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Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

THIS IS YOUR BOSS: VOTE LIKE I SAY – PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Business, Politics, Social commentary on October 17, 2012 at 12:00 am

David Siegel is the founder and chief executive of Westgate Resorts, the largest privately owned time-share company in the world.

With his wife, Jackie, he’s building the biggest home in the U.S., a 90,000-square-foot Florida palace they call Versailles.

“King David” Siegel relaxes atop his throne

But he isn’t so busy that he can’t take time off to tell his 7,000 employees how to vote.  And to threaten them with dismissal if his Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, loses the election.

On October 8, he sent out the following memo. To which I offer commentary where required.

Subject: Message from David Siegel

Date: Mon, 08 Oct 2012 13:58:05 -0400 (EDT)

From: [David Siegel]

To: All My Valued Employees,

As most of you know our company, Westgate Resorts, has continued to succeed in spite of a very dismal economy. There is no question that the economy has changed for the worse and we have not seen any improvement over the past four years.

In spite of all of the challenges we have faced, the good news is this:  The economy doesn’t currently pose a threat to your job.

What does threaten your job however, is another 4 years of the same Presidential administration.

Of course, as your employer, I can’t tell you whom to vote for, and I certainly wouldn’t interfere with your right to vote for whomever you choose.

In fact, I encourage you to vote for whomever you think will serve your interests the best.

However, let me share a few facts that might help you decide what is in your best interest. The current administration and members of the press have perpetuated an environment that casts employers against employees.

They want you to believe that we live in a class system where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.

They label us the “1%” and imply that we are somehow immune to the challenges that face our country. This could not be further from the truth.

COMMENTARY:

Of course America has a class system–we, as a nation, simply refuse to acknowledge it. Of course, under this system, the rich do get richer and the poor do get poorer.

Unearned income–such as from investments–isn’t taxed, while earned income–which comes from actually working–is. 

Neither the press nor the administration has to “cast employers against employees”–the tax system alone does that.

And according to the top 1% richest Americans:

  • It’s only “class warfare” when those who aren’t well-off demand a bigger slice of the pie.
  • It isn’t “class warfare” when those who, like Siegel, can afford to build a 90,000-square-foot palace while the vast majority of their fellow citizens are living paycheck-to-paycheck.
  • And it’s not “class warfare” when that privileged 1% demand even more–even when this comes from those far less fortunate than themselves.

SIEGEL:

Sure, you may have heard about the big home that I’m building. I’m sure many people think that I live a privileged life. However, what you don’t see or hear is the true story behind any success that I have achieved.

David Siegel’s “big home” version of “Versailles”

I started this company over 42 years ago. At that time, I lived in a very modest home. I converted my garage into an office so I could put forth 100% effort into building a company, which by the way, would eventually employ you.

We didn’t eat in fancy restaurants or take expensive vacations because every dollar I made went back into this company.

I drove an old used car, and often times, I stayed home on weekends, while my friends went out drinking and partying. In fact, I was married to my business — hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.

Meanwhile, many of my friends got regular jobs. They worked 40 hours a week and made a nice income, and they spent every dime they earned.

They drove flashy cars and lived in expensive homes and wore fancy designer clothes. My friends refinanced their mortgages and lived a life of luxury.

I, however, did not. I put my time, my money, and my life into this business —-with a vision that eventually, some day, I too, will be able to afford to buy whatever I wanted.  Even to this day, every dime I earn goes back into this company.

Over the past four years I have had to stop building my dream house, cut back on all of my expenses, and take my kids out of private schools simply to keep this company strong and to keep you employed.

COMMENTARY:

What a tragedy! He had to stop building his dream house and even take his ultra-privileged kids out of private school!

Horrors! They actually had to rub elbows with children whose parents can’t afford a 90,000-square-foot palace that masquerades as a house.

Millions of Americans have sent their children to public schools–and continue to do so. Millions of them have lived–and continue to live–highly productive lives. 

LET THE SUNSHINE IN

In History, Politics, Social commentary on October 16, 2012 at 12:00 am

President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney have raised and spent millions of dollars for campaign ads.  They have logged thousands of miles, crisscrossing the nation, speaking to millions of Americans.

And yet, when the 2012 Presidential race finally ends on November 6, history may well record the contest was settled with a single video.

It’s the infamous “47%” video of Romney speaking–for once, truthfully–at a private fundraiser:

“Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the President no matter what. All right? There are 47% who are with him. Who are dependent upon government.  Who believe that–that they are victims.  Who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them. 

“Who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it. But that’s–it’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them.  And they will vote for this President no matter what.

“And–and–I mean the President starts off with 48%, 49%, 40–or he….starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that’s what they sell every….four years.”

