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Watergate Parallels – posted 10/21/2018

October 21, 2018 Leave a comment

It is common now to read stories comparing President Trump to President Nixon. Watergate is invariably invoked.

To assess the fairness of this comparison, I think we need clarity about what Watergate was. It was so much more than a petty burglary.

Watergate was an extensive campaign of political spying and dirty tricks cooked up by President Nixon and his subordinates. The image of Watergate that we have inherited is much less than the multi-dimensional criminal enterprise it actually was.

Even now, I don’t think that all the wrongdoing of President Nixon is fully appreciated. You often hear the cliche that the cover-up was worse than the crime but in the case of Watergate, the crime was actually massive.

What began as an effort to sabotage his political opposition in the 1972 presidential race, mushroomed. The effort included: forging letters and distributing them under Democratic Party candidates’ letterheads, leaking false and manufactured items to the press, hiring goon squads to beat up demonstrators and stealing confidential campaign files.

While the 1972 election was a blow-out, the scope of Nixon’s crimes raise questions about the election’s legitimacy. Nixon did not play by the rules.

The fateful break-in at the Watergate Hotel was about repairing a listening device that Nixon’s team had installed at the Democratic National Committee.

Nixon wanted to neutralize anyone he perceived as standing in his way politically. He was paranoid. His enemies list started with 20 names including the reporter, Daniel Schorr, and the actor, Paul Newman. According to John Dean, White House counsel, there was a second master enemies list of 576 people, many who were supporters of Senator George McGovern, Nixon’s 1972 presidential opponent.

Nixon had a plan to undermine his enemies by means of tax audits from the Internal Revenue Service. Misusing his executive power was part of his game plan.

With Nixon’s approval, Charles Colson, Nixon’s special counsel, assembled the Plumbers, an off-the-record black bag group, that operated directly out of the White House. The Plumbers included ex-CIA operative, Howard Hunt, and ex-FBI agent ,G. Gordon Liddy. They hired out a team of right wing Cuban exiles who had Bay of Pigs experience.

The crew, paid through a slush fund provided by the Committee to Re-Elect the President or CREEP, concocted a series of criminal plots, some of which got carried out. The Plumbers broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist looking for dirt. Ellsberg had been the leaker/whistleblower of the Pentagon Papers.

Nixon despised Ellsberg who he saw as a traitor and wanted to destroy him. There was a Colson-designed further plan, never accomplished, to physically maim or kill Ellsberg on the steps of the Capitol during a demonstration on May 3, 1972.

Other plans under consideration for the Plumbers were breaking into or bombing the Brookings Institute, kidnapping anti-war leaders so they could not disrupt the upcoming Republican National Convention and hiring prostitutes to create compromising situations for Democratic leaders like Ted Kennedy.

Former Watergate special prosecutor Nick Akerman has said that the moment prosecutors knew Nixon was done as president was when they had him on tape discussing slush fund payment to silence Howard Hunt and the other Plumbers.

Although taxes was a background part of Watergate, it must be pointed out that Nixon was a tax cheat. He shortchanged the government in paying his federal income taxes in 1970-1972. He falsely backdated a deed to get the benefit of a huge tax break on donating his presidential papers. A change in federal tax law would have prevented Nixon from taking a deduction for the donation. The fake backdated deed made him able to write off the value of his presidential papers against his taxes.

Ironically, Nixon also installed his taping system into the White House to create a tax haven for himself. The law said he could still donate to the government the value of tape recordings. Nixon had an appraiser who would put any number he wanted on the value of the tapes. Nixon saw it as a huge tax deduction for the rest of his life.

This act of greed, in which Nixon hoped to realize a fortune, was the cause of his undoing. The tapes came back to haunt him.

In comparing Nixon and Trump, I would begin with greed, a quality shared by both men. Nixon cheated on his taxes. The New York Times has reported on Trump’s tax fraud and evasion in the 1990’s. Trump still refuses to release his federal tax returns. He has also refused to place his financial assets in a blind trust, using his brand and his hotels to line his own pockets.

Both presidents have treated the presidency like a business opportunity, placing private over public interest.

Both presidents were surrounded by men convicted of criminal offenses. In Watergate, over 30 Nixon associates did jail time. Trump’s list is shorter, so far. Only Robert Mueller knows the degree of criminality, including the President’s. Laughably, both presidents advertised themselves as “law and order” candidates.

Both presidencies have featured a break-in. We know that the Trump campaign benefited from the Russian election intervention with its digital break-in. Again, only Mueller knows the extent of the collaboration but the timing of email releases by Guccifer 2.0 points to coordinated effort as does the Russian micro-targeting of specific voters in specific states.

Both presidents engaged in obstruction of justice. Nixon carried out the Saturday Night Massacre. Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, as he acknowledged, because of the Russia investigation and has threatened to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Mueller. Trump also revoked the security clearance of numerous possible witnesses in the Russia investigation. These witnesses include John Brennan, Sally Yates, and James Clapper.

Both presidents have demonstrated disdain for the law and hatred for the press and the First Amendment. After Watergate, Nixon did an interview with David Frost in which he said, “If the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”. There can be little doubt Trump shares the same view. He has tweeted that he has an absolute right to pardon himself.

Interestingly, Trump is on record admiring Nixon. Trump publicized a fawning letter Nixon wrote him back in 1987 praising Trump’s performance on the Donahue TV show. Whether Trump suffers a Nixonian fate, we will see.

