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Posts Tagged ‘ROBERT F. KENNEDY’

RFK: FIGHTING THE EVIL OF THE MAFIA–AND THE EVIL OF POVERTY

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on June 5, 2020 at 12:08 am

Fifty-two years ago, the Reverend Martin Luther King was shot to death as he stood on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. He had come there to lead a march of striking garbage workers.

New York United States Senator—and now Presidential candidate—Robert Francis Kennedy had been scheduled to give a speech in Indianapolis, Indiana, before a black audience.

Just before he drove into the city to deliver his address, he learned of King’s assassination. There was a real danger that rioting would erupt. Police who had been assigned to protect him said they wouldn’t accompany him into the inner city.

Kennedy drove off anyway, leaving behind his police escort.

Standing on a podium mounted on a flatbed truck, Kennedy spoke for just four minutes and 57 seconds.

His waiting audience hadn’t yet learned of King’s death. Kennedy broke the news to gasps, and then gave an impromptu speech eulogizing the slain civil rights leader.

For the first time since the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, in 1963, he spoke publicly of that killing. He noted that JFK—like King—had also been killed by a white man.

And he called upon the crowd to “dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.”

Riots erupted in 60 cities following King’s death—but not in Indianapolis.

During the mid- and late 1960s, Robert Kennedy aroused passions of an altogether different sort from those aroused by Donald Trump.

Kennedy had been a United States Attorney General (1961-1964) and Senator from New York (1964-1968). But it was his connection to his beloved and assassinated brother, President John F. Kennedy, for which he was best known.

In October, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, his wise counsel helped steer America from the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. As a U.S Senator he championed civil rights and greater Federal efforts to fight poverty.

Robert F. Kennedy campaigning for President

Millions saw RFK as the only candidate who could make life better for America’s impoverished—while standing firmly against those who threatened the Nation’s safety.

As television correspondent Charles Quinn observed: “I talked to a girl in Hawaii who was for [George] Wallace [the segregationist governor of Alabama]. And I said ‘Really?’ [She said] ‘Yeah, but my real candidate is dead.’

“You know what I think it was? All these whites, all these blue collar people who supported Kennedy…all of these people felt that Kennedy would really do what he thought best for the black people, but, at the same time, would not tolerate lawlessness and violence.

“They were willing to gamble…because they knew in their hearts that the country was not right. They were willing to gamble on this man who would try to keep things within reasonable order; and at the same time do some of the things they knew really should be done.”

Campaigning for the Presidency in 1968, RFK had just won the crucial California primary on June 4—when he was shot in the back of the head.

His killer: Sirhan Sirhan, a young Palestinian furious at Kennedy’s support for Israel.

Kennedy died at 1:44 a.m. on June 6.  He was 42.

On June 8, 1,200 men and women boarded a specially-reserved passenger train at New York’s Pennsylvania Station. They were accompanying Kennedy’s body to its final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.

As the train slowly moved along 225 miles of track, throngs of men, women and children lined the rails to pay their final respects to a man they considered a genuine hero.

Little Leaguers clutched baseball caps across their chests. Uniformed firemen and policemen saluted. Burly men in shirtsleeves held hardhats over their hearts. Black men in overalls waved small American flags. Women from all levels of society stood and cried.

A nation says goodbye to Robert Kennedy

Commenting on RFK’s legacy, historian William L. O’Neil wrote in Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960′s:

“…He aimed so high that he must be judged for what he meant to do, and, through error and tragic accident, failed at….He will also be remembered as an extraordinary human being who, though hated by some, was perhaps more deeply loved by his countrymen than any man of his time.

“That too must be entered into the final account, and it is no small thing. With his death something precious disappeared from public life.”

America has never again seen a Presidential candidate who combined toughness on crime and compassion for the poor.

Republican candidates have waged war on crime—and the poor. And Democratic candidates have moved to the Right in eliminating anti-poverty programs.

