Month: August 2017

1The summer of 2017 is winding down and a new school year is nearly upon us here in the United States.   Seven months have now passed since Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.  And in that time, the world has witnesses events that few can claim to have seen before.  I previously reviewed Trumped! The Inside story of The Real Donald Trump – His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall by John R. O’ Donnell.  In that memoir O’Donnell recalled his time as an employee of the Trump Organization and his responsibilities in keeping both the Trump Plaza and Taj Mahal casinos in operation.  O’ Donnell’s account is shocking and revealing but only a fraction of the many episodes in the life of Donald J. Trump.  This time around,  Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston presents to us his compendium of how Donald Trump made his name and the dark side that came with it.

Supporters of the 45th President will tempted to write of Johnston as a liberal and left-wing nut job determined to smear the man who proclaimed he will “Make America Great Again”.  I forewarn those readers that many unpleasant facts will be revealed our their candidate who has now become the leader of America.  Opponents of Trump will feel vindicated in their choice of Hillary Clinton and their vehement denunciations of a man that they believed to be unfit for the oval office. But I caution all readers to put aside personal prejudices whether good or bad to examine the author’s words and statements which can be easily cross-referenced. As a native New Yorker, I grew up listening and watching Donald Trump on television and reading his comments in magazines and newspapers.  I remember the USFL, the Central Park Five and many other situations that contained his name and previously knew some of the information contained in the book but I also learned many new facts about Trump that were unknown to me before.  Like O’Donnell, Johnston has known Trump for decades, albeit casually, as he points out in the book one more than one occasion.  Trump personally called several times regarding a piece of writing that he did not agree with.  Johnston does not have any personal ax to grind but is simply telling what he knows about the Donald Trump that was campaigning for the Republican nomination for President. The book was published in the summer of 2016, several months before Trump secured the electoral votes needed for the White House.  I do not know how many people read this book before the election but I am sure that there are many of us who should and will read it now.

Regardless of who you voted for in the 2016 election, this is a book every American needs to read for it is a thorough examination of the current Commander-In-Chief.  Johnston traces the Trump family to its beginnings in Germany and the rise of Fred Trump, Sr. Young Donald makes his appearance as well as all of the Trumps, some of whom remain hidden from public light.  Time will tell what will become of his administration and whether he can succeed in propelling America forward as he has promised.   However, conventional wisdom tells us that if we do not know from where we come, we cannot know to where we are headed.   Incredibly, there were many voters who knew nothing of Trump’s background before casting their vote.  For those voters who now have questions and those who have known about Trump for decades prior, this book will either feel like a rude awakening or a reminder of what has already come to pass.  This is the story of the making of Donald Trump.

ISBN-10: 1612196322
ISBN-13: 978-1612196329

Investigative Report

wolfCurrently, in the Midwestern United States, Opioid addiction is causing the deaths of hundreds of men and women. Their deaths and the rise of Heroin use is a direct affront to the long-standing war on drugs. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan is fondly remembered for her eternal slogan “just say no”. Narcotics are still largely illegal but more states have begun to decriminalize the recreational use of marijuana which has allowed entrepreneurs to invest their savings into a new and profitable industry. The story of America’s war on drugs is long and often misunderstood. Allegations , rumors and explosive revelations have all contributed to cast the dark cloud over the battle against narcotics. Douglas Valentine decided to explore the history of the war on drugs and in this eye-opening book, he tells the story of the history of America’s battle against drugs and the rise and fall of the legendary and infamous Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).

Students of history will be familiar with the story of Charles “Lucky” Luciano (1897-1962) and his participation with the U.S. Government to defeat the Axis powers during World War II. The story on the surface sounds simple enough, but as Valentine shows us, Luciano was only a small part of the puzzle and there was more to his role than meets the eye. Further, the relationship between Washington and the Italian American mafia would take on monstrous proportions an in the process taint the FBN’s reputation. The bureau was under the guidance of the later Harry Anslinger (1892-1975) and rivaled the Federal Bureau of Investigation, led by John Edgar Hoover (1895-1972). Anslinger made a name for himself as a director whose agents made cases that resulted in convictions but whose personal racial prejudices and desire for recognition caused him to make decisions that would have far-reaching effects for years to come. Valentine did an impeccable task of researching the topic and the revelations contained in the book are nothing short of jaw-dropping. And the interviews with former agents of the FBN are shocking to say the least but provide valuable insight into what made the FBN a success and what ultimately led to its failure.

