homeaboutarchivepodcastnewslettermembership!
aboutarchivepodcastmembership!
aboutarchivemembers!

kottke.org posts about Richard Nixon

Nixon Started the War on Drugs to Target Black People & the Antiwar Left

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2020

In 1971, Richard Nixon kicked off America’s “war on drugs”, focusing not on the societal problems that lead to drug abuse but on categorizing drug users as criminals.

In Nixon’s eyes, drug use was rampant in 1971 not because of grand social pressures that society had a duty to correct, but because drug users were law-breaking hedonists who deserved only discipline and punishment.

Over the next several decades, the US government (and particularly Ronald Reagan) took Nixon’s lead and imprisoned millions of people for drug offenses, including a disproportionate number of Black men. Michelle Alexander wrote about this in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow. From the about page:

Alexander shows that, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.

In 1994, former Nixon aide and Watergate co-conspirator John Ehrlichman proudly told writer Dan Baum that racial control and discrimination was in fact the purpose of the war on drugs.

At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

An astonishing thing to admit but hardly a rare tactic for the cynical Republican Party. See also how they decided to champion abortion as an issue to attract the support of white evangelical Christians and shifted from indifference to scientific denialism on climate change in order to oppose the Obama administration and advance the interests of wealthy donors.

Thanks to Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist for reminding me of Ehrlichman’s admission.

Why Do Poor People Make Bad Decisions?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2020

From The Correspondent, this is an article by Dutch historian Rutger Bregman about why poor people make low-quality decisions. In a nutshell, it’s because living in poverty overwhelms your brain, decreasing cognitive ability by a significant amount. The piece cites a number of supporting studies, but this one is perhaps the most relevant to separating cause from effect:

Shafir found what he was looking for some 8,000 miles away in the districts of Vilupuram and Tiruvannamalai in rural India. The conditions were perfect. As it happened, the area’s sugarcane farmers collect 60% of their annual income all at once right after the harvest. This means they are flush one part of the year and poor the other.

So how did they do in the experiment?

At the time when they were comparatively poor, they scored substantially worse on the cognitive tests. Not because they had become less intelligent people somehow — they were still the same Indian sugarcane farmers, after all — but purely and simply because their mental bandwidth was compromised.

Another study, of Cherokee families whose income increased dramatically due to casino revenues, shows just how beneficial more money is to poor communities:

Soon after the casino opened, Costello was already noting huge improvements for her subjects. Behavioural problems among children who had been lifted out of poverty went down 40%, putting them in the same range as their peers who had never known hardship. Juvenile crime rates among the Cherokee also declined, along with drug and alcohol use, while their school scores improved markedly. At school, the Cherokee kids were now on a par with the study’s non-tribal participants.

On seeing the data, Costello’s first reaction was disbelief. “The expectation is that social interventions have relatively small effects,” she later said. “This one had quite large effects.”

Costello calculated that the extra $4,000 per annum resulted in an additional year of educational attainment by age 21 and reduced the chance of a criminal record at age 16 by 22%.

This article was adapted from Bregman’s book, Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World, in which he advocates for three main changes to make our global society more equitable: a universal basic income, a 15-hour work-week, and open borders. The UBI issue is what he’s most known for — check out his 2013 article, Why we should give free money to everyone, and his two TED Talks on the topic. BTW, did you know that Nixon almost implemented a UBI in the US in the late 60s?

A Deepfake Nixon Delivers Eulogy for the Apollo 11 Astronauts

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 26, 2019

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed safely on the Moon in July 1969, President Richard Nixon called them from the White House during their moonwalk to say how proud he was of what they had accomplished. But in the event that Armstrong and Aldrin did not make it safely off the Moon’s surface, Nixon was prepared to give a very different sort of speech. The remarks were written by William Safire and recorded in a memo called In Event of Moon Disaster.