Click here: Mitt Romney’s “47 Percent” Comments – YouTube

A great deal of speculation has centered on: Who filmed it?

One guess: The bartender, with an iPhone, at the wet bar.

Before Mitt Romney spoke at the May 17 fundraiser, guests were reminded that Mitt Romney’s comments were off the record. Those present were asked not to repeat his remarks to the press.

Marc Leder, the wealthy hedgefund manager at whose house the fundraiser occurred, apologized to Romney.  Reportedly he believes that the video was made by someone who was hired to work the party.

Such speculation on the identity of the video-leaker totally misses the point.

It doesn’t matter who provides vital information.  What does matter is: Is that information accurate?

In this case, it most definitely was.

More importantly, it opened a window into a world seldom-seen by voters: The world of big-league donors and their money-grubbing political solicitors.

“A man usually has two reasons for doing something,” said J.P. Morgan, the American banker and financier.  “One that sounds good, and a real one.”

It should be clear that money-grubbing politicians have two versions of campaign speaking: One for donors whose money they seek, and another for the public whose votes they seek.

Rich and greed-obsessed donors are too smart to be fobbed off with appeals to their fears and prejudices.  They expect a tangible return for their support–namely:

  • Lower (preferably no) taxes
  • Freedom to pollute
  • Freedom to pay their employees the lowest possible wages
  • Freedom to treat their employees like serfs
  • Freedom to churn out shoddy or even dangerous goods

So when you hear what a candidate says in private, to his wealthy donors, you’re hearing what he really means and what he really intends to do.

A similar frenzy of speculation centered on the identity of “Deep Throat”–the legendary source for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal.  For decades, this proved a favorite guessing game for Washington reporters, politicians and government officials.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein working on Watergate

In the end, “Deep Throat” turned out to be W. Mark Felt, assistant director of the FBI.

Commentators have endlessly debated his motives for leaking crucial Watergate evidence that ultimately destroyed the corrupt Presidency of Richard Nixon.

  • A patriot who wanted to serve the cause of justice.
  • A loyal FBI man who sought to protect the Bureau from “outside interference.”
  • A disgruntled executive who sought revenge on those who had passed him over for FBI director.

And, in the end, despite all the theories, it didn’t matter.

Felt provided Washington Woodward with the evidence necessary to keep the Watergate investigations going–by both the Post and the FBI.

W. Mark Felt

Thus, the question making the rounds about the “47%” video shouldn’t be: Who filmed it?

It should be: How can more of these private fundraisers be penetrated and recorded–so voters can learn the truth about those who would become our elected rulers?

Definitely, those who specialize in “opposition research” should be thinking hard about this.

Private investigators–who regularly unearth secrets others want to keep secret–might also take an interest in this line of work.

And news organizations should offer financial rewards to those who provide such secret information.

With the advent of billionaires trying to buy the Presidency, and the unwillingness of Congress and the Supreme Court to stop the flow of unsavory money into politics, this may be our only chance to preserve what is left of the Republic.

Anyone who’s ever turned on a light to find roaches scurrying quickly over a kitchen floor knows the truth of this.

Turn on the lights–and watch the roaches scurry away.

NEAR-ARMAGEDDON: 50 YEARS AGO – PART FIVE (END)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on October 12, 2012 at 12:00 am

“John and Robert Kennedy knew what they were doing.  They waged a vicious war against Fidel Castro–a war someone had to lose.”

And the loser turned out to be John F. Kennedy.

So writes investigative reporter Gus Russo in Live By the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK, published in 1998.

In what is almost certainly the definitive account of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Russo reaches some startling–but highly documented–conclusions:

  • Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated Kennedy.
  • He did it alone.
  • Oswald, a former Marine, was a committed Marxist–whose hero was Castro.
  • The CIA’s ongoing campaign to overthrow and/or assassinate Castro was an open secret throughout the Gulf.
  • Oswald visited New Orleans in the spring of 1963.
  • There he learned that Castro was in the crosshairs of the CIA.
  • Oswald told his Russian-born wife, Marina: “Fidel Castro needs defenders. I’m going to join his army of volunteers.”
  • Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, murdered Oswald because he was distraught over Kennedy’s death.
  • Ruby was not part of a Mafia conspiracy to silence Oswald.
  • Skeptics of the Warren Commission–which concluded that Oswald had acted alone–asked the wrong question: “Who killed Kennedy?”
  • They should have asked: “Why was he killed?”
  • The answer–according to Russo: “The Kennedys’ relentless pursuit of Castro and Cuba backfired in tragedy on that terrible day in November, 1963.”

Another book well worth reading about America’s Cuban obsession during the early 1960s is American Tabloid, by James Ellroy.

Although a novel, it vividly captures the atmosphere of intrigue, danger and sleaziness that permeated that era in a way that dry, historical documents never can.

