L.A. Justice – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “L.A. Justice, Lessons from the Firestorm” by Robert Vernon, published in 1993.

In 1954, the author joined the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Through the decades of his career, he watched the LAPD become corrupted by the worst aspects of human nature. By the early 1990’s, the department had scrapped the civil service system in favor of using patronage in awarding promotions. This necessitated pleasing local politicians. Always a bad idea.

So at the tail end of April 1992, when the verdict was announced in the Rodney King legal case, law enforcement was unprepared for the rioting that broke out in South-Central Los Angeles.

The author, lately named assistant chief of police of Los Angeles, bragged about helping start a community program in 1990– successful at the book’s writing. It was called “Operation Cul-de-Sac” and involved transforming a high-crime neighborhood into a gated community. It was implemented in about seven hundred households in South Central Los Angeles. The author wrote, “… changing behavior must begin by influencing a belief system.”

The program must have done so, as it created support networks of families and friends, significantly reduced crime, and significantly increased school attendance.

Unfortunately, despite its success, the program was not to last much longer. The reason? It was funded by the LAPD– not special-interest political groups in the community. So local politicians were left out of the loop– unable to hand out patronage jobs.

Read the book to learn of all kinds of other frustrations suffered by the author in his experiences with the LAPD.

Vigilance

The Book of the Week is “Vigilance, My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City” by Ray Kelly, published in 2015.

Born in Manhattan in September 1941, the author grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Long Island City in Queens county, the youngest of five children. He was a cadet for the New York City police department (NYPD) while attending college, where he majored in business.

In 1964, he was a U.S. Marine and “… getting sent to the Southeast Asian nation [Vietnam] was still seen as a perfectly fine posting… an exotic place where you could go and be an adviser, play at some guerrilla warfare, obtain command and experience, and learn about a different culture…” He went there and actually enjoyed the life-threatening aspects of soldiering.

In the early 1970’s, the author was assigned to the vice squad, whose subdivisions kept pimps, prostitutes, numbers-racketeers, and drug dealers in line. That last category changed their products through the years, from opium, pot and acid, to heroin and pills. In the mid-1980’s, the crime rate soared with the introduction of crack-cocaine.But rather than blame an increase in crime on social ills such as drugs, family breakups and poverty– the mayor of New York City in the early 1990’s, David Dinkins– appointed the author as police commissioner, who changed the NYPD, starting in October 1992.

The author engaged in operations management to determine the number of cops (of a total of about 25,000) required for specific types of calls, to deploy the city’s resources wisely. He thought Dinkins deserved more credit than he got for lowering the crime rate.Beginning in the mid-1990’s, the author earned a law degree, and worked in a few different capacities in white-collar law enforcement on behalf of the federal government. He bragged about helping with big drug busts involving Mexican marijuana, Federal Express, cocaine cartels and Mexican banks in the late 1990’s. He also bragged about foiling a terrorist plot involving a car bomb at Los Angeles airport at the end of 1999. After 9/11, he felt there was a crying need to dispel inter-agency rivalry in United States law enforcement. He favored consolidating agencies to form one, that would be responsible for homeland security.

Incidentally, the personal accounts of senators Tom Daschle and Robert Byrd contained starkly different recollections as to how the Department of Homeland Security was formed. The reason was that: Daschle and his staff were subjected to lots of trauma and massive disruption as victims of an anthrax attack in 2001 so they personally witnessed the problems with American law enforcement and saw the need for one department, whereas Byrd’s office experienced no such ordeal, so Byrd zeroed in on George W. Bush’s political exploitation of the situation.

BUT– not only did the Bush administration chaotically rush into consolidating departments, it also failed to provide job security and benefits for newer employees. In law enforcement especially, that is an invitation for trouble– that means higher turnover than otherwise among employees who have access to weaponry and sensitive data. Enough said.

Anyway, the author became NYPD police commissioner again with mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002. He created counter-terrorism and intelligence departments. His idea of policing involved the “three C’s” of Counter-terrorism, Crime-fighting and Community relations. He took credit for technologically modernizing the NYPD. For, in the single-digit 2000’s, “… We had twenty different databases that didn’t speak to each other and were almost impossible to search. Each division, bureau, and unit had its own hardware and software and its own unique way of maintaining the files.”

