotes Bobby saying in November 1967 that his brother would have never committed half a million men to Vietnam and, in fact, was determined not to send combat troops at all. But Matthews doesn’t write how Bobby came to that conclusion.

An Incandescent Crusade

Matthews’ description of Bobby’s remarkable 85-day campaign is fairly prosaic and doesn’t come close to capturing what was perhaps the most bold and brilliant presidential campaign in the last 60 years.  Here was the last crusade of the 1960s—the last hope of a generation that had already witnessed to this point the murders of JFK in 1963 and Malcolm X in 1965. Martin Luther King was relying on Bobby to enter the race, and when he did, was overjoyed, saying he would make an outstanding president. RFK had King, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta on his side.

At his first formal campaign appearance at Kansas State University, before Johnson exited the race, RFK called the president’s Vietnam policy “bankrupt” and “deeply wrong.” He then quoted the officer who said that after the Battle of Ben Tre, “We had to wipe out the village in order to save it.” Bobby then asked, “Where does such logic end?” Later he said, “We cannot send American troops to assume the burden of fighting for corrupt and repressive governments all the way round the globe. . . .” Then, in Indiana, he echoed King when he said black Americans were dying in the war in disproportionate numbers than whites.

King was gunned down in Memphis on April 4, 1968 during the Indiana primary campaign. Kennedy had a rally scheduled in a predominantly African-American area of Indianapolis that night, which the police told him to cancel, since they couldn’t assure his safety. Nevertheless, he went and made one of his two greatest speeches. The other had been his “Ripple of Hope” address in Cape Town, South Africa on June 6, 1966, exactly two years before his death. Bobby pleaded with the crowd in Indianapolis not to give in to racial polarization, to hatred and bitterness. As many have noted, almost every major city in America went up in smoke that night, but Indianapolis did not.

Kennedy won Indiana and Nebraska, two primarily agricultural states outside the northeast. He also won every primary he entered except for Oregon. And he climaxed his triumphant crusade with his greatest victory in the California primary. As journalist Jack Newfield and others have pointed out, something exceptional happened in California.  Chavez and Huerta got the word out about RFK all the way down to Los Angeles; and King’s followers did not forget RFK’s speeches in Cape Town and Indianapolis.

When the polls opened that morning, Kennedy’s workers drove around East LA to check the turnout and were shocked to see Hispanics and African Americans lined up before the doors opened. For the first time in the city’s history, the turnout on the poor east side surpassed the wealthy west side. Bobby had given the poor a reason to vote, which is why he beat Eugene McCarthy. A few moments after declaring his victory and saying, “On to Chicago, and let’s win there,” he was killed—the last of four major 1960s’ assassinations. Matthews doesn’t mention how they brought the end to a remarkable decade. Nor does he mention how his death caused the violent Chicago convention and how its influence led, among other reasons, to the victory of Richard Nixon, the anti-RFK candidate.

Why does Matthews continually ignore these points? If one thinks, as his employers at MSNBC do, that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are the liberal ideal, then what Bobby Kennedy represented in 1968 was radical: Can you imagine either of these politicos telling Brazilian citizens to storm the palace? Not even on Saturday Night Live.

James DiEugenio is a researcher and writer on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other mysteries of that era. His most recent book is  The JFK Assassination : The Evidence Today

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Polls Show Being Anti-Trump Isn’t Enough to Beat GOP

Instead of addressing demands for social progress, such as single-payer insurance, Democratic leaders find it much easier and more comfortable to denounce Trump. But it’s not working, as Norman Solomon explains.

By Norman Solomon

With six months to go before the midterm election, recent national polls are showing that the Democratic Party’s much-touted momentum to gain control of the House has stalled. The latest numbers tell us a lot about the limits of denouncing Donald Trump without offering much more than a return to the old status quo.

Under the headline “Democrats’ 2018 Advantage Is Nearly Gone,” CNN on May 9 reported that nationwide polling found “the generic congressional ballot has continued to tighten” — “with the Democrats’ edge over Republicans within the poll’s margin of sampling error for the first time this cycle.”

With so many gerrymandered districts as well as widespread voter-ID laws and other GOP-engineered voter suppression, Democrats will need a substantial margin in vote totals to prevent Republicans from retaining a majority in the House of Representatives. (The prospects are worse in the Senate, where Democrats are defending a lopsided number of seats this year.)

While “47 percent of registered voters say they back the Democratic candidate in their district, 44 percent back the Republican,” according to CNN. “Voters also are divided almost evenly over whether the country would be better off with the Democrats in control of Congress (31 percent) or with the GOP in charge (30 percent). A sizable 34 percent — including nearly half of independent voters (48 percent) — say it doesn’t matter which party controls Congress.”

The CNN survey comes on the heels of other grim national polling. A recently released Reuters poll concluded that “enthusiasm for the Democratic Party is waning among millennials.”

The online survey of more than 16,000 registered voters ages 18 to 34 shows their support for Democrats over Republicans for Congress slipped by about 9 percentage points over the past two years, to 46 percent overall,” Reuters reported. “And they increasingly say the Republican Party is a better steward of the economy.”

Young people overwhelmingly supported Bernie Sanders during his 2016 campaign for president. With their votes in Democratic Party primaries and caucuses two years ago, the young showed that they want truth about the destructive effects of corporate power — and forceful action against its manifestations, whether economic injustice or climate change.

No Clear Alternative

Overall, the latest generation of adults is negative about the demagogue in the White House. But most Democratic leaders aren’t offering a clear and compelling alternative. As Reuters put it, “Although nearly two of three young voters polled said they do not like Republican President Donald Trump, their distaste for him does not necessarily extend to all Republicans or translate directly into votes for Democratic congressional candidates.”

Six months ago, the independent report Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis pointed out that young people “increasingly want politics to be for something profoundly positive rather than just against Republicans.” As a member of the task force that worked on the report, I was struck by how the top echelon of the Democratic Party keeps trying to insulate itself from — and fend off — the tremendous energy that mobilized behind Sanders during the primaries.

In short, the Democratic Party is still dominated by elected officials and power brokers who appear to be deeply worried that a future progressive upsurge of political engagement could loosen — or even end — their corporate-funded grip on the party. As the Autopsy report saidEmerging sectors of the electorate are compelling the Democratic Party to come to terms with adamant grassroots rejection of economic injustice, institutionalized racism, gender inequality, environmental destruction and corporate domination. Siding with the people who constitute the base isn’t truly possible when party leaders seem to be afraid of them.”

The Sanders campaign was “mostly propelled by millennials,” the report noted, and the campaign “turned what conventional wisdom had pegged as an obscure, 2-percent campaign into a photo finish with the establishment’s preferred candidate. Once the nomination was settled, much of this grassroots energy dissipated as the Clinton campaign declined to adopt positions like single-payer health care and free public college that resonated with young voters.” 

Those kinds of positions have gained some traction in the aftermath of 2016, but they still have a steep climb in the hidebound upper reaches of Democratic Party power. For the people atop the party, it’s so much easier and more comfortable to selectively denounce Trump — while opposing genuinely progressive agendas that would really challenge income inequality or take aim at the warfare state’s bloated budget or cross up the big donors who funnel vast quantities of money into the party.

With the world facing the dual threats of climate change and nuclear holocaust, it’s no exaggeration when Noam Chomsky describes the present-day Republican Party as “the most dangerous organization in human history.” The latest national polling reflects the reality that Democrats’ feeble partisan maneuvers are ill-suited to ousting the Republicans from power. Methodical grassroots organizing will be necessary — to bring down the GOP’s deranged leadership, and to defeat the forces of corporate power and militarism that continue to hold sway at the top of the Democratic Party.

This article first appeared on Common Dreams.

Norman Solomon is the coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org and the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”




Hillary Clinton is Now a Victim of ‘Socialists’

Hillary Clinton is incapable of coming to terms with her loss and now finds fault with greedy capitalists who are turning young people into socialists, as Paul Street explains.

By Paul Street Special to Consortium News

Hillary Clinton’s take on “what happened” in the 2016 election is a running tale of victimization. She was the casualty of FBI Director James Comey and of Vladimir Putin and WikiLeaks. She was unjustly loathed by that “basket” of racist, sexist, nativist, and homophobic “deplorables” that is supposedly the American “heartland,” white working-class and rural population – people she recently painted (at an elite globalist gathering in Mumbai, India) as a bunch of “pessimistic,” slow-witted and retrograde losers. She was victimized by Bernie Sanders, who (Hillary complained) wasn’t even a “real Democrat” but had the unmitigated chutzpah to let his primary campaign challenge her prearranged coronation as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.

Never mind the series of stupid, arrogant, and largely unforced errors that crippled her uninspiring and policy-bereft insider campaign that was under her command. And never mind her own epic unpopularity before and during the campaign – disapproval earned over her many years of functioning as a cold and transparently elitist Establishment agent of the wealthy corporate and financial Few.

