Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers

Long before WikiLeaks released the largest amount of classified documents in American History, Daniel Ellsberg shocked the nation in 1971 by releasing what has become known as “The Pentagon Papers”. There is a huge difference between the two events. I doubt if any change in foreign policy comes from WikiLeaks. The only damaging piece of evidence coming out from WikiLeaks was that the Pakistani troops were aiding the Taliban in Pakistan. The Pentagon Papers on the other hand, brought out the worst in a President, an ultimately, brought down the President and changed the US’s role in Vietnam.

Daniel Ellsberg was born in Chicago in 1931. He grew in Michigan and went to Harvard, graduating with a B.S. in economics in 1952. In 1954, Ellsberg left to join the Marines. He would stay in the Marines until 1957. After an honorable discharge, Ellsberg resumed graduate studies at Harvard. He also began working for the Rand Corporation and received his Ph.D. in economics in 1962. His dissertation was on a paradox in decision making now known as the Ellsberg paradox.

Between 1964 and 1967, Ellsberg worked for the Defense Department and the State Department and even served one tour in Vietnam. When he returned home, Ellsberg went back to work for the Rand Corporation. Ellsberg was commissioned (along with two other people) by then Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to compile a top-secret history of the War in Vietnam. At the time, Ellsberg had top-secret clearance.

Throughout 1969 and 1970, Ellsberg lived a double, sometimes, triple life. He worked for Rand, he worked on the top-secret history, and he began attending anti-war rallies. In 1970, Ellsberg began to try to get the top-secret history published. He approached newspapers and senators. No one was biting. He began to copy more and more of the report. On June 13, 1971, the New York Times began to publish what became known as “The Pentagon Papers”.

Ellsberg became public enemy number one in the eyes of the Nixon Administration. Even though most of the documents were about Johnson’s attempts to get into war and the mismanagement thereafter, Nixon was still outraged. “Tricky Dick” went into full effect even having his “plumbers” break into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. The Nixon administration tried to lock up Ellsberg and throw away the key, but by the time the case went to trial, Watergate was the story of the day. Ellsberg was to be tried under the Espionage Act of 1917, and he was, but the Judge threw out most of the evidence of the prosecution because it had been illegally obtained. Judge Byrne dismissed all charges against Ellsberg.

Ellsberg, who was working at the Defense Department on the night of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, said in an interview on NPR:

Years later when I revealed some of those same cables and documents that I had in my safe that night, August 4th, 1964, when I revealed them in the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, Senator Wayne Morse who’s been one of the two senators who voted against the Tonkin Gulf resolution told me, if you had given me, on the foreign relations committee, those documents which were now out in 1971.

If you’d given me those documents, at the time, in 1964, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution would never have gotten out of committee. And if they had brought it to the floor, it would have lost. And he was telling me that I, by telling the truth to Congress, as was my constitutional responsibility to do, I could have averted that war and 50,000 American lives and several million Vietnamese – so that’s a heavy burden to bear.

The Papers did help to change America’s perceptions about its government in the 1970s. America became more and more apathetic. Nixon would resign, but not before turning over control of the war to South Vietnam. The papers shed light on the role of the Johnson administration and its handling of the press. It changed how America viewed its secrets. “The War Logs” as they are no being called are not rattling anyone’s sabers. The only thing that might change today would be security protocols. That’s a shame.

In 2009, an Oscar nominated documentary was released about the Pentagon Papers. Here is a nice interview with the director of “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers”.

Here is a short interview with Ellsberg about what he call Vietnamistan (Afghanistan)

Obama’s First Year

There are two ways to look at Obama’s first year – foreign affairs and domestic affairs. In foreign affairs, Obama actually has had a good year. Iraq is winding down, he committed thirty thousand more men to Afghanistan. He did not rush to judgment or over react about Iran, and he used Bill Clinton to get back two women from North Korea. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for basically not being George H.W. Bush. I would give him a B.

Domestically, I would give Obama an D-. It has not been a total failure here on the home front but it was close. A lot of his poor marks on domestic affairs stem from the fact he has let Congress set the agenda and the legislation. Be it health care or AARP, Obama has not taking the bull by the horns but rather stands on the sidelines as almost a cheerleader or an assistant coach. To look at the White House Website, you would think the amount of legislation passed was similar in size to FDR or LBJ. He has failed to make campaign promises come true from Guantanamo Bay to Transparency in Government. His executive orders, though not spectacular, have been worthy of some acclaim. His selection of Sonia Sotomayor was a good one. But that is about it here at home.