RFK had the courage to fight the Mafia—and the compassion to fight poverty. At a time when Americans long for candidates to give them positive reasons for voting, his kind of politics are sorely missed.

AMERICA’S POISONED CUBAN LEGACY CONTINUES TO HAUNT US: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 3, 2020 at 12:13 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.
  • 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.”
  • 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 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 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.
  • 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 Donald Trump have reaped electoral rewards by catering to the demands of this hate-obsessed voting block.
  • 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 overthrow the Castro regime—as he had overthrown Fulgencio Batista.
  • Only President Barack Obama had the political courage to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba—in 2015.
  • This occurred long after the United States had done so with such former enemies as the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam.  
  • Donald Trump—obsessed with reversing Obama’s record—has reinstated travel and trade restrictions on Cuba. It has also allowed American citizens to sue foreign businesses using property seized during the 1959 Cuban revolution, 

The Cuban Missile Crisis remains the single most dangerous moment of the 50-year Cold War, when the world stood only minutes away from nuclear Armageddon.

That crisis stemmed from the American Right’s twisted obsession with Cuba, an obsession that continues today.

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

  • The United States should end the half-century contamination of American politics by those Cubans who live only for their hatred of Castro—and those political candidates who live to exploit it. 
  • (For example: Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ recent—and truthful—statement that Castro created a literacy program for poor Cuban children has ignited bipartisan outrage. If Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee, it has virtually guaranteed his 
  • A population of about 1,700,000 Cuban exiles living in Florida should not be allowed to shape the domestic and foreign policy of a nation of 300 million.
  • Those who continue to hate—or love—Fidel 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.

AMERICA’S POISONED CUBAN LEGACY CONTINUES TO HAUNT US: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 2, 2020 at 12:06 am

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

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.

President John F. Kennedy addresses 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.

“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 Strategic Air Command 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 advisers: “It can go either way now.”

John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office

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, which bordered the Soviet Union. 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.

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 him until the day he died.

AMERICA’S POISONED CUBAN LEGACY CONTINUES TO HAUNT US: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 28, 2020 at 12:12 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.

Former members of the Kennedy Administration later insisted that neither John nor Robert Kennedy knew or approved of these assassination plots. But the sheer weight of available evidence indicates otherwise.

Bobby, in particular, was constantly pressing the CIA to “do something” about Castro. In the world of covert action, words like “Kill Castro” aren’t committed to paper. Or even spoken.

Castro, rightly seeing his life and regime threatened, appealed to Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, for assistance.

1960s poster of Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev

Keizers [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

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.  

This remained the official American view for years afterward—as depicted in Robert Kennedy’s memoir, Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, published in 1969, the year after his assassination. 

No admission was made that JFK had been waging a no-holds-barred campaign to overthrow the Cuban government and assassinate its leader.

The same proved true for the 1974 doc-u-drama, The Missiles of October, starring William Devane as John F. Kennedy and Martin Sheen as Robert Kennedy. 

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

Then followed seven days of guarded and intense debate by Kennedy and his advisers. 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.

AMERICA’S POISONED CUBAN LEGACY CONTINUES TO HAUNT US: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 27, 2020 at 1:14 am

On November 25, 2016, Fidel Castro, Cuba’s longtime “Maximum Leader,” died at the age of 90.

Old age and disease finally achieved what years of plotting by CIA and Mafia assassins could not.

To his supporters he was a tireless champion of the poor and a foe of American imperialism. To his enemies he was a ruthless dictator who drove his country to economic ruin in the name of a failed ideology–communism.

His reign began on January 1, 1959, when he 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 increased, 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.

More than 1,400 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 their 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.

JohnRoselli.jpg

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.jpg

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 pretended 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 deadly 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.”

GREEN BOOK: A MOVIE WITH A TIMELESS MESSAGE

In Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 12, 2020 at 12:07 am

Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosts its Academy Awards ceremony, better known as “Oscar Night.”