Beginning in 2003, the NYPD stationed (anti-terrorism) detectives in major cities around the world, starting with Israel, of course. The author felt that international cooperation was an important element of countering threats from abroad. He wrote that geopolitical pressure between or among allies brought to bear on rogue states, could deter attacks. He boasted that in 2006, his team foiled a plot to blow up the Hudson River tunnels in Manhattan.

In 2013, he launched a social-media operation whose goal was to detect online activity that would result in gang activity on the streets. The author expressed his views on a few other topics; he believed:

  • body-cameras should be used by law enforcement officers, as they protect both officers and the public;
  • there should be diversity in hiring of officers, as their jobs are a community-oriented service, and should be a reflection of the community; and
  • military equipment should be used by local law enforcement only as a last resort.

Read the book to learn additional details of the author’s life and career.

Hellhound On His Trail / Vernon Can Read – BONUS POST

The first Bonus Book of the Week is “Hellhound On His Trail, The Electrifying Account of the Largest Manhunt in American History” by Hampton Sides, published in 2010.

“He’d been jailed eighteen times. His house had been fire-bombed. He’d been stabbed by a deranged black woman, punched in the face by a Nazi, and struck in the head with a rock. He’d marched [facing] tear gas, police dogs, cattle prods, and water cannons… he’d been burned in effigy. And everywhere he went, the FBI was on his tail, watching, listening.”

NOT Trump. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With this scholarly but readable work, the author suspensefully recounted King’s assassination story, trying to be fair and objective, poring over reams of primary-source documents and personally conversing with people who were there, in order to make an accurate assessment of the incident, and its historical context.

Sadly, the current trend in American book-publishing is producing a large percentage of works that appeal to readers seeking confirmation of their narrow-minded beliefs– such as books (usually by hate-spewing pundits) that scream lies, smears and conspiracies; or prolonged rants whose sole purpose is to serve as catharses for their authors; or fantasy panaceas by authors who oversimplify complex issues in one tidy volume.

Authors such as Sides, however, who do their homework in revisiting a major historical event decades later, are more likely to get it right. Authors who describe major public figures who are still active in their careers, are more likely to provide a more biased account because:

  • history is still unfolding on those individuals.
  • when a public figure has been retired or dead for a few decades, there accumulates a sizable body of information (including primary sources– people who talk about them, videos of interviews, etc., and documents that become declassified) that tells the public about them, created by both their friends and enemies. They contain 20/20 hindsight and show how history has treated them.
  • If a public figure is still alive and actively managing their career, they’re also going to be actively managing their image– trying to suppress bad publicity, which might spur the opposition to smear them more.

Anyway, King developed a reputation for pushing for social change through nonviolence. He opposed the funding of a pro-civil-rights youth group called the Invaders, because they wanted to get violent. At the time, he was the best-known activist preaching peaceful protest. In April 1968, he was killed by a white person, so other black civil-rights activists lost their patience with nonviolence.

King was shot by an ultra-powerful hunting rifle. The one and only bullet, which was going 2,670 feet per second, hit his neck from a distance of 205 feet. The ammunition was specially made to do maximum damage to mercifully kill animals. The rifle magnified objects by seven times, so the killer perceived King to be only thirty feet away.

The killer used fake names and addresses wherever he went, because in the 1960’s, people were more trusting, and no photo IDs were required to stay in a hotel room, flophouse or apartment, apply for a Canadian passport (!), or purchase a rifle from a gun store. That last activity for the killer was easy-peasy; in less than five minutes– he had a deadly weapon in his hands, with no background check, no waiting period.

The killer fantasized that the racist, hate-spewing then-presidential candidate George Wallace from Alabama (formerly governor), would completely pardon him. It is easy to see how this mentality bears a resemblance to recent events. However, in the 1960’s, people– angry enough to commit violence and seeking to go out in a blaze of glory– specifically targeted influential leaders.

In recent decades, more and more violence has been perpetrated by individuals angry at the world— who kill innocent strangers. So more and more ordinary Americans who have nothing to do with perpetrating the violence, are at risk of becoming victims of it. Here is a testament to it: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/last-72-hours

Investigating the King assassination was a thorny conflict for J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI. For, he had a reputation as a racist, so theoretically, it would have been in his best interest not to find King’s killer. But conspiracy theorists would say he had a hand in the murder. And it was the FBI’s job to root out public enemies, so catching the perpetrator(s) would enhance its image. The manhunt ultimately involved more than 3,500 agents (of a total of about 6,000 agents) and cost almost two million dollars.

