Watergate: Was Nixon Set Up?

New 6-part series WATERGATE premieres Sunday on SBS | TV ...

Watergate – Chapter 1

The History Channel (2016)

Film Review

While this six-part series is rich in intriguing detail, people need to be aware it ignores extensive evidence Russ Baker compiled for his 2009 book Family of Secrets. In the later, Baker concluded Nixon was the victim, not the perpetrator, of Watergate. In other words, Watergate (like the JFK assassination) was a coup to remove a democratically elected president from power. *

Chapter 1 starts with background about Nixon’s initial escalation of the Vietnam War, via secret (and illegal) bombings of Laos and Cambodia.

It also plays excerpts of the infamous White House tapes** revealing Nixon was extremely paranoid, particularly of the CIA. With good reason. As Baker reveals in “Chapter 10 Downing Nixon” in Family of Secrets, Nixon had been at war with the CIA ever since his 1969 inauguration. This was mainly due to his demand that they provide him classified records of their role in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the assassination of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem in November 1963 and the CIA overthrow of the elected government of the Dominican Republic in 1954. (The History Channel documentary “Watergate” reveals none of this.)

Nixon feared (with good reason) he could become a CIA target like Kennedy and strongly suspected the CIA had infiltrated both his White House staff and re-election committee. Baker provides extensive evidence Nixon’s legal counsel John Dean,*** deputy assistant to the president Alexander Butterfield and deputy director of the Committee to Re-Elect the President Jeb Magruder all helped end the Nixon presidency by orchestrating both the Watergate scandal and the coverup that ensued.

The best part of Chapter 1 is when the History Channel pays excerpts of the Nixon tapes where he expresses his belief the CIA orchestrated the Watergate break-in*** and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs John Ehrlichman asserts the FBI also believes the CIA is behind the burglary. However the filmmakers neglect to link these statements to orders Nixon later gives for the CIA (given their responsibility for the operation) to instruct the FBI to shut down their investigation. Without this context, this documentary makes it look like Nixon is guilty of obstruction of justice.

Although this episode notes that this was the second time (CIA) “plumbers” had broken into the Democratic headquarters, it passes over the distinct difference between the two events. With the first (a May 28, 1972 clandestine operation to bug the telephones), the “burglars” left no trace of their illegal entry. With the second (three weeks later), the intruders pried the door open with a crowbar, smashed windows and vandalized the office. It’s Baker’s belief they did so to make sure to generate a burglary report, which would bring the incident to court and ultimately to public view.

The film also conveniently overlooks the point Baker makes in his book: once left-wing peace candidate George McGovern became the Democratic front runner, Nixon faced an easy victory (he went on to win all but one state) and there was no rationale for his re-election committee to organize a break-in to Democratic headquarters.

This sanitized Watergate series also neglects to mention Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s**** historic links to the CIA through his work in Naval Intelligence.


*Baker cites three books (each relying on very different facts and sources) that support this assertion:  Jim Hougan’s 1984 Secret Agenda, the 1991 Silent Coup by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin and James Rosen’s 2008 The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate.

**Baker indicates that Cold War hawks in the CIA were angry about Nixon’s efforts to improve relations with the Soviet Union and China. Ironically towards the end of his presidency, Nixon was fighting with the same special interests (independent oil barons) as JFK over the same issue (the oil depletion allowance). In 1973, Nixon’s Justice Department was investigating close friends and associates of George Bush Senior (who Baker suspects of helping to orchestrate the Watergate scandal) for antitrust violations.

***According to Baker, Nixon recognized the name of some of the so-called “burglars” owing to their involvement in the CIA-orchestrated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

****The Woodward-Bernstein series on the Watergate break-ins was essential in mobilizing public pressure for both a grand jury and a congressional investigation.

The series can be viewed free on Kanopy

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/watergate-0

Plutocracy V: America’s Brutal Treatment of Its Working Class

Plutocracy V: Subterranean Fire

Directed by Scott Noble (2017)

Film Review

This documentary provides a comprehensive labor history of the United States, involving the most violent history of union repression in the world.

Largely owing to inhuman pay and working conditions, American workers first attempted to organization soon after the birth of large scale industrialization in the US. Prior to the passage of Roosevelt’s National Labor Relations Act, most worker strikes were suppressed violently by the National Guard, the US Army or private armies hired by factory owners.

