Most people die in deserved obscurity.
Others have their memory and reputation snatched away by forces eager to diminish and deny their accomplishments.
Walter Liggett was such a person.
Liggett was a pioneering muckraker, a journalist who lived—and
died—pursuing the biggest story of his generation: the collision of
money, power, crime, democracy, and freedom in the United States during
the Great Depression.
I only became aware of Liggett because I stumbled across his book, The Rise of Herbert Hoover,
in a hotel lobby. It laid out the little-told story of Hoover’s leading
role in the alienation of the vast Kaiping Coal Mines in northern
I describe the Kaiping affair, its impact on Hoover’s fortune, and what it revealed about the man and his methods, in Herbert Hoover: Made in China.
As President, Hoover used government agencies and his extensive network of political allies to target Liggett and his book, and several other anti-Hoover biographies, in an extra-legal process which I describe in another post, Walter Liggett: Last of the Muckrakers, from which this piece is excerpted.
Liggett moved to Minnesota and embarked on a local crusade against Minnesota governor Floyd Olson that ended with Liggett's murder.
Liggett's posthumous reputation was trashed by Herbert Hoover's legion of defenders, progressives who supported Olson, and even the American Communist Party.
And that's how it would have ended, if not for the clear-eyed determination, tenacity, and formidable research skills of Liggett's daughter, Marda Liggett Woodbury.
To set the record straight, Ms. Woodbury wrote an entire book.
It’s called Stopping the Presses: The Murder of Walter W. Liggett (1998, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis) (hereinafter STP).
is not only a personal memoir. It is a carefully and intensively
researched and documented portrait of an important figure in American
journalism and a key period in American history.
The portrait of Walter Liggett that emerges from these pages is that of a true American striver and optimist.
guiding principle of his life was radical rural progressivism. Inspired
by a speech by Robert La Follette in 1917, Liggett joined the Farmer
Labor Party. He worked, wrote, and agitated on behalf of the party
through 1920 and founded and managed a network of farmer-owned
newspapers in the party’s stronghold in North Dakota.
then moved east and found success in New York as city editor for a
Socialist paper, the New York Call. Then he worked for mainstream papers
the New York Sun, the New York Times, the New York Post, and the New
York News while promoting the causes of Sacco and Vanzetti and Tom
Liggett made his reputation with a series of articles in Plain Talk
describing the catastrophic impact of Prohibition on the integrity of
law enforcement and local governments. His expose “Bawdy Boston” was
banned in Boston; the Kansas legislature proposed a motion calling him a
liar for “Holy Hypocritical Kansas”; and the Michigan State Police
tried to suppress “Michigan, Soused and Serene”.
[Michigan—ed.] state officials frightened off an independent
distributor, Plain Talk had to hire its own trucks to circulate the
issue. Despite the threats, fifty thousand copies were sold in Michigan.
People borrowed issues, resold them, and rented them out for fifty
cents a day. One Michigan editor estimated that some three hundred
thousand Michiganders had read the article. (STP, p. 29)
successful newspaper and magazine writing provided the opportunity to
publish a book on a long-time interest of his—Herbert Hoover. The book, a serious election-year expose (underpinned by difficult-to-obtain documentation probably provided by Hoover's enemies), didn't do much, thanks to vigorous suppression by Hoover's minions.
In 1933, with the Hoover book out and its
subject gone from office, Liggett decided to abandon big city journalism
to return his roots in farmer populist newspapering in Minnesota.
it was a time in which pseudo-populism, gangsterism, and third party
politics had converged in the person of Floyd Olson, governor of
Olson, a clever, charismatic, and eloquent pol, had
started out as a prosecutor during the wide-open prohibition days and
graduated to machine politics. He aspired both to the US Senate and
leadership of a nationwide Huey Long-esque populist political party and
used the power of his office and his business and gangster connections
to intimidate his enemies, reward his friends, and promote his career.
drew political sustenance from his control of the once-radical
Farmer-Labor Party, which Woodbury describes as having devolved by 1930
...an uneasy amalgam
of machine-dominated county organizations, local Farmer-Labor clubs,
old-time radicals and reformers, and the All-Party clique of Republicans
and Democrats, who contributed to Olson’s “personal campaign funds” and
usually expected a quid pro quo. Racked with patronage problems,
factional disputes, and the cult of personality the party directed its
efforts into pork-barrel enterprises and keeping up appearances rather
than social reform. (STP p. 54)
Olson heightened his
national political profile with by allying with Franklin Roosevelt and
late in his career enjoyed the support of the American Communist Party,
which switched to a pro-Olson line as part of its Popular Front tactics.
