How Barack Obama Ended up in my Junk Mail and Other Stories

It’s always worth just having a peek in your junk mail. You never know what may be found there. I tend to look when I’m expecting an important e-mail and it hasn’t turned up in the usual place, my inbox for instance. I’m always pretty amazed at what I might find there: Invitations to join groups. Blogging advice. Video seminars. How to make money with bitcoin. Russian women who want to meet me and so on.

I’m always surprised at the volume of Russian women who want to meet me and just lately an increasing number of Ukrainian ladies have expressed similar feelings too. I can’t really say that I’ve ever thought of myself as good looking but perhaps when the light catches me in a particular way, something is visible which just catches the eye of Russian women.

A few years ago, I wrote back to one of these ladies who claimed to have seen me on an international dating site and tried to explain I thought she was the victim of a scam and that I had never been on a dating site. The lady in question wrote back with a three-page email detailing her life in a remote region of Russia and how my photograph had so enthralled her she had decided to join me in the USA at the earliest opportunity. I’m sorry to say I didn’t reply although I was tempted to say I would be waiting at JFK in New York whenever she wanted. Funnily enough, she’s not the only person to think I live in the USA.

One day I was scanning through the junk folder and there it was. An e-mail from Barack Obama. That’s right, former President of the USA Barack Obama. Obama clearly wanted my help. He was urging me to vote for Joe Biden. I’m not sure how he had heard about me, maybe he has read one of my blog posts. Of course, if he had, I’m guessing he would have spotted that I’m English although perhaps it isn’t completely clear from my blog posts that I actually live in England, although now I think about it, it actually is.

Joe Biden. Pic courtesy Wikipedia

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to vote for Joe as a favour to Mr Obama, even though I do wonder whether or not Joe is getting a little long in the tooth for the top job at the White House. I say Mr Obama but as we are now on email terms, maybe I should just call him Barack? He could call me Steve or even Ste if he wanted, after all we are now friends, well, email friends, sort of.

Of course, I’m not actually eligible to vote in the USA which could cause a problem with our friendship but I thought I’d keep that to myself until after I’d asked Barack to maybe plug my book, Floating in Space. After all, one favour deserves another and like I said, I am willing to vote for Biden, if I could.

I’m wondering now whether the issues from the last election regarding President Putin came about because he had also received an email from the democrats urging him to vote for their candidate which at the time was Mrs Clinton. I don’t know Putin personally but I can see him being the sort of guy who might take offence at that and maybe cause him to vote for Trump. Putin of course, not being American can’t vote for Trump either but again, I wouldn’t want to be the guy who has to tell him that. One thing that might get in the way is that I don’t actually speak Russian although I do happen to know that the Russian word for no is niet. Putin however, strikes me as the kind of guy who doesn’t want to hear niet, nein, non or basically anything in the negative.

Tell him what he doesn’t want to hear and next thing you know you’d be hearing reports of the English blogger getting hit by a poisoned dart or being invited for a cup of coffee and then suddenly suffering from a bout of radiation poisoning! Putin is not a man who takes dissent lightly and if you don’t believe me try asking Alexei Navalny. Good job I’m not a coffee drinker is all I can say about that.

Donald Trump. Picture courtesy Wikipedia

This week I watched the first presidential debates between Biden and Trump and like many people I really wasn’t impressed. I’m not sure what the population is in the USA these days but it must be pretty big. All those millions of Americans and this is it? These two guys are the best on offer? Actually, that’s not necessarily true because believe it or not there are 1207 candidates in this year’s election. 1207? That’s right, 1207 although the media for some reason will only focus on two.

On a completely different topic, this past week Liz and I went to the funeral of a virtual friend of ours, Johnny Two Sheds. Now neither of us have ever met Johnny but we have both chatted to him out there in cyberspace on various facebook pages relating to Lytham and St Annes. Liz spoke with him much more than me and the two of them had a great deal of cheeky banter over the years particularly on one page which is more dedicated to cheeky banter than to actual news worthy items on the Fylde coast.

Johnny alas was banned by Facebook because as you may have guessed Johnny ‘Two Sheds’ was not his real name. He rose again on Facebook with the name Johnny Phoenix but sadly passed away some weeks ago. Due to the current regulations, only thirty people were allowed at his funeral although it was nice to see his coffin arrive at the country church in Wrea Green escorted by a paramedic motorcycle rider and the street outside lined by his fellow paramedics.

Johnny’s brother was there to answer one important question. Actually I felt a little nervous about posing the question so I gave Liz a nod and she obligingly did the honours. Did Johnny have two sheds? Apparently, he did.


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Reading about Watergate

I remember being in our usual pub quiz a few months back and one of the questions concerned Watergate. We were sitting with some friends, actually some much younger friends and one of them asked me, ‘Watergate? What’s that?’

I have to admit to being surprised as the Watergate scandal is something that every one knows about, don’t they? It’s the scandal that gave the world the ‘gate’ suffix which has been added to every scandal that has happened since. Hence Irangate, Camillagate and so on. What was Watergate about then you might ask? OK, it’s a subject that’s well worth reading about if you like American politics, which I do. I have a number of books about Watergate and President Nixon and I’ll go through them in a moment. Firstly though back to that question, what exactly was Watergate all about?

