Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Uncle Raymond Clinton

By coincidence I have recently been reading two books simultaneously. I picked up Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton at the local used book sale (a fundraiser for local seniors). I figure if Hillary is going to be President, which is likely, then I should know more about her. She’s an okay writer, and presents herself well, but the book began to wear on me as I read past page 300.

So I started re-reading The Money and the Power, the Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America, by Sally Denton and Roger Morris. I had already read it once, and I had forgotten that the Clintons play a small role in it. Basically, the book is about how the vast sums of money made by organized crime, especially from bootlegged alcohol during Prohibition, was eventually cycled into the Las Vegas we know today. It is a colorful story, filled with the names of famous gangsters like Benjamin Segal and Meyer Lansky, but also meticulous in connecting organized crime to politics, including most of the post-Prohibition Presidents of the United States. (It was published in 2001, so Barack Obama makes no appearance in it.)

Now Hillary (admittedly, by her own representation) was a good girl. Her father owned a small business, and she grew up church-going, Republican, and upper-middle class. She went to a swanky girls-school private college, Wellesley, then on to Yale Law School. I spotted no obvious discrepancies in her story. She was influenced by the turmoil of the 60s, in particular the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. By 1972 she had changed over to the Democratic Party.

The anomalies I spotted were in her descriptions of her eventual husband, Bill Clinton. Now I had thought Bill Clinton was supposed to be from a poor family. He was supposed to be a bright kid who won scholarships, including a Rhodes scholarship to study in England. Well, I would tend to admire that, since I was a bright scholarship kid. But I also know that scholarship kids typically are penniless until they get their first real job after they graduate from academia. Unlike the kinds of students who typically attend places like Wellesley and Yale, they don’t own cars and they work paid, usually menial jobs each summer as well as during the school year. They can’t accept glamorous unpaid internships that give the upper class kids inside tracks to the most desirable jobs.

What struck me first was the car. They have just started dating in the spring of 1971, at Yale Law School. “We spent long hours driving around in his 1970 burnt-orange Open station wagon.” What was an unpaid law student doing with a new station wagon? And where did the money come from that summer, when he and Hillary lived in Berkeley, California, and it is clear he did not have a job? There was more, but that was enough to remind me that Hot Springs, Arkansas was a notorious center of organized crime activity. I knew Bill was from Hope, which is not far from Hot Springs; I wondered if his easy money meant he had already been bought.

Of course it is not really a secret that William Jefferson Blythe III, aka Bill Clinton actually spent most of his childhood in Hot Springs, and graduated from Hot Springs High School. Although his step father, Roger Clinton had owned the Hope Buick Dealership, he was an alcoholic and gambler, and had sold his share of the dealership in 1955. His worked as a parts manager for his broth Raymond after that. He died in 1967, before Hillary even met Bill. Uncle Raymond Clinton owned the Hot Springs Buick dealership with his partner Earl T. Ricks, who eventually also became Brigadier General of the Arkansas National Guard. Ricks died in 1953.

So the Opal likely was a gift from a generous uncle who owned a car dealership. Nothing wrong with that. But according to Denton & Morris, Raymond Clinton had other sources of income besides the dealership. He “ran slot machines in the town for the Marcello family.” [D&M page 376]

When Bill Clinton showed up in Arkansas in 1974 to take an appointment as a law professor and run for Congress, Bill raised more money in the Democratic Party primary than his far-better-established opponents. It was Raymond who helped him raise the money, and if it is true that he was mob-connected, then the money was largely mob money from drugs, prostitution, and gambling. Clinton lost to the Republican. In 1976 Bill ran for state Attorney General and won. He did not become known for prosecuting or even noticing the organized crime still rampant in Hot Springs.

Later, as President of the United States, Clinton would quietly kill a proposal for a 4% federal gambling tax.

That helped President Clinton raise large sums of money in Las Vegas for his 1996 re-election campaign. Gambling interests, led by Brian Greenspun and Steve Wynn poured money into the Clinton campaign and the general Democratic Party war chest. One $25,000 per attendee party sponsored by Wynn raised $650,000 for the Democrats [D&M page 371]. Just in case, Wynn and friends also gave very large sums of money to Republican Party nominee Bob Dole.

Bill Clinton and then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich could sometimes put aside partisan discord to accomplish something together. Due to the movement to legalize gambling outside Nevada, by 1996 a backlash was growing. Pushed by non-profit groups, Congress decided to create a Gambling Impact Study Commission. Critics pointed out that gambling “took billions, addicted thousand at great physical and human cost, and siphoned spending from local businesses to the point of ruin, all while giving back nothing of social or economic value.” [D&M page 373].