Now the endlessly put-upon (yet fabulously wealthy) and eye-rolling Hillary has found some more scapegoats for her epic fail: first, “socialists” in the activist cadres and primary and caucus electorate of the Democratic Party, then younger voters, and finally greedy corporate chieftains whose greed has turned good Democrats into “socialists.” The “lying neoliberal warmonger” says she was victimized because of her identification as a “capitalist” after big business executives’ have sadly given capitalism a bad name—especially with young people.

In an interview with Time Inc. brands executive Alan Murray this month, she said that her economic policies were “probably” a tough sell with primary voters: “It’s hard to know, but I mean if you’re in the Iowa caucuses and 41 percent of Democrats are socialists or self-described socialists, and I’m asked ‘Are you a capitalist?’ and I say, ‘Yes, but with appropriate regulation and appropriate accountability.’ You know, that probably gets lost in the ‘Oh my gosh, she’s a capitalist!’”

Take that, Henry Wallace.

Pity the plight of the poor enlightened capitalist, Hillary Clinton, whose position high in the American Oligarchy’s permanent political class has permitted her to accumulate a net worth of at least $45 million.

Earlier in the same day as her interview with Murray, Hillary complained to the posh “Shared Value Leadership Summit” that “the reputation of capitalism is pretty much in tatters for young people” since powerful U.S. companies are “disrupting our democracy” (what democracy?) by worsening income inequality.

The way to fix this problem? Vote Republicans out of office in 2018, Hillary said – and vote in the Democrats, who Richard Nixon’s onetime political strategist Kevin Phillips rightly called “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.”

Poor Hillary

Among the many things Hillary left out of her latest “poor me” whine, two deserve special mention here. First, the insufficiently regulated and excessively amoral business behavior that she says turned young people and a bunch of Iowa Dems into “self-declared socialists” is just capitalism being capitalism, not some weird aberration of the profits system.

Contrary to the Clintonian fable of “inclusive capitalism,” an oxymoronic concept the Clinton campaign rolled out in early 2015, the United States’ leading corporations and financial institutions have never placed workers and the public on an equal footing with investors and the bottom line. It was first and foremost the rise of a momentarily powerful and significantly Left-sparked industrial workers’ movement – rooted largely in the special workplace bargaining power of mass-production workers, not some imaginary corporate benevolence – that created a new and rising floor for working-class incomes during the “Golden Age” of American capitalism that the faux-populist Donald Trump absurdly but effectively promised to restore.

At the same time, the gains enjoyed by ordinary working Americans were made possible by the uniquely favored position of the United States economy (and empire) in the post-WWII world – a reflection (among other things) of Europe’s long suicide between 1914 and 1945. When that position was significantly challenged by resurgent Western European and Japanese economic competition in the 1970s and 1980s, the comparatively egalitarian trends of postwar America were reversed by capitalist elites who had never lost their critical command of the nation’s core economic and political institutions. Working- class Americans have paid the price ever since. For the last four decades, wealth, income, and power have been sharply concentrated upward, birthing a New Gilded Age of abject oligarchy and brazen plutocracy.

This “Great U-Turn” (By Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison) dates from the finance- and policy-designed onset of the neoliberal era in the mid-1970s It goes back to the Carter years.  And it marked a return to capitalism’s historical norm, as Thomas Piketty showed in his widely read tour de force Capital in the Twenty First Century (2014).  The neoliberal era and its current New Gilded Age capstone is the profits system returning to its long and militantly inegalitarian pattern.

Second, the Clintons have long stood precisely in the vanguard of the neoliberal deregulation of capitalism – in the lead of the shift to savage inequality and ubiquitous economic insecurity (the ruthless “betrayal of the American dream”) that has pushed millions of U.S. Americans, younger ones especially, to the left. After graduating from the ruling-class training ground that is Yale Law School, the Clintons went to Arkansas to help “lay…the groundwork for what would eventually hit the national stage as the New Democrat movement, which took institutional form as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC),” according to writer Doug Henwood. The essence of the DLC was the “neoliberal” abandonment of the Democratic Party’s last lingering commitments to labor unions, social justice, civil rights, racial equality, the poor, and environmental protection in service to the “competitive” bottom-line concerns of Big Business.

DLC: Origins in Attacking Arkansas Teachers

The Clintons helped launch the New (neoliberal corporatist) Democrat juggernaut by assaulting Arkansas’ teacher unions (Hillary led the attack) and refusing to back the repeal of the state’s anti-union “right to work” law – this while Hillary began working for the Rose Law firm, which “represented the moneyed interests of Arkansas,” Henwood wrote. When the Arkansas-based, community-organizing group ACORN passed a ballot measure lowering electrical rates for residential users and raising them for commercial businesses in Little Rock, Rose deployed Hillary to shoot down the new rate schedule as an unconstitutional “taking of property.” Hillary later joined the board of directors at the low-wage retail giant and union-busting, Chinese import platform Wal-Mart.

During the Clintons’ time in the White House, Bill Clinton advanced the neoliberal agenda beneath fake-progressive cover, in ways that no Republican president could have pulled off. Channeling Ronald Reagan by declaring that “the era of big government is over,” Clinton collaborated with the right-wing Congress of his time to end poor families’ entitlement to basic minimal family cash assistance. Hillary backed this vicious welfare “reform” (elimination), which has proved disastrous for millions of disadvantaged Americans.

Mr. Clinton then earned the gratitude of Wall Street and corporate America by passing the arch-global-corporatist North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act (which had mandated a necessary separation between commercial deposit and investment banking), and by de-regulating the burgeoning super-risky and high-stakes financial derivatives sector.

‘Tell Me Something Interesting’

Hillary took the lead role in the White House’s efforts to pass a corporate-friendly version of “health reform.” Along with the big insurance companies the Clintons deceptively railed against, the “co-presidents” decided from the start to exclude the popular health care alternative – single payer – from the national health care “discussion.” (Barack Obama would do the same thing in 2009.)

Who can ever forget Hillary’s weary and exasperated response – as head of the White House’s health reform initiative – to Harvard medical professor David Himmelstein in 1993. Himmelstein was head of Physicians for a National Health Program.  He told the First Lady about the remarkable possibilities of a comprehensive, single-payer “Canadian-style” health plan, supported by more than two-thirds of the U.S. public.  Beyond backing by a citizen super-majority, Himmelstein noted, single-payer would provide comprehensive coverage to the nation’s 40 million uninsured while retaining free choice in doctor selection and being certified by the Congressional Budget Office as the most cost-effective plan on offer. “David,” Hillary said as she dismissed Himmelstein, “tell me something interesting.”

Mrs. Clinton’s service to the rich and powerful continued into the current millennium. As a U.S. Senator, she did Wall Street’s bidding by voting for a bill designed to make it more difficult for consumers to use bankruptcy laws to get out from crushing debt. As Secretary of State (2009-2012), she voiced strong support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a secretive, richly corporatist 12-nation Pacific “free trade” (investor rights) agreement that promised to badly undermine wages, job security, environmental protections, and popular governance at home and abroad.

Out of Step with the Majority

There’s nothing new about Mrs. Clinton and other neoliberal Democrats standing to the de facto moderate, Republican right of “socialist” (well, progressive and left-leaning) public opinion that has long been exhibited, not just by most Democrats but by most people in the U.S. Poll after poll in the current millennium has shown that most U.S. citizens are egalitarian social democrats, not capitalists, and certainly not neoliberals. Majorities have long backed single-payer health insurance, seriously progressive taxation, the restoration of workers’ right to organize powerful unions, collective bargaining rights, sound climate policy, strong environmental regulations, major reductions in the “defense” (empire) budget, and an expansion of the pubic social safety net.

This is the majority sentiment that Bernie Sanders ran in accord with in 2016. He would have won the Democratic presidential nomination and very possibly defeated Trump but for big-money Hillary’s corrupt and advance control and rigging of the Democratic National Committee, the primary race, and the Democratic National Convention.

Hillary is likely no longer a threat to poison the waters with another presidential run. The bitterness of her recent, Middle America-shaming remarks in India suggest that she’s finally thrown in the towel. Even a political figure as arrogant and removed from ordinary working people as Hillary Clinton must know that such comments (which Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) had to rush to distance his party from) do not square with another run for the White House.

While Hillary may be political history, however, the Democrats are still ruled by the same neoliberal and Clintonite ideology that Barack Obama was able to channel and sell in charismatic and outwardly likable ways that icy Hillary could not match.  Under the cover of Russia-gate, launched by Clinton and Obama Democrats to provide an external, conspiratorial, and neo-McCarthyite explanation for the failures of their own right-wing corporate and imperial politics (and to keep the fires burning under the New Cold War), the party’s leadership continues to stand well to the starboard side of majority progressive (“socialist”) opinion. The dollar-drenched Dems’ candidate roster for the upcoming Congressional mid-terms is loaded with right-wing Democrats (including an unprecedented usual number with military and intelligence backgrounds) masquerading as progressives.

Another Fake Progressive Leader?

Do the corporate and imperial Democrats have another Obama or young Bill Clinton in the wings, someone with the silver-tongued charm to manipulate populist sentiments on behalf of corporate and financial elitism? If so, their next faux-progressive pretender has yet to make his or her identity known.

