Did you know that Charles Manson and his followers were arrested and released multiple times not long before the Tate-LaBianca murders? What was the motive behind these killings? Why are files about Manson still secret, 50 years after the crimes?

I’ve just finished reading Tom O’Neill’s fascinating and compelling new book about Charles Manson and his followers, Chaos – Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties. If you are interested in understanding US culture and politics in the 1960’s and 1970’s, you’re going to have to spend time with this book and consider its implications. Chaos does a splendid job documenting in compelling detail how Manson and some of his followers had “get out of jail free” cards. The book also proves Manson’s prosecutor, Vince Bugliosi, to be a self-promoting sociopath and a completely unethical lawyer.

Chaos doesn’t quite connect Manson to known US Intelligence operations such as COINTELPRO. However, the book does make a compelling showing that the Manson pattern of local law enforcement being countermanded by “higher authorities” from the federal secret police (FBI-CIA) is consistent with these covert domestic operations. Manson and his followers are treated differently from other criminals. There are significant irregularities. Did you know that, at the time Manson was putting together his little cult, he was under federal probation? Did you know his probation officer, a guy who was studying connections between drug use and violence, had only one person under his supervision?

The author spent 20 years on this book. It started as a magazine piece and morphed into a life-dominating experience in street-level journalism. Part of what makes this book so useful is that the author doesn’t take the easy way out and engage in reasonable-but-salacious theories about “what really happened.” Instead, he shares his reasoning with us, his motivations for pursuing various leads and asking specific questions. Many of these questions remain unanswered. Chaos helps us consider important issues – both about the Manson case and about current events. This book puts a remarkable degree of order to a multidimensional spiderweb of connections, and helps us make better sense of them.

Law enforcement in southern California has been making a dog’s breakfast of hugely important cases for decades. Anybody who studies the murder of Robert Kennedy soon sees that the LAPD’s handling of the case was wildly improper. Bobby Kennedy’s family has argued in public that the convicted assassin could be factually innocent of his murder. That killing was just a bit more than a year before the Tate-LaBianca crimes. The LAPD “police spying” case was litigated for years in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Again, tons of horrifying information about illegal police and prosecutorial policies and practices came out. A few  years later, nobody close to southern California law enforcement or the criminal justice system in LA was surprised by the Rodney King beating.

Thinking about Patty Hearst in the 1970’s, or OJ Simpson much more recently, one doesn’t have to look far to see that the cases are irregular, that there’s quite a bit more going on than meets the eye. In all these cases, we see compelling evidence of corruption in high places across law enforcement and the news media. At the same time, we also see that some of the most important sources for tracking down important leads come from sincere “by-the-book” members of law enforcement and journalism. In the end, it comes down to each of us thinking critically and with heart, but without succumbing to the temptations of overreaching. Tom O’Neill serves as a fine role model for this approach to journalism.

The 50-year anniversary of the Manson murders finds the USA perhaps as upset and divided as it was in 1969. The historical record proves that America’s most bitter divisions in the 1960’s were made worse – consciously – by the federal ‘intelligence’ agencies and by their local agents and colleagues. Nobody doubts that these agencies are vastly more entrenched and powerful today than they were 50 years ago. So to me, the most important question implied by Chaos – Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties isn’t about Charlie Manson or the 1960’s, but about today: To what extent are America’s current violence and culture wars the deliberate work-product of US domestic covert operations?

My takeaway from all of this is a sense that modern America is far more like the former East Germany than anybody wants to admit. I say we should all demand a Truth and Reconciliation process, right here in the good old US of A. We need to open our military and intelligence files and take a good look at what happened – is happening – to our society.

Surely we can do better. 

Reflections on Chaos – Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties, by Tom O’Neill with Dan Piepenbring

Black Lives Matter!

Cell phone video is a powerful force for Democracy.

Alton Sterling’s life matters as much as mine does. Philando Castile’s life matters as much as my wife’s does. The racial problems in US law enforcement are not new but they are becoming less deniable by the day.

This human catastrophe stems from problems that are deeper and more serious than the current debate suggests.

For further disturbing reading, see:

Racial injustice has played a decisive role in my life and in my legal career. I write to offer a few ideas and a prescription to address some of the most corrosive social ills of our time.

In the late 1960s, as a child I got to take some enrichment classes at Los Angeles Community College. Today it is hard to imagine the political ferment on college campuses 50 years ago. I remember being a 9 year-old kid, walking down a long row of tables at LACC, each one of which represented a political cause. I looked up at a tall black college student with sunglasses and a big afro hairdo.

“Why are you so angry?”

He took off his sunglasses and sat down to look me in the eye.

“We’re angry because the cops hurt us. We are getting drafted to fight in Vietnam. Do you know about little black kids, younger than you, getting arrested just a couple years ago for sitting at lunch counters?”

“I heard of it, yes. There is a lunch counter at the Thrifty Drug Store on Sunset and Fairfax. My dad says its too expensive, but I think black people are allowed to eat there.”