“The 50’s are finished,” reads its paperback dust jacket. “Zealous young lawyer Robert Kennedy has a red-hot jones to nail Jimmy Hoffa. JFK has his eyes on the Oval Office.

“J. Edgar Hoover is swooping down on the Red Menace. Howard Hughes is dodging subpoenas and digging up Kennedy dirt. And Castro is mopping up the bloody aftermath of his new Communist nation….

“Mob bosses, politicos, snitches, psychos, fall guys and femmes fatale. They’re mixing up a Molotov cocktail guaranteed to end the country’s innocence with a bang.”

Among the legacies of America’s twisted romance with anti-Castro Cubans:

  • Following the JFK assassination, there was a coverup.
  • Its purposes: To protect the reputation of the United States government–and that of its newly-martyred President.
  • Thus, the CIA and FBI concealed the CIA-Mafia assassination plots from the Warren Commission assigned to investigate Kennedy’s murder.
  • Other government officials participating in the coverup included Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • Ironically, this secrecy ignited the widespread–and false–belief that the President had died at the hands of a government conspiracy.
  • Robert Kennedy feared that his relentless pursuit of Castro might have led Castro to “take out” JFK first.
  • Fearing his own assassination if he continued Kennedy’s efforts to murder Castro, President Johnson ordered the CIA to halt its campaign to overthrow and/or assassinate the Cuban leader.
  • The huge Cuban community throughout Florida–and especially Miami–continues to exert a blackmailing influence on American politics.
  • Right-wing politicians from Richard Nixon to Newt Gingrich have reaped electoral rewards by catering to the demands of this hate-obsessed voting block.
  • As a result, the United States still refuses to open diplomatic relations with Cuba–even though it has done so with such former enemies as the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam.
  • These Cuban ex-patriots hope that the United States will launch a full-scale military invasion of the island to remove Castro.
  • Having grown rich and soft in the United States, they fear to risk their own lives by returning to Cuba to loverthrow Castro–as he did against Fulgencio Batista.

The United States is fast approaching the 50th anniversay of the most dangerous moment of the Cold War: The Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world stood only minutes away from nuclear Armageddon.

That crisis stemmed from our twisted obsession with Cuba, an obsession that continues today.

So what are the lessons to be learned from that obsession?

  • It is long past time to demand major changes in our foreign policy toward Cuba.
  • It’s time to end the half-century contamination of American politics by those Cubans who live only for their hatred of Castro–and those political candidates who live to exploit it. 
  • (For example: Marco Rubio got elected U.S. Senator from Florida in 2010 by claiming that his parents had been forced to leave Cuba in 1959, after Fidel Castro took power. In fact, they had left Cuba in 1956–during the Batista dictatorship.)
  • It’s time to end this wag-the-dog relationship.  A population of about 1,700,000 Cubans should not be allowed to shape the domestic and foreign policy of a nation of 300 million.
  • Those who continue to hate–or love–Castro should be left to their own private feud.  But that is a feud they should settle on their own island, and not from the shores of the United States.

NEAR-ARMAGEDDON: 50 YEARS AGO – PART FOUR (OF FIVE)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on October 11, 2012 at 12:30 am

On October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy went on nationwide TV to announce the discovery of the missiles and his blockade of Cuba.

He warned that any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation would be regarded as an attack on the United States by the Soviet Union–and would trigger “a full retaliatory response” upon the U.S.S.R.

And he demanded that the Soviets remove all of their offensive weapons from Cuba:

“The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards, as all paths are, but it is the one most consistent with our character and courage as a nation and our commitments around the world.

“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.”

On October 26,  the United States raised the readiness level of SAC forces to DEFCON 2–the step just short of war.  For the only  time in U.S. history, B-52 bombers were dispersed to various locations and made ready to take off, fully equipped, on 15 minutes’ notice.

Other measures taken included:

  • One-eighth of America’s 1,436 bombers were on airborne alert.
  • About 145 intercontinental ballistic missiles stood on ready alert.
  • Air Defense Command redeployed 161 nuclear-armed interceptors to 16 dispersal fields within nine hours with one-third maintaining 15-minute alert status.
  • Twenty-three nuclear-armed B-52 were sent to orbit points within striking distance of the Soviet Union.

An invasion date was set for October 29.  But the Kennedy Administration–and the American military–didn’t know that the Russian soldiers guarding the missiles had been armed with tactical nuclear weapons.

Had the Marines gone in, those mini-nukes would have been used.  And a fullscale nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union would have almost certainly followed.

At the height of the crisis, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy offered a solution.

Khrushchev had sent two teletypes to Kennedy.  The first had agreed to remove the missiles, but the second had demanded that the United States remove its own missiles from Turkey, which bordered the Soviet Union.

