President Thomas Jefferson (left) and Clay Jenkison
"Good day to you, citizen." That's how America's third president opens The Thomas Jefferson Hour, a weekly radio program and podcast in which the 271-year-old founder discusses politics and wine, expounds on the virtues of farming and footbaths, rails against Alexander Hamilton, and answers listeners' questions.
This reanimation of Jefferson is the work of Clay Jenkinson, a 60-year-old humanities scholar who has been portraying our most idiosyncratic president in person and on air since 1984. He's recorded more than 1,000 episodes of the Jefferson Hour (many produced inside a converted farmhouse outside Bismarck, North Dakota). His other historical impersonations include Meriwether Lewis, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Theodore Roosevelt, but he keeps coming back to TJ because "if ever there were an interesting man, it's Thomas Jefferson."
I spoke with Jefferson—and Jenkinson—about getting into character, the Sally Hemings controversy, and why the Jeffersonian vision still matters.
Mother Jones: When you look at modern America, what do you recognize and admire most?
Thomas Jefferson: I see you're still a constitutional republic with a doctrine of separation of powers, and that there's still federalism. The states are laboratories of democracy, and the American people are the most prosperous and in many respects the freest people on Earth. In all of those respects, you continue to be the nation we intended.
MJ: And what shocks you?
TJ: Your communication systems, your computers, your internet, your devices are astounding. There are also things that would terrify us: Your national debt, your capacity for violence, including war but also domestic violence. The materialism of the American people, the fact that you seem to entertain yourself in ways that are both vulgar and really disturbing to the very idea of civilization.
Last week, Politico and USA Today reported about a secret 2008 Pentagon study which concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin's defining characteristic is…autism. The Office of Net Assessment's Body Leads project asserted that scrutinizing hours of Putin footage revealed "that the Russian President carries a neurological abnormality…identified by leading neuroscientists as Asperger's Syndrome, an autistic disorder which affects all of his decisions."
Putin's spokesman dismissed the claim as "stupidity not worthy of comment." But it was far from the first time the intelligence community has tried to diagnose foreign leaders from afar on behalf of American politicians and diplomats. The CIA has a long history of crafting psychological and political profiles of international figures, with varying degrees of depth and accuracy. A sampling of these attempts to get inside the heads of heads of state:
Adolf Hitler (top, middle) as a military patient in World War I OSS/Cornell
In 1943, the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA's World War II-era predecessor, commissioned Henry A. Murray of the Harvard Psychological Clinic to evaluate Hitler's personality based on remote observations.
Findings: In an unsparing 240-page assessment, Murray and his colleagues concluded that Hitler was an insecure, impotent, masochistic, and suicidal neurotic narcissist who saw himself as "the destroyer of an antiquated Hebraic Christian superego." Also:
There is little disagreement among professional, or even among amateur, psychologists that Hitler's personality is an example of the counteractive type, a type that is marked by intense and stubborn efforts (i) to overcome early disabilities, weaknesses and humiliations (wounds to self-esteem), and sometimes also by efforts (ii) to revenge injuries and insults to pride.
The report stated that Hitler had suffered from "hysterical blindness" while he was a soldier in World War I. "This psychosomatic illness was concomitant with the final defeat of Mother Germany, and it was after hearing of her capitulation that he had his vision of his task as savior. Suddenly his sight was restored." (See photo above.) It went on:
Sexually he is a full-fledged masochist…Hitler's long-concealed secret heterosexual fantasy has been exposed by the systemic analysis and correlation of the three thousand odd metaphors he uses in Mein Kampf…and yet—Hitler himself is Impotent. [original emphasis] He is unmarried and his old acquaintances say that he is incapable of consumating the sexual act in a normal fashion.
The dossier predicted eight possible finales for the Führer, including going insane, sacrificing himself in battle, contriving to be killed by a Jewish assassin, and committing suicide: "Hitler has often vowed that he would commit suicide if his plans miscarried; but if he chooses this course he will do it at the last moment and in the most dramatic possible manner…For us it would be an undesirable outcome."
Fun fact: In 1972, the study's primary author, psychoanalyst Walter Langer, published his findings as a book, The Mind of Adolf Hitler. It became a bestseller.
The CIA studied the Vietnamese leader and revolutionary in the 1950s.
Findings: The report remains classified, but a 1994 article by Thomas Omestad in Foreign Policy (not online) cites a retired Marine who saw it while working with the agency. The source told Omestad that the CIA misread Ho's political motivations and goals. A product of the Cold War, the profile "exaggerated Ho's Marxism and underestimated his ardent nationalism."
Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy in Vienna, 1961 TASS/ZUMA
The CIA profiled the Soviet premier in advance of his 1961 meeting with President John F. Kennedy in Vienna. Reading up on his adversary got JFK hooked on CIA personality profiles—particularly "salacious secrets about foreign leaders," according to historian Michael Beschloss. The Soviets also profiled Kennedy for Khrushchev, describing him as a "typical pragmatist" whose "'liberalism' is rather relative."
Findings: The CIA portrayed Khrushchev as "a crude peasant who liked to be unpredictable and two-faced," Gunter Bischof and Martin Kofler wrote in a book on the summit. The dossier described him as:
An uninhibited ham actor, who sometimes illustrates his points with the crudest sort of barnyard humor, Khrushchev is endowed on occasion with considerable personal dignity. He has a truly unusual ability to project the force of his own powerful personality…
[H]e is immoderately sensitive to slights—real or imagined, direct or inferred—to himself, his political faith, or his nation, all of which he views more or less interchangeably…
Capable of extraordinary frankness, and in his own eyes no doubt unusually honest, Khrushchev can also on occasion be a gambler and a dissembler expert in calculated bluffing. It is often hard to distinguish when Khruschev is in his own eyes voicing real conviction and when he is dissembling…
It is also difficult with Khrushchev to tell whether his anger is real or feigned…He is less able to conceal his formidable temper when he is tired…
Fidel Castro, seeking the "adulation of the masses" KEYSTONE Pictures USA/ZUMA
The CIA's psychiatric staff published a secret report on the Cuban leader in December 1961.
Fidel Castro is not "crazy," but he is so highly neurotic and unstable a personality as to be quite vulnerable to certain kinds of psychological pressure. The outstanding neurotic elements in his personality are his hunger for power and his need for the recognition and adulation of the masses…
Castro has a constant need to rebel, to find an adversary, and to extend his personal power by overthrowing existing authority. Whenever his self-concept is slightly disrupted by criticism, he becomes so emotionally unstable as to lose to some degree his contact with reality…
Castro's egoism is his Achilles heel.
Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat
Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter, and Anwar Sadat at Camp David, 1978 CIA
In anticipation of the 1978 Camp David talks, President Jimmy Carter asked the CIA to help him prep with psychological profiles on Israeli Prime Minister Begin and Egyptian President Sadat. Following the summit, Carter praised the spy agency for its dossiers: "After spending 13 days with the two principals, I wouldn't change a word."
Findings: Sadat was a big-picture guy and Begin was into the details, but both were willing to negotiate. The CIA reported:
Sadat's self-confidence and special view of himself has been instrumental in development of his innovative foreign policy, as have his flexibility and his capacity for moving outside of the cultural insularity of the Arab world. He sees himself as a grand strategist and will make tactical concessions if he is persuaded that his overall goals will be achieved…His self-confidence has permitted him to make bold initiatives, often overriding his advisors' objections.
The profile described Sadat's desire to grab the limelight as his "Barbara Walters syndrome" and "Nobel Prize complex."
On the other hand, recalled Jerrold M. Post, the psychiatrist who launched the CIA's profiling division, Begin was marked by his "predilection for precision and legalism." His CIA profile noted that "Begin believes that face-to-face meetings between world leaders can bring about changes in their approaches to complex and seemingly intractable international problems."
Despite popular belief to the contrary, Qaddafi is not psychotic, and for the most part is in contact with reality…Qaddafi is judged to suffer from a severe personality disturbance—a "borderline personality disorder"…Under severe stress, he is subject to bizarre behavior when his judgment may be faulty.
A subsequent CIA profile of the Libyan leader, writes Woodward, attributed his behavior to "an approaching or actual midlife crisis."
(Fun fact: After realizing that President Ronald Reagan was not a big reader, the CIA started presenting him its leader profiles as videos with narration and music.)
The labels "madman of the Middle East" and "megalomaniac" are often affixed to Saddam, but in fact there is no evidence that he is suffering from a psychotic disorder.
Saddam's pursuit of power for himself and Iraq is boundless. In fact, in his mind, the destiny of Saddam and Iraq are one and indistinguishable…In pursuit of his messianic dreams, there is no evidence he is constrained by conscience; his only loyalty is to Saddam Hussein. In pursuing his goals, Saddam uses aggression instrumentally. He uses whatever force is necessary, and will, if he deems it expedient, go to extremes of violence, including the use of weapons of mass destruction…
While Hussein is not psychotic, he has a strong paranoid orientation…
Saddam has no wish to be a martyr, and survival is his number one priority. A self-proclaimed revolutionary pragmatist, he does not wish a conflict in which Iraq will be grievously damaged and his stature as a leader destroyed…Saddam will not go down to the last flaming bunker if he has a way out, but he can be extremely dangerous and will stop at nothing if he is backed into a corner.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide Peggy Peattie/ZUMA
In 1991, the CIA drew up a classified psychological profile of the Haitian president, who had just been ousted in a military coup. As the Clinton administration prepared to restore him to office in 1994, the agency showed the profile to members of Congress, igniting a campaign to withdraw American support for the exiled leader.
