End of the World?

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Is the world going to end soon? There are a lot of Christians who think so, and whether you agree with them or not, I wouldn’t be surprised. It may not totally end. The planet will probably endure a long time yet, at least some humans may survive, but it seems as if we’ve set ourselves up for a lot of death in this century.
George Gurdjieff, the spiritual teacher of the last century, said that when civilizations die there are usually natural disasters, and everyone goes crazy, destroying all kinds of knowledge and other things that have been built up over years, centuries, even millenia. That seems quite possible right now. There’s always a war somewhere, and there will probably be more soon. We have set ourselves up for ecological catastrophe by burning through our natural resources at a tremendous rate, and poisoning our air, water, and soil (to say nothing of ourselves) while we do it. Many of us don’t want to change, and most of us, I think, are afraid.
One form the fear takes is greed: the wealthy have rigged the game to bring themselves most of the profits from their enterprises. I don’t think this is simple greed, at present. I think they’re aware, consciously or not, that the earth is in big trouble, and they’re trying to make sure they have enough supplies to survive.
People with political power are scared too. They try to make sure the wealthy are their friends, most of them, and persecute whatever group they fear, usually dark-skinned or other minority people. Of course, where they dark-skinned people have power, they often persecute lighter-skinned people too. All kinds of people hate each other, and few have clear consciences. Children escaping from their violent and corrupt countries in Central America (the violence and corruption often courtesy of American foreign policy) are feared as terrorists. Ironically, treating them unkindly may well turn them into terrorists. Our fears may incite us to cause the very things we fear.
One of our fears is running out of oil. That’s a rational fear because oil powers our civilization, but it leads us to do irrational things. One of those things is fracking, the technology which allows us to drill more oil, but uses immense amounts of water, polluting as it does. Shortage of water was already going to be a problem; we’re hastening the onset of that problem. Using ground water, as Californians are doing in their drought won’t help.
Rationally, one of the best things we can do is stop using oil altogether, as much as possible. That may not stop the climate change that seems to be beginning, but it would help. Rather than do that, many prefer to doubt the science that says our behavior is causing global warming, which is actually just a part of the greater overall problem of pollution. The internal combustion engine isn’t the cause of all pollution, but it’s a major part. Other countries have progressed much further with solar and other forms of non-polluting power; in this country a propaganda war is being waged against believers in science until energy companies can get the last nickel and dime out of petrochemicals. Our technology is pretty amazing; unfortunately, it’s also poisonous.
Oil isn’t just used for power, it’s used to make insecticides, artificial fertilizers, and plastics too. Fertilizers and insecticides aren’t necessarily bad, if used wisely, but we tend not to use them wisely. They ARE convenient, and that’s all we seem to care about.
Plastics are also convenient, but in the long run may turn out to be very inconvenient for one simple reason: they don’t biodegrade. In nature, everything biodegrades; nature wastes nothing. Our contemporary attitude is that being able to waste shows how wealthy we are. As is not unusual, we allow our egos to get in the way of our survival. Since plastics don’t biodegrade, they get into the ecosystem, breaking down into small bits that animals eat, and die from. Plastic sheeting enters the ocean, and entangles fish and other sea life, leaving fewer fish for us and other animals to eat. CO2 entering the water also kills off marine life. We’re busy making a world we can’t live in–not very many of us, at least.
Exacerbating all these problems is overpopulation. We have WAY too many people in the world. The planet could support about 2 billion pretty comfortably. We have over 7 billion now. Between war, ecological collapse, and hatred between nations, religions, and groups, I’m afraid we’re going to see a lot of death in this century. If we have a lot of natural disasters too, the toll will only go higher. That doesn’t seem unlikely.
Graham Hancock, in Fingerprints of the Gods, writes about a time in which the human race must have just barely survived, the time after the last ice age.
It was a pretty long one, beginning about 115,000 years ago, and ending about 100,000 years later. Our variety of human may have begun about the same time–something about which many disagree, and we don’t know much about that period. Our usual image is people wearing animal skins and living in caves, but that may not have been as true as we think. There’s evidence of high civilization in the past, scientific and technological abilities that may still be greater than our own.
The earliest civilizations we’re aware of are the Sumerian, Egyptian, and Indian, all at least beginning at least as early as 3,000 BC, and developing in the third millenium BC. There were probably American civilizations then too, as well as quite possibly in the Far East. Writing wasn’t developed much before 3.000 BC, and that’s where we get most of our information. Other sources are available, but we’re not aware of many of them.
One such source is legend. While legend may not always be literally true, I think much legend depicts things that actually happened. A nearly universal legend is of the Great Flood. In this country it’s most familiar to us from the Bible, but according to Hancock, there are some 400 such legends worldwide. He adds that the most likely time for the flood to have happened was after the ice age ended.
It ended very quickly. The ice had been building up for about 100,000 years, with particular accumulations about 60,000 years ago, and 17,000 years ago. But by about 15,000 years ago, most of the ice had melted.
We don’t know what happened, but it’s unlikely to have been a natural end for an ice age. Something seems to have accelerated it. One speculation is that a comet landed in the ocean. That would have caused a lot of tidal waves and flooding, and would also have put a lot of water vapor in the air, meaning lots of rain. Since most of the ice had melted in only 2,000 years, there was a geological reaction, as much of the earth was relieved of the weight of 2 miles of ice. As the weight came off, the planet reacted with earthquakes and volcanoes–lots of them, and big ones. Hancock compares them with “a thousand Krakatoas all at once”. Krakatoa was the Indonesian volcano that erupted in 1883 with a sound heard 3,000 miles away, causing tidal waves in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and filling the atmosphere with volcanic ash, which caused a couple of very cool summers. Imagine what a LOT of those would do.
