As part of a longer article about “Steel rain” cluster artillery, John Ismay writes:
The Army’s first generation of artillery cluster shells was born out of the service’s bitter experience facing human wave attacks in the Korean War. A top-secret postwar program at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey raced to create a new generation of weapons it called COFRAM, for Controlled Fragmentation Munition. The idea was to design artillery shells that broke open in midair, dispensing little grenades that exploded in more uniformly sized pieces than earlier munitions did. The key, they found, was to score the inside walls of the grenade body in a crosshatch type of design. (The M67 fragmentation hand grenade still in use today is a direct descendant of the COFRAM program.) By blanketing large areas with smaller munitions, they hoped human wave attacks could be defeated.
These COFRAM munitions stayed largely under wraps until early 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson panicked over the possibility of North Vietnamese forces overrunning the Marine base at Khe Sanh. The president discussed the possibility of using small nuclear weapons with Pentagon leadership to defend the base, but his commander in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, suggested that nukes would not be necessary.
I can’t say I’ve ever read that particular factoid before – that LBJ was prepared to drop a nuclear bomb on Vietnam! I’d heard of rumors of Nixon considering this, but never Johnson. Perhaps I just missed this in all the history I’ve read. Still concerning.
Conan O’Brien, the longest tenured late-night TV host, has had them all in his 25 years on the air. Oscar winners. Hall of Famers. Bowie, Springsteen, McCartney.
But there’s one person who keeps saying no — someone whose work has been a near-obsession for the host for some time.
“At a certain point, I have the power to book a lot of people,” Mr. O’Brien said over dinner at Lucques, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant here. “I’ve been around long enough. There’s a point where you feel like you’ve met everyone. Everyone. And then there’s Robert Caro.”
For years Mr. O’Brien has tried to book the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Power Broker” and the multivolume epic “The Years of Lyndon Johnson.” And for years Mr. Caro has said no.
That’s actually quite funny, especially since I’ve seen Mr. Caro on other talk shows.
Mr. O’Brien was insistent that Mr. Caro’s team has been nothing but polite in sending its regrets. In fact, a few years ago, Mr. O’Brien received a signed copy of “The Path to Power” with the inscription: “To Conan O’Brien. From A Fan — Robert A. Caro.”
The gift only confused matters.
“It just cracks me up,” Mr. O’Brien said. “It’s like the White Whale writing Ahab a note, saying, ‘Hey, man. We’ve got to get together. I’m a fan!’”
Mr. Caro has appeared on other programs over the years, including “The Colbert Report,” “CBS This Morning” and “The Daily Show” in its Jon Stewart iteration. When asked for this article why he had yet to appear on “Conan,” the author said in a statement: “‘Conan’ — You mean it was O’Brien? I thought it was The Barbarian.”
Robert Caro’s LBJ: The Passage of Power
I also can’t wait to read the final installment of his LBJ biography, all the other volumes have been fascinating reading.
Archives – Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library
The BBC has disclosed troubling history of Richard Nixon’s actions during the 1968 election, news I’ve not seen reported elsewhere. I just searched again, and for instance, The New York Times hasn’t mentioned this revelation, nor has The Washington Post, nor The Wall Street Journal. I wonder why? I’m not a conspiracy minded person, but it is a bit ironic that a British paper scooped the American press on a bit of American history.
Anyway, the BBC reports that Richard Nixon definitively sabotaged the peace talks between North and South Vietnam on the eve of the 1968 election by promising the government of Nguyen Van Thieu they would get a better deal if they waited until Nixon won the election. Foolishly, the South Vietnamese took this advice, and the Paris peace talks ended. Of course, the Vietnam War didn’t end for another 5 years, with thousands of U.S. casualties and thousands more Vietnamese casualties needlessly incurred.
There is no two ways about this: Richard Nixon deemed his own election chances more important than his country. Treasonous fuck.
The idea that Johnson might have been the candidate, and not Hubert Humphrey, is just one of the many secrets contained on the White House tapes.
They also shed light on a scandal that, if it had been known at the time, would have sunk the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee, Richard Nixon.
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”.
It begins in the summer of 1968. Nixon feared a breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks designed to find a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam war, and he knew this would derail his campaign.
He therefore set up a clandestine back-channel involving Anna Chennault (born Chen Xiangmei – Chinese: 陳香梅), a senior campaign adviser.
At a July meeting in Nixon’s New York apartment, the South Vietnamese ambassador was told Chennault represented Nixon and spoke for the campaign. If any message needed to be passed to the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, it would come via Chennault.
In late October 1968 there were major concessions from Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris – concessions that would justify Johnson calling for a complete bombing halt of North Vietnam. This was exactly what Nixon feared.
Chennault was despatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal.
So on the eve of his planned announcement of a halt to the bombing, Johnson learned the South Vietnamese were pulling out.
He was also told why. The FBI had bugged the ambassador’s phone and a transcripts of Anna Chennault’s calls were sent to the White House. In one conversation she tells the ambassador to “just hang on through election”.
Johnson was told by Defence Secretary Clifford that the interference was illegal and threatened the chance for peace.