“America is a lot rougher than Hollywood. You should think about it.”

In the spring of 1984, I worked as a Certified Law Clerk for the Los Angeles County District Attorney. I got to appear in court and put on felony preliminary hearings. The first words I ever spoke in court on the record were, “Scott Pearce, for the People.” After reading dozens of identical police reports on different drug cases, I went to my supervisor.

“These cases have problems,” I said. “I don’t think the cops are telling the truth. Shouldn’t we be worried about putting on false testimony?”

“Sworn police officers are our colleagues. We have plenty of conflict with them over which cases to file, believe me, but we are confident of the cases we do file. You’ll see. No go back to court.”

A couple years later, I joined the office of the Los Angeles County Public Defender, proud of the work and looking forward to “working within the system” for justice.

Scott Pearce in Division 40

July 1986: A Dashing Defender of Just-Us, in Division 40 of the LA Criminal Court House

I was horrified by what I saw. Going into the central jail to visit clients, I noticed that I was a 27 year-old white man in an expensive suit. Walking down a long line of cells, dozens of brown arms reached out from behind the bars to shake my hand or touch my sleeve and ask for help or to make a phone call to a relative. “Is this South Africa?” My honest reaction was that about 95% of the people behind bars shouldn’t be there at all and the other 5% shouldn’t ever be allowed to get out.

My transactional experience in Hollywood legal work prepared me well for work as a Deputy Public Defender. I was a natural at plea negotiations. My colleagues and I would try to stack the trial courts with lots of cases that had to be tried that day or dismissed, and then go in and work out superb plea bargains.

It did not take me long to realize that pleading defendants guilty – even for a “superb deal” – wasn’t in their interest. At the same time, the trial courts did not seem preferable. Most of the judges were ex-prosecutors or insurance company lawyers, and the evidentiary decisions tended to go against the defense. Sentencing was brutal, even before “Three Strikes” laws led to the wholesale warehousing of criminal defendants.

I admired the tough public defender trial lawyers. I still do. Even so, I knew I coudn’t survive for long as a witness to the daily injustices, and the occasional good I could do for people didn’t seem enough to compensate. I told people I felt like the train conductor to Auschwitz. “This is systematic injustice. It can’t be cured or improved from within. What is the satisfaction in being a Constitutional patina of “due process” when the substance of the criminal justice system is a race war?”

Straight Outta of Compton came out in 1988, not long after I left the public defender’s office to practice on my own and to get into corporate bar exam review and teaching. N.W.A. earned its spot in the Rock and Roll hall of fame with “Straight out of Compton” and “F— the Police.” I spent a little time in the Compton Courthouse in the 1980s, and if anything the N.W.A. album is sentimental and optimistic. Listening to the first couple of cuts on that album felt exactly the same as the first time I heard the Sex Pistols.

30 years later, 1986 seems like a gentle, bygone era. Incarceration rates have exploded during these years. Inequality and injustice in many other forms are obvious, too. What is to be done? Well, for a start:

In the summer of 2002, a couple of videotaped incidents of police violence were global news. One of the incidents happened in Inglewood, California, where I worked as a law professor. I was interviewed on TV2, Denmark’s national television station. Here is the five-minute interview:

Integrity and Compromise

Scott in 1976

Outside the LA Board of Education in 1976, after speaking against undercover cops in class.

1976 Flashback:

“You’re talented, Scott. Why do you have to get up there and lecture your elders about what’s wrong with America? They don’t want to hear it. Why don’t you give them what they want? They will love you if you do, and they’ll shower you with praise. Don’t you want that?”

So spoke my debate coach at Hollywood High, Kay Ross. My debate partner and most of my friends agreed with her. “What’s wrong with winning?”

OK, I thought to myself, early in the spring of 1976. I’ll do it. I’ll pick one big contest and do just what everybody has been telling me to do. I’ll pander to the Authority Figures and see what happens.

The Los Angeles World Affairs Council hosted a speaking contest about World Trade. I decided this would be an ideal opportunity to show my coach and classmates that I could be as good as anybody at “bringing home the brass.” Ideas be damned – it’s all about winning!

Let’s journey back in time and read what I had to say to my beloved Adult Authority Figures on April 27, 1976:

World Trade Means More Jobs

World trade has been responsible for many major accomplishments throughout the history of our civilization. The new world was discovered because merchants wished to find easier trade routes to the East. Major European nations established colonies in America in order to be the best at harvesting the tremendous resources available to those eager merchants who wished to refine and transport them. The United States was established largely because of disputes over the regulation of trade, and countless wars have been fought throughout history over trade rights.

Trade is considered so important because there are tremendous economic advantages at stake – advantages best gained by open and free trade. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “the craft of the merchant is to bring a thing from where it abounds to where it is costly.” A company which transports products to places where they are needed usually turns a healthy profit as well as providing a needed service or commodity.

Another value of trade is as follows: World trade means more jobs. According to the U.S. Labor Department, 70,000 American jobs are created for every billion dollars spent on foreign trade. Our domestic unemployment statistics are certainly affected by our success in world trade.