The climate had warmed in many parts of the world, but volcanic ash would send the temperature back down again, making survival difficult for humans as well as animals. During this period some 70 different species became extinct all over the world, but especially in the Americas. Mammoths, woolly rhinocerus, horses, camels,other species of elephants (at least in the Americas), giant beavers, giant sloths, saber-toothed tigers all died during that time. Some died in floods, where they were torn apart, mixed with the carcasses of other animals and humans, and often frozen in mud. A lot of them died in the La Brea tarpit in what is now California, too.
A number of flood victims have been found near the tops of mountains; animals would naturally run for the mountains in a flood, but sometimes the mountains weren’t high enough. Fossilized whales have been found on elevations well above sea level too. There are even reports of the carcasses of arctic and tropical animals being found mixed together.
Perhaps the most anomalous deaths were in northern Siberia, Alaska, and the Yukon, where many mammoths were suddenly frozen to death.
But other things were going on during that period. Few scientists believe that civilization started much before 3,000 BC, but some have been willing to go out on a limb. One thought that the city of Macchu Picchu in northwestern South America, was built about 15,000 BC, based on solar alignments, and an intricate relief carving of many types of animals, some of which have been extinct a long time. There were agricultural experiments going on there too, though the area is high in the Andes, where few crops can grow.
Agricultural experiments started in Egypt too, about 13,000 BC. They continued for about 2500 years, but seem to have been wiped out by tremendous floods through the Nile Valley about 10,400 BC. Egypt wouldn’t return to agriculture for about another 5,000 years.
More things than that may have been going on in Egypt about that time. About twenty years ago a geologist studied the Great Sphinx of Egypt, and concluded that it had been built much earlier than usually thought (around 2500 BC) because it showed extensive water erosion, much different from wind erosion. Egypt’s climate has been mostly dry since about 3,000 BC (some think there were still extensive showers at times during that millenium), which suggests it was built at or before a time when there was a lot of rain.
There are also some buildings in Egypt built with immense stone blocks–hundreds of tons each, which we would probably be unable to move today, let alone set in place as precisely as these were. We tend to think we’re the first people to have great technology. Egypt, Peru, Mexico, and Lebanon all have examples of hardly believable architecture that says otherwise. So do accounts in ancient Indian literature, which describe flying machines and something that sounds a lot like an atomic bomb. Civilization seems to be much older than we’ve ever believed.
Not only that, but they seem to have left us messages. Many myths and legends come with details that relate to precession of the equinoxes. This is the process in whereby the constellation in which the sun rises at the vernal equinox changes not quite every 2200 years. The sun moves 1% through the constellation almost every 72 years. Thirty degrees in the each zodiac sign means the sign changes every 2160 years. These are some of the numbers associated with precession. The messages seem to say that when the constellation changes may be a time of great danger for humans and this world.
The Great Pyramid is certainly what George Gurdjieff called a legomonism. That is, a work of art that exists ostensibly for one reason, but actually sends a different message into the future. The pyramid sends a lot of them.
Its construction embodies the mathematical ratio pi, as well as phi. The phi ratio is the ratio at which many living things grow, so that arms are shorter than legs by a certain proportion, and branches shorter than the trunk of the tree. 2pi is used on the faces of the pyramid, both extraordinarily monumental and precise. Among other things, the pyramid models the northern hemisphere of the earth at a scale of 43,200 to one, and with almost no error. That’s a precession number. The calculation necessary to do this accurately involves 2pi, which translates spherical geometry to planes. Civilizations have to be mathematically sophisticated to do this.
Besides that, the Great Pyramid is the first of a series of three on the Giza plateau. The second is aligned with it, while the third is off to one side. Robert Bauval, who became a friend of Hancock’s noticed that the alignment exactly matched the belt in the constellation of Orion, which was associated by Egyptians with the god Osiris. Bauval looked through a computer program modeling how various constellations would look at various times because of precession. The model on the ground at Giza precisely marked the time of 10,500 BC. This was also when the constellation was at its lowest point in the sky. It has a cycle of 13,000 years when it rises to its highest point, then sinks back to its lowest point. We have about another 500 years to go before it reaches its highest point.
Why did the pyramid builders specify that date? That’s about the time the sun began to rise in the constellation of Leo, and something else seems to have happened too. That’s when the many mammoths probably froze to death.
Charles Hapgood, a professor at Keene St University in New Hampshire, had a theory, on which he consulted with Albert Einstein, who thought it was credible. He believed that under certain conditions large portions of the earth’s crust could move as much as 30 degrees on the earth’s surface. His theory was justified by much archaeology. Earlier ice ages than the last began in Africa and India. Antarctica was once in the tropics, as were islands in the Arctic Ocean. Continental drift could account for part of that, but is too slow to explain all of it.
Hancock had been wondering where a civilization that had developed possibly even beyond our own could have been located. Surely we would have found more of their remains than we have. He thought it needed a large area to develop, an area good for agriculture, with mountains and rivers, and a beneficial climate. But where could such an area be? The answer seemed to come from Hapgood’s theory, because he’d discovered maps from the 16th century that portrayed Antarctica accurately, at a time when no one knew of its existence. Some seemed to be portraying Antarctica without ice. Who could have made the originals of these maps, some of which must have survived until the 16th century, at least one in Istanbul, where maps from the great library in Alexandria may have gone, before that library was destroyed? Perhaps the same people who portrayed the world’s northern hemisphere on the great pyramid? These were probably not the ancient Egyptians, but the civilization which influenced both them and the Central and South American civilizations.
