John Dean Recalled Gordon Liddy During UW-Madison Law School Speech

G Gordon Liddy in 1977 after his release from prison: he had served four years of a 20-year sentence for conspiracy, burglary and illegal wiretapping CREDIT: FRED R CONRAD/NYTNS/REDUX/EYEVINE

As a Richard Nixon history buff, I would be remiss if not commenting about the death of G. Gordon Liddy. It was, after all, his character, or lack thereof, which dealt one of the harshest blows to the Nixon White House. He masterminded dirty tricks and created the upside-down burglary in the Watergate complex. Others were also more than complicit in a series of crimes and attempts to undermine the law, but Liddy holds a special place for being ruthless. I have always questioned if he had a moral anchor. He seemed to relish in the wildly absurd, without a care about the institutions of the nation that were being damaged.

As my mind flashed back over the decades of Nixon, Watergate, and the newly departed I landed on a memory from 2013. John Dean—yes, that one–spoke at the UW-Madison Law School. I attended and was really pleased to have first-hand proximity to a central figure from a chapter of history that simply enthralls me. He was White House Counsel for President Richard Nixon from July 1970 until April 1973 and would be found guilty of a single felony of obstructing justice.

John Dean October 2013 at UW Madison Law School Credit: Gregory Humphrey

As John Dean started his presentation late that afternoon the lady introducing him had a typical-sized microphone that she was to hand over for his use.  Dean grinned, and said he had one attached to his jacket, and “my voice seems to be able to be picked up by small microphones.”

That set the tone for the time he was on stage. By being smart, agile with words, and comfortable in his own skin Dean held everyone’s attention.

Recounting Watergate to an audience that was largely older and informed made for some of the events in the mid-1970s seem almost a comedy routine.  If it all had not been so serious it might have made for a slap-stick movie.

Using a power-point style of presentation Dean showed a picture of the desk in the Watergate complex.  It was when he said this was the sight where the burglars were crouched while wearing suits and plastic gloves that made the audience break into laughter.  The fact they had large amounts of cash on them, and tell-tale signs that led them to people who worked in, or were connected with the White House, made it seem even more illogical.  No matter how many times the story is told it still seems utterly absurd.

No one could hold back, however, when Gordon Liddy was referred to by Dean as someone “not up to the Maxwell Smart test.”   

Dean concluded his remarks on a tougher and more biting topic. It was the fact that at least 21 lawyers were on the wrong side of the law in the Nixon Watergate mess that should be a prime lesson recalled about that entire episode. The reason for the high numbers of otherwise smart men being pulled so far astray, Dean noted, came down to incompetence, the arrogance of the law, and too much loyalty to President Nixon

Liddy was one of those lawyers.

I do wish to leave this post on a lighter note about Liddy. Wednesday morning on NPR someone quipped a person has to be over 60 to recall Liddy as the mastermind of the Watergate break-in, let alone that he held his hand over a flame. So the last memory from Liddy is that be made some of us feel old(er)!

Madison City Council Needs Mara Eisch, And Others Who Strive For Independence, Smart Ideas

As the days narrow towards the April Election, where a number of Madison City Council elections will be decided, I suggest voters think about more than just a particular race or candidate. It is just as important to look at the big picture about what is happening to the process of governing in our city. By seeing those larger needs we can make smarter choices in our local aldermanic election.

It should deeply concern us at the local level to learn that organizations such as Progressive Dane and the Greens require candidates to sign a pledge that they will support their platform 100%. That is what they require to get an endorsement. In other words, a candidate needs to integrate the platform of a special interest into their campaign and prove fealty to it. In one case, a group actually requires the candidate to assign a campaign liaison to them.

I am not sure where the average tax-paying homeowner who cares about the environment and social values are supposed to stand in comparison to the powerful groups who demand purity. All we can hope for, and work for, are those candidates brave enough, and yes, smart enough to not play into the political games now underway.

