All the President’s Men

Not to overstate the obvious, but it would behoove those who serve the President to remember the famous title of the Watergate movie – “All the President’s Men.” While President Nixon was pardoned for any crimes that led to his resignation, over twenty of his colleagues went to jail.

Our current President has many challenges that continue to be problematic. His biggest character flaws are his large ego, thin skin and disdain for telling the truth. Yet, what makes these attributes even worse is he cannot remain silent when that would be the wiser course of action. As a result, he has unforced errors.

A month ago, the bookies in London had the odds at even money, this President would resign or be impeached before his first term ends. My guess is the odds are now better than 50/50 that he won’t make four years.

While the proof has yet to be found, this President is acting like a guilty man with respect to Russia collusion. But, what may also be his undoing is his vast number of conflicts of interest. I personally believe he is using the Presidency to make more money, as caring for others has never been his modus operandi.

So, I would recommend people to stop lying for this man and start doing their job. They will stay out of trouble that way.

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Three Current Movies worth seeing

I just completed watching a triumvirate of movies that deal with three uphill battles against institutions, where the latter had either harmed or took advantage of others. These movies are based on true stories and are worth our time to learn from what corruption can do and how hard it is to fight and expose it.

The three movies are “Spotlight,” “The Big Short,” and “Concussion.” I will give you a glimpse of each below, without stealing too much thunder. It is hard to avoid being a spoiler, as these stories are more widely known at this point. But, some of the challenges and stories beneath the corruption are not public knowledge.

Spotlight

The more sober of the three movies, but extremely well done, is the pursuit of a series of stories by reporters within a special investigative unit of The Boston Globe called Spotlight. This unit ties together what turns out to be a significant cover up of pedophile priests in the Boston area. This story helped shine a spotlight on a much bigger problem that was not restricted to Boston.

It has an excellent ensemble cast with Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel MacAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Billy Crudup, Jamey Sheridan and Stanley Tucci. Tucci, in particular, is excellent as an attorney who is painted eccentric, but is the stalwart behind the kids who have been abused. And, the young adults who played the abused kids as adults are marvelous.

The movie will have the feel of “All the President’s Men,” as a team with support from the Editor try to get the story right before they go public. It is what good journalism represents and what is missing in so many places today.

The Big Short

This movie was directed by a comedy director, Adam McKay, based on the book by Michael Lewis on four groups of people who saw the housing meltdown in the US coming and tried to warn others. When they were laughed at, they helped the same bankers create an insurance product that would, in essence, allow them to short the market before it fell. They were laughed at in doing this as well and the banks gladly took their premiums.The one problem for the big bankers and investment community is these guys were right.

The movie has an all star cast with Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Marisa Tomei and Finn Wittrock plus several other good performances. Since the topic could be very dry, the director, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Randolph, peppers the film with a few cameos to explain what is going in layperson’s terms. Pitt serves as the conscious of the movie when he tells the guys not to celebrate too much as their gain means people will lose their homes and jobs.

Many parts of the industry are not shown in a favorable light, nor should be. From aggressive mortgage sales people who sold complex mortgages to people who did not fully understand them because they made more money off them to lenders who packaged high risk mortgages together and then sold them to investors to the rating agencies who sold their ratings for market share growth, there are many who are at fault. Of all of these groups, I have always held the rating agencies as the most blameworthy, as we trusted them the most.

Concussion

This is the movie the NFL did not want people to see. Just like the Catholic Church with abused kids, the NFL leadership covered up knowledge about their concussion problem. The also went to great lengths to discredit a Nigerian born pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, who had significant other credentials, when he discovered that trauma from football eventually took the life of Mike Webster, a retired Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Will Smith plays Omalu quite convincingly, with key roles played by Albert Brooks, Alec Baldwin, David Morse, Adewale Akinnuoye, Luke Wilson and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Mbatha-Raw plays Omalu’s wife and you may remember her from “Belle” and “Larry Crown.” Morse does an excellent job as Webster, showing what transpired following his career. But, the movie is about Smith and his excellent portrayal of Omalu.

Each of these movies shows what corruption can lead to. The Catholic Church and NFL were both more interested in protecting their institutions than considering the victims. The Church preyed on its faithful flock to remain silent while they moved pedophile priests around. The NFL was more interested in band aiding its players while they served their game’s interests, then abandoning these men when they needed help. The players were unaware that their brains were being harmed as much as they were.

The financial sector also preyed on people through greed and arrogance. People were selling and trading stuff they did not fully understand and people were being harmed. Countries were being harmed. As a result, their bossed did not fully understand the risk, nor did their shareholders. Nor did the regulators.

Why does it take a Bennet Omalu, team of reporters or savvy investors to uncover the truth. These are the modern day “Erin Brockovich” with different institutional targets. If you have seen these movies, let me know your feedback. If you have not, I would still love your opinions.

 

Death of an American hero – a real journalist

As many know, Ben Bradlee, the famous editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate story and Pentagon Papers passed away. His funeral service was held yesterday and attended by a who’s who list of journalists and others. Bradlee was amply played by Jason Robards in the movie “All the President’s Men,” which many folks said captured the essence of the man. He wanted to be the first with a story, but he also wanted to be accurate.

He gave the freedom to be reporters to his staff, but unceasingly challenged them to get it right. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were about to accuse the President of the United States with being a crook. So, they better make sure the story was correct. Bradlee asking them to continually verify the facts is what makes the movie version of what they did so compelling. If they got it wrong, it would have been a disaster. But, the fact that about fifty people, including Richard Nixon’s key lieutenants, went to jail showed they got it right. But, the other key was Bradlee backed up his reporters in the face of a mountain of criticism.

