Month: May 2017

jfk1America is often referred to as the land of opportunity for anyone wishing to start a new life far away from home. Since the days of Amerigo Vespucci, the territory we now call the United States has been a primary destination for world travelers.  In recent years, legislation regarding immigration has been an important topic which provokes fierce debate.   Every country has its issues with immigration and none has a perfect regarding the same. However America has been the place where millions of immigrants have made a new home.   The late John F. Kennedy,  formerly the Thirty-Fifth President of the United States, left us with many writings, interviews and speeches before his untimely death in Dallas, Texas.   His sharp wit, uncanny foresight and fierce independence catapulted him to the top of the list of Americans whose names live on forever.  As the descendants of Irish settlers from Ireland escaping the potato famine, his family came to America in search of a new life.  Their journey was long and their assimilation into a new society rough, with prejudice and xenophobia forming substantial obstacles to peace and happiness.  Their plight was never forgotten and is told again in this short but engaging book that clarifies his position that America truly is a nation of immigrants.

Today it is hard for many of us to comprehend that the America as we know it is less than three hundred years old.  In fact, my hometown of New York City did not come into existence until 1898.   The stories of Ellis Island are legend in American history with tales of immigrants from places such as Ireland, Italy, Germany at The Netherlands.  But as Kennedy beautifully explains, America owes its diversity to immigrants from all over. He starts off by giving a brief history of the creation of America before going into the influx of newcomers and their cultures and traditions that they introduced to the American experience.  As I read the book, I thought to myself that although it was written in 1958 and published posthumously in 1964 after his death, his words are still relevant today.  Currently, America finds itself in the midst of a bitter political climate. Immigration remains a hotly contested topic with the lives of millions of people living in the United States at stake. But as we move forward and consider how to approach immigration, it is wise for us to reminder JFK’s words that immigrants are responsible for the building of our country.

One of the tragedies of America’s development, pointed out by Kennedy in the book, is the backlash and discrimination faced by newly arrived immigrants.  Every group of people has had to face discrimination fueled by bigotry and xenophobia.  Regrettably, those who engage in such acts easily forget that all of our ancestors come from foreign land.  Furthermore, the disenfranchisement of the Native Americans, Aborigines and struggle of the African and Hispanic-American and dark periods and a stain on the American conscience.   The more I read his words and listen to his speeches, the more I am concerned that they are more important today.  And his death on November 22, 1963, is still one of America’s darkest moments. My father who will turn sixty-five this year, still recalls with vivid detail, the day that Kennedy died.  And as I listen to him talk, I can feel and see the sense of loss that engulfs him.

St. Augustine remarked that “the world is a book, those who do not travel read only a page”. Truer words have rarely been spoken.  For some of us, it is not merely travel, but a completely new change in life requiring moving from the place known as home to a new land thousands of miles away.  Those of us who have always lived in once place may find it difficult to appreciate the struggle many face as they try to make a new life in the United States.  But as we go about our daily routines and encounter those who are different, it is imperative that we remember this deeply moving compendium and its words by the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

ISBN-10: 0061447544
ISBN-13: 978-0061447549

Society

tragedy_of_liberationToday, the People’s Republic of China continues to feel the effects of the policies of it most popular leader, the late Mao Zedong (1893-1976).  Known as Chairman Mao, his successful campaign against the Nationalist led by Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975) set the stage for the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.  Mao ruled the nation until his death on September 9, 1976 at the age of eighty-two.  During his tenure he came a controversial figure and is credited with causing millions of deaths through the failed policies of collectivization and the infamous “Great Leap Forward.”  The aura of promise and hope that surrounded the commencement of his administration subsided as millions of Chinese endured long periods of poverty and famine while Mao enjoyed unlimited perks through his role as Chairman.  Propaganda is a power tool used by the darkest of dictators to enforce their will on the masses of people they wish to control.  An official story of triumph supported by an unwavering commitment to the revolution by ordinary men and women, helped cast an illusion of a progressive new China, modeled on its Soviet counterpart. In reality, the story is far different and in some cases, horrific as can been seen in this study of the early years of the Chinese Revolution by Dutch historian Frank Dikötter. (1961-)

Chairman Mao is widely regarded as one of the greatest leaders in world history.  His image can still be found on walls throughout mainland China and his name is still mentioned in articles about the country he ruled even today.   Following the communist victory over Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces and the establishment of the new republic,  the left-wing government under Mao instituted radical changes to transform the nation’s economy and enforce its rigid ideology.   Behind the parades and strong rhetoric of a society that helps everyone, were bare truths far uglier and more sinister than anyone could have imagined.  And as we learn in this book, the revolution was nearly a complete failure in all regards.