Iowa progressives should start keeping an eye out Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, backed by neoliberals Clinton, Obama and Nancy “We’re Capitalist and That’s Just the Way It Is” Pelosi (net worth of $83 million) The money is on Harris, I am told by people in-the-Wall-Street-know. She should attend this year’s Iowa State Fair, where she can talk about Ethanol subsidies and listen to hog and soybeans farmers’ issues.

Young people, meanwhile, must deal with the ferocious economic disparity, abject plutocracy, permanent imperial war, and deadly environmental destruction passed on by older corporate and imperial, capitalist Democrats as well as radically reactionary and regressive capitalist Republicans – “two wings of the same bird of prey” (as Upton Sinclair said in 1904).

No wonder a majority of 18 to 29-year-olds tell posters they do not support capitalism.

Paul Street is an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois.  He is the author of seven books. His latest is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)




The Ghosts of ‘New Democrats’ Are Haunting Us

A battle for democracy within the Democratic Party is underway and the heirs of Bill Clinton’s New Democrats are trying to stack the deck, says Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

Twenty-five years ago, the so-called New Democrats were triumphant. Today, a fundamental battle for democracy is in progress—a conflict over whether to reduce the number of  superdelegates to the party’s national convention in 2020, or maybe even eliminate them entirely.

That struggle is set to reach a threshold at a party committee meeting next week and then be decided by the full Democratic National Committee before the end of this summer.

To understand the Democratic Party’s current internal battle lines and what’s at stake, it’s important to know how we got here.

After a dozen years of awful Republican presidencies, Bill Clinton and running mate Al Gore proved to be just the ticket for the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. Clinton settled into the White House in early 1993 as the leader of pathbreaking New Democrats. Many media outlets hailed him as a visionary who had overcome left-leaning liberalism to set the party straight.

Although candidate Clinton had criticized Republican trickle-down economics and spoken about the need for public investment by the federal government, as president he proceeded along the lines of what Washington Post economics reporter Hobart Rowan described as a formula of “fiscal conservatism and social liberalism.” That formula provided a template that the next Democratic president, Barack Obama, deftly filled.

Both Clinton and Obama were youthful and articulate, breaths of fresh air after repugnant Republican predecessors in the White House. Yet our two most recent Democratic presidents were down with corporate power—not as far down as the GOP, but nevertheless in the thrall of Wall Street and the big banks.

Deference to Oligarchic Power

From the outset of the Clinton and Obama administrations, top appointees reflected and propelled the deference to oligarchic power. Robert Rubin went from being co-chair of Goldman Sachs (paid $17 million in 1992) to serving wealthy interests as director of Clinton’s National Economic Council, a post so powerful that it earned him the title of “economic czar.” Two years later, Rubin began a long stint as secretary of the treasury, succeeding former Texas senator and big-business tool Lloyd Bentsen. They were just two of the numerous corporate functionaries in the upper realms of the Clinton administration.

Ron Brown, corporate lawyer and lobbyist for American Express and Duvalier’s Haiti, would supervise a Clinton industrial policy at the Department of Commerce,” economic analyst Doug Henwood wrote after eight months of Clinton’s presidency. “Mickey Kantor, corporate lawyer, would negotiate trade deals. Warren Christopher, corporate lawyer, would oversee the New World Order. Hillary Rodham Clinton, corporate lawyer and board member at Walmart, the low-wage retailer that’s destroyed countless rural downtowns, would supervise health care.”

While that kind of lineup went over big with moneyed interests, its policy pursuits would end up driving a wedge between the Democratic Party and the working class. Of course the guys driving Clinton’s economic train loved the North American Free Trade Agreement. Why wouldn’t they? Workers were costs, not people. Corporate trade deals were profit boosters.

Weeks after pushing NAFTA through Congress with an alliance of Republicans and corporate-friendly Democrats, Clinton signed the trade pact in December 1993—a move that was unpopular with working-class voters across the political spectrum. A year later, Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives, a GOP grip over the body that went uninterrupted for 12 years.

During his first term, Clinton’s signature accomplishments to serve economic elites went beyond NAFTA to include the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996. That same year, riding a wave that included ample undertows of misogyny and racism, Clinton celebrated his signing of the welfare “reform” bill into law. The legislation created a gold rush for media conglomerates to gobble up broadcast stations, while low-income women found their financial plights becoming even more dire.

Exactly What Wall Street Wants

Heartbroken over the new welfare law, one of the lone holdouts against the corporate sensibilities in the Clinton Cabinet, Labor Secretary Robert Reich, exited as the first term ended. Meanwhile, Clinton doubled down on selecting an intensely corporate crew for the administration. “The firm—er, team—is still adding partners—er, members,” Time reported in December 1996, cataloging the array of investment bankers, stock-market-friendly lawyers and wealthy financiers who had reached key posts.

The newcomers “are don’t-rock-the-boat appointments, and they are exactly what Wall Street wants,” a senior economist at an investment banking firm told the magazine. During the last years of his presidency, Clinton’s economic team implemented reckless Wall Street deregulation, paving the way for the financial meltdown of 2007-2008.

The political similarities between how Presidents Clinton and Obama behaved in office—and the electoral disasters that ensued for Democrats—are grimly acute. Only two years into their service to corporate America as presidents, the bottom fell out of support from the Democratic base to such an extent that in both instances the Democrats lost control of Congress.

Arriving in the Oval Office while a huge financial crisis threatened the homes of millions, Obama proceeded to bail out the big banks, offering little help to people whose houses were “under water” and who faced foreclosures.

Not coincidentally, like Clinton, Obama stocked his Cabinet with Wall Street favorites. His first-term treasury secretary was Rubin protégé Timothy Geithner. During the second Obama term, the job went to Jack Lew, a former top executive whose achievements from 2006 till 2008 included overseeing “a unit of Citigroup that made money by betting against the housing market as it prepared to implode.”

In fact, profiteering from the 2008 housing implosion was in keeping with what helped make Obama’s election to the presidency possible. In 2007, his campaign was lubricated by bountiful donations from the biggest Wall Street investment banks. And more than anyone else, his financial patron in the quest for the White House was Penny Pritzker, a billionaire real estate magnate who profited handsomely from the 2008 subprime mortgage disaster that befell so many low- and moderate-income Americans, a large proportion of them people of color.

In 2013, Obama made Pritzker the secretary of commerce, a position she held through the end of his presidency. Of all the people to choose for that Cabinet role, he selected someone with an estimated wealth of more than $2 billion who just happened to be the most important financial backer of his political career.

After his re-election, Obama lost interest in the Democratic National Committee, leaving its finances in shambles by the time the 2016 election rolled around. And, as measured by votes, the Democratic base eroded nationwide. During Obama’s eight years in office, his party lost about 1,000 seats in state legislatures.

Battle for Party Control

Now, the New Democrats and those walking in their footsteps are battling to retain control of the national party.

This year’s midterm election campaign has seen lots of intervention efforts by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, favoring establishment candidates over progressive opponents in party primaries from California to Texas to Pennsylvania. Days ago—after the release of a secretly recorded audio tape that exposed how House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer tried to pressure a progressive congressional candidate to pull out of a race in Colorado—House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi defended Hoyer at a news conference.

Later this year, as the 2020 election grows larger on the horizon, the DNC will make decisions about party rules with major effects on the race for the presidential nomination. Insiders who don’t want to democratize the Democratic Party are weighing their options.

Consider, for instance, a long-standing New Democrat named Elaine Kamarck. She’s one of only a few people (all of them Clinton 2016 primary supporters) on both the DNC’s Unity Reform Commission and its powerful Rules and Bylaws Committee—which will meet in Washington next week to vote on such matters as superdelegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

Based at the Brookings Institution, Kamarck has been on the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee since 1997. Her official Brookings biography says that “she has participated actively in four presidential campaigns and in 10 nominating conventions—including two Republican conventions.”

The bio goes on to tout Kamarck this way: “In the 1980s, she was one of the founders of the New Democrat movement that helped elect Bill Clinton president. She served in the White House from 1993 to 1997, where she created and managed the Clinton administration’s National Performance Review, also known as the ‘reinventing government initiative.’

In her role on the Rules and Bylaws Committee, Kamarck is part of the process that could end up—as recommended by the party’s Unity Reform Commission that included Clintonites and progressives—eliminating 60 percent of the existing 712 superdelegates (more than one-seventh of the total) in time for the 2020 national convention.

The distorting and undemocratic impacts of superdelegates have gone way beyond their numbers. By November 2015, Hillary Clinton had already gained public commitments of support from 50 percent of all the superdelegates—fully 11 weeks before any voter had cast a ballot in a state caucus or primary election. Such a front-loaded delegate count, made possible by high-ranking party officials who are superdelegates, can give enormous early momentum to an establishment candidate.

Many Democrats are eager to substantially reduce or eliminate superdelegates as antithetical to democracy. But Kamarck has quite a different agenda. She doesn’t want to get rid of superdelegates. In fact, she’d like more of them.

That makes sense, when you consider that Kamarck is working to lower corporate taxes. She’s co-chair of the big business organization RATE (Reforming America’s Taxes Equitably) Coalition, which has the explicit mission of “reducing the corporate income tax rate.”

