President Nixon’s Aides Talked Of Global Warming 40 Years Ago

How Patrick Moynihan became an aide to President Richard Nixon is a rather fascinating tale.  It speaks to the desire of Nixon to have intelligent advisors around him, and his willingness to have competing sides of an issue presented.  It also was aimed to keep certain aides off-balance.  This past week some more documents were released from the Nixon White House days, and among them was one dealing with global warming.  Forty years ago global warming was a topic of discussion in the White House.

Adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan, notable as a Democrat in the administration, urged the administration to initiate a worldwide system of monitoring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, decades before the issue of global warming came to the public’s attention.

There is widespread agreement that carbon dioxide content will rise 25 percent by 2000, Moynihan wrote in a September 1969 memo.

“This could increase the average temperature near the earth’s surface by 7 degrees Fahrenheit,” he wrote. “This in turn could raise the level of the sea by 10 feet. Goodbye New York. Goodbye Washington, for that matter.”

Moynihan was Nixon’s counselor for urban affairs from January 1969 — when Nixon began his presidency — to December 1970. He later served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations before New York voters elected him to the Senate.

Moynihan received a response in a January 26, 1970 memo from Hubert Heffner, deputy director of the administration’s Office of Science and Technology. Heffner acknowledged that atmospheric temperature rise was an issue that should be looked at.

“The more I get into this, the more I find two classes of doom-sayers, with, of course, the silent majority in between,” he wrote. “One group says we will turn into snow-tripping mastodons because of the atmospheric dust and the other says we will have to grow gills to survive the increased ocean level due to the temperature rise.”

Heffner wrote that he would ask the Environmental Science Services Administration to look further into the issue.

Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency and had an interest in the environment. In one memo, Moynihan noted his approval of the first Earth Day, to be held April 22, 1970.

“Clearly this is an opportunity to get the President usefully and positively involved with a large student movement,” he wrote to John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s adviser on domestic affairs.

Moynihan’s memo was among 100,000 documents released Friday.

Storm Threatens Coastal Louisiana

These fearful events will be with us for many months to come.

UPDATE….That system that forecasters thought might become Tropical Storm Bonnie before it made landfall in Louisiana never did, according to the National Hurricane Center.

A storm packing winds up to 45 mph in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to strengthen into a tropical storm before it tears into coastal Louisiana Monday evening, the National Hurricane Center said.

“Wind gusts of 35 to 45 mph (are) possible over the affected area through this evening,” the center said in an advisory. “These storms could produce rainfall amounts of one to three inches in a short period of time.”

It said the storm, centered Monday afternoon about 50 miles south-southeast of Morgan City, Louisiana, was already packing sustained winds near tropical storm force. The BP well capping operations are located off the Louisiana coast.

There was a “high chance” the system will become the second named storm of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season before it makes landfall in the Terrebonne Parish area near Caillou Bay early Monday evening, the Miami-based hurricane center said.

First Chapter: “The Defining Moment” By Jonathan Alter

I know I could help students love history.  All my life one of the things (among many) that I know I would be good at is teaching kids about the past, and why it matters.  Some look at me and say I just do not know how tough a classroom can be, but I think students just need a good story to latch onto that pulls them back in time.  Instead of the often stale textbooks that make too many young minds shrink away, I would place before them chapters of contemporary writings about the people and times that they need to be made aware of.  I have a long list of such writings.  One of them would be the 2006 book by Jonathan Alter, “The Defining Moment”.  Here is the first chapter to prove my larger point, and to help grab your attention over a good read.  (Full book review here.)

Sunday, March 5, 1933

On this, his first full day in the presidency, Franklin Delano Roosevelt awoke in a creaky narrow bed in the small bedroom of the White House family quarters he had chosen for himself. After his valet, Irvin McDuffie, helped him with the laborious task of putting on his iron leg braces and trousers, McDuffie lifted him into his armless wooden wheelchair for the elevator ride downstairs. The new president’s schedule called for him to attend morning services at St. Thomas’s Church with his family, host a luncheon for twenty at the White House, and then chair an emergency Cabinet meeting, where he would outline his plans to call Congress into emergency session.


