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Posts Tagged ‘ROBERT F. KENNEDY’

IDEALISM DIED WITH RFK: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 12, 2020 at 1:26 am

On March 18, 1968, Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, speaking at the University of Kansas, called on his fellow citizens to show compassion for those less fortunate and in need of relief through the Federal Government.

“If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us.  We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.”

Finally, Kennedy did something almost no other politician—in his time or since—has ever done: He dared to attack that holy-of-holies, the Gross Domestic Product (then called the Gross National Product).

“If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us.  We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.

“Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product….counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. 

“It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. 

“Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. 

“It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.  And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans….

Senator Robert F. Kennedy campaigning for President

“George Bernard Shaw once wrote, ‘Some people see things as they are and say why?  I dream things that never were and say, why not?’ 

“So I come here to Kansas to ask for your help. In the difficult five months ahead, before the convention in Chicago. I ask for your help and for your assistance. 

“If you believe that the United States can do better.  If you believe that we should change our course of action.  If you believe that the United States stands for something here internally as well as elsewhere around the globe, I ask for your help and your assistance and your hand over the period of the next five months.

“And when we win in November….and we begin a new period of time for the United States of America, I want the next generation of Americans to look back upon this period and say as they said of Plato: ‘Joy was in those days, but to live.’  Thank you very much.”

At the end of Kennedy’s wildly popular speech at Kansas State University, photographer Stanley Tretick, of Look magazine, shouted, “This is Kansas, fucking Kansas! He’s going all the fucking way!” 

But he didn’t go all the way. On June 5, 1968—82 days after announcing his Presidential candidacy—an assassin’s bullet suddenly halted his short-lived campaign—and his life.  

Robert Kennedy: On One California Night, Triumph and Tragedy ...

Robert Kennedy’s funeral train

Historian William L. O’Neil delivered a poignant summary of Robert Kennedy’s legacy in his 1971 book, 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 vanished from public life.”

As United States Attorney General (1961-1964) Robert F. Kennedy had the courage to wage all-out war on the Mafia. As a United States Senator (1964-1968) he had the compassion to champion aid to impoverished Americans.

Even in his own era—a half-century ago—Robert Kennedy stood out as the only major Presidential candidate who could legitimately make both claims. 

Today, most Democrats—battered by decades of Republican charges that they’re “big spenders”—fear supporting big-ticket items to help the poor.

And the Black Lives Matter movement has made any connection to law enforcement a disqualification for higher office—as former California Attorney General Kamala Harris found out as a 2020 Presidential candidate.

America may never again see a Presidential candidate who can combine a strong stand against crime with an equally strong commitment to helping the poor and disadvantaged. 

IDEALISM DIED WITH RFK: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 11, 2020 at 12:07 am

On March 18, 1968, Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy did what few politicians have ever done: He accepted public responsibility for a war that had since become a national disaster—the Vietnam war.

Addressing a packed audience of students and faculty at Kansas State University, he said:

“Let me begin this discussion with a note both personal and public. I was involved in many of the early decisions on Vietnam, decisions that helped set us on our present path.

“It may be that the effort was doomed from the start; that it was never really possible to bring all the people of South Vietnam under the rule of the successive governments we supported—governments, one after another, riddled with corruption, inefficiency, and greed; governments which did not and could not successfully capture and energize the national feeling of their people.

“If that is the case, as it well may be, then I am willing to bear my share of the responsibility, before history and before my fellow citizens. But past error is no excuse for its own perpetuation. Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.

“Now as ever, we do ourselves best justice when we measure ourselves against ancient tests, as in the Antigone of Sophocles: ‘All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only sin is pride.’ 

Sophocles pushkin.jpg

Sophocles

And he dared to attack the war as more than a military and political disaster: He saw it as a stain on America’s moral fiber: 

“Can we ordain to ourselves the awful majesty of God—to decide what cities and villages are to be destroyed, who will live and who will die, and who will join the refugees wandering in a desert of our own creation?

“If it is true that we have a commitment to the South Vietnamese people, we must ask, are they being consulted—in Hue, or Ben Tre, or in the villages from which the three million refugees have fled?

“If they believe all the death and destruction are a lesser evil than the Wet Cong, why did they not warn us when the Viet Cong came into Hue, and the dozens of other cities, before the Tet Offensive? Why did they not join the fight?

“Will it be said of us, as Tacitus said of Rome: ‘They made a desert and called it peace?'”

Appreciating Bobby Kennedy's Stunning Transformation - HISTORY

Robert F. Kennedy

The students gave him an ovation worthy of a rock star. 

Time correspondent Hays Gorey said the electricity between Kennedy and the K.S.U. students was “real and rare.” “A good part of it is John F. Kennedy’s, of course, but John Kennedy …himself couldn’t be so passionate, and couldn’t set off such sparks.”

Jim Slattery, who would later be elected to Congress from Kansas, reread the K.S.U. speech during the second Iraq war and decided it was so powerful “because Kennedy was talking about what was right!”

As Kennedy started to leave, students rushed the platform where he stood, knocking over chairs and grabbing at him. They stroked his hair and ripped his shirtsleeves.

Later that day, Kennedy addressed another wildly enthusiastic audience—at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, Kansas.

Then he addressed the glaring disparities between rich and poor Americans—a topic now generally ignored by Democrats and turned into an attack line by Republicans:

“All around us, all around us….men have lost confidence in themselves, in each other. It is confidence which has sustained us so much in the past. Rather than answer the cries of deprivation and despair….hundreds of communities and millions of citizens are looking for their answers, to force and repression and private gun stocks— so that we confront our fellow citizen across impossible barriers of hostility and mistrust.