In a series of remarkable White House recordings we can hear Johnson’s reaction to the news.
In one call to Senator Richard Russell he says: “We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, he has been doing it through rather subterranean sources. Mrs Chennault is warning the South Vietnamese not to get pulled into this Johnson move.”
And yet, Johnson never went public with Nixon’s treasonous behavior. I wonder if LBJ had, and the country became understandably outraged, would Nixon have won the election? Probably not as it was so close. Also, would Regan’s team been bold enough to rig the end of the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1980? Also, probably not.
Update, at least one major news outlet has covered the story: Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. She compares Richard Nixon’s treason with the intentional misinformation in the run-up to the Operation for Iraqi Liberation, as the Iraq War was originally called before they realized the joke (O.I.L.) was a bit too obvious.
I have a copy, but haven’t started reading it, yet. The previous volumes have all been ripping yarns, and have high expectations for this one too.
“The Passage of Power,” the fourth installment of Robert Caro’s brilliant series on Lyndon Johnson, spans roughly five years, beginning shortly before the 1960 presidential contest, including the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis and other seminal events of the Kennedy years, and ending a few months after the awful afternoon in Dallas that elevated L.B.J. to the presidency.
…You don’t have to be a policy wonk to marvel at the political skill L.B.J. wielded to resuscitate a bill that seemed doomed to never get a vote on the floor of either chamber. Southern Democrats were masters at bottling up legislation they hated, particularly bills expanding civil rights for black Americans. Their skills at obstruction were so admired that the newly sworn-in Johnson was firmly counseled by an ally against using the political capital he’d inherited as a result of the assassination on such a hopeless cause.
According to Caro, Johnson responded, “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”
This is the question every president must ask and answer. For Lyndon Johnson in the final weeks of 1963, the presidency was for two things: passing a civil rights bill with teeth, to replace the much weaker 1957 law he’d helped to pass as Senate majority leader, and launching the War on Poverty. That neither of these causes was in fact hopeless was clear possibly only to him, as few Americans in our history have matched Johnson’s knowledge of how to move legislation, and legislators.
The historian Alan Brinkley has observed that we will soon enter the fourth decade in which Congress — and therefore government as a whole — has failed to deal with any major national problem, from infrastructure to education. The gridlock isn’t only a function of polarized politics and special interests. There’s also been a gaping leadership deficit.
In Obama’s speech, he kept circling back to a Senate where both parties are dysfunctional. The obstructionist Republicans, he observed, will say no to every single bill “just because they can.” But no less culpable are the Democrats, who maintain “the largest majority in decades” even after losing Teddy Kennedy’s seat — and yet would rather “run for the hills” than accomplish anything.
What does strong Senate leadership look like? That would be L.B.J. in the pre-Kennedy era. Operating with the narrowest of majorities and under an opposition president, he was able to transform a sleepy, seniority-hobbled, regionally polarized debating society into an often-progressive legislative factory. As Robert Caro tells the story in his book “Master of the Senate,” this Senate leader had determination, “a gift for grand strategy,” and a sixth sense for grabbing opportunities for action before they vanished for good. He could recognize “the key that might suddenly unlock votes that had seemed locked forever away” and turn it quickly. The horse trading with recalcitrant senators was often crude and cynical, but the job got done. L.B.J. knew how to reward — and how to punish.
We keep hearing that they just don’t make legislative giants like that anymore. In truth, the long drought has led us to forget what they look like and to define senatorial leadership down. L.B.J.’s current successor, Harry Reid, could be found yawning on camera Wednesday night. He might as well have just taken the whole nap. Here was this leader’s pronouncement last week on the future of the president and his party’s No. 1 priority: “We’re not on health care now. We’ve talked a lot about it in the past.” Yes, a lot of talk — a year’s worth, in fact — with nothing to show for it.
Biggest majority in decades, yet still just as dysfunctional as when the Democratic Party was in the minority. Why do we elect these people anyway?
The only reason I can think of is that the Republican Party is worse. Much worse.
McCain was sneering at Obama because of the Beltway’s newest unquestioned cliché: one year after a new president takes office he is required to stop blaming his predecessor for the calamities left behind. Who dreamed up that canard — Alito? F.D.R. never followed it. In an October 1936 speech1, nearly four years after Hoover, Roosevelt was still railing against the “hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing government” he had inherited. He reminded unemployed and destitute radio listeners that there had been “nine crazy years at the ticker” and “nine mad years of mirage” followed by three long years of bread lines and despair. F.D.R. soon won re-election in the greatest landslide the country had seen.
Bill Moyers wonders, as we all do, if Obama’s escalation of the Afghanistan War is a repetition of LBJ’s escalation of the Vietnam War in 1964.
Our country wonders this weekend what is on President Obama’s mind. He is apparently, about to bring months of deliberation to a close and answer General Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. When he finally announces how many, why, and at what cost, he will most likely have defined his presidency, for the consequences will be far-reaching and unpredictable. As I read and listen and wait with all of you for answers, I have been thinking about the mind of another president, Lyndon B. Johnson.