Olson met secretly with Earl Browder, head of the American Communist
Party, in October 1935, the Minnesota Communist Party declared:
Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party and its progressive leadership can and
must become the leader of all progressive movements in the country...The
Communists will support the Farmer-Labor Sate Administration.” (STP,
Olson’s constellation of Democratic and left-wing affiliations was perhaps fatal to Liggett.
key points in the unfolding drama, progressives such as Upton Sinclair
and Roger Baldwin of the ACLU failed to throw their resources into the
battle behind Liggett because of their faith in Olson as a crucial
Midwest progressive force.
Even today, Olson is revered by those on the left as the paragon and progenitor of Minnesota’s progressive political tradition.
Walter Liggett regarded Olson from the privileged perspective of
someone who had been present at the creation of the political movement
he now saw Olson crassly exploiting:
was present at the conference in 1918 when the Farmer Labor party was
founded, unlike Olson who did not hop aboard the bandwagon until all was
over but the flagwaving. The radical cause in the Northwest means more
to me than political graft. (STP, p. 76)
...John Dewey and all
his third party group...think Olson is the second brother of Jesus
Christ, whereas he is a damned sight more of a racketeer than he is a
radical.” (STP, p. 67)
In his machine politics machinations, Olson was clearly more Huey Long than Hubert Humphrey.
out the significance of Olson’s progressive legislative legacy—which
Liggett and Woodbury derided as empty, ineffectual political show—should
offer plenty of grist for political historians.
In 1934, Olson
showed his less than radical side when, in response to a Teamster
strike, he placed Minneapolis under martial law. The Proclamation of
Martial Law banned “publish[ing] newspapers defaming the state of
Minnesota or any member of the Minnesota National Guard in the field”.
New York Times characterized Olson's actions as the establishment of “a
military dictatorship over the press of Minneapolis.” (STP, p. 56)
combination of Olson and Liggett—who had built his career on attacking
the nexus of gangsterism and machine politics was at the core of Olson’s
reign—was combustible and fatal.
Liggett had returned to
Minnesota to reconnect with his first political love, the Farmer-Labor
Party--and ready to support Floyd Olson as its flagbearer.
by 1934 Liggett’s disillusionment with Olson’s unprincipled political
alliances with Republicans and Democrats, his unsavory gangster ties,
and his ruthless and corrupt machine politics led him to write Upton
I believe that a
third party based on radical principles is IMPERATIVE if this country
is to be saved from the twin threats of Fascism and Communism. I came
back to the middle west to work for such a party—only to find to my
disgust that the Olson regime combines all the worst features of both
the old parties with some new underworld racketeering connections of its
own. (STP, p. 74)
In September 1934, Liggett decided to
support a reform challenge from a splinter group of the Farmer-Laborer
Party and employ the pages of his newspaper, the Midwest American, in a crusade to expose Olson’s transgressions and drive him from public life.
Liggett underestimated the ferocity of the Olson machine’s response.
In the pages of the Midwest American he wrote:
wife and I have lived for several years in New York City under Tammany
Hall and are thoroughly familiar with the underworld tactics of
professional spoilsmen. That is one reason why we object to the
Tammanyization of Minnesota by this All-Party group of racketeers. We
knew precisely what to expect when we began our expose of Floyd Olson
and his crew of political hatchet-men.
don’t think they will have me killed. It wouldn’t look good for one
thing, and for another thing the whole damned cowardly crew know that
they can’t find one scintilla of evidence to besmirch my professional
reputation in an attempt to justify a cold blooded murder...(STP, p. 66)
As if Olson’s allies took his words as a personal challenge, Liggett was proved wrong in every particular.
Liggett was confronted with an escalating campaign of harrassment and intimidation.
began with efforts to steer typesetters, advertiser, suppliers, and
distributors away from the Midwest American and drive it out of
Then came anonymous, threatening phone calls.
In June 1935 came a trumped up charge of sexual felony, meant to discredit, distract, and if possible imprison Liggett.
