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Posts Tagged ‘MAFIA’

PRESENTING—SENATOR HYPOCRITE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 4, 2018 at 12:10 am

At the end of the 1987 movie, “The Untouchables,” a reporter accosts Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner): “Mr. Ness, they’re saying that Congress will repeal Prohibition. If that happens, what will you do?”

And Ness—who has just spent the entire movie trying to put arch-bootlegger Al Capone out of business—replies: “I think I’ll have a drink.”

“The Untouchables” (1987)

In 1920, America went “dry”—officially.

The reason: Congressional passage of the Volstead Act—named after Andrew Volstead, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who managed the legislation.

For Americans generally, the law had a shorter name: Prohibition.

For 12 years—from 1920 to 1932—the United States Treasury Department declared war on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages throughout the country.

It was a losing war. Untold numbers of local police officers gladly turned a blind eye—for a price—to the bootleggers operating in their midst. So did legions of agents of the Treasury Department’s Prohibition Bureau.

And police weren’t the only ones willing to ignore the law. So were politicians at all levels. At the highest level: Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States.

Warren G. Harding

Harding allowed bootleg whiskey to be served to his guests during after-dinner parties.  His wife, Florence, known as “The Duchess,” mixed drinks for the visitors.

Many of those public officials (and private citizens) who regularly indulged felt the law was needed to enforce “morality” onto others—especially the poor and immigrants.

Prohibition ended in 1932—to the sorrow of two major organizations. The first was anti-alcohol groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The second was the Mafia—which had raised millions of dollars via the sale of forbidden spirits.

Today Americans (except those living in officially “dry” states like Florida, Georgia and Alabama) can easily and legally obtain all the booze they can afford to buy.

But even in “wet” states, it’s illegal to drink and drive—as third-term United States Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) found out in 2012.

Mike Crapo

Crapo had been elected to the House of Representatives in 1992. After three terms in the House he successfully ran for the Senate in 1998.

On December 23, 2012, Crapo was arrested in Alexandria, Virginia, for driving under the influence. Crapo was pulled over after an officer saw him run a red light.

According to CBS News, Crapo failed several field sobriety tests and was taken into custody without incident. He was later released on an unsecured $1,000 bond.

On January 4, 2013, Crapo pleaded guilty to a drunk driving charge and was sentenced to a  $250 fine and court costs, one-year suspension of his driver’s license, and court-ordered alcohol education and awareness classes.

But there’s more to this tale than mere political embarrassment. There’s also a story of religious hypocrisy to be told.

Crapo is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the Mormons. He graduated from the church’s Brigham Young University in 1973  with a B.A. in political science.

Among those acts that Mormons are forbidden to partake in is the drinking of alcohol. It’s part of the “Word of Wisdom” embraced by staunch church members: A ban on any use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea.

Indulging in any of these won’t get you excommunicated (as will, say, adultery or murder, which the church puts on the same level of evil). But it can get you banned from entering a Mormon temple, reserved for only the most devout members.

It is in their temples that Mormons perform such rituals as wedding ceremonies and proxy “baptisms for the dead.”

This inevitably came as a huge embarrassment for a man who represents Idaho, a state:

  • Where government maintains a monopoly over sales of beverages with greater than 16% ABV;
  • Where beer can be sold in grocery stores but not wine;
  • Where the sale of distilled spirits is allowed only in certified Liquor Dispensary stores;
  • Where 414,182 Mormons comprise the largest single religious group—at 26% of the population.

Thus, Crapo quickly released the following statement:

“I am deeply sorry for the actions that resulted in this circumstance.  I made a mistake for which I apologize to my family, my Idaho constituents and any others who have put their trust in me.

“I accept total responsibility and will deal with whatever penalty comes my way in this matter.  I will also undertake measures to ensure that this circumstance is never repeated.”

In November, 2016, Crapo was re-elected to a fourth Senate  term. 

Among his legislative accomplishments: 

  • Opposing President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which makes access to health care available to all Americans.  He did so after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999 and undergoing surgery to remove all or part of the prostate gland in January 2000.
  • Opposing expanded background checks for all gun buyers.  
  • Chairing the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, where he attacked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • Urging President Donald Trump to withdraw the United States from the climate-change Paris Agreement.
  • Chairing the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, where he sought repeal of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, its purpose is to prevent a repeat of the 2008 Wall Street “meltdown” caused by the unchecked greed of speculators.