None of the staff or reporters who saw him that Sunday noticed that FDR was anything other than his usual convivial self. He had stayed up past one o’clock the previous night talking with Louis Howe, his longtime chief aide and campaign strategist, while Eleanor and their five children attended the Inaugural Ball without him. The crippled president, now fifty-one years old, hadn’t wanted to sit passively while everyone else danced; passive was not his style. Besides, he and Howe had important things to discuss, beginning with how to extricate the United States from its gravest crisis since the Civil War.

The American economic system had gone into a state of shock, its vital organs shutting down as the weekend began. On Friday, the New York Stock Exchange suspended trading indefinitely and the Chicago Board of Trade bolted its doors for the first time since its founding in 1848. The terrifying “runs” that began the year before on more than five thousand failing banks had stripped rural areas of capital and now threatened to overwhelm American cities. At dawn on Saturday, only a few hours before FDR’s swearing in, the governors of New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania signed orders closing the banks in those states indefinitely, which meant that thirty-four out of forty-eight American states, including the largest ones, now had no economic pulse. Each state’s closure had its own financial logic, but collectively they proved merciful. Without them, Saturday morning would have brought even more ruinous bank runs, with legions of depositors descending on their banks in desperation at the very moment the new president took the oath of office.

The outgoing president, Herbert Hoover, was on his way back to California, a study in failure. As late as 1:00 a.m. on Inauguration Day, he was still haggling with FDR on the telephone about the banking crisis. In late morning, they rode in uncomfortable silence to the Capitol. Hoover’s brilliant understanding of complex issues had brought him and the country nothing. For more than three years, since the aftermath of the stock market crash, he had been sullen and defensive as disease spread through the American economy.

As frightening as life had become since the Great Depression began, this was the bottom, though no one knew that at the time. The official national unemployment rate stood at 25 percent, but that figure was widely considered to be low. Among non-farm workers, unemployment was more than 37 percent, and in some areas, like Toledo, Ohio, it reached 80 percent. Business investment was down 90 percent from 1929. Per capita real income was lower than three decades earlier, at the turn of the century. If you were unfortunate enough to have put your money in a bank that went bust, you were wiped out. With no idea whether any banks would reopen, millions of people hid their few remaining assets under their mattresses, where no one could steal them at night without a fight. The savings that many Americans had spent a lifetime accumulating were severely depleted or gone, along with 16 million of their jobs. When would they come back? Maybe never. The great British economist John Maynard Keynes was asked by a reporter the previous summer if there were any precedent for what had happened to the world’s economy. He replied yes, it lasted four hundred years and was called the Dark Ages.

Late in 1933, the journalist Earle Looker peered backwards several months to assess the Hobbesian stakes as FDR assumed office: “Capitalism itself was at the point of dissolution. Would men continue to work for profit as our forefathers understood it and as our people now understand it? This was a real question, for money was now useless. Would it be necessary soon to organize our families against the world, to fight, physically, for food, to keep shelter, to hold possessions?”

Even two generations later, the terror remained indelible for those who experienced it. “It was just as traumatic as Pearl Harbor or the destruction of the Twin Towers,” the scholar Richard E. Neustadt, who was a teenager at the time, recalled. “It wasn’t on television, but the banks were failing everywhere, so you didn’t need television to see what was going on.”

Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address had begun the process of restoring hope, but not everyone caught the new mood right away. The press coverage that morning largely downplayed or ignored FDR’s line: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The New York Times and most other newspapers relegated the line to their inside pages, while focusing instead on the vivid wartime allusions he employed five times during his speech – martial metaphors that suggested that there was, in fact, plenty to fear after all. The greatest applause from the large crowd on the east side of the Capitol came when Roosevelt said that if his rescue program was not quickly approved: “I shall ask Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis: broad executive power to wage war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.”

The United States had not been “invaded by a foreign foe” since 1812, but this felt like it. Arthur Krock of the Times compared the mood in Washington on Inauguration Day to “a beleaguered capital in wartime.” For the first time since the Civil War, armed men patrolled the entrances to federal buildings, while machine gunners perched on rooftops. Editors knew that the world war, just thirteen years in the past, had concentrated great power in the hands of Woodrow Wilson’s government. To them it looked as if FDR were proposing the same thing. And so the approving headline FOR DICTATORSHIP IF NECESSARY ran in the New York Herald-Tribune on March 5, with similar notes stuck in the Inauguration coverage of other major papers.