Each year, Academy members make their choices for such categories as Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress.

And each year, before those selections are announced at the ceremony, there is a huge buildup of anticipation among Americans over which person or movie should win acclaim.

Then that year’s selections are quickly forgotten.

But some movies should not be quickly forgotten. Among these: Green Book, which won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 91st annual Academy Awards in 2019.

Green Book is based on the true story of a concert tour by a black classical and jazz pianist, Don Shirley, and his driver and bodyguard, Tony Vallelonga. Mahershala Ali plays Shirley and Viggo Mortensen plays Vallelonga.

The two men are polar opposites: Shirley is cultured and eloquent; Vallelonga is streetwise and volatile. Shirley is used to dealing with the cream of New York society. Vallelonga is used to dealing with its dregs—as a nightclub bouncer. 

Mahershala Ali (29953410761).jpg

Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley

Gordon Correll [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

When his nightclub closes for renovations, he responds to an ad by Shirley for a driver for his eight-week concert tour through the Midwest and Deep South.

This is 1962, a time when a black Air Force veteran, James Meredith, must be given protection by deputy U.S. marshals when he enters the segregated University of Mississippi. White and black “Freedom Riders” are canvassing the South, sitting at segregated lunch counters and often being attacked by members of the Ku Klux Klan and equally racist Southern police.

In fact, the title of the movie—Green Book—is derived from a travel guide written for blacks venturing into the Deep South: The Negro Motorist Green Book. Written by Victor Hugo Green, its purpose is to help blacks find motels and restaurants that will accept them.

And as Shirley and Vallelonga make their odyssey through the South, they find themselves staying at separate hotels—and sometimes together, after Vallelonga slips Shirley into his own room.

Green Book (2018 poster).png

An AV Film review called Green Book “a kind of comforting liberal fantasy, a #NotAllRacists trifle that suggests that our deep, festering divisions can be sutured through some quality time on the open road, resolving differences over a bucket of KFC.”

Not so. It took far more than a bucket of KFC to cement the friendship between Shirley and Vallelonga.

At the start of the movie, Vallelonga throws away a glass after a black construction worker drinks from it. But during his tour of the South, he becomes increasingly sympathetic to the plight suffered by Shirley—and other blacks forced to daily endure a series of humiliations.

Viggo Mortensen Cannes 2016.jpg

Viggo Mortensen as Tony Vallelonga

Georges Biard [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

According to television critic Rebecca Theodore-Vachon: “Green Book is a feel-good movie. It doesn’t really require a lot of critical thinking or self-analysis. You know, people walk out of the movie feeling that, oh, well, racism is over, we’re good.”

Actually, the film makes clear that some people will always be racists. Thus, Shirley finds himself repeatedly forced to eat in the segregated rooms of the hotels where he’s to play concerts. And he’s almost murdered by a group of racists when he makes the mistake of going into a whites’ only bar. He survives only because Vallelonga arrives in time to rescue him.

And Shirley proves just as great a friend to Vallelonga. He introduces the semi-literate bouncer to the power of the written word by helping him craft articulate, heartfelt letters to his wife.

Toward the end of the movie, Vallelonga and Shirley are pulled over by a Mississippi police officer. Shirley’s “crime”: Being black—and out at night. When the officer insults Vallelonga, Tony punches him—and he and Shirley wind up in jail.  

Shirley asks for permission to call his “lawyer”—and the man he dials is Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

Kennedy, in turn, calls Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. Barnett is already having his share of troubles with the Kennedys, and he orders the police: Let those men go—now! 

This scene underscores the importance of electing people who will stand against injustice. Watching the release of Vallelonga and Shirley, it’s impossible to imagine the Trump administration intervening in such a manner.

At the end of the movie, Shirley visits Vallelonga’s home—where he’s warmly received by Tony and his family. The film’s end credits reveal that the two men remained friends until they died, within months of each other, in 2013.