The initial era of radical unionizing (1870-1914) abated with World War I and brutal government repression via the Red Scare and Palmer Raids. (1) Despite massive profits Wall Street businesses amassed during the so-called “Roaring” Twenties, more than 60% of US families were earning less than $2,000 a year (with $2,500 the minimum income necessary for a family four).

With the 1929 Wall Street crash came the Great Depression. Unemployment surged to 25% and skyrocketing poverty led to a resurgence in union organizing and strikes. Pay cuts and worsening working conditions would give rise to the “sit down” strike, in which striking workers occupied their factories. Loathe to damage their valuable machinery, employers refrained from launching violent attacks on sit down strikes. In this way workers at many companies (including GM, Chrysler and Ford) won the right to form unions.

In 1935, John L Lewis formed the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO), which unlike the American Federation Labor (which only represented skilled workers), represented all industrial workers regardless of sex, race or national origin.

The same year Roosevelt, courting the union vote in the 1936 election, introduced the National Labor Relations Act. The Act gave all Americans (except for domestic and agricultural workers) the right to unionize.

A typical politician, following reelection, Roosevelt ordered the FBI to “monitor” radical unions and other groups, including the CIO, United Auto Workers, United Mine Workers and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP).

With the approach of World War II, federal forces of repression overtly suppressed union organizing, via the Smith Act (2), and the formation (in 1938) of the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In 1939, the US Supreme Court would declare sit-down strikes illegal.

Following World War II, the 1947 Taft Hartley Act (4) would deal the single biggest blow to trade unionism in the US. This law. combined with fanatical anti-communist hysteria promoted by HUAC (3), the CIA, the US State Department and the mainstream media would lead to top down trade union organizing that discouraged strike action in favor of a bloated trade union bureaucracy and sweetheart (5) deals with management.

The end result would be one of the lowest levels of union representation in the developed world.


(1) The Red Scare was a campaign of anti-radical hysteria launched under Woodrow Wilson. Its goal was to promote the irrational fear that a Bolshevik revolution was imminent in the US. The Palmer Raids were a series of raids the Wilson administration conducted between November 1919 and January 1920 under to arrest suspected leftists, mostly Italian immigrants and Eastern European immigrants, and deport them (without trial).

(2) Passed in 1940, the Smith Act set down criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the US government. The Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional (for violating the First Amendment) in 1957.

(3) The Taft Hartley Act banned wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, closed shops, union donations for political purposes and the election of communists and other radicals to union leadership. It also permitted states to pass Right To Work laws (under right to laws, there is a ban on union contracts forcing non-union members to contribute to the costs of union representation).

(4) Although Hollywood celebrities received the most publicity when they were subpoenaed for being suspected communists, most of the individuals summoned before HUAC were union organizers.

(5) A sweetheart contract is a contractual agreement inappropriately advantages some parties over others. The term was coined in the 1940s to describe corrupt labor contracts unduly favorable to the employer. They usually involved some kind of kickback or special treatment for the labor negotiator.

 

Why Billionaire Peter Thiel Opposes Direct Democracy

David Graeber vs Peter Thiel: Where Did the Future Go?

The Baffler Magazine (2020)

Film Review

This documentary is a very odd debate between billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel* and the late anarchist David Graeber. For me, the body language says it all. Thiel, who describes himself as a libertarian, is very tense and doesn’t smile once. .

The two of them debate the following three questions:

  1. What’s the matter with America?
  2. What does technology have to do with it? and
  3. What happened to the future?

Graeber starts, giving many examples of technological innovation (eg aeronautics, medicine, renewable energy) which entered slow stagnation after the 1970s. He blames this decline in innovation on the “financialization” of the global economy (ie corporations becoming more interested in selling financial products than manufactured goods).

In his view, the total domination of the global economy by mega monopolies obsessed with “rent extraction”** has left the world’s creative thinkers “out in the cold.”

Both men agree that the US political system can’t be reformed. However Thiel maintains that billionaire-financed start-ups are a better approach to reform than grassroots movements. He opposes direct democracy because systems that allow too many people input means you spend all your time talking and nothing happens.

He also disagrees with Graeber’s assertion that changing the way money is created (ie ending the creation of 98% of our money by private banks) could unleash creativity, by providing a means (eg Unconditional Basic Income) for artists, musicians and inventors to be paid for their work.

The best part of the debate is when the moderator asks Thiel about the role his company Pallantir plays in assisting the CIA, the military and JP Morgan in spying on Americans. Thiel maintains he’s facilitating in important work, namely because US intelligence failed to predict and prevent the 9-11 attacks.