IT’S MUELLER TIME FOR THE GHOST OF J. EDGAR

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on December 18, 2017 at 2:41 am

J. Edgar Hoover was appointed director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1924.  His 48-year reign ended only with his death on May 2, 1972.

Niccolo Machiavelli advised would-be princes to be both loved and feared.  Hoover took this to heart—and ensured that he was both.

To gain love, he shamelessly advertised himself as the Nation’s foremost guardian against crime and espionage–especially the Communist variety.

He did so through

  • A relentless series of interviews with favored journalists and book authors;
  • “Authoring” several ghostwritten books; and
  • Sponsoring comic books, radio programs and even a high-rated TV series to tout the glories of the FBI.

Millions of Americans believed that only Hoover and his ace G-men stood between them and the threat of crime and/or Communist subversion.

J. Edgar Hoover

Members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees supposedly oversee the operations of the Justice Department—of which the FBI is the biggest part. Yet they competed with one another to fawn over Hoover and his agency and to give him even greater appropriations than he asked for.

But it wasn’t just popularity that kept Hoover in power for almost a half-century. While he reveled in feeling loved by the public, he did not rely entirely on this as a guarantee of longevity.

“In large measure, Hoover’s power rested on the information he had squirreled away in his secret files,” wrote investigative journalist David Wise in his 1976 bestseller, The American Police State.

“Put simply, the famous Director of the FBI, the cereal boxtop, G-man hero of generations of American youth, was a blackmailer. Hoover collected and filed away facts, tidbits, gossip, scandal and dark secrets that gave him leverage over members of Congress, the Cabinet, even Presidents.”

“He has a file on everybody,” a terrified President Richard Nixon told White House Counsel John Dean.

It was the major reason why Nixon—and Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson—never dared fire him.

Hoover learned, for example, of the sexual relationship between JFK and “party girl” Judith Campbell.  Aside from the politically explosive matter of Kennedy’s adultery, Campbell was also bedding Sam Giancana, the most notorious Mafia boss in Chicago.

Fearing that his superior, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, meant to fire him, Hoover, in 1962, let President Kennedy know that he was in on the secret.  Hoover quit worrying about involuntary retirement after that.

John F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy

Similarly, LBJ told aides he would never fire Hoover: “It’s better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

Now, fast forward to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s assignment to investigate well-documented links between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign.

On May 9, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey for doing the same thing.  When Mueller was appointed to continue that investigation, Trump made clear his anger at the decision.

Since May, Trump, his shills in Congress and Right-wing Fox News have relentlessly attacked Mueller’s integrity and investigative methods.

This despite the fact that Mueller was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush and served with an impeccable reputation for 12 years as FBI director (2001-2013).

From the outset of Mueller’s investigation, there have been widespread fears that Trump would fire him, just as he did Comey.

On December 15, Rep. Jackie Spier (D-Calif.) said: “The rumor on the Hill when I left yesterday was that the President was going to make a significant speech at the end of next week. And on December 22, when we are out of D.C., he was going to fire Robert Mueller.”

A member of the House Intelligence Committee, Spier said that Trump was trying to shut down Congress’ own investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

So: How should Robert Mueller respond?

Two methods are open to him.

The first is to follow the straight-arrow path he has always traveled: Keep pressing on with his investigation and wait to see what happens.  And if Trump fires him, hope that, somehow, the probe goes on.

The second is to summon up the ghost of J. Edgar Hoover.

As described by William C. Sullivan, Hoover’s one-time number-three man and the director of his Intelligence Division:

William C. Sullivan

“The moment he would get something on a Senator, he would send one of his errand boys up and advise the Senator that we’re in the course of an investigation and by chance happened to come up with this data on your daughter.

“But we wanted you to know know—we realize you would want to know it. But don’t have any concern—no one will ever learn about it. Well, Jesus, what does that tell the Senator?  From that time on, the Senator’s right in his pocket.”

Reports have circulated that many of those Congress members now demanding Mueller’s firing are recipients of financial (and possibly intelligence) support from the Kremlin.

Perhaps it’s time for Mueller to send one of his own “errand boys” up to Capitol Hill for a quiet exchange with such leaders.

Once they realize how much they stand to lose by backing a Kremlin-owned President, they may well change their tunes.