In 1950, a Western called Broken Arrow-–starring James Stewart as Tom Jeffords and Jeff Chandler as Cochise—told the true story of a friendship between a white man and an Apache. For many Americans, this came as a revelation.

After decades of seeing Indians depicted as bloodthirsty savages, audiences saw that there were those—among red men and white men—who could rise above prejudice and see each other as worthy of respect.

The lesson of Green Book is exactly the same. And it’s needed now more than ever.

A LEGACY LOST WITH JFK

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 25, 2019 at 12:17 am

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

It has been said that JFK 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 atmospheric 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.
  • By the time JFK died, 16,000 Americans were serving in Vietnam, with more than 70 casualties.
  • 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 asked 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 hopeless:

“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, Democrats and Republicans 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, couldn’t reach agreement.

President Kennedy insisted on being well-informed. He speed-read several newspapers every morning and nourished personal relationships with the press—but 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 candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

  • Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader”—thus excusing his ignorance for why President Barack Obama had intervened in Libya.
  • Texas Governor Rick Perry (and now Secretary of Energy) didn’t know 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 your answer reveals your ignorance, stupidity and/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.

Donald Trump has publicly celebrated ignorance. After winning the Nevada Republican primary in 2016, he declared: “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

Similarly, 58% of Republicans and Right-wingers believe that higher education has a negative effect on the country.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders. And in seeking a reasoning and educated future for their children.

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

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

HOW HEALTHY ARE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES?

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on November 19, 2019 at 12:10 am

The United States Constitution mandates that candidates for the Presidency be at least 35. But it does not mandate an age-limit for such candidates.

In light of so many oldsters now clogging the highways and airways for this honor, it’s clearly time to establish one. 

Consider the ages of the major candidates for 2020:

  • Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – 77
  • Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders – 78
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden – 76
  • Massachusetts United States Senator Elizabeth Warren – 70
  • President Donald Trump – 73 

Of course, there have been past Presidential candidates who appeared better-suited for the rocker than the Oval Office:

  • Former California Governor Ronald Reagan was 69 when he was elected in 1980 and 73 when he was re-elected in 1984.
  • Kansas United States Senator Bob Dole was 73 when he unsuccessfully opposed Bill Clinton in 1996.
  • Arizona United States Senator John McCain was 72 when he ran in 2008 and lost to Barack Obama.
  • Former First Lady, United States Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was 68 when she ran in 2016 and lost to Donald Trump—who was 70.

And with advancing age come advancing health dangers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “About three-fourths of all deaths are among persons ages 65 and older. The majority of deaths are caused by chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.”

US CDC logo.svg

 

Running for any political office is one of the most stressful exercises anyone can undertake. In races for the House of Representatives, candidates are constantly on the move, shuttling from one event to the next.

Races for the Senate demand shuttling from city-to-city, eating large amounts of junk food, getting little sleep, giving hurried speeches before driving or flying off to the next meeting with potential constituents, having to readjust their approach to each new group of voters. (For example: Farmers have totally different concerns than doctors.)

And races for the White House demand even greater endurance. Candidates aren’t competing for voters within a single city or state, but within the entire country. There are 50 states comprising the United States of America. They are all different—and many of them have conflicting interests. California, for example, opposes offshore oil drilling—while Louisiana champions an increase in this.

And it can prove politically suicidal to write off appearing in states where the vote is “locked up.” Hillary Clinton refused to campaign in such “Rustbelt” states as Michigan and Pennsylvania because she “knew” they were hers for the taking. Voters there resented her refusing to visit them—and they got even by voting for Trump.

Even young candidates suffer the ravages that come from nonstop campaigning. New York United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy was 42 when he campaigned for President in 1968. His campaign lasted only 85 days before it was cut short by his assassination. Yet he was taking massive doses of vitamin B and medications for his voice damaged from non-stop speech making. 