I Dream of a World Powered by 100% Renewable Energy | Nikola Power

Robert F. Kennedy talking with black children

“And again, I don’t believe that we have to accept that.  I don’t believe that it’s necessary in the United States of America.  I think that we can work together. I don’t think that we have to shoot at each other, to beat each other, to curse each other and criticize each other, I think that we can do better in this country.  And that is why I run for President of the United States….

“I have seen children in Mississippi starving, their bodies so crippled from hunger and their minds have been so destroyed for their whole life that they will have no future.  I have seen children in Mississippi—here in the United States—with a gross national product of $800 billion dollars.

“I have seen children in the Delta area of Mississippi with distended stomachs, whose faces are covered with sores from starvation, and we haven’t developed a policy so we can get enough food so that they can live, so that their children, so that their lives are not destroyed, I don’t think that’s acceptable in the United States of America and I think we need a change.”

IDEALISM DIED WITH RFK: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on August 10, 2020 at 1:37 am

He remains forever frozen in time—young, vigorous, with tousled hair and a high-pitched voice calling on Americans to do better for those less fortunate.

It’s been 52 years since his life was brutally cut short—yet he remains forever the age at which he died: 42. Born in 1925, he would turn 95 on November 20 if he were alive today.

And he exuded an idealism which seems totally out of place with today’s “I’ve-got-mine-so-screw-you” politics.

On March 16, 1968, from the Caucus Room of the Old Senate Office building, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy declared his candidacy for President of the United States. 

Eight years earlier, on January 2, 1960, his brother, Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy had announced his own candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination from the same place.

Ten months later, on November 8, that campaign had ended in victory with his election. And that victory, in turn, ended in bitter sorrow with his assassination two years, 10 months and two days later on November 22, 1963.

Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign would not last as long as his late brother’s. Nor would it end in the victory he and his supporters yearned for. 

Sen. Robert Kennedy Giving Speech During Campaign Stop | Robert ...

Robert F. Kennedy 

Eighty-two days later, he was dead—shot in the back of the head by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab furious at Kennedy’s avowed support for Israel.

For Kennedy, making up his mind to run for the Presidency was no easy task.

Since the assassination of his brother, millions of Americans had assumed—as his admirers or detractors—that he would one day become President.

For his admirers, there was an element of “the once and future king” about this young, intense man with tousled hair and a high-pitched voice.He—they believed—was the man who would somehow avenge his martyred brother by restoring “Camelot” and returning youth, energy and idealism to the White House.

A playwright—Barbara Garson—had even written a 1967 satire depicting then-President Lyndon B. Johnson as the MacBeth-like murderer of John Ken O-Dunc. In the end, he was confronted and killed by Robert Ken O’Dunc.

Barbara Garson - Mac Bird by Barbara Garson (2 Lp Box Set w ...

His detractors saw him as a ruthless upstart who wanted to foist too-liberal policies on the United States. They distrusted his sympathy for the downtrodden—especially blacks and Hispanics. Worse, they saw the Kennedy family as trying to found a dynasty of Presidents that could last until the mid-1980s.

But the real Robert Kennedy was long torn between running against Johnson—whom he had long personally loathed—and letting someone else do so.

Kennedy’s hatred of Johnson—and his irrational belief that LBJ was somehow responsible for his brother’s death—was well-known. And Kennedy feared that if he ran against Johnson, his many enemies would charge he was doing so out of personal animosity. 

And there was another reason: Johnson, who had won the Presidency in a landslide in 1964, was certain to seek re-election in 1968. If Kennedy challenged him for the nomination, it might well split the party and result in the election of a Republican that November. And he—Kennedy—would be blamed for it.

Throughout 1966-7, Kennedy was urged to run against Johnson. Still, he dithered.

Then, on March 12, Minnesota United States Senator Eugene McCarthy entered the New Hampshire Democratic primary against Johnson—and won a surprising 42.2% of the vote to Johnson’s 49.4%.  Four days later, Robert Kennedy announced his own candidacy.

McCarthy’s supporters were outraged: Their candidate had dared to do what Kennedy had not—directly take on Johnson. And now that he had shown it could be done, the opportunistic Kennedy had jumped in. 

On March 18—two days after announcing his candidacy—Kennedy gave his first campaign speech at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. This was the heart of conservative country, and Kennedy didn’t know how his audience would accept many of his decidedly liberal proposals.

“Do you think they’ll boo him?” his wife, Ethel, asked a friend before the speech. “Will they hate him?” 

Arriving at the university, Kennedy ate breakfast at the student union—and told a group of university officials and student leaders: “Some of you may not like what you’re going to hear in a few minutes, but it’s what I believe; and if I’m elected President, it’s what I’m going to do.”

Anderson Hall (Manhattan, Kansas) - Wikipedia

Kansas State University

As events unfolded, he—and Ethel—had no reason to worry.

Kennedy had served as United States Attorney General from 1961 to 1964. Yet he had not limited himself to simply fighting organized crime and enforcing civil rights. He had aggressively urged his brother, the President, to take a hard line on fighting the Communist forces in Vietnam.

But now he did something almost no other politician had—or has—ever done: He publicly accepted responsibly for the disaster the war had become since 1965:

“Let me begin this discussion with a note both personal and public. I was involved in many of the early decisions on Vietnam, decisions that helped set us on our present path.

“It may be that the effort was doomed from the start; that it was never really possible to bring all the people of South Vietnam under the rule of the successive governments we supported.”

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

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