The case featured obviously coached witnesses, contradictory testimony, and implausible circumstances.
nadir for the prosecution occurred when one of the supposed objects of
Liggett’s interest in “unnatural love” testified that an assistant
Hennepin County attorney had misrepresented himself as a bill collector
and threatened to tell her parents “all about her [previous
transgressions]” if she did not sign an undated affadavit that would
only be used to get Liggett to pay back “a lot of money” he supposedly
The case did not hold up in front of a jury and Liggett was acquitted.
the trial, in October, Liggett was lured to a hotel with the promise of
information and then savagely beaten by a group of more than half a
dozen men led by gangster Kid Conn. The Minneapolis police were content
to propagate the slur that a drunken Liggett had called Conn out when
Liggett’s attempt to shake him down for a bribe had failed.
on December 9, 1935, Walter Liggett was gunned down in front of his
wife, Edith, and ten-year old daughter, Marda. Liggett’s widow insisted
that the grinning hit man who leaned out of the window of a passing car
and fired the five fatal shots was none other than Kid Conn.
Woodbury did not find it likely that Governor Olson ordered the murder.
Instead, she believed the crime looked like the pro-active effort of
the fixers and gangsters who partnered with Olson in the running of the
state—an act that Olson might not initiate, but something he might not
have found necessary to forestall, condemn, or investigate:
belief is that Olson would have preferred not to know the details. I
also assume that he—unlike some Minneapolis hoodlums—was astute enough
to realize that my father’s murder could prove to be more troublesome
than my father alive...certainly, some of [Olson’s] less savory
companions might have undertaken the task as a favor. I believe that the
atmosphere was sufficiently poisonous and that criminals had sufficient
clout to know they would not be convicted. (STP, p. 216)
big city media that could not be interested in the sordid frame-up of
Liggett on a sex charge flocked to Minneapolis to get the story on the
assassination of a fellow scribe.
They found Governor Olson
content to characterize the murder of the journalist who had repeatedly
called for his impeachment on account of his underworld ties as nothing
more than a falling out between gangsters.
Woodbury quotes the reportage of Forrest Davis of Scripps-Howard, a long-time Liggett sympathizer:
his December 10 story, Davis noted that the governor had “proceeded
with finesse, shrewdly, legalistically, to extinguish the reputation of
Liggett.” The “official theory” was that Walter, pressed for funds, had
solicited money frot he same liquor dealers he had been attacking. “A
fable is being constructed of Liggett the blackmailer, the underworld
chiseler,” Davis wrote. “Visitors to his apartment and his printing
office find it difficult to accept this view”...
suppose Liggett was the victim of what the Marxists call economic
determinism,” the governor said. “He had to have the money, and he went
out to get it.” (STP, pp. 159-160)
Walter Liggett left an estate of $1,324.
Kid Conn, in possession of an ironclad alibi, went to trial but was acquitted.
Governor Olson, on whose behalf so much ink and blood had been spilled,
died of stomach cancer in 1936, his dreams of a Senate seat, third
party political power, and, perhaps, national office unfulfilled.
footnote to Liggett’s life and death was the determined effort of
Walter’s widow, Edith, to secure a libel judgment against the Communist
newspaper The Daily Worker.
In the service of the Popular Front
policy of supporting Olson, The Daily Worker published a series of
articles attacking Liggett in early 1936, pushing the line that Liggett
had been murdered in retaliation for his failed shakedown racket against
The first article was entitled Liggett Was Murdered by the Underworld for his Scavenging
and declared of Edith Liggett, “it is especially disgusting to see the
widow of the slain publisher selling the corpse limb by limb to the
highest bidder of the Minnesota Republican Party.” (STP 198-99)
six years of legal and corporate gyrations by The Daily Worker, Edith
Liggett finally prevailed and received a $2100 settlement.
In this libel case, the final irony is that Liggett’s reputation was vindicated
despite the fact that the ACLU was writing The Daily Worker’s appeal
briefs for them.
Liggett’s travails at the hands of Floyd Olson bookend his experiences with Hoover in an interesting manner.
livelihood and reputation were subjected to the same kind of concerted,
unscrupulous extralegal attacks by Hoover, a Republican pillar of the
international business and political establishment at the apex of power
in Washington, and by Floyd Olson, a self-styled radical populist and
FDR ally from the midwest.
In both cases, his enemies used their
power as shield, sword, and cloak, employing their positions of
privilege to obstruct, attack, and denigrate their critics.
and Olson’s reputations have survived, carefully constructed and
lovingly maintained false facades that seem too majestic, too
impervious, and too familiar to even consider tearing down.
price of cherishing these monuments is to disappear Walter Liggett,
together with the facts he collected, the words he wrote, and the impact
The fact that Hoover and his circle did not stoop to murder in the destruction of his enemies is faint praise.
and contrasting Hoover’s methods with those of Olson’s undercuts the
assertion that Hoover’s actions to preserve his reputation were an
isolated response to an unprecedented affront against one of the
misunderstood Paladins of the age.
the actions of Hoover and his circle look depressingly familiar: the
standard operating procedure of every modern manipulator steeped in the
corrupting process of acquiring and preserving political power.
