Friday, August 23, 2019

The Pact

On this date 80 years ago the Nazi regime in Germany and the communists ruling the Soviet Union signed a Non-Aggression Pact surprising and shocking the world.  The Pact opened the way to the Second World War and caused great confusion among Communist Parties outside of the Soviet Union and who, as we know now were funded and under the direct control of the Soviet communists.

In the years prior to Hitler's ascension to power in 1933, Stalin had directed the German Communist Party to consider its main enemy the parties supporting the democratic Weimar Republic, not the rising Nazi party on the theory that once Weimar had collapsed the communists could defeat the Nazis and control Germany.  It was a massive miscalculation.

In the mid-30s, Stalin directed Communist parties to cooperate with other anti-fascist groups in Western countries in order to oppose the Nazis.  And now, on August 23, 1939 Stalin reversed direction again.  Once the war began with Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1 and Great Britain and France's declaration of war on Germany (September 3), Stalin directed communist parties in the UK and France to undermine war preparation efforts and for the American communist party to oppose any action by the United States to support Britain and France.

The public portion of the Pact was a Non-Aggression agreement between the two countries but there was also a Secret Protocol, the existence of which was not acknowledged by the Soviet Union for fifty years.  That section carved upon eastern Europe, including Poland, Finland, the Baltic States, and Romania into spheres of influence and control between Germany and the Soviet Union.

Six million Polish citizens (three million of them Jews) were to die in the next six years as a result of German terror, while hundreds of thousands of Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and Romanians were to die, with as many more transported to the Gulag during the Soviet occupation.

Witold Pilecki was a symbol of those times.  Joining the Polish Home Army to fight the Nazis, spending more than two years in Auschwitz, fighting in the Warsaw uprising against the Germans in 1944, and then becoming an opponent of the new Soviet backed regime until he was imprisoned and secretly executed.

During the first two weeks of September the Germans overran Poland, and then on September 17 the Soviets announced they would be entering the country to help preserve stability and security (at the time, no one knew of the Secret Protocol dividing Poland).

The Germans advanced so quickly they entered areas designated for Soviet occupation.  In the city of Brest in eastern Poland a formal handover ceremony was held on September 22.  Below is a photo of German General Heinz Guderian and Soviet General Semyon Krivoshein holding a joint review of their forces on that day.  Krivoshein invited Guderian to visit him in Moscow after Germany defeated Britain.

Krivoshein had a distinguished career after Germany invaded Russia in June 1941.  Late in the war his corps recaptured Brest and spearheaded the final assault on Berlin in April 1945, capturing the Reichstag.


Article I

Both High Contracting Parties obligate themselves to desist from any act of violence, any aggressive action, and any attack on each other, either individually or jointly with other Powers.

Article II

Should one of the High Contracting Parties become the object of belligerent action by a third Power, the other High Contracting Party shall in no manner lend its support to this third Power.

Article III

The Governments of the two High Contracting Parties shall in the future maintain continual contact with one another for the purpose of consultation in order to exchange information on problems affecting their common interests.

Article IV

Should disputes or conflicts arise between the High Contracting Parties, neither shall participate in any grouping of Powers whatsoever that is directly or indirectly aimed at the other party.

Article V

Should disputes or conflicts arise between the High Contracting Parties over problems of one kind or another, both parties shall settle these disputes or conflicts exclusively through friendly exchange of opinion or, if necessary, through the establishment of arbitration commissions.

Article VI

The present Treaty is concluded for a period of ten years, with the proviso that, in so far as one of the High Contracting Parties does not advance it one year prior to the expiration of this period, the validity of this Treaty shall automatically be extended for another five years.

Article VII

The present treaty shall be ratified within the shortest possible time. The ratifications shall be exchanged in Berlin. The Agreement shall enter into force as soon as it is signed.

Secret Additional Protocol

Article I

In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement in the areas belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern boundary of Lithuania shall represent the boundary of the spheres of influence of Germany and U.S.S.R. In this connection the interest of Lithuania in the Vilnius area is recognized by each party.

Article II

In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement of the areas belonging to the Polish state, the spheres of influence of Germany and the U.S.S.R. shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narev, Vistula and San.
The question of whether the interests of both parties make desirable the maintenance of an independent Polish state and how such a state should be bounded can only be definitely determined in the course of further political developments.
In any event both governments will resolve this question by means of a friendly agreement.

Article III

With regard to Southeastern Europe attention is called by the Soviet side to its interest in Bessarabia. The German side declares its complete political disinterest in these areas.

Article IV

This protocol shall be treated by both parties as strictly secret.
Moscow, August 23, 1939.
For the Government of the German Reich v. Ribbentrop
Plenipotentiary of the Government of the U.S.S.R. V. Molotov

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Need For Gratitude

Congressional campaign poster

“For someone who needs gratitude, the New Deal is the natural philosophy, because it lets you do things for people, and therefore gives you the greatest opportunity to get gratitude”.
Robert Caro, The Path to Power, quoting an assistant to Lyndon Baines Johnson when LBJ was secretary to a Texas congressman in the early 1930s.
“Ambition was not uncommon among those bright young men [assistants to congressional representatives] . . . but they felt Johnson’s was uncommon – in the degree to which it was unencumbered by even the slightest excess weight of ideology, of philosophy, of principles, of beliefs. ‘There’s nothing wrong with being pragmatic’, a fellow secretary say. ‘Hell, a lot of us were pragmatic. But you have to believe in something. Lyndon Johnson believed in nothing, nothing but his own ambition’.”
Robert Caro, The Path to Power, of LBJ during the same period in the 1930s

For LBJ the ability to get gratitude linked to huge ambition unguided by any principles proved a powerful tool. Robert Caro has published four volumes of his LBJ biography since 1982; The Path to Power (1908-41), Means of Ascent (1941-48), Master of the Senate (1948-58), and the The Passage of Power (1958-64) and is working on the fifth and final volume. It’s an astonishing piece of work, with the first volume being among the best political biographies ever written. Caro has done both a character study and a study of how political power works, how it is accumulated and how it is used.