Findings: According to the profile, Aristide suffered from manic depression, had sought treatment at a Montreal hospital in the early '80s, and was taking a powerful antipsychotic drug. The CIA also claimed Aristide was prone to violence and might seek to kill his political opponents upon his return to power.
Based on the CIA's claims, Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) openly attacked Aristide as a "psychopath" and "a demonstrable killer." Yet the hospital in question said he'd never been a patient, and Aristide denied that he was on psych meds. "They said worse things about Martin Luther King," he noted. "As a psychologist, I know about character assassination and about psychological warfare."
Reviewing the episode in Foreign Policy, Thomas Omestad concluded that it was a black mark on the agency's reputation for remote profiling: "If policymakers are going to continue demanding profiles, they also ought to demand that the CIA do them right."
Once again, the Obama administration has set its sights on American companies that stash untaxed revenue abroad. Its 2016 budget, unveiled earlier this week, proposes to stick a one-time "transition toll charge" of 14 percent on the more than $2 trillion in corporate earnings parked overseas, regardless of whether they're brought back stateside. The estimated $280 billion in tax revenue would be earmarked for upgrading highways and infrastructure.
The proposed one-time tax is aimed at just one of the various loopholes and maneuvers that domestic businesses use to offshore their profits, beyond the reach of Internal Revenue Service. The best known trick is so-called tax inversions: US companies can move their headquarters abroad, avoiding the taxman while keeping executives stateside, scoring government contracts, and taking full advantage of public benefits for employees. Walgreens, which makes a quarter of its money from Medicaid and Medicare, proposed moving to Switzerland last year, only to change plans following a public outcry.
With business as usual, inversions could cost nearly $20 billion in runaway taxes over the next 10 years. President Obama has slammed inversions, yet Congress looks unlikely to touch the maneuver anytime soon. While business groups have balked at the White House's latest international tax proposal, some Republicans have said they'll consider it. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) even called it "constructive."
A look at how US companies take their money and run—for the border:
Inversions aren't the only way to dodge the taxman. Foreign profits aren't taxed until they are "repatriated," so companies can hoard earnings in subsidiaries or divisions abroad. (Ireland just shut down the "double Irish" offshoring trick used by Apple, Google, Twitter, and Facebook.) Between 2008 and 2013, American firms held more than $2.1 trillion in profits overseas—that's as much as $500 billion in unpaid taxes.
More than 100 companies have renounced their US citizenship since 1983, most in the past decade. Where they've gone:
A Man, a Plan, an Inversion
Tax inversion was pioneered in 1983, when the construction company McDermott International changed its address to Panama to avoid paying more than $200 million in taxes. The tax lawyer who masterminded the "Panama Scoot" was later immortalized in an operetta performed for his colleagues. (Big hat tip to Businessweek for tracking it down.) Sample verse:
The feds will be screaming,
But you will be beaming 'Cause we'll never pay taxes, We'll never pay taxes, Never pay taxes again!
Have It Your Way, Eh
Last year, Burger King obtained the Canadian doughnut chain Tim Hortons and announced plans to move its HQ to the Great White North. Here's what the fast-food giant stands to gain:
Avoiding $400 million to $1.2 billion in US taxes over the next four years.
Major shareholders could avoid as much as $820 million in capital-gains taxes.
Its low-wage employees would still receive more than $350 million in federal benefits and tax credits.
There's No Place Like Home
Few big companies actually pay the 35 percent corporate tax rate. Profits are up 21 percent since 2007, while corporate America's total tax bill has dropped 5 percent.
Early Monday morning, a small, temporarily unidentified flying object crashed on the White House lawn. The mishap, possibly the result of droning under the influence, prompted a salvo of alarming headlines about a stealthy violation of presidential airspace. "A Drone, Too Small for Radar to Detect, Rattles the White House," declared the New York Times. Fox News announced, "White House gets drone defense wake-up call," while New York magazine warned, "Secret Service Can't Protect White House From Drones."