American wages are the highest in the world. At the same time, the labor costs per unit are lower here than they are in most countries: even lower than in nations which pay only ten or eleven cents an hour to those who ship or produce merchandise.

One reason for this is that American workers are among the most productive workers in the world. For example, an American worker produces almost twice as much merchandise per man hour as a British worker does. Another example is that an American coal miner gets paid eight times as much as a Japanese worker – he also digs coal fourteen times as fast. One result of this is that America sells millions of dollars’ worth of coal to Japan every year.

Trade statistics show the value of good labor – we export more merchandise outside our borders than any other country in history. We sell 59% more to Western Europe than we buy in return; 73% more to Japan than we buy.

Many people in America have grave doubts about the value of foreign trade. They suggest that America should not take the risks required to develop a broad program of international trade. They complain that imports hurt American business and take away American jobs. While it is true that such trade does eliminate some jobs and make some American businesses less viable, at the same time it creates many more jobs – and it makes many businesses more profitable.

It is very easy for an average citizen to be misled about the relative merits of international trade, because foreign imports are very visible, while exports are only a statistic in the financial section of the newspaper.

The record shows that America imports roughly 15 billion dollars’ worth of goods a year, and exports about 20 billion dollars’ worth. If we closed our borders, we would lose 5 billion a year.

The Department of Labor also says that four million jobs depend on trade, while no more than 400,000 jobs have been lost or cut back because of imported goods. The record also shows that there are ten jobs related to our exports for every one job whose loss might be ascribed to imports.

It should be known how important international trade is to other countries as well as to our own. Japan could never have had a chance to ever achieve any real post-war success if she had not been a competitive and aggressive member of the international trade community. The ability to export specific goods to the American market is vital to the success of many of the world’s smaller nations.

Americans should realize that America needs the majority of goods that she imports. We may not need Datsun cars or Panasonic radios, but we do need raw materials like tin and magnesium, and we enjoy coffee and bananas.

60% of the goods imported by the United States are products that are not produced in any great amount in this country. In order for us to get the merchandise that we do need and enjoy, we must also accept some that we could do without.

Many of the imported products that do compete directly with American-made goods have value. One of the reasons, if not the reason for the new variety in American cars is the competitive impact of those small foreign cars.

World trade does not affect the average citizen only through big business. Small businesses are also greatly influenced by international trade. World trade gives the small businessman a greater variety of merchandise to sell at a more varied price range. The increased competition created by a large trade industry on both the local and international levels is healthy. It gives the consumer more goods to choose from.

On the local level, a small businessman who reaps the benefits of foreign trade is able to hire clerks and other assistants as his business grows. On a larger level, when an industry becomes successful as a result of its dealings with other countries, literally hundreds of jobs may be created.

The more people that work, the more prosperous the entire business community becomes. A working man is able to purchase more goods, making it possible for other companies to become successful and hire more workers also.

In addition to spending more money on material things, a working worker does not receive unemployment insurance, or any form of relief from the federal government. This leaves the government free to spend more money on other important things.

On a more personal level, people are generally happier when they are working. As a nation, our level of contentment can be measured alongside the unemployment figures.

One statement that is often made is true: the world is getting smaller every day. We have made great technological advances which reduce the time required to send ideas or goods from one point to another greatly. Today, more than ever, we are our brother’s keeper. The fact that many other countries depend on the markets open to them by world trade for their very livelihood makes our continued dedication to foreign trade almost essential to world prosperity and peace. The fact that such trade is very profitable for American businessmen and workers makes our continued participation in foreign trade satisfying.

The buying and selling of merchandise has been spoken of by many people in many different situations. John Roche once said, “The flow of goods and capital is the livelihood of our world community.” That statement is very true today. I think that a nation’s economic situation is easily determined by its success in foreign trade.

I would like to end this talk with a concise and rousing tribute to the institution of foreign trade, but rather than stumble through all of that, I’ll close by saying:

“The ship of state sails best with the trade winds.”

The last line in this speech was not original. I stole it from a 1940s-era radio sitcom, Fibber McGee and Molly. From start to finish, I wrote the text of this speech as a parody of “the party line” on international trade. I tried to “give them what they want” in such a way that my friends – but not my intended audience – could see my true feelings.

The well-dressed businesspeople loved my speech, gave me first prize, and made wistful observations about how well the world would be served by young leaders such as myself.

“Wonderful, Scott,” exclaimed Mrs. Ross. “I knew you could do it if you put your mind to excellence instead of making everybody sit through another angry outburst!”

I’ve been thinking about this old world trade speech as I ponder the future in light of the British vote to Leave the European Union.

I am a British citizen and I spent a summer studying international law and human rights at Oxford University. All of my upbringing and education – and the ritual pats on the head I got back in the spring of 1976 – push me to be in the Remain camp…and yet I found myself unable to do it.

