The Richard Nixon Cabinet

The Richard Nixon Cabinet

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The Richard Nixon Cabinet

Nixon's 'war on drugs' began 40 years ago, and the battle is still raging

Despite decades of battling against narcotics, the levels of addiction, trafficking and violence continue to rise. The war on drugs has failed. Now, politicians in Latin America are calling to review all options – from full legalisation to a new war

In 1971, President Richard Nixon, motivated by addiction among US soldiers in Vietnam, told Congress drug abuse was ‘public enemy number one’ Photograph: AP

In 1971, President Richard Nixon, motivated by addiction among US soldiers in Vietnam, told Congress drug abuse was ‘public enemy number one’ Photograph: AP

F our decades ago, on 17 July 1971, President Richard Nixon declared what has come to be called the "war on drugs". Nixon told Congress that drug addiction had "assumed the dimensions of a national emergency", and asked Capitol Hill for an initial $84m (£52m) for "emergency measures".

Drug abuse, said the president, was "public enemy number one".

But as reported the following morning in our sister newspaper, the Guardian, the president's initiative appears to have been primarily motivated not by considerations of the ghettoes or Woodstock festival, but by addiction among soldiers fighting in Vietnam: the first and immediate measure in the "war on drugs", implemented 40 years ago this weekend, was the institution of urine testing for all US troops in Indochina. The Guardian's "sidebar" story to the news bulletin was not from Chicago or Los Angeles but the Mekong Delta, with soldiers laughing: "You can go anywhere, ask anyone, they'll get it for you. It won't take but a few seconds."

Nixon signed his war on drugs into law on 28 January 1972, Adam Raphael quoting him in this newspaper as saying: "I am convinced that the only way to fight this menace is by attacking it on many fronts." The catchphrase "war on drugs" mimicked that of Nixon's predecessor Lyndon B Johnson, who had declared a "war on poverty" during his state of the union address in 1964.

Four decades on, in a world (and an America) accursed by poverty and drugs, there is almost universal agreement that the war on drugs has failed as thoroughly as that on poverty. In the US and Europe, the war has been fought on the streets, in the courts and through the jail system, to no apparent avail. In the world that has "developed" since 1971, it has been fought in the barrios it has defoliated land and driven peasants into even worse poverty. The war in the so-called "producing" countries has ravaged Colombia, is currently tearing Mexico apart, and again threatens Afghanistan, Central America, Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela. In places such as west Africa, the war is creating "narco states" that have become effective puppets of the mafia cartels the war has spawned.

The drugs themselves have wrought misery and havoc across the planet, and continue to do so. According to the United Nations, in an exhaustive report by a global commission on drugs published this summer, worldwide opiate consumption increased by 34.5% between in the two decades to 2009, and that of cocaine by 25%. The UN estimates the drug business to be the third biggest in the world after oil and arms, worth £198bn a year. The former head of its office on drugs and crime, Antonio Maria Costa, posits that the laundered profits of the narco-trafficking underworld by the "legitimate" financial sector is what kept the banks afloat for years before they finally crashed in 2008.

But while Costa (and I, for what it's worth, after three years covering the Mexican drug war) advocates going after the money as the most urgent priority, most of the lexicon in the now burning debate about what to do in the wake of the drug war's manifest failure concerns decriminalisation, or even legalisation.

There has been a campaign for the legalisation of drugs in the US ever since the first state ban on marijuana in 1915.

Now President Barack Obama's drug tsar, Gil Kerlikowske, carefully describes America's own war on drugs as "unhelpful". Last month, former president Jimmy Carter wrote in the New York Times that "excessive punishment" has "destroyed the lives of millions of young people and their families" drug policy, he said, should be "more humane and more effective".

Obama has entirely changed the language of the US's relationship with Mexico, conceding "co-responsibility" for the dual catastrophe of violence south of the border and addiction north of it. Experts such as David Shirk, of the Trans-Border Institute in San Diego, say that "the legalisation of marijuana in the US within 10 years is an inevitablity".

The UK has traditionally been a hardline participant in the war on drugs, but in opposition David Cameron said: "Drugs policy has been failing for decades." Professor David Nutt of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, who has become synonymous with the anti-prohibition movement, says that "the obscenity of hunting down low-level cannabis users to protect them is beyond absurd".

In Europe, the Netherlands famously refuses to criminalise cannabis users, while Portugal became the first European country, in 2001, to abolish criminal penalties for personal possession of all drugs, sending addicts for counselling instead. Italy has decriminalised possession of less than half a gram of most illegal substances.

Prohibitionism, however, remains strongly supported by most law enforcement agencies in the US and UK. But prohibitionism has its creative and radical exponents too, not least Costa, who argues: "Why open the floodgates to addiction by increasing access to drugs?" He wrote for this newspaper: "Maybe western governments could absorb the health costs of increased drug use, if that's how taxpayers want their money spent. But what about the developing world? Why unleash an epidemic of addiction in parts of the world that already face misery and do not have the health and social systems to cope with a drug tsunami?"

Costa proposed that "drugs should be regarded as a health issue" he wanted to "reduce vulnerability to drugs in regions of the world where governance is weak", and – calling the bluff of rich countries that host the big banks – "get serious about organised crime".

The most compelling and sophisticated initiatives in the debate 40 years on from Nixon's declaration come from the region that has arguably suffered more than anywhere from the ravages of drug production, trafficking and now addiction, too – Latin America.