WHEN CRIMINALS FALL OUT, AMERICA WINS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on November 16, 2017 at 12:17 am

In 1972, warfare erupted the between the two most powerful Mafia families of New York.

On one side: The Corleone Family, headed by “Don Vito” Corleone.  On the other: The Barzini Family, whose boss was Emilio Barzini.

Moviegoers flooded theaters across the nation to make The Godfather the highest-grossing film of 1972—and, for a time, the highest-grossing film ever made.

The Godfather written on a black background in stylized white lettering, above it a hand holds puppet strings

Audiences rooted for the Corleones and thrilled whenever a Barzini “soldier” bit the concrete.  And they moaned when Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) was shot and wounded at an outdoor market and Sonny Corleone (James Caan) got riddled by machine guns on a New Jersey causeway.

Why did so many moviegoers feel compelled to side with the Corleones?

One reason was that, early in the film, Don Corleone rejects an offer by the Barzini Family to enter the narcotics-trafficking business.

Many viewers saw this as proof that “Don Vito” was more honest than other Mafia chiefs who did enter the drug trade.  In fact, Corleone made it clear that he wanted to stay out for completely practical reasons.

When speaking with Virgil Sollotzzo, the Turkish drug kingpin backed by the Barzinis, Corleone says: “It makes no difference to me what a man does for a living.  But your business is a little dangerous.

“It’s true I have a lot of friends who are judges and politicians.  And they don’t mind if people want to gamble, or drink, or even pay for a woman.  But they wouldn’t be so friendly if they knew my business was drugs.”

In short, it wasn’t morality that led him to steer clear of narcotics trafficking.  He simply didn’t want to go to prison.

The other reason so many viewers identified with the Corleones lay in the brilliant casting of their members.

  • Marlon Brando—considered by many the greatest actor of his time—headed the cast.
  • Al Pacino, then an unknown, aroused sympathy as Michael, the Family outsider forced by the shooting of his father to become the Boss of All Bosses.
  • James Caan (as Sonny) is handsome and the defender of his brutalized sister, Connie, against her abusive husband, Carlo Rizzi.
  • John Cazale (as Fredo) is riddled with insecurities and not very bright, won the audiences’ sympathy by his sheer helplessness when compared to his ruthless siblings.

But the fact remained that the Corleones—for all their homilies about “honor” and “loyalty”—were every bit as greedy and lethal as their Mafia competitors.  They just played the game more ruthlessly—and successfully.

All of which brings us to the current Mafia-like struggle within the Republican party in Alabama. 

On one side: Roy Moore, the twice-ousted former chief justice of the Alabama supreme court, who is running for U.S. Senator.

Judge Roy Moore.jpg

Roy Moore

On the other: “Establishment” Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan. 

The uproar started when four women, in a Washington Post story, accused Moore of seeking romantic relationships with four teenage girls while he was in his 30s, and even trolling malls for such dates.

The worst of these charges came from Leigh Corfman, who said that, when she was 14, Moore took off her “shirt and pants and removed his clothes,” touched her “over her bra and underpants” and “guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.”

One of Moore’s defenders is Steve Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News, an online Right-wing news, opinion and commentary website. 

“This is nothing less than the politics of personal destruction,” he told Bloomberg News. “And they need to destroy him by any means necessary.”

Another is Sean Hannity, a talk show host on Fascistic Fox News. Interviewed on Hannity’s program, Moore said he did “not generally” remember dating teenagers when he was in his 30s.

Many Republicans want President Donald Trump to publicly urge Moore to step aside. But Trump is extremely reluctant to do so—and for good reason.  

On October 12, 2016, The Palm Beach Post, The New York Times and People all published stories of women claiming to have been sexually assaulted by Trump. By October 14, at least 12 women had publicly accused Trump of sexually inappropriate behavior. 

Trump, having become the poster boy of sexual harassment—if not predators—does not want the public once again reminded of his own repellent behavior. 

There are several possible outcomes here—all of them disastrous for the Republican party. 

  • Moore could win—thus becoming a national embarrassment to Republicans.
  • Moore could lose to his Democratic challenger, Doug Jones—thus giving Democrats one more Senator to oppose the Trump agenda.
  • Moore could win—and be expelled from the Senate by his fellow Republicans. This would require a two-thirds majority vote. It would ignite a civil war among “establishment” Republicans like McConnell and “anti-establishment” Right-wingers like Bannon, Hannity and even Trump.
  • No matter what Trump does, it will prove a lose/lose issue for Republicans. If he condemns Moore, he will be accused of hypocrisy. If he doesn’t, he will be accused of silently condoning sexually predatory behavior.