People simply must understand what these groups are engaged in, and grasp the fact they are no better than those we scorn on a national level. Recall how we feel when a Republican member of Congress faces a harsh primary all due to having the temerity to seek a working compromise with a Democrat. On an issue that would benefit all citizens! Groups like PD have no shortage of great rhetoric and lifting themes in public, but use the same tactics and troubling maneuvers just like the opponent they claim to be so unlike.

I have posted many, many times that passion in politics without pragmatism is the greatest pitfall when governing. And we see from the local elections that activists and extremists are making that point as it is clear they are attempting to shut down the middle segment of the city–a segment I should not need to add–where most of us reside.

Mara Eisch is one such example of independence and breath of hope for our city as she seeks election in the 10th aldermanic district. In fact, the reason I decided to post about her candidacy is due to the fact she had the needs of her voters in mind, as opposed to seeking the smoothest route to an election win. She correctly refused to fill in the questionnaires from those groups, not because she is not aligned with much or even most of their agenda, but knows her first duty, if elected is to have the ability and freedom to achieve what her district wants and needs. How dare some outside organization try to curtail or limit her effectiveness all in the name of purity for their causes.

It needs to be noted that Eisch did not need to sign a statement or give up her right to forge working compromises when she received the Wisconsin State Journal endorsement, or the police department endorsement. I can not imagine a candidate ever being able to stand in front of a mirror to shave, comb hair, or brush their teeth knowing they had made a solid commitment to a group that would silence their voice and temper their actions once elected. No victory is worth that price, and we need to ask why would any candidate seek to be controlled by outside interests?

This city has some truly important issues that demand independent and credible decision-makers be seated in the council chambers. (I am confident that Zoom meetings will end for this body as the pandemic wanes.) Topics from removing neighborhood impact in regards to development projects, or pushing spending (borrowing) to the point that sound fiscal policy is called into question are but two that must be addressed.

This city needs pragmatic leaders and determined independent voices–like Eisch–who are not obligated to anyone other than the voters who cast the ballots. A rather common-sense approach to governing, if you ask me.

And, I strongly suspect, one that the vast middle section of the city would also be in agreement with, too.

Therefore, it is incumbent that the sensible ones who care about our city and future ramp up our efforts and make sure calm and reasoned candidates are elected. We can leave the shouters and chaos for Washington. Madison, instead, should demonstrate how policy-minded folks can create a better place to live, and a stronger society.

And so it goes.

LGBTQ Americans Deserve Protected Class Status, Now Major Lawsuit

In the midst of COVID vaccination shots having taken the top slot on many national newscasts, it might be easy to understand how many Americans missed a significant action taken earlier this year by the House of Representatives. The Equality Act was passed in February, and though it has a steep climb for passage in the Senate it has again made news this week.

The bill would amend federal law, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing Act, to explicitly include anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans. If you are gay, or have ever talked to anyone who is, it will come as no surprise as to why this legislation was crafted, or why it needs to be passed. The same holds true for transgender people. Without doubt, this bill would provide the strongest legal protections for LGBTQ Americans in history.

Why does this matter? Lets us take just one example which made for a newspaper report this week.

Elizabeth Hunter says she became suicidal after Bob Jones University administrators grilled the former student about her sexuality for tweeting “happy Pride” and writing a book with lesbian characters. She was fined, sent to anti-gay counseling and removed from her job at the campus TV station. Veronica Penales says she’s told officials at Baylor University, where she is a sophomore, that people leave anti-gay notes on her door, but they don’t investigate. Lucas Wilson said he graduated from Liberty University with “a profound sense of shame” after being encouraged to go to conversion therapy.

This would not be allowed to happen to any other minority student. As such, it is more stark examples of the lack of safety and justice for the full LGBTQ community. And this type of outlandish activity occurs continuously, without a remedy.

The bill has gained steam in the past years with 70% of Americans supporting the Equality Act as of Dec. 2020. The polling data comes from GQR and the Human Rights Campaign. That poll shows support up from 65% of voters who supported the legislation in 2018.

The bill passed largely on a party-line vote, with President Biden expressly stating he would sign it if it made its way to his desk. But first, it needs to get past the political party in the Senate that still can not understand gay people are in every family–Blue ones and Red ones. The usual religious organizations have chimed in with their ‘one-note Charlie’ arguments and that is where things have stood since last month.