But in historical terms, there are very few Presidents who do not have a disastrous first year in office.
1. JFK – everything he touched that first year turned to crap. Case in point: Bay of Pigs
2. Nixon – invaded Cambodia
3. Carter – too many to mention
4. Reagan – he got shot
5. Clinton – health care and Hillary – Somalia, need I say more?
6. GW Bush – The largest terrorist attack in our nation’s history
7. Lincoln – A Civil War broke out and the Union lost the first battle

But if you want an apt comparison, Clinton might be the most similar. A lot of the comparisons can revolve around health care, but like Clinton, Obama also dealt with military obligations made by the previous president.

As for what Obama needs to improve on for his second year are few when it comes to foreign affairs but many when it comes to domestic affairs. The mess Obama inherited from Bush could not be cleaned up in a year. The stock market has gained back 3,000 of the 7,000 points it lost in 2007-2008 under Bush. However, Obama has to get the budget and spending under control. Much like Clinton did in his first term, he turned his attentionĀ  from health care to the economy and it made all the difference. Unemployment has to go down. For Obama, another trillion dollar deficit will not get it done. Health care reform and insurance reform is needed, but is the plan made Congress the best plan there could be? Even a $500 billion gap is not going to sit well with the American people let alone our creditors. In the end, Obama has to actually lead not only the country, but he needs to lead Congress and Washington. If Obama cannot stand up to Pelosi and Reid, then his second year will be as bad as his first.

Woodrow Wilson: Lessons for Obama

Woodrow Wilson always fancied himself as a progressive at heart. Prior to his election in 1912, he had been the head of Princeton and Governor of New Jersey. He considered himself an expert in domestic affairs and a novice at foreign affairs. He often noted it would be a shame if he had to strictly deal with foreign affairs. During Wilson’s eight years, a number of financial and social reforms were passed, including four amendments to the constitution, but it was foreign affairs which dominated his presidency, and thus, his legacy. When one begins to look at what lessons once can draw from Wilson’s eight years in office, it is a cautionary tale of avoidance at all costs.

Lesson One – Get Re-elected
Wilson was originally elected on his pledge for “A New Freedom”. This domestic agenda included financial, currency, income taxes, and trust reform as well as tariff reform. Unfortunately for Wilson, what took up most of his time was the Mexican Revolution. Events south of the border required Wilson to act before it spread onto American soil. Up to this point in time, the United States had operated under the auspices of the Monroe Doctrine that this our hemisphere. Teddy Roosevelt had added his Roosevelt Corollary and his successor, William Howard Taft, just threw money at the problem in what became known as Dollar Diplomacy. As 1913 drew on, Wilson followed a policy of what he called “Watchful Waiting”. He knew with all the players in Mexico (Carranza, Huerta, Obregon, Villa, and Zapata), there was no one to trust.

As events in Mexico began to play themselves out, events in Europe quickly boiled over and a regional conflict in the Balkans blew up like a powder keg and most of Europe was involved in less than a month. Wilson knew the United States could not get involved. He declared the US Neutral. Over the next two and half years, the economic interests of the US collided with the military interests of German U-boats in the North Atlantic. US ships began to be sunk, followed by a pledge, followed by another ship, and followed by a pledge, etc.

When Wilson campaigned for President in 1916, he campaigned and was re-elected on the fact he kept us out of the Great War. However, before he could be sworn in for his second term, Germany ratcheted up war fervor when the Zimmerman Telegram was published. The Telegram warned Mexico that the Germans would unleash unrestricted submarine warfare on the Atlantic . The note also pleaded with the new Mexican government to join Germany in a war against the Americans and in return they would get the Mexican cession back. To most Americans, they were outraged. However, Mexico was having a hard time fighting its own revolution let alone a war overseas. In April of 1917, war fever had spread across the US and the Congress would declare war on Germany.

Regardless of what any first term Presidents wants to do, their first priority is to get re-elected. Wilson proved that. However, once re-elected, all bets and promises are off.