Last August, Argentina's supreme court ruled it unconstitutional to punish people for using marijuana for personal use. Even Mexico, which has since 2005 been the theatre for a singularly vicious drugs war, has elected to legalise limited amounts of all drugs for personal use, for example: 0.5g of cocaine, 40mg of methamphetamine and 50mg of heroin. Felipe Calderón, the president, has called for "a fundamental debate on the legalisation of drugs", even though he opposes such a policy himself.

A landmark proposal was made by three former presidents: Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, César Gaviria of Colombia and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil. It opened with the salvo: "Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalisation of consumption simply haven't worked … The revision of US-inspired drug policies is urgent in the light of the rising levels of violence and corruption associated with narcotics."

Of the three, Colombia – which has just emerged from a ferocious drug war – is the most impatiently adventurous in its call for a complete global overhaul of drugs policy. Colombia's ambassador to London, Mauricio Rodríguez, says that this should be "based not on anyone's political or ideological agenda, or any media agenda, but on the economic and social data and information we do not yet have, and must acquire"

"Our president has said very clearly that this is the time for a deep analysis of what has happened over the past 40 years, and to learn the lessons of the mistakes that have been made," Rodríguez said in an interview with the Observer last week. "And we have to evaluate every alternative, without excluding any possibility – from complete legalisation to a second, different, war on drugs."

The discourse, he says, "can no longer be that of this country or that, but a serious global discussion". It cannot even, he says, make the conventional distinctions between "producing" and "consuming" nations, "since we now have widespread consumption in the so-called 'producing' nations and, with synthetic drugs, significant production in the 'consuming' nations".

The global horizon is necessary, he says, "because we want to be sure that what is good for Colombia is good for the rest of the world, and vice versa. We are not saying that we have a solution we are saying that we do have some moral authority because we have lived 24 years in hell – been through a painful experience which has cost us thousands of lives lost, hundreds of millions of dollars lost, the reputation of the country lost. We are now re-establishing that reputation, and stabilising the country, but the problem has moved elsewhere – to Central America, Mexico and West Africa.

"And so we realise," Rodríguez continues, "that we need to start afresh with a global and entirely different approach, different analyses which are social, economic – and different solutions. I've been studying this for 25 years, and have heard too many superficial analyses: that this is to do with leisure, or this is a problem of mafia. We need a more complex analysis of the deep roots of this problem – we cannot fool ourselves about the root causes of the tragedy of drugs in both the developed and developing world, they are to do with poverty and deprivation, young people without access to employment, with no access to education. They are about alienation, fear and anger."

Among the strategies he wants to see pursued are, first, "detailed economic work on these causes and the ways of combating them". Second: "Let's be serious about where the big money is. If you look at the trail of cocaine, you'll find that 5% of the profits remain in the producing countries 95% is in the distribution networks and laundered. The big money is in the big banks in the big countries the big money is in the US, Europe and Asia." And third: "Let's talk about the human rights issues."

Rodríguez discusses a programme his embassy has launched in collaboration with the police in Scotland called "Sniffing the rainforest". "We tell the young people that one gram of cocaine involves the destruction of four square metres of rainforest. That it costs hundreds of lives – and although they are taken to drugs by economic alienation, the response to this kind of language has been positive." We also tell them, he adds, "what else is involved in sniffing cocaine: gasoline, cement, sulphuric acid – and they listen to that".

It was while working along the US-Mexican border, in an inferno of violence and addiction, that I came to see the wisdom of the proposed Colombian strategy. In the rehab clinics and wretched outskirts of Ciudad Juárez, where drugs are legal for personal use and easier to obtain than soft drinks, I developed a problem with the scope of the lexicon in the UK and, to a lesser extent, the US, which too often presumes that people take drugs for reasons of "recreation", rather than out of desperation and despair.

This view of drugs as stimulating entertainment may hold true of Camden Lock in London and the capital's West End clubs, but not of São Paulo or even the valleys of south Wales, let alone the US-Mexican border. What may work for Notting Hill might not work in Rhondda, let alone Tijuana.

In Tijuana in 2009, addicts could not believe their luck – those arriving at a Narcóticos Anónimos session were amazed that possession of up to four lines of cocaine or 50mg of heroin was now legal. Juan Morales Magana, 17, a windscreen-washer and registered methamphetamine and heroin addict, was working out how many hits the legal limit of 40mg of meth would get him, though his counsellor, an evangelical pastor, was ambivalent: "I wouldn't want anyone to think that just because it is legal, one should live like this for fun. Drugs are the scourge of our society. All this can do would limit killing between small-time cholos [gangsters] for street-corner turf. The danger is that kingpins will accelerate the domestic market if possession is legal and smuggling into the US more difficult."

"Personally, I sometimes wish drugs would be made legal so that the gringos can get high and we can live in peace," said Tijuana police officer Elisio Montes, whose two best friends, his former boss and assistant, were murdered by executioners for the cartels. "Then I say to myself: no – these drugs are addictive after one single hit. They're terrifying, they destroy lives, they destroy our young people. If they're legal, they'll buy more."

Writing in the Times, Antonia Senior insists that: "Drugs policy must start from the premise that teenagers like taking drugs, because drugs make them feel good." I would rather it started from the premise that life in most places is so awful that it leads to catastrophic addiction such as that in the barrios of Honduras or, indeed, the back streets of Naples or Swansea.

Richard Nixon Nominates His Cabinet (1969)

Knowing far less about 1960s and 1970s politics than I do about earlier eras, I’ll mostly let the picture do the talking:

Nixon continues the venerable tradition of sending an omnibus cabinet-nomination message to the Senate, yet some presidents (Lincoln and FDR come to mind) apparently preferred to nominate their closest advisers one-by-one, even if all chosen on the same day.