Until this week.

It was reported that students from 25 religiously-affiliated colleges and universities have filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the schools are unconstitutionally discriminating against students in the LGBTQ community, It lists 33 students as plaintiffs.

The lawsuit specifically takes aim at a religious exemption clause in Title IX schools have used to continue with discriminatory practices. The schools, which receive government funding, have been using the exemption clause to evade an executive order Biden signed on his first day in office, which was aimed at “preventing and combating discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

The political calculators are watching now how religious groups are talking with civil rights groups and gay rights groups to lobby for a religious exemption to be explicitly included in the Equality Act. But there is no way to pretend that deep concerns are not most evident and proving as to all why a remedy must be obtained.

The suit injects dozens of personal experiences into a debate about religious liberty and ­LGBTQ rights that’s often been more legalistic. It seeks to put individual faces and names on an aspect of Equality Act debate that doesn’t get much attention — students at conservative Christian schools.

It cites a gay ICU nurse who said he was admitted to a graduate nursing program, sold his car, left his old job and was days away from starting school when he was allegedly told his admission was rescinded because he is engaged to a man. “A grown man with a successful career, loving family and fiancé, [he] went into his closet, curled up in a ball and cried,” the suit says. It cites a queer student who recalls being regularly called slurs on a Christian school’s campus and is afraid to walk at night alone. According to the suit, that person is often subject to disciplinary action for wearing feminine-style clothing. Another said he was fired as a resident assistant and then kicked out of school for being openly bisexual.

I look at my calendar and it reads 2021. It should not only read that way, but feel like that, too. It is imperative this bill become law.

President Barack Obama’s Grandmother Dies

This note today from President Obama.

“My family and I are mourning the loss of our beloved grandmother, Sarah Ogwel Onyango Obama, affectionately known to many as “Mama Sarah” but known to us as “Dani” or Granny. Born in the first quarter of the last century, in Nyanza Province, on the shores of Lake Victoria, she had no formal schooling, and in the ways of her tribe, she was married off to a much older man while only a teen. She would spend the rest of her life in the tiny village of Alego, in a small home built of mud-and thatch brick and without electricity or indoor plumbing. There she raised eight children, tended to her goats and chickens, grew an assortment of crops, and took what the family didn’t use to sell at the local open-air market.

Although not his birth mother, Granny would raise my father as her own, and it was in part thanks to her love and encouragement that he was able to defy the odds and do well enough in school to get a scholarship to attend an American university. When our family had difficulties, her homestead was a refuge for her children and grandchildren, and her presence was a constant, stabilizing force. When I first traveled to Kenya to learn more about my heritage and father, who had passed away by then, it was Granny who served as a bridge to the past, and it was her stories that helped fill a void in my heart.

During the course of her life, Granny would witness epochal changes taking place around the globe: world war, liberation movements, moon landings, and the advent of the computer age. She would live to fly on jets, receive visitors from around the world, and see one of her grandsons get elected to the United States presidency. And yet her essential spirit—strong, proud, hard-working, unimpressed with conventional marks of status and full of common sense and good humor—never changed.”

Biden Leadership On Border Issue

Leadership qualities of public officials become most clear when issues demand a response that is both effective and just. The migrant children at the southern border are the headline-grabbing example of which I write. President Biden is the one making the point about such leadership. He did so emphatically during last week’s White House Press Conference.

The only people we’re not going to let sitting there on the other side of the Rio Grande by themselves with no help are children.

And then minutes later he added this statement.

Well, look, the idea that I’m going to say — which I would never do — “if an unaccompanied child ends up at the border, we’re just going to let him starve to death and stay on the other side” — no previous administration did that either, except Trump. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it.

It does not take anyone more than 30 seconds to see the way those who oppose migrants, those who oppose Democrats, and even more so those who oppose an elected Democratic president will play this issue. Biden knows full well the level of opposition that will gain steam and get much louder over the border issue. But standing up to such predictable reactions also is a part of being a leader.

But here is the fact to not forget.