Lesson Two – World Organizations are Bad…Maybe
Americans don’t want anyone telling them what to do. When the Great War was over in 1918, Woodrow Wilson left to go to Paris as part of the Peace Conference. His 14 Points had captured the imagination of the populace and turned him into a rock star President. However, soon after the peace process began, rather than follow his 14 Points, Britain and France wanted revenge for the war. The resulting treaty was brutal towards Germany and helped set up World War II with its reparations and mandates, but it was never passed. The US was never going to give up its autonomy on foreign affairs to some European group. Led by Senator Lodge, the US Senate never approved the treaty and would sign a separate treaty later. The unwillingness of the US to sign the treaty would make the League powerless to stop Hitler some 17 years later.

While Wilson’s 14 Points could have averted another war, we will never know. What we do know is the Versailles Peace Treaty “screwed the pooch”. Whether it was Britain’s and France’s incessant need for revenge or the Lodge reservations need for autonomy, we were no longer living in a world where the Monroe Doctrine would apply. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, America would go in an isolationist frenzy. No matter what we might think, America could no longer stick its head in the sand and ignore what is taking place in the world. The long-term consequences of doing so are too dangerous. After World War II, Wilson’s 14 Points would become a reality in a new United Nations.

Lesson Three – Don’t Tell the People What They Can and Can Not Do
Wilson often fancied himself an expert when it came to his domestic agenda. Only two Presidents passed more legislation in US History, FDR and LBJ. From anti-trust regulation to child labor laws to women’s right to vote to prohibition, Wilson was at the forefront of an idealist time in America. His 14 Points were part of the idealism, but Prohibition was one of America’s biggest mistakes. The amendment that made the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcohol illegal would be repealed in the early 1930s. However in the years in between, organized crime gained control of the industry and a crime wave unlike any America has ever seen took place.

To legislate morality, or anything for that matter, is to try to control the masses. By stipulating that the citizenry can do this or can not do that is promote tyranny on our shores. Americans have never liked being told what to do and what not to do as far back as the 1760s and the events leading up to the Revolution. Maybe the health care plan will work itself out next year, maybe it won’t. Who knows what will happen. But if you want a clue, look at the reaction of the public during prohibition. It could be that reform and regulation of the Industry might have been the more historically accurate choice rather legislating that every American have health care. We will have to wait and see how it plays out. Otherwise, lesson number one will be for naught.

Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln
Teddy Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush

The Announcement That Shocked the World

If anyone says they were not surprised by yesterday’s announcement of Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, they are lying. Not only would they be lying, but it would be that narcissistic kind of lying bred in arrogance. As for why the committee gave him the “Peace Prize” is beyond the grasp of many on both the right and the left. I voted for Obama but I don’t understand this. My wife is a huge Obama supporter and she thinks it’s wrong. If he had brokered a peace between Palestinians and the Israelis or even got Kim Jong Il orĀ  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop rattling their nuclear sabers, then yeah, I could see the Peace Prize. From what most of us see and hear at the History Rat, Obama basically received the prize for not being Bush and for giving people hope. Still not enough.

If you look at the sitting US Presidents who had previously won the Prize…
Teddy Roosevelt won it for brokering an end to the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.
The Nobel site states:

In June, 1905, President Roosevelt offered his good offices as mediator between Russia and Japan, asking the belligerents to nominate plenipotentiaries to negotiate on the conditions of peace. In August they met at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and after some weeks of difficult negotiations concluded a peace treaty in September, 1905.

Woodrow Wilson won it for his 14 Points and Peace Without Victory Campaign during World War I. The Nobel site states, “people everywhere saw in his peace aims the vision of a world in which freedom, justice, and peace could flourish.” Wilson succeeded in ending the war but failed to secure a just and lasting peace as the US Senate never ratified the treaty of Versailles and failed to join the League of Nations.

On the other hand, all the Nobel site states on Obama is this: “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. In a press release, they further add:

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

I think they key phrase in this release is, “The United States in now playing a more constructive role…”I think this clearly a slap in the face of Bush, and deservedly so. But is that enough to warrant giving Obama the peace prize because he is not Bush? The History Rat was not, and still is not, a fan of President George W. Bush at all…not even in the slightest. I still don’t see what Obama has done to justify this award. Somebody help me here. Am I missing something living in Middle America? Has the perception of what America is and what it stands for changed that much in the world? I have not been out of the US since the election in 2008. I know that when I traveled overseas in 2003, the hatred was palpable against Bush – not against Americans, but only Bush. Somehow, the world has always had a clear distinction between the American people and the President.