Destroying reputations and lives isn’t just the cost of doing business in modern American politics.
It erects false heroes while it casts down real ones.
it leaves the discovery of the truth, or at least part of it, to a
chance encounter with a battered old book in a hotel lobby—or the
emergence of a woman with the emotional and mental stamina to sift through a
mountain of lies, distortions, and omissions in order to present the
world with a true picture of her father.
Delbert Smith of the New York Times eulogized Walter Liggett:
assassin who struck down Walter Liggett in Minneapolis removed from the
American scene one of the last of the old-school crusading journalists,
miscalled “muckrakers”, who for personal integrity stood head and
shoulders above the common ruck.
As a former editorial associate
of Liggett, I wish to pay my small tribute to a man whose principal
fault, if it can be called that, was his disinclination to look out for
his own interests—the rash courage which made him an easy target for the
guns of the underworld. (STP, p. 144)
Marda Woodbury wrote:
had married my father for love and happiness—for his looks,
intelligence, ideals, warmth, humor, and joie de vivre. In my childhood
cosmogony, our family was a self-sufficient unit. My father was our sun,
warm and benevolent if somewhat distant, and family life revolved
around him. We lost our core when he died. (STP, p. 210)
Stopping the Presses: The Murder of Walter W. Liggett by Marda Liggett Woodbury is still in print and available on Amazon and at Powell’s.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
Friday, July 22, 2016
In case you haven’t seen Baton Rouge shooter Gavin Long’s alleged manifesto, I’ve included it at the end of this post. It's an interesting document.
His manifesto doesn’t provide a lot of leverage for shoehorning him into the “panty-stealing PTSD-addled deranged shooter” frame that Micah Johnson got for his attack on policemen in Dallas, despite Johnson’s overt interest in black nationalism of the cop-assaulting variety.
Long had a plausible if extremely alarming thesis: that indiscriminate killing good and bad cops would compel good cops to police the bad cops to improve their behavior.
That’s also textbook terrorism, at least according to the FBI.
"Domestic terrorism" means activities with the following three characteristics:
- Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
- Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
- Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
However, no designation by the government of Long as a domestic terrorist or, for that matter, calls for such a designation by enemies of the administration, despite the fact that excoriating President Obama for his reluctance to employ the phrase “Islamic terrorism”, especially in the matter of the Orlando shooting, has been the order of the day for the GOP.
Playing politics with a domestic terror attack by a black radical could very well “heighten tensions” as we say, contributing to retaliatory and copycat atrocities by both sides. I think the FBI is working doubletime in its unacknowledged and borderline extra-legal task of surveilling, infiltrating, and entrapping radical groups on both sides of the racial aisle. All hands on deck. Gotta keep a lid on things.
And I think that priority has been communicated, not only to sympathetic media to shape their coverage, but also to Donald Trump.
After the Dallas shooting, Trump made an uncharacteristically un-Trumpy statesman-y statement, presumably dictated by the establishment voices in the GOP, that actually referenced (if not named) the killings-by-cops victims Philandro Castile and Alton Sterling. Trump got the Obama memo, I think.
I think the White House is extremely concerned about a heightened atmosphere of racial confrontation, one in which the President of the United States would be hamstrung in restraining any genocidal element in the white majority because he’s, well, black.
I suspect not even the GOP at this stage wants to escalate tensions by throwing declarations of black nationalist terrorism into the national mix. If so, Good for them!
Well, let me walk that back a bit.
Donald Trump, perhaps chafing under the restraints imposed by his Dallas statement, took President Obama to task for what he alleged was uncomfortable body language during the President's televised remarks on Baton Rouge:
"I watched the President and sometimes the words are OK, but you just look at the body language, there's something going on. Look, there's something going on, and the words are not often OK, by the way…. There's just bad feeling, and a lot of bad feeling about him. I see it, too," Trump responded. "There's a lot of bad feeling about him. We have a country that has not been like this since I can remember it."
This was Trump’s way of saying that President Obama’s mourning as Cop-in-Chief for the dead and wounded law enforcement officers was apparently tempered by his understanding as a person of color that cops do sh*tty things disproportionately to people of color.