Exactly what was “necessary”? No one knew, including Roosevelt. Even before being sworn in, he had decided on a federal bank “holiday” (a festive term he preferred to Herbert Hoover’s “moratorium”) to give the people who now ran the country a few days to figure out what to do. Then what? Should he assume wartime authority on a temporary basis? Call out the Army to protect banks and maintain order? Mobilize veterans? Unrest was already growing in the farm belt, where mobs had broken up bankruptcy auctions. Four thousand men had occupied the Nebraska statehouse and five thousand stormed Seattle’s county building. The governor of North Carolina predicted a violent revolution, and police in Chicago clubbed teachers who had not been paid all school year. Everywhere, bank runs threatened to turn violent. By the Inaugural weekend, police in nearly every American city were preparing for an onslaught of angry depositors. At least some were certain to be armed.

With so many banks involved, the U.S. Army – including National Guard and Reserve units – might not be large enough to respond. This raised the question of whether the new president should establish a makeshift force of veterans to enforce some kind of martial law. The temptation must have been strong. It hardly seems a coincidence that FDR decided that the first radio speech of his presidency would be specially addressed to a convention of the American Legion, the million-member veterans’ organization co-founded after World War I by his fifth cousin, Theodore Roosevelt.

The short speech was scheduled for that Sunday evening at 11:30 p.m. EST, with all radio networks carrying it live across the country. In preparing for the broadcast, someone in the small Roosevelt inner circle offered the new president a typewritten draft of suggested additions that contained this eye-popping sentence:

As new commander-in-chief under the oath to which you are still bound I reserve to myself the right to command you in any phase of the situation which now confronts us.

This was dictator talk – an explicit power grab. The new president was contemplating his “right” to command World War I veterans – mostly men in their late thirties – who had long since reentered civilian life. It was true that they had sworn an oath to the United States on entering military service and that the 1919 founding document of the American Legion pledged members to help “maintain law and order” and show “devotion to mutual helpfulness.” But the commander in chief had no power over them. Here Roosevelt would be poised to mobilize hundreds of thousands of unemployed and desperate men by decree, apparently to guard banks or put down rebellions or do anything else he wished during “any phase” of the crisis, with the insistence that they were dutybound to obey his concocted “command.”

That word – “dictator” – had been in the air for weeks, endorsed vaguely as a remedy for the Depression by establishment figures ranging from the owners of the New York Daily News, the nation’s largest circulation newspaper, to Walter Lippmann, the eminent columnist who spoke for the American political elite. “The situation is critical, Franklin. You may have no alternative but to assume dictatorial powers,” Lippmann had told FDR during a visit to Warm Springs on February 1, before the crisis escalated. Alfred E. Smith, the Democratic nominee for president in 1928, recalled with some exaggeration that “during the World War we wrapped the Constitution in a piece of paper, put it on the shelf and left it there until the war was over.” The Depression, Smith concluded, was a similar “state of war.” Even Eleanor Roosevelt, more liberal than her husband, privately suggested that a “benevolent dictator” might be what the country needed. The vague idea was not a police state but deference to a strong leader unfettered by Congress or the other inconveniences of democracy. Amid the crisis, the specifics didn’t go beyond more faith in government by fiat.

Within a few years, “dictator” would carry sinister tones, but – hard as it is to believe now – the word had a reassuring ring that season. So did “storm troopers,” used by one admiring author to describe foot soldiers of the early New Deal, and “concentration camps,” a generic term routinely applied to the work camps of the Civilian Conservation Corps that would be established by summer across the country. After all, the Italian Fascist Benito Mussolini, in power for a decade, had ginned up the Italian economy and was popular with everyone from Winston Churchill to Will Rogers to Lowell Thomas, America’s most influential broadcaster. “If ever this country needed a Mussolini, it needs one now,” said Senator David Reed of Pennsylvania, outgoing President Hoover’s closest friend on Capitol Hill. The speech draft prepared for FDR brought to mind Mussolini addressing his black-shirt followers, many of whom were demobilized veterans who joined Il Duce’s private army.

Roosevelt came to office just as the appetite for strong leadership seemed to be surging worldwide. For Americans, German chancellor Adolf Hitler was worrying but new, his leadership to be ratified in a legal election held across Germany that very day, March 5. While Hitler was already seen in the United States as a reckless buffoon, almost no one in the country yet focused on the threat posed by fascism.