I was 30 years old, a White House Assistant, working on politics and domestic policy. I watched and listened as LBJ made his fateful decisions about Vietnam. He had been thrust into office by the murder of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963– 46 years ago this weekend. And within hours of taking the oath of office was told that the situation in South Vietnam was far worse than he knew.
Less than four weeks before Kennedy’s death, the South Vietnamese president had himself been assassinated in a coup by his generals, a coup the Kennedy Administration had encouraged.
South Vietnam was in chaos, and even as President Johnson tried to calm our own grieving country, in those first weeks in office, he received one briefing after another about the deteriorating situation in Southeast Asia.
Lyndon Johnson secretly recorded many of the phone calls and conversations he had in the White House. In this broadcast, you’re going to hear excerpts that reveal how he wrestled over what to do in Vietnam. There are hours of tapes and the audio quality is not the best, but I’ve chosen a few to give you an insight into the mind of one president facing the choice of whether or not to send more and more American soldiers to fight in a far-away and strange place.
Granted, Barack Obama is not Lyndon Johnson, Afghanistan is not Vietnam and this is now, not then. But listen and you will hear echoes and refrains that resonate today.
The exact circumstances are different, but what the fuck is Obama doing? What’s the end game of escalation of the war? Will the Taliban ever throw their hands up and walk away? No, they will not, and even if they do, there is a thousand other offshoots of fundamentalists willing to step into the breach and fight The Great Satan. Are we as a country committed to staying permanently in Afghanistan? In Iraq? In Pakistan? At what cost? Can we afford to piss away trillions of dollars of our national budget protecting the interests of a few? What benefit to our nation does continuing the Afghanistan conflict actually accomplish?
As LBJ repeatedly says, sometimes you have to let the dominoes fall.
A few interesting links collected November 12th through November 14th:
More on Franken Amendment, elitism… at StarkReports.com – In an effort to increase my ability to do this kind of reporting, I’ve exchanged contact information with several Democratic Press Secretaries. I’ve explained that I am a progressive news service and that my goal is to quench a thirst for timely progressive news… that it’s not enough to complain about Fox, Nedra Pickler, John Solomen or an inability to get your message out… that growing a progressive media requires cooperation from the news-makers that want to see the progressive media grow…
Perhaps I’m too impatient… But the truth is that I’m having a really difficult time getting my calls returned from most offices.
That’s something I’d understand if my web videos hadn’t been viewed nearly 500,000 times. But hell, it’s clear my work is reaching people, so it’s difficult for me not to see a certain form of elitism in the Democratic communications establishment.
The good news is that the Republican senators have learned their lesson:
Privately, GOP sources acknowledge that they failed to anticipate the political consequences of a “no” vote on the amendment. And several aides said that Republicans are engaged in an internal blame game about why they agreed to a roll-call vote on the measure, rather than a simple voice vote that would have allowed the opposing senators to duck criticism.
Right, they forgot to hide their misogyny. (Man, you let your guard down for one minute and those bitchuz are all over you.)
There is no time to be tactful – For fans of Mad Men it will prove difficult to learn of the story behind ‘Peace, Little Girl’ – a brutal 60 second television spot which first aired on September 7, 1964 – and not imagine the offices of Sterling Cooper. The ad was conceived by agency Doyle Dane Bernbach on behalf of President Lyndon Johnson, in an effort to kill off Republican candidate Barry Goldwater’s march to the White House. DDB, desperate for success with their first political client, threw 40 of their best men at the campaign and chose to aim for the jugular by capitalising on comments Goldwater had previously made concerning nuclear weapons. The following letter was written by DDB co-founder and legendary ad-man Bill Bernbach just months before the election, at a time when Goldwater had managed to regain the public’s confidence and the DNC had started to drag their heels.
As the health care establishment appears to be once again able to block any reasonable changes to America’s sick health care system, it’s important to note that, ironically, the “father” of Canada’s universal, single-payer health care system was late President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1964, his plan caused Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson to rush the same health care scheme into existence so that Ottawa was not beaten by the Americans, as was the case in 1934 with Social Security. As things turned out, LBJ compromised with the Republicans and scaled back his plan to a co-payer insurance for senior citizens, or Medicare. So it’s hardly surprising that, again, a popular President cannot win out against the nasty tactics and enormous wealth of the medical vested interests.
And yet, today Canada’s system is not only as good as America’s, but better medically speaking, according to the World Health Organization. Even more dramatic, it is between 30 and 60% cheaper for procedures, medications and hospital stays. Despite compelling evidence, the status quo remains south of the border and American voters/media appear to be unaware of the need for change. There are billions in profits being made at the expense of Americans and the country’s economy.
and sad to witness the power of the right wing in American politics. Even though the Republicans are the minority party in both the Senate and the House, they continue to control the national dialogue, whipping up the furies of their hell-hounds to snarl at Town Halls, yadda yadda. Of course, Obama’s minions aren’t exactly shaking vials of anthrax at General Assembly of the U.N., and I guess that is, on balance, a good thing. Unfortunately, too many Americans reject rationality and reasonableness, preferring to get their talking points from drug-addled Jabba the Huts.