Carefully reconstructing the past, Dikötter takes us back in time to experience life as an ordinary citizen in the new Mao controlled China.  And what we see is a regime that encourages suspicion, deceit,  paranoia, fear and destitution.   For decades following his death, there were many aspects of Mao’s regime that had remained puzzling.   His former doctor, Liu Zhisui (1920-1995) published his memoirs entitled The Private Life of Chairman Mao which gave readers an invaluable look into Mao’s personal life, the ugly truths that formed basis of Mao’s plans for the country and the treacherous atmosphere that had engulfed his cabinet.  Dikötter makes reference to the late doctor recalling his words on several occasions throughout the book.   Both works help to paint the most accurate picture of what Mad had in mind as he made many decisions, some of which nearly brought about the destruction of China.

As a communist nation, China had been closely aligned with the Soviet Union, then under the leadership of the infamous Joseph Stalin (1878-1953). Mao and Stalin formed a partnership based on Marxist-Leninist beliefs and shared opponents; Chiang Kai-Shek and the United States.   The animosity between the parties peaked in 1949 resulting in the defeat of the Nationalists but the war was far from over.   Here, we revisit the events leading up to the Korean War, the conflict that permanently changed the relationship between China, Korea, Russia and the United States.  Mao’s actions and beliefs prior to and during the war are examined providing answers to questions surrounding China’s entry into the conflict.

The true tragedy in the book however,  is the fate suffered by millions of Chinese under Mao’s rule.  The book ends before the implementation of the Great Leap Forward but the events that transpire serve as premonitions of the disaster that had yet to come.  The policy of collectivization combined with the infusion of suspicion of “right-leaning” civilians, created a system of dysfunction that eroded the trust of the people in the government and among each other.  Their life savings and property gone, once well-off Chinese were reduced to peasantry, forced to work for next to nothing on a diet rationed by government bean counters.  Today it is mind-boggling to think that such a system even existed.   But it did and the effects of it were nothing short of devastating and left a dark stain on Mao’s legacy.   The atrocious conditions in which people were forced to live is beyond comprehension and highlights the inefficiency and lack of knowledge and planning that plagued the ruling Chinese Communist Party.  Today China is a world superpower but Mao’s legacy and ghost still haunt the nation as a reminder of a not too distant past in which China came to the brink of total collapse under a ruler focused more on his political enemies than the well-being of his own people.

For those who seek to learn more about Chairman Mao and the Chinese Revolution, Dikötter’s compendium is an excellent place to start.

ISBN-10: 1620403471
ISBN-13: 978-1620403471

Investigative Report

chaos-merchantsMore than twenty years have passed since the deaths of rap stars Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace).  The two rappers were both under thirty years of age and left behind grieving friends and family members who struggled to come to terms with such a sudden and tragic loss.  Officially, both murders are still open investigations.  Fans of the fallen artists have expressed shock that the murders have remained unsolved for so many years.   Theories have been presented surrounding their deaths but no final conclusion had been reached. Following Shakur’s death, his mother Afeni successfully sued Death Row records for control of her son’s master recordings, unpaid earnings and royalties.  The parties reached a settlement in August, 2013 in the amount of 2.2 million dollars.  Wallace’s mother Voletta, commenced a wrongful death suit against the City of Los Angeles for her son’s death in 2002.  On April 5, 2010, the Hon. Jacqueline H. Nguyen dismissed the suit without prejudice.  On May 2, 2016, Afeni Shakur died from heart failure at the age of 69 without knowing the truth about her son’s murder.

Russell Poole (1956-2015) was an Los Angeles Police Officer for eighteen years before retiring in 1999 to form his own private investigation firm.  He had been assigned to Wallace’s murder but found himself confronted with departmental resistance towards solving the murder.  After retiring from the force, Poole became one of the most outspoken voices on behalf of solving the murder of Christopher Wallace and Tupac Shakur.  On August 20, 2015, Poole died while meeting with detectives to discuss the unsolved murder of Wallace.   His death is also shrouded in mystery with the official cause of a “heart attack” falling under suspicion.  Before his death, Poole had decided to collaborate with author Michael Douglas Carlin and filmmaker R.J. Bond to find the truth about Shakur and Wallace’s murders.  Their efforts led to the book Tupac 187 and serve as the basis of the recently released Tupac Assassination III: The Battle For Compton. The documentary can been seen on iTunes and Amazon video and is being considered for Netflix at some point.  I have seen the documentary and it does shed light on information that was previously widely unknown by many.   And while definitely proof of guilt by any party is provided, the evidence trail leads in directions that the general public had never considered before. This composition, Chaos Merchants, is a collection of their notes as they formed what would serve as the basis for their book and the subsequent film.   At 133 pages, it is a quick but engaging read.  And even for those who believe they know all there is to know about the case, you might find something in here that you did not know before.