The most powerful American publisher, William Randolph Hearst, seemed to favor dictatorship. The Hearst empire extended to Hollywood, where Hearst that winter had personally supervised the filming of an upcoming hit movie called Gabriel Over the White House that was meant to instruct FDR and prepare the public for a dictatorship. The movie’s hero is a president played by Walter Huston who dissolves Congress, creates an army of the unemployed, and lines up his enemies before a firing squad. FDR not only saw an advance screening of the film, he offered ideas for script rewrites and wrote Hearst from the White House that he thought it would help the country.

“There was a thunder in the air as when the Fascisti marched upon Rome,” wrote one journalist close to the Roosevelt camp, of the fevered climate that chilly March weekend. “It was the same tension that quivered about the Kremlin at the beginning of the Five Year Plan. Insiders thought there was to be a peaceful revolution involving a dictatorship.”

FDR knew the consequences of failing to seize the day. A visitor – unidentified in the press – came to him not long after the Inauguration and told him, “Mr. President, if your program succeeds, you’ll be the greatest president in American history. If it fails, you will be the worst one.” “If it fails,” the new president replied, “I’ll be the last one.”

This sounds melodramatic to Americans in the 21st century, when freedom is flourishing in so many parts of the world. But during the 1930s, democracy was on the run, discredited even by subtle minds as a hopelessly cumbersome way to meet the challenges of the modern age. At the time, history offered little precedent for a leader taking power amidst a severe military or economic crisis without seizing more authority for himself. The few republics ever established – from ancient times to modern Europe – had eventually bent before such demands. So did the American system. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and twisted the Constitution in order to save the nation.

But on March 5, 1933, an astonishing thing happened – or more precisely, did not happen. The draft of that American Legion radio address was destined not for the ears of millions of veterans and other Americans, but for nothing more than the speech files of the Roosevelt Library, where it lay unexamined for more than seventy years. The five-minute speech that FDR delivered that night built on the military tone of the Inaugural. He argued for the “sacrifice and devotion” of wartime and noted that it was “a mistake to assume that the virtues of war differ essentially from the virtues of peace.” But there was no hint of the need for a private army.

No one knows who wrote the unused draft or why FDR discarded the suggested additions, but something inside the man kept him from moving in an extraconstitutional direction. Some combination of personal and democratic conviction set him on a different course, at once more traditional and bold. This most pragmatic of modern American presidents sensed the unworkable nature of untrammeled power, even in the hands of the only person he completely trusted – himself.

In the days ahead, FDR moved in the opposite direction, passing the word on Capitol Hill that he did not believe in a constitutional dictatorship and asking his friend Felix Frankfurter to tell Lippmann to stop hawking dictatorship and disrespect of Congress in his columns. It was not as if Roosevelt was letting the cup pass; for the next twelve years, he would fully exploit the authority of the presidency, sometimes overreaching to the point where his enemies accused him of becoming a dictator. He would flirt with fascistic (or at least corporatist) ideas like the National Recovery Administration and in 1937 try to pack the Supreme Court. But even then, he would do so in the context of democracy, without private armies or government-by-decree. Even at his worst, he would eventually submit his schemes for the approval of Congress. Instead of coercion, he chose persuasion; instead of drawing the sword, he would draw on his own character and political instincts. He would draw, too, on the subconscious metaphor of his own physical condition. Although it was only rarely mentioned in the press, the American people knew at the time that he had polio (though not the extent of his disability) and it bound them to him in ways that were no less powerful for being unspoken: If he could rise from his paralysis, then so could they.

“The Defining Moment” By Jonathan Alter Reminds Us What Makes A Leader

The night that President Roosevelt was sworn into office in 1933  Bing Crosby was performing a concert in New Jersey.  At the concert a  seventeen-year-old  boy and his date cuddled and listened to the crooner.  Years later the boy would say that concert made him aware he wanted to go into show business.  The world would come to know him as Frank Sinatra.

During the first week of President Roosevelt’s  time in office he showed up at the door of retired Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.  During the months before being sworn into office FDR had extended an invite to President Hoover to pay a visit and was told in very icy terms that “the President calls on no man.”  To show that Hoover was priggish, and that the affable and social Roosevelt was not above driving to the home of another he arrived at Holmes door late on the afternoon of March 8th.  The tone in Washington changed when these signals were sent through the newspapers.  The days of President Hoover were over.  It was so obvious that even Hoover would come to understand.