Such committees in Congress always have the power to subpoena witnesses. But gangsters and casino corporate executives (if there is any difference) alike remembered the Kefauver hearings and Robert Kennedy hearings with great distaste. Clinton, Gingrich and politicians whose campaigns had been slushed up with gambling profits made sure the committee did not have the usual powers. In the end the Gambling committee accomplished nothing.

When did Hillary become aware of her husband’s organized crime connections? My best bet would be never. After all, Uncle Raymond ran a legitimate business, an automobile dealership. Hillary had her own law practice to worry about. Most people can look the other way when it is convenient to them, and Hillary seems to not be an exception.

Hillary and Bill are independently wealthy now, but not so wealthy that they can finance another Presidential campaign without a lot of donated money. Hopefully the women who love Hillary and the Democratic Party can make enough donations to her campaign that she will not be beholden to any particular person, or private interest group, when she is making decisions that affect us all.

I expect Bill Clinton to hang around the White House, and he does have some talents. But I expect Hillary to make her own decisions. As the first female President, I hope she turns out to be one of the rare peace Presidents. I hope the feminist core of her following holds her to that standard.

Other sources:

The next Stop after Hope (Progressive Review)

Frontline Interview with Roger Morris about Partners in Power, The Clintons and Their America.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

An Eye for An Eye: Beheading Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

A lot of history, as well as the dilemmas of the current world, can be summed up as part of a conflict within the Christian tradition. The same conflict occurs in other religions, and for atheists; I am choosing the Christian wording because it is as good as any, and most Americans have heard it:

Bible, Leviticus 24:19-20: "As he hath done, so shall it be done to him: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth." That is the supposed word of a god, speaking to Moses.

Bible, Mathew 5:38-39: "Ye have heard it hath been said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you: That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." That is supposed to be quoting Jesus Christ himself, alleged only son of the one-and-done God.

Well, life is about learning, but when you are dead all your personal learning goes to waste. When I was around twelve my mother was mad at me after mass at Christ the King Church in Jacksonville, Florida. I actually don't remember what I did or said; I may have done something, like missing a beat during some part of the mass. Probably I answered some question of hers in a manner she called "talking back." In any case she slapped me hard on my cheek. It happened to be my left cheek, but in any case I turned the other cheek to her.

She went totally ballistic. Other churchgoers had to restrain her. I was lucky they were there, because my mother had been the only woman marine to actual kill a Japanese soldier in hand-to-hand combat in World War II. Any way, she calmed down, got me, my sister, and my brother (who thought this was terribly funny) into the family car, and drove us home. She did not report the incident to my father, as far as I know, or I would have gotten a second, more measured but more painful beating. My father had been in Marine Corps intelligence [unofficially still was, which is why he was not at Church that Sunday morning with us: he was at his "civilian" job at Sea Land, providing logistical support for the attempt to "recover" Cuba], and knew how to inflict severe pain on people without leaving marks. As he proved many times in domestic life.

So I am basically a turn the other cheek guy, and became a draft dodger and peace protestor during the War in Vietnam, but I can understand anger. I can understand the desire for justice.

The real world is a complicated place. It should not be surprising that after about 3 centuries of post-Jesus pacifism, when the Christian cult had grown large and become the only legal religion within its old enemy, the Roman Empire, turning the cheek began to lose ground. With everyone now a Christian, of course that meant that the criminals were Christians, and businessmen, and power-hungry men. Dial forward to, say 1000 A.D., and Christian armies were fighting Christian armies on a nearly-continuous basis.

There is a split-down-the middle approach that works well in many situations: self defense. When I was older and bigger, age 17, finally when my mother went to slap me I just grabbed her wrist and pushed it back down. Strangely, that was the end of her beating up on me, my older brother (who went on to become a Marine Corps Colonel) and (I believe) my younger sister, though Mother found other ways to try to control us.

Unfortunately often people are unable to defend themselves, even when they try. Or the losses are tragic, as with the Philippines unsuccessful attempt to defend itself against U.S. aggression, or the Vietnamese ultimately successful defensive tragedy, or innumerable other such wars within even just the memories of those currently living. Self-defense requires resources on par with those used by aggressors.

Regarding Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the junior member of the Boston Marathon bombers, I think the ethics of the situation are clear, but complex. This was not an ordinary crime, but was part of the War Against Fundamentalist Islamic Groups Not Aligned With the U.S. [because the nation of Saudi Arabia is very fundamentalist, but is aligned with the U.S., so we don't fight them. And for that matter the government of Syria is not fundamentalist, but it is not aligned with the U.S., so there is no good description, except maybe the Pentagon's War to Justify Its Budget].

