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Posts Tagged ‘ROBERT F. KENNEDY’

WHY FASCISTS WIN AND LIBERALS LOSE

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 16, 2017 at 10:32 pm

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 successor 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, 2012 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 was a supremely decent and rational man. He seemed to believe that if he was decent and reasonable toward his sworn enemies, they, in turn, would treat him the same way.

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

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

But it did not have to be that way.

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

Niccolo Machiavelli

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 at the start of his administration, through the example 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. 

And Republicans would have behaved accordingly.

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

Obama won the election. But, for all his brilliance as a Harvard graduate, he failed to learn and apply this most essential lesson.  

And that failure haunted him throughout his eight-year term.

HOW TO END GUN MASSACRES

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on October 3, 2017 at 12:02 am

The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one—no matter where he lives or what he does—can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

–Robert F. Kennedy, April 4, 1968

Senator Robert F. Kennedy announcing the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

What should the surviving victims of gun massacres do to seek redress?

And how can the relatives and friends of those who didn’t survive seek justice for those they loved?

Two things:

First, don’t count on politicians to support a ban on assault weapons.

Politicians—with rare exceptions—have only two goals:

  1. Get elected to office, and
  2. Stay in office.

And too many of them fear the economic and voting clout of the NRA to risk its wrath.

Consider Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

Both rushed to offer condolences to the surviving victims of the massacre at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012.

And both steadfastly refused to even discuss gun control—let alone support a ban on the type of assault weapons used by James Holmes, leaving 12 dead and 58 wounded.

Second, those who survived the massacre—and the relatives and friends of those who didn’t—should file wrongful death, class-action lawsuits against the NRA.

There is sound, legal precedent for this.

  • For decades, the American tobacco industry peddled death and disability to millions and reaped billions of dollars in profits.
  • The industry vigorously claimed there was no evidence that smoking caused cancer, heart disease, emphysema or any other ailment.

  • Tobacco companies spent billions on slick advertising campaigns to win new smokers and attack medical warnings about the dangers of smoking.
  • Tobacco companies spent millions to elect compliant politicians and block anti-smoking legislation.
  • From 1954 to 1994, over 800 private lawsuits were filed against tobacco companies in state courts. But only two plaintiffs prevailed, and both of those decisions were reversed on appeal.
  • In 1994, amidst great pessimism, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. But other states soon followed, ultimately growing to 46.
  • Their goal: To seek monetary, equitable and injunctive relief under various consumer-protection and anti-trust laws.
  • The theory underlying these lawsuits was: Cigarettes produced by the tobacco industry created health problems among the population, which badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.
  • In 1998, the states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related, health-care costs. In return, they exempted the companies from private lawsuits for tobacco-related injuries.
  • The companies agreed to curtail or cease certain marketing practices. They also agreed to pay, forever, annual payments to the states to compensate some of the medical costs for patients with smoking-related illnesses.

The parallels with the NRA are obvious:

  • For decades, the NRA has peddled deadly weapons to millions, reaped billions of dollars in profits and refused to admit the carnage those weapons have produced: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”  With guns.

  • The NRA has bitterly fought background checks on gun-buyers, in effect granting even criminals and the mentally ill the right to own arsenals of death-dealing weaponry.
  • The NRA has spent millions on slick advertising campaigns to win new members and frighten them into buying guns.

  • The NRA has spent millions on political contributions to block gun-control legislation.
  • The NRA has spent millions attacking political candidates and elected officials who warned about the dangers of unrestricted access to assault and/or concealed weapons.

  • The NRA has spent millions pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws in more than half the states, which potentially give every citizen a “license to kill.”
  • The NRA receives millions of dollars from online sales of ammunition, high-capacity ammunition magazines, and other accessories through its point-of-sale Round-Up Program—thus directly profiting by selling a product that kills about 30,288 people a year.

  • Firearms made indiscriminately available through NRA lobbying have filled hospitals with casualties, and have thus badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.

It will take a series of highly expensive and well-publicized lawsuits to significantly weaken the NRA, financially and politically.

The first ones will have to be brought by the surviving victims of gun violence—and by the friends and families of those who did not survive it. Only they will have the courage and motivation to take such a risk.

