The corporate news media largely overlooked the release in December of tapes of President Lyndon Johnson discussing Richard Nixon’s sabotage of peace talks in 1968. An Associated Press report said Johnson “stridently suggested that associates of Richard Nixon were attempting to keep South Vietnam away from the [negotiating] table until after the 1968 election,” which Johnson called “treason,” but AP added, “The Democratic President never accused the Republican who would succeed him of treason.”

Robert Parry, a former reporter for AP and Newsweek, noted at consortiumnews.com (12/5) that the AP ignored the substantial body of evidence that Nixon and his presidential campaign did sabotage the peace talks out of concern that a last-minute agreement would hurt Nixon and help his rival, Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

The tapes, which are available at lbjlib.utexas.edu, don’t reveal the precise nature of communication between Nixon’s allies and the South Vietnamese government, but Johnson refers to transcripts and mentions Anna Chennault, a prominent anti-communist Chinese leader, as well as Melvin Laird, a congressman who became Nixon’s defense secretary, and other unnamed campaign operatives, businessmen and members of the “old China lobby.” Mark Lisheron of the Austin American-Statesman, in a fuller account (12/5) reported that Johnson tells Secretary of State Dean Rusk, “It’s pretty obvious to me it’s had an effect.”

In a phone call (11/2/68) Johnson tells Sen. Everett Dirksen, the Republican minority leader, that Nixon’s supporters are contacting a foreign policy in the middle of a war and it will be Nixon’s responsibility if the South Vietnamese don’t participate in the peace talks. “This is treason,” LBJ tells Dirksen. “I know,’ Dirksen replied.

Confronting Nixon by telephone (11/3/68), Johnson outlined what had been alleged and how important it was to the conduct of the war for Nixon’s people not to meddle. “My God,” Nixon told Johnson, “I would never do anything to encourage ... Saigon [the capital of South Vietnam] not to come to the table.” Instead, Nixon pledged to help in any way Johnson or Rusk suggested, “To hell with the political credit, believe me.”

But Parry noted that Chennault, in her own autobiography, The Education of Anna, acknowledged that she was the courier between Nixon and President Thieu in Saigon. She quoted Nixon aide John Mitchell as calling her a few days before the 1968 election and telling her: “I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It’s very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position and I hope you made that clear to them.”

In 1995, Daniel Schorr reported that US intelligence intercepted a 10/23/68 cable from the South Vietnamese ambassador in Washington to Saigon with the message that “many Republican friends have contacted me and encouraged me to stand firm.” On 10/27/68, Ambassador Bui Dhien wrote, “The longer the present situation continues, the more favorable for us. … I am regularly in touch with the Nixon entourage.”

On 11/2/68, three days before the election, Thieu withdrew from his tentative agreement to sit down with the North Vietnamese at the Paris peace talks, destroying Johnson’s last hope for a settlement. Johnson and his top advisers kept Nixon’s gambit secret from the public, fearing the disclosure would cause unrest. Nixon narrowly won the election by less than 1% of the votes cast. Nixon carried on the war, with an additional 20,763 Americans dying and 111,230 wounded. “But even 40 years later, the mainstream US press corps can’t quite bring itself to let the American people in on the full horror of this story,” Parry wrote.

“The mainstream media’s dismissive treatment of Nixon’s peace-talk ploy also set the standard for how other Republican national security scandals would be handled over the past several decades,” Parry wrote.

“For instance, evidence of an apparent sequel—when the Reagan-Bush campaign plotted to undermine President Jimmy Carter’s hostage talks with Iran in 1980—also was swept under the rug, supposedly for the good of the country. Similar fuzzy treatment greeted the Iran-Contra Affair, the Iraqgate scandal and contra-cocaine trafficking.”

BUSH LINKED TO DETAINEE HOMICIDES; MEDIA YAWNS. The Senate Armed Services Committee issued a bipartisan report (12/11) that documents that “former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior US officials share much of the blame for detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba” and “that Rumsfeld’s actions were ‘a direct cause of detainee abuse’ at Guantanamo and ‘influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques ... in Afghanistan and Iraq’” Glenn Greenwald wrote at Salon.com (12/15), that the report “raises an obvious and glaring question: How can it possibly be justified that the low-level Army personnel carrying out these policies at Abu Ghraib have been charged, convicted and imprisoned, while the high-level political officials and lawyers who directed and authorized these same policies remain free of any risk of prosecution? The culpability which the Report assigns for these war crimes is vast in scope and unambiguous.”

