41 years ago today, the Watergate break-in took place, which led to the resignation of Richard Nixon. Carl Bernstein, one of the journalists that broke the story, was in Dalkey last night to speak about how it changed America.
TODAY IS THE 41st anniversary of the break-in at the Watergate hotel in Washington.
Last night, the legendary journalist Carl Bernstein, who broke the story with his colleague Bob Woodward, was in Dalkey for the final event of the Dalkey Book Festival. St Patrick’s Church was packed to the rafters with fans who had come to hear the 69-year-old in conversation with David McWilliams.
Bernstein and his colleague Bob Woodward were only junior staffers when they investigated the Watergate scandal story for The Washington Post, which led to numerous government investigations and the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Speaking last night, the investigative journalist gave his opinion on a number of issues, from the role of investigative journalism to the Obama presidency.
When asked did he know whether the Watergate story was going to be as big as it was, Bernstein said he did not, but as more information came to light he said he remembered getting a coffee with Woodward at the vending machine just off the newsroom and turning to him and saying:
Oh my God, this president is going to be impeached.
He added that people often asked weren’t they afraid. “Yeah, we were afraid we were going to make a mistake,” he said.
“We are now in the digital age of journalism,” said Bernstein. He was critical about journalists relying on social media for sources and stories, while stating they can be great tools, he said “real reporting is about going to the people, knocking on doors, searching for documentation…”
He was critical of Julian Assange and Wikileaks, stating that “throwing documents” into the newspapers “without giving it context” is not journalism. He criticised how Assange’s actions put many lives ‘at risk’, adding “we have a responsibility as journalists”.
Woodward and Bernstein’s infamous source on the Watergate story, Deep Throat, was protected by them for many years. His identity as the former Federal Bureau of Investigation Associate Director Mark Felt was only revealed in 2005. Bernstein said:
We were smart enough not to even tell either of our now ex wives who Deep Throat was – we kept that secret for over 30 years.
When asked did he think something like Watergate could happen again, Bernstein said: “I would be amazed if a president was willing to conduct a criminal presidency again.”
Speaking about American politics, Bernstein said that the current US President Barack Obama has had many failings over his term in office, stating that he seems to be a reactionary president, acting very late when it comes to situations like Syria.
“It takes Clinton calling him a wuss [for him] to then outline his policy,” he said, adding “he is a very reactive president instead of leading first”.
Bernstein is also an expert on Hillary Clinton, having written her biography in 2007. When asked did he think she will run for the presidency, he said: “She should run for the presidency, if she is healthy”.
However, he added: “She hasn’t had a day off since 1990.”
Read: What was Watergate? Here are 14 facts that explain everything>
Read: After 40 years, the ‘what ifs’ of Watergate scandal are still tantalising>
Is there a Left in America today?
There is, of course, a Left ideology, a Left of the mind, a Left of theory and critique. But is there a Left movement?
Does the Left exist as an oppositional political, cultural or economic force? Is anyone intimidated or restrained by the Left? Is there a counterforce to the grinding machinery neoliberal capitalism and its political managers?
We can and do at CounterPunch and in similar publications, such as Monthly Review and the New Left Review, publish analyses of capitalism and its inherent vulnerabilities, catalogue its predations and wars of military conquest and imperial exploitation. But where is our capacity to confront the daily horrors of drone strikes, kill lists, mass layoffs, pension raids and the looming nightmare of climate change?
It is a bitter reality, brought into vivid focus by five years of Obama, that the Left is an immobilized and politically impotent force at the very moment when the economic inequalities engineered by our overlords at Goldman Sachs who manage the global economy, should have recharged a long-moribund resistance movement back to life.
Instead the Left seems powerless to co
alesce, to translate critique into practice, to mobilize against wars, to resist incursions against basic civil liberties, powerless to confront rule by the bondholders and hedgefunders, unable to meaningfully obstruct the cutting edge of a parasitical economic system that glorifies greed while preying on the weakest and most destitute, and incapable of confronting the true legacy of the man they put their trust in.
This is the politics of exhaustion. We have become a generation of leftovers. We have reached a moment of historical failure that would make even Nietzsche shudder.
We stand on the margins, political exiles in our own country, in a kind of mute darkness, a political occlusion, increasingly obsessed, as the radical art historian Tim Clark put it a few years ago in a disturbing essay in New Left Review, with the tragedy of our own defeat.
Consider this. Two-thirds of the American electorate oppose the ongoing war in Afghanistan. An equal amount objected to intervention in Libya. Even more recoil at the grim prospect of entering the Syrian theater.
Yet there is no antiwar movement to translate that seething disillusionment into action. There are no mass demonstrations. No systematic efforts to obstruct military recruiting. No nationwide strikes. No campus walkouts. No serious divestment campaigns against companies involved in drone technology.
Similar popular disgust is evident regarding the imposition of stern austerity measures during a prolonged and enervating recession. But once again this smoldering outrage has no political outlet in the current political climate, where both parties have fully embraced the savage bottom line math of neoliberalism.
Homelessness, rampant across America, is a verboten topic, unmentioned in the press, absent from political discourse. Hunger, a deepening crisis in rural and urban America, is a taboo subject, something left to religious pray-to-eat charities or the fickle whims of corporate write-offs.
What do they offer us, instead? Pious homilies about the work ethic, the sanctity of the family unit, the self-correcting laxative of market forces.
The economic immiseration of black America, brutal and unrelenting, is simply elided, erased from the political dialogue, even at jam sessions of the Congressional Black Caucus. Instead, whenever
Obama mentions the plight of black Americans (about once every two years by my count), as he did in his patronizing commencement addresses this spring, it is to chide blacks about cleaning up their acts, admonishing them to stop complaining about their circumstances and work harder at adopting the flight plan of white corporate culture.