I’m viscerally thrilled that Leave prevailed – not because it will be good for Britain in the short to mid-term, but because I think it’ll be good for Democracy, both in the UK and in Europe. I see the various “free trade” agreements as anti-democratic and too thoroughly linked to US militarism. President Obama’s rhetoric in favor of these agreements isn’t any more substantial than my teenage ramblings back in ’76.

Maybe with the UK out of the European Union, Germany and France will find it easier to develop a foreign policy independent of the US. Maybe NATO can be disbanded and the Russian olive branches of peace can be accepted. Maybe US military bases in Europe can be closed, quietly, and our troops return home.

Sure, these dreams may seem far-fetched…but five years ago only a handful of right-wingers were arguing for the UK to leave the European Union, and yesterday a decisive majority of my fellow Brits voted to Leave.

Still at it, 40 years later!

Still at it, 40 years later!

Secret Police in Schools

Secret police don’t have a good reputation in America. The Nazis, Soviets and East Germans gave them a bad name. Since America is The Only Exceptional Nation, we don’t have secret police. We have “undercover officers.” Our secret police pretend to be students, entrap classmates and help create a climate of suspicion and fear on campus. Why? For a look at what’s going on right now, try these interesting and troubling pieces at,, and

Today I want to share some documents out of my high school files. They shed a little light on how our government bureaucracies find eager recruits and how they seek to coopt and flatter their critics. This is a curious little slice of history.

1975_1008_Scott_Pearce_DA_ID_aWhen I was a teenage high school student in the mid-1970s, I thought it outrageous that my city would put a higher priority on secret police than it did on textbooks. I figured that teenagers ought to work through the system to be heard. Surely there would be some grownups who would be able to appreciate the corrosive, anti-intellectual consequences of putting “undercover” cops in classrooms. Smart people would be able to stop this expensive, completely unproductive practice.

At the start of the 1975-1976 school year, the LA County District Attorney announced the1975_1008_Scott_Pearce_DA_ID_b formation of The District Attorney’s Youth Council. Here’s the press release from September 18, 1975. “Everyone knows that the juvenile crime problem has multiplied in recent years. Perhaps by explaining some of the functions of the criminal justice system to these student delegates, and having them go back to address social science and government classes, we can further some understanding of the law.”

January 1, 1976

January 1, 1976

Here’s the DA’s October 8, 1975 letter appointing me to the DA’s Youth Council. Here are DA letters about meetings from October 27, 1975, January 9, 1976, February 19, 1976 and May 7, 1976. It’s worth mentioning that California’s marijuana laws changed dramatically on January 1, 1976, when possession of an ounce or less was decriminalized.

The meeting referred to in the January 9, 1976 letter featured a discussion about “The Presence of Open and Undercover Police in Schools.” Representatives from the DA’s management team and the LAPD were on hand. I think I got to address the group for about 45 seconds – and, speaking as a student-athlete and not as a representative of the counterculture, I told them that secret police were a much bigger problem at Hollywood High than drug use among students. I said it reflects poorly on Los Angeles that it can afford to put “undercover” police in classrooms that don’t have enough books. As I spoke, I noticed some of the parents and teachers in the room appreciated my comments – and absolutely none of the prosecutors or cops were favorably impressed.

The DA’s office sent me a nice letter on May 17, 1976, which is reproduced below. The LA County District Attorney wrote, “Your deliberations have been particularly valuable to me in evaluating the policies and attitudes of this office in regard to juvenile justice and undercover narcotics operations on high school campuses.” That’s nice – I guess my ideas helped the DA conclude that the secret police operations should be expanded on high school campuses!

Here’s an interesting LA Times article from 2006, explaining how the City Youth Council is a nice training ground for future politicians and lawyers. It features some nice students who are looking to polish their skills and their resumes.

Too much wealth and power rest in too few hands. How come the American People don’t rise up and do something about their own oppression? Maybe one reason is that the last couple of generations have been warehoused in schools that frighten them into submissive obedience.


Scottish Independence? AYE!

Great-Aunt Janet Allan, Gran Lovie Allan, and Juke Allen, circa 1904I do not have a terribly high opinion of nationalism. German nationalism did not work out very well for the Germans or for their neighbors. Ukrainian nationalism doesn’t look very appealing to me. Jewish nationalism doesn’t seem to be very good for the Jews these days.

Here’s a nice family photograph from about 1904. These three are Scottish siblings; their names are Janet, Lovie and Juke Allan. Lovie is my paternal grandmother. History fails to record the name of the dog. These three likely would have supported Better Together, the ‘No’ campaign. They were proud to be British. George Galloway, the Respect MP from Bradford West, one of the few British politicians I admire, strongly opposes Scottish independence.

2014_09_labour-poster-scottish-independenceIf I had a ballot, I’d vote Yes on September 18. Scotland should leave the United Kingdom. Will independence be good for the Scots? I have my doubts. Will it be good for the world? Aye!