Prisoners of War (POWs) are to be treated humanely under International Law. They can be held until the war is over, then they must be released. This can be difficult for soldiers in the heat of battle. One moment a guy is trying to kill you, the next he is a POW with human rights. It is hard to remember the rule is reciprocal: you were trying to kill him, if you were captured you'd be the POW with human rights, that hopefully he would honor.

So is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev a POW? I would argue yes. So he should be held in prison until the war is over, which will likely be never.

But International Law also says that militaries purposefully or negligently killing civilians is a war crime (or a crime against humanity if in a non-war context). And Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother did not pick a military target. They purposefully chose a civilian target.

Which is back to eye-for-eye. The United States has never hung any of its own soldiers, much less our Commander in Chief, for killing civilians. And we have killed a lot of them, from American Indian tribes (which admittedly was before modern War Crimes treaties were signed) to Japanese to Vietnamese to Iraqis and Somalis and now Syrians.

Under eye-for-eye, it's okay to behead Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Under war crimes law, it is okay to behead Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Under U.S. law, probably another method of execution would be used.

But any form of execution would create another martyr for the crazy-ass interpretation of Islam. It won't do anything to curb the similarly crazy-ass interpretations of Judaism and Christianity.

It won't do any good at all. The most pragmatic thing to do is to get Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to become a peace worker. Let him tour around telling high school students not to be lured into violent cults, like the U. S. Marine Corps or I.S.I.S. Let him tell them to turn the other cheek whenever possible, and to not make self-defense into an excuse for aggression, as so many people are doing today.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Woman in Gold and Austrian Catholics

I was dreading seeing another Holocaust movie, but I thought Woman in Gold (starring Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, and my favorite up-and-coming Tatiana Maslany) was pretty good.

People forget, and Woman in Gold jogs the memory. But it also avoids some issues.

Maria Altmann (played by Mirren) is an Austrian who fled the country shortly after the Nazi takeover. She decides to try to obtain a picture of her aunt that is hanging in an Austrian museum. As portrayed in the movie neither she nor her family were religious.

The movie, in flashback scenes, makes a point that the Austrians, for the most part, welcomed Hitler and the German takeover. But it does not explain why. And why is very important, if you really want to understand history, instead of just thinking Austrians were just a bunch of vicious thugs.

There were three main components to the why: (1) the aftermath of World War I (2) pan-German nationalism (3) the domination of Austria by the Roman Catholic Church.

Before World War I Austria had been part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. World War I was largely a battle between imperialist countries for world domination, and the Empire ended up on the losing side. The victors broke it up into the states of Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and portions of other states. Austria had the core of the German speaking population.

Despite Woodrow Wilson's chatter about "national self-determination," the Austrians were forbidden from becoming part of Germany. Many were not happy about that.

Pan-German nationalism then came into play. Hitler himself was Austrian, though he had become a German citizen. Many Austrians did not feel they were being invaded by the Nazis: they felt they were being liberated. The Nazis were by no means the only extremist nationalist group in Austria in the 1930s.

When the Protestant Revolution had shaken up the world, it had left the German-speaking population of Europe divided mainly between two religions: Lutheranism mostly in the north, and Roman Catholicism mostly in the south.

The Roman Catholic Church has always been officially anti-Jewish, but in the religious sense, not the racial sense. Jewish converts to Catholicism were welcome, if somewhat suspect. The Roman Catholic Church in Austria had a tradition of being particularly anti-Jewish, and most of the people who joined the Austrian branch of the Nazi Party had been raised anti-semitic Catholics.

Adolf Hitler himself was Roman Catholic, which made his storm troopers easy to welcome in Austria. Surprised? Most modern Catholics are, because the Church colluded with the U.S. government (particularly the Democratic Party) to rewrite history after Germany was defeated.

So when you see Austrians abusing Jews in Woman in Gold, you can bet that they are Roman Catholics.

The other funny thing about the movie is the hypocritical propaganda about private property. In the courts and in major motion pictures we are constantly reminded about how European Jews, in addition to losing their lives in the Holocaust, also lost their private property. The message is constant: Jewish private property should be returned to Jews.

But don't think about Palestine. Because American Jews, and ex-European Jews that are now Israeli Palestinians, don't want you to think about the private property rights of non-Jewish Palestinians.

If stolen property is to be returned, should not the land and other property stolen from Palestinians during the creation of the State of Israel be returned to the rightful owners?

Don't hold your breath waiting for a major motion picture bringing up that issue. Or a court ruling in favor of the Palestinians.