The border issue does not boil down neatly to political rhetoric or find a resolution in policies that were aimed at only increasing the level of misery to a point that fewer would wish to attempt entry to the nation. If that were a workable policy the past four years would be viewed as a smashing success. But we know that time produced a colossal mess.

This weekend The New Yorker has a tremendous column by Jonathan Blitzer that hits on some points that are central to grasping the ‘lay of the land’ and how leadership will be required from the White House moving forward. Three fast paragraphs of that column are below.

Biden faces another burden: by the time Trump left office, he had effectively ended the practice of asylum and left the most vulnerable people to their own devices. Some seventy thousand asylum seekers were forced to wait indefinitely in Mexico, under a policy called the Migrant Protection Protocols. Trump also, in the name of a dubious public-health order issued last March, turned away nearly everyone who sought asylum at the border, including some sixteen thousand children and thirty-four thousand families. That order had the perverse effect of leading people to try to cross multiple times; in the past year, there have been more than five hundred thousand expulsions. Biden planned to phase the asylum program back in gradually, partly for operational reasons and partly for political ones. If the Administration appeared to be floundering, it would give Republicans an opening to attack its broader agenda, which includes legislation to expand the legal immigration system and to provide a path to citizenship for eleven million undocumented immigrants already living in this country.

The number of unaccompanied children, however, has exceeded the government’s ability to move them into the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for placing them with family sponsors. The priority is to keep them from languishing in the holding cells run by the Department of Homeland Security; by law, children are not supposed to be in such facilities for more than seventy-two hours. But the H.H.S. shelters are almost at capacity. Nine emergency shelters have been set up, two in convention centers in Dallas and San Diego, yet the average amount of time that many children are spending in D.H.S. facilities is almost twice the legal limit. “We’re providing for the space again to be able to get these kids out,” Biden said on Thursday, adding that he had “used all the resources available” to free up five thousand more beds, at a Texas military base.

The Administration has rightly said that the problem needs to be addressed at the source. To do that, it intends to provide more aid to Central America, and to target it in ways that circumvent corrupt officials. The White House also wants to restart a program begun under Obama, and ended by Trump, to process children as refugees in their home countries, and to set up regional facilities to expedite their legal claims before the children reach the border. The plans are ambitious and still largely untested, and, as Biden admitted, they will take time—years, not months—to implement.

Part of the leadership demands now upon Biden is to make sure the communications efforts from the White House are at their peak performance as it is a requirement for the facts of the border issue to be as robust as the partisan sniping from Republicans.

And I have one more thought on this matter, which is a moral one at the border.

It is imperative that Biden and his fellow Democrats remain resolved to defend the interests of these children. It would be unacceptable to allow the unprincipled Republicans (Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson to name but two) who regard politics, rather than responsible governing, to in any way succeed.

This fight is about our ideals as a nation. Such a fight demands leadership, of the type Biden brings to his office.

And so it goes.

Katherine Graham, Finally

On Friday night I started a book that has been on my reading list for years. As I love books about newspapers and history this one has many varying aspects in which I am most interested. (The tidbits about Alice Roosevelt Longworth are already being offered…and I adore her!) Throw in a strong, smart, and determined newspaperwoman who we all ‘knew’ over the years and it has been a great choice for a read.

I am a bit surprised how emotionally removed Katherine Graham’s mother was from the child-rearing part of life, and how her dad, in his own way, was much the same. It struck me how, as a teenager, she needed to find her own answers about a host of things. Plenty of family money, but not lots of family. It almost hurts at times with certain paragraphs.

I am to the part of the book where the family has bought the Washington Post. (Let the intrigue begin!)

Here is the awkward child who grew up amid material wealth and emotional isolation; the young bride who watched her brilliant, charismatic husband—a confidant to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson—plunge into the mental illness that would culminate in his suicide. And here is the widow who shook off her grief and insecurity to take on a president and a pressman’s union as she entered the profane boys’ club of the newspaper business.

When Talking To Far-Right Is Meaningless

Among the many comments on this site’s Facebook page regarding President Biden’s press conference was the one from Jim Miller Jr. from Comstock, Michigan. His words might even be the epitome of the way the far-right communicates and thinks.