I spent some time in England with Lovie, Janet and other family members when I was a boy, and I was raised in the British expat community of southern California, a dual-citizen of the USA and UK. I also studied law in England in 1982. Many friends tell me I’m more Brit than American, and maybe it’s so, yet I can’t say I ever bought into the myths of Great Britain. For one thing, my dad the natural-born Englishman never had a kind word to say about the British Empire. For another, I actually took the time to read quite a few of Winston Churchill’s books and a number of Churchill biographies – and was properly horrified.

Since the Thatcher years, both Labour and Conservative UK governments have sold out Britain to corporate interests. The British people and British democracy have paid a high price over the last 35 years. The UK has offered unwavering support to the United States and to Israel, no matter how egregious their criminality and no matter how many innocent lives are claimed. It is hopeless. Democracy is broken in the UK. The policies of London are so wrong, so obviously illegal, that the most imaginative thing the Scots could do is break up the United Kingdom from within.

2014_09_oil-of-scotlandDisunion – the end of the United Kingdom – should be the real legacy of Thatcher, Major, Blair and Cameron. These hopelessly amoral, wretched governments in London have wrecked the country, and on the 18th, the people of Scotland have a chance to pull the plug. Mr. Major argues Scottish independence would be have the “disastrous” consequences of ending the British nuclear deterrent and costing Britain her permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Really? Thanks John, those are two more good reasons to vote Yes!

Europe Fears Scottish Independence Contagion. If by “Europe” we mean the authority figures within the EU and their corporate backers, one can certainly understand why. Independence movements threaten to disrupt neoliberal control over Europe.

Throughout my life I have thought of myself as an internationalist as opposed to a provincial “my-country-right-or-wrong” type. If we’re going to have a prayer of doing anything about global climate change it’s going to be necessary to cooperate internationally. And yet, today it is apparent that the western world is dominated by corporate interests that rule by force and fiat for their own benefit. Anything that challenges their power is worth trying.


Postscript: The No vote prevailed. Fair enough. Careful readers will notice I did not list Gordon Brown with Thatcher, Major, Blair and Cameron as those who deserve blame for the breakup of the UK. As the vote neared, Mr. Brown gave a magnificent speech. It’s possible that this speech saved the country – literally. It’s a pity old Gordon couldn’t make some speeches like this one when he was Prime Minister. Well done, sir. Let’s have a look at an important, literate, idealistic speech.

Sympathy for Tricky Dicky

The anniversary of Richard Nixon’s downfall gives us a chance to look back on our troubled history. Mr. Nixon was a racist and a crook. At the same time, compared to today’s leaders, Tricky Dick looks like a courageous, visionary genius. This should be food for thought for everybody, regardless of where we might place ourselves on today’s political spectrum.

We have had many corrupt Presidential elections. John Kennedy may have defeated Richard Nixon in 1960 because a lot of cemeteries in Illinois and Texas voted for the Democrats, though there is some debate. Mr. Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey in 1968 because of treasonous negotiations with our battlefield enemies in Vietnam. Ronald Reagan’s campaign copied that strategy in 1980, undermining President Carter by dealing with his foreign adversaries. The 2000 election may have been the most cynical in our history.

Back in ’74, we got a President who wasn’t elected at all: Gerald Ford, who took office 40 years ago when Richard Nixon resigned. Mr. Ford had been appointed Vice President once Spiro T. Agnew resigned for not reporting cash bribes as income on his tax returns.

August 9, 1974 was the last day of summer school at Hollywood High. 40 years ago today, I brought a Sony AM-FM radio to school to follow events. At the time I considered Nixon’s departure to be a great victory for progress, proof that “the system works,” and cause for celebration. Ample evidence of the criminality of Richard Nixon and his co-conspirators can be found in audio recordings made in the White House. Many Californians detested Richard Nixon, rightly I think, for his campaigns for Congress in 1946 and for the Senate in 1948.

I worked as a teenage volunteer for the local Hollywood office of the George McGovern campaign in 1972, even though I wasn’t yet old enough to drive, much less vote. Watergate was a tiny issue, with one flyer reading “Bug Nixon Before Nixon Bugs You.” I still remember how distraught I was on election night in ’72, watching McGovern concede a landslide defeat before a sympathetic local audience. Seeing Mr. Nixon’s two rather somber victory speeches, one from the Oval Office and one from his campaign headquarters, made me queasy to think about the future. Watergate became a gigantic issue shortly after Nixon’s second inaugural. After leaving office a year and a half into his second term, he made quite a few TV appearances in an effort to rehabilitate his image, and he wrote a number of turgid books. President Bill Clinton gave a sentimental, ludicrous eulogy at Richard Nixon’s funeral.

What possible sympathy could we have for Richard Nixon, the lying, Red-baiting, carpet-bombing, conspiring, foul-mouthed racist?