The biggest strength in this book is that it legitimately challenges the long-held narrative that after a fight at the MGM Hotel & Casino, Shakur was gunned down by Crips gang member Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, who repeatedly denied shooting Shakur even making an appearance on CNN to clear his name.  On May 26, 1998, nearly two years after Shakur’s death,  Anderson was shot and killed during a violent confrontation at a car wash in the Compton section of Lost Angeles.  Despite his repeated denials that he was the trigger man involved in Shakur’s shooting, many believed that he was in fact guilty due in part to the story put forth by former officer Greg Kading and Anderson’s uncle, Dwayne “Keefe D” Davis.  But as we learn through Poole, there was more to the story than meets the eye.

The legacy of Russell Poole will live on throughout time as a result of his exhaustive efforts to find the truth and bring closures to these cases.  With this book, he and Carlin have finally removed the lid on many secrets once held firmly in the grip of Death Row records and will have readers shaking their heads in disgust and disbelief.  Alas, we are steps closer to the truth about the nights of September 7, 1996 and March 9, 1997.

ASIN: B01A2VYJTO

Investigative Report

shawIn December, 1991, Warner Brothers pictures released Oliver Stone’s JFK, the film adaptation of the investigation by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (1921-1922) into the death of President John F. Kennedy. The film is filled with an all-star cast and remains one of Stone’s greatest accomplishments.  Reviews of the movie are generally favorable but there are many critics who have voiced their dissatisfaction with the film believing that Stone omitted crucial information and glorified Garrison on screen.  The famed director did an incredible job of bringing the past of life and his effort paid off immensely as more records related to President Kennedy’s assassination were released to the public.  The actors that took part in the landmark film all did an incredible job in making the story one that will continue to spark curiosity.  From history, we know that Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) was the alleged assassin but was murdered himself before he could stand trial.  Several years later, Garrison began his own investigation, focusing on what he believed to be a plot in his own City of New Orleans to murder Kennedy.  His investigation resulted in the arrest and prosecution of local businessman Clay L. Shaw (1913-1973).   The trial became infamous for its absurdity and Shaw was exonerated in March, 1969.  Garrison later tried Shaw on the charge of perjury and Shaw subsequently filed a civil suit against Garrison and others for the violations of his civil rights. These matters and others were unresolved at the time of Shaw’s death from lung cancer on August 15, 1974.

But just who was Clay Shaw and what really was his significance in the murder of John F. Kennedy?  In the film we do not know much about Shaw’s past and the focus remains on his alleged connections to Oswald and David Ferrie (1918-1967).   The impression that can be made from the movie is that a plot to kill Kennedy evolved among homosexual right wing extremists determined to see the President removed from office.  Curiously, nearly none of the popular books on the assassination regard Shaw as a conspirator in the President’s murder.  The reality of the case, as shown by Donald Carpenter in this phenomenal biography of Shaw, is that his life was far different from what we have been led to believe and the real Clay Shaw really was a man of a million fragments.

Carpenter researched Shaw’s life over a period of eighteen years before completing the book.  Interviews with those who knew Shaw were conducted and Carpenter also reviewed Shaw’s surviving documents, newspaper clippings, statements given by Shaw on screen and other important notes and memorabilia.  The final story is simply one of amazement and sheds light on a man who lived a incredible life.  For those of us who have visited the French Quarter in New Orleans, we can attest to the level of enjoyment that awaits all of those who pay visit to the legendary Bourbon Street.  Today Shaw’s  name is an afterthought but at one time, he was a well-known, respected and beloved  resident of the French Quarter whose efforts to transfer the neighborhood paid off well and earned him a permanent place in the City’s history.