As with the cases first brought against tobacco companies, there will be losses.  And the NRA will rejoice with each one.

But, in time, state Attorneys General will see the clear parallels between lawsuits filed against those who peddle death by cigarette and those who peddle death by armor-piercing bullet.

And then the NRA—like the tobacco industry—will face an adversary wealthy enough to stand up for the rights of the gun industry’s own victims.

Only then will those politicians supporting reasonable gun controls dare to stand up for the victims of these needless tragedies.

THE LIMITS OF LOVE AND FEAR: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 21, 2017 at 12:02 am

American Presidents—like politicians everywhere–strive to be loved. There are two primary reasons for this.

First, even the vilest dictators want to believe they are good people—and that their goodness is rewarded by the love of their subjects.

Second, it’s universally recognized that a leader who’s beloved has great clout than one who isn’t. In the United States, a Presidential candidate who wins by a landslide is presumed to have a mandate to pursue his agenda—at least, for the first two years of his administration.

But those—like Barack Obama—who strive to avoid conflict often get treated with contempt and hostility by their adversaries.

Image result for Images of Barack Obama giving a speech in the Oval Office

Barack Obama

In Renegade: The Making of a President, Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s successful 2008 bid for the White House. Among his revelations:

Obama, a believer in rationality and decency, felt more comfortable in responding to attacks on his character than in attacking the character of his enemies.

A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama was one of the most academically gifted Presidents in United States history.

Yet he failed to grasp and apply this fundamental lesson taught by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science:

A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must inevitably come to grief among so many who are not good.  And therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.

This explains why Obama found most of his legislative agenda stymied by Republicans.

For example: In 2014, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) sought to block David Barron, Obama’s nominee to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rand Paul

Paul objected to Barron’s authoring memos that justifyied the killing of an American citizen by a drone in Yemen on September 30, 2011.

The target was Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric notorious on the Internet for encouraging Muslims to attack the United States.

Paul demanded that the Justice Department release the memos Barron crafted justifying the drone policy.

Anwar al-Awlaki

Imagine how Republicans would depict Paul—or any Democratic Senator—who did the same with a Republican President: “Rand Paul: A traitor who supports terrorists. He sides with America’s sworn enemies against its own lawfully elected President.”

But Obama did nothing of the kind.

(On May 22, 2014, the Senate voted 53–45 to confirm Barron to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.)

But Presidents who seek to rule primarily by fear can encounter their own limitations. Which immediately brings to mind Donald Trump.

As both a Presidential candidate and President, Trump has repeatedly used Twitter to attack hundreds of real and imagined enemies in politics, journalism, TV and films.

From June 15, 2015, when he launched his Presidential campaign, until October 24, 2016, Trump fired almost 4,000 angry, insulting tweets at 281 people and institutions that had somehow offended him.

Donald Trump

The New York Times needed two full pages of its print edition to showcase them.

As a Presidential candidate and President, he has shown outright hatred for President Obama. For five years, he slandered Obama as a Kenyan-born alien who had no right to hold the Presidency. 

Then, on March 4, 2017, in a series of unhinged tweets, Trump falsely accused Obama of committing an impeachable offense: Tapping his Trump Tower phones prior to the election.

As President, Trump has refused to reach beyond the narrow base of white, racist, ignorant, hate-filled, largely rural voters who elected him.

And he has bullied and insulted even White House officials and his own handpicked Cabinet officers:

  • Trump has waged a Twitter-laced feud against Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General. Sessions’ “crime”? Recusing himself from investigations into well-established ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign.
  • Trump repeatedly humiliated Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus—at one point ordering him to kill a fly that was buzzing about. On July 28, Priebus resigned.
  • Trump similarly tongue-lashed Priebus’ replacement, former Marine Corps General John Kelly. Trump has reportedly been angered by Kelly’s efforts to limit the number of advisers who have unrestricted access to him. Kelly told colleagues he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of military service—and would not tolerate it again.
  • After Trump gave sensitive Israeli intelligence to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, his national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, denied this had happened. Trump then contradicted McMaster in a tweet: “As president, I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled WH meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.”

