|Intl. Notebook | Politique Diabolique||Nov 22 2013|
Stories about John F. Kennedy’s assassination have been appearing in the media for several weeks leading up the 50th anniversary of the event, as various outlets try to get ahead of the wave of interest, but we’re purists here, so we’re sharing this poster today, on the actual anniversary of the murder. Let’s get the basics out of the way first. As we’ve mentioned before, a Gallup poll taken days after the killing showed that a majority of Americans believed Oswald was not the only participant. That percentage has gone up since, reaching more than 80%, according to some surveys. That means people who believe Oswald acted with others have always been the majority, and today are the vast majority. That’s something your trusted media outlet always leaves out, doesn’t it? The point is if you think there was a conspiracy, you are the norm, part of an overwhelming norm, rather than some crackpot minority.
It’s an important point because many of the articles published today ask questions like, “Why do people believe in conspiracies?” The problem with that question lies in its framing—it implies that we live in a world that has no or few conspiracies, that it’s silly to believe they exist. That’s very interesting, considering that in the Libor scandal up to 20 major banks conspired to rig interest rates in a $350 trillion derivatives market, that Britain’s spy agency GCHQ conspired to secretly tap into the fiber optic cables that carry the world’s phone calls and internet traffic, that the bank HSBC conspired to launder billions of dollars in South American drug cartel money, that ING conspired to violate sanctions against certain types of business dealings with Cuba and Iran, that News of the World conspired to illegally hack the phones of private citizens, and that Merrill Lynch conspired to deliberately overcharge 95,000 customers $32 million in unwarranted fees. All of these happened in just the last few years.
|Politique Diabolique||Oct 14 2013|
Over the weekend, a squad of drug cops raided the London flat of a woman named Natalie Rowe based on what they described as a “tip from a member of the public.” The drug cops found no drugs, no drug paraphernalia, no sign that drugs had ever been consumed in the apartment. Why is this such an interesting story? Because Rowe, formerly a prominent madam who procured women for paying male customers, is mere days from publishing an autobiography in which she details early 1990s sex and drug parties attended by various Tory politicians. She claims one of the politicians was current Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. He appears in the photo above with Rowe, along with what she says is a line of cocaine (in full, fat view between the yellow vase and the wine glass).
|Vintage Pulp | Politique Diabolique||Aug 19 2013|
This month in 1961 The National Police Gazette put Adolf Hitler on its cover yet again. We don’t know how many times he appeared there, but this makes the twentieth issue we’ve found and posted. When last we left der Führer he was hiding out in either Argentina or Antarctica, but according to Gazette scribe Harvey Wilson, Hitler was directing his minions as they launched a new Nazi empire in Egypt. Wilson tells readers that Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s government was populated by ex-SS officers, that the secret police was being run by Joachim Damling, former head of the Gestapo in Düsseldorf, that there were Egyptian versions of the Hitler Youth, that the economy was being reorganized to a Nazi model, and a vast military machine was being built.
In any case, this is an example of what makes tabloids so interesting to us. Some stories—like the one about Hitler living in Antarctica—are patently ridiculous, while others have at least a kernel of truth. The thrust of this story is largely true—Nazis did flee to Egypt, and manywere welcomed by the government. As for the rest of the story—Nasser did indeed reorganize Egypt’s economy and reshape its military sector, but we can’t confirm that it was due to Nazi influence. And we also can’t confirm the claims about Egyptian Hitler Youth and Joachim Damling, but even if parts of the story were wrong, a tabloid doesn’t need many victories to establish credibility in the eyes of its readership—it just needs a few big ones. On that score you have to give the Gazette credit—it said there were Nazis in Egypt and it was right.
|Vintage Pulp | Politique Diabolique||May 7 2013|
Above are a couple of scans from an issue of The National Police Gazette published this month in 1963 with cover star Ava Gardner. Gardner had been living in Spain and hadn’t been in a movie in three years, but was about to appear in the historical war drama 55 Days at Peking with Charleton Heston and David Niven. The Gazette discusses how she’d gotten fed up with the U.S.—particularly the American press. She had been particularly annoyed by the rumor that she was involved with Sammy Davis, Jr., a story that took flight after several magazines published photos of the two holding hands. When asked why she was returning to Hollywood after being out of circulation for so long, Gardner, in typically blunt fashion, replied, “I need the money.”
|Vintage Pulp | Politique Diabolique||Mar 22 2013|
The old tabloids really savaged politicians. Liberals and conservatives alike got their turn and in this issue of Confidential from March 1967, Ronald Reagan gets roasted. The story by Roger Baldwin brands Reagan an “ex-pinko,” whispers about his “hushed-up divorce,” notes that a portion of his following is a “nut fringe,” and mentions “race-hate rumors” that surround him. There’s a line in all caps: Ronald Reagan Elected President. It’s a neat little trick, because he’d just been sworn in as Governor of California two months earlier, but the writer is actually referencing Reagan’s 1946 election to the presidency of the Screen Actors Guild, and using that event to hint at his 1968 White House ambitions (which, by the way, are derided as “a passion for power”). We won’t comment on the veracity of Baldwin’s claims, but his portrayal of Reagan does make us think of something that isn’t mentioned about Hollywood actors very often, if ever. Consider—none of them would make even a fraction of the money they do without their strong trade union, which means they owe what they have to the liberal ideal of worker solidarity. And yet many actors (and for that matter many athletes, also made fantastically rich largely thanks to unionization) are conservatives. It’s a bit of a paradox, don’t you think? In any case, Reagan survived Confidential’s scathing attack and made that all-caps line—Ronald Reagan Elected President—come true, not in 1968, but twelve years later.