We know that the North Pole was located in the area of Hudson Bay during the last Ice Age. It now lies near Greenland. Most of North America was covered with ice then, as far south as St Louis. By contrast, northern Asia had a very mild climate–until the mammoths suddenly froze to death in Siberia. It hasn’t been mild since.
Antarctica is the fifth largest continent, and we know little about it, since it’s been covered in ice for at least 5,000 years. It would have provided a place for an advanced civilization to develop if it had been in the southern Atlantic, but not so far south as to be in the polar region. When the mammoths died in the north, perhaps it suddenly traveled thirty degrees south to become the South Pole, developing a huge ice pack, which keeps us from knowing much about it.
The people there may have known something like that was coming, and tried to establish outposts elsewhere, also helping other people to survive and learn the skills of civilization. People in the Americas and Egypt. If they did, they were doing things most other people didn’t do. Probably most needed help themselves. A frequent explanation for the flood is that humanity was sinful. I’m not sure how sinful they could have been, but I have a pretty clear conviction about our own time. In this century no doubt natural disasters will kill a good many people, as they did in the last century. What will kill probably a lot more are things we’ve done to nature and ourselves. Some will look natural, but not be.
The people in the legends seem to have tried to leave us messages saying that the time when precession changes to the next zodiac sign is a dangerous one. We’re close to a change today, leaving the sign of Pisces (which began shortly before Jesus was born) and entering the sign of Aquarius. A lot of people will remember the song, The Age of Aquarius, which refers to that change. Maybe that time will be one of celebration, but it doesn’t look like that now.

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The Story of Lyndon Johnson, Part 11

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Leading up to 1960 Lyndon Johnson wanted to become president of the United States, but for some reason didn’t want to be seen seeking the nomination. He had assembled a team to help him, but then refused to enter any primaries. His friends and allies kept urging him to run, but he wouldn’t do so publicly.
One reason may have been that he was a Southerner, and feared the reception he would get in the North. He was also always a secretive man, more comfortable with working behind the scenes than out in public, though he was also a very able campaigner. Another part of his reluctance may have been that he underestimated what turned out to be his main competition.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was arguably the most handsome of all the presidents, and his wife Jacqueline arguably the most beautiful of the president’s wives. I remember his campaign, though I was too young to understand the issues to any extent, and also too young to fall under the spell of “Camelot”. I found out more about the Kennedys in later years, but since I was less interested in them than many, there were a lot of things I didn’t know, and about John in particular.
Lyndon Johnson dismissed him as a weakling, which on the surface he was, during the 1940s and much of the 1950s. Johnson was usually a very accurate reader of men, but in this case he hadn’t taken the time to look beneath Kennedy’s surface.
Sometime in the years since, I had read that he had Addison’s disease, a failure of the adrenal glands, but didn’t know the symptoms. One was (unsurprising in a disease of the adrenals) was that he appeared fatigued most of the time. What I didn’t know was that the disease also gave him GI symptoms: frequent nausea and vominting, which didn’t improve his energy level, and made him look like a boy because he couldn’t gain weight. On top of that, he wasn’t accurately diagnosed for TWELVE YEARS!
Add to that a severe back injury, for which he had to wear a corset, and you have the picture of a man with every excuse not to pursue a career. But John Kennedy never complained, and always tried. He should never have been a member of the armed forces, because of his physical condition, but got a position because of his father, Joseph P. Kennedy (who had, among numerous other things, been ambassador to England), and after becoming commanding officer of PT109, became a genuine hero when his boat was attacked and badly damaged by the Japanese. Kennedy did everything he could, successfully, to save the men who were left, including swimming long distances. That must have tried his back, but so did the kind of vessel he served on, which provided a very bumpy ride.
John Kennedy’s father Joseph had had a plan for his sons. His oldest, Joseph Jr, he planned to make president. John was expected to be a writer. But Joseph was killed during the war, and John showed an unexpected talent for politics. During the war, his conversation was frequently about political problems, and it became obvious that he thought about politics often and deeply. He wasn’t so sure about campaigning, but made the effort, and discovered that not only could he light up a room, but was both witty and able to think on his feet. He won his first campaign, and entered the House of Representatives.
He didn’t do anything outstanding there, largely because his illness was still undiagnosed, but was able to run successfully for the Senate a few years later. By that time his illness had finally been diagnosed, he had started treatment with regular doses of cortisone (later switching to cortisol), had finally been able to gain weight, and live a far more normal life. He wasn’t outstanding as a Senator either, but in this case it may have had more to do with his desire to avoid taking unpopular stands that might foreclose his further ambition. He too wanted to be president.
Despite their very different backgrounds, he and Johnson had more in common than appeared on the surface. Both were strong men (Kennedy deceptively so) who had had to struggle. Johnson was more robust than Kennedy, but had also had health problems. Kennedy, of course, had the advantage of family wealth (though Johnson by this time had become wealthy), and also the advantage of two brothers who were politically astute, and worked hard for him.
Robert Kennedy was the runt of the family, and also had to struggle, first for the attention of his father, who didn’t immediately see his qualities, and also to get through college and law school. He wasn’t a natural scholar as John was, passing with only mediocre grades. His most notable characteristic as a young man was his determination, which often manifested as meanness.
At one point, during college or law school, he was celebrating his birthday in a restaurant, and one of his classmates was celebrating his too. Robert hit him over the head with a bottle. His father said (probably not about this incident) that he had begun to respect Robert because they both hated in the same way: neither would easily forgive.