Robert F. Kennedy

Some older Presidential candidates find themselves overwhelmed by the stress of nonstop campaigning.  

  • In October, Bernie Sanders, 78, was hospitalized with—according to his campaign—“chest discomfort,” It turned out to be a heart attack.
  • In September 2016, Hillary Clinton, then 68, was privately diagnosed with pneumonia. The campaign concealed the diagnosis until she was caught on camera fainting from dehydration.

Bernie Sanders in July 2019.

Bernie Sanders

Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Nor can Presidential candidates be relied on to tell the truth about the state of their health. 

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt was stricken with polio in 1921 at the age of 39. He couldn’t stand or walk without support and was otherwise seated in a wheelchair. During his 12 years as President, he never used a wheelchair in public. Although suffering from hardening of the arteries and clearly a dying man, he kept this secret during his last Presidential campaign in 1944.

Franklin D. Roosevelt meeting with Winston Churchill

  • In 1960, Massachusetts United States Senator John F. Kennedy denied that he had Addison’s Disease, an insufficiency of the adrenal glands. In fact, he did suffer from this—and his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, had even stashed doses of cortisone in safe deposit boxes around the country in case he suffered a mishap.
  • Donald Trump’s doctor claimed: “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”  This despite his refusal to exercise and his indulging in fatty and cholesterol-heavy foods. 

Is there a way that Americans can be certain that the President they elect is truly physically fit for office? 

Admittedly, no proposed remedy is foolproof. Still, there is a clear need to stop taking candidates at their own self-serving word. 

Candidates for the office of the Presidency should be required to submit to a full physical examination conducted by an independent panel of board-certified physicians—and the results immediately made public. Any candidate who refuses to take part should be officially barred from running. 

Candidates for the United States Secret Service—which protects the President—are required to under rigorous physical and mental examinations before they are allowed anywhere near the Oval Office. 

Those who compete for control of the nation’s nuclear launch codes should be required to do the same.

JIMMY HOFFA RETURNS–ON NETFLIX: PART THREE (END)

In Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 18, 2019 at 12:20 am

The 1983 TV mini-series, Blood Feud, chronicles the decade-long struggle between Robert F. Kennedy (Cotter Smith) and James R. Hoffa (Robert Blake), president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union.  

With Kennedy as Attorney General and facing relentless pressure from the Justice Department, the Mafia despairs of a solution. At a swanky restaurant, several high-ranking Mafiosi agree that “something” must be done.

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

Blood Feud clearly implies that the Mafia was responsible.

[The House Assassinations Committee investigated this possibility in 1978, and determined that Carlos Marcello, the Mafia boss of New Orleans, had the means, motive and opportunity to kill JFK. But it could not find any conclusive evidence of his involvement.]

Even with the President dead, RFK’s Justice Department continues to pursue Hoffa. In 1964, he is finally convicted of jury tampering and sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment.

Related image

U.S. Department of Justice

Hoping to avoid prison, Hoffa phones Robert Kennedy, offering future Teamsters support if RFK runs  for President. To prove he can deliver, he tells Kennedy that the Teamsters have even penetrated the FBI.

[In March, 1964, Kennedy met with Hoffa on an airfield at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. He was accompanied by two Secret Service agents from the detail assigned to ex-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

[FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, no longer afraid to cross RFK, had withdrawn the agents previously assigned to guard Kennedy.

[Accompanying Hoffa were two muscular bodyguards—at least one of whom was packing two pistols in shoulder holsters.

[While the Secret Service agents watched from a respectful distance, Kennedy spoke quietly with Hoffa. The Attorney General showed a document to Hoffa, and the Teamsters leader at times nodded or shook his head.

[The agents drove Kennedy back to Washington. During the ride, he said nothing about the reason for the meeting.  

[Gus Russo—author of Live By the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK—writes that the reason might have been Dallas.  