The self-evident need for large-scale public works projects to green the economy and put people to work goes unmentioned, while the press and the politicians engage in a faux debate over the minutia of sequestration and sharpen each others knives to begin slashing Social Security and Medicare. Where’s the collective outrage? Where are the marches on the Capitol? The sit-ins in congressional offices?
A few weeks ago I wrote an essay on the Obama administration’s infamous memo justifying drone strikes inside countries like Pakistan and Yemen that the US is not officially at war against. In one revealing paragraph, a Justice Department lawyer cited Richard Nixon’s illegal bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War as a precedent for Obama’s killer drone strikes. Let’s recall that the bombing of Cambodia prompted several high-ranking officials in the Nixon cabinet to resign, including CounterPunch writer Roger Morris. It also sparked the student uprising at Kent State, which lead the Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes to declare a state of emergency, ordering the National Guard to rush the campus. The Guard troops promptly began firing at the protesters, killing four and wounding nine. The war had come home.
Where are those protests today?
The environment is unraveling, thread by thread, right before our eyes. Each day brings more dire news. Amphibians are in stark decline across North America. Storms of unimaginable ferocity are strafing the Great Plains week after week. The Arctic will soon be ice-free. The water table is plummeting in the world’s greatest aquifer. The air is carcinogenic in dozens of California cities. The spotted owl is still going extinct. Wolves are beginning gunned down by the hundreds across the Rocky Mountains. Bees, the great pollinators, are disappearing coast-to-coast, wiped out by chemical agriculture. Hurricane season now lasts from May to December. And about all the environmental movement can offer in resistance are a few designer protests against a pipeline which is already a fait accompli.
Our politics has gone sociopathic and liberals in America have been pliant to every abuse, marinated in the toxic silt of Obama’s mordant rhetoric. They eagerly swallow every placebo policy Obama serves them, dutifully defending every incursion against fundamental rights. And each betrayal only serves to make his adoring retinue crave his smile; his occasional glance and nod all the more urgently. Still others on the dogmatic Left circle endlessly, like characters consigned to their eternal roles by Dante, in the ideological cul-de-sac of identity politics.
How much will we stomach before rising up? A fabricated war, a looted economy, a scalded atmosphere, a despoiled gulf, the loss of habeas corpus, the assassination of American citizens…
One looks in vain across this vast landscape of despair for even the dimmest flickers of real rebellion and popular mutiny, as if surveying a nation of somnambulists.
We remain strangely impassive in the face of our own extinction.
One phase of Bradley Manning’s torture is coming to an end and another is beginning. PFC Bradley Manning did this country and the world a great service when he leaked footage of the carnage carried out by the United States in Iraq. Manning’s video showed Iraqi journalists and a family with small children under fire from an apache helicopter. The audio of the footage featured the servicemen who we are told to worship laughing about the fate of the people they had killed.
The only remarkable thing about this footage is that we were able to see it. Occupation always brings with it atrocities and the occupation of Iraq was no different in that regard. What is different and much worse about the United States is that lawlessness has now become perfected and normalized under the Obama administration.
George W. Bush began the process of destroying the rule of law as it relates to the executive branch. As he said, he was “the decider” and his administration worked tirelessly to make the presidency unaccountable to any other branch of government or to the American people. Beginning in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks he claimed that executive privilege gave him the right to declare anyone an enemy combatant who immediately lost the right to due process. He invented the “black sites” in nearly every part of the globe where enemy combatants were subjected to torture. These actions were counter to all moral norms, international law and the Geneva Conventions. Before the Bush era, these standards kept even the worst American intentions in check.
Bush committed these crimes with the help of craven Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, who were informed of torture and rendition and gave full approval. Not only did they prove themselves to be as evil as Bush but their incompetence deprived them of the ability to even exact political advantage when the time was ripe.
The worst aspects of the Bush administration were not undone by Barack Obama and they were perfected and made a permanent part of United States government policy. Simply put, Barack Obama has done more damage to civil liberties than any other president in American history.
Bradley Manning is but one victim of the Obama regime. The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistle blowers than any other president. Bush claimed the right to capture and torture but he didn’t claim the right to kill at will like his predecessor. Even Dick Cheney didn’t have a Tuesday kill list meeting.
Manning was held for nearly three years without being charged, and in solitary confinement. He was forced to sleep without clothing or blankets, and was denied visits, even from members of Congress. This treatment has always been considered torture and the fact that it was meted out by Obama shouldn’t change the definition.
Manning’s torture, from being charged with aiding and abetting the enemy to solitary confinement, can be laid at the feet of Barack Obama. Bradley Manning did not kill anyone, he didn’t lie to the people or the media. He only revealed what his country was doing. In his words, he wanted to “spark a domestic debate of the role of the military and foreign policy in general and cause society to reevaluate the need and even desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore their effect on people who live in that environment every day.”
Those words are not particularly noteworthy. They describe a rather pedestrian and sensible desire to do what any citizen of a democracy should want to do. Yet in this era of ever expanding imperialism and the crushing of people here and abroad those words are dangerous.
The Obama administration decided to crush Bradley Manning’s spirit and to make an example of him. They still hope to find some way of prosecuting Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and post his head on a spike alongside Manning’s. After PFC Manning spends the rest of his life in jail, no one is likely to consider revealing even the most innocuous information to the public.
As Barack Obama makes good on the fantasies of Reagan and the Bushes, it would be important to know that his crimes might be revealed. Instead he has made certain that they will remain secret forever. Manning and Assange are not only the best heroes but they will be the last too.