|Politique Diabolique||Oct 4 2012|
In the end, the story feels like it’s more about Gordon than Johnson, but maybe it had to be, considering her meager quotes add up to about ninety seconds of real-world time. Probably Gordon was an aspiring freelancer who finagled his way into the function, briefly cornered Johnson, then whipped his encounter into a journalistic froth the Enquirer was only too happy to buy. It makes sense, because we can’t imagine anyone in the First Family consenting to be interviewed by a scandal rag, especially with an election mere weeks away—which we can discern from the publication date, today in 1964. But Gordon’s self promotion didn’t work, as far as we know. We can find no reference to him online, with the National Enquirer or anywhere else. As for Lynda Bird Johnson, thanks to Gordon’s non-interview readers learned little more about her than they already knew.
|Politique Diabolique | Sportswire||Aug 2 2012|
Something we've had lying around for two years, this is the week we finally get to share this Japanese poster for the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. History books and our fathers tell us what a turbulent Olympiad that was. It was the height of Vietnam and the civil rights struggle, and African American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised up a black power salute on the medal podium while the U.S. national anthem was played. That is the event many seem to remember, but of great importance was the Mexican government’s massacre of unarmed student protestors in the Tlatelolco barrio of Mexico City. Although it happened before the Olympics began, the protest was tied to the games because part of the students’ dissatisfaction had to do with the Mexican government spending the equivalent of $7.5 billion to stage the event. Meanwhile, in Europe, the Soviet Union had invaded Czechoslovakia, prompting medal winner Vera Caslavska to turn her head away during the playing of the Soviet anthem. 1968—you wouldn’t really call it a good year. But at least we have this good poster.
|Intl. Notebook | Politique Diabolique||Mar 19 2012|
There’s an interesting story emerging today involving former CIA officer Brian Latell, right, who claims that Fidel Castro ordered subordinates to listen carefully for news from Texas on November 22, 1963. That was, of course, the morning U.S. president John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and Latell, who was the CIA’s national intelligence officer for Latin America, says Castro gave the order to put ears to the ground hours before the shooting. Possible? Well, probably quite a few people had advance knowledge of the assassination, so why not Castro? One wonders, though, why Latell, who’s made a nice living of writing about Fidel, appears with this revelation now. Had it slipped his mind for forty-nine years? Surely these claims have nothing to do with goosing sales of his new book Castro’s Secrets? That would be so very… capitalist of him.
Kidding aside, there’s little logic in Castro trying to kill Kennedy. Latell doesn’t make this claim, exactly, though he comes mighty close: “I don’t say Fidel Castro ordered the assassination. I don’t say Oswald was under his control. He might have been, but I don’t argue that, because I was unable to find any evidence for that.” Hmm. We tend to think a presidential killing conceived and orchestrated in the U.S. could be effectively covered up because some of the participants might be government officials able to classify documents, manage the press, pressure investigators, falsify evidence, and so on. But a Cuba-based conspiracy would have none of those advantages, thus the evidence would be there. Glaringly so, we think. Indeed, we canimagine teams of CIA analysts in the days after the murder searching—if not praying—for even the most tenuous Cuba connection in hopes of uncovering a pretext for dispatching a division of marines to Havana. The fact that those marines never embarked says volumes. So we’re going to vote no on the implication that Castro had Kennedy killed. Advance knowledge? Possible. Did he pull the strings? No way. But like millions of Americans, we’d love to know who did.
|Vintage Pulp | Politique Diabolique||Feb 15 2012|
The National Police Gazette presents readers with an interesting array of hat wearing Harry Trumans on this February 1952 cover, offering up the president in a fedora, pith helmet, fez, and more. Truman collected hats, but the Gazette’s real purpose here is to call Truman a flip-flopper. Of course, that term didn’t exist in 1952, at least not with regard to politicians, but Gazette journo Tris Coffin claims Truman changes his mind quite a bit, issuing “conflicting orders, one after the other, with a cheerful smile.” Coffin goes on to cite Truman reversing his stance on price controls on meat, anti-trust controls on oil companies, security commissions keeping tabs on American citizens, and more. All very interesting, but what really caught our eye was Truman’s response to questions about nuclear proliferation. He said the U.S. was the only country with atomic bombs, and he’d keep it that way. Of course, that proved impossible, and it remains impossible today, because nuclear weapons are the only true national security. Many IAEA officials expect the number of nuclear states to double within twenty years. In addition, they expect the rise of at least ten virtual nuclear states—i.e., countries that develop the technology to the point where they can make the bombs, if needed, more quickly than an invasion against them can be mounted. We’ve uploaded some Gazette pages below, including a nice pin-up of Barbara Nichols, and a poster of old time boxer Peter Jackson. And since this is the Gazette, editors remind readers for the umpteenth time that Hitler lives.