Graeber blames the failure on the CIA and FBI becoming too preoccupied with spying on people like him.


*Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal and surveillance software giant Palantir (which helps the NSA and CIA spy on us), was secretly granted New Zealand citizenship, despite failing to meet the 5-year residency requirement in 2011: Revealed How Peter Thiel Got New Zealand Citizenship

**Rent seeking and rent extraction describe a process that occurs when wealthy members of society seek to gain added wealth without any reciprocal contribution of productivity

 

 

 

 

 

Shooting and F**king Are the Same Thing

I Can’t Get You Out of My MInd

Shooting and Fucking Are the Same Thing

By Adam Curtis (2021)

Film Review

Link to Part 1: Where Has Democracy Gone?

In Part 2, Curtis helps us understand how six 1968 revolutions (in France, Berlin, Mexico City, Chicago, Prague and London)* all failed. He sees a clear connection between the cult of hyperindividulam, which began in the 1950s, and the move of many radicals away from collective community concerns to a focus on self actualization.  He gives the example of Chicago 7 member Bobby Seale becoming a chef and Tupac Shakur (a Black Panther from birth) becoming a rapper.

Part 2 broadly covers the late sixties and early seventies. It traces the rise and fall of Black power in US and Britain, focusing on the organizing efforts of Afeni Shaku (mother of assassinated rapper Tupac Shakur) and Michael X in Notting Hill London. Curtis observes that Michael X was arrested in Redding in 1967 for “inciting racial violence,” while Conservative MP Enoch Powell’s 1968 anti-immigrant “Rivers of Blood” speech made him the most popular politician in the UK.

Afeni, representing herself, would ultimately get the Panther 21 acquitted of “conspiring to commit bombings” after proving the bombing plot originated with two FBI informants who had infiltrated the Black Panther Party.

In addition to tracing Richard Nixon’s rise to the presidency, Curtis also examines a number of high profile psychological experiments that convinced the ruling elite that trying to change people’s behavior by reasoning with them was a waste of time. Instead they decided the best way to control people was to keep them in a constant simplified dream world.


*See 1968: The Year That Rocked the World

 

Marcus Garvey: A Giant of Black Politics

Marcus Garvey: A Giant of Black Politics

Directed by Howard Johnson (2008)

Film Review

This film is about Black journalist, entrepreneur, and activist Marcus Garvey, as remembered by those who worked with him in the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

Garvey was born in Jamaica in 1887, 50 years after slavery ended in that country. Sharing his father’s love of books and learning, he played an important role in educating Blacks in Jamaica and the US about advanced civilizations in ancient Africa.

Essentially the first Black nationalist, Garvey played the dual role of teaching former slaves (in Jamaica and the US) self-love and racial pride and campaigning to create a homeland in Africa for the African diaspora.

He ran into major resistance in Jamaica, where British colonists granted lighter skinned “mulattos” with special status and authority. The latter, direct descendants (usually via rape) of white slave masters, preferred to identify as “British,” rather than Black, and viewed Garvey’s teachings as a threat to their privilege.

In 1916, Garvey left Jamaica for the US, where he also received a mixed reception. African Americans who saw no future for themselves in the US championed his campaign for a new African homeland. Other Black leaders, driven by a deep seated desire to “be white,” viewed native Africans as “savages” and favored integration into mainstream society.

In Harlem, Garvey who was dark skinned faced the same bigotry of light skinned descendants of plantation owners as he did in Jamaica.

In the early 1920s, J Edgar Hoover’s newly formed FBI began investigating Garvey with a few to deporting him. They eventually charged and convicted him for mail fraud (over the failed Black Star Line*) and tax evasion. After 2 1/2 years in US prison, he was deported to Jamaica, where he quickly rebuilt the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

He had a massive following among poor Jamaicans, even after he left Jamaica for England. He died there in 1940.


*Garvey envisioned the Black Star Line as a Black owned shipping company to facilitate the transportation of goods throughout the African economy. Garvey’s initial arrest and conviction centered around the distribution (by mail) of a photo of a ship the company had yet to purchase.

New Film Exonerates Michael Jackson

Square One: New Witness in Michael Jackson Case

Directed by Danny Wu (2019)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the mainstream media’s misportrayal of the late Michael Jackson as a Caucasian wannabe and pedophile. The new witness is a New York acquaintance of Jordan Chandler, the alleged victim in a civil lawsuit Jackson settled in 1993. The woman reveals Chandler, still a major Jackson fan, considered him incapable of the predatory behavior he was accused of.