Anslinger plays a prominent role in the book but the story heats up and takes on a life of its own as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) makes its appearance. Organized in 1947 through the National Security Act signed into law by President Harry Truman, the Agency, as its known, grew into an uncontrollable secret apparatus of the Unites Government that engaged in espionage, assassinations and as we learn in this book, narcotics trafficking. Rumors of the Agency’s involvement in the rise of drugs of America have held in place for decades. In fact, the allegations proved to be true and the story was broken by late journalist Gary Webb (1955-2004). But what many people did not know then and perhaps now, is that the story was far deeper and much uglier that most would be willing to accept. The FBI also plays a large role in the story of the FBN and Valentine brings the three together exposing the complicated and tension filled relationship between the three organizations.

Before beginning this book, it is necessary for the reader to accept that many unpleasant truths will be revealed. A complicated web of deceit and complicity was constructed that allowed thousands of people to profit off the misery of millions. But more frightening is are ways in which narcotics were able to enter the country with the help of those in high places and the impossibility we now face of their removal. The story is filled with legendary names such as Meyer Lansky (1902-1983), Vito Genovese (1897-1968), Tibor Rosenbaum, James Angleton (1917-1987), Richard Helms (1913-2002) and Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975), among others. But what is paramount is that Valentine has put together an extraordinary jigsaw puzzle that allows the reader to see the dark side of governments and the reality of war as highlighted in the conflict in Vietnam. The revelations about the CIA’s role in the war alone are enough to earn the wrath of veterans still with us today. Valentine spares nothing and gives us the facts, as ugly as they are. The beauty of the book however, is the author’s genius is connecting the characters and providing a mental map of the endless connections between law enforcement, politicians, mobsters, intelligence officers and rebels of all sorts. The information is staggering and at times during the book, I literally could not believe what I was reading. And I do not believe Valentine did either as he was writing this book. I forewarn readers that as an American citizen, this book may cause grief and outrage at the actions of the United States Government domestically and abroad. It is not an easy pill to swallow but the truth is rarely enjoyable.

The FBN earned a legacy as the most successful drug enforcement agency in American history, but paranoia of corruption and an internal investigation by Andy Tartaglino, devastated the bureau and changed the course of history forever. The story of the demise of the bureau is told here in the book from start to finish and it is sure to leave readers shaking their heads. Today the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is the premier federal organization responsible for investigating narcotics trafficking. Time will tell if the bureau will reach the heights of the famed FBN but as we can see very well, drugs are here to stay. As we look back through Valentine’s work, we can only hope that history does not repeat itself. This book is the place to start in understanding the true nature of the business of narcotics and how it propagated throughout our world.

ISBN-10: 1844675645
ISBN-13: 978-1844675647

Investigative Report

another-countryThe story begins in Harlem, New York as we are introduced to a musician named Rufus Scott.  He has just met a recent transplant to New York City from Georgia named Leona. Sparks fly between the two and Rufus invites her to an after party at the apartment of a friend. It is there that they come intimate and that encounter sets into motion a chain of events that affects nearly every single character in the book.  Rufus’ best friend in Vivaldo, a young Italian from Brooklyn.  He is involved with an older woman named Jane, who has a drinking problem but somehow manages to function and continue painting.  At first, Rufus and Leona are on the path to love but reality quickly sets in.  You see, Rufus is a Black American and Leona, a white woman from the South.   And this is before laws against interracial marriage were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Their trials and tribulations are heartbreaking and Rufus struggles with Leona and himself all the way to the end.  Incredibly, the two of them only take up a third of book, the rest is devoted to Rufus’ friends and former flame, who all converge to add unexpected twist and turns to each other’s lives.

Readers beware, this book is not for the faint at heart. The language at times is crass and the speech blunt.  But Baldwin did not write this for an afternoon special, this is an unfiltered look into the relationships between friends and lovers of both sexes.  Rufus’ younger sister Ida, eventually falls for his friend Vivaldo and in some way, they become a reincarnation of Rufus and Leona with a few notable exceptions. Ida becomes part of the inner circle of Richard and Clarissa “Cass” Silenski, Steve Ellis, and Eric Jones, the wildcard of the group who will remind readers of the character David in Giovanni’s Room.  Those familiar with Baldwin’s life will recall that he not only died in France but spent a considerable amount of time in his life there and in Istanbul, Turkey.  Paris is a part of the book and the place in which we learn more about Eric Jones, the “prodigal son” who returns to the United States even more uncertain of his understanding of what love truly is. His partner in France, Yves, is scheduled to arrive in the United States a few weeks after he arrives but before he does, Eric impacts the story in a major way which will never be forgotten by any of the characters.  Incredibly, despite all that happens in the book, the story still belongs to Rufus who none of us can forget for too long as we make it through the book.   And I do believe that at some parts of the book are based off of Baldwin’s life experiences or at the least, the characters composites of people he did know.