The Dangers of Democracy

Such an agenda is best served in the long run by choking off democracy as much as possible, lest the riffraff get away with undermining the ruling elites.

Kamarck has backed the original Unity Reform Commission proposal, but also made clear that she believes that, in the long term, more so-called peer review by veteran party leaders produces stronger presidential nominees,” BuzzFeed reported in April.

Kamarck’s idea is for party authorities to screen candidates. BuzzFeed explained: “In a forthcoming study for New York University’s law journal, she said, she will propose a number of changes to the nominating system, from an increase in superdelegates to a new pre-primary endorsement process where the party’s top elected officials would meet with the candidates, question their positions, and issue votes of confidence or no confidence. Candidates who fail to meet a certain threshold would be barred from debates or from a spot on the ballot, depending on how the party decided to structure the system, she said.”

Let’s face it: Democracy is dangerous to the powerful who rely on big money, institutional leverage and mass media to work their will. The insurgencies of this decade against economic injustice—embodied in the Occupy movement and then Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign—are potentially dire threats to the established unjust order.

For those determined to retain their positions in the upper reaches of the Democratic Party hierarchy, democracy within the party sounds truly scary. And inauthenticity of the party—and its corresponding heavy losses of seats from state legislatures to Capitol Hill during the last 10 years—don’t seem nearly as worrisome to Democratic elites as the prospect that upsurges of grass-roots activities might remove them from their privileged quarters.

As Sanders told a New York Times Magazine reporter in early 2017: “Certainly there are some people in the Democratic Party who want to maintain the status quo. They would rather go down with the Titanic so long as they have first-class seats.”

This commentary was originally published on Truthdig.

Norman Solomon is the coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org and the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”




Coming Attraction: Lunatic Loose in West Wing

As Uber-Hawk John Bolton prepares to take over as national security adviser on Monday, Ray McGovern looks back at when Bolton was one of the “crazies” in the George W. Bush administration.

By Ray McGovern Special to Consortium News

John Bolton’s March 22 appointment-by-tweet as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser has given “March Madness” a new and ominous meaning.  There is less than a week left to batten down the hatches before Bolton makes U.S. foreign policy worse that it already is.

During a recent interview with The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill  (minutes 35 to 51) I mentioned that Bolton fits seamlessly into a group of take-no-prisoners zealots once widely known in Washington circles as “the crazies,” and now more commonly referred to as “neocons.”

Beginning in the 1970s, “the crazies” sobriquet was applied to Cold Warriors hell bent on bashing Russians, Chinese, Arabs — anyone who challenged U.S. “exceptionalism” (read hegemony).  More to the point, I told Scahill that President (and former CIA Director) George H. W. Bush was among those using the term freely, since it seemed so apt.  I have been challenged to prove it.

I don’t make stuff up.  And with the appointment of the certifiable Bolton, the “the crazies” have become far more than an historical footnote.  Rather, the crucible that Bush-41 and other reasonably moderate policymakers endured at their hands give the experience major relevance today.  Thus, I am persuaded it would be best not to ask people simply to take my word for it when I refer to “the crazies,” their significance, and the differing attitudes the two Bushes had toward them.

George H. W. Bush and I had a longstanding professional and, later, cordial relationship.  For many years after he stopped being president, we stayed in touch — mostly by letter.  This is the first time I have chosen to share any of our personal correspondence.  I do so not only because of the ominous importance of Bolton’s appointment, but also because I am virtually certain the elder Bush would want me to.

Scanned below is a note George H. W. Bush sent me eight weeks before his son, egged on by the same “crazies” his father knew well from earlier incarnations, launched an illegal and unnecessary war for regime change in Iraq — unleashing chaos in the Middle East.


Shut Out of the Media

By January 2003, it was clear that Bush-43 was about to launch a war of aggression — the crime defined by the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal as “the supreme international crime differing from other war crimes only in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”  (Think torture, for example.)  During most of 2002, several of us former intelligence analysts had been comparing notes, giving one another sanity checks, writing op-eds pointing to the flimsiness of the “intelligence” cobbled together to allege a weapons-of-mass-destruction “threat” from Iraq, and warning of the catastrophe that war on Iraq would bring.

Except for an occasional op-ed wedged into the Christian Science Monitor or the Miami Herald, for example, we were ostracized from “mainstream media.”  The New York Times and Washington Post were on a feeding frenzy from the government trough and TV pundits were getting high ratings by beating the drum for war.  Small wonder the entire media was allergic to what we were saying, despite our many years of experience in intelligence analysis.  Warnings to slow down and think were the last thing wanted by those already profiteering from a war on the near horizon.

The challenge we faced was how to get through to President George W. Bush.  It had become crystal clear that the only way to do that would be to do an end run around “the crazies” — the criminally insane advisers that his father knew so well — Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and Undersecretary of State John Bolton.

Bolton: One of the Crazies

John Bolton was Cheney’s “crazy” at the State Department.  Secretary Colin Powell was pretty much window dressing.  He could be counted on not to complain loudly — much less quit — even if he strongly suspected he was being had.  Powell had gotten to where he was by saluting sharply and doing what superiors told him to do.  As secretary of state, Powell was not crazy — just craven.  He enjoyed more credibility than the rest of the gang and rather than risk being ostracized like the rest of us, he sacrificed that credibility on the altar of the “supreme international crime.”

In those days Bolton did not hesitate to run circles around — and bully
— the secretary of state and many others.  This must be considered a harbinger of things to come, starting on Monday, when the bully comes to the china shop in the West Wing.  While longevity in office is not the

hallmark of the Trump administration, even if Bolton’s tenure turns out to be short-lived, the crucial months immediately ahead will provide Bolton with ample opportunity to wreak the kind of havoc that “the crazies” continue to see as enhancing U.S. — and not incidentally — Israeli influence in the Middle East.  Bear in mind, Bolton still says the attack on Iraq was a good idea.  And he is out to scuttle the landmark agreement that succeeded in preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon any time soon.

Trying to Head Off War

In August 2002, as the Bush-43 administration and U.S. media prepared the country for war on Iraq, the elder Bush’s national security advisor, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, and Secretary of State James Baker each wrote op-eds in an attempt to wean the younger Bush off the “crazies’” milk.  Scowcroft’s Wall Street Journal op-ed of August 15 was as blunt as its title, “Don’t Attack Saddam.” The cautionary thrust of Baker’s piece in the New York Times ten days later, was more diplomatic but equally clear.

But these interventions, widely thought to have been approved by Bush-41, had a predictable opposite effect on the younger Bush, determined as he was to become the “first war president of the 21st Century” (his words).  It is a safe bet also that Cheney and other “crazies” baited him with, “Are you going to let Daddy, who doesn’t respect ANY of us, tell you what to do?”

All attempts to insert a rod into the wheels of the juggernaut heading downhill toward war were looking hopeless, when a new idea occurred.  Maybe George H. W. Bush could get through to his son.  What’s to lose?  On January 11, 2003 I wrote a letter to the elder Bush asking him to speak “privately to your son George about the crazies advising him on Iraq,” adding “I am aghast at the cavalier way in which the [Richard] Perles of the Pentagon are promoting the use of nuclear weapons as an acceptable option against Iraq.”

My letter continued: “That such people have the President’s ear is downright scary.  I think he needs to know why you exercised such care to keep such folks at arms length.  (And, as you may know, they are exerting unrelenting pressure on CIA analysts to come up with the “right” answers.  You know how that goes!)”

In the letter I enclosed a handful of op-eds that I had managed to get past 2nd-tier mainstream media censors. In those writings, I was much more pointed in my criticism of the Bush/Cheney administration’s approach to Iraq than Scowcroft and Baker had been in August 2002.

Initially, I was encouraged at the way the elder Bush began his January 22, 2003 note to me: “It is only ‘meet and right’ that you speak out.”  As I read on, however, I asked myself how he could let the wish be father to the thought, so to speak.  (Incidentally, “POTUS” in his note is the acronym for “President of the United States;” number 43, of course, was George Jr.)

The elder Bush may not have been fully conscious of it, but he was whistling in the dark, having long since decided to leave to surrogates like Scowcroft and Baker the task of highlighting publicly the criminal folly of attacking Iraq.  The father may have tried privately; who knows.  It was, in my view, a tragedy that he did not speak out publicly.  He would have been very well aware that this was the only thing that would have had a chance of stopping his son from committing what the Nuremberg Tribunal defined as “the supreme international crime.”

It is, of couse, difficult for a father to admit that his son fell under the influence — this time not alcohol or drugs, but rather the at least equally noxious demonic influence of “the crazies,” which Billy Graham himself might have found beyond his power to exorcise.  Maybe it is partly because I know the elder Bush personally, but it does strike me that, since we are all human, some degree of empathy might be in order. I simply cannot imagine what it must be like to be a former President with a son, also a former President, undeniably responsible for such widespread killing, injury and abject misery.