Robert’s first encounter with Lyndon Johnson was in the early 1950s when he was working for Senator Joe McCarthy, who had made a name for himself through allegations of Communism throughout the government. This is an aspect of his career many of the people who later idolized him either didn’t know, or didn’t care to remember. At the time, he agreed with McCarthy about the menace of Communism.
He first met Johnson in the Congressional dining room. Johnson had become master of the Senate by this time, so had a lot of status. Kennedy didn’t, and he had disliked Johnson before they met, because Johnson was critical of both his father and brother. Johnson shook hands with all the group around McCarthy, but Robert didn’t want to shake his hand. Johnson virtually forced him to, looming over him (Johnson was both a tall and big man) until Robert shook his hand. Neither liked each other. Someone compared it to two strange dogs meeting: whatever the rational explanations, the dislike was visceral, and set up a pretty bizarre drama later on.
By the late 1950s Robert Kennedy had garnered some respect, having served on John McClellan’s anti-organized crime committee, and having acquired a great dislike for Jimmy Hoffa, whom he was determined to put in prison. That took a number of years, but eventually he was successful.
After trying for the vice presidential nomination, and failing, John F. Kennedy’s organization began setting up an organization to elect him president in 1960; his father’s money came in handy here, but so did his own political ability, and that of his brothers Robert and Edward. Edward (Ted) Kennedy was only just beginning in politics, but showed ability there too, as John and Robert did. Their campaign organization was very effective.
Johnson had an effective campaign organization too, but wasn’t letting it function, apparently because of ambivalence about his presidential goal, and his preference for operating in the background. He thought that no Democrat would be able to gain a commanding lead, and the national convention would be deadlocked, where he could become a compromise candidate. By the time he began campaigning nationwide, he found that the Kennedys had usually been there first, and had locked up a lot of the votes he needed. This became evident when the convention began, and Kennedy was able to win the nomination pretty easily. That set up the beginning of the drama that the relationship between the Kennedys and Johnson would have.
Once Kennedy had the nomination the question became who would be vice president. Most people in Washington thought the job of vice president was a miserable one. The vice president might preside over the Senate, but couldn’t really exercise power there. He had no real power of his own, and usually had mostly ceremonial duties the president was too busy to perform. Sam Rayburn wanted Johnson to be president, but not vice president, exactly for those reasons, and urged Johnson not to accept the office if it was offered. But Johnson had been calculating, and explained his calculations to Rayburn. Johnson also said that “power is where power goes.” He expected to be able to exercise power as vice president because of who he was and the relationships he’d built up.
If he didn’t take his chance now, he might not have another until 1968, when Kennedy was through with the White House. Being vice president would keep him in the public eye and give him a chance at the presidency when it was his turn. And men in his family tended to die relatively young, of heart trouble. Johnson was 52 in 1960, had already had a major heart attack, and would be 60 in 1968. He also noted that a number of presidents had died in office, with their vice presidents succeeding. His chance might be slim, but he had gambled before, and won. He decided it was worth gambling again.
John Kennedy did indeed ask Johnson to become vice president. He knew that he was weak in the South, and needed someone who could bring in Southern votes. Johnson agreed in principle, and this is where the drama began to kick in. Robert Kennedy may or may not have known that his brother wanted Johnson as vice president, but he vehemently disagreed. The day the vice presidency was offered Johnson was meeting with John Kennedy and Sam Rayburn, among others. In the midst of these meetings, Robert Kennedy came to see him to urge him to withdraw from the ticket. Several times. We can imagine that Johnson wasn’t exactly thrilled with Robert’s antagonism, but John Kennedy reaffirmed that he did want Johnson, and Johnson accepted.
It was a good thing for Kennedy that he did. Southerners were suspicious of politicians from Kennedy’s part of the country anyway, and were more inclined to be suspicious at a time when the civil rights movement was inflaming passions. When Johnson first went to Texas to campaign, in his first stop there was a crowd calling him a traitor. He faced the crowd, and the next day the attitude towards him had changed. He campaigned hard all over the South, and Robert Caro says that though charges of crooked elections subsequently centered around Illinois, especially Chicago, there was a lot of shady business in south Texas too. The election was very close, but Kennedy won, and he probably wouldn’t have won without Johnson. Johnson felt like an important member of the team.
That feeling didn’t last. Johnson had expected to retain some power in the Senate, even though he was no long Majority Leader, but had either forgotten or not realized how jealous the Senate and individual Senators were of its and their status. He was no longer on the inside, so he wasn’t included in what was happening.
He also wasn’t much included in what the administration was doing. Robert Kennedy didn’t like him, and probably both Kennedys thought he was a power-grabber, and resolved to keep him away from any sources of power. Johnson may have tried to intimidate John Kennedy, but found that Kennedy didn’t easily intimidate.
Johnson was included in some of the deliberations on the Cuban missile crisis, but was among the people who wanted an armed response to the Russian missiles being set up in Cuba. Robert Kennedy was on the other side of the question, wanting to neither show weakness, nor make mistakes that could launch a nuclear war. His brother agreed with that stance, and sent several messages to Russia and Khruschev to indicate that the US was willing to negotiate, but only within limits. They gave Khruschev and the other Russians time to think about the consequences of their actions, and the Russians also decided the risks were too great. That was probably the greatest of the Kennedy administration’s accomplishments.