It was only in viewing this film I learned that Jackson suffered from lupus, a serious autoimmune disease responsible, not only for his vitiligo,* but for the complete erosion of his nasal cartilage, requiring numerous reconstructive surgeries.

The video also details the extensive police and FBI investigations of the star’s alleged pedophilia. He was totally exonerated of all criminal charges against him in 2005.

Despite these facts, a quirk in California law forced Jackson to settle a civil lawsuit pertaining to the same victim a year earlier. In 1994, an unconstitutional judicial ruling allowed the civil lawsuit to proceed before the criminal case was resolved. Concerned Jackson’s deposition in the civil case would give criminal prosecutors an unfair advantage (by revealing the defense strategy), Jackson’s lawyers advised him to settle.

The documentary also reveals the blackmail/extortion scheme Jordan Chandler’s father subjected Jackson to prior to going to the police (and filing the lawsuit). Chandlers’ parents were divorced, and his dentist father Evan illegally took custody of Jordan and gave him to sodium amytal  injections, presumably to pressure him to incriminate Jackson. The full amount of the settlement was (subject to a non-disclosure agreement) was covered by Jackson’s insurance.

Following his acquittal, Jackson successfully defended a second lawsuit (for child sexual abuse) in 1995. He also won a $2.7 million defamation suit against Victor Gutierrez, for his 2007 Michael Jackson Was My Lover.

Following his death in 2009, there would be two further lawsuits filed against his estate. They were dismissed in 2017.

 

 

The Mysterious Death of JFK Assassination Witness Dorothy Kilgallen

 

Denial of Justice: Dorothy Kilgallen, Abuse of Power, and the Most Compelling JFK Assassination Investigation in History

by Mark Shaw

Post Hill Press (2018)

I found this book a big disappointment. Over the last decade Shaw has compiled a massive amount of evidence related to journalist Dorothy Kilgallen’s suspicious 1965 death (see The Dorothy Kilgallen Story/). His evidence includes the complete transcript of Jack Ruby’s trial, which mysteriously went missing for 50 years. That being said, Shaw sorely needs a  editor. The style in which Denial of Justice is written is extremely convoluted, repetitive, and filled with maudlin, hyberbolic and sensationalist prose that has no place in an investigative expose.

One of the main weaknesses of the book is its failure to incorporate the immense body of academic research into the JFK assassination. Calling Kilgallen’s investigation into the JFK assassination “the most compelling in history” is pretty silly, when you contrast it with New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s efforts to prosecute CIA co-conspirator Clay Shaw in 1967.  Kilgallen was essentially a gossip columnist who covered Broadway stars, murder trials, celebrity weddings, and political scandals.It wasn’t her investigative prowess that posed a threat to the who assassinated JFK – it was her prominent public profile and influence over popular opinion.*

Nowhere in the book does Shaw provide a clear timeline of events immediately following Kilgallen’s death on Sept 17, 1965. This is divided up between four long rambling chapters dedicated to the the personal history and psychological motivations of potential suspects.

There is no question the actions of the NYPD, FBI and New York medical examiner’s of the day of Kilgallen’s death were highly suspect. As best as I can reconstruct, Kilgallen’s butler James Clement was the first to discover Kilgallen’s body a little before 9 am. He found her, still dressed in the cocktail dress she wore the night before, in the third floor bathroom. We know this indirectly from information he related to his wife and daughter.

By 9 am, someone had moved the body from the bathroom to the master bedroom. This is where her hairdresser, who had come to do her hair for an appointment at her son’s school, found her. By this time, her dress and underwear had been removed, and she was dressed in a fancy peignoir. However she was still wearing her hairpiece, false eyelashes and full make-up.

For some reason, the police weren’t notified until 12.30. The FBI barged in before the police arrived, seizing multiple boxes of files that included her notes on Jack Ruby’s trial, her two interviews with him, and the information she obtained from sources in the Dallas police and a recent visit to New Orleans. Random House had agreed to publish a book she was writing about her investigation, which she claimed would “crack the case wide open.”

The NYPD detective assigned to investigating her death wasn’t notified until 3 pm

Her autopsy report concludes she died from “accidental overdose,” despite blood tests revealing she had ingested the equivalent of 15-20 100 mg tablets of Seconal, in addition to the presence of alcohol, Tuinal and Nembutal.


*This related mainly to her 15-year stint on the TV game show “What’ My Line?”