[Perhaps, he speculates, RFK had wanted to look into Hoffa’s eyes while asking him: Did you have anything to do with the assassination? RFK had, in fact, done this with CIA Director John McCone almost immediately after his brother’s death.]

In Blood Feud, Kennedy confronts J. Edgar Hoover (Ernest Borgnine) and accuses him of illegally planting wiretaps in Mob hangouts all over the country.

J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy 

Hoover retorts that this had been the only way to obtain the prosecution-worthy intelligence Kennedy had demanded: “You loved that flow of information.  You didn’t want it to stop.”

Kennedy: Why did you keep the FBI out of the fight against the Mob for decades?

Hoover: “Every agency that came to grips with them got corrupted by their money.”

[So far as is known, Hoover never made any such confession. Historians continue to guess his reason for leaving the Mob alone for decades.]

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Ernest Borgnine as J. Edgar Hoover

RFK then mentions the CIA’s plots to employ the Mob to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

[The agency had wanted to please President Kennedy, and the Mafia had wanted to regain its casinos lost to the Cuban Revolution. The role the Kennedy brothers played in the CIA’s assassination plots remains murky, and has been the subject of endless speculation.]

“The CIA, doing business with the Mob,” says Kennedy. “The FBI, leaking information to its enemies [the Teamsters].” Then, sadly: “I guess it’s true—everyone does business with everyone.”

[So far as is known, the FBI did not pass on secrets to the Teamsters. But during the 1970s, the Mafia penetrated the Cleveland FBI office through bribes to a secretary. Several FBI Mob informants were “clipped” as a result.]

In 1967, Hoffa goes to prison. He stays there until, in 1971, President Richard Nixon commutes his sentence in hopes of gaining Teamsters’ support for his 1972 re-election.

Kennedy leaves the Justice Department in 1964 and is elected U.S. Senator from New York. In 1968 he runs for President. On June 5, after winning the California primary, he’s assassinated.  

In Blood Feud, just before his assassination, RFK asks: “How will I ever really know if the Mob killed Jack because of my anti-Mob crusade?”

Hoffa schemes to return to the presidency of the Teamsters—a post now held by his successor, Frank Fitzsimmons. He runs the union in a more relaxed style than Hoffa, thus giving the Mob greater control over its pension fund.

And the Mafia likes it that way.

On July 30, 1975, Hoffa disappears from the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox Restaurant near Detroit.  He had gone there to meet with two Mafia leaders.

Forty-four years after the death of James R. Hoffa, and 51 years after that of Robert F. Kennedy:

  • Labor unions are a shadow of their former power.
  • The threat they once represented to national prosperity has been replaced by that of predatory  corporations like Enron and AIG.
  • The war RFK began on the Mafia has continued, sending countless mobsters to prison.
  • Millions of Americans who once expected the Federal Government to protect them from crime now believe the Government is their biggest threat.
  • The idealism that fueled RFK’s life has virtually disappeared from politics.

JIMMY HOFFA RETURNS–ON NETFLIX: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 17, 2019 at 12:23 am

The 1983 TV mini-series, Blood Feud, chronicles the decade-long struggle between Robert F. Kennedy and James R. Hoffa.

Having “helped” Kennedy (Cotter Smith) to oust corrupt Teamsters President Dave Beck, Hoffa (Robert Blake) believes that Kennedy should now be satisfied: “He’s got his scalp.  Now he can move on to other things while I run the union.” 

But Hoffa has guessed wrong—with fatal results. Realizing that he’s been “played” by Hoffa, a furious Kennedy strikes back.  

Robert Blake as James R Hoffa

He orders increased surveillance of Hoffa and his topmost associates. He subpoenas union records and members of both the Teamsters and the Mafia to appear before his committee in public hearings.  

And he tries to enlist the aid of legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Ernest Borgnine). But Hoover wants no part of a war against organized crime, whose existence he refuses to admit.