There aren’t too many superstars on this list. George Romney obviously stands out as being the father of the likely 2012 Republican presidential nominee. George Shultz (Nixon’s Labor nominee) later served as Treasury Secretary under Nixon and Secretary of State for most of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Secretary of State William Rogers was largely overshadowed by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger until Kissinger succeeded Rogers. Attorney General John Mitchell was convicted of conspiracy, perjury, and obstruction of justice in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal (“the only US Attorney General ever to be convicted of illegal activities,” Wikipedia says). And a bit of trivia—Winton Blount was the last Postmaster General to have held a cabinet position, as the executive U.S. Post Office Department became an independent agency (the U.S. Postal Service) after the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970.

I learned something interesting about Nixon the other day. Because he attended Duke Law School during the Depression, he had very little money to spend on housing, food, and other necessities. He ate only a Milky Way bar for breakfast every single day for the three years he attended Duke. “It did do damage to the teeth, but it certainly was good for the pocketbook,” he said in 1983.

The Most Patriotic Act of Treason in American History?

As President Nixon’s list of enemies grew long and his grip on reality fragile, one prominent member of his government prepared the military to commit treason.

Gil Troy

Francois LOCHON/Getty

It sounds more Hollywood than history. A paranoid president, unhinged, drinking heavily, ranting against his enemies, terrifies subordinates. The defense secretary commits what may be the most patriotic act of treason in American history: ordering the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ignore any White House military initiatives lacking his signature.

Most historians believe that as Richard Nixon staggered toward resignation in 1974, Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger undermined the president’s constitutional authority. The late Watergate expert Stanley Kutler was skeptical, asking where was the paper trail? But who would write down such orders? It is more believable that this prickly, patriotic, public servant risked his career to save America rather than risking his reputation by inventing such a crazy story.

Born to an immigrant Jewish family in New York in 1929, refined with a Harvard trifecta—A.B., A.M., and Ph.D.—in the 1950s, Schlesinger was one of the meritocratic Bureaucratic Braniacs who succeeded the WASPy, aristocratic, Cold-War-era “Wise Men.” Schlesinger converted to Lutheranism in his twenties. His Harvard classmate and Washington rival, Henry Kissinger, was a Jewish refugee who barely escaped Nazi Germany. Kissinger sniffed that Schlesinger was a rare intellectual “equal.”

This wunderkind taught economics at the University of Virginia. He consulted for the Rand Corporation. He headed the Atomic Energy Commission, the CIA, the Pentagon under Nixon and Gerald Ford, and the Department of Energy under Jimmy Carter—all before turning 50. Schlesinger’s CIA reforms were so extensive, including firing 1,000 of the agency’s 17,000 employees, that co-workers decided security cameras were installed to deter agents from defacing his portrait.

In retirement, Schlesinger would preach that “the art of politics is to overcome past resentments to work with people who will not fully share your moral and political views and judgments” (PDF) Nevertheless, he admitted: “I tended to be self-righteous, a quibbler. Stubborn too. It took me a while to understand how hard I must have been to deal with.”

Appointed by Nixon as secretary of defense in July, 1973, the hawkish, heavy-handed Schlesinger frequently clashed with the détente-pursuing, Machiavellian, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Their competition intensified as the Watergate scandal increasingly sidelined the president.

Nixon’s grasp of reality faded as his grip on power slipped. By July, 1974, this statesman who re-established relations with China and Russia, this politician who defied critics by winning re-election overwhelmingly, was crashing.

So many unbelievable rumors of hit squads, enemies lists, break-ins, and cover-ups had been proved true. The ’60s rebels who warned about a sick society, dark conspiracies, and a vicious, vengeful, volatile “imperial president” seemed vindicated in the ’70s. Dr. Strangelove’s lunatics and Seven Days in May’s coup-plotters had jumped from Tinseltown screens to White House offices.

Seeing Nixon willing to do anything to win power, Schlesinger feared the president might do anything to retain it. According to the reporter Seymour Hersh, in spring 1974, a Washington bureaucrat, Joseph Laitin, called Schlesinger and speculated about Nixon launching nuclear bombs or mobilizing Marines to save his presidency. “If I were in your job,” Laitin advised, “I would want to know the location of the combat troops nearest to downtown Washington and the chain of command.” “Nice talking to you,” the secretary of defense blurted before hanging up.

Nixon had centralized power in the White House, subverting the chain of command in fighting the Vietnam War. Schlesinger had resisted Nixon aides with military ties like Alexander Haig, who tried enmeshing the Pentagon in Watergate-related power struggles. He mistrusted the Marine Commandant, Robert E. Cushman, Nixon’s friend since the 1950s. Schlesinger told a colleague: “I had seen enough so that I was not going to run risks with the future of the United States.”

That summer, Schlesinger spoke elliptically to the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, George Brown, about only following White House orders Schlesinger approved. “I’ve just had the strangest conversation with the Secretary of Defense,” Brown informed his colleagues. One of them—who remains anonymous—recalled: “We sat around looking at our fingernails we didn’t want to look at each other. It was a complete shock to us.” Schlesinger told another friend he wanted to ensure that “no idiot commander somewhere was misled.”

Jonathan Aitken, a Nixon aide turned sympathetic biographer, calls Schlesinger’s moves the “wildest over-reaction” to Watergate. When informed about it years later, Nixon just gasped: “incredible.”