Robert Kennedy’s solution: The administration should ignore the second message–and announce that it had accepted Khrushchev’s offer to remove the missiles.

After this announcement was made, President Kennedy said to his advisors: “It can go either way now.”

John F. Kennedy

The crisis ended on October 28.  Under enormous pressure, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba.

Behind his decision lay a secret promise by the Kennedy administration to remove its obsolete nuclear missiles from Turkey.  And a public pledge to not invade Cuba.

On the night the crisis ended, there occurred a prophetic exchange between the two Kennedy brothers.

JFK:  “Maybe this is the night I should go to the theater”–a reference to Abraham Lincon’s fatal attendance of Ford’s Theater at the end of the Civil War.

RFK:  “If you go, I want to go with you.”

John F. and Robert F. Kennedy

But President Kennedy was not finished with Castro.  While continuing the campaign of sabotage throughout Cuba, the Kennedys were preparing something far bigger: A fullscale American invasion of the island.

On October 4, 1963, the Joint Chiefs of Staff submitted its latest version of the invasion plan, known as OPLAN 380-63.  Its timetable went:

  • January, 1964:  Infiltration into Cuba by Cuban exiles.
  • July 15, 1964:  U.S. conventional forces join the fray.
  • August 3, 1964:  All-out U.S. air strikes on Cuba.
  • October 1, 1964:  Full-scale invasion to install “a government friendly to the U.S.”

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Robert Kennedy–referring to the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor–had resisted demands for a “sneak attack” on Cuba by saying: “I don’t want my brother to be the Tojo of the 1960s.”

Now the Kennedys planned such an attack on Cuba just one month before the November, 1964 Presidential election.

Then fate–in the unlikely figure of Lee Harvey Oswald–intervened.

On November 22, 1963, while the President rode through Dallas in an open-air automobile, a rifle-wielding assassin opened fire.  He scored two hits on Kennedy–in the back of the neck and head.  The second wound proved instantly fatal.

The nation and the world were shocked–and plunged into deep mourning.

But for some of those who had waged a secret, lethal war against Fidel Castro for the previous two years, Kennedy’s death–at least in retrospect–didn’t come as a surprise.

Robert Kennedy, in particular, spent the remaining years of his life agonizing over the possibility that his highly personal war against Castro had backfired.

That Castro, fed up with the CIA’s assassination plots against him, had retaliated with one of his own.

Robert Kennedy’s fears and guilt were compounded by the fact that, while waging war on Castro, he had waged an equally ruthless crusade against organized crime.

And some of the mobsters he had done his best to put into prison had played a major role in the CIA’s efforts to “hit” Castro.  Had the Mafia–believing itself the victim of a double-cross–put out a “contract” on JFK instead?

NEAR-ARMAGEDDON: 50 YEARS AGO – PART THREE (OF FIVE)

In History, Politics on October 10, 2012 at 12:00 am

In April, 1961, the CIA tried to overthrow the Communist regime of Cuba’s “Maximum Leader,” Fidel Castro, at the Bay of Pigs.

When that failed, President John F. Kennedy ordered Castro’s removal through a campaign of sabotage and assassination.

These covert operatives became known within the CIA as the Special Group, and were ultimately supervised by Robert F. Kennedy, the President’s brother and Attorney General.

The war against Castro became known within the CIA as Operation Mongoose.

But not everyone in the CIA was enthusiastic about the “get Castro” effort.

“Everyone at CIA was surprised at Kennedy’s obsession with Fidel,” recalled Sam Halpern, who was assigned to the Cuba Project. “They thought it was a waste of time. We all knew [Fidel] couldn’t hurt us. Most of us at CIA initially liked Kennedy, but why go after this little guy?

“One thing is for sure: Kennedy wasn’t doing it out of national security concerns. It was a personal thing. The Kennedy family felt personally burnt by the Bay of Pigs and sought revenge.”

It was all-out war. Among the tactics used:

  • Hiring Cuban gangsters to murder Cuban police officials and Soviet technicians.
  • Sabotaging mines.
  • Paying up to $100,000 per “hit” for the murder or kidnapping of Cuban officials.
  • Using biological and chemical warfare against the Cuban sugar industry.

“Bobby (Kennedy) wanted boom and bang all over the island,” recalled Halpern. “It was stupid. The pressure from the White House was very great.”

Among that “boom and bang” were a series of assassination plots against Castro, in which the Mafia was to be a key player.

Chicago Mobster Johnny Rosselli proposed a simple plan: through its underworld connections in Cuba, the Mafia would recruit a Cuban in Castro’s entourage, such as a waiter or bodyguard, who would poison him.

The CIA’s Technical Services division produced a botulinus toxin which was then injected into Castro’s favorite brand of cigars. The CIA also produced simpler botulinus toxin pills that could be dissolved in his food or drink.