Through the rest of Kennedy’s presidency Johnson became depressed. He was a man used to exercising power, but now had no power to exercise. He was excluded from the Senate, which had been his kingdom, and excluded from the administration he had helped put in power. He was very different from the other people the Kennedys had gathered around them: people who had gone to Ivy League schools, studied literature and art. Johnson knew nothing about those things, and acutely felt the third-rate education (at best) he had obtained at his college. The northeastern culture of the Kennedy White house was at the opposite extreme from Johnson’s Southwestern culture. Johnson tried to make it look like he was a presence at the White House, and frequently consulted, but not many were fooled. When he was interviewed, now infrequently, he said he was Kennedy’s firmest supporter, and that he just wanted to be the best vice president he could be.
A recent article focused on Johnson’s relationship with Robert Kennedy, how toxic it was, and how much better it could conceivably have been. Both men had negative sides, expressed in meanness and arrogance, and they evoked those negative sides in each other. But each had a positive side as well. After Robert Kennedy married and had become successful, a much more positive side of him emerged, an idealistic and moral side. It was primarily he who had influenced the president to forebear, and not make a hasty response to Russia during the Cuban crisis, and he also increasingly felt strongly about civil rights. After his father had a stroke, and could no longer talk, Robert Kennedy, with some difficulty, saw him almost daily, spent time with him, fed him, talked to him. He was the Kennedy always there when needed.
Both Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were tough men, but also compassionate men. Johnson usually kept his compassion buried beneath his ambition and arrogance, but it was there. And the thing he had that neither Kennedy had was the ability to get legislation passed. If he and Robert Kennedy could have gotten along, he might have made the Kennedy administration a lot more effective than it was. Unfortunately, that never happened.

The Story of Lyndon Johnson, Part 10

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Lyndon Johnson tried for the presidential nomination in 1956, but waited too long and was unsuccessful. He was convinced that liberals didn’t like him, and didn’t know why. Friends told him it was because of his voting record, and he didn’t want to believe it, but eventually realized he had to get liberals on his side if he hoped to win the presidency. He had plenty of friends in the South, partly because of where he came from, partly because he’d cultivated them. But he couldn’t win with just the South. He had to have supporters in the North too.
The background to his thoughts was the Civil Rights movement. Brown vs the Board of Education had declared separate schools for black and white unequal, but that ruling hadn’t been enforced, or enforced very little.. Rosa Parks had refused to give her seat up to a white woman, and the boycott in Birmingham had forced the bus company to desegregate, and Martin Luther King had become a leader approaching national stature.
Robert Caro says that Lyndon Johnson had always had compassion for the underdog, but when it collided with his ambition, ambition always won. When the two happened to align, he could make almost miraculous things happen, though.
Both parties had been doing political calculations. Both parties saw that doing something for blacks would be profitable. A huge migration had been going on from South to North, and had accelerated since World War II. Blacks couldn’t vote in the South, but they could in the North, and would make candidates there sorry if they didn’t pay attention.
Johnson saw this, and realized that Republicans would capitalize on this opportunity if Democrats didn’t. He started talking to the Southerners in his party about allowing a civil rights bill to pass. The Southerners liked Lyndon Johnson, and would be willing to bend a little to help him, but how far they would bend had strict limits. Liberals didn’t like Rule 22, which allowed the filibuster, and wanted to get rid of it. Southerners wouldn’t allow that, because the filibuster was their ultimate weapon, the reason no civil rights legislation had passed since 1875.
That era echoes this one, because there was gridlock then too. That term hadn’t yet been coined, but there had been gridlock since Franklin Roosevelt had tried to pack the Supreme Court in the late 1930s. Conservatives in both parties had allied to stop him, and once realizing they could work together, had refused to allow any more of his domestic legislation to pass.
Liberals planned a legislative maneuver to get rid of the filibuster: a motion to have the Senate adopt rules for the current session. Having allied themselves with Richard Nixon, who very much wanted Republicans to be on the right side of the civil rights issue, and frequently (as vice president) presided over the Senate, liberals would then immediately ask Nixon to rule on whether the motion was in order, and under what rules the Senate was proceeding. Nixon would then rule that the motion was in order, and would further rule that the Senate was operating under standard parliamentary rules, because it was a new session, and rules hadn’t yet been adopted. Under parliamentary rules, any motion could be passed by simple majority, which would bypass the filibuster by allowing cloture (ending debate) by simple majority instead of two thirds majority.
This had not been kept secret, though, and when the liberals made their play, two of them rose to complete it, but Lyndon Johnson stood up in front of them, and moved to table the motion. This made the prior motion no longer pending business, so no ruling could be obtained on it. The tabling motion would be voted on first. That ended any effort against the filibuster.
Johnson had made this move to stay friends with the South, but it became apparent that the Southern Senators wanted him to become president mainly to keep things as they were in the South. However, there was increasing pressure for civil rights legislation, with resentment from both blacks and whites in the South and elsewhere. These voters had to be accommodated, or to seem to be accommodated, and Johnson saw that a civil rights bill needed to be passed, not just for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the Democratic party, and ultimately the nation as a whole. So he began searching for parts of the bill on which the different parties could compromise.
Liberals wanted Title 3, which would end segregation in all public places to be passed intact; conservatives were determined not to pass it. Johnson kept asking all parties about areas of possible compromise, and from conservatives was able to hear what they were not saying: there was one part of the bill on which they felt uneasy. This was Title 4, which guaranteed voting rights. As extremely skilled politicians and parliamentarians, all of them were also strict constitutionalists, and weren’t comfortable with denying anyone voting rights, which were specifically guaranteed in the constitution. Liberals were still determined to pass Title 3, but Johnson told them that if black voting rights were guaranteed, other rights would follow: politicians would have to give things to black voters if they wanted to get elected. He also predicted that getting the first civil rights bill through the Congress would make it easier to get subsequent bills through. So the first one need not fix everything at once. Later bills could do what had been neglected.