The rumors about Schlesinger’s heroism went public two weeks after Nixon resigned, when The Washington Post ran a story on Aug. 22, 1974: “Pentagon Kept Watch on Military.” The Post claimed Schlesinger and the Joint Chiefs “kept a close watch to make certain that no orders were given to military units outside the normal chain of command.” Schlesinger—who probably leaked the story—used another of the Bureaucratic Brainac’s weapons, the non-denial denial, artfully saying: “I did assure myself that there would be no question about the proper constitutional and legislated chain of command, and there never was any question.”

The new President Gerald Ford feared these rumors might fuel fears he eased Nixon out with a deal. George Brown answered his commander-in-chief legalistically, saying: “There was no alert. I’ve checked at headquarters. There are no recorded messages coming out of [Schlesinger]‘s office.”

Under Ford, Schlesinger was similarly arrogant—and subversive. After the humiliating fall of Saigon, Ford struck hard when the Cambodian Khmer Rouge captured the American ship Mayaguez in May 1975. As part of a costly hostage rescue, Ford ordered four bombing runs. His normally gung ho secretary of defense disagreed, believing B-52 bombers would be overkill. In his memoirs Kissinger recalls “the mystery of why the first wave of planes dropped no bombs, why the President had been told by Schlesinger that the first strike had been ‘completed’ and how the fourth wave of strikes never occurred.” Kissinger adds: “Ford never recovered confidence in his Secretary of Defense,” firing him that November.

After the Democrat Jimmy Carter defeated Ford in 1976, the Republican Schlesinger ran the department of energy. Watching this inexperienced, improvisational, outsider stumble, Schlesinger concluded that experienced governmental guides like him and Kissinger were essential. Alas, Schlesinger’s imperiousness earned him another presidential firing.

Like Kissinger, Schlesinger became a nonpartisan Washington bigfoot, living until three years ago, to the age of 85.

The endless presidential campaign feeds the delusion that the presidency is a one-man show. Presidents need Bureaucratic Braniacs to implement policies—and the nation sometimes needs them to check the president. James Schlesinger’s loyal act of disloyalty reinforces what the first weeks of Donald Trump’s rule demonstrates: as courts block executive orders, as legislators maneuver, and as hundreds of State Department diplomats protest, we see the constitutional republic in action. “Separation of powers” and “checks and balances” are not just phrases on AP history exams. These systems preserve and protect American democracy, when presidents won’t.

Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power (2004). Perhaps the best look at Nixon’s foreign policy, along with an insightful portrait of the two powerhouses as the ultimate “frenemies.”

Seymour Hersh, The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House (2003). Hersh’s reporting is not always reliable but his coverage of the Schlesinger order seems credible and reasonable.

Stanley Kutler, “The Imaginings of James Schlesinger,” The Huffington Post (2014). A repudiation of this episode as a myth, from an excellent historian whose conclusions this time failed to sway me.

Early life and congressional career

Richard Nixon was the second of five children born to Frank Nixon, a service station owner and grocer, and Hannah Milhous Nixon, whose devout Quakerism would exert a strong influence on her son. Nixon graduated from Whittier College in California in 1934 and from Duke University Law School in Durham, North Carolina, in 1937. Returning to Whittier to practice law, he met Thelma Catherine (“Pat”) Ryan ( Pat Nixon), a teacher and amateur actress, after the two were cast in the same play at a local community theatre. The couple married in 1940.

In August 1942, after a brief stint in the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C., Nixon joined the navy, serving as an aviation ground officer in the Pacific and rising to the rank of lieutenant commander. Following his return to civilian life in 1946, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, defeating five-term liberal Democratic Congressman Jerry Voorhis in a campaign that relied heavily on innuendos about Voorhis’s alleged communist sympathies. Running for reelection in 1948, Nixon entered and won both the Democratic and Republican primaries, which thus eliminated the need to participate in the general election. As a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAAC) in 1948–50, he took a leading role in the investigation of Alger Hiss, a former State Department official accused of spying for the Soviet Union. In dramatic testimony before the committee, Whittaker Chambers, a journalist and former spy, claimed that in 1937 Hiss had given him classified State Department papers for transmission to a Soviet agent. Hiss vehemently denied the charge but was later convicted of perjury. Nixon’s hostile questioning of Hiss during the committee hearings did much to make his national reputation as a fervent anticommunist.

In 1950 Nixon successfully ran for the United States Senate against Democratic Rep. Helen Gahagan Douglas. After his campaign distributed “pink sheets” comparing Douglas’s voting record to that of Vito Marcantonio, a left-wing representative from New York, the Independent Review, a small Southern California newspaper, nicknamed him “Tricky Dick.” The epithet later became a favourite among Nixon’s opponents.

The shocking story behind Richard Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’ that targeted blacks and anti-war activists

This Sunday, June 17 will mark the 47th anniversary of a shameful day in US history — it’s when President Richard Nixon’s declared what has been the US government’s longest and costliest war — the epic failure known as the War on Drugs. At a press conference on that day in 1971, Nixon identified drug abuse as “public enemy number one in the United States” and launched a failed, costly and inhumane federal war on Americans that continues to today. Early the following year, Nixon created the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) in January 1972 to wage a government war on otherwise peaceful and innocent Americans who voluntarily chose to ingest plants, weeds, and intoxicants proscribed by the government. In July 1973, ODALE was consolidated, along with several other federal drug agencies, into the newly established Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a new “super agency” to handle all aspects of the War on Drugs Otherwise Peaceful Americans.