Fifty years ago, not even Stanley Kubrick could have faked the Moon landing. But today, visual effects and techniques driven by machine learning are so good that it might be relatively simple, at least the television broadcast part of it.1 In a short demonstration of that technical supremacy, a group from MIT has created a deepfake version of Nixon delivering that disaster speech. Here are a couple of clips from the deepfake speech:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

The full film is being shown at IDFA DocLab in Amsterdam and will make its way online sometime next year.

The implications of being able to so convincingly fake the televised appearance of a former US President are left as an exercise to the reader. (via boing boing)

Update: The whole film is now online. (thx, andy)

  1. But technology is often a two-way street. If the resolution of the broadcast is high enough, CGI probably still has tells…and AI definitely does. And even if you got the TV broadcast correct, with the availability of all sorts of high-tech equipment, the backyard astronomer, with the collective help of their web-connected compatriots around the world, would probably be able to easily sniff out whether actual spacecraft and communication signals were in transit to and from the Moon.

The Legend of Nixon, a Data-Driven NES Soundscape

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2019

Brian Chirls took the approval ratings for Richard Nixon’s presidency and using sounds from The Legend of Zelda’s classic Dungeon Theme, he made a data-driven soundscape of the public perception of Nixon’s tenure in the White House. Here’s what his approval rating looked like:

Richard Nixon Approval

And here’s the resulting audio track:

The sound effects mostly represent actions the protagonist Link takes like the “sword slash”, things that happen to him like a grunt when he gets hurt, or the status of the game like the low health alarm that beeps when Link has only half a “heart container” left and can only take one or two more hits before he dies and the game is over. The goal of this project is to create a piece of audio that sounds like a typical playthrough of the game and also accurately tells the story of Nixon’s fall as represented by the data.

What a cool example of using the familiar to explain or illustrate the unfamiliar. If you’ve ever played Zelda, you can clearly hear Nixon doing more and more poorly as the track goes on — he’s taking damage, the dungeon boss sound chimes in right around when Watergate is ramping up, and he’s gaining fewer hearts. It’s like he’s a novice player armed only with the wooden sword trying to defeat the level 3 dungeon without a potion…the end comes pretty quickly.

Recommendation: Slate’s podcast series about Watergate, Slow Burn

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2018

There are many cultural and political lenses through which to view the Trump Presidency — reality TV, Mike Judge’s alarmingly prescient Idiocracy, the OJ Simpson case, Germany in the 1930s — but perhaps the most relevant is through the lens of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. A lot of what I know about Watergate came through cultural osmosis (Johnny Carson and SNL were still doing Watergate jokes in the 80s when I started watching) and movies like All the President’s Men, and I suspect that’s true of many Americans who are too young to have lived through it. We may know the broad strokes, but that’s about it.

Enter Slow Burn, a podcast by Slate about some of the lesser known stories surrounding Watergate and what it felt like to experience it as the scandal unfolded. Here’s series host Leon Neyfakh describing what the show is about:

Why are we revisiting Watergate now? The connections between the Nixon era and today are obvious enough. But to me, the similarity that’s most striking is not between Donald Trump and Richard Nixon (although they’re both paranoid, vengeful, and preoccupied with “loyalty”), or their alleged crimes (although they both involved cheating to win an election), or the legal issues in the two cases (although they both center on obstruction of justice).

Rather, it’s that people who lived through Watergate had no idea what was going to happen from one day to the next, or how it was all going to end. I recognize that feeling. The Trump administration has made many of us feel like the country is in an unfamiliar, precarious situation. Some days it seems like our democratic institutions won’t survive, or that permanent damage has already been done. Pretty much every day, we are buffeted by news stories that sound like they’ve been ripped out of highly stressful and very unrealistic novels.

The point of Slow Burn is to look back on the most recent time Americans went through this en masse, and to put ourselves in their shoes.