But the deputized Mafia contacts failed to deliver any of the poisons to Castro.

Rosselli told the CIA that the first poisoner had been discharged from Castro’s employ before he could kill him, and the back-up agent got “cold feet.”

Other proposals or attempts included:

  • Planting colorful seashells rigged to explode at a site where Castro liked to go skindiving.
  • Trying to arrange for his being presented with a wetsuit impregnated with noxious bacteria and mold spores, or with lethal chemical agents.
  • Attempting to infect Castro’s scuba regulator with tuberculous bacilli.
  • Trying to douse his handkerchiefs, tea and coffee with other lethal bacteria.

Americans would rightly label such methods as ”terrorist” if another power used them against the United States today. And that was how the Cuban government saw the situation.

So Castro appealed to Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, for assistance.

Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro

Khrushchev was quick to comply: “We must not allow the communist infant to be strangled in its crib,” he told members of his inner circle.

By October, 1962, the Soviet Union had sent more than

  • 40,000 soldiers,
  • 1,300 field pieces,
  • 700 anti-aircraft guns,
  • 350 tanks and
  • 150 jets

to Cuba to deter another invasion.

Most importantly, Khrushchev began supplying Castro with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.

Their discovery, on October 15, 1962, ignited the single most dangerous confrontation of the 50-year Cold War.

Suddenly, the United States and the Soviet Union–bristling with nuclear weapons–found themselves on the brink of nuclear war.

At the time, Kennedy officials claimed they couldn’t understand why Khrushchev had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. “Maybe Khrushchev’s gone mad” was a typical public musing.

None of these officials admitted that JFK had been waging a no-holds-barred campaign to overthrow the Cuban government and assassinate its leader.

On October 16, the next day, President Kennedy was informed of the missile installations.  He immediately convened a group of his 12 most important advisors, which became known as Ex-Comm, for Executive Committee.

Then followed seven days of guarded and intense debate by Kennedy and his advisors.  Some of the participants–such as Air Force General Curtis LeMay–urged an all-out air strike against the missile sites.

Others–such as Adlai Stevenson, the United States delegate to the United Nations, urged a reliance on quiet diplomacy.

It was Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara who suggested a middle course: A naval blockade–a “quarantine” in Kennedy’s softened term–around Cuba.  This would hopefully prevent the arrival of more Soviet offensive weapons on the island.

Finally, the President decided to to impose a naval blockade.

On October 22, Kennedy went on nationwide TV to announce the discovery of the missiles and his blockade of Cuba.

NEAR-ARMAGEDDON: 50 YEARS AGO – PART TWO (OF FIVE)

In Uncategorized on October 9, 2012 at 12:01 am

On January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro swept triumphantly into Havana after a two-year guerrilla campaign against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Fidel Castro

Almost immediately, hundreds of thousands of Cubans began fleeing to America. The first émigrés were more than 215,000 Batista followers. The exodus escalated, peaking at approximately 78,000 in 1962.

In October, 1962, Castro stopped regularly scheduled travel between the two countries, and asylum seekers began sailing from Cuba to Florida.

Between 1962 and 1979, hundreds of thousands of Cubans entered the United States under the Attorney General’s parole authority.

By 2008, more than 1.24 million Cubans were living in the United States, mostly in South Florida, where the population of Miami was about one-third Cuban.  Their sheer numbers transformed the state’s political, economic and cultural life.  And not entirely for the better.

Many of these Cubans viewed themselves as political exiles, rather than immigrants, hoping to eventually return to Cuba after its Communist regime fell from power.

The large number of Cubans in South Florida, particularly in Miami’s “Little Havana,” allowed them to preserve their culture and customs to a degree rare for immigrant groups.

With so many discontented immigrants concentrated in Florida, they became a potential force for politicians to court.

And the issue guaranteed to sway their votes was unrelenting hostility to Castro.  Unsurprisingly, most of their votes went to right-wing Republicans.

John F. Kennedy was the first President to face this dilemma.

During the closing months of the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the CIA had begun training Cuban exiles for an invasion of their former homeland.

The exiles’ goal: To do what Castro had done-–seek refuge in the mountains and launch a successful anti-Castro revolution.

But word of the coming invasion quickly leaked: The exiles were terrible secret-keepers. (A joke at the CIA went: “A Cuban thinks a secret is something you tell to only 300 people.”)

Kennedy insisted the invasion must appear to be an entirely Cuban enterprise. He refused to commit U.S. Marines and Air Force bombers.

The invaders landed on April 17, 1961 at the Bay of Pigs–and were quickly overwhelmed, with hundreds of the men taken prisoner.