When predatory Mafiosi wipe each other out, honest citizens win. When Fascistic Republicans wage war on each other, democracy wins.

SECRETS OF THE JFK ASSASSINATION

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 23, 2017 at 11:58 am

In 1991, director Oliver Stone ignited renewed controversy about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

His film, “JFK,” presented the murder as the result of a conspiracy involving almost everyone. It starred Kevin Costner as idealistic New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison.

By contrast, the real Garrison was reputedly linked to the Mafia.  In 1973, Garrison was tried and found not guilty  for accepting bribes to protect illegal pinball machine operations.

Garrison’s “search for the truth” targeted a businessman named Clay Shaw. On March 1, 1969, Shaw was unanimously acquitted less than one hour after the case went to the jury

To gauge historical accuracy of “JFK”: Stone gave Garrison an eloquent final speech to the jury—a speech he never delivered.

Jim Garrison.jpg

Jim Garrison

But the public hysteria triggered by the film led Congress to pass the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act in 1992.  As a result, millions of pages of documents related to the assassination were made public in the 1990s—but not all.

About 3,100 never-before-seen documents—and the full text of more than 30,000 files previously released only in part—have been unavailable until now. Most of those documents were created inside the CIA, the FBI and the Justice Department. Under the law they must be released, in full, by October 26 unless President Donald Trump decides otherwise.

But for investigative reporter Gus Russo, the secrets behind Kennedy’s murder are no mystery.

Russo is the author of Live By the SwordThe Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK. Published in 1998, it is almost certainly the definitive account of the Kennedy assassination.

Russo reaches some startling—but highly documented—conclusions.  Among these:

  • “John and Robert Kennedy knew what they were doing. They waged a vicious war against Fidel Castro–a war someone had to lose.” 
  • The loser turned out to be John F. Kennedy. 
  • Their war began immediately after taking office on January 20, 1961. 
  • On April 17, 1961, more than 1,400 Cuban invaders–backed by American air power—landed JOINT at the Bay of Pigs. They were quickly overwhelmed, with hundreds of the men taken prisoner.
  • Although it’s commonly believed that the Cuban Missile Crisis ended America’s  efforts to overthrow Fidel Castro, this was not true. 
  • While continuing the campaign of sabotage throughout Cuba, the Kennedys were preparing a fullscale American invasion of the island—just one month before the November, 1964 Presidential election.  

John F. and Robert F. Kennedy

  • 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:
  • (1) January, 1964:  Infiltration into Cuba by Cuban exiles. (2) July 15, 1964:  U.S. conventional forces join the fray. (3) August 3, 1964: All-out U.S. air strikes on Cuba. (4) October 1, 1964: Full-scale invasion to install “a government friendly to the U.S.” 
  • 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.
  • For this, he blamed John F. Kennedy.
  • Oswald told his Russian-born wife, Marina: “Fidel Castro needs defenders. I’m going to join his army of volunteers.”
  • Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated Kennedy.
  • He did it alone. 
  • 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?”
  • According to Gus Russo, they should have asked: “Why was he killed?”
  • And his answer: “The Kennedys’ relentless pursuit of Castro and Cuba backfired in tragedy on that terrible day in November, 1963.”
  • Following the JFK assassination, there was a cover-up.
  • Its purpose: To protect the reputation of the United States Government—and that of its newly-martyred President.
  • The CIA and FBI concealed the CIA-Mafia assassination plots against Castro from the Warren Commission assigned to investigate Kennedy’s murder.
  • Other government officials participating in the cover-up 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.
  • 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. 
  • He knew that some of the mobsters he had tried to send to 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? 
  • It was a question that haunted RFK until the day he died.
  • 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.

Other legacies of America’s twisted obsession with Cuba

  • The huge Cuban community throughout Florida–and especially Miami–continues to exert a blackmailing influence on American politics.
  • Unwilling to risk their own lives, they hope that a Right-wing President will order the military to overthrow the Castro regime. 

AMERICA’S BRUSH WITH ARMAGEDDON: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 16, 2017 at 12:05 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 Cuban Missile Crisis was the deadliest moment of the Cold War, when the world stood only minutes away from nuclear Armageddon.