Speaking Out — Too Late

It was a dozen years too late, but George H.W. Bush finally did give voice to his doubts about the wisdom of rushing into the Iraq War.  In Jon Meacham’s biography, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” the elder Bush puts most of the blame for Iraq on his son’s “iron-ass” advisers, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, while at the same time admitting where the buck stops.  With that Watergate-style “modified, limited hangout,” and his (richly deserved) criticism of his two old nemeses, Bush-41 may be able to live more comfortably with himself, hoping to get beyond what I believe must be his lingering regret at not going public when that might have stopped “arrogant” Rumsfeld and “hardline” Cheney from

inflicting their madness on the Middle East.  No doubt he is painfully aware that he was one of the very few people who might have been able to stop the chaos and carnage, had he spoken out publicly.

Bush-41’s not-to-worry note to me had the opposite effect with those of us CIA alumni alarmed at the gathering storm and the unconscionable role being played by those of our former CIA colleagues still there in manufacturing pre-Iraq-war “intelligence.”  We could see what was going on in real time; we did not have to wait five years for the bipartisan conclusions of a five-year Senate Intelligence Committee investigation.  Introducing its findings, Chairman Jay Rockefeller said: “In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Back to January 2003: a few days after I received President Bush’s not-to-worry note of January 22, 2003, a handful of us former senior CIA officials went forward with plans to create Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).  We had been giving one another sanity checks before finalizing draft articles about the scarcely believable things we were observing — including unmistakable signs that our profession of intelligence analysis was being prostituted.  On the afternoon of February 5, 2003, after Powell misled the UN Security Council, we issued our first (of three) VIPS Memoranda for the President before the war. We graded Powell “C” for content, and warned President George W. Bush, in effect, to beware “the crazies,” closing with these words:

“After watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion … beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

Team B

When Gerald Ford assumed the presidency in August 1974, the White House was a center of intrigue.  Serving as Chief of Staff for President Ford, Donald Rumsfeld (1974-75), with help from Dick Cheney (1975-76), engineered Bush’s nomination to become CIA Director.  This was widely seen as a cynical move to take Bush out of contention for the Republican ticket in 1976 and possibly beyond, since the post of CIA director was regarded as a dead-end job and, ideally, would keep you out of politics. (Alas, this did not turn out the way Rumsfeld expected — damn those “unknown unknowns.”)

If, at the same time, Rumsfeld and Cheney could brand GHW Bush soft on communism and brighten the future for the Military-Industrial Complex, that would put icing on the cake.  Rumsfeld had been making evidence-impoverished speeches at the time, arguing that the Soviets were ignoring

the AMB Treaty and other arms control arrangements and were secretly building up to attack the United States. He and the equally relentless Paul Wolfowitz were doing all they could to create a much more alarming picture of the Soviet Union, its intentions, and its views about fighting and winning a nuclear war.  Sound familiar?

Bush arrived at CIA after U.S.-Soviet detente had begun to flourish.  The cornerstone Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was almost four years old and had introduced the somewhat mad but stabilizing reality of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).  Crazies and neocons alike lived in desperate fear of losing their favorite enemy, the USSR.  Sound familiar?

Bush was CIA Director for the year January 1976 to January 1977, during which I worked directly for him.  At the time, I was Acting National Intelligence Officer for Western Europe where post-WWII certainties were unravelling and it was my job to get intelligence community-wide assessments to the White House — often on fast breaking events.  We almost wore out what was then the latest technology — the “LDX” (for Long Distance Xerography) machine — sending an unprecedentedly high number of “Alert Memoranda” from CIA Headquarters to the White House.  (“LDX,” of course, is now fax; there was no Internet.)

As ANIO, I also chaired National Intelligence Estimates on Italy and Spain.  As far as I could observe from that senior post, Director Bush honored his incoming pledge not to put any political gloss on the judgments of intelligence analysts.

Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, of course, had made no such pledge.  They persuaded President Ford to set up a “Team B” analysis, contending that CIA and intelligence community analyses and estimates were naively rosy.  Bush’s predecessor as CIA director, William Colby, had turned the proposal down flat, but he had no political ambitions.  I suspect Bush, though, saw a Rumsfeld trap to color him soft on the USSR.  In any case, against the advice of virtually all intelligence professionals, Bush succumbed to the political pressure and acquiesced in the establishment of a Team B to do alternative analyses.  No one was surprised that these painted a much more threatening and inaccurate picture of Soviet strategic intentions.

Paul Warnke, a senior official of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency at the time of Team B, put it this way:

“Whatever might be said for evaluation of strategic capabilities by a group of outside experts, the impracticality of achieving useful results by ‘independent’ analysis of strategic objectives should have been self-evident. Moreover, the futility of the Team B enterprise was assured by the selection of the panel’s members. Rather than including a diversity of views … the Strategic Objectives Panel was composed entirely of individuals who made careers of viewing the Soviet menace with alarm.”

The fact that Team B’s conclusions were widely regarded as inaccurate did not deter Rumsfeld.  He went about promoting them as valid and succeeded in undermining arms control efforts for the next several years. Two days before Jimmy Carter’s inauguration Rumsfeld fired his parting shot, saying, “No doubt exists about the capabilities of the Soviet armed forces” and that those capabilities “indicate a tendency toward war fighting … rather than the more modish Western models of deterrence through mutual vulnerability.”

GHW Bush in the White House

When George H. W. Bush came into town as vice president, he got President Reagan’s permission to be briefed with “The President’s Daily Brief” and I became a daily briefer from 1981 to 1985.  That job was purely substantive.  Even so, my colleagues and I have been very careful to regard those conversations as sacrosanct, for obvious reasons.  By the time he became president in 1989, he had come to know, all too well, “the crazies” and what they were capable of.  Bush’s main political nemesis, Donald Rumsfeld, could be kept at bay, and other “crazies” kept out of the most senior posts — until Bush the younger put them in positions in which they could do serious damage.  John Bolton had been enfant terrible on arms control, persuading Bush-43 to ditch the ABM Treaty.  On Monday, he can be expected to arrive at the West Wing with his wrecking ball.

Even Jimmy Carter Speaks Out

Given how difficult Rumsfeld and other hardliners made it for President Carter to work with the Russians on arms control, and the fact that Bolton

has been playing that role more recently, Jimmy Carter’s comments on Bolton — while unusually sharp — do not come as a complete surprise.  Besides, experience has certainly shown how fo

olish it can be to dismiss out of hand what former presidents say about their successors’ appointments to key national security positions.  This goes in spades in the case of John Bolton.

Just three days after Bolton’s appointment, the normally soft-spoken Jimmy Carter became plain-spoken/outspoken Jimmy Carter, telling USA Today that the selection of Bolton “is a disaster for our country.”  When asked what advice he would give Trump on North Korea, for example, Carter said his “first advice” would be to fire Bolton.

In sum, if you asked Bush-41, Carter’s successor as president, how he would describe John Bolton, I am confident he would lump Bolton together with those he called “the crazies” back in the day, referring to headstrong ideologues adept at blowing things up — things like arms agreements negotiated with painstaking care, giving appropriate consideration to the strategic views of adversaries and friends alike. Sadly, “crazy” seems to have become the new normal in Washington, with warmongers and regime-changers like Bolton in charge, people who have not served a day in uniform and have no direct experience of war other than starting them.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He served as an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and then as a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years.  In January 2003, he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and still serves on its Steering Group.




From Chaos in Saigon, to Chaos in Washington: 4/4/68

ABC News correspondent Don North left the violence of Vietnam on April 3, 1968 to arrive the next day in Washington, gripped by the violent reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Don North Special to Consortium News

Since the Tet offensive of January 1968 the mean streets of Saigon reeked of smoke, tear gas and incoming rocket and mortar fire. I had been a correspondent for ABC TV News for the past two years and it was with great relief that I was re-assigned to Washington D.C. in early April.

As I looked back at the skyline of Saigon, a Scotch & Soda in hand as my plane took off, I could see black smoke rising from one part of the city, and white smoke trailing fires set off elsewhere by the Viet Cong. A day later, on Thursday, April 4,, as my flight descended into Washington, I could see black smoke rising from one part of the city and white smoke rising from another. 

As news of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis spread, despondent crowds gathered in the heart of Washington’s business section along 14th street. Orderly at first, the crowds became surly and started breaking windows, looting stores and setting fires.

I reported immediately to the ABC News bureau on Connecticut Ave. The news editor said, “Good timing Don, we can use a reporter with combat experience. There’s a crew leaving for the riots in a few minutes. There’s room in the car for you.”

The Same Smell of Teargas

Cruising down 14th Street the air was the same as in Saigon: filled with smoke and the smell of tear gas. A light rain was falling. Slick streets were littered with broken glass and bricks. Stretches of 14th and 7th and H looked like combat zones. Hundreds of blazes set by arsonists would leave wreckage and desolation. We were seeing the beginning of the reaction to the assassination that would beset Washington for the next 72 hours and leave sections of the city in ruins for over 30 years. 

Local businesses were being vandalized, windows smashed and merchandise carried off. We pulled up to a liquor store where looters were walking out through smashed windows carrying armloads of booze. We discreetly filmed with an Auricon sound camera through a side window. The looters didn’t seem to notice.