The executive summary, available at levin.senate.gov, traces the erosion of detainee treatment standards to a 2/7/02, memo signed by President Bush stating that the Geneva Convention did not apply to the US war with al Qaeda and that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or legal protections. “The president’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment,” the summary said. Members of Bush’s Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed, according to the report.

The policies which the Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously concludes were authorized by Bush, Rumsfeld and other top Bush officials did not merely lead to “abuse” and humiliating treatment, but are directly—and unquestionably—responsible for numerous detainee murders, Greenwald wrote. Many of those deaths caused by abusive treatment have been formally characterized as “homicides” by autopsies performed in Iraq and Afghanistan and the chilling compilations of autopsy findings on detainees in US custody, obtained by the ACLU, read like “a classic and compelling exhibit in a war crimes trial,” wrote Greenwald, a former civil rights litigator. In one case, an unidentified prisoner froze to death when a CIA supervisor ordered guards to strip the prisoner naked and chain him overnight to a concrete floor. The CIA has never accounted for the death and the supervisor reportedly was promoted, according to Jane Mayer in The Dark Side.

Greenwald also noted that the report was issued on a Thursday and the only mention of it on the following Sunday’s talk shows was when John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, told George Stephanopoulos that it was “not his job” to opine on whether criminal prosecutions were warranted for the Bush officials whose policies led to these crimes.  What really matters, explained McCain, was not that we get caught up in the past, but instead, that we ensure this never happens again. “Yet, like everyone else who makes this argument, he offered no explanation as to how we could possibly ensure that ‘it never happens again’ if we simultaneously announce that our political leaders will be immunized, not prosecuted, when they commit war crimes,” Greenwald wondered.

IT’S (NEARLY) OFFICIAL. Barack Obama is nearly officially the president-elect after the Electoral College on 12/15 voted 365-173 for the Illinois Democrat, in accordance with state election returns. The election is not complete until Congress accepts the tally at a joint session scheduled for 1/6/09. In the latest unofficial popular vote tally by David Leip at USElectionAtlas.org, Obama got 69.28 mln votes (52.86%), McCain got 59.8 mln (45.65%), Ralph Nader 737,081 (0.56%), Bob Barr 522,617 (0.4%) and others 699,498 (0.53%).

More than 131 mln people voted, for a turnout of 61.6% of the eligible population, the highest since 1968. Four years ago, turnout was 60.1%. Minnesota, with 77.8%, had the highest turnout, followed by Wisconsin’s 72.5%, Maine’s 71.1% and New Hampshire’s 71%. West Virginia and Hawaii had the lowest turnout, both with 50.6%. (See elections.gmu.edu/.)

The Senate partisan balance stands at 55 Democrats, plus two independents who caucus with the Dems, vs. 41 Republicans, with two seats undecided. Obama’s former seat in Illinois was expected to go to a Democrat until Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) was discovered trying to take bids on the appointment and Republicans, sensing opportunity, began pressing for a special election. In Minnesota, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) held a lead of less than 200 votes as the State Canvassing Board started ruling (12/16) on 1,500 ballots challenged by the candidates. After that the board will take up 1,600 absentee ballots that have yet to be counted. It appears likely that Franken will overtake Coleman when the challenged votes are counted, but Coleman has asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to stop the vote count. Democratic governors are expected to name Dems to replace Vice President-elect Joe Biden (Del.); Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), expected to be the next secretary of state; and Ken Salazar (Colo.), expected to be the next interior secretary.

Louisiana elections were settled (12/6), with little-known Republican challenger Anh “Joseph” Cao upsetting longtime Rep. William Jefferson (D) in New Orleans, That left Democrats with a 257-178 majority in the new House. Chris Bowers of OpenLeft.com noted that Democrats scored the largest popular vote victory (with an average margin of 8.8%) of any congressional election since 1982. Dems expect to maintain that majority when special elections replace Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), Obama’s new chief of staff, as well as any other Congress member he brings into the administration.

Bowers also noted that the House might add two seats to the 435-member House as the D.C. Voting Rights Act is expected to pass into law, giving D.C. a voting member for the first time and giving Utah an additional member after the state narrowly lost out on gaining a fourth House member in 2001.