That crisis stemmed from America’s 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. 
  • A population of about 1,700,000 Cuban exiles 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.

President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong On have traded salvos of insults and threats, like two demented schoolchildren.

Once again, the world wonders: Is nuclear war about to erupt?

Thus, two lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis–above all others–should vividly remembered–before disaster erupts:

First, the highly provocative actions of the Kennedy Administration led directly to the installation of Soviet missiles in Cuba; and

Second, only the restraint exercised by John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev averted a nuclear holocaust. 

No American can restrain the actions of the North Korean dictator.  But there are Americans who can remove the dangers posed by a clearly unstable President.

AMERICA’S BRUSH WITH ARMAGEDDON: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 15, 2017 at 12:13 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.

John F. Kennedy address the nation

And he demanded that the Soviets remove all of their offensive weapons from Cuba: “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 Lincoln’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?

“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.

AMERICA’S BRUSH WITH ARMAGEDDON: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 14, 2017 at 12:10 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.

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.

John F. Kennedy address the nation

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.”

AMERICA’S BRUSH WITH ARMAGEDDON: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 11, 2017 at 12:10 am

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un has threatened to launch possibly nuclear-tipped missiles at Guam, an unincorporated United States territory in the Western Pacific Ocean.

And President Donald Trump has responded with a threat to bring “fire and fury” to North Korea if it does.

Will their exchange of threats lead to all-out nuclear war? 

The last time that Americans faced such a threat came 55 years ago, during the Presidency of John F. Kennedy.

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.”

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART TEN (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 17, 2017 at 12:22 am

Fifty-three years ago, on November 22, 1963, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It has been said that he left his country with three great legacies:

  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty;
  • The Apollo moon landing; and
  • The Vietnam war.

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

  • The Test Ban Treaty has prevented atmosphereic testing–and poisoning–by almost all the world’s nuclear powers.
  • After reaching the moon–in 1969–Americans quickly lost interest in space and have today largely abandoned plans for manned exploration. For America, as for JFK, beating the Russians to the moon was the end-goal.
  • Under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam; 153,303 were wounded; and billions of dollars were squandered in a hopeless effort to intervene in what was essentially a Vietnamese civil war. From 1965 to 1972, the war angrily divided Americas as had no event since the Civil War.

But there was a fourth legacy–and perhaps the most important of all: The belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverance.

 White House painting of JFK

At American University on June 10, 1963, Kennedy called upon his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War. And he declared that the search for peace was by no means absurd:

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

Today, politicians from both parties cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems.

On November 21, 2011,  the 12 members of the “Super-Committee” of Congress, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, threw up their hands in defeat.

President Kennedy insisted on being well-informed. He speed-read several newspapers every morning and nourished personal relationships with the press-–and not for altruistic reasons. These journalistic contacts gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspectives on national and international issues.

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, Republican Presidential candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.” Thus he excused his ignorance for why President Barack Obama had intervened in Libya.

Texas Governor Rick Perry (and now Secretary of Energy) showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court:

“Well, obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you–I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Court judges. And, uh, ah–

“Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on the Supreme Court, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….”

In short, it’s the media’s fault if they ask you a question and your answer reveals your own ignorance, stupidity or criminality. 

Sarah Palin rewrote history via “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”: “He warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.” 

In fact, Revere wasn’t warning the British about anything. Instead, he was warning his fellow  Americans about an impending British attack–as his celebrated catchphrase “The British are coming!” made clear.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, about the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences. Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake–that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it.

Republicans attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language. Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

And they resented his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.  As if being a writer is somehow subversive.

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin’” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline lies just around the corner.

Many Americans believe that decline arrived with the 2016 election of Donald Trump. In fact, they believe it was Trump who announced it after winning the Nevada Republican primary: “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of more than a rational and optimistic human being.

It marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders.

The Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART NINE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 16, 2017 at 12:05 am

Elected to the House of Representatives in 1946, John F. Kennedy served six undistinguished years before being elected U.S. Senator from Massachusetts in 1952.

In 1956, his eloquence and political skill almost won him the Vice Presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention. But the nominee, Adlai Stevenson, chose Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver as his running mate–fortunately for Kennedy.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, running for re-election, easily beat Stevenson.