One leverage Johnson had with Southern senators was that if they were unwilling to compromise at all, Republicans would ally themselves with liberals, and pass the bill no matter what Southerners did. And if they managed to stop the bill with a filibuster, they might lose a filibuster the next time. But if the South was to allow a civil rights bill to be passed, it had to be weakened to the point that it wouldn’t be offensive. That was Johnson’s next task.
The South wouldn’t even allow a civil rights bill to reach the floor, unless it was confident it had the votes to defeat it; and if they were isolated, they wouldn’t have the votes. Civil rights was now an important issue, so a lot of people supported it. These other senators didn’t have the parliamentary skills of the Southerners, but they had the numbers. So the South would filibuster, starting before the bill even reached the floor, and continuing as long as necessary to kill the bill. Unless they had enough votes to kill any bill they couldn’t accept.
Johnson found them those votes. In the far Northwest of the country was Hell’s Canyon, where senators from the Northwestern states (Washington, Idaho, Oregon, etc) had lobbied for years for the federal government to build a dam to generate hydroelectric power. Power companies had blocked their proposals, because they wanted to build a dam themselves, and be able to charge whatever rates they wanted for the electricity. The Northwestern senators wanted the dam built by the government to keep rates down. Johnson sold Southern senators on backing the Northwesterners (on a project Southerners considered socialistic) by telling them first that if they didn’t, Northwestern votes wouldn’t be available to them on the civil rights bill, and second, that voting for the dam bill wouldn’t guarantee the dam would be built anyway. So the deal was made, and Southerners became willing to at least consider a civil rights bill. On neither the power nor the civil rights bill would more of each group vote than necessary at any time (Southerners wouldn’t want to be seen voted for “socialism”, Northwesterners against civil rights) to aid the aims of the other. The first step was made when the civil rights bill was allowed to be placed on the Senate calendar, from whence it could come to the floor, with the aid of Northwestern votes, and the Hell’s Canyon bill passed immediately afterwards, to the dismay of the liberals, when when they saw that some of the Northwesterners had voted AGAINST allowing the civil rights bill. They knew that such an alliance would make passage of civil rights even more difficult.
Next the civil rights bill had to be brought to the floor for debate, then to a vote, and then the votes had to be found to pass it. So far, only one hurdle had been surmounted. Liberals didn’t see it that way. They thought that since Republicans were now on their side, they wouldn’t have to compromise. That was because they couldn’t see enough moves ahead. There were enough votes for passage, but if the bill reached the floor, it would be filibustered, and there WOULDN”T be enough votes for cloture, which would shut debate down, and allow the measure to be voted on. To actually pass the bill, Johnson had to find a way around these problems.
The next problem was detected by Richard Russell in the Brownell amendment to the bill, which would give the federal government power to enforce the law by force, if necessary. This referred directly to Title 3, desegregating the public areas and services in the South, which Southern senators would never accept. And the bill would allow the government to enforce the bill with troops, bringing back memories of Reconstruction.
Johnson arranged a secret meeting with President Eisenhower to tell him that Title 3 would prevent the civil rights bill from being passed, and got Philip Graham, owner of the Washington Post, to talk to Joe Rauh,one of the most important Democratic liberals, about the right to vote being more immediately important than full desegregation. Eisenhower saw the problem, and in a speech emphasized the importance of the right to vote. Rauh was unconvinced,leaving Johnson unable to pay the South’s price for a civil rights bill.
Then he came upon another important senator trying to find a way to save the bill. This was Clinton Anderson, also a liberal, but one who realized that Title 3 was the big problem in the bill. Johnson noticed he had been at his desk on the Senate floor more often than usual, and asked what he was doing. Anderson had first been trying to rewrite Title 3, but realized he couldn’t do it in a way acceptable to the South, so had crossed out almost all of it. Not only did he want to save the bill, but he thought that Title 3 would provoke a filibuster, which Republicans could exploit. He didn’t want that either. Explaining this to Johnson, he suggested that the remainder of the section be introduced as an amendment by a Southerner or conservative. Johnson immediately saw how this could work, and replied, “YOU do it”, and when Anderson asked how, said, “Get a Republican–a GOOD Republican.” Anderson saw the point of this, and did so. Southerners were still reluctant, but Richard Russell reminded them that after allowing the bill to reach the floor, they could each still vote against it. They finally agreed, and the amendment was passed.
The next problem was jury trials. Should the civil rights bill pass, the South wanted the guarantee of jury trials for any possible violators. Liberals objected to this because it was well known that jury trials in the South were all white, and would convict any accused black person, while exonerating any accused white person, regardless of evidence. This was a particularly uphill fight. Johnson thought sufficiently outside the box to appeal to unions on the issue: several refused to go along with jury trials at the expense of black rights, but John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers, and Cy Anderson, of the railroad brotherhoods came out in favor of jury trials.
That still wasn’t enough. Frank Church of Idaho, had gotten Lyndon Johnson angry at him earlier in the year, by refusing to vote with the South. He wanted to get back in Johnson’s good graces, and he also became more and more interested in the civil rights issue. Considering the bill as a lawyer (which he was), it dawned on him that the problem liberals had with Southern juries was that they were segregated. If juries could have black members, liberals would be more likely to vote for the bill.