The President’s response, in other words, was to call for Americans to recognize their divisions, and not confine himself to calls for the angels of vengeance to rain hellfire on the heads of the perpetrators:
It is so important that everyone -- regardless of race or political party or profession, regardless of what organizations you are a part of -- everyone right now focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it further. We don't need inflammatory rhetoric. We don't need careless accusations thrown around to score political points or to advance an agenda. We need to temper our words and open our hearts -- all of us.
Invoking wrath is Trump’s job, of course. He has defined himself as the unequivocal cop-supporting law and order candidate in the wake of the shootings. And he made the “body language” statement to highlight his full-throated cop-love with President Obama’s ambivalence.
Also, it allows Trump to draw attention to the undeniable yet extremely awkward fact that black activists feel more empowered to confront the authors of injustice when there is a black man in the White House. “Blame Obama for stirring up racial divisions instead of blithely disregarding them” is GOP Obama-hate 101.
But Trump has yet to call for a designation of Gavin Long’s actions as a domestic terrorist attack. Which leads me to believe his main interest is in playing “law and order” politics as a champion of white conservatives, the man who’ll fix the country the black president messed up by rolling back minority favoritism, rather than a fascist seeking power by igniting a race war.*
So, some very situation-specific reasons why “domestic terrorism” is not being bandied about in the matter of Gavin Long and the Baton Rouge shootings.
But another good reason not to toss around the “domestic terrorism” tag is that it has already been politicized to the point of uselessness.
People with long memories (nobody, including me; had to look it up) will recall the uproar at the onset of the Obama administration in 2009 when the Justice Department ventured to conclude that the U.S. was chockablock with domestic terrorists of the white nationalist persuasion, many of whom were apparently riled up by the appearance of President Obama in the White House. It was unlikely to be killed by a terrorist in the United States but if it did occur, death was more likely to come at the hands of white radicals of various persuasions—racists, anti-Semites, anti-abortionists, sovereigntists-- rather than Islamic jihadis or, for that matter, black nationalists.
In 2015, the Southern Poverty Law Center provided an in-depth look at the phenomenon in a report titled “Lone Wolf” and described what happened in 2009:
There, it was pilloried, with right-wing pundits and groups like the American Legion falsely claiming that it attacked military veterans, conservatives and others on the political right. That was clearly not true — in fact, the report was remarkably accurate in its analysis and warnings (which included the assertion that the threat of lone wolves and small cells was growing) — but enough of a political firestorm was created that then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano renounced its findings. The team that wrote it and lead analyst Daryl Johnson were falsely accused of failing to follow DHS’ procedures and were criticized by Napolitano and others in public.
Long story short, if you can’t characterize the majority of domestic terrorist actions as “domestic terrorism” for fear of white conservative backlash, it’s politically selective pandering to apply it just to actions that white conservatives believe merit condemnation.
As a result, apparently nobody merits a domestic terrorist designation nowadays. Not white militants, not Islamic militants (not even the San Bernardino killers got their "terrorist" ticket punched), not black militants.
I’m good with that!
In my opinion, the primary purpose of a “terrorist attack” designation is to confer the mantle of “blameless victim” on the casualties—it is a proven fact no *sshole has ever died in a terrorist attack—and also on the afflicted government.
In other words, if the Eiffel Tower gets lit up in your national colors, no need to worry about having to explain blowback from brutal overseas military operations, oppressive domestic enforcement, incompetent police work, or clumsy extralegal incitement by security forces.
That's politically convenient but socially disastrous, in my opinion.
America is an extremely violent society and violence plays a big role in social control and resistance. As I put it elsewhere, America is not “torn apart” by violence; it’s held together by violence.
And moving beyond “America is under attack by terrorists” to “America as a nation permeated by violence” might get us thinking more about the causes, and our responsibilities as perpetrators and enablers, not just passive victims.
There are no "domestic terrorists" in other words; there's only us.
*A brief fascism note:
Accusing Trump of fascism is flavor-of-the-month on the left. But in my opinion, Trump's exploitation of racial tensions fit with my perception of Trump as a traditional American demagogue and not avatar of American fascism.
I have a more parsimonious view of fascism than most, informed by my perception of what goes on in Ukraine where people actually call themselves fascist and eliminate the guesswork. My definition involves creation of a centralized political and military movement designed for the extra-legal seizure of state power.