If Trump ever read Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, he’s clearly forgotten this passage:

Cruelties ill committed are those which, although at first few, increase rather than diminish with time….Whoever acts otherwise….is always obliged to stand with knife in hand, and can never depend on his subjects, because they, owing to continually fresh injuries, are unable to depend upon him. 

And this one:

Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred. 

Or, as Cambridge Professor of Divinity William Ralph Inge put it: “A man may build himself a throne of bayonets, but he can’t sit on it.”

THE LIMITS OF LOVE AND FEAR: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 20, 2017 at 12:30 am

Is it better to be loved or feared?

That was the question Florentine statesman Niccolo Machiavelli raised more than 500 years ago.

Presidents have struggled to answer this question—and have come to different conclusions.

LOVE ME, FEAR MY BROTHER

Most people felt irresistibly drawn to John F. Kennedy—even his political foes. Henry Luce, the conservative publisher of Time, once said, “He makes me feel like a whore.”

But JFK could afford to bask in the love of others—because his younger brother, Robert, was the one who inspired fear.

Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy

He had done so as Chief Counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee (1957-59), grilling Mafia bosses and corrupt union officials–most notably Teamsters President James Hoffa.

Appointed Attorney General by JFK, he unleashed the FBI on the Mafia. When the steel companies colluded in an inflationary rise in the price of steel in 1962, Bobby sicced the FBI on them.

In 1963, JFK’s cavorting with Ellen Rometsh threatened to destroy his Presidency. Rometsch, a Washington, D.C. call girl, was suspected by the FBI of being an East German spy.

With Republican Senators preparing to investigate the rumors, Bobby ordered Rometsch deported immediately (to which, as a German citizen, she was subject).

He also ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to deliver a warning to the Majority and Minority leaders of the Senate: The Bureau was fully aware of the extramarital trysts of most of its members. And an investigation into the President’s sex life could easily lead into revelations of Senatorial sleaze.

Plans for a Senatorial investigation were shelved.

BEING LOVED AND FEARED

In the 1993 movie, A Bronx Tale, 17-year-old Calogero (Lillo Brancato) asks his idol, the local Mafia capo, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri): “Is it better to be loved or feared?”

Related image

Sonny gives advice to his adopted son, Calogero

Sonny says if he had to choose, he would rather be feared. But he adds a warning straight out of Machiavelli: “The trick is not being hated. That’s why I treat my men good, but not too good.

“I give too much, then they don’t need me. I give them just enough where they need me, but they don’t hate me.”

Machiavelli, writing in The Prince, went further:

“Still a Prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred, for fear and the absence of hatred may well go together. And [this] will always be attained by one who abstains from interfering with the property of his citizens and subjects or with their women.”

Many who quote Machiavelli in defense of being feared overlook this vital point: It’s essential to avoid becoming hated.

To establish a fearful reputation, a leader must act decisively and ruthlessly when the interests of the organization are threatened. Punitive action must be taken promptly and confidently.

One or two harsh actions of this kind can make a leader more feared than a reign of terror.

In fact, it’s actually dangerous to constantly employ cruelties or punishments. Whoever does so, warns Machiavelli, “is always obliged to stand with knife in hand, and can never depend on his subjects, because they, owing to continually fresh injuries, are unable to depend upon him.”

The 20th century President who came closest to realizing Machiavelli’s “loved and feared” prince in himself was Ronald Reagan.

Always smiling, quick with a one-liner (especially at press conferences), seemingly unflappable, he projected a constantly optimistic view of his country and its citizens.

Ronald Reagan

In his acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention he declared: “[The Democrats] say that the United States has had its days in the sun, that our nation has passed its zenith.… My fellow citizens, I utterly reject that view.”

And Americans enthusiastically responded to that view, twice electing him President (1980 and 1984).

But there was a steely, ruthless side to Reagan that appeared when he felt crossed.

On August 3, 1981, nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers walked out after contract talks with the Federal Aviation Administration collapsed. As a result, some 7,000 flights across the country were canceled on that day at the peak of the summer travel season.

Reagan branded the strike illegal. He threatened to fire any controller who failed to return to work within 48 hours.

On August 5, Reagan fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers who hadn’t returned to work. The mass firing slowed commercial air travel, but it did not cripple the system as the strikers had forecast.