“A complete disgrace, well and least we are giving the rest of the world a good laugh, and they see how weak joe is…”

I responded that “he was strong enough to send the self-admitted sexual predator, and three-time married, porn-loving sex-paying, tax-evading grifter off to pasture…..he is my type of ‘weak guy’!”

The comments from Trump supporters and conservatives regarding the conference proved that political tribalism is very much alive. Even when the facts, words, and sights from the White House clearly demonstrated the opposite of what they say and purport to think. It is as if they were not even watching the same live feed from the East Room of the White House as the rest of the nation.

I have watched these types of press conferences since President Ford was in office. I know many of my readers can say much the same. We know what took place this week was akin to what this nation has long known, with the exception of the distance between reporters due to the pandemic. Therefore, it was most refreshing to see and hear the substance of the questions and responses, the decorum, the respect for the process of reporters doing their job, and the President his. There was no bombast, crude remarks, or asking a person of color in the press to set up a meeting with the same skin-toned people in Congress.

Apart from the comments at the start of this post I have, over time, attempted to have a dialogue with some FB readers who I felt were able or willing to engage in ideas. I have learned, however, that too many have one salvo in their keyboard and no factual basis on which to have made it. Social media is not a college classroom with fact-based reasoning grounding it. My Caffeinated Politics FB page is at least a decade old and what I see, more than not from conservatives bodes horribly for those liberals and moderates who think having a rational discussion with anyone on the far right is possible.

I have tried over the past number of years, through books and conversations, to understand what has happened to a sizable segment of the nation who discarded facts and let political anger chart their path. Anger with the Chinese, Brown people at the border, transgenders, anger at ‘the other’. I have no more real insight about why that happened now than when I started my attempt to learn. The only constant in my time with this subject is the growing sense of how many of these conservatives and Trump supporters are lacking self-awareness.

In my world, and throughout the pages of history which I love to read, one truth is most pronounced. Political discussion requires reasoned discourse. When there is no way to connect with facts, or logic it becomes impossible to have a conversation. And in a republic that is potentially dangerous to our very governing foundation.

And so it goes.

Biden Press Conference Refreshing For Facts, Empathy, Calm

If I were to write a short summation of President Biden’s hour-long press conference it would be as follows.

Fact-filled, lengthy, multi-issued, empathetic press conference…and no rudeness or bombast. Refreshing.

I suspect the nation will view it that way, too. Getting back to having mature, reasoned, and experienced hands on the reins of government are a good look for the world’s superpower. During the first press briefing of his presidency, Biden handled a variety of topics from his administration’s US-Mexico border response, gun control, and COVID-19.

But it was when Biden talked about the need to protect children at the border, and the thinking process which any family would undertake when sending loved ones on a long journey just to reach the border was when he proved to be the antithesis of the previous one in the White House. The regard Biden has for the least among us has long been a reason I have championed his career over the decades. His calm, reflective, and human nature was clear for all to see from the East Room.

The nation’s migration policies were upended by Donald Trump with new and purely racist ones implemented starting in 2017. Those policies did not end the numbers of migrants who came to the border over the past four years, just made the human misery deeper. Having children huddled on the other side of the Rio Grande is not a moral policy.

“He (Trump) in fact shut down the number of beds available. He did not fund HHS to get the children out of those border patrol facilities where they should not be.”

“He dismantled all that.”

We now have a moral leader in the White House.

The other issue that reached out to me was when Biden answered a reporter’s question that dealt with voting rights in the nation.

It’s sick. It’s sick” he stated as he then cited examples of some states proposing restrictions on bringing water to people standing in line waiting to vote, or to prohibit absentee ballots even under the most rigid of circumstances. Or shutting down voting at 5 PM when workers get off their jobs.

This White House press conference was akin to what this nation has long known, with the exception of the distance between reporters due to the pandemic. But the substance of the questions and responses, the decorum, the respect for the process of reporters doing their job and the President his, was so refreshing. There was no bombast or crude remarks or needless chaos.

Joe Biden was just doing what we elected him to do.

Be President.