Suddenly an angry man rushed at our car with a large brick in his hands and started pounding on a side window. It didn’t break as we sped out of his reach.

The riots apparently began nearby with a brick thrown through the window of the Peoples Drug Store at 14th Street and U. Dr. King had died at 8 P.M. Though he had ardently preached non-violence, by 10 P.M. large crowds gathered to vent anger, sadness and frustration that was justified, even if the violence wasn’t. Teenagers walked with transistor radios tuned to the news. Many local stations played hymns between newscasts.

Ben’s Chili Bowl near the Peoples Drug Store was not targeted by looters and managed to stay open through the night. Stokely Carmichael, a member of the Black Panthers, made the Chili Bowl his headquarters and he led a group of youths into nearby stores demanding they close in respect for Dr. King’s death. Carmichael had been a follower of King but had recently become independent. I tried to interview him but he was moving too fast.

But in the weeks following the riots I would often sit down with Carmichael, as he became a nationally known voice against the war I had left behind in Saigon. That night, he urged the crowds to stay calm, but their anger was too great.

The looters soon turned to arson and threw Molotov cocktails into buildings and rocks and bricks at firefighters who tried to put out the blazes. Many African-American store owners sprayed “SOUL” on their windows to be spared.

The D.C. fire department reported 1,180 fires between March 30 and April 14. Property loss caused by the disturbances was extensive. 1,190 buildings, including 283 homes were badly damaged or destroyed an estimated loss at $25 million. Mostly white residents, fearful of the violence, accelerated their departure for suburban areas.

By Friday, April 5, the unrest spread to other sections of the District, especially 7th Street NW, H St and parts of Anacostia. Joining the 3,000 strong D.C. police force, Federal troops and the National Guard were called in and would reach 11,000 in numbers. U.S. Marines mounted machine guns on the steps of the Capitol and Army troops from the 3rd Infantry guarded the White House . Federal troops now occupied parts of Vietnam and America.

In three days of upheaval, 13 people were killed, two by police officers. Riots that week in Newark caused 27 deaths and 43 were killed in Detroit.

A 5:30 PM curfew was enforced in the District.  D.C. Commissioner Walter Washington, later to become Washington’s first black Mayor, made nightly appearances during the unrest, and helped to stem the violence. He had rebuffed FBI suggestions that police shoot rioters and looters on the spot.

The military occupation of Washington was the largest of any American city since the Civil War and raised questions about whether it was legal, as the use of federal troops for law enforcement had been banned by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

Killed on the First Anniversary of His Vietnam Speech

Had the Johnson administration heeded King’s words about the state of America and its war in Southeast Asia, perhaps the violence I had left behind in Saigon and arrived to in downtown Washington may never have happened.

In his Riverside Church speech given on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination, King said: 

Surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history.

As I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people?” they ask.

There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. 

So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

Don North, a veteran war correspondent who covered the Vietnam War and many other conflicts around the world, is the author of Inappropriate Conduct,  the story of a WW II correspondent whose career was crushed by the intrigue he uncovered.  




King’s Legacy Betrayed

The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated 50 years ago today, has been cynically exploited by corporate and political leaders who care more for the needs of their rich donors than black constituents, comments Margaret Kimberley.

By Margaret Kimberley  Special to Consortium News

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the preeminent leader of the black liberation movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Millions of people engaged in the struggle against America’s shameful apartheid system but King was the most influential. His actions are remembered, his words are quoted by activists, politicians, and pundits. His birthday is a national holiday. Only the worst and most retrograde racists dare to speak ill of King.

But the lionizing is mostly a sham. In fact there are very few people who remember the importance of what King said, what he did or why and how they should replicate his work. His legacy has been subverted and is now understood only by the most conscious students of history.

Nothing illustrated this state of affairs more clearly than the use of King’s words in a Ram truck commercial broadcast during the 2018 Super Bowl football championship. Viewers were told that Ram trucks are “built to serve.”

The voice over is provided by King himself speaking exactly 50 years earlier, on February 4, 1968. The Drum Major Instinct sermon was a call to reject the ego driven desire for attention in favor of working for more altruistic pursuits. “If you want to say that I was a drum major say that I was a drum major for justice.”

The commercial’s creators deliberately ignored the portion of the sermon in which King derided the influence of advertising. He even mentioned vehicle advertising specifically. He warned that “gentleman of massive verbal persuasion” can influence people to act against their own interests. “In order to make your neighbors envious you must drive this type of car.”

A Nation Going Backwards

Corporate interests are not alone in pretending to honor King while actually attacking him. King’s legacy is severely diminished because it has been used by cynical individuals for corrupt purposes. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of his assassination we see a nation that has moved backwards on nearly every front. Legalized discrimination was eliminated but powerful forces undermined progress and America in 2018 is devoid of the change that King fought to make real.

Much of the blame lies at the feet of the Democratic Party, who have an undeserved reputation for enacting progressive policies. In reality, Democrats actively targeted black people for joblessness, poverty, imprisonment and disenfranchisement. Democrats became the party of corporate interests and aligned themselves with every neoliberal initiative. They forsook the union movement, working hand in hand with finance capitalists to take living wage jobs out of the country. Bill Clinton oversaw the end of public assistance as a right, destroying what Franklin Roosevelt enacted 60 years earlier. He built on the work of Ronald Reagan and massively increased the prison population.

Barack Obama offered a “grand bargain” of austerity to Republicans and continued the George W. Bush policy of tax cuts for the wealthiest. The banks which created the 2008 financial collapse were rewarded with huge bailouts of public funds. Black people ended up losing the small bit of wealth they held before the crash and now lead only in the negative measurements of quality of life.

Democrats destroy public education through charter schools and refuse to raise the minimum wage even when they control Congress and have the power to act. They were never the party of peace and they are now most outspoken in encouraging an anti-Russian resumption of the Cold War and supporting imperialist interventions.

After the legislative victories of the 1960s black Americans were ignored, subjugated or co-opted. It is true that there are thousands of black elected officials, when in King’s day there were hardly any. But this political class is a traitorous one and works for its own benefit, its patrons in corporate America and the civil rights organizations that are subsidiaries of the Democratic Party. The black political class went along with every sordid deal that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama pursued. Their positions are secure but the rest of black America is anything but.

Prison Population Explodes

A glaring example is the enormous increase in incarceration rates. When Martin Luther King was alive there were only 300,000 incarcerated Americans. There are now more than 2 million. The exponential increase is not coincidental. Mass incarceration was a direct reaction to the freedom movement. Segregation put black people under physical control and the system devised new ways to secure the same result when it ended.

Black men became the face of drug dealing, or deadbeat fatherhood or anything else that the press and politicians told white Americans to fear and hate. The ripple effect is terrible and damages family life, the ability to earn a living and even to vote. In 48 states felons either lose the franchise permanently or are prevented from voting until all supervision is lifted. In Florida alone 1.5 million people cannot vote because of past convictions. A recent court case declared this rule unconstitutional and if a November 2018 ballot measure passes they may have their voting rights restored. That will be a happy result but there are 5 million more Americans, disproportionately black, who elsewhere lose the ability to vote due to criminal convictions.

Until incarceration becomes a mass movement, political issue, the Voting Rights Act amounts to very little. Actually the act already amounts to little because the Supreme Court nullified its most important provisions requiring southern states to seek permission before changing voting rules. The Democrats are less concerned with getting out the vote than in making their wealthy patrons happy and protecting the Senate majority and federal judiciary they claim is so important.

Of course the Democrats are in a bind. They don’t want to get out the vote because that would mean fighting for the issues that the masses need addressed. The wishes of wealthy, corporate America don’t dovetail with those of working people. Fat cat funders don’t want an increased minimum wage. Getting out the vote would mean biting the hand that feeds. So the people be damned.

King’s Challenge to Militarism Defied

King began his fight for the particular needs of black people in a uniquely oppressive system. As years went by he also opposed the economic system itself and the war in Vietnam. In 2017 the Democrats, including most Congressional Black Caucus members, went along with Donald Trump’s request for a 10% increase of an already huge military budget. They will go through the pretense of complaining when that increase inevitably restricts federal spending for social needs, but they are connivers who hope we miss their charade.

The liberation movement succeeded against great odds. Most black people then as now lived in the southern states and could not vote. Yet their coordinated mass action won them the franchise anyway. That lesson must not be forgotten as the juggernaut of neoliberal plots threatens everyone.

Every major American city is undergoing an onslaught of gentrification which displaces millions of black people at the whim of finance capital. The politicians who will speak in praise of King today do nothing to stop them. In fact they depend upon their largesse to stay in office.

They do nothing to stop the continued terror of billionaire rule. Instead they assist the richest in grabbing more and more. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos this year became the richest person on the planet. His plans for a new Amazon HQ could be funded entirely by his corporation. Instead cities across the country scramble to give away property and tax dollars to help fund the race to the bottom for workers.

Hollow Admiration

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. should be remembered for his tremendous courage in speaking out against the power of money and the military industrial complex. The poseurs who go along to get along should be silent today. The past 50 years have been so tragic because the hard won victories were deliberately destroyed.