The bill finally came down to a drama orchestrated by Johnson. Joseph O’Mahoney began speaking in defense of jury trials, then yielded to Church, who presented his amendment to desegregate juries, which O’Mahoney accepted. They were followed by John Pastore of Rhode Island, who asked the questions many senators were asking themselves. One of these was that an amendment had changed violators of the proposed law to be liable for both civil and criminal contempt, and not criminal contempt only. Thus, a registrar who had been jailed by a judge for civil contempt, and then freed on promising to register Negroes, would suffer a lighter punishment if he reneged because the violation would still be civil contempt, not criminal. Pastore went through the whole issue, bit by bit, asking questions, and then answering them, and ended up affirming the jury trial amendment. Caro says this was one of the speeches that made members of the Senate rethink their views, and there have been relatively few of those.
Richard Nixon realized that things weren’t going the way he wanted, and began frantically lobbying Republicans. But the debate prior to the vote began, and with the vote the jury trial amendment passed.
Many blacks and liberals were initially displeased. They saw the amendment as having taken the teeth out of enforcement, and were bitterly disappointed. But they had to reconsider: this bill could be the first civil rights bill passed in 82 years. They had to believe that it was better than nothing, and could lead to further, better civil rights bills. Roy Wilkins, the well-known civil rights leader, wasn’t happy with the bill, but eventually decided that, on balance, it was better than nothing, and that to pass nothing wouldn’t serve the cause of civil rights. He decided to support the bill.
And the bill passed.
This was the high-water mark of Lyndon Johnson’s time in the Senate. He wouldn’t accomplish anything comparable in his remaining time there. More civil rights bills would be proposed, but none would pass. 1960 was approaching, and with it the time for Johnson to pursue the ambition he had first voiced as a teenager: he wanted to be president.

The Story of Lyndon Johnson, Part 9

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After Lyndon Johnson was reelected in 1954, Democrat also had a majority in the Senate, so he became Majority Leader. As such, he could deal with the chairmen of various committees, instead of staffers, and more directly affect when bills were scheduled and what form they took. He could quash unwanted amendments in committee before the bills reached the floor, or prevent them from getting passed on the floor. Bills were coming to the Senate closer to the forms their sponsors originally wanted, and getting passed without a great deal of debate. No Majority Leader had had this kind of power before, and one may question whether it was good that debate was limited. But it was good for the Democratic party and for Lyndon Johnson.
He also had power to make committee appointments, and could reward or punish anyone by giving or withholding coveted committee positions. He could thus gather many Democrats who wanted to be on his “team”. So in 1955, as in 1953, every newly elected senator got a seat on a major committee, which probably made the Senate function more efficiently, and the expertise new senators brought could be put to use quickly. That probably served the country as well as the Democratic party and Lyndon Johnson.
But now that he had power he used it blatantly. With very few people would he be humble anymore. People he didn’t like he would refuse to talk to, and refuse to reward, if not outright punish. On the floor of the Senate he would even tell Senators to change their votes, without any circumspection. One colleague said it wouldn’t happen a lot, but it would happen.
Part of the efficiency with which the Senate now ran was because of Richard Russell. He wanted to finally end the Civil War, thought the way to do this was to elect a Southern president, and wanted Lyndon Johnson to be that president. So he made his Southern coalition understand that some bills would have to be passed that had a liberal “tinge”, which the Southerners wouldn’t have allowed under any other leader. This brought the party closer together, which would make it stronger at election time.
But Southerners would only compromise so much, and when they wouldn’t, Johnson would have to go along with them. One of these areas was Rule 22, concerning filibusters. Liberals wanted to get rid of that rule, or at least water it down. It was the rule that had prevented any civil rights legislation since 1875, and Southerners wanted to preserve it as their ultimate weapon, so Lyndon Johnson went along.
Robert Caro says that Lyndon Johnson’s interests always came first when they collided with the interests of the country, but sometimes they aligned. The Southern coalition wouldn’t always give him elbow-room, but sometimes they did, and the results were often surprising.
One of these issues was public housing, which conservatives hated, because they thought it was socialism, while liberals wanted to get people out of the slums. One conservative introduced an amendment to a public housing bill which would have cut the number of units subsidized drastically. Johnson argued to the Southerners that although the amendment cut the number of units, they would still be voting for what they deemed socialistic, so why not vote against the amendment, and then vote against the entire bill on the floor? He thus arranged to get the amendment rejected, and when the bill came to the floor it didn’t matter how the Southerners voted: everyone else wanted the bill to pass, and it did.
The very next day a bill to increase the minimum wage bill from 75 cents and hour to $1.25 came to the floor. Johnson had negotiated the raise down to $1.00 an hour, and was telling liberals if they didn’t go along with that they might get no increase at all, while telling conservatives that if they didn’t go along they might get stuck with an increase to $1.25.
The day the bill came to the floor Johnson noticed that during the time allotted for Democrats to debate that most of the bill’s opponents were off the floor, and quickly called a vote and passed it. Liberals, for the second day in a row, were amazed. Both sides were furious with him, but liberals quickly realized that they had at least achieved SOMETHING. $1.00 an hour was better than no increase at all. Johnson often said it wasn’t the function of senators to stand around saying principled things, it was their function to pass legislation. But now he had passed principled legislation. Whatever his beliefs were, they weren’t what had passed the bills: his skills had done that.
With more success came more pressure. He ate a lot, but didn’t eat healthily; he smoked a lot, he drank a lot, he was busy all day and well into the night. During his first campaign, for the House of Representatives, he had worked so hard that people who saw him said they didn’t believe ANYONE could work that hard. At the end of the campaign he came down with appendicitis, and such was his general condition that he had to spend weeks in the hospital.
The same had happened when he made his successful run to the Senate: he worked that hard again, and this time got an infected kidney stone, which he resisted being hospitalized for, and eventually insisted on an experimental treatment, which worked. Robert Caro suggests that if he didn’t succeed then, he may not have cared what happened to him, so he overcame 104 degree fevers and intense pain to win his Senate seat.