American fascism will arise, in my opinion, after Trump is defeated (assuming Hillary Clinton does not manage to drive her tedious, over-triangulated campaign into a ditch) and some white conservatives come to terms with the fact that they will probably never be able to elect a president of their color and inclinations again. Then it’s time for Plan B, seizing control of the GOP from the traitors that crippled Donnie’s campaign (I’m thinking Cruzstosse), then who knows? A nationwide white-protection militia movement? Fomenting a race war and a security-centric panic? Bullying the national government to enact otherwise unenactable laws?
That’s my take, a view not popular on the left, right, or anywhere. Deal with it!
Here is Gavin Long's manifesto. It should be read.
I know most of you who personally know me are in disbelief to hear from media reports that I am suspected of committing such horrendous acts of violence. You are thinking to yourself that this is completely out of character of the MAN you knew who was always positive, encouraging, & wore a smile wherever he was seen. Yes this does seem to be out of character but I ask that you finish reading before you make that decision.
I know I will be vilified by the media & police, unfortunately, I see my action’s as a necessary evil that I do not wish to partake in, nor do I enjoy partaking in, but must partake in, in order to create substantial change within America’s police forces and Judicial system.
Right now their is a unseen & concealed war within America’s police force between Good cops & Bad cops. And the way the current system is set up, it protects all cops whether good or bad, right or wrong, instead of punishing bad cops & holding them accountable for their actions.
And when good cops do try and stand up, speak out, & point out the wrong’s & criminal acts of a bad cops they get reprimanded, harassed, blackballed or blacklisted or all of these and more. Thus creating a perpetual systematic fertile ground for bad cops to flourish, excell, & go unpunished in.
Therefore I must bring the same destruction that bad cops continue to inflict upon my people, upon bad cops as well as good cops in hopes that the good cops (which are the majority) will be able to stand together to enact justice and punishment against bad cops b/c right now the police force & current judicial system is not doing so.
Therefore now if the bad cops, law makers, & justice system leader’s care about the welfare, familie’s, & well-being of their fellow good cops, then they (bad cops) will quit committing criminal acts against melanated people & the people in general. If not, my people, & the people in general will continue to strike back against all cops until we see that bad cops are no longer protected & allowed to flourish. B/C until this happens, we the people cannot differentiate the the good from the bad.
Protected & unpunished bad cops forces melanated people to label the good cop as potential threats to the safety & well-being of our women, family, & children. Good cops I ask that you help change this situation that we find ourselves in by starting from within the force & making an impact in their.
For the sake of preventing future loss of life rather it be from the hand of bad cops upon melanated people, or from the hand of the people upon good cops, I do not ask but order (With & By the power of the people behind me) for all bad cops to be punished swiftly, completely, & unhesitatingly; & for all unethical police practices & procedure’s to cease immediately.
Condolences to my people & their loved ones who have been victims at the hands of bad cops for decades. And condolences to the good cops & their families as well.
And special salute $ thank you to the brave cops that have already identified & spoke up against bad cops and racist unjust practices.
The list of good cops include but are not limited to: Officer Edwin Raymond & to the approximate 10 other officers who are coming forward against illegal practices of the NYPD targeting my people unethically.
Salute to Officer Nakia Jones Officer Joe Crystal Fellow Marine & EX-Cop MIchael Wood. Retired Captain Ray Lewis. Former Police Chief Norm Stamper.
Officer Billy Ray Fields. & Officer Frank Serpico.
And every other officer who stands up & protects & serves, and upholds their oath, even if it’s protecting the people from one of their fellow officers.
Sincerely, Love Cosmo
A sacrifice for my people, & a sacrifice for the people.
-LOOK UP, GET UP, & DONT EVER GIVE UP!"
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Now that the UNCLOS SCS ruling has come down, it’s time to deal with What’s Next?
Not good things, in my opinion, as expressed in my latest at Asia Times.
It’s called No off ramps, only dead ends in the South China Sea.
The diplomatic and strategic wild card, I think, is not the fact that the US hasn’t ratified UNCLOS. We’re not a party to the Philippine suit, so it’s no big deal.
What causes some anxious moments in Washington and Manila, I suspect, is the Reagan administration’s successful defiance of the International Court of Justice award in favor of Nicaragua back in 1984, and its utility to the PRC as justification for refusing to accept the UNCLOS arbitral award.
My suspicions concerning the genuine heartburn the Nicaraguan precedent causes the pivoteer bloc in its campaign to ostracize the PRC are supported by some strikingly naff statements by the key lawyers on the Philippines side, Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio and leader of the Philippine legal team Paul Reichler.