Historical events like these make great podcast subjects; I’ve also listened to LBJ’s War recently. Reading articles or books about these topics is one thing, but actually listening to the investigators, journalists, lawyers, and Congressmen talk about about their roles in and perceptions of Watergate, both in contemporary interviews and recordings from that period, adds a lively and engaging aspect to these stories. I mean, just hearing Nixon on those secret tapes and then in press conferences saying that he had done nothing wrong…it’s completely gripping. I’ve been thinking up excuses to go for drives this past week just so I can get my Slow Burn fix.

Impeachment and its misconceptions explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2017

At the recent Aspen Ideas Festival, legal scholar and former Obama advisor Cass Sunstein shared some views on his understanding of and some misconceptions about impeachment, namely that it doesn’t need to involve an actual crime and “is primarily about gross neglect or abuse of power”. Or as he put it more formally in a 1998 essay in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review:

The simplest is that, with respect to the President, the principal goal of the Impeachment Clause is to allow impeachment for a narrow category of egregious or large-scale abuses of authority that comes from the exercise of distinctly presidential powers. On this view, a criminal violation is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for impeaching the President. What is generally necessary is an egregious abuse of power that the President has by virtue of being President. Outside of this category of cases, impeachment is generally foreign to our traditions and is prohibited by the Constitution.

The “distinctly presidential powers” bit is a high bar to clear. Examining the case for Nixon on that basis, and only some of the reasons for wanting to impeach him hold up.

Richard Nixon nearly faced four counts. One failed count, for tax evasion, was completely inappropriate, Sunstein argued: Though an obvious violation of law, it had no bearing on Nixon’s conduct of the presidency. A second charge, for resisting subpoena, is possibly but not necessarily valid, since a president could have good reasons to resisting a subpoena. A third is more debatable: Nixon was charged with covering up the Watergate break-in. Nixon might have been more fairly prosecuted for overseeing the burglary, Sunstein argued, but nabbing him for trying to use the federal government to commit the cover-up was “probably good enough.” Only the fourth charge, of using the federal government’s muscle to prosecute political enemies, is a clear slam-dunk under the Founders’ principles.

Clinton’s impeachment, argued Sunstein in that same Penn Law Review essay, was less well-supported:

I suggest that the impeachment of President Clinton was unconstitutional, because the two articles of impeachment identified no legitimate ground for impeaching the President.

Sunstein explained the intent of the members of the Constitutional Convention in a Bloomberg article back in February. It’s interesting in the light of the Russian collusion investigation that the debate about impeachment at the convention centered around treason.

James Madison concurred, pointing to cases in which a president “might betray his trust to foreign powers.” Gouverneur Morris added that the president “may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust; and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate in foreign pay without being able to guard against it by displacing him.”

So what about Trump? Sunstein doesn’t offer much (no apparent mention of collusion with Russia):

Sunstein, having scolded legal colleagues for playing pundit, was reluctant to address the question directly. Setting aside the impossibility of impeaching Trump under the present circumstances of GOP control of Congress, Sunstein said he was wary of trying to remove the president simply for being bad at his job. Nonetheless, he said Trump’s prolific dishonesty might form a basis for trying to remove him.

“If a president lies on some occasions or is fairly accused of lying, it’s not impeachable — but if you have a systematic liar who is lying all the time, then we’re in the ballpark of misdemeanor, meaning bad action,” he said.

If I were a betting person, I would wager that Donald Trump has a better chance of getting reelected in 2020 than he does of being impeached (and a much better chance than actually being removed from office through impeachment) if the Republicans retain their majority in Congress. Although their healthcare bill has hit a hiccup due to public outcry (and it’s only a hiccup…it will almost surely pass), Congressional Republicans have shown absolutely no willingness to do anything not in the interest of their agenda…so why would they impeach a Republican President who is ticking all of the far right’s action items thus far?

Jump!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2017

Jump Portraits

Jump Portraits

Jump Portraits

Jump Portraits

Philippe Halsman was a renowned portrait photographer who was particularly active in the 40s, 50s, and 60s and most famous for his iconic photos of Salvador Dali and Albert Einstein. For a period in the 1950s, Halsman ended his portrait shoots by asking his famous subjects to jump. The results were disarming.