Now the same thing was to happen. This time it was a heart attack, and a bad one. Johnson didn’t want to stop what he was doing, didn’t want to go to the hospital, but was finally forced to. Caro remarks that in college he had had a reputation as a physical coward, but when the chips were down he could be, and was, courageous. When told he had to be calm to survive until he got to the hospital, he became calm.
After his heart attack he was at first depressed, but when he got some 4,000 letters and cards from friends and others, he came out of his depression, insisted that all 4,000 be answered personally, and began working again from the hospital, receiving visitors and calling people. Some thought this was probably better for him than inaction, which would have frustrated him to such an extent that he might have had another heart attack.
His doctors insisted he must give up smoking (he was a BIG smoker) and change his diet, and he had the will to do so. Caro says that he occasionally did have a cigarette or two, but that this was rare until after he retired from the presidency, when he began smoking copiously again. He also became a diet fanatic, and lost a lot of weight.
The other thing that he considered was that he still hadn’t reached the goal he’d been working for all his life: the presidency–and another presidential election was coming up. In the event, though, he had ambivalent feelings. He didn’t want to really run all-out unless he thought he had a real chance, but he was willing to make the effort to arrange things so he might have a chance. In 1956, though he came out at the Democratic Convention and really tried, things didn’t work out. The next chance he would have would be 1960, and to have a chance then, he needed to do something that would bring liberals to his side. He had the Southern senators behind him, but there could be no Southern president (there had been none since the Civil War) without a candidate who could appeal to more than one section of the country. Johnson knew this, as did the Southern senators who were his friends. They were willing to compromise a little to improve his chances, and he took advantage of that, as will be told in my next post.

Neil Young’s Cortes the Killer

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Now and then I encounter a song I’ve heard before, and hear something in it I haven’t previously heard. Once, almost fourteen years ago, I woke up one day thinking about a song on The Band’s second album, Whispering Pines. I tried listening to it on tape, and the sound quality just wasn’t good enough, so I bought the CD. That one is a song about a man who has lost the woman he loved, but hopes to find her again. No more than two months after that happened I met the woman I eventually married.
Many years ago I bought Neil Young’s second album, the one with Cinnamon Girl and Down by the River on it, but didn’t buy any others until he put out what I think was his first greatest hits album: Decade. The song that attracted me to buy it was Tonight’s the Night, but it has many of his best early songs on it, and as I was listening to it the other night, one of them struck me.
Cortes the Killer starts with a very long intro, slow and sad, the lead guitar kind of winding around the melody. It sounds like a dirge. I haven’t yet deciphered all the lyrics, but enough to know that they aren’t all factually accurate, and that this is a song about archetypes.
It begins with Cortes sailing towards the New World, “He came dancing across the water, With his stallions and guns”, and describes the New World somewhat in the way that the more idealistic settlers from Europe thought of it: as a land untouched by sin. “And the women all were beautiful, and the men stood straight and tall…”, that hate and war were unknown.
This last part we know to be untrue. The Aztecs, as did the cultures before them, practiced war and human sacrifice. What is amazing today is that Cortes, with less than 500 soldiers, was able to bring down an empire that was as large or larger than most European countries. He did have horses and guns, and the natives seem to have thought him and his men to be gods, but the natives vastly out-numbered Cortes and his men. I suppose we could admire the courage of the Spanish, but their enterprise certainly wasn’t noble.
The song goes on to say that the people carried stones, died along the way, and built monuments that we’re still unable to duplicate. Just what the process was we don’t know, but there are amazing monuments in Mexico and other parts of the two continents, and we can still only speculate as to how they were built.
The penultimate verse is: “I know that she still lives there, And she loves me to this day, I still can’t remember, When and how I lost my way”, which makes the song both personal and archetypal. There was something precious to be found here, and the “she” might be a muse, or some other archetypal woman. A goddess of love or wisdom, perhaps. And all the Americas HAVE lost their way, like most of the rest of the world.
Wendell Berry, the author who is also a farmer, suggests that when Europeans came to this hemisphere their main motivation quickly became greed, no matter what ideals they had started with. Such vast lands, inhabited by people Europeans didn’t bother to consider human, seems to have made them desire to exploit. They sought gold and silver first, using natives as slaves to work the mines, and when the natives died or ran away, bringing blacks from Africa to replace them.
Many natives died in that process, many unintentionally from the diseases white men brought, to which the natives had no resistance, but many intentionally too. Different cultures have difficulty putting aside fear of each others differences to become friends.
The sickness goes back a long way, though. In the history of the human race we know about (only a small part of the whole) war has been a constant. It goes back a long way on the two American continents too.
The legend of Quetzalcoatl (the Mexican name of someone we may consider to have been an actual figure; there is a parallel legend in the northwestern area of South America) is supposed to have been white (odd, since most Native Americans were not), and to have come from the east at a time of great disorder to teach the natives the skills of civilization. The practice of human sacrifice in Central America and Mexico went back a long way. According to legend, Quetzalcoatl opposed this, but was unsuccessful in stopping it. He and the followers he had brought with him are then said to have left by sea, though promising to return.
So the reality of the Americas was not as bright as Young paints it in this song. What is strange is that many of the native peoples had predictions that white men (whom some thought to be gods) would someday return to their part of the world. White men did, but they brought unfortunate things with them, that slew and enslaved most of the natives.
The last lines of the song are: “He came dancing across the water, Cortes, Cortes, What a killer…” The singer’s voice fades, and then so does the band, playing a dirge for the beginnings of the European version of the Americas.