No matter what you think of LBJ personally or of his presidency these volumes are worthwhile reading because they are instructive. I resisted for many years, having little regard for LBJ and with each volume being 800-900 pages was unwilling to invest the time.  Turns out it was worth it.

LBJ’s career also raises a more general issue. How important are motivations when measured against actions? For all the disasters of LBJ’s presidency – Vietnam and the Great Society, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were the finest achievements in domestic legislation of the 20th century and LBJ was key to their enactment. In the process LBJ made many conflicting statements about his motivations in pushing these bills through Congress. Some reflect well on him and some reflect very poorly.

Reading Caro’s books you realize that was the essence of LBJ from his start in politics in the 1930s. For 30+ years he said whatever he needed to say to whomever he needed to say it to in order to achieve his goals. Caro has multiple accounts of LBJ telling one politician X and two minutes later telling the next one Y. Reading in Master of the Senate, how he manipulated everyone on both sides by telling them what they wanted to hear in order to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (the first civil rights bill since 1875) was eye opening. And it wasn’t just what he said; LBJ had a remarkable ability to read people and figure out what they wanted, and to cultivate useful political connections with powerful older men who would look upon him as a son like Sam Rayburn (who, unlike LBJ, comes across as an admirable person in the Caro books), Richard Russell, and even FDR.

We can’t take any of LBJ’s statements in connection with the 1964 and 1965 Acts at face value. We simply don’t know what he really thought. Even he may not have known. In the end what counted were the acts.

It was LBJ’s lack of principles, his penchant for manipulation, and not wanting to box himself him, techniques that worked in the legislative world, that proved his downfall regarding Vietnam. It was Senator Frank Church, of all people, who identified the problem:
He [LBJ] played a role between the doves and the hawks, and he did it much the way he used to conduct his majority leadership. He did it on the notion that here was some middle ground, always, on which the majority of the votes could be secured. That was true in the Senate where you have to find that consensus in order to enact legislation. But I think the role of the president is different from that of a senator and that this was a matter of policy that could not be cut down the middle.
Something else I learned from the Caro books.  LBJ has received a lot of just criticism for his micro-management of the Vietnam War including selecting individual bombing targets.  Micro-managing was not something new for LBJ.  He made his political career because of his unbelievable and unrelenting personal energy and attention to the smallest detail in his political campaigns and in the office work when he was a legislative aide, Congressman, and Senator.  It had always worked for him and saw no need to alter that approach during Vietnam.

The era of LBJ is now gone in American politics. It was before the great ideological sorting out of the parties that began in the last quarter of the 20th century. In LBJ’s day both parties were coalitions of very different groups. From Master of the Senate I learned that political science professors in the 1950s urged an ideological sorting out of the parties in order to help government function better. I think it is debateable how well that sorting has turned out.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Greenland In 10 Years

From my friend Jon Gabriel.

And retweeted by Donald Trump!  Things just keep getting weirder.

Image may contain: 1 person

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Walk, Don't Run

It's a warm night, let's put the top down and go cruisin' on the coast highway!   The Ventures from 1960.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Why The Songs Sound The Same

From Rick Beato's essential YouTube channel if you love music.

The hook for the video is the recently announced lawsuit against Lady Gaga for allegedly plagiarizing her song Shallow, from the movie A Star Is Born.  Rick quickly dismisses the lawsuit as nonsense but it leads to a fascinating discussion on the trend in pop music over the past two decades to rely on variations of the I-IV-V-VI chord structure for so many songs.  He and Rhett Shull discuss many aspect of pop and why music has ended up in a straight jacket.  Rick points out that of 27 Number One singles by The Beatles only one (Let It Be) used the I-IV-V-VI progression (if you're more familiar with chord names, in the key of C that would be C, F, G, Am).

Below is the discussion and as an extra bonus this is Rick's discussion of Steve Gadd's amazing drum work on Steely Dan's Aja.  Rick provides less technical discussion than usual but his enthusiasm is infectious.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

John Wick 3: Parabellum

Keanu Reeves brings a sense of gravitas to the John Wick series.  Now there's something I never thought I'd be writing.

After ignoring the first John Wick film because the premise sounded stupid, I caught most of John Wick 2 on cable and actually enjoyed it, prompting me to see John Wick 3 when it was released.  It turns out to be a very good and entertaining action film.  And Keanu Reeves does bring a sense of gravitas to the role.  Really.

Particularly enjoyable were the realistic touches in the film.  That is they are realistic within the completely unrealistic framework of the film which envisions a world in which private contract killers meet at neutral hotel locations in major cities to enjoy civilized conversation, food, and drink, and a world in which there are apparently no police, anywhere.

But everyone has to carefully track how much ammo they have in each clip and frantically reload when empty and there is no CGI.

The supporting cast is outstanding; Ian McShane as the droll manager of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in New York, Lance Reddick (who I've grown fond of in his role as LA Police Chief Irvin Irving in the series Bosch) as the hotel concierge, Laurence Fishbourne as Bowery King, Anjelica Huston as head of a Russian crime organization, and Halle Berry as a fellow contract killer.