Where the book truly shines is in its examination of infidelity and the struggle that plagued interracial couples.  Monogamy proves to be difficult for the characters in the book but we are reminded that they are human beings and humans do fail and make mistakes.  But if we look past the shocking revelations, we can see the characters making a valiant effort to show us how and why we sometimes do the things that we do.  And for those readers who have a spouse of love interest of a different background, the story of Rufus and Leona followed by Ida and Vivaldo will touch you directly as you find yourself able to relate to some of the challenges they face.   Times have certainly changed since Baldwin finished this classic in 1961, but what is paramount, is that it takes a large amount of courage, sacrifice and understanding when one is involved in an interracial relationship.  But love can and does prevail, and Baldwin does a great job of showing us the complicated ways in which we are able to make it last.   I have always understood that it is far easier to hate someone than it is to love them.   Loving another person is truly one of the hardest things we ever have to in life.  But the reward is both fulfilling and to those who are the recipients of our affection.

Baldwin truly shines here, and the book is one of his greats.  This is New York City and the story of a group of friends, bonded by tragedy and nearly separated by love, sex and the demons that come with all parts of life.  And when you have finished this incredible story, you will have more of an appreciation for one of the greatest writers America has ever produced.

ISBN-10: 0679744711
ISBN-13: 978-0679744719

fiction Uncategorized

Fire next timeEvery year that I age, I have noticed that I have a growing appreciation for classic literature and the works of other authors that are no longer with us.  James Baldwin (1924-1987) is near the top of my list of authors whose books are critical to American history and the current day state of affairs in the United States.  The Harlem native who took his last breath in France, stands out as a commentator on race in America. His observations which he then put into words, were sharp, analytical and deeply profound. Baldwin lived what could only be described as an eventful but complicated life.   He was a Black American and homosexual in a time in which both were considered to be crimes of the highest nature. America had yet to see the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and homosexuality was still considered a crime against nature in many states. Baldwin was both and carried himself with an aura of confidence and intellect that has remained impressive many years after his death.  In this short but intriguing book, Baldwin comments on race in America based off of his experience and encounters with White Americans and even Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam.  He never joined the nation but his account of his meeting with Muhammad is one of the highlights of the book.   Racial discrimination is never an easy topic to discuss and many of us would prefer to discuss more pleasant issues.  But Baldwin was a master of taking a explosive topic and relaying it to the reader in a way that forces one to do deep soul-searching if they are not African-American and reevaluate their own existence if they are.

Too often, it is assumed that books about racial inequality are attacks against White Americans.  That is not Baldwin’s goal. In fact, Baldwin’s social circle was very diverse, consisting of White Americans, Black Americans, Europeans and Turkish individuals among others.  In fact, in the book there is a part in which he feels conflicted about his White friends and his own social situation in America.  His experience is not meant to demean or drive a wedge between friends but highlights the inner conflict that can engulf anyone. The key to appreciating Baldwin’s work is to remember that it was written in a time period that is much different from 2017.     Jim Crow, voter suppression, poverty and class based war made life deplorable for minorities and poor White Americans.    And before the courage of the Loving family, interracial marriage was illegal throughout the country.   Every great movement needs voices like Baldwin, to remind of us where we come from and what we need to do in order to move forward. It is a shame that today, his voice has been largely forgotten by a generation that has no connection of one of the greatest writers in American history.

I truly wish Baldwin had completed more books before his death.  His mind was uncanny and we are fortunate to have the works that he left behind.  This book is not just for Black or White Americans, but for anyone who wishes to examined and understand America’s unpleasant history with racial equality.   History is not always pleasant but the darkness in it, helps us  not to make the same mistakes again but to try a different path that works and exemplifies what progress truly is.  Baldwin does it again with another classic.

ISBN-10: 003055442X
ISBN-13: 978-0030554421

 

 

 

 

Civil Rights Movement

23937036The Cuban Revolution has served as a blueprint as a successful campaign for independence from imperialism.   Fidel Castro (1926-2016),  Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967) and Raul Castro (1931-) became legendary figures in Cuba and around the world.  Raul is remaining member of the trio and is currently the President of the Council of State of Cuba and the President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba following Fidel’s retirement in 2008. In March, 2016, United States President Barack Obama made a historic visit to the island in an effort to restore severely strained diplomatic relations between the two nations. Time will tell if Washington and Havana continue down that path.

When Fidel Castro died in December, 2016, he joined the ranks among the now deceased leaders from the Cold War Era.  Raul remains carrying the Castro name and the torch of the revolution.  As fascinating as the revolution is, there are many stories that have never been told.  Che’s march in Santa Clara and Fidel’s triumphant march into Havana are typically referred to as the shining moments of the movement.  But upon closer inspection as Michelle Chase shows us, a revolution took place within the revolution. Examining the importance of women and gender politics, Chase shows the revolution from the view of the female revolutionary and the struggle of women prior to and post-revolution. Admirers of the Castro brothers and Guevara might be tempted to believe that the Cuba became a glorious paradise following Batista’s overthrow.  But the reality is that women waged their own battle to achieve equality and a voice in Cuban society.