But as John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s counsel and Assistant for Domestic Affairs, revealed in 1994, the real public enemy in 1971 wasn’t really drugs or drug abuse. Rather the real enemies of the Nixon administration were the anti-war left and blacks, and the War on Drugs was designed as an evil, deceptive and sinister policy to wage a war on those two groups. In an article in the April 2016 issue of The Atlantic (“Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs“) author and reporter Dan Baum explains how “John Ehrlichman, the Watergate co-conspirator, unlocked for me one of the great mysteries of modern American history: How did the United States entangle itself in a policy of drug prohibition that has yielded so much misery and so few good results?” As Baum discovered, here’s the dirty and disgusting secret to that great mystery of what must be the most expensive, shameful, and reprehensible failed government policy in US history.

Americans have been criminalizing psychoactive substances since San Francisco’s anti-opium law of 1875, but it was Ehrlichman’s boss, Richard Nixon, who declared the first “War on Drugs” in 1971 and set the country on the wildly punitive and counterproductive path it still pursues. I’d tracked Ehrlichman, who had been Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser, to an engineering firm in Atlanta, where he was working on minority recruitment. At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away.

“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Nixon’s invention of the War on Drugs as a political tool was cynical, but every president since — Democrat and Republican alike — has found it equally useful for one reason or another. Meanwhile, the growing cost of the Drug War is now impossible to ignore: billions of dollars wasted, bloodshed in Latin America and on the streets of our own cities, and millions of lives destroyed by draconian punishment that doesn’t end at the prison gate one of every eight black men has been disenfranchised because of a felony conviction.

MP: As much as Prohibition (The War on Alcohol) was also an expensive, epic and misguided failure of government policy, it didn’t have its origins in any type of equivalent sinister and evil plot like the War on Drugs to destroy enemies of the Woodrow Wilson administration in 1919. In fact, President Wilson vetoed the Volstead Act, the popular name for the National Prohibition Act, but the House and Senate both voted quickly to override the veto and America started the War on Alchohol Otherwise Peaceful Americans Who Voluntarily Chose to Ingest Beer, Wine, and Spirits in 1920.

If the real goal of the War on Drugs was to target, convict and incarcerate subversive anti-war “hippies” and black Americans, as Ehrlichman describes it, it sure worked as the chart above of the male incarceration rate in the US shows. During the nearly 50-year period between 1925 and the early 1970s, the male incarceration rate was remarkably stable at about 200 men per 100,000 population, or 1 US male per 500, according to data from Bureau of Justice Statistics. By 1986, about a decade after the War on Drugs started locking up drug users and dealers in cages, the male incarceration rate doubled to 400 per 100,000 population. Then within another decade, the male incarceration rate doubled again to more than 800 by 1996 before reaching a historic peak of 956 in 2008 (about one in 100) that was almost five times higher than the stable rate before the War on Drugs. The arrest and incarceration data show that the War on Drugs had a significantly much greater negative effect on blacks and Hispanics than whites, making the Drug War even more shameful for its devastating and disproportionate adverse effects on America’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations.

Since the 2008 peak, the male incarceration rate has been gradually declining in each of the last seven years of available data through 2016, possibly because of three trends: a) decriminalization of weeds at the city and state level, b) the legalization of medical weeds at the state level, and c) now legalization of recreational weeds at the city and state levels.

While there could have been other factors that contributed to the nearly five-fold increase in the male incarceration rate between the early 1970s and the peak in 2008, research clearly shows that the War on Drugs, along with mandatory minimum sentencing in the 1980s and the disparate treatment of powdered cocaine and “crack cocaine” (powdered cocaine processed with baking soda into smokable rocks) were all significant contributing factors to the unprecedented rate of incarcerating Americans. Here are some conclusions from the 2014 book The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences (my emphasis):

  1. The states’ combined incarceration rates increased across all crime categories between 1980 and 2010 (see chart above). Most striking, however, is the dramatic increase in the incarceration rate for drug-related crimes. In 1980, imprisonment for drug offenses was rare, with a combined state incarceration rate of 15 per 100,000 population. By 2010, the drug incarceration rate had increased nearly 10-fold to 143 per 100,000. Indeed, the rate of incarceration for the single category of drug-related offenses, excluding local jails and federal prisons, by itself exceeds by 50% the average incarceration rate for all crimes of Western European countries and is twice the average incarceration rate for all crimes of a significant number of European countries.
  2. Arrest rates for federal drug offenses climbed in the 1970s, and mandatory prison time for these offenses became more common in the 1980s. Mandatory prison sentences, intensified enforcement of drug laws, and long sentences contributed not only to overall high rates of incarceration but also especially to extraordinary rates of incarceration in black and Latino communities. Intensified enforcement of drug laws subjected blacks, more than whites, to new mandatory minimum sentences—despite lower levels of drug use and no higher demonstrated levels of trafficking among the black than the white population.
  3. As a result of the lengthening of sentences and greatly expanded drug law enforcement and imprisonment for drug offenses, criminal defendants became more likely to be sentenced to prison and remained there significantly longer than in the past. The policy shifts that propelled the growth in incarceration had disproportionately large effects on African Americans and Latinos. Indeed, serving time in prison has become a normal life event among recent birth cohorts of African American men who have not completed high school.

Bottom Line: Even without the nefarious, vile, and veiled origins revealed by Ehrlichman in 1994, the War on Drugs Otherwise Peaceful Americans Who Voluntarily Choose To Ingest or Sell Intoxicants Currently Proscribed by the Government, Which Will Lock Up Users or Sellers in Cages if Caught would represent one of the most shameful chapters in America’s history. But with its intention to destroy the black community and anti-war peace activists, which has certainly been “successfully” achieved for the black community, the shamefulness of the War on Drugs is elevated to a much higher level of despicable, evil immorality.