Hours after the killing, rioters in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Baltimore and New Jersey set fires and looted or vandalized hundreds of stores. There were hundreds of arrests. Eventually, damage was done to 150 American cities, resulting in forty deaths and 21,000 arrests.

Unsurprisingly, the day after, Jesse Jackson– who was a witness to the shooting– hired a public relations firm and granted a live interview to NBC’s “Today” show.

Anyway, read the book to learn a wealth of additional details about the terror– er, uh tenor, of the times, and about how one person can cause so much trouble.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “Vernon Can Read, A Memoir” by Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. with Annette Gordon-Reed, published in 2001.

Born in 1935 in Georgia, the African-American Jordan was permitted to become a law clerk immediately after graduating law school, even though he failed the Georgia bar exam (which might have been rigged by his political enemies). He later passed the Arkansas bar exam in 1963, so he was allowed to practice law in Georgia. He built a successful political career serving as a civil-rights lawyer and activist.

In the early 1960’s, Jordan engaged in community organizing for the NAACP, and for the Voter Education Project, which funded voter registration drives of CORE, SCLC, SNCC and NAACP in southern states. The Ku Klux Klan was active there, so blacks were actually under the gun all the time. He helped people of his ethnic group to understand how voting helped them directly.

Ironically, in the early 1970’s, all of the people who did fund-raising for the United Negro College Fund were white, because they were the ones with valuable contacts in high places. Jordan was mentored by a friend as to how to acquire money, power and influence. The two attended an event hosted by an experienced elitist. It was there that the author learned about the various factors required for a successful event, and listed them for the reader.

The Nixon administration was responsive to the National Urban League’s appeals for funding under Jordan’s leadership. However, the Reagan administration cut funding for the Labor Education Advancement Program, which put people to work so that they paid income tax, putting revenue into government coffers. By that time, Jordan sat on the boards of directors of about ten organizations.

Later on, Jordan heard about a proposal for a Ford Foundation-funded black studies exchange program among Duke University, University of North Carolina or other southern schools, that would involve the teachings of Malcolm X. However, he knew the potential funders were only paying lip service to black studies because they themselves wouldn’t think of sending their own kids to such a program.

Read the book to learn a lot more about the author’s experiences, including the time he was shot in the back, and what he accomplished in his life and times.

Call Me American

The Book of the Week is “Call Me American, A Memoir” by Abdi Nor Iftin with Max Alexander, published in 2018.

“There were more guns in the city than people. There was more ammunition than food. It became a thing to own a gun to save your life. Most people slept with a loaded AK-47 sitting next to them.”

The above was the author’s description of lawless Somalia (not the future United States) during the 1990’s.

Somalia, formerly two different colonies– of Britain and Italy, became a sovereign territory in 1960. Born around 1985 in Somalia (where birthdays aren’t important), the author had an older brother and later, younger sisters. Years before, his father’s side of the Muslim family, the Rahanweyn clan (farmers and nomads) was forced, due to drought, to give up herding as their livelihood. Fortunately, the father was able to become a professional basketball player. The mother was a traditional female of Islam– expected to bear and raise the children, and do all the chores and housework.

At the dawn of the 1990’s in Somalia, tensions boiled over between two of the five clans who desired to run the government. Warlords took to fighting that involved looting of shops, bullets and rocket fire. Rebels ousted the “president.” Former government employees fled to America, Canada or the United Kingdom.

Common people like the author’s family who were forced to evacuate their Mogadishu homes were caught in the crossfire of the anarchy, and died anonymously and were left in mass graves in droves from the usual causes– bullets or other weaponry, disease and starvation.

The family had no car, so like thousands of others, they walked miles and miles along unpaved roads with cows, donkeys, dogs and chickens, trying not to get arbitrarily shot by sadistic child-soldiers for being in the wrong tribe, or blown up by rockets (supplied to the anti-government Somali rebels by Ethiopia, sworn enemy of Somalia). Occasionally, they got an extremely crowded truck ride from a driver who had no beef against their tribe. Word-of-mouth rumors led them to believe that the city of Baidoa was a less dangerous place to be than Mogadishu. But that was a relative assessment.