Kennedy publicly took the blame for its failure: “Victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan.” But privately he seethed, and ordered the CIA to redouble its efforts to remove Castro at all costs.

To make certain his order was carried out, he appointed his brother, Robert-–then Attorney General–-to oversee the CIA’s “Castro removal” program.

Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy

It’s here that America’s obsession with Cuba entered its darkest and most disgraceful period.

The CIA and the Mafia entered into an unholy alliance to assassinate Castro-–each for its own benefit:

The CIA wanted to please Kennedy.

The mobsters wanted to regain its casino and brothel holdings that had made Cuba their private playground in pre-Castro times. They also hoped to use their pose as patriots to win immunity from future prosecution.

The CIA supplied poisons and explosives to various members of the Mafia. It was then up to the mobsters to assassinate Castro.

The CIA asked Johnny Roselli, a mobster linked to the Chicago syndicate, to go to Florida in 1961 and 1962 to organize assassination teams of Cuban exiles.  They were to infiltrate their homeland and assassinate Castro.

Johnny Roselli

Rosselli called upon two other crime figures: Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana and Santos Trafficante, the Costra Nostra chieftain for Tampa, for assistance.

Sam Giancana

Giancana, using the name “Sam Gold” in his dealings with the CIA, was meanwhile being hounded by the FBI on direct orders of Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

The mobsters were authorized to offer $150,000 to anyone who would kill Castro and were promised any support the Agency could yield.

Giancana was to locate someone who was close enough to Castro to be able to drop pills into his food.  Trafficante would serve as courier to Cuba, helping to make arrangements for the murder on the island.

Rosselli was to be the main link between all of the participants in the plot.

The available sources disagree on what actually happened. Some believe that the Mob made a genuine effort to “whack” Fidel.

Others are convinced the mobsters simply ran a scam on the government. They would pretend to carry out their “patriotic duty” while in fact making no effort at all to penetrate Castro’s security.

The CIA’s war against Castro was known as Operation Mongoose–the mongoose being a traditional enemy of the cobra.  And those entrusted with this assignment were known as the Special Group.

“We were hysterical about Castro at about the time of the Bay of Pigs and thereafter,” Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara later testified before Congress about these efforts. “And there was pressure from JFK and RFK to do something about Castro.”

NEAR-ARMAGEDDON: 50 YEARS AGO – PART ONE (OF FIVE)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on October 8, 2012 at 12:00 am

October 16-28 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis—universally regarded by historians as the single most dangerous moment in the Cold War.

For 13 days, President John F. Kennedy faced off with Nikita Khrushchev, chairman of the Soviet Union.

John F. Kennedy

Nikita Khrushchev

The Soviets had shipped nuclear missiles to Fidel Castro, the “Maximum Leader” of Communist Cuba—and Kennedy demanded their removal.

To secure this, he ordered the United States Navy to impose a blockade of Cuba.  And to back up that threat, he put U.S. military forces on “DefCom 2”—the stage just below that of launching all-out nuclear war.

And the Soviets, with the second-largest nuclear arsenal in the world, were equally poised to launch Armageddon.

For almost two weeks, the world held its collective breath.

Would the Soviets try to run the Navy’s blockade of Cuba?

If so, would a shooting incident between American and Russian ships in the Pacific lead to all-out nuclear war?

Would the Soviets launch a pre-emptive strike against the United States?

Had any one of an infinite number of miscalculations happened, life as we know it would have vanished.

Historians generally agree that the crisis was resolved successfully, but its legacies remain furiously alive.  Fifty years later:

  • Cuba remains legally off-limits to American tourists and is widely seen as an island of terror, and
  • The Cuban refugees who have flocked to south Florida since 1959 have long imposed a blackmailer’s stranglehold on American Presidential politics.

Few American politicians have had the moral courage to openly acknowledge the latter.  One of these is Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul, who realizes that the Cold War is over-–and the United States should recognize it.

This rare moment of political courage came during the GOP Presidential debate in Tampa, Florida, on January 23, 2012.

Moderator Brian Williams: “Let’s say…that Fidel Castro has died.  And there are credible people in the Pentagon who predict upwards of half a million Cubans may take that as a cue to come to the United States. What do you do?”

Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum played to the huge-–and politically influential-–Cuban community in Florida, and especially Miami.

All three pledged to continue the decades-old policy of refusing to trade with Cuba or open diplomatic relations while it was ruled by a nominally Communist government.

And all three draft-dodging “chickenhawks” were eager to prove how “tough” they were–at the risk of other men’s lives.

Former Speaker of the House Gingrich: “A Gingrich presidency will not tolerate four more years of this dictatorship.”

Former Massachusetts Governor Romney: “I will work very aggressively with the new leadership in Cuba to try and move them towards a more open degree than they have had in the past.”