For all of the shortcomings that plagued JFK, the film was correct regarding the issue of Shaw’s sexual orientation.  And in the book it is a reoccurring subject which follows Shaw throughout his life and takes center stage during his trial.  The true motives for Garrison trying Shaw remain somewhat elusive and the “evidence” of Shaw’s guilt was fragile at best.  Further, rumors about Garrison’s own sexual conduct become fodder for conversation peaking with an incident involving a minor at an athletic club in 1969.  I had previously read about Garrison’s indiscretions which are directly addressed by the late Kent “Frenchy” Brouilette  (1936-2015) in his autobiography Mr. New Orleans: The Life of a Big Easy Underworld Legend.  If Brouilette is truthful, which appears to be the case, then the anecdotes contained within this book carry more clout and shed light on Shaw’s statement to more than one friend that he would tell them the real motive behind his persecution after the trial was completed.  As far as we know and the author has concluded, there is nothing in Shaw’s handwriting or oral statements by him addressing the issue.

Carpenter did an immaculate job of chronicling Shaw’s life providing a staggering amount of information on the late star of the International Trade Mart.  In particular, he dives into the topic of Shaw’s affiliation with the Central Intelligence Agency bringing more clarity to the issue while also refuting unfounded conspiracy rumors.   Shaw’s life is covered from beginning to end and it was an incredible journey that included service in World War II, a stint in New York City, a career with foreign trade, restoration of the French Quarter and a showdown with a controversial district attorney whose case threatened the foundation of the U.S. legal system.  There are many things that we do know about Shaw’s life, but there are many more that went with him to his grave.  This is by far the most accurate detailed analysis of Shaw’s life that I have read to date. And if you have watched Stone’s groundbreaking film, are planning to or are curious about Clay Shaw, this is the place to start.

ISBN-10: 0692226419
ISBN-13: 978-0692226414

Biographies

20180603_133752On September 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich invaded Poland and started the Second World War.  In violation of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany had rearmed itself and under the determination of Hitler, set its eyes upon conquering all of Europe.  The looming threat of German domination had been lingering for quite some time before the outbreak of the war.  But sadly, many of the nations that would later be opposed to Germany did not think that Hitler would be brazen enough or have the resources to initiate a world conflict.  In hindsight, we know that way of thinking was short-sighted and later highly regrettable.  The actions of the British government in response to Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia, resulted in the condemnation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and established Germany as a legitimate threat to world peace. The episode has been recalled in history books and documentaries and continues to provoke discussion about how Hitler could have been stopped before his army invaded neighboring Poland.

In 1940, a student at Harvard University presented to his professor with his senior thesis entitled Why England Slept.  Twenty years later he became the Thirty-Fifth President of the United States of America, known affectionately as Jack.  To the world, he remains John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).  The thesis was eventually published into this short but well-researched and well-written book that probes the question of why England failed to respond to the growing Germany menace.   Henry R. Luce (1898-1967), the creator of Time-Life magazine provides a foreword to this edition, published in 1962.  Incredibly, the book sold for $.95 as printed on the cover.  I believe it was severely undersold.   The beauty in the book is that Kennedy does not simply lay blame for Hitler at England’s feet. Instead he examines the conditions and beliefs that lead to the slow realization that armament was necessary and that Hitler was a very real threat.  It should be remembered that Kennedy spent a great deal of time in London as the son of then Ambassador to Great Britain and his father, Joseph P. Kennedy.   Fully aware of the nature of British culture and politics, Kennedy wisely incorporates this into the text which helps to explain many of the actions and inaction taken.

In fairness to Britain, it was not easy to foresee the coming of the German nightmare. Hitler invoked secretive maneuvers, arouse national sentiment and provided a source of hope to a nation in despair. And as Kennedy thoroughly points out, he had the advantage of running a dictatorship against a democracy, the latter of which is always slower to respond to the threats of war. Furthermore, distance and size gave Germany advantages against the prying eyes of foreign nations.  Today social media has made it far more difficult to conceal the mass production of good and machinery. But in the 1930s, secrecy was easier to effect and many countries used it to their benefit.  But even so, Britain did know that Hitler was up to something and was aware that Germany had slowly been rearming itself.  But the slowness to act depending on several factors that Kennedy lays out for all to see and understand.  Sympathy of Germany, pacifism in Britain, a restricted budget, naiveté and political ambition combined to severely delay the rearmament of Britain prior to beginning of the deadliest war in world history. And as Kennedy explores each issue, we may find ourselves filled with shock and disbelief towards England’s actions. However it is imperative to remember that we have the benefit of history our on side and look back and see the errors of their ways.  England did not have this advantage and even struggled internally with how to deal with growing danger.

More than seventy years have passed since the end of World War II. Hitler was eventually defeated and Britain was spared from annexation by the Third Reich.  But this account of England’s actions prior to the war will remain a guide for us to use as we face new threats to world peace.   And it is hoped that world leaders will remind us of why England slept.

ASIN: B000JKO9Y4

Investigative Report