Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Donbaas tableau

~  It was a lovely,  sunny,  autumn day,

with spiderwebs  flying about in the air like snow. ~

-- Khrushchev Remembers (Eng. translation 1970), p. 458

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Is the Administration about to fragment into smithereens?

The time:  August, 1963.   Trouble in Camelot.

Kennedy’s Vietnam crisis was still secret for the moment, but it seemed far more dangerous to him.  “My God!  My government’s coming apart!” Kennedy told Charlie Bartlett.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 567


And thus we come to the end of our little series of historiographic finger-exercises, a trip down (repressed-)memory lane.   The upshot is (in the words of the sage):

Nihil  sub sole   novum.

Is the President a randy old goat?

JFK’s sexual peccadilloes, which continued when he entered the White House, were unknown to the public at the time, but today are all too depressing common knowledge.  So there is no point to disinterring any of that.  Just one pharmacological side-point, though.

Another grave set of facts, likewise occult from the public at the time, and latterly in full exposure, were the lavish injections the President was getting.  From one doctor:

She was injecting her novocaine mixtures into the Presidents’ back  as often as five and six times a day… [And from another doctor:] corticosteroid injections and time-release capsules  implanted in his thigh.  The corticosteroids gave him a rush, a feeling  for a while  that he was ready to take on the world… He got the same surge and more from the amphetamines.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 242-3

All that came at a chilling price:

The side effects of those treatments were more dangerous:  an exaggerated sense of power and capabilities, and the debilitating symptoms of classic paranoid schizophrenia, then slow death by poisoning.
-- id, p. 243

More telling  in the present connection, is this less dramatic speculation:

Another possible side effect  was heightened sexual desire;  but there were those, many of them, who said that Kennedy, like his father before him, had that  long before he had Addison’s.
-- id.


Rather against our practice  hitherto in this series of retrospective parallels, we shall (obliquely and fleetingly) allude to allegations -- quite possibly overinflated -- surrounding a more contemporary figure on the public stage:  a certain New York real-estage magnate, impressario, and what-all else.   An apparently well-researched and even-handed appreciation, recently published by Messers.  Kranish & Fisher, reaches conclusions  at variance with the invidious narrative being peddled elsewhere:

He spoke publically about his relationships, as if his randy reputation  would enhance his popularity.  [Yet] his relationships with women  rarely seemed romantic or even libidinous. …  In his bestsellling books, [he] cast himself as the irresistible lust object:  never the groper, always the gropee. ...
For all [his] salacious chatter on the radio, and carefully staged appearances  with models and other beautiful women,  those who spent lots of time with him through the 1990s  described   not an overheated Casanova,  but rather a workaholic  and something of a homebody. 
op cit (2016), p. 154, 167

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Does the Administration leak like a sieve?

26 August 1963 -- a very tense day in U.S. relations with South Vietnam:

The Voice Of America practically broadcast the contents of the Top Secret  Saturday cable,  alerting anyone who was listening  that the United States was ready to abandon Diem and Nhu, and back the generals  talking of overthrowing the government.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 565

Hearing of this, our Ambassador to Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, blew his stack.

Lodge’s anger was directed at the loss of whatever element of surprise there might be in a generals’ coup.  Probably he was deluding himself on that one.  Truck drivers at the tea stalls of Saigon  usually knew more about such things  than the American ambassador.
-- id, p. 566

And in general:

The Pentagon could rip apart any Vietnam policy  with leaks,  true and not so true.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 603

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Does the President demean his aides with “You’re fired!” ?

Not that President; t’other one.
The time is August, 1963.  JFK was annoyed and disgusted with his aide.

After the meeting, Forrestal approached Kennedy  and offered to resign.
You’re not worth firing,” the President said.  “You owe me something, so stick around.”
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 568

Monday, June 19, 2017

Does the President harbor a petty animus against the Press?

American Media and the Kennedy Administration worked hand-in-glove to create the Society-of-the-Spectable image of glamorous Camelot.   Further, even moreso than in the case of the crippled FDR, the media scrupulously hid JFK’s health-problems from the public -- much worse, as he took office, than FDR had at the beginning of his first term:  Had the public been aware of the many physical liabilities they were electing (cf. historian Robert Dallek’s 2002 book, re just how severe these were), that squeaky-close 1960 election might well have broken the other way.
Equally indulgent and gingerly was the media approach to Kennedy’s many flagrant affairs while occupying the Oval Office.   Yet for all that,  they didn’t get a pass from POTUS:

Kennedy … was angry again … He picked up the phone and got Newton Minow, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.  “Did you see that goddamn thing on Huntley-Brinkley?  I thought they were supposed to be our friends.  I want you to do something about that.  You do something about that.”
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 300

(That final implied threat, and its prose style, incidentally recalls that of Mafia dons.)

“The fucking Herald Tribune is at it again,” Kennedy said that morning in an angry telephone call to his press secretary.  Then he canceled the twenty-two Trib subscriptions  that came to the White House each morning.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 300

(One suspects, incidentally, that that last fit of pique, meant only that some hapless aide would have to drag himself early out of bed each morning, and drive off to a newsstand, to purchase 22 copies.)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Does the President welsh on his debts?

(We continue with our march down memory lane;  as for current events, just flip on the teevee.)