Meanwhile, Kennedy’s confrontations with Hoffa grow increasingly fierce. In open hearings, Kennedy accuses Hoffa of receiving kickbacks in the name of his wife. Hoffa damns him for “dirtying my wife’s name.” 

Kennedy secures an indictment against Hoffa for hiring a spy to infiltrate the Senate Labor Rackets Committee. He’s so certain of a conviction that he tells the press he’ll “jump off the Capitol building” if Hoffa beats the rap.

But Hoffa’s lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams (Jose Ferrer) puts Kennedy himself on the witness stand.  There he portrays Kennedy as a spoiled rich man who’s waging a vendetta against Hoffa.

Hoffa beats the rap, and offers to send Kennedy a parachute. But he jokingly warns reporters: “Hey, Bobby, you better have it checked. I don’t trust myself!”

By 1959, Robert Kennedy’s work as chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee is over. But not his determination to send Teamsters President James Hoffa to prison.

Cotter Smith as Robert Kennedy

Throughout 1960, he manages the Presidential campaign for his brother, John F. Kennedy (Sam Groom). By a margin of only 112,000 votes, JFK wins the election.

Hoffa thinks that his troubles are over, that “Bobby” will move on to other pursuits and forget about the Teamsters.

Hoffa is partly right: Kennedy moves on to another job. But it’s the office of United States Attorney General.  

JFK, needing someone in the Cabinet he can trust completely, browbeats Robert into becoming the nation’s top cop.

For Hoffa, it’s a nightmare come true.

As Attorney General, Kennedy no longer has to beg J. Edgar Hoover to attack organized crime. He can—and does—order him to do so.

Throughout the country, the Mafia feels a new heat as FBI agents plant illegal electronic microphones (“bugs”) in their innermost sanctums. Agents openly tail mobsters—and send them to prison in large numbers.

And Kennedy sets up a special unit, composed of topflight prosecutors and investigators, to go after just one man: James Riddle Hoffa. The press comes to call it the “Get Hoffa” squad.

Hoffa continues to beat federal prosecutors in court. But he believes he’s under constant surveillance by the FBI, and his nerves are starting to crack. 

Convinced that the FBI has bugged his office, he literally tears apart the room, hoping to find the bug. But he fails to do so.

What he doesn’t know is he’s facing a more personal danger—from one of his closest associates. 

He tells a trusted colleague, Edward Grady Partin (Brian Dennehy) how easy it would be to assassinate Kennedy with a rifle or bomb.

Later, Partin gets into a legal jam—and is abandoned by the Teamsters. Hoping to cut a deal, he relays word to the Justice Department of Hoffa’s threats against the Attorney General.

Now working for the Justice Department, Partin sends in reports on Hoffa’s juror-bribing efforts in yet another trial. Hoffa again beats the rap—but now Kennedy has the insider’s proof he needs to put him away for years.

Meanwhile, the Mafia despairs of the increasing pressure of the Justice Department. At a swanky restaurant, several high-ranking members agree that “something” must be done.

[Although this scene is fictional, it’s clearly based on an infamous outburst of Carlos Marcello, the longtime Mafia boss of New Orleans. 

Carlos Marcello

[In 1961, Marcello was deported to his native Guatemala on orders by RFK. After illegally re-entering the country, he swore vengeance against the Attorney General.  

[In September, 1962, during a meeting with several mob colleagues, he flew into a rage when someone mentioned Kennedy.  

“Take the stone out of my shoe!” he shouted, echoing a Sicilian curse. “Don’t you worry about that little Bobby sonofabitch. He’s going to be taken care of!”

[When one of his colleagues warned that murdering RFK would trigger the wrath of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, Marcello replied: “In Sicily they say if you want to kill a dog you don’t cut off the tail. You go for the head.”

[Marcello believed that the death of President Kennedy would render the Attorney General powerless. And he added that he planned to use a “nut” to do the job.]

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  

Blood Feud clearly implies that the Mafia was responsible. 

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