King inspired the people to fight for their needs. He did so when the New York Times and Washington Post vilified him. He spoke against the Vietnam war when his compatriots feared angering Lyndon Johnson. The mass action movement that he led forced LBJ to act when he didn’t want to. If politicians act on behalf of the people it is never because they have the right motives.

That is what we must remember about King. The admiration is hollow unless we do as he and millions of others did and commit ourselves to challenging the system. That will mean openly and loudly denouncing the people committed to destroying what they worked and died to achieve. The worst traitors are the most prominent and well respected. But the respect is undeserved and quite dangerous. The night before he was killed King spoke of getting to the promised land. That won’t happen until the scoundrels are named and opposed. Honoring King’s legacy demands that we do just that.

 

Margaret Kimberley is Editor and Senior Columnist at Black Agenda Report. Ms. Kimberley serves on the Administrative Committee of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), the Coordinating Committee of Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) and the Advisory Board of ExposeFacts.org. She is writing a book about racism and the American presidency. She is a graduate of Williams College and lives in New York City.

 




The Role of Youth in a Hoped-for Transformation

The massive turnout for the March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington on March 24 has given rise to hope that a new youth movement can spur a social transformation in the United States, write Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers.

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

The eruption of youth protests over gun violence in schools and other issues is another indicator that the 2020s could be a decade of transformation where people demand economic, racial and environmental justice as well as peace. Students who are in their teens now will be in their twenties then. They will have experience in how protests can change political culture.

Some view the youth awakening in these protests as reminiscent of youth movements in previous generations, others are less optimistic. We cannot predict the role this generation will play, but throughout the history of mass movements, youth have been a key factor by pushing boundaries and demanding change.

One of the slogans in the actions against gun violence is “adults failed to solve the problem.” The truth is, as many youth are aware, those currently in power have failed on many fronts, e.g. climate change, wealth disparity, racial injustice, never-ending wars and militarism, lack of health care and more. These crises are coming to a head and provide the environment for transformational changes, if we act.

Beware of Democratic Party Co-option

One of the challenges youth, and older, activists face is the Democratic Party. Democrats have a long history of co-opting political movements. They are present in recent mobilizations, such as the Women’s March and March for our Lives, which both centered on voting as the most important action to take.

Big Democratic Party donors, like George and Amal Clooney, provided massive resources to the March for Our Lives. The corporate media covered the students extensively, encouraged attendance at the marches and reported widely on them.

As Bruce Dixon writes, “It’s not hard to see the hand of the Democratic party behind the tens of millions in corporate contributions and free media accorded the March For Our Lives mobilization. 2018 is a midterm election year, and November is only seven months away. The Democrats urgently need some big sticks with which to beat out the vote this fall…”

Democratic politicians see the gun issue as an opportunity for the ‘Blue Wave’ they envision for 2018, even though the Democrat’s history of confronting gun violence has been dismal. When Democrats controlled Congress and the presidency, they did not challenge the culture of violence, confront the NRA or stop militarized policing that is resulting in hundreds of killings by police.

Ajamu Baraka writes, “Liberals and Democrat party connected organizations and networks have been quite adept at getting out in front of movements to pre-empt their radical potential and steer them back into the safe arms of liberal conformism.” Indeed the history of the Democratic Party since its founding as a slave-owners party has been one of absorbing political movements and weakening them.

For this new generation of activists to reach their potential, they must understand we live in a mirage democracy and cannot elect our way out of these crises. Our tasks are much larger. Violence is deeply embedded in US culture, dating to the founding of the nation when gun laws were designed for white colonizers to take land from Indigenous peoples and control black slaves.

When it comes to using the gun issue for elections, the challenge for the Democrats is “to keep the public anger high, but the discussion shallow, limited, and ahistorical,” as Bruce Dixon writes. Our task is to understand the roots of the crises we face.

Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz describes this in her new book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. The culture of violence in the US goes beyond the horrific shooting in schools to the militarization of our communities and military aggression abroad. The US military has killed more than 20 million people in 37 nations since World War II.

One step you can take in your community is to find out if there is a Junior ROTC program in your local school and shut it down.

Potential for Youth to Lead in Era of Transformation

One of the reasons we predict the 2020s may be an era of transformation is because issues that have been ignored or mishandled by powerholders are becoming so extreme they can no longer be ignored. Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report writes the gun protests present an opportunity to highlight all the issues where Democrats (and Republicans) have failed us.

Youth are already involved, often playing leadership roles, in many fronts of struggle. Rev. Jared Sawyer, Jr. writes that when racial violence arose at the “University of Missouri in recent years, student athletes and scholars united in protest, prompting the administration to take action. Organizations like Black Youth Power 100 have arisen in the wake of police” violence against black people. Youth are on the front lines of the environmental movement, blocking pipelines and carbon infrastructure to prevent climate change. Youth are leading the movement to protect immigrants from mass deportation.

This week, Hampton students took to the streets over sexual violence, housing, food and other problems on campus. Students at Howard University started HU Resist, to “make sure that Howard University fulfills its mission.” They are in theirthird day of occupying the administration building.

At March for Our Lives protests, some participants saw the connections between gun violence and other issues. Tom Hall reported that those who “attended the rally had far more on their minds than gun control and the midterm elections—the issues promoted by the media and the Democratic Party. Many sought to connect the epidemic of mass shootings in American schools to broader issues, from the promotion of militarism and war, to poverty and social inequality.” Youth also talked about tax cuts for the rich, inadequate healthcare, teacher strikes, the need for jobs and a better quality of life. He noted those who attended were “searching for a political perspective,” and that, while it was not seen from the stage, opposition to war was a common concern.

Robert Koehler writes, “This emerging movement must address the whole spectrum of violence.”  He includes racist violence, military violence, mass incarceration and the “mortally sinful corporate greed and of course, the destruction of the environment and all the creatures.” What unites all of these issues, Koehler writes, is the “ability to dehumanize certain people.” Dehumanization is required to allow mass murder, whether by a single gunman or in war, as well as the economic violence that leaves people homeless and hungry, or for the violence of denying people necessary healthcare and to pay people so little they need multiple jobs to survive.

Movements are Growing, Now How Do We Win?

We have written about the stages of successful social movements and that overall the United States is in the final stage before victory. This is the era of building national consensus on solutions to the crises we face and mobilizing millions to take action in support of these solutions.

Protests have been growing in the US over the past few decades. Strong anti-globalization protests were organized under Clinton to oppose the World Trade Organization. Under the Bush administration, hundreds of thousands of people took the streets against the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. The anti-war movement faded under the Obama administration, even though he escalated US militarism, but other movements arose such as Occupy, immigrant’s rights, the fight for 15, Idle No More and black lives matter. Erica Chenowith posits that current youth activists “did their first activism with their moms. It’s a quicker learning curve for kids.”

At present, large drivers of mass protests are reaction to the actions of the Trump administration and the Democrats using their resources to augment and steer anti-Trump anger into elections. To prevent what happened to the anti-war movement under President Obama, people will need a broader understanding of the root causes of the crises we face, not the shallow analysis provided by the corporate media, and will need to understand how social movements can be effective.

To assist in this education, Popular Resistance is launching the Popular Resistance School. The first eight week course will begin on May 1 and will cover social movement theory – how social movements develop, how they win and roles people and organizations play in movements. All are welcome to participate in the school. There is no cost to join, but we do ask those who are able to donate to help cover the costs.

For more information on the school and to sign up, click here. Those who sign up will receive a weekly video lecture, a curriculum and an invitation to join a discussion group (each one will be limited to 30 participants). People who complete the course can then host the course locally with virtual support from Popular Resistance.

The next decade has the potential to be transformative. To make it so, we must not only develop national consensus that issues are being mishandled, that policies need to change and that we can change them, but we must also educate ourselves on issues and how to be effective. We have the power to create the change we want to see.

This piece was first published on PopularResitance.org 
Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers are co-directors of Popular Resistance.



Trump Finds Fellow Bully in Bolton

President Donald Trump’s appointment of John Bolton as his national security adviser is his most dangerous move yet, argues Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

Nothing Donald Trump has done since his inauguration 14 months ago is more dangerous – to the United States, and indeed, to the world – than his selection of John Bolton for National Security Adviser. It is not surprising the president would feel most comfortable receiving advice from a fellow bully.

Trump bullies people on a nearly daily basis, directing his ire at immigrants, Muslims, women, LBGTQ people, the poor and the environment. He hurls Twitter attacks at those who disagree with him.

The president has encouraged police brutality, suggesting in a Long Island speech that law enforcement officers bang suspects’ heads against police car doors. “Please don’t be too nice” when arresting people, Trump advised. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car, and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put your hand over” their head, “I said, ‘You can take the hand away, OK?’”

After being told someone might throw tomatoes at him at a campaign rally, Trump urged his supporters to “knock the crap out of them … I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.” He stated on Fox News that a Black Lives Matter activist who was attacked at a Trump rally “should have been roughed up.”

Trump’s fellow bully Bolton also engages in abusive behavior. Melody Townsel, working on a USAID project in Kyrgyzstan, became the object of Bolton’s wrath in 1994. Townsel had complained about incompetence, poor contract performance and inadequate funding of the project by a contractor Bolton represented.