Had Kennedy been on the ticket, his Catholicism would have been blamed for the loss. And this would have likely prevented his getting the Presidential nomination in 1960.

In 1957, his book, Profiles in Courage, won the Pulitzer Prize for history.

From 1957 to 1960, Kennedy laid plans for a successful Presidential race.

Many voters thought him too young and inexperienced for such high office. But he used his TV debates with then-Vice President Richard Nixon to calm such fears, transforming himself overnight into a serious contender.

Many Americans identified with Kennedy as they had with film stars. Compared with normally drab politicians, he seemed exciting and glamorous.

Since 1960, for millions of Americans, mere competence in a President isn’t enough; he should be charming and movie-star handsome as well.

Related image

John F. Kennedy after taking a swim at Santa Monica Beach, 1960

But charismatic politicians face the danger of waning enthusiasm.

Many people were growing disillusioned with Kennedy before he died. He had raised hopes that couldn’t be met–especially among blacks.

And many whites bitterly opposed his support of integration, believing that Kennedy was “moving too fast” in changing race relations.

Still, for millions of Americans, Kennedy represented a time of change.

“Let’s get this country moving again” had been his campaign slogan in 1960. He had demanded an end to the non-existent “missile gap” between the United States and Soviet Union.

And he had said that America should create full employment and re-evaluate its policies toward Africa, Latin America and Asia.

His youth, the grace and beauty of his wife and the often-reported antics of his two young children–Caroline and John–added to the atmosphere that change was under way.

But Kennedy was not so committed to reform as many believed:

  • As a Senator he had strongly opposed abolishing the Electoral College.
  • He never protested the Red-baiting tactics of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, a frequent dinner guest at the home of his father.
  • As President, Kennedy never forgot that he had been elected by a margin of 112,881 votes. He often rationalized his refusal to tackle controversial issues by saying: “We’ll do it after I’m re-elected. So we’d better make damn sure I am re-elected.”
  • He thought the United States should recognize “Red” China, but didn’t try to change American foreign policy toward that nation.

Nevertheless, many historians believe that. by vocally supporting civil rights and healthcare for the elderly, Kennedy laid the groundwork for Lyndon Johnson’s legislative victories.

Perhaps no aspect of Kennedy’s Presidency has received closer study than his assassination.

Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have hotly debated whether he was murdered by a lone “nut” or a deadly conspiracy of powerful men.

JFK’s assassination: The moment of impact

The murder has been the subject of two government investigations. The first, by the Warren Commission in 1964, concluded that an embittered ex-Marine and Marxist, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone in killing Kennedy.

Similarly, the Commission determined that nightclub owner Jack Ruby had killed Oswald on impulse, and not as the result of a conspiracy.

Millions of disbelieving Americans rejected the Warren Report–and named their own villains:

  • The KGB;
  • The Mob;
  • Anti-Castro Cubans;
  • Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson;
  • Right-wing businessmen and/or military leaders;
  • Fidel Castro.

Each of these groups or persons had reason to hate Kennedy:

  • The KGB–for Kennedy’s humiliating the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • The Mob–in retaliation for the administration’s crackdown on organized crime.
  • Anti-Castro Cubans–for JFK’s refusal to commit American military forces to overthrowing Castro at the Bay of Pigs invasion.
  • Lyndon Johnson–lusting for power, he stood to gain the most from Kennedy’s elimination.
  • Right-wing businessmen and/or military leaders–for believing that Kennedy had “sold out” the country to the Soviet Union.
  • Fidel Castro–knowing the CIA was trying to assassinate or overthrow him, he had reason to respond in kind.

The second investigation, conducted in 1977-79 by the House Assassinations Committee, determined that Oswald and a second, unknown sniper had fired at Kennedy. (Oswald was deemed the assassin; the other man’s shot had missed.)

The Chief Counsel for the Committee, G. Robert Blakey, believed New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello organized the assassination, owing to his hatred of Robert Kennedy for his war on the crime syndicates.

Still, 53 years after JFK’s assassination, no court-admissible evidence has appeared to convict anyone other than Oswald for the murder.

The impact of Kennedy’s death on popular culture remains great. Millions saw him as a brilliant, courageous hero who had worked his way to the top.

But his sudden and violent end shocked those who believed there was always a happy ending.

If so gifted–and protected–a man as John F. Kennedy could be so suddenly and brutally destroyed, no one else could depend on a secure future.

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