When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears.

Halsman got all sorts of people to jump for his camera: Richard Nixon (above), Robert Oppenheimer, Marilyn Monroe (above), Aldous Huxley, Audrey Hepburn (above), Brigitte Bardot, and the Duke & Duchess of Windsor (above). He collected all his jump photos into the recently re-released Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book.

Nixon sabotaged Vietnam peace talks

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2013

In 1968, Richard Nixon, then a candidate for President, used backchannel negotiations to scuttle peace talks that may have ended the Vietnam War. Nixon was afraid an end to the war meant an end to his campaign.

By the time of the election in November 1968, LBJ had evidence Nixon had sabotaged the Vietnam war peace talks — or, as he put it, that Nixon was guilty of treason and had “blood on his hands”.

The war went on for seven more bloody years, most of them under Nixon’s watch. Shameful.

Oh, Nixon

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2009

Dopey Nixon

From the comments about this photo on If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger:

Fred: As amusing as that picture is, Tricky was many things, but not a Dope.

Greg: Fred, you’re right of course but unfortunately there wasn’t an eighth dwarf named “Shifty.”

Frost/Nixon

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2009

Early in Frost/Nixon, we meet Irving Lazar, who negotiates on behalf of Richard Nixon with David Frost. He didn’t get that much screen time, but Lazar struck me as an interesting character1 so I looked him up on Wikipedia after the movie. Michael Korda, himself a publishing bigwig, wrote a profile of Lazar for the New Yorker in 1993. Korda was befriended by Lazar early on in his career and went on to do many deals with the legendary agent.

Early on, Lazar hit upon three rules that have stood him in good stead for over fifty years. The first was that he could always reach anyone, anywhere, any time. His secret weapon is the world’s largest address book, full of the private, unlisted numbers of people whom nobody else can reach. Who else can pick up the phone and call Mrs. Norton Simon, Jack Nicholson, Barry Diller, Larry McMurtry, Arthur Schlesinger, Richard Nixon, Cher, Gregory Peck, or Henry Kissinger, and get through immediately? The second rule was always to go directly to the top. Lazar doesn’t deal with underlings. The last rule was to insist on a quick answer. Even now, if I tell Irving that I want to think something over or discuss it with someone else he will snap, “Never mind, I can see you’re not interested, I’ll talk to Phyllis Grann.”

[1] My first impression was, this guy seems a bit like Truman Capote to me. Well, duh: the actor playing him, Toby Jones, also portrayed Capote in Infamous.

You’ve likely seen the famous photo of

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2008

You’ve likely seen the famous photo of Richard Nixon with Elvis Presley in the Oval Office. When Nixon Met Elvis is a site dedicated to that short meeting with materials from The National Archives, including the letter written on American Airlines stationery that Elvis personally delivered to a White House security guard, several more photos from the meeting, and the gift that Elvis brought for Nixon (a gun! to the White House!). It’s a really kooky little story. (via hysterical paroxysm)

William Safire, who now does the On

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2007

William Safire, who now does the On Language column for the NY Times, wrote a speech for President Nixon in 1969 in the event that something happened during the Apollo 11 mission to strand the astronauts on the moon.

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

(via cyn-c)

Photographer Philippe Halsman took portraits of people

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2006

Photographer Philippe Halsman took portraits of people while jumping (the people, not Halsman), as a way to loosen up. Subjects include Marilyn Monroe, Richard Nixon, and the Dule and Duchess of Windsor. (viabb)

David Remnick on the Bush Administration’s sustained

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2006

David Remnick on the Bush Administration’s sustained assault on the press. “You begin to wonder if the Bush White House, in its urgent need to find scapegoats for the myriad disasters it has inflicted, is preparing to repeat a dismal and dismaying episode of the Nixon years.”

Identity of Deep Throat finally revealed

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2005

Identity of Deep Throat finally revealed. Mark Felt, who was second in command at the FBI at the time, helped Woodward and Bernstein with their research into Watergate.