 

 

Black Lives Matter vs The Ku Klux Klan: Racial Tensions Spark Pain and Anger in the US

Black Lives: Deadlock. Black Lives Matter vs the Ku Klux Klan: Racial Tensions Spark Pain and Anger in the US

RT (2019)

Film Review

The eighth episode of Black Lives concerns the Ku Klux Klan and the deleterious effect of the white supremacy on Black Americans. It includes a very strange interview with Chris Barker, the KKK Imperial Wizard and his family, as well as a cross burning ceremony with the ritual language that accompanies it. According to Barker, the KKK is praying for a race war, in the hope African Americans will be annihilated or forced to go back to “their country.”

Barker boasts that presidents Warren Harding and Harry Truman were both KKK members.

The filmmakers also interview a Black Lives Matter leader from New York. He questions why the FBI still allows the KKK, which they designate as the most terrorist organization in the US, to operate – after 150 years. He contrasts their treatment of the Black Panther Party, which the FBI had infiltrated and decimated within 15 years.

 

Why Civil Rights Aren’t Enough to Make the American Dream Come True

Black Lives: Trap, Why Civil Rights Aren’t Enough to Make the American Dream Come True

RT (2019)

Film Review

This video is the second of a series of nine exploring life in inner city African American communities. The first looked at life in Ferguson Missouri four years after the police murdered Michael Brown – which sparked the formation of the group Black Lives Matter (see Still dreaming of racial justice in St Louis Black neighborhoods). Clearly little had changed.

The rest of the series looks at other decaying urban ghettos, as well as examining problems unique to poor African American communities (the absence of decent jobs or housing, failing schools, teen pregnancy, gangs, and drug dealing). My first reaction on viewing the series was to question why the US media rarely reports on these issues – or efforts by local African American leaders to address them.

The second film focuses on poor Black communities in Baltimore and Washington DC. Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s, the bleak living conditions poor Black Americans endure remain virtually unchanged.

The most interesting interviews in this episode are with two activist religious leaders organizing their communities to improve living conditions..

One makes an interesting observation about the determination of the FBI and CIA to infiltrate and destroy any grassroots movement that takes serious strides towards improving African American living conditions.*

He also believes the two major political parties exploit racism to win votes. Republicans provoke anti-Black and anti-immigrant sentiments among white males who feel excluded from the massive economic transformation occurring in industrialized society. Democrats use racism to line up black votes, while making notoriously empty promises to improve their lives.


*Which corresponds with my experience in Seattle’s African American community, while working with a prison reform committee and Seattle’s African American Heritage Museum.

 

 

The Police War Against Move

Move: Confrontation In Philadelphia

Directed by Karen Pomer and Jane Mancini (1980) and Ben Gerry and Ryan McKenna (2004)

Film Review

This documentary is the most comprehensive I’ve seen on the African American group Move and the brutal campaign against them by the FBI and Philadelphia police. This would culminate in a police helicopter dropping a bomb on them in 1985. The resulting fire destroyed 61 homes adjacent homes. This documentary an amalgamation of a film Karen Pomer and Jane Mancini produced in 1980 and one Ben Gerry and Ryan McKenna put out in 2004.

Narrated by the late Howard Zinn, it begins by exploring Move’s philosophical beliefs, which led them to opt out of the capitalist white supremacist political/economic system by growing their own food and living in a nonviolent way that honored all the life.

The home the police bombed in 1985 wasn’t the first destroyed by the Philadelphia police. The first police assault against Move (in 1978) followed a long period of police brutality that caused two pregnant Move members to miscarry and the death (by blunt force trauma) of a Move infant.

The police allegedly laid siege, with tear gas, water canons and live ammunition, to Move’s first residence after neighborhood complaints of excessive noise, compost smells and stray animals. One cop died of gunshot wounds during this first assault. Nine Move members were charged with his murder, despite the absence of a weapon linked to the group (the police bulldozed the home before any forensic evidence could be collected).* All nine were convicted of third degree murder and conspiracy and sentenced to 30-100 years in prison.

Allegedly the second police siege, on May 13, 1985, also resulted from neighbor complaints. Although several Move members tried to escape the fire, were driven back into the flames by police gunfire. Eleven members, including five children, died. The sole surviving adult member, Ramona Africa, was arrested and served a seven-year sentence for inciting a riot.


*Several reporters and sources within the Philadelphia police department assert the shots killing Officer Ramp came from behind, ie he was killed by a fellow cop.

 

The video can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be seen free at the following link:

Move – Confrontation in Philadelphia (1980 – Karen Pomer – Jane Mancini)