And former U.S. Senator Santorum: “The sanctions have to stay in place, because we need to have a very solid offer to come forward and help the Cuban people.”

But Texas Congressman Ron Paul had a vastly different answer:

Ron Paul

“No, I would do pretty much the opposite.  I don’t like the isolationism of not talking to people. I was drafted in 1962 at the height of the Cold War when the missiles were in Cuba. And the Cold War’s over.

“And I think we propped up Castro for 40-some years because we put on these sanctions, and this–only used us as a scapegoat. He [Castro] could always say, anything wrong, it’s the United States’ fault.

“But I think it’s time…to quit this isolation business of not talking to people. We talked to the Soviets. We talk to the Chinese. And we opened up trade, and we’re not killing each other now.

“We fought with the Vietnamese for a long time. We finally gave up, started talking to them, now we trade with them. I don’t know why…the Cuban people should be so intimidating.

“I don’t know where you get this assumption that all of a sudden all the Cubans would come up here.

“I would probably think they were going to celebrate and they’re going to have a lot more freedom if we would only open up our doors and say, we want to talk to you, and trade with you, and come visit….

“I think we’re living in the dark ages when we can’t even talk to the Cuban people. I think it’s not 1962 anymore.

“And we don’t have to use force and intimidation and overthrow of a–in governments. I just don’t think that’s going to work.”

Paul’s answer reveals–and leaves out–a great deal.

Those truths will be explored in detail throughout this series of articles on the American obsession with Cuba.

THE UNDECIDED VOTER’S DILEMMA

In Humor, Politics, Social commentary on October 5, 2012 at 12:00 am

Vs.

    

“Gee, I don’t know which one to vote for.  They look so much alike.”

MACHIAVELLI WOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER

In History, Politics on October 4, 2012 at 12:00 am

It was September 26, 1960.  The date of the first–and now legendary–Presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon.

Robert F. Kennedy, who was managing his brother’s campaign, offered some blunt but effective debate-prep advice: “Kick him in the balls, Jack.”

John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy

As a result, Kennedy came out fighting–and stayed on the offensive throughout the debate.  At one point, he said flat-out that the United States should overthrow the year-old Cuban regime of Fidel Castro.

Nixon knew there was a secret CIA plan under way to do just that, but couldn’t afford to say so in public.  So he came out hard against such a proposal, saying it would alienate American allies throughout the Caribbean.

Nixon had been warned by Henry Cabot Lodge, his Vice Presidential running mate, to tone down his “assassin image.”

During the 1950s, as a colleague of Red-baiting Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, Nixon had made himself immune from the damning charge of “soft on Communism.”

And yet, pitted against a surprisingly aggressive Kennedy, he came off as decidedly second-best in standing up to the sons of Joseph Stalin.

The Kennedy-Nixon Debate

Commentators generally agreed that Nixon lost that first debate–the most-watched of the four.  And it may have proved fatal to his electoral chances that year.

“Kick him in the balls, Jack.”

It’s advice that someone should have given to President Barack Obama.  Not just before his October 3 debate with Mitt Romney, the Republican Presidential candidate, but at the start of his Presidency.

Romney came on strong from the outset and never let up.  He attacked the President relentlessly.  And he repeatedly ignored calls by the alleged moderator, Jim Lehrer, to stop because he had exceeded his time-limit.

The Obama-Romney Debate

But, surprisingly, Obama:

  • Never called out Romney on any of the lies he had aimed at the President throughout more than a year’s worth of campaigning.
  • Never demanded that Romney produce specifics about the programs he would cut.
  • Never mentioned Bain Capitol, Romney’s private equity firm, as a job-killing corporate predator.
  • Never attacked Romney for having personal assets in Swiss bank accounts.
  • Never mentioned the infamous “47%” videotape in which Romney contemptuously wrote off almost half of the electorate.

Obama is a supremely decent and rational man.  He seems to believe that if he is decent and reasonable toward his sworn enemies, they, in turn, will treat him the same way.

They haven’t.  And Obama has repeatedly failed to learn the only possible lesson from it.

As a result, he has endured relentless personal insults and the stonewalling of his legislation by Republicans in the House and Senate.

But it did not have to be this way.

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine patriot, offered this advice in The Prince, his primer on political science:

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved.  The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved. 

For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain. As long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours. 

They offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote,.  But when it approaches, they revolt.

And the prince who has relied solely on their words, without making other preparations, is ruined…. 

And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared.  For love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose. 

But fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.

Obama should have put this truth into practice with the case of South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson.  It was Wilson who yelled “You lie!” at the President during his September 9, 2009 health care speech to Congress.

Wilson later apologized, and Rahm Emannuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff, accepted the apology on the President’s behalf.