In a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Townsel wrote that Bolton “proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door, and generally behaving like a madman.” Townsel claimed Bolton threatened employees and contractors who refused to cooperate with him. She maintained Bolton’s behavior “wasn’t just unforgivable, it was pathological.”

Carl W. Ford, former Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research, and a conservative Republican, called Bolton a “kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy” who “abuses his authority with little people,” characterizing him as a “serial abuser.” Bolton chairs the Gatestone Institute, which publishes hateful, racist anti-Muslim rhetoric, calling refugees rapists and hosts of infectious diseases.

Bolton was such a lightning rod that in 2005, even the GOP-controlled Senate refused to confirm him as US ambassador to the United Nations. To avoid the need for Senate confirmation, George W. Bush named Bolton to the post in a recess appointment.

But Bolton doesn’t just bully individuals. He pushed for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, advocates military attacks on North Korea and Iran, favors Israel’s annexation of the Palestinian West Bank, and falsely claimed that Cuba had biological weapons.

As undersecretary of state for Arms Control and International Security in the Bush administration, Bolton was instrumental in withdrawing the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which heightened the risk of nuclear war with Russia.

Anthony J. Blinken, deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, wrote in The New York Times, “Mr. Bolton had a habit of twisting intelligence to back his bellicosity and sought to remove anyone who objected.”

Colin Kahl and Jon Wolf, writing in Foreign Policy, described Bolton’s “pattern of warping and misusing intelligence to build the case for war with rogue states; a disdain for allies and multilateral institutions; a blind faith in US military power and the benefits of regime change; and a tendency to see the ends as justifying the means, however horrific.”

When he left his position at USAID in the late 1980s, Bolton’s colleagues presented him with a bronzed hand grenade.

Bolton Eschews Diplomacy and Slams the UN

Bolton sees every international situation as an opportunity to make war, notwithstanding the United Nations Charter that mandates the peaceful resolution of disputes and forbids military force except in self-defense.

After two world wars claimed millions of lives, countries around the globe – including the United States – came together and established the United Nations system, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”

Yet in 1994, Bolton famously claimed, “there is no such thing as the United Nations.” He stated caustically, “If the UN Secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

When Bolton officially withdrew the US signature from the International Criminal Court treaty, he declared it “the happiest moment of my government service.”

Bolton Led the Charge to Invade Iraq

Bolton led the charge to invade Iraq and forcibly change its regime in 2003, falsely claiming that President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In 2002, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter affirmed that Hussein had destroyed 90-95% of its WMD; the remaining 5%, Ritter said, “doesn’t even constitute a weapons program . . . just because we can’t account for it doesn’t mean Iraq retains it. There’s no evidence Iraq retains this material.”

To bolster the case for war, Bolton pushed Bush to include in his State of the Union address the false statement that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, over the objection of the State Department.

Before the US invaded Iraq, Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said there was no evidence Hussein had any viable nuclear program. Hans Blix, chief inspector of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, verified that weapons inspectors had found no evidence of WMD.

In 2002, Bolton orchestrated the ouster of Jose Bustani, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to prevent him from inspecting and revealing that Hussein had no chemical weapons. When Bustani argued he should stay in the post, Bolton threatened, “You have to be ready to face the consequences, because we know where your kids live.”

No WMD were found after the US invasion of Iraq. Some one million Iraqis were killed and the US-led regime change led to a vacuum of leadership that was filled by ISIS.

A 2006 report prepared under the direction of former Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) concluded that “members of the Bush Administration misstated, overstated, and manipulated intelligence with regards to linkages between Iraq and Al Qaeda; the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iraq; the acquisition of aluminum tubes to be used as uranium centrifuges; and the acquisition of uranium from Niger.”

Those “misstatements were in contradiction of known countervailing intelligence information, and were the result of political pressure and manipulation.” A key source of that pressure and manipulation was Bolton.

In spite of the horror the US military unleashed on Iraq 15 years ago, Bolton wrote in 2016 that the removal of Hussein was “a military success of stunning scope and effectiveness, achieved in just three weeks.”

After the disastrous US invasion of Iraq, Bolton tried to get the Iran file removed from ElBaradei in order to lay the groundwork for an unjustified attack on Iran.

Bolton Wants to Rip Up the Iran Nuclear Agreement

Bolton favors bombing Iran and changing its regime and he opposes the Iran Nuclear Agreement. He has advocated an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities and encouraged the United States to support it.

In the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to cut back its nuclear program and in return, received billions of dollars of relief from punishing sanctions. Iran has complied with its obligations under the deal, says a bipartisan group of over 100 national security veterans called the National Coalition to Prevent Nuclear Weapons.

Under the US Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the president must decide every 90 days whether Iran remains in compliance with the JCPOA and whether the agreement continues to serve US interests. Trump reluctantly certified Iran’s compliance in April and July 2017. But in October, to the consternation of his secretary of state, secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Trump refused to certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement. He did not, however, pull out of the deal at that time.

On May 12, Trump will decide whether or not to end US participation in the agreement. Bolton and CIA director Mike Pompeo, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, both favor renouncing the deal. If the US breaches the agreement, Iran may well resume the unlimited production of nuclear fuel.

“Bolton is an unhinged advocate for waging World War III,” according to Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council. “Bolton now represents the greatest threat to the United States,” he added, stating, “Trump may have just effectively declared war on Iran.”

Bolton Wants to Attack North Korea

In February, contrary to the overwhelming weight of legal authority, Bolton argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that mounting a first strike on North Korea would comply with international law.

Bolton stated on Fox News, “I think the only diplomatic option left is to end the regime in North Korea by effectively having the South take it over.” During another Fox appearance, Bolton declared, “the way you eliminate the North Korean nuclear program is to eliminate North Korea.” He maintained that North Korea having nuclear weapons was worse than the “millions” of North and South Koreans who would be killed if the US attacked North Korea.

If Trump destroys the Iran deal, it will send a dangerous message to Pyongyang that his word cannot be trusted. North and South Korea are slated to meet in April and Trump has indicated he will meet with North Korean President Kim Jong-Un. Diplomacy at this moment is critical.

Bolton has provocatively suggested a linkage between Iran and North Korea on nuclear weapons. In January, he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Little is known, at least publicly, about longstanding Iranian-North Korean cooperation on nuclear and ballistic-missile technology. It is foolish to play down Tehran’s threat because of Pyongyang’s provocations. They are two sides of the same coin.”

The dangers inherent in following Bolton’s favored policies in Iran and North Korea cannot be overestimated.

Bolton Falsely Claimed Cuba Had Biological Weapons

Bolton argued unsuccessfully for the inclusion of Cuba in Bush’s “axis of evil” (which consisted of Iraq, Iran and North Korea). Bolton advocated a military attack on Cuba one year before Bush invaded Iraq. After Bolton falsely claimed Cuba was developing a bio-warfare capacity, a congressional investigation found no evidence to support such an allegation.

As Nicole Deller and John Burroughs from the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy have documented, Bolton is widely credited with the defeat of the Protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention, which would have created an inspection system to protect us against those deadly weapons.

Bolton Wants to Give “Pieces” of Palestine to Jordan and Egypt

Bolton’s solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to give “pieces” of Gaza to Egypt and “pieces” of the West Bank to Jordan since, he thinks, Palestine is composed of “bits and pieces” of the former Ottoman Empire.

In January, Bolton wrote in The Hill: “Once it becomes clear the two-state solution is finally dead, Jordan should again be asked to exercise control over suitably delineated portions of the West Bank and have the monarchy’s religious role for holy sites like the Temple Mount reaffirmed. Accepting Jordan’s sovereignty would actually benefit Palestinians, as would Egyptian sovereignty over Gaza, by tying these areas into viable, functioning states, not to the illusion of ‘Palestine.’”

Neither Jordan nor Egypt supports this proposal, and Palestinians are vehemently opposed to it. Jewish Voice for Peace stated, “The appointment of Bolton is a complete disaster for the Middle East, the US, and the entire world.”

Bolton’s Appointment is “a Disaster for Our Country”

The National Security Adviser’s job is to inform the president of the different options that affect national security, briefing him on the National Security Council’s findings. Bolton is such an ideologue, he will invariably slant his advice toward waging war. Bolton is so extreme, he reportedly promised Trump he “wouldn’t start any wars” if appointed, according to CNN. In light of Trump’s aversion to reading daily intelligence reports, Bolton will play an even greater role in the formulation of policy.

Unfortunately, National Security Adviser is not a cabinet position, so Bolton doesn’t need Senate confirmation.

Former President Jimmy Carter said in an interview with USA Today that Bolton’s appointment is “a disaster for our country,” adding it may be “one of the worst mistakes” of the Trump presidency.

But as Stormy Daniels and Robert Mueller close in on Trump, the president will seek to create a major distraction. With bully Bolton egging him on, that may well be a military attack on North Korea or Iran. The consequences would prove disastrous.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law, and her latest book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues, was recently published in a second, updated edition. See http://marjoriecohn.com/.