|Vintage Pulp | Politique Diabolique||Feb 4 2012|
Today we have a cover for the 1964 espionage novel Ring Around Rosy, and normally, what would be of the most interest here is yet another perfect piece of art by Robert McGinnis, but in this case we have an author whose life may have been even more rife with danger and intrigue than those of his characters. Many of you probably already know that Gordon Davis was in reality E. Howard Hunt, who was involved in the Watergate Hotel scandal which led directly to the toppling of Richard Nixon’s presidency, a landmark moment in the American psyche because it represented a loss political innocence for millions of citizens. But that all came later, when Hunt was pushed unwillingly into the light after the bungled Watergate operations. What makes him fascinating is everything that came before.
E. Howard Hunt was a dedicated writer in his early years, and after winning a Guggenheim fellowship, went on to publish as the aforementioned Davis, as well as Robert Dietrich, and David St. John. He joined the CIA in 1949, and was stationed in Mexico City along with William F. Buckley. While there, he helped plan the overthrow of Guatemala’s president Jacobo Arbenz, which brought about unrest that funneled into a civil war in which 200,000 people were killed, about 90% of them civilians. A few years later Hunt helped to create a Cuban government-in-exile that would take over that island after Fidel Castro was ousted by U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs insurgents. The invasion didn’t come off as planned, though, and the fallout was damaging enough that Hunt needed to rehabilitate his career.
He took a position as chief of the CIA’s illegal domestic spying branch the Domestic Operations Division shortly after its formation in 1962 by John F. Kennedy. The idea behind the Division was to spy on enemies inside the U.S., which ostensibly meant acting against foreign embassies that might be harboring spies, but in a classic—and inevitable—example of mission creep, pretty soon the Division began illegally spying onAmerican citizens, specifically civil rights activists. After a couple of years Hunt was re-stationed in Mexico City, where sources claim he had dealings with Lee Harvey Oswald in the time leading up to Kennedy’s assassination. Hunt categorically denied ever meeting Oswald, though he later made revelations regarding Kennedy. In any case, being on the government payroll wasn't what he wanted to do anymore—he never got over his anger at Kennedy’s refusal to invade Cuba or overthrow Castro—so he decided to get into the private sector.
This eventually led to him becoming a member of Richard Nixon’s Special Investigations Unit, aka the White House Plumbers, which were both fancy names for the collection of men who were the President’s secret fixers. This was exactly the sort of off-the-books work Hunt had been seeking. It allowed him to remain in the black ops game, but freed him from accountability to layers of career bureaucrats. Under Nixon’s direction and that of White House Special Counsel Charles Colson, Hunt broke into various residences—in violation of both property and spying laws—looking for dirt on people such as reporter Daniel Ellsberg and politician Teddy Kennedy. He was also involved in disinformation campaigns, such as forging fake cables suggesting that John F. Kennedy had ordered the assassination of foreign officials, and trying (but failing) to link a would-be assassin to Democrats by planting George McGovern campaign material in the house of Arthur Bremer, the man who shot conservative politician George Wallace.
We’ve drifted pretty far away from the subject of Ring Around Rosy (which by the way is an adventure concerning Cuba, as were several of Hunt's books), but let’s drift a bit further, and make this point: isn’t it fascinating that in an age in which so many conspiracies have been documented andverified, people are still afraid to believe behind-the-scenes machinations are what really make the planet go ’round? Hunt's dirty tricks are all a matter of record, and had profound effects on international affairs, yet many would like to believe he is a rarity. But whether we're talking about hushed meetings in political backrooms or secret get-togethers between bankers at private clubs, conspiracies are the engine of the world. It isn’t a nice realization, but it’s a logical one.
Hunt wrote novels throughout his black ops years, but as time wore on often used his literary gift to grind axes, modeling characters after men he hated. For example, JFK appeared thinly disguised in the 1972 political potboiler The Coven, in which a youthful, charismatic, Catholic presidential candidate is a secret Devil worshipper. The quality of Hunt’s fiction had declined since his Guggenheim fellowship days, according to many critics, but his name and background guaranteed sales, and still does today (as any Hunt-related internet comment chain, with their pronouncements about his “real deal tough guy” qualities, makes quite clear).
At the end of his life, Hunt dropped a bombshell by confessing to involvement in a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy. He described himself as a “benchwarmer” in the plot, i.e., somebody to be brought in if the first team failed, and named everyone involved. The confession was made to his son, which gave rise to questions about both veracity and motive. But if Hunt had confessed on the front page of the Washington Post can wereally doubt that there would still be droves of people unwilling to accept it? It makes sense, though. If Watergate stole the political innocence of millions of Americans, proof of an assassination plot by members of the U.S. government against their own president would be a national cataclysm. So Hunt’s confession is forgotten, while everything else he ever did, survives.