VOTERS’ REMORSE. There was a time when George W. Bush was remarkably popular. So popular that he was re-elected with what was the largest popular vote total for any presidential candidate until Barack Obama shattered it this year, Mike Madden noted at Salon.com (12/12). So it’s stunning that in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 33% of respondents admit to having voted for the guy twice, while 52% said they’d never voted for him at all. To some, the poll might validate suspicions about manipulation of electronic voting machines.

Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who worked on the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff (who polled for John McCain during the campaign), told reporters that even GOP voters won’t miss their one-time champion when he leaves office. “He’s much more likely to be seen as a Herbert Hoover that Democrats will continue to run against again and again,” Hart said.

BEGGAR-BANKER PAY LIMITS PROVE TOOTHLESS. Before Congress approved the $700 bln financial bailout of Wall Street, they tried to limit executive pay, so lawmakers included a mechanism for reviewing executive compensation and penalizing firms that break the rules. But at the last minute, the Washington Post reported (12/15), the Bush administration insisted on a one-sentence change that stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction, which was the way the Treasury Department had said it planned to use the money. Now it turns out the Bush administration has not used auctions for any of the $335 bln committed so far from the rescue package, which turned that small change into a giant loophole.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson repeatedly told lawmakers that he did not plan to use bailout funds to inject capital directly into financial institutions, the Post noted. Privately, however, his staff was developing plans to do just that, Paulson acknowledged in an interview, the Post reported. That caused Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.com to wonder (12/15), “Don’t we have laws to cover stuff like this?”

WORKERS WIN IN SITDOWN STRIKE. When managers informed workers at Republic Windows and Doors (12/2) that the Chicago plant would close, the announcement was no surprise. The company had been removing machines and cutting jobs for weeks, but when the managers said the plant would shut down in three days, the union revolted. Concerned that Republic’s owners would remove or sell the remaining machinery before they handed over pay for severance and accrued vacation time after company officials balked at discussing those issues, members of United Electrical Workers Local 1110 refused to leave the plant at closing time 12/5, voting to occupy the factory for the first such action in the US in years, Jerry Mead-Lucero reported at LaborNotes.org. The occupation lasted six days, until the 240 workers in a unanimous vote (12/10) accepted a severance package worth about $7,000 per worker. The deal also includes two months of health care, a crucial gain for workers who discovered that their coverage had been unilaterally yanked.

The company’s refusal to give the legally required 60 days’ notice of a plant closing and to pay severance was by no means unique, Labor Notes reported. A bakery and a potato chip plant, both large unionized factories, have shuttered in Chicago in recent years without following the plant-closing law.

Supporters of the Republic workers showed up at prayer vigils, and workers received statements of solidarity from as far away as France and Argentina, where factory occupations are a more familiar form of protest, Labor Notes reported. President-elect Obama also voiced his support, saying that “the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned … are absolutely right.” Before he was arrested, Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) ordered the state to “suspend doing any business with Bank of America” until the financial giant restored a line of credit to Republic that should allow the firm to fulfill its contractual obligations.

“We really feel like we had an obligation to working class people to win this fight,” UE international representative Mark Meinster told Labor Notes, “because of what it could mean for workers in this country.”

BUSINESS GROUP LINKS BLAGO, UNIONS. A pro-business group, Americans for Free Choice, is sinking more than $1 mln into a TV ad campaign trying to tie disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) to “union bosses” and calling on Democratic senators in Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and Colorado to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, Greg Sargent reported at TalkingPointsMemo.com (12/16). The Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for unions to organize, is labor’s top goal in 2009. “The idea, obviously, is to use the alleged Blago dealmaking to tar the Employee Free Choice Act, which is a pretty big leap,” Sargent wrote. “This will be one of the biggest fights of the upcoming legislative season, so expect much more like this.”

BRALEY STARTS POPULIST CAUCUS. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) has put out a call for House members to join a Populist Caucus to fight for the middle class. “Unfortunately, the middle class has seen tough economic times lately, and it’s time for a renewed emphasis on those issues that serve to strengthen the middle class and improve the lives of working families,” Braley wrote in a letter to other House members, obtained by Matt Stoller of OpenLeft.com (12/9). The platform calls for equitable taxes, fair wages, proper benefits, “affordable, accessible, quality health care for all Americans,” affordable college education for all who want it, consumer protection, fair trade and creating and retaining good-paying jobs in America. Stoller noted, “I suspect there’s going to be some strong caucus reorganization going on as an expanded Democratic majority finds its sea legs.”

From The Progressive Populist, Jan. 1-15, 2009

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