In my AT piece I have a couple of quotes from Carpio (go there for the links) about how international law triumphs and the Philippines has nothing to worry about.
From an interview with a TV outlet:
We have a Filipino scholar, he wrote an article, a survey of decisions of the ICJ the arbitral tribunals. In that article, he said over 95% of decisions of the ICJ, the ITLOS and the other arbitral tribunals were eventually complied with. But initially the losing party will say, ‘We will not comply.’ It has happened several times. The losing party will say, “We will not comply.” They hold demonstrations. They threaten to withdraw but in the end, they comply. It may take time. Compliance may take other forms but the compliance is there if the other party is satisfied. In international law, you don’t expect losing party to immediately comply. It takes time.
And in The Rappler, specifically addressing the Nicaraguan issue:
It came to a point it “was costing the US tremendously in terms of reputation,” Carpio told Rappler in an interview. “It claims to be the exponent, the number one advocate of the rule of law, yet it was glaringly in violation of international law. The world was telling the US, ‘You violate international law.’ “
Carpio said the US eventually “gave Nicaragua half a billion dollars in economic aid.” Nicaragua’s president, on the other hand, requested the country’s parliament “to repeal the law that required the US to pay the damages.”
“Eventually there was compliance, in a way that saved the face of the US,” Carpio said.
I have a lot of fun with Carpio’s ahistorical misrepresentation of the Nicaragua case. Again, read the AT piece for the details but the US totally reamed Nicaragua. There was no “half billion quid pro quo”.
I also twit Carpio for his mis-statement that Nicaragua’s president got the parliament to repeal the law that required the US to pay damages. Actually, they repealed the law that would require legislative debate over any bilateral negotiations with the US concerning the award. Then the Foreign Minister was able to fax the ICJ saying that Nicaragua had “discontinued” the case.
This state of affairs almost exactly parallels the jiggery-pokery Carpio recently presided over in the ruling the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA could be signed by—guess who, the Foreign Minister—without any consultation or ratification by the Philippine legislature.
Amazing lapse, Antonio!
Carpio has an excuse for not keeping up with Nicaraguan affairs, maybe. But what about Paul Reichler, the lead counsel for the Philippines? He was actually part of the team arguing the case on behalf of Nicaragua. What’s he got to say? Here’s a snip from Economist in 2014:
95% figure looks…kinda familiar. Maybe Carpio’s “Fililpino scholar” also reads the Economist. If he’s not just talking to Paul Reichler.
Anyway, let’s unpack the two substantive statements:
In Nicaragua the US, he noted, had in fact complied with the court's order to stop mining Nicaragua's harbours.
Ahem. Holly Sklar’s Washington’s War on Nicaragua has a nice tick-tock of the operation. The CIA’s minelaying took place from January through March of 1984. Pretty nasty, by the way. CIA engineered gadgets in-house containing 300 pounds of C4 and dumped them indiscriminately into several Nicaraguan harbors. “Indiscriminate” was, I guess, not a bug but a feature, intended to scare away shippers and cripple Nicaragua’s seaborne commerce. The campaign damaged nine vessels, including Soviet, Liberian, Panamanian, and Dutch ships. Two Nicaraguan servicemen died during a dicey attempt to remove the mines with fishing nets. The mining operations aroused the fury of the countries whose vessels had been damaged, and elicited criticism from Great Britain and France. All in all, an idiotic and irresponsible sh*t show by the CIA.
Memories of Vietnam escalation were still strong and when it was clear the CIA mining gambit had gotten out of hand, the roof fell in. In April 1984 Barry Goldwater wrote Casey (as quoted in Sklar’s book):
Mine the harbors in Nicaragua? This is an act violating international law. This is an act of war. For the life of me, I don’t see how we are going to explain it.
Obviously, the US didn’t even try. When Nicaragua (ably represented by Paul Reichler and others) filed the case with the International Court of Justice, the US declined to participate.
But long story short, the mining stopped in March. It wasn’t stopped as an effort to comply with a ICJ injunction issued on May 10, 1984.
In that injunction, by the way, the ICJ enjoined the United States from jeopardizing Nicaragua’s political independence and sovereignty “by any military or paramilitary activities”. The US violated that injunction continuously and on a massive scale with its continued support for the Contras until at least 1988. The only thing it didn’t do was re-mine the harbors. Could’ve also said the ICJ saved Nicaragua from US nuclear attack with about equal accuracy.
the judgment helped prod Congress to cut off funding for the Contras.