Reagan’s action stunned the American labor movement. Reagan was the only American President to have belonged to a union, the Screen Actors Guild. He had even been president of this–from 1947 to 1954.

There were no more strikes by Federal workers during Reagan’s tenure in office.

Similarly, Libya’s dictator, Moammar Kadaffi, learned that Reagan was not a man to cross.

On April 5, 1986, Libyan agents bombed a nightclub in West Berlin, killing three people, one a U.S. serviceman. The United States quickly learned that Libyan agents in East Germany were behind the attack.

On April 15, acting on Reagan’s orders, U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps bombers struck at several sites in Tripoli and Benghazi. Reportedly, Kaddafi himself narrowly missed becoming a casualty.

There were no more acts of Libyan terrorism against Americans for the rest of Reagan’s term.

THE LIMITS OF LOVE AND FEAR: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Social commentary, Uncategorized on September 19, 2017 at 12:07 am

It’s probably the most-quoted passage of Niccolo Machiavelli’s infamous book, The Prince:

“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. For the friendship which is gained by purchase and not through grandeur and nobility of spirit is bought but not secured, and at a pinch is not to be expended in your service. 

“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.”

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

So—which is better: To be feared or loved?

In the 1993 film, A Bronx Tale, 17-year-old Calogero (Lillo Brancato) poses that question to his idol, the local Mafia capo, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri).

“That’s a good question,” Sonny replies. “It’s nice to be both, but it’s very difficult. But if I had my choice, I would rather be feared.

“Fear lasts longer than love. Friendships that are bought with money mean nothing. You see how it is around here. I make a joke, everybody laughs. I know I’m funny, but I’m not that funny. It’s fear that keeps them loyal to me.”

Presidents face the same dilemma as Mafia capos—and resolve it in their own ways.

LOVE ME BECAUSE I NEED TO BE LOVED

Bill Clinton believed that he could win over his self-appointed Republican enemies through his sheer charm.

Part of this lay in self-confidence: He had won the 1992 and 1996 elections by convincing voters that “I feel your pain.”

Related image

Bill Clinton

And part of it lay in his need to be loved. He once said that if he were in a room with 100 people and 99 of them liked him but one didn’t, he would spend all his time with that one person, trying to win him over.

But while he could charm voters, he could not bring himself to retaliate against his sworn Republican enemies.

On April 19, 1995, Right-wing terrorist Timothy McVeigh drove a truck–packed with 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and nitromethane–to the front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

The explosion killed 168 people, including 19 children in the day care center on the second floor, and injured 684 others.

Suddenly, Republicans were frightened. Since the end of World War II, they had vilified the very Federal Government they belonged to. They had deliberately courted the Right-wing militia groups responsible for the bombing.

So Republicans feared Clinton would now turn their decades of hate against them.

They need not have worried. On April 23, Clinton presided over a memorial service for the victims of the bombing. He gave a moving eulogy—without condemning the hate-filled Republican rhetoric that had at least indirectly led to the slaughter.

Clinton further sought to endear himself to Republicans by:

  • Adopting NAFTA—the Republican-sponsored North American Free Trade Act, which later proved so devastating to American workers;
  • Siding with Republicans against poor Americans on welfare; and
  • Championing the gutting of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law, which barred investment banks from commercial banking activities.

The result: Republicans believed Clinton was weak–and could be rolled.

In 1998, House Republicans moved to impeach him over a sex scandal with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. But his Presidency survived when the Senate refused to convict.

LOVE ME BECAUSE I’LL HURT YOU IF YOU DON’T

Lyndon Johnson wanted desperately to be loved.

Once, he complained to Dean Acheson, the former Secretary of State under Harry S. Truman, about the ingratitude of American voters. He had passed far more legislation than his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, and yet Kennedy remained beloved, while he, Johnson, was not.

Why was that? Johnson demanded.

“You are not a very likable man,” said Acheson truthfully.

Image result for Images of Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson

Johnson tried to make his subordinates love him. He would humiliate a man, then give him an expensive gift—such a Cadillac. It was his way of binding the man to him.

He was on a first-name basis with J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the FBI. He didn’t hesitate to request—and get—raw FBI files on his political opponents.