Going back to Obama, was the world that excited back in February when the voting for this award took place? I must admit, I was a little excited to see what Obama would do in his first 100 days. Aside from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, only a few minor pieces of legislation have been passed. There has been no major brokering of a peace agreement; No major revision of foreign policy revision. Our troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan has only gotten worse with no end in sight. The economy has improved some but that has nothing to do with World Peace.

We all were hopeful in back in February the ship would be righted in many ways – economically, in foreign affairs, and militarily. It seems to me, the committee acted prematurely. Yes, there is still hope, but that hope has not amounted to anything. Does that mean it won’t? Oh, most certainly not. There is always going to be hope that things will work out right, that we will live in a more peaceful world, that the nations of the world will rise up and put down the vestiges of hatred and fear. But is HOPE enough to give the man a Nobel Peace Prize???

Party Politics

During Wednesday night’s address to Congress,President Obama was interrupted by the shout of “You lie” by Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina. Sadly, the outburst was condemned by both parties and was seen by those in the chamber as a matter of principle to not shout out at the President. But for 222 years of American History, a shout is the least of problems between political parties in American history.

In the beginning of American history, political parties seemed unavoidable. From the writing of the constitution, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, and Patrick Henry lined up against the passage of the constitution and they became known as the anti-federalists. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and the principal author of the constitution, James Madison, wrote a series of essays in newspapers which became known as the Federalist Papers. The contentiousness of the dialogue initially was low compared to what it would be ten years later. By the mid 1790s, the Federalist and anti-Federalist views had morphed into the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party. One viewed an America built upon commerce and a strong federal government and the other on Agriculture and strong states. The elections of 1796 and 1800 were far more brutal than anything we could conceive today.

John Adams of the Federalist Party and Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic-Republicans were best friends. That did not stop them from dragging each other and their party through the mud. At the center of the debate was the issue of whether the US should favor France or Great Britain in the coming conflict. The original President, George Washington, had hoped to remain neutral. For Adams and Jefferson, they could not. The resulting conflict would tear apart the country politically and economically until the War of 1812.

It saddened George Washington to see parties form to fill the vacuum as he left office. I too see the wisdom of George’s wisdom. He states:

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.”

Sadly, few listened. Jefferson’s Vice-President, Aaron Burr, would shoot and kill Alexander Hamilton in a duel over comments from the 1800 election.

After the War of 1812, the Federalist Party died out and the vacuum of dissent would not be be successfully filled against what would become the Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson. The Whig Party tried and failed but could not sustain any momentum. By the middle of the 1850s, the brand new Republican Party and the abolition movement coalesced into a movement that would result in the Civil War. In one instance on the Senate Floor, Senator Preston Brooks attacked Senator Charles Sumner with a cane nearly bludgeoning Sumner to Death.

Over the last 100 years, the parties have shifted regions and locals. Initially, the Republicans ruled the North while the Democrats ruled the South. For one hundred years after the civil war, that was the way it was. The Civil Rights movement changed all that. With it, the Republican base shifted to the South and the Democrat base moved to the more urban North during the 1960s through the 1990s. The parties will continue to change. This is not the end nor is it in sight.

Obama: Is He Losing the Middle on Health Care?

After reading this article on CNN.com, I finally found someone who has been trying to express what I have felt all summer – how an Independent voter thinks; or at least how I think. We are as a group fiscally conservative yet socially progressive. We are in the middle. And at 41% of America, a very large middle indeed. We are a voice who has not been heard in the health care dialogue – if you want to call it that.

As an Independent who voted for Obama, I can safely say I would not change my vote. However, in order to get my vote again, Obama and Congress have to change. This has not been a good summer for the President and Congress. It has been very reminiscent of the Clinton administration’s attempt to change health care. Both have been sorely needed reforms to American daily living. However, both have been shot down by the Republican Party, the Health Care Industry, Moderates, misinformation, and a Democratic Congress unwilling to get things done. It brings back memories of 1993 and of a change in the way politics were done in this country.

In the attempt that almost sank the Clinton presidency, the Health Security Act mandated that every American who did not have health care be on the government plan and they could not leave until they could prove that they had coverage by another insurer. Now while Obama’s plan is somewhat similar, the 2009 version also hopes to insures some 35-45 million uninsured Americans.