Pick this book up and be lulled back to the days when most of the states had closed their banks, President Hoover was calling over and over on the president-elect to join him in this or that ‘plan’, some powerful men were calling for a dictatorship to ease the nation’s ills, and Eleanor just wanted to curl up and cry instead of going to Washington.  With that as a backdrop FDR put his hand around the arm of his son James, and willed himself to ‘walk’ to the podium where he took the oath.  He was the first man ever to recite the words back to the justice instead of just saying  “I do.”  When sworn into office FDR turned and faced the country that was falling apart. 

There are countless stories that unfold in the pages of “The Defining Moment” by Jonathan Alter.  The book has two themes rolled into one.  The reader is provided an examination of that combination of skills and inner strengths which allowed President Roosevelt to make such a dramatic impact on the nation during the first 100 days of his time in office.   Though the book is advertised as examining the first 100 days, half of the text is leading the reader to the inauguration.  I must say there was a drawback for me to this way of writing the book.  As a history buff and heavy reader much of the material was already known.  The saving grace was that Alter writes with a tenseness about the depression, and the fragility of the very fabric of the nation, that it allowed me to finish the book.  Had there been less skill in writing, or had I less respect for Alter, I might have placed the book on the shelf half-way through.

That is not to say I would not recommend it.  In fact I do, as I am not in the mainstream when it comes to reading history.  For the average reader of American history, and of the FDR White House, then by all means this is a most worthy book.    There were some historical finer points that are incorrect, and that does at times make the reader wince.  I noticed that Senator Clark was listed from the wrong state, but I chalk that up to the editor, and not the writer.  For those who think I am being soft on Alter for this lapse, I add that when it comes to historical narratives I have always placed such errors at the same feet.

The version of FDR that emerges in Alter’s book is human.  At times all too human as we witness the manipulating side of the man, the ‘trimmer’, the opportunist.  But by the time the book concludes, and from what we already know of history, it is these characteristics, or perhaps a better word to use is skills, that allow for a master politician to work.  In 1933 would the nation have wanted anything less?  The lesson on what makes for a leader is one that all generations need to be reminded.   This book is great at reminding us all of what it takes to make a political game-changer in America.

Summer Blooms In Spite Of Rain Showers

The sun peeks its head out, then the clouds roll in with showers.  Through it all the flowers beam while the bees continue to work.


Relations Between Turkey And Israel Hit Rock Bottom

It is easy to understand why the relations between Turkey and Israel are strained to the degree they are, given what has happened over the past weeks.  The question remains as to how sour things will get, and who will step into the breach to repair the damages.  Clearly, Israel needs to extend the first hand and deliver an apology.  Barring that first step it seems this international falling out will continue for some time.

Turkey has for the first time threatened to break diplomatic ties with Israel over its raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May.

Turkey’s foreign minister said a break could only be averted if Israel either apologised or accepted the outcome of an international inquiry into the raid.

The Israeli government said it had nothing to apologise for.

Ankara curtailed diplomatic relations with Israel after the naval raid, in which nine Turks were killed.

Turkey – which until recently was Israel’s most important Muslim ally – withdrew its ambassador and demanded that the Israelis issue an apology, agree to a United Nations inquiry and compensate the victims’ families.

 Turkish foreign ministry official told the BBC relations with Israel had hit rock bottom, but Ankara would not rush into cutting ties.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey would be satisfied with the ongoing Israeli inquiry if that found Israel to be at fault.

Mr Davutoglu told Hurriyet newspaper: “[The Israelis] will either apologise or acknowledge an international, impartial inquiry and its conclusion. Otherwise, our diplomatic ties will be cut off.”

He also said there was now a blanket ban in place on all Israeli military aircraft using Turkish airspace, not just on a case-by-case basis.

It comes just five days after a surprise meeting between Mr Davutoglu and Israeli Trade Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer in Switzerland.

Reacting to the Turkish stance, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “We don’t have any intention to apologise.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP news agency: “When you want want an apology, you don’t use threats or ultimatums.”

One might also add that when a nation such as Israel wants to live in the international community of nations they can not act in the fashion they so often do.