More Images

Bush Cabinet in 2007, looking southeast (White House - Eric Draper)

George W Bush meeting with his Cabinet secretaries in 2006, looking north (White House)

George W Bush in 2006, looking east note the new sconces (White House - Eric Draper)

George W Bush meeting with his Cabinet secretaries in 2006, looking north (White House)

Fireplace detail in the replica Cabinet Room in the Clinton Library (Cordelia Yuan)

Bush 1 era, circa 1990, looking northeast (Bush Library)

Bush 1 era, 1992, looking southeast (NARA)

Reagan era, circa 1985 (removal of bookcases), looking north (Veterans Administration)

Reagan era, circa 1984, looking northeast (niches have been opened and fitted with busts) (NARA - Reagan Library)

Carter era in 1977, looking south (NARA - Carter Library)

Carter era in 1977, looking north (NARA - Carter Library)

Betty Ford, a trained dancer, poses after dancing atop the Cabinet Room table
in the final days of her husband's administration in 1977 (Ford Library - mistakenly flopped)

Ford era in 1975 (chandeliers, sconces, and Nixon table), looking northeast (NARA - Ford Library)

Ford era, 1975, looking northwest (NARA - Ford Library)

Nixon era, looking north, in 1971 after conversion to federal style—
doors close off bookcases, chandelier replaces flourescent light (NARA)

Nixon era in 1969 before conversion, looking north (White House Historical Association)

Vice-President Humbert Humphrey talking with LBJ in 1968, looking west (Johnson Library)

LBJ listening to a tape from son-in-law Charles Robb, stationed in Vietnam in 1968 (NARA - Johnson Library)

LBJ receiving the report of the Warren Commission (including future president Ford) in 1964, looking east

Johnson era, 1966 (note the installation of transom mirrors), looking northwest (NARA)

The final Kennedy Cabinet Room in 1963, by Stephane Boudin (White House Historical Association)

Kennedy Cabinet in 1962, the day after the Cuban Missile Crisis ended, looking northwest (Kennedy Library)

Kennedy Cabinet Room in 1962, looking east (NARA)

Cabinet Room in 1960, looking north (Life)

The Eisenhower Cabinet in the room in 1957 (note the installation of flourescent lights, removal of sconces,
and doors closing off the niches, as well as new draperies) (Eisenhower Library)

The Eisenhower Cabinet Room in 1954, looking southeast (Library of Congress)

The Eisenhower Cabinet around 1954, with the mantel painting changed to TR, looking northeast (Eisenhower Library)

The modern Cabinet Room in the Truman era, circa 1950, much as it was when built in 1935, looking north (Truman Library)

The modern Cabinet Room in 1949, looking south, before the Kennedy installation of the half-round transom over the door (NARA)

First meeting of the "War Cabinet" in the modern Cabinet Room in 1941, looking northeast (Library of Congress)

The Roosevelt Cabinet before the extensive renovation of 1934. (Life "Headquarters of Roosevelt & Co." 1937)

The old Cabinet Room around 1926, looking southeast

Calvin Coolidge and Cabinet in the old Cabinet Room in 1925
note future president Herbert Hoover at far right (Library of Congress)

Warren Harding and Cabinet in the old Cabinet Room in 1921
note future presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover opposite each other at far right (Library of Congress)

The old Cabinet Room in the expanded West Wing, circa 1920 (Library of Congress)

Old Cabinet Room in the Wilson era, circa 1914 (Library of Congress)

The new Taft Cabinet Room, circa 1911 (Library of Congress)

The Taft Cabinet in the old Cabinet Room, circa 1909

The old Cabinet Room, circa 1906, looking southwest (Library of Congress - Harris & Ewing)

Theodore Roosevelt's Cabinet Room, looking east, circa 1903 (Library of Congress)

Theodore Roosevelt's original Cabinet Room, directly adjoining his non-oval office, circa 1902 (Library of Congress)

A Brief History of Presidents Firing People

Before he was the President, Donald Trump was most famous for booting people on TV—a habit that has proved hard to quit. So far, acting attorney general Sally Yates, national-security adviser Michael Flynn, and FBI director James Comey (above) have all found themselves on the receiving end of the onetime TV host’s catchphrase, “You’re fired.”

But while Trump might be the first reality star to become President, he’s hardly the first President to do high-profile firing. We combed through the history of executive dismissals to see who really stood out.

1. Best Known, Worst Bungled

Amid the Watergate investigation, Richard Nixon asked attorney general Elliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who months earlier had subpoenaed Nixon’s Oval Office recordings. Both lawyers opted to resign instead. In the wake of what was dubbed the Saturday Night Massacre, the President’s approval rating dropped to 27 percent. Four decades on, the presidential oustings are still the most infamous.

2. Biggest Turnaround

On April 11, 1951, Harry S. Truman replaced popular general Douglas MacArthur with General Matthew Ridgway over what Truman called MacArthur’s “rank insubordination” during the Korean War. Enjoying a hero’s welcome back home, MacArthur was invited to speak to a joint session of Congress. “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away,” he told the lawmakers, before promptly fading away. Ridgway, on the other hand, helped turn the failing war effort into a stalemate.

3. Most Victims

In 1981, Ronald Reagan fired 11,400 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization 48 hours after offering them an ultimatum: end their illegal strike or forfeit their jobs. The workers, seeking better pay and working conditions, were banned from federal employment. Reagan’s Secretary of State George P. Shultz called the tough domestic play his boss’s most important foreign-policy decision: The Soviets were watching.