In October 1993, sixteen American soldiers were killed in a Black Hawk helicopter attack at the hands of Soviet weaponry supplied to Somali soldiers. In March 1994, the Americans left Somalia. Ethiopia and Kenya supplied qat to Somali soldiers.

Beginning in the late 1990’s, the United States government paid the warlords (as though they were bounty hunters) to catch radical and foreign Islamists. In the single-digit 2000’s, the warlords assassinated the chairman of one of the five merged Islamic Courts that resolved local legal disputes in Somalia. The merging set the stage for a radical Islamic takeover, but ordinary Somalis were angry at the Western-backed warlords.

As a way to escape the trauma and wreckage around him, in the late 1990’s, the author got caught up in the American pop-cultural scene at local storefronts that: sold boom boxes and cassette tapes of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, reggae and hip-hop music; and screened American movies such as Terminator. He passionately learned English and hip-hop dancing from them.

When the author’s family’s circumstances improved, his horrified parents administered the usual beatings when he put up posters of American cultural icons on his bedroom wall, including one of Madonna in a bikini. His mother thought of the United States as a Christian (evil) country.

However, the author was sufficiently street-smart to complete his seven-year education of memorizing the Koran in Arabic, all 114 chapters, 6,266 verses of it, even though the headmaster of his madrassa was a corporal-punishment tyrant.

Read the book to learn further details of the major ironies, among others, that graced the author’s incredible story: 1) the combination of his (sinful) passions and (highly praised) education that provided him with survival skills in a country where life was cheap and any minute could be one’s last; and 2) “Pictures and names associated with America were crimes, not counting the pictures and names on the American dollar bills that they had in their pockets.”

West of Kabul, East of New York

“For all of us, surrendering to diversity is probably the only plausible path left to attaining unity. The international community is supposedly committed to helping the country rebuild, but the lost world will not be constituted. Whatever rises from the rubble, will be something new…”

The author wrote the above about Afghanistan, presumably after 9/11.

The Book of the Week is “West of Kabul, East of New York, An Afghan American Story” by Tamim Ansary, published in 2002.

Born in Kabul in Afghanistan in 1948, the author, who had an older sister and much younger brother, lived a childhood typical for his time and place– primitive living conditions, but in a communal space with multi-generational households of extended families.

In the mid-1950’s, the author’s father, through his former classmate, got a job on a U.S.-sponsored irrigation project, helping to further Afghanistan’s technological advancement. The goal was to “…sell the harvest for cash abroad, and use the currency to buy machines.” The author’s family lived in a corporate village with American expat families. They had Western leisure facilities– tennis, swimming, bicycling, square dancing, American music.

However, the project failed because the Helmand river branches changed their courses, so salt contaminated the water. Later on, water shortages, rather than lack of know-how or aid, caused crops to fail, when land reform (alleged equitable re-distribution of land among the peasants) was instituted.

In 1959, royal-family females were allowed to doff their veils, and coeducation was introduced at the local high school: about one hundred boys and four girls. Ironically, it was the Communists who forced the schools to educate the females, but (Muslim) Afghan leaders with old-school tribal and clan sensibilities got angry at that. Religious zealots (mullahs) in Kandahar incited a riot, in which some people died. “Within hours, the government put tanks on the streets [in Kabul] and jets in the air.” It had actually been a planned anti-Western campaign, but luckily, it failed.

Grades at the school, in a rural village, were based on only exams thrice every year in each of eighteen subjects. A few men (in their twenties) from the Soviet-trained military were sent there to get educated. Schools in Afghanistan’s cities got aid from the West.

The author’s mother was an American citizen, so when political turmoil flared in Afghanistan, and the author was awarded a high school scholarship as a sophomore in America, he, his mother and siblings moved to the United States. The author’s father was a citizen of only Afghanistan, but he could have become a college professor in America. Nevertheless, he chose to stay in his native country.

In the early 1970’s, the author found a community that mirrored his childhood’s– with an extended counter-culture “family” in Portland, Oregon. In 1979 (the year the Soviets invaded Afghanistan