What most Independents will tell you is we are not against health care reform. On the other hand, we don’t believe there are any death panels either . We shake our head at the drivel that has come out of Washington on this issue this summer. We don’t believe either party regardless of what comes out of their mouths when it comes to health care.

What we are for is lowering the cost of health care, medicine, and visits to the doctor. If health care were more affordable, more people would, and could, use it properly. Independents would also tell you we are for preventative care which helps to solve health problems before they become a problem. These include high cholesterol, blood pressure, and putting the emphasis on healthy living.I don’t see how providing health care to millions who don’t have it and making them pay for it with money they don’t have is going to improve anything. Free clinics, low cost preventative care would do more good than an umbrella plan of coverage.

However, what Independents are against is this – another government program that costs the taxpayer money and provides no incentives to get off it. Even in 1993, Senator Patrick Moynihan summed up the problem in both time periods when he said:

“There is no health care crisis, there is an insurance crisis”

Succinctly put and prophetic for its time, the problem in this country is not health care but the corporatization of the health care industry from pharmaceuticals to insurance to care. A doctor and the patient should be making the decisions for the health and well being of the patient. All the other industries are there as peripherals to assist in care not determine it. Until how the health industry works is reformed, they will be no change in America. There is room for everyone to make money and, more importantly, to prolong life by providing prompt care that not only treats the problem but helps to prevent it in others. Until Congress and the President realize this, the current health care plan will go down in a flaming pile of paper just like in 1993.

The New Supreme Court Justice: How Bad Can the Process Be?

With the announcement of David Souter leaving the court, President Obama has the duty to appoint a new member to one of the most exclusive clubs in the country. As speculation swirls, history could be made. With only Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the only female on the bench, odds are it will be another female candidate. The leading name is Sonia Sotomayor – a Federal District Court Judge appointed by Clinton. Other names bandied about include: Ellen Kagan and Kathleen Sullivan. With the Democrats controlling the Senate, Obama’s appointee will most likely sail through. In years past, Supreme Court Confirmation hearings have at times been the modern version of Bread and Circuses. One such hearing was that of Robert Bork.

The Bork hearings were so bad, so divisive, that a verb was created: Borked. Reagan had said of Bork, ” Judge Bork is recognized by his colleagues and peers as a brilliant legal scholar and a fair-minded jurist who believes his role is to interpret the law, not make it.” While that may have been true, Bork’s own opinions on a number of issues torpedoed any hope he had of being on the court. In what has been called “Originalism”, Bork is pretty close to a strict constructionist. If it is not in the Constitution, then it is not within the purview of a judge to be an “activist” judge. Bork felt that a judge should remain neutral at all times.

Among the decisions that Bork has blasted as groundless and unconstitutional: a seminal 1948 decision, Shelley v. Kraemer, that denied state courts the authority to enforce racially restrictive agreements between sellers and buyers; Griswold v. Connecticut, which in 1965 struck down a state law forbidding the use of contraceptives even by married couples; the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that extended the right of privacy to protect abortion; and the 1978 Bakke v. University of California decision that permitted affirmative action, though it disallowed strict racial quotas. Those rulings have reshaped American life — which is precisely Bork’s complaint. He accuses the recent court of liberal “judicial activism,” using its power to accomplish social goals that have eluded — or been opposed by — legislatures. His own philosophy, he claims, is based on fealty to “neutral principles,” the notion that judges should not formulate their legal principles based on the outcome they will produce in the particular case being heard. 1

Judiciary Chair Joe Biden, along with Ted Kennedy, lead the Senate in bringing down Bork by painting a picture of segregation being reinstated along with back alley abortions.

The end of Bork’s hearing was not the end of Bork however. He has written many books which have had an influence on the conservative thought of Scalia, Roberts, and even Clarence Thomas. While, Bork may not have had his nomination approved by the Senate, his influence on the modern court is ever present but it could be waning. And yes, he is still alive.

In the coming years, many of the Justices on the Supreme Court are approaching the end of their life terms. Roberts, whilst only in his 50s, has health issues. If given a chance, Obama’s greatest legacy could be the remaking of the Supreme Court. If somehow, Obama is re-elected in 2012, the chances double and the days of the conservative court will slowly fade for another 20 years.

1- Lacayo, Richard. “The Law According to Bork”. Time Magazine: September 21, 1987.