Let’s look at the situation Mr. Nixon inherited when he took office in 1969. Hundreds of thousands of US troops were thousands of miles away from home, fighting an increasingly unpopular war that Nixon had supported from the start. The previous President, Lyndon Johnson, had taken office as a result of President Kennedy’s assassination, and it’s quite clear that Richard Nixon didn’t buy the Official Story any more seriously than I do. Not only that, but the tapes show that Nixon considered the JFK assassination relevant to the politics of his day. What might that imply? Wouldn’t it mean that Nixon took office knowing that Presidential authority had been violently overthrown by what President Eisenhower characterized as “the military-industrial complex?”

When Eisenhower became President in 1953, he made quick work of ending the Korean War. Nixon, on the other hand, ended up taking a deal at the end of 1972 that he could have had in 1969. Why? How come he didn’t do what Ike did less than 20 years earlier? Maybe it was because the office of the Presidency itself had been hugely weakened. Even so, a look at the record of the Nixon Administration and its colleagues in the mostly Democratic-controlled Congress shows many impressive – and progressive – achievements. Not only did the first term of the Nixon Presidency see passage of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, it also saw the President’s diplomatic openings to the Soviet Union and to the People’s Republic of China. Although it’s fair to judge Nixon’s hysterical anti-communism as helping create and maintain poor relations with these countries in the 40s and 50s, by the early 1970s the opposite was true.

So, exactly how is it that Richard Nixon went from a gigantic landslide in November 1972 to leaving office in disgrace less than two years later? Is it because of a domestic political spying scandal, which the President illegally covered up? That’s what history tells us, but is it really true? At the time of Nixon’s resignation, many commentators and participants said that the story was much deeper, more complicated and far more serious than the one we all followed during those final months of that Administration.

I’d suggest that a more plausible reason for Nixon’s downfall was his failure to keep the loyalty of the US military and intelligence communities. He didn’t end the Vietnam War quickly, but even as he dropped more bombs he withdrew ground forces, and finally he cut a deal. It’s also evident that the Nixon-Kissinger negotiations with the Soviets and Chinese were done largely in secret – from much of the rest of the US government. I suggest that means Richard Nixon was more serious – and more courageous – than most of his adversaries have been able to recognize.

Have a look at RN’s second inaugural address. Really listen to what he is saying. Nixon ended the ground war in Vietnam and revolutionized relations with the two biggest real adversaries our country faced at the time. This is a peace speech, backed up by real diplomacy including nuclear arms reduction talks. This address should be seen as a sequel to President Kennedy’s American University speech. I’d suggest that both speeches – and the policies they represented – crossed a few bright lines that our real masters simply will not permit.

For a moment let’s reconsider the Nixon Administration’s domestic goals. The President speaks about decentralizing government authority. Did he want to end welfare? No, that wouldn’t happen until “liberal” Democrat Bill Clinton, more than 20 years later. Nixon proposed a guaranteed annual income for each family unit, to fight poverty and to get rid of the expensive and humiliating welfare bureaucracy. So, our grotesquely racist President actually advocated policies that were far more liberal and kind than all of his successors! It’s too bad he was such a coarse, unappealing, petty man.

Watergate is a wildly complicated topic. One of the more troubling books to look at is Silent Coup, which goes into a lot of detail about the President’s real enemies, as opposed to the political adversaries who made it onto Nixon’s enemies list. For example, it calls out Bob Woodward as a career asset of US Naval Intelligence. The authors present compelling evidence that suggests the Watergate scandal was orchestrated by deep and powerful political and economic groups who were far to the right of the President. While you’re at it, read JFK and the Unspeakable, which is the best single book about Mr. Kennedy’s assassination.

40 years ago, I celebrated Nixon’s humiliation as much as anybody. Today I observe that Richard M. Nixon might have been the last President of the First American Republic.

OK, that’s enough thinking for now. Remember, friends – You Can’t Drink All Day Unless You Start in the Morning!

No War on Syria

Barak Obama wants to attack Syria, a secular state that poses no threat to our country.

The President and the Secretary of State claim that the Syrian government has used poison gas against its own population. There’s no reason to believe them. The Syrian government is winning; why should it use a weapon that could draw an international response? The physical evidence suggests that the weapons were home-made by the rebels, who are known to possess a supply of poison gas.

It’s reasonable to suspect that the Obama administration’s true motives have more to do with natural resources, geopolitics and Israel than with avenging a few hundred dead civilians in Syria.

The U.S. administration wants war and is trying to manufacture an excuse. We’ve been supporting the rebels in Syria for years. Many of them are foreign mercenaries. They are aligned with the most reactionary forces in the region, notably fundamentalist Saudi Arabia.

Lately we have heard a lot of empty talk about Dr. Martin Luther King. It’s too bad, because Dr. King’s most important teachings are as useful today as they were in 1968. He said,

God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war… And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it.

Friends, I urge you to join me in speaking out against a U.S. attack on Syria. Attacking Syria would constitute a war of aggression, which…is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

911 Comment from 2001

Here is a commentary I wrote about America in light of the events of September 11, 2001 less than a month after that tragic morning:

October 9, 2001

Greetings, Friends:

A new and dangerous phase of current events is underway. Our unelected President and his British butlers have unleashed the Dogs of War on a suffering world.