Congress cut off funding for covert activities in Nicaragua for FY 1985 only, through the Boland Amendment. Outrage at the mining played a big part and, yes, the ICJ ruling also provided political cover. But the Reagan administration in response turned to privatizing and internationalizing the anti-Nicaragua campaign through a global initiative (of which only one element was “Iran Contra”) that utterly dwarfed any Congressionally-mandated funding of covert activities.
And in 1985, with privately-sourced lethal aid pouring into the Contra cause despite the Boland amendment, Congress rolled over and let Reagan repackage official US Contra support as “humanitarian aid”. The ICJ ruling had no substantive impact on US funding for Contra activities.
I, for one, would find it interesting and constructive if the US reversed itself and paid the damages associated with the ICJ case, now around $17 billion. Small price to pay, one might thing, for bringing balance to the force, international-law wise, and placing the PRC’s tit firmly in the wringer. But when Daniel Ortega raised the issue back in 2011, there was no outpouring of sympathy from the US.
Hey, Daniel, maybe this is your year! Try again!
Now, as clever lawyering, Reichler’s contributions to fudging the issue of US non-compliance with the ICJ ruling are just fine.
But if taken as guidance to the Philippines that, as Carpio puts it, the Nicaragua case supports the optimistic prediction that the PRC will comply, it borders on malpractice in my admittedly unlawyerly opinion.
And if the PRC—like the United States—intends to hunker down and refuse to comply for nearly a decade (the ICJ decided in favor of Nicaragua in late 1984 and Nicaragua’s then non-Sandinista government discontinued the case in September 1991), the idea that “off ramps” are likely to defuse the crisis is delusional.
Carpio, in addition to declaring the PRC will knuckle under, is big on off ramps, as is the rest of the US legal eagle/pivoteer commentariat these days.
Actually, Carpio is HUGE on offramps, as can be seen from his interview with ABN. He’s got it all: international marine reserves: an underwater peace park!, calling the region the West Philippine Sea only out to the EEZ limit, PRC possibly participating in resource development as a contractor, and, what caught my eye, reasonable rents charged for the PRC’s continued illegal occupation of man-made structures inside the Philippine EEZ…
…places like Mischief Reef!
Interesting. I remember pre-ruling one of the leading SCS lights declaring that the PRC would never vacate Mischief Reef. Seems like there was a shared position that nothing much was going to happen because of the ruling.
Why the heck not?
The one thing that would bring clarity and prompt resolution to the South China Sea situation would be a Philippine order to the PRC to vacate Mischief Reef. And how about a Philippine expeditionary force to occupy it? Isn’t the defiant occupation of an illegal structure a pretty red red line? And don’t tell me it’s because the US Navy’s dance card is so full it can’t pencil in a Pacific War for this year.
And by the way, every day the PRC stays on Mischief Reef decreases the likelihood it will ever comply with the ruling. Because, as Carpio indicated, rent. The Philippines can start assessing rent today and if the PRC hangs around Mischief Reef for “fifty to sixty years” without paying, the claim is going to be more than China’s GDP. For a baseline, consider the musings of a worthy at Forbes:
I wonder how seriously anybody takes these off-ramps as an actual conflict-resolution measure that the PRC will consider palatable.
I think all these magical off-ramps were not constructed for the PRC; they were built for the diplomatic competition between the PRC and the US/Philippines to shape international responses to the ruling.
US position: don’t be afraid to demand that China obey the ruling. They’re gonna comply in the end. And we’ve got all these off ramps!
PRC position: WE.ARE.NOT.COMPLYING
I think on balance most countries, beyond the ally lip service to the United States, gave more weight to the PRC statement than Philippine promises of off-ramp pixie dust, hence the rather subdued reactions.
And the PRC, to maintain its international credibility, is making a big show of not yielding an inch, as they put it, on the South China Sea. I doubt Duterte will be able to accomplish much in this environment despite his obvious interest in trying to de-escalate, since the pro-US hawks will start demanding that he stand up to the PRC and, at the very least start demanding and accruing damages.
The arbitral ruling pretty much shuts the door on bilateral resolution of disputes and my prognosis is for an indefinite but certainly prolonged frozen conflict in the SCS.
PRC relations with ASEAN are f*cked for a decade, I think, and as much this pleases the zero sum pivoteers and their allies in Japan and the Philippines, I don’t think there’s a lot of international gratitude to the US team for converting the low-level irritation of the SCS dispute to a ten-year drag on the regional and world economies.