We should all have bosses like that. Watching Woodward and Bernstein speak with Charlie Rose about Bradlee, a telling comment came out of which we should remind all journalists and pseudo-journalists. Woodward said Bradlee was often known to say “slow down” encouraging the reporters to take their time to do the homework, do the reporting and tell the story to the public. We need this more than ever, as too many want a quick sound bite report, sometimes on a Twitter feed, which leaves context, depth and accuracy at the train station.

So, we citizens, voters, and readers/ watchers of news need to challenge ourselves to get news from sources that are more trustworthy and offer more in-depth news reporting. We need to avoid the sensational and question things. We need to slow down. We need to be truth seekers. We need to hold our elected officials accountable and ask more questions of them. Truth be told, with so much money in politics, the hypocrisies, poor decisions, and conflicts in interest are rampant and the stories abound. We just need to slow down and pay attention. Thanks Ben Bradlee. *

 

* More on Bradlee can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Bradlee#Other_work

 

Don’t equate Obama with Nixon

I have witnessed at least one pundit and several letters to the editor make reference to Obama being like Nixon. The pundit, George Will, should know better and I would hope the others would, too. We should do a quick history lesson to refresh, but first we may want to wait until all the information is in before people lay Obama over the coals. More on that later. Nixon said often, “I am not a crook.” He was wrong. Let me tell you why:

– Nixon created a burglary group in the White House called The Plumbers, designed to plug leaks and exploit information about their political adversaries. Members of the group broke into the offices of Daniel Ellsberg to steal his reporting on classified issues known as “The Pentagon Papers” which indicated a conspiratorial Nixon presidency. Members also broke into the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex. They got caught which led to the Nixon’s Waterloo known as Watergate.

– Nixon Committee to Reelect the President, interestingly named CREEP, did childish and criminal disruption tactics to discredit Democratic adversaries. They did not want to run against Senator Edmund Muskie; so they made it their mission to get him to drop out of the race. They ran against Senator George McGovern, who was their choice opponent. Nixon won easily over McGovern.

– Nixon’s Chief of Staff, Bob Haldeman, went to jail. His Assistant for Domestic Affairs, John Ehrlichman, went to jail. His Attorney General, John Mitchell, went to jail. So, did White House Special Counsel, Charles Colson, White House Council, John Dean as well as several of the burglars, Gordon Liddy, Howard Hunt and others and Donald Segretti, one of the CREEP tricksters.

– John Dean’s testimony was the most damaging, but it was the existence of tapes of all conversations in the Oval Office that were the smoking gun. Nixon was ordered by the Independent Prosecutor to turn the tapes over, but he asked the new Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire the Independent Prosecutor, Archibald Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. The Deputy AG William Ruckelshaus refused as well and was fired. Cox was finally fired by Robert Bork (who had a later claim to fame, being denied as a Supreme Court Justice nominee). This was called the Saturday Night Massacre and was the beginning of the end for Nixon. He finally was ordered to turn the tapes over.

– Nixon was about to be impeached before he resigned on August 9, 1974. The Congressional Committees approved three articles of impeachment – Obstruction of Justice, Misuse of Power and Contempt of Congress for Defying a Subpoena. Congress was about to take action, but gave the President some time to think about it.

– Nixon could have gone to jail, but President Gerald Ford gave him a full pardon which angered many.

– While this was one of the worst moments in our history, it was also one of best. The president did and condoned criminal activity and tried to cover it up. The heroes are many: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post, Mark Felt (an undercover source known as Deep Throat), Richardson, Cox and Ruckelshaus for standing up to the President, Senator Sam Ervin of NC who chaired the Congressional Committee and Judge John Sirica, to name only a few.

– If you want a summary of the key characters, please click on this link or rent “All the President’s Men” starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

http://www.historyteacher.net/HistoryThroughFilm/FilmReadings/WatergateCastOfCharacters.pdf

My wife laughs at me when I say the next statement, but “I did not make this stuff up.” Do not let anyone tell you what Nixon did was not that bad. Nixon was a crook. Yes, he did do some good things as President – opening China markets, creating the Environmental Protection Agency and ending the war in Vietnam – but his Presidency should be remembered for all of the above.

Getting back to President Obama. I have shared before the Benghazi scandal is on its last legs and if people read the report prepared by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullens back in December, they would not have carried it this far. Both Pickering and Mullens have offered to testify in front of Congressman Darrel Issa’s committee, but have not been asked to do so. Issa did want Pickering to testify with only the Republican committee members behind closed doors, but he declined. They obviously wanted to manage the message. He said he would be delighted to testify in front of the whole committee. Plus, the emails released by the President seem to corroborate the story that the CIA was editing talking points to protect their mission. So, unless something major happens or if  the IRS issue fizzles out, my guess is this will die soon.

The IRS scandal looks like it amounts to over-worked bureaucrats who were attempting to make their jobs easier by having the same people look at the same kinds of filings. The dilemma is there were tons of groups wanting tax exempt status. Yet, per pundit David Brooks, they are guilty of being oblivious to how this might be perceived. And, the managers that should have known better should have made changes. There may be more to it, but we should let the investigations run their course. And, unlike Nixon, Obama is outraged and trying to get to the bottom of it.

The one that gives me pause is the wiretapping for national security issues. I personally do not like what was done to these AP and Fox News reporters and there should have been more procedures followed in my mind. I want to see more on this. Yet, like the above two issues, let the investigations be completed before we rake people over the coals. And, do one more thing – let’s remember what really happened with Nixon.