They will fail to achieve their stated goals, but unless they are resisted at home they will achieve their unstated goals at our expense. Always, but especially from the morning of September 11, I have tried to be a voice for rationality and compassion – as opposed to joining the chorus of ‘U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A….’ In that spirit, I offer the following thoughts:

The Guilt or Innocence of bin Laden

The videotape released by bin Laden a couple of days ago has convinced millions of Americans that bin Laden is guilty of being the mastermind behind the bombings of September 11, despite the fact that he has denied responsibility and did not take credit for the attack in the tape. Certainly, our designated bad guy celebrated the attacks in NYC and DC and predicted more to come; he called on Muslims to fight America. What did you expect him to do, say he’s sorry and commit suicide on camera?

The US Secretary of State promised the world “convincing evidence” of bin Laden’s guilt three weeks ago. If they had it, we’d see it. They don’t. Prime Minister Blair’s long list of “evidence” comes with an up-front disclaimer that the contents aren’t good enough for court. I’m gravely unimpressed and deeply suspicious.

Suppose I’m a gangster. Suppose I’m sitting in a cave, and somebody, we’ll call him ‘Fred’, comes up to me and asks, “Should I kill Officer Bob?” I reply, “Sure, of course you should! Officer Bob is a pawn of the White Man and his Jewish masters. Go kill him.” Then, Fred goes and shoots Officer Bob. What crime am I guilty of? Answer: none, unless I do something to actively assist Fred, such as taking an active step to help him plan the murder or give him money to buy a gun. So if the State Department wants us to accept proof of bin Laden’s cheer leading as evidence of his guilt, I’m not satisfied.

Now please suppose for a moment that bin Laden is guilty. Let’s say he invited all the hijackers over for tea, and let’s say the get-together was video taped, so now we can see bin Laden standing at an easel pointing at a photo of the WTC with a big red X for where the airplane is supposed to hit. What then? The use of force, both in domestic law enforcement and in war, is carefully regulated. It is these regulations that draw the boundary between lawlessness and the rule of law. We ought to follow the law if we purport to “fight for justice”.

It is precisely at times such as these that we must aspire to our highest standards, as opposed to surrendering to our deepest passions!

A Million Casualties by Christmas

Our medal-encrusted “experts” and their civilian “leaders” are making much of the so-called humanitarian aid – less than 40,000 servings a night, dropped randomly into mine fields and elsewhere. What they don’t tell us is that the air strikes have mandated the evacuation of civilian aid workers who were helping feed several million people. I can already hear Tony Blair and his less-articulate American counterparts: “The million civilian hunger casualties are more blood on the hands of bin Laden and his terror networks. Our resolve will never weaken until the threat of international terror networks is ended…”

We’re hearing of “targeted” bombing. It’s nonsense. That’s why journalists are not allowed to cover the action in person, unlike WW2. Legally speaking, there is no such thing as an “unintended consequence” of dropping bombs – there’s just damage, and none of it is “collateral”.

What Are We Fighting For?

The stated objective of Bush and Blair is to “Root out and destroy networks of international terror.” This is not a coherent goal in the abstract; it becomes laughable when we notice that the American Administration is full of veterans of the Contra war, folks who waged a number of covert terrorist wars. The administration wants to have more covert actions. What does the covert arm of western intelligence do for a living? It funds and supports ‘unsavory characters’ (terrorists) who are tasked with the mission of murdering opponents – in Vietnam and in Latin America, many of our targeted victims were civilians who were sympathetic to or active in liberal politics. (See Operation Phoenix, etc.) Now, if Bush and Powell and Rumsfeld were serious about “destroying terrorists of international reach” they’d do something about the nut-case Cubans in Miami, wouldn’t they? Oh wait – those Cubans use violence to stop American Presidential Ballots being counted, so they must be lovers of freedom after all.

The true goals of the Administration are quite apparent: they want to further militarize American society and further protect the financial interests of the corporations and the richest 5% of Americans. Upon his “election”, the President called for a big tax cut for the rich because the economy was doing well. When the economy tanked, the tax cut became necessary because we weren’t doing well. Now the President is trying, cynically, to get another tax cut whilst spending emergency dollars on war. The result is as predictable as gravity: we’ll have deficits again, with higher unemployment and an accelerated transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, all in the name of Security. That’s the True Agenda of the Bush administration. They want to enrich themselves and entrench their power, and they want to do it at our expense. If they were opposed to terrorism they wouldn’t have spent their careers practicing it!

Martin Luther King and John Lennon

You don’t hear too much about these guys during times like these. That’s why Clear Channel, the corporation that owns about a quarter of US radio stations (thanks to the Clinton Telecommunications Act) “advised” its stations not to play “Imagine” after the bombings.

Now we see why those men are so beloved: they had the courage and vision to speak, boldly, of peace and compassion at a time of war. Hindsight shows that they were visionaries, as well as flawed human beings. It is not easy to keep one’s head and face an angry and frightened society with words of compassion and reason. We oppose war and corporate power because it is necessary, not because it is easy.