4. Most Memorable Nickname

Gerald Ford pushed VP Nelson Rockefeller off the ’76 reelection ticket, fired CIA director William Colby and Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, and took away Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council portfolio, in what became known as the Halloween Massacre. Ford was hoping to solve internal White House anarchy but later called dumping Rockefeller “the biggest political mistake of my life” and “one of the few cowardly things I did.”

Photo by Life Images Collection/Getty Images.

5. Breakthrough Performance

George W. Bush convinced his President-dad to let him do the dirty work when it was time to fire chief of staff John Sununu in 1991. George H.W. Bush had been sliding in the polls when his son took the imperious staffer on a stroll to the horseshoe pit outside the White House to deliver the blow. The President caught W’s eye during the walk-and-talk, and the son responded with an affirming wink.

6. Biggest Historical Impact

Abraham Lincoln fired General George McClellan, who wrote to his wife: “There never was a truer epithet applied to a certain individual than that of the ‘Gorilla.’ ” For his part, Lincoln said, “If General McClellan does not want to use the Army, I would like to borrow it.” In the 1864 election, McClellan ran against his old boss and lost. Lincoln then gave command of the army to future two-term President Ulysses S. Grant.

7. When Once Isn’t Enough

Poor Schlesinger. After losing his job in the Halloween Massacre, he was ousted again—as Energy Secretary in Jimmy Carter’s 1979 Cabinet reshuffling. Following the President’s notorious “malaise speech” about energy, which initially won praise, Carter asked for Schlesinger’s resignation, along with those of the Treasury Health, Education, and Welfare and Transportation Secretaries.

8. Best Comedy

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Barack Obama fired General Stanley McChrystal after the commander and his aides derided Obama’s team. They called adviser Jim Jones a “clown,” and when McChrystal asked, “Are you asking about Vice President Biden? Who’s that?,” an adviser responded, “Biden? Did you say: Bite Me?”

How has ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ been used throughout American history?

The very first federal official to face impeachment was a Senator from Tennessee named William Blount. Blount had conspired to help the British conquer the Spanish-controlled territory of West Florida the House of Representatives impeached him once he was discovered, but the Senate expelled him instead of voting on to convict him. This move by the Senate set a precedent that members of Congress aren’t impeachable under the Constitution &mdash only federal judges and executive branch officials.

The first person who was successfully impeached and removed was federal judge named John Pickering in 1803. He was impeached because, as the University of Missouri’s Bowman says, “He was both an alcoholic and probably insane.” Bowman points out that neither was a crime, but led him to abuse his office.

Only 19 people were impeached in the U.S. from 1788 until Trump: Two Presidents, one Senator, one Secretary of War and 15 federal judges.

&ldquoThese tend to be things about a violation of public trust, acting for personal gain and obstructing the process of impeachment itself,&rdquo explains Tom Ginsburg.

For an exhaustive history of impeachment, Kermit Roosevelt, a law professor at the University Pennsylvania Law School, points to the 1974 House Judiciary Committee report on the &ldquoConstitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment,&rdquo which was released amid the inquiry into former President Richard Nixon. The report examined the long history of impeachment &mdash tracing it back to Britain &mdash and concluded that &ldquoThe framers understood quite clearly that the constitutional system they were creating must include some ultimate check on the conduct of the executive, particularly as they came to reject the suggested plural executive.&rdquo

One of the most important precedents the report looked at was the very first presidential impeachment.

President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment

Andrew Johnson was the first U.S. President to be impeached. Nine of the eleven articles of impeachment against him related to violating the Tenure of Office Act but, Bowman says, “The real reason was a deep disagreement between the President and Congress about reconstruction after the Civil War.”

Johnson became President after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. He was a unionist but also a Southern Democrat who was fine with a swift reconciliation with the South, without much social reform or protection for freed slaves. The Republican-controlled Congress deeply disagreed, and worried that Johnson was firing cabinet officials from the Lincoln Administration to replace them with officials more partial to his vision of Reconstruction. The Republicans promptly passed the Tenure of Office Act, which barred the President from firing certain executive branch officials without senatorial approval. It explicitly made the offense a “high misdemeanor.” “That was not an accident,” says Frank Bowman.

In 1868, after Johnson fired the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, the House of Representatives promptly impeached him. The case went to the Senate, where he came one vote away from being convicted and removed.

President Richard Nixon’s resignation

In 1974, President Richard Nixon faced impeachment charges of &ldquohigh crimes and misdemeanors&rdquo after it was revealed that he used his law enforcement power to cover up a burglary of the headquarters his political opponent.

&ldquoThat’s not treason and it’s not bribery, but it is a corrupt use of the powers of office in a way that undermines the constitutional system,&rdquo Richard Primus, a professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, explains.

Three articles were approved by the Judiciary Committee but Nixon resigned before the House took the full vote. But, as Bowman explains, scholars still tend to treat the articles of impeachment brought against him as important precedent. He was charged with obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. While Nixon did commit crimes, Bowman adds, none of the articles were framed in relation to the specific criminal statutes he broke. They are all framed in terms of the President’s violation of his oath of office.

President Bill Clinton&rsquos impeachment

President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 on two counts of &ldquohigh crimes and misdemeanors&rdquo: lying under oath and obstruction of justice. The charges emerged after Clinton denied having had a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky in the course of a civil sexual harassment lawsuit against against Clinton by Paula Jones.

Stanford’s Meyler explains that the Clinton impeachment caused debate among scholars because &ldquosome people felt that, look, there’s a crime, but not every crime rises to the level of an impeachable offense. This wasn’t something that really pertained to the office, and so therefore it didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense.&rdquo But others argued that since a crime was clearly committed, that was enough for impeachment.