When we think of the Cuban revolution, we often conjure up the image of the Barbudo, the bearded guerrilla fighter in the jungles of the small Caribbean island.  In truth, behind the heroic figures, were women who saw the revolution as a chance to transform Cuban society and prove that they had just as much courage, will and goals as their male counterparts. To reinforce the importance of women in the effort, Chase revisits the events prior to Batista’s fall as young Cubans began to form resistance groups opposed to the tyrannical dictator supported by the United States.   And interesting, the effort was far more widespread than  the Twenty Sixth of July Movement which is the default resistance group examined in books, magazines and documentaries.   Women participated in this group and many others in the effort to establish a free Cuba.  Their voices and stories come alive in this book to enlighten even the most serious student of the revolution. I found the book to be significant for it touches of a largely unknown topic outside of Cuba.

Where the book shines is in its unfiltered examination of Cuba post-revolution. There is no glorification of Castro here.  We see what was happening and the effect on everyday Cubans.  And without women, there was no way Cuban society could have continued to function.    Also highlighted in the book are the areas in which the revolution was failing its citizens.  Even today, Cuba is still in need of much reformation but is still constrained under the banner of revolution.  We can only guess as to what will happen after Raul Castro leaves office for the final time.   Regardless of how or when he leaves office, it is imperative that we remember the lives and efforts of the Cuban women, who marched, carried signs, put their lives on the line and challenged the establishment.  Today they are grandmothers and great grand-grandmothers.  But there was a time in their lives where they took part in one of the 20th Century’s greatest events.

ISBN-10: 14 le69625008
ISBN-13: 978-1469625003

Investigative Report

20180602_234534Harlem, New York has been and still is crucial to New York City politics.  The area that was home to the majority of African-Americans has been affected by the wave of gentrification that has reached nearly every major city across the nation.  Musicians, actors, gangsters and politicians have found fame and fortune in the neighborhood with a storied past.  And of all of the colorful characters to use Harlem as their base of activity, perhaps none is as famous as the late Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908-1972) There is a street named in his honor in the area but sadly, the generation of today is largely unaware of his story and his contributions to American society.  He has been described as flamboyant, stubborn, cunning and of great intelligence. He earned the affection of his congregation and millions of minorities and the wrath of presidents and senators determined to put an end to his career.  Forty-five years have passed since his death on April 4, 1972.  Cancer proved to be his biggest opponent, taking his life at the age of sixty-three.  But who was the real Adam Clayton Powell, Jr? And why is he so important to the Civil Rights Movement and the African-American experience?  Wil Haygood has researched Powell’s life and compiled this definitive account of the late congressman’s life.

Powell’s life was anything but ordinary and Haygood brings the past alive as we become more acquainted with Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. as we follow him through life as he attends Colgate University, succeeds his father as pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church and takes the plunge into politics.  Legendary figures of the past make an appearance throughout the book, some of whom are still alive today. Some loved him and some hated him, but all can agree that there was no other like him.   The Powell amendment, which mandated the withholding of funds to cities that refused to follow federal law mandating desegregation was a landmark piece of legislation and remains his crowning achievement.  But for all of his highlights, there was also another side to the famed politician. And Haygood, as a biographer, does not avoid the darker parts of his life.

Several marriages, a playboy like lifestyle and a larger than life character are just some of the many dimensions that composed Powell.  The revelations in the book are not easy to accept but they reinforce the notion that in life we do have to take the negative with the positive.   And flawed as he was, he lived his life on his own terms and without compromise.   Today, many would not blink an eye to the escapades of Powell but in his era, far more conservative than today, Powell was pushing the boundaries of acceptability at every turn. And for millions of young men and women of color, he became a source of pride and inspiration. His power allowed him to move through political circles but also earned him the wrath of powerful enemies who would come together as the cast of villains in the hearings that resulted in Powell losing his congressional seat which he eventually obtained again following a successful litigation campaign.

Life for Powell was fast and full of highs and lows.   In hindsight, we can see the habits and decisions that led to his early death.  And in death, he is remembered as one of Harlem’s greats.  Powell’s is long gone but through this book, his memory to continues. The children of Harlem and across the nation today have no connection to Powell, but if he were alive, he would be fighting right now in their best interest.  And for New York City residents, we should remember his life every time we drive down Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.  This is his life, the story of a New York City legend whose legacy shall never fade.  Haygood’s book is a welcomed addition to any library.

 

ISBN-10: 0060842415
ASIN: B006G87YK4

Biographies Uncategorized