While President, Kennedy attended Sunday Mass, accompanied by an aide.  When the collection plate came round, he would turn to the aide  and touch him for a tenner,  then put it in the plate.  And never pay it back.

And not in church only.  According to Richard Reeves (President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993)), JFK wore trim tailored suits, and didn’t want to spoil the lines with the vulgar bulge of a wallet  (a certain other bulge, he did indulge in).  So spontaneous minor purchases in the field  always fell to his minions, who simply had to swallow the expense.


To the student of psychology, the odd thing is, that these penny-ante infractions  were in no way motivated by avarice.  Remarkably (again according to Reeves), Kennedy had been donating his public-service salary to charities, ever since he was a Senator, and into his Presidency.  And this, not by way of political virtue-signaling, but sub rosa, as the Bible recommends.   Not even his wife was in on the secret.
Until, one day, Jackie learned of what was going on, and blew her top:  there were plenty of extra luxuries she could think of that she would like very much, thank-you-very-much.

Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît pas….

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Does the President lie through his teeth?

(Again, not this one; that one.)

January 1962 -- the silent escalation.

“Mr President, are American troops now in combat in Vietnam?”
That was not true.  Vietnamese pilots sat next to the Americans so than any U.S. casualties could be announced as accidents on training missions.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 280

A thin entering wedge.  The rest is history.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Does POTUS despise those he courted during the campaign?

No no, not the current guy -- the one campaigning in 1960:

Happy farmers were not a principal Kennedy goal.  … After his agricultural speech … at the South Dakota State Fair, he had remarked to Richard Goodwin:
“Well, that’s over.  Fuck the farmers after November.”
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 277

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Do those who prepare the PDBs, labor in vain, to penetrate the Presidential bubble?

Some Presidents (like Obama) have been very open to detailed factual analysis from the diplomatic corps and the  IC, whereas others (like Clinton) pretty much blew them off.

As to the current situation -- I have nothing to say.  But again, a niblet of history.  The time is October, 1961:

[The US ambassador to Vietnam] concluded that Kennedy relied much more on news reports  and the impressions of intimates, than he did on the yards of cables he sent from the embassy  each day.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 240

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Does the President go slithering through Russian “back channels”?

Once more, no, no reference to current events.   Just a bit of history here.

Dark doings in October of 1961, a time of crisis:

Folded inside the day’s New York Times, Bolshakov carried a twenty-six-page letter from Khrushchev to Kennedy -- a personal letter … Khrushchev proposed that the two leaders deal one-on-one,  using private letters to bypass old bureaucracies …
Khrushchev had written that Kennedy could ignore the letter  and that would be the end of it,  no one would ever know it happened.  But Kennedy answered with ten pages of his own ….
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 238-9

And, after the crisis had been resolved:

There the negotiating stopped,  but the secret personal correspondence  between the leaders  continued,  often in pretty chummy terms.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 456

(In diplomatic history, “back channels” are a traditional and appropriate way of doing business, as are back rooms.)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Do we even effectively have a President?

Again no no -- no reference to current controversies.  The time is July 1961; the speaker is Dean Acheson, President Truman’s Secretary of State, and a member of JFK’s executive committee during the Berlin crisis:

Acheson reacted to mention of Kennedy’s name by saying: “Gentlemen, you might as well face it.  This nation is without leadership."
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p.  196

(This precedent is also relevant to current gossip about “sniping at the President from within his own Administration".)

And, I.F. Stone, writing 1 Sept 1958,  during Eisenhower’s second term:

It is tragic that  just when another irrepressible crisis looms ahead  there should be such a nobody in the White House.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Russian Meddling in the U.S. Presidential Election

No no no, not the Trump/Putin thing -- I know no more about it than you do.  Talking about historical precedents and parallels here.

At their summit on 3 June 1961,  the boss of the USSR told JFK:

“We cast the deciding vote  when you beat that son-of-a-bitch Nixon,” Khrushchev said.
“We waited to release the spy pilots until after the election.  So Nixon could not claim he knew how to deal with the Russians.”
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p.  159

That account closely matches Khrushchev’s own recollections of his first meeting with JFK:

I joked with him that we had cast the deciding ballot in his election to the Presidency ovefr that son-of-a-bitch Richard Nixon.  When he asked me what I meant, I explained that, by waiting to release the U-2 pilot Gary Powers until after the American election, we kept Nixon from being able to claim that he could deal with the Russians:  our ploy made a difference of at least half a million votes, which gave Kennedy the edge he needed.
-- Khrushchev Remembers (Eng. translation 1970), p. 458

The election was indeed a squeaker.   Whether Khrushchev’s move was as helpful to Kennedy as that attributed to Chicago mayor Richard Daley, may never be determined:

Nixon, for one, always believed that Daley’s help included rounding up a few thousand crucial votes, just enough to carry Illinois, from Democrats who had died between presidential elections.
-- Reeves, op. cit., p. 110

Note that something quite similar occurred in 1980, this time  to aid the Republican candidate, when Iran waited to release the U.S. hostages until shortly after Reagan’s election, out of venom for President Carter.  Reagan just smilingly received the credit that he in no way deserved.  (And repaid the favor later, in the kowtowing to Iran and its client Lebanese Hezbollah, in the Iran-Contra affair.)