The Richard Nixon Cabinet - History

T he downfall of Richard Nixon's presidency was triggered by the actions of an alert watchman on the night of June 17, 1972. On duty at the Watergate office complex in downtown Washington, DC, the watchman discovered tape covering the lock of an office door. Police were summoned and caught five men in the process of pillaging the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. It was an election year. The raid's mission was to gather political intelligence that would aid President Nixon in his bid to continue in office. As the investigation of the break-in broadened, it revealed a pattern of unlawful activity within the Nixon presidency that collectively became known as "Watergate" and ultimately forced his resignation two years later.

The Watergate Office Complex
Downtown Washington, DC
The trial of the Watergate burglars began in early February 1973. In addition to the five men caught in the act, their managers - G. Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord were also indicted. The burglars pled guilty while their managers were convicted after three weeks of testimony.

A few days after the trial, the Senate voted unanimously to establish a committee to investigate the scandal. The Senate Watergate Committee began its nationally televised hearings on May 17, 1973. Witnesses were called and testimony given before a live, national audience. In a separate action, a day after the Senate began its hearings, Archibald Cox was appointed by the nation's Attorney General as Special Prosecutor to investigate the scandal. Events now took a course of their own.

The bombshell that destroyed Nixon's presidency exploded in testimony before the Senate committee on July 16, 1973. When asked, Secret Service agent Alexander Butterfield confirmed that conversations in the president's offices were routinely and secretly tape recorded. The availability of an audio record of White House discussions was revealed.

The Special Prosecutor immediately subpoenaed the tapes of nine presidential meetings. Citing executive privilege, President Nixon refused to release them. The dispute was taken to the Federal Court system for a resolution and finally made its way to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Congress began impeachment action.

On July 24, 1974 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Nixon must release the tapes. Within a week, the House Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment. On August 8, the president informed the nation in a televised address that he would resign his office effective the next day. Vice President Gerald Ford would succeed him as president.

"President Nixon looked just awful."

President Nixon awoke at 7 AM on his final day in office after a fitful night. Following a light breakfast, he signed his one-sentence letter of resignation and said goodbye to his house staff. Shortly after 9 AM he entered the East Room and made a brief farewell address to an overflow crowd of White House staff and Cabinet members. He then joined Vice President (now President) Ford for a walk across the South Lawn to a helicopter that would whisk him into history. George Bush (later Vice President and then President) was the Chairman of the Republican Party. He attended Nixon's farewell address and kept a diary of the experience:

There is no way to really describe the emotion of the day. Bar [Bush&rsquos wife, Barbara] and I went down and had breakfast at the White House. Dean and Pat Burch and the Buchanans were there in the Conference Mess. There was an aura of sadness, like somebody died. Grief. Saw Tricia and Eddie Cox [President Nixon's daughter and her husband] in the Rose Garden &ndash talked to them on the way to the ceremony.

President Nixon looked just awful. He used glasses &ndash the first time I ever saw them. Close to breaking down &ndash understandably. Everyone in the room in tears.

The speech was vintage Nixon &ndash a kick or two at the press &ndash enormous strains. One couldn&rsquot help but look at the family and the whole thing and think of his accomplishments and then think of the shame and wonder kind of man is this really. No morality &ndash kicking his friends in those tapes &ndash all of them. Gratuitous abuse. Caring for no one yet doing so much. When he used the word &lsquoplumbers&rsquo [in his speech] meaning it [as] &lsquolaboring with his hands&rsquo, the connotation was a shock to me.

Nixon delivers his farewell address.
Behind him stands his daughter Julie
and her husband David Eisenhower
Click picture to see resignation letter
I remember Lt. Col. Brennan who has been with him so long &ndash Marine &ndash standing proudly, but with tears running down his face. Rabbi Korff, a brand new friend on the scene who told Kendall he wanted to start a Support for Ford Committee. Thrilled with the limelight. Coming in and standing around and looking for special attention, ending up sitting next to the Cabinet. People who have labored next to Nixon&rsquos side forever are not invited. It&rsquos weird.

The Nixon speech was masterful. In spite of his inability to totally resist a dig at the press, that argument about hating &ndash only if you hate do you join the haters

We walked through the bottom lobby to go out. After the Ford swearing-in, many of the pictures were changed with a great emphasis on the new President. We went over and hung around waiting for the swearing in of Ford.

And then the whole mood changed. It was quiet, respectful, sorrowful, but in one sense, upbeat. The music and the band seemed cheerier, the talking and babbling of voices after Ford&rsquos fantastic speech, crowds of friends, indeed a new spirit, a new lift. I walked through the line and the President was warm and friendly, kissing the wives, telling Bar he appreciated my job, and on and on. It was much more relaxed. There of course were a lot of people that didn&rsquot know what they were going to do. There was great turmoil in that sense.

I went back to the National Committee and addressed them. I tired to identify with the feelings I am sure they all felt &ndash of betrayal and distrust and yet pride. I told them we had been through the toughest year and a half in history and yet I now felt we were coming on an optimistic period. I told them that the President asked me to stay on. All in all it was a pretty good meeting although I felt drained emotionally and tired."

This account is part of the collection of the National Archives, George Bush Presidential Library and Museum White, Theodore H., Breach of Faith: the fall of Richard Nixon (1975) Woodward, Bob, Bernstein, Carl, The Final Days (1976).

Watch the video: Nixon - E Howard Hunt Scene (May 2022).


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