Instead, Obama could–and should–have sent this directive to all Federal agencies: “If you have to make cutbacks, make them first in the Congressional district of Joe Wilson.”

When military bases and hospitals and highway projects started disappearing from Wilson’s district, word would have quickly gotten around: Don’t screw with Obama. 

During the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman said of his Confederate enemies: “They cannot be made to love us, but they may be made to fear us.”

General William Texumseh Sherman

If Obama loses the election, the reason will be that, for all his brilliance as a Harvard graduate, he failed to learn and apply this most essential lesson.

DAVY CROCKETT–AND THE “47%”

In History, Politics, Social commentary on October 3, 2012 at 12:01 am

It’s a scene you couldn’t imagine seeing in John Wayne’s 1960 film, “The Alamo.”  Especially with The Duke playing a hard-drinking, two-fisted Davy Crockett.

John Wayne as Davy Crockett

But it occurs in the novel, Crockett of Tennessee, by Cameron Judd.  And it is no less affecting for its being–so far as we know–entirely fictional.

It’s the last night of life for the Alamo garrison–the night before the 2,000 men of the Mexican Army hurl themselves at the former mission and slaughter its 200 Texian defenders.

The fort’s commander, William Barret Travis, has drawn his “line in the sand” and invited the garrison to choose: To surrender, to try to escape, or to stay and fight to the death.

And the garrison–except for one man–chooses to stay and fight.  That man is Louis “Moses” Rose, a Frenchman who has served in Napoleon’s Grande Armee and survived the frightful retreat from Moscow.

He vaults a low wall of the improvised fort, flees into the moonless desert, and eventually makes his way to the home of a family who give him shelter.

But for the garrison, immortality lies only hours away.  Or does it?

An hour after deciding to stand and die in the Alamo, wrapped in the dark of night, Crockett is seized with paralyzing fear.

“We’re going to die here,” he chokes out to his longtime friend, Persius Tarr.  “You understand that, Persius?  We’re going to die!”

“I know, Davy.  But there ain’t no news in that,” says Tarr.  “We’re born to die.  Every one of us.  Only difference between us and most everybody else is we know when and where it’s going to be.”

“But I can’t be afraid–not me.  I’m Crockett.  I’m Canebrake Davy.  I’m half-horse, half-alligator.”

“I know you are, Davy,” says Tarr. “So do all these men here.  That’s why you’re going to get past this.

“You’re going to put that fear behind you and walk back out there and fight like the man you are.  The fear’s come and now it’s gone.  This is our time, Davy.”

“The glory-time,” says Crockett.

“That’s right, David.  The glory-time.”

And then Tarr delivers a sentiment wholly alien to money-obsessed men like Mitt Romney and Donald Trump–who comprise the richest and most privileged 1% of today’s Americans.

“There’s men out there with their eyes on you.  You’re the only thing keeping the fear away from them.  You’re joking and grinning and fiddling–it gives them courage they wouldn’t have had without you.

Maybe that’s why you’re here, Davy–to make the little men and the scared men into big and brave men.  You’ve always cared about the little men, Davy.  Remember who you are.

“You’re Crockett of Tennessee, and your glory-time has come.  Don’t you miss a bit of it.”

The next morning, the Mexicans assault the Alamo.  Crockett embraces his glory-time–and becomes a legend for all-time.

David Crockett (1786-1836) lived–and died–a poor man.  But this did not prevent him from trying to better the lives of his family and fellow citizens–and even his former enemies.

During the War of 1812, he served as a scout under Andrew Jackson.  His foes were the Creek Indians, who had massacred 500 settlers at Fort Mims, Alabama–and threatened to do the same to Crockett’s neighbors in Tennessee.

As a Congressman from Tennessee, he championed the rights of poor whites.  And he opposed then-President Jackson’s efforts to force the same defeated Indians to depart the lands guaranteed them by treaty.

To Crockett, a promise was sacred–whether given by a single man or the United States Government.

And his presence during the 13-day siege of the Alamo did cheer the spirits of the vastly outnumbered defenders.  It’s a matter of historical record that he and a Scotsman named MacGregor often staged musical “duels” to see who could make the most noise.

It was MacGregor with his bagpipes against Crockett and his fiddle.

Contrast this devotion of Crockett to the rights of “the little men,” as Persius Tarr called them, with the attitude of the Republican candidate for President.

On May 17, at a fund-raiser closed to the press, Mitt Romney said:

“Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right? There are 47% who are with him.

“Who are dependent upon government, who believe that–that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.

“But that’s–it’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

“And–and–I mean the President starts off with 48%, 49%, 40–or he….starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that’s what they sell every….four years.”

Those who give their lives for others are rightly loved as heroes.  Those who dedicate their lives only to their wallets are rightly soon forgotten.

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