“I hope one day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.” He was singing to you. Get busy.


The most potent drug is hope. It’s more powerful than any legal or illegal intoxicant; it fills one with energy and an awesome sense of the possible. Sure, I argue that American democracy has largely been thwarted by laws like the National Security Act of 1950 and the power of organized money. But during that same period we saw the Civil Rights movement come off the streets to lead the “leaders” – so even Ronald Reagan had to read scripts that spoke reverently of the memory of Dr. King and used phrases like “give peace a chance.” American society still is segregated and racist – but it’s a hell of a lot more integrated now than it was in 1950. Social activism ended Jim Crow, it ended our criminal war in Vietnam and it ended Apartheid.

Many of the causes that came to prominence in the 1960’s and 1970’s have moved from the fringe to the heart of today’s politics, and they are as vibrant and important today as they were ‘back in the day.’ Environmentalism, the liberation of women, the support of ‘liberation struggles’ of oppressed peoples such as the blacks in South Africa, the recognition of kinship in non-traditional family arrangements – these causes have done enormous good and offer a way out of our present troubles.

Since the Second World War, a lot has been done to try to codify – to put into writing – exactly what rights one ought to have as a birth right of being human. These are best expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document I have circulated in the past. These values ought to be at the heart of all international treaties, particularly those dealing with international trade and investment. Presently, these treaties are designed to protect corporate profits and investors. It’s not hard to fix the problem – all that is needed is the insight and political will.

Suppose I’m wrong about the administration not having good proof of bin Laden’s involvement with the bombings. Suppose I’m also wrong about judging them as being violent hypocrites. Let’s assume for a moment that they’re sincere human beings trying to do their best at a time of crisis, against a vague but deadly enemy. Okay, what should they do? They lead the richest and most powerful nation in history. It seems to me that the military buildup and the hugely expensive use of force is not likely to damage the terrorists nearly as much as it will damage our political and diplomatic standing in the world. I just don’t see how a million or two civilian casualties is going to advance the cause of freedom or hurt terrorism. Certainly it won’t be a very satisfying vengeance for the 6,000 dead in America. Even when viewed most sympathetically, our leaders’ actions fall far short of what is needed to protect us and to advance the cause of freedom at home and around the world. They need our help.

So, my friends, it’s up to us. This is our country, and even the least well off among us has been blessed with great wealth and freedom compared with most of the world’s population. To me, patriotism means standing up as an American and insisting that our nation live up to its highest ideals – because it is right and because it is in our best interest!

Peace, love and strawberries,


Scott Pearce Wants You

To Vote YES on Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010!

Here is a series of one-minute videos in support of Proposition 19, the California ballot initiative that will go before the voters on November 2. Way back in 1972, the California Marijuana Initiative shared office space with McGovern headquarters. I was starting 9th grade at LeConte Junior High School in Hollywood, CA, about half a dozen short blocks away. Election Day was a couple of weeks before my 14th birthday.

I wasn’t old enough to vote in that election, but I was old enough to do a little work for both campaigns. I met Jack Herer when he was young and thin – but no more passionate than he was decades later. I’ve believed in the sanity and justice of this policy for longer than I’ve been licensed to practice law…come to think of it, I’ve been in favor of legalizing marijuana for longer than I’ve been licensed to drive!

Please join me in voting YES on Proposition 19 this November Second!

Can I See Your Papers?

Arizona’s harsh new anti-immigrant law has received a lot of self-righteous comment from all sides. Although I deplore the racism at the heart of Arizona’s law, I believe the angry, confused white people of Arizona deserve the same compassion their undocumented brown counterparts are entitled to.

I’m writing this entry from a rich suburban neighborhood a couple dozen miles north of the US-Mexico border. There is economic and social chaos on both sides of this frontier. In my little way I would like to contribute to inter-racial, cross-border Solidarity. Illegal immigration is caused by “free trade” agreements like NAFTA and GATT, and by the drug war. It will be solved by limiting corporate power and by legalizing drugs.

Happy Fourth of July

Protecting America?

To Celebrate America, let’s meditate on the words of James Madison, our fourth President and Father of the US Constitution:

“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.

War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.

In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people…. [There is also an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and … degeneracy of manners and of morals….

No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

The Great War For Civilisation

Gerald F. Pearce WWI Medal #1Gerald Pearce WWI Medal - Reverse

Gerald F. Pearce was one of the two grandfathers I never met. He was in WWI, but not in the European trenches. Instead, Gerald Senior was in the Middle East. 90 years ago today, the Great War ended. My grandfather was in Baghdad, Iraq. Here’s what the main drag looked like on November 11, 1918:

Baghdad: November 11, 1918

The First World War was supposed to End All Wars. Instead, it ushered in an era of violence without precedent in human history. My grandfather picked up a weapon to “fight for democracy.” I’ve chosen  to devote my life to working for peace.

Gerald Pearce WWI Medal #2Gerald Pearce WWI Medal #2 Reverse