On June 17th 1972, five burglars were caught in the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Building in Washington. Some of the five had links to the CIA or the FBI but all of them were linked to an organisation known as CREEP, the Committee to REElect the President. The President was Richard Milhous Nixon who had been defeated by John F Kennedy in 1960 but had made an extraordinary comeback to the political limelight. Just think back now to the presidential elections of recent years. Remember those defeated candidates, Dukakis, Mondale, Dole? Familiar names who had their fifteen minutes of fame and then vanished into the history books. Did any of them ever make a comeback? Well, the only one that I can think of is Richard Nixon.

Defeated in the presidential election of 1960 he then ran for governor of California only to lose that election too. He appeared before the media to concede defeat but in an emotional attack on the assembled press he finally called it a day for his political ambitions. ‘You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore’ he said angrily. Then he was gone, off to start a new life in a legal practice. Eight years later he would once again be the Republican candidate for the presidency in the turbulent year of 1968 and this time he would win.

Nixon knew about the hard-line politics of the 1960s and 70s. He knew that others used bugging and other illegal means to get political intelligence and he wasn’t above using those tactics himself. During the Vietnam war Government employee Daniel Ellsberg leaked top-secret information that later became known as the Pentagon Papers to the press. Nixon was furious that the FBI and other security services did not seem to be up to the task of stopping those leaks. He created a security intelligence group within the White House to address the problem and they became known as the ‘plumbers’ led by former FBI agent G Gordon Liddy.

After their initial operations to investigate the leaks of secret information, they escalated their activity to include burglary and covert bugging operations. Wiretaps and listening devices were secreted in the Watergate building, presumably to harvest intelligence on the rival Democratic campaign. However, the Plumbers were required to break in again to service existing devices and set up new ones. On the 17th June 1972 they were caught by the Police.

Whether Nixon ordered that actual break in is unclear, but he did block attempts by the FBI to investigate the matter and he also warned the CIA director that a vigorous investigation of the break‐in might ‘blow the whole Bay of Pigs thing, which we think would be very unfortunate—both for C.I.A. and for the country, at this time, and for American foreign policy.’ What, I wonder, was he referring to, what knowledge did Nixon have about the Bay of Pigs that would threaten Richard Helms, the head of the CIA?

John Dean, counsel to the President was concerned about the increasing demands of the Watergate burglars for more and more money. He mentioned to Nixon that these could ultimately cost -and here Dean plucked a figure from thin air- a million dollars. Dean was shocked by the response.

President Nixon: We could get that.

Dean: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: If you—on the money, if you need the money, I mean, you could get the money fairly easily.

President Nixon: What I meant is, you could get a million dollars. And you could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten.

By this time, news of Watergate and wider implications of misuse of election funds had permeated into the media. The Washington Post had led the way with its reporting by two journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. They had produced numerous scoops because of information given to them by a high level source in the FBI, a source known only as ‘Deep Throat’ but who was later revealed to have been Mark Felt, a deputy director at the FBI.

In early 1973 the senate began its investigation with televised hearings and one of the first revelations was that Nixon routinely taped conversations in the White House. Archibald Cox who had been appointed Special Prosecutor subpoened the tapes. Nixon refused to hand them over and ordered the Attorney General to fire Cox. He resigned in protest as did the Deputy Attorney General. The Solicitor General was called upon to fire Cox which he did. The incident became known as the Saturday Night Massacre.

The revelations on Nixon’s tapes damaged his reputation severely. In an effort to stave off the release of the actual tapes, he first released transcripts. The public reaction, initially favourable, soon faded after people came face to face with the numerous ‘expletive deleted’ comments which were substituted for their President’s foul language. The Providence Journal wrote,  ‘while the transcripts may not have revealed an indictable offense, they showed Nixon contemptuous of the United States, its institutions, and its people.’

Some time later Nixon was forced to release the first batch of tapes. On 27th July 1974 the House Judiciary committee voted to recommend the first article of impeachment against the president. On August 8th, Nixon broadcast his resignation speech. The next day he resigned from office.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote the excellent book All the President’s Men, later made into a major motion picture. It is well worth reading, an excellent book of investigative journalism.

John Dean wrote his version of events in the book Blind Ambition. Dean was given a jail sentence of one to four years for obstruction of justice. He pleaded guilty and after cooperating with prosecutors his sentence was reduced to time served, a mere four months.

 

G. Gordon Liddy was a former FBI agent and the chief operative of the White House ‘Plumbers’ unit. Liddy was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for his involvement in Watergate but this was later reduced by President Carter and Liddy was paroled after four and a half years. Liddy later became a popular radio broadcaster in the USA.

One last book about Nixon himself rather than Watergate.

President Richard Nixon retired in disgrace to his home in San Clemente, California. He never admitted any wrongdoing during his time as President, in fact he stated ‘if the President does it, that means it’s not illegal!’ Nixon in Winter is by Nixon’s research assistant Monica Crowley who worked for the former President until his death in 1994.


Steve Higgins has written a novel ‘Floating in Space’ set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy a copy or for more information.