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Harry T. Moore, Unknown Hero – posted 10/6/2018

October 6, 2018 6 comments

History is an often surprising and unjust thing. Who gets remembered and for what can seem arbitrary and grossly unfair. What Toni Morrison calls “the master narrative” leaves so much out.

In American history, there are some genuine heroes who remain unknown to the general public. Harry T. Moore is such a person. Moore led the struggle for human rights and against racism long before the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. His story is untold.

If asked, I expect most Americans would cite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the first great civil rights leader of our modern era. That really is not true. From 1934 to 1951, Moore, who became the Florida coordinator for the NAACP, led the struggle for civil rights in the Deep South in an even more dangerous time than the 1960’s.

Moore and his wife Harriette gave their lives to the civil rights struggle. They were both murdered on Christmas Eve in 1951 in a crime that was never solved. Their home was bombed when they were asleep inside. The bomb had been placed directly under their bedroom.

The closest hospital that would treat African Americans was 30 miles away. By the time Moore’s neighbors brought him to the hospital, he was dead. His wife died the day after his funeral.

As typically happened back then when black people were murdered, no one was ever charged although there were investigations.

Part of the reason for the disappearance of Moore’s story is the fact that his murder happened in Florida. Moore’s murder flew in the face of the fairy tale narrative told by Florida’s boosters. Florida was the vacation paradise from Silver Springs with its glass bottom boats to Key West.

In fact, Florida was a hotbed of lynchings. Between 1921-1946, Florida had 61 lynchings. It was in Mississippi-Alabama-Georgia territory.

The Florida powers-that-be wanted to bury Moore’s story since it was seen as bad publicity and a disincentive for luring tourists and their money into the state. Disappearing Moore also removed the challenge to white supremacy that he represented.

Moore began his career as a school teacher. He lived in Mims, Florida, not that far from what became Cape Canaveral. He became the principal of the Mims Colored Elementary School. In 1934, he organized the Brevard County chapter of the NAACP.

As an NAACP member, he followed the progress of a lawsuit filed by Thurgood Marshall in Montgomery County, Maryland, Gibbs v. Board of Education, that challenged unequal teacher salaries. Marshall was successful in that lawsuit.

That success prompted Moore to write Marshall about teacher salaries in Florida. The disparity in teacher salaries between black and white teachers was enormous. By 1939-1940, the average salary was $1104 for whites and $574 for blacks. The NAACP filed suit in Florida and it took a dozen lawsuits over the next decade but the teacher salary battle in Florida was eventually won.

Moore launched his own investigations into the lynchings and mob violence that were occurring in Florida. Florida was the scene of the Claude Neal spectacle lynching in 1934 which became the most publicized lynching in American history. A mob barbarically tortured, hung and dismembered Neal before the remains of his body were attached to the rear of a car which then dragged him around the community.

The Neal lynching was not spontaneous. It was advertised and tickets were sold to it. Several thousand people gathered to witness the event. Afterwards, Neal’s fingers and toes were exhibited as souvenirs. Photos were taken and sold for 50 cents a piece.

Moore publicly threw himself into the investigation of multiple lynchings. He wrote the authorities and tried to pressure Florida’s governor to act when local police refused to investigate. He was especially motivated by a case in which a 16 year old young black man was killed after sending a white girl a Christmas card.

In 1945, Moore authored a pamphlet on lynching that criticized police brutality and implicated white sheriffs in murder. He later locked horns with the notorious Southern sheriff Willis McCall in the Groveland boys case.

To say Moore’s anti-lynching work in the rural south was dangerous does not begin to describe the risks he ran. The Klan targeted him and the Brevard County School Board fired him from his teaching job, a job he had held for 20 years. He regularly received death threats and he was often followed by unmarked cars. Although non-violent. Moore carried a .32 caliber pistol for self-defense.

Moore took on an increasingly active role with the NAACP. This history is described in a biography of Moore, Before his Time, written by Ben Green. In his organizing , Moore crisscrossed the back roads of Florida for 17 years often traveling at night to avoid detection. He travelled through small towns where no restaurants would serve him and no motels would house him. Many gas stations would not let him fill up his gas tank, empty his bladder or use the phone.

Moore built the NAACP in Florida from a few hundred members and 9 chapters in 1941 to 53 chapters and 10,000 members by 1945.

In addition to his anti-lynching work, Moore was also the Executive Secretary of the Progressive Voters League, an organization he co-founded in 1944. He launched a statewide voter registration drive at a time Florida made it extremely hard for Black voters to vote. Florida had used a poll tax to prevent African American voting.

The Progressive Voters League registered 100,000 new Black voters. By the time of his death, Moore’s organization had registered 31% of all eligible Black voters in Florida. That was a rate 50% higher than any other Southern state.

Moore became the most visible African American leader in Florida. In 1949, Florida’s governor agreed to meet with him about police brutality, protection of Black voters and job opportunities. This was the first time since Reconstruction that a Florida governor ever met with a Black delegation.

Moore died in 1951, three years before the U.S. Supreme Court decided Brown v Board of Education. Back then, there were no federal civil rights laws or federal marshals protecting him. There was no movement. Moore was on his own.

Clarence Rowe, the president of the Central Brevard County NAACP stated:

“He was walking into the lion’s den. To do what he did back then, when the Klan was operating free rein, was suicide. He knew he was dead from jump street.”

Maybe we need to redefine who qualifies as a genuine American hero. By standing up for civil rights so early and so bravely, by putting himself on the line, and by making the ultimate sacrifice, Harry Moore deserves to be honored – not neglected. His story deserves far greater attention than it has received.

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