On at least one occasion, he told members of his Cabinet: No one would dare walk out on his administration—because if they did, two men would follow their ass to the end of the earth: Mr. J. Edgar Hoover and the head of the Internal Revenue Service.

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.”

ENDING GUN MASSACRES

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 25, 2017 at 12:09 am

The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one—no matter where he lives or what he does— can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

–Robert F. Kennedy, April 4, 1968

Senator Robert F. Kennedy announcing the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

What should the surviving victims of gun massacres do to seek redress?

And how can the relatives and friends of those who didn’t survive seek justice for those they loved?

Two things:

First, don’t count on politicians to support a ban on assault weapons.

Politicians—with rare exceptions—have only two goals:

  1. Get elected to office, and
  2. Stay in office.

And too many of them fear the economic and voting clout of the NRA to risk its wrath.

Consider Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

Both rushed to offer condolences to the surviving victims of the massacre at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012.

And both steadfastly refused to even discuss gun control—let alone support a ban on the type of assault weapons used by James Holmes, leaving 12 dead and 58 wounded.

Second, those who survived the massacre–and the relatives and friends of those who didn’t–should file wrongful death, class-action lawsuits against the NRA.

There is sound, legal precedent for this.

  • For decades, the American tobacco industry peddled death and disability to millions and reaped billions of dollars in profits.
  • The industry vigorously claimed there was no evidence that smoking caused cancer, heart disease, emphysema or any other ailment.

  • Tobacco companies spent billions on slick advertising campaigns to win new smokers and attack medical warnings about the dangers of smoking.
  • Tobacco companies spent millions to elect compliant politicians and block anti-smoking legislation.
  • From 1954 to 1994, over 800 private lawsuits were filed against tobacco companies in state courts. But only two plaintiffs prevailed, and both of those decisions were reversed on appeal.
  • In 1994, amidst great pessimism, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. But other states soon followed, ultimately growing to 46.
  • Their goal: To seek monetary, equitable and injunctive relief under various consumer-protection and anti-trust laws.
  • The theory underlying these lawsuits was: Cigarettes produced by the tobacco industry created health problems among the population, which badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.
  • In 1998, the states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related, health-care costs. In return, they exempted the companies from private lawsuits for tobacco-related injuries.
  • The companies agreed to curtail or cease certain marketing practices. They also agreed to pay, forever, annual payments to the states to compensate some of the medical costs for patients with smoking-related illnesses.

The parallels with the NRA are obvious:

  • For decades, the NRA has peddled deadly weapons to millions, reaped billions of dollars in profits and refused to admit the carnage those weapons have produced: “Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.”  With guns.

  • The NRA has bitterly fought background checks on gun-buyers, in effect granting even criminals and the mentally ill the right to own arsenals of death-dealing weaponry.
  • The NRA has spent millions on slick advertising campaigns to win new members and frighten them into buying guns.

  • The NRA has spent millions on political contributions to block gun-control legislation.
  • The NRA has spent millions attacking political candidates and elected officials who warned about the dangers of unrestricted access to assault and/or concealed weapons.

  • The NRA has spent millions pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws in more than half the states, which potentially give every citizen a “license to kill.”
  • The NRA receives millions of dollars from online sales of ammunition, high-capacity ammunition magazines, and other accessories through its point-of-sale Round-Up Program—thus directly profiting by selling a product that kills about 30,288 people a year.

  • Firearms made indiscriminately available through NRA lobbying have filled hospitals with casualties, and have thus badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.

It will take a series of highly expensive and well-publicized lawsuits to significantly weaken the NRA, financially and politically.

The first ones will have to be brought by the surviving victims of gun violence—and by the friends and families of those who did not survive it. Only they will have the courage and motivation to take such a risk.

As with the cases first brought against tobacco companies, there will be losses.  And the NRA will rejoice with each one.

But, in time, state Attorneys General will see the clear parallels between lawsuits filed against those who peddle death by cigarette and those who peddle death by armor-piercing bullet.

And then the NRA—like the tobacco industry—will face an adversary wealthy enough to stand up for the rights of the gun industry’s own victims.

Only then will those politicians supporting reasonable gun controls dare to stand up for the victims of these  needless tragedies.

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