The most ominous-sounding word in those headlines is "drone," a term that's come to encompass everything from the two-pound DJI Phantom quadcopter that flew over the White House fence to the nearly 5,000-pound MQ-9 Reaper, which can be flown remotely via satellite and fire laser-guided missiles at targets eight miles below. As Dutch designer Ruben Pater's Drone Survival Guide conveys, there are drones and then there are drones:
The Drone Survival Guide (in English and Pashto) Ruben Pater
Is there an easier way to differentiate a hi-tech toy from a killing machine? Why not just call that stray quadcopter a remote-controlled or model aircraft? (No one would write a headline such as "A Model Aircraft, Too Small for Radar to Detect, Rattles the White House.")
The Federal Aviation Administration treats lightweight noncommercial drones as model aircraft. (They must stay under 400 feet and can't fly beyond the operator's line of sight.) Yet a true hobby drone is different than a traditional remote-controlled plane in one significant respect: It can fly itself. As former Wired editor Chris Anderson explains on his site DIY Drones, "Usually the UAV is controlled manually by Radio Control (RC) at take-off and landing, and switched into GPS-guided autonomous mode only at a safe altitude." The DJI Phantom can fly itself back home; users can program flight paths into top-of-the-line model. DIY Drones uses the terms UAV and drone interchangeably.
Even if equating personal drones with model aircraft might irk amateur remote pilots, it would help defuse the devices' death-from-above image. That would probably please the manufacturers of military and commercial drones, who would prefer if you don't use the D-word at all. Testifying before the Senate in 2013, the head of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (the robot lobby) stated, "I do not use the term 'drone.' The industry refers to the technology as unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, because they are more than just a pilotless vehicle…The term 'drone' also carries with it a hostile connotation and does not reflect how UAS are actually being used domestically." Besides UAS, other suggested alternatives to "drone" include Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).
While the president and White House freely call them drones, the military is also not keen on the designation. An Air Force spokeswoman told Defense News that "There are some people who are offended by it." And UAS has its detractors: Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a reporter last year, "You will never hear me use the word 'drone,' and you'll never hear me use the term 'unmanned aerial systems.' Because they are not. They are remotely piloted aircraft."
Yet for critics of remote-control warfare, the word economically delivers an explosive payload—much like a drone. The American Civil Liberties Union has endorsed using "drone" rather than the officially sanctioned abbreviations. "These acronyms are technical, bland, and bureaucratic. That's probably their principal advantage from the point of view of those who want to separate them from the ugly, bloody, and controversial uses to which they've been put by the CIA and U.S. military overseas," writes ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley. "[I]f the word continues to carry a reminder that this is an extremely powerful technology capable of being used for very dark purposes, then that's not necessarily a bad thing."
To further complicate things, some people insist that "drone" only refers to unpiloted aircraft used for target practice—the term's original meaning. As analyst Steve Zaloga explained to Defense News, it was coined by an American admiral who in 1935 witnessed a demonstration of a remote-controlled British aircraft dubbed the Queen Bee: He "adopted the name drone to refer to these aircraft in homage to the Queen Bee. Drone became the official US Navy designation for target drones for many decades." (Fun fact: Future bombshell Marilyn Monroe assembled small target drones in a California factory during World War II.) According to Zaloga, the military kept calling all remote-controlled aircraft drones until the 1990s. (He's partial to calling them RPAs.)
Drones will likely remain the most convenient way to describe the rapidly expanding variety of…drones. But whatever you do, don't call them "pilotless drones." That phrase especially infuriates pedants, like Drone Man, the San Francisco Chronicle reader who left an angry voicemail expressing his disgust at the paper's use of the seemingly redundant (yet grammatically acceptable) term. Here's the dance mix:
In November 1940, a young Cuban student named Fidel Castro sent a handwritten letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Writing in English, Castro congratulated the president on his reelection and requested "a ten dollars bill green american…because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them." Thinking strategically, the future Cuban dictator also offered access to his country's iron to build American ships.
He signed off with a flourish:
The letter from the now 88-year-old Castro (who was 14 when he wrote it, not 12 as he said) now resides in the National Archives. FDR probably never saw the letter. Castro did receive a response—but no cash—from the US Embassy in Havana. The polite snub officially marks the first exchange between Castro and the United States—and the beginning of a long, acrimonious relationship that may be about to thaw.
Text of the letter (errors and all):
Mr Franklin Roosvelt, President of the United States.
My good friend Roosvelt I don't know very English, but I know as much as write to you.
I like to hear the radio, and I am very happy, because I heard in it, that you will be President for a new (periodo).
I am twelve years old.
I am a boy but I think very much but I do not think that I am writing to the President of the United States.
If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter, because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them.
I don't know very English but I know very much Spanish and I suppose you don't know very Spanish but you know very English because you are American but I am not American.
(Thank you very much) Good by. Your friend,
If you want iron to make your ships I will show to you the bigest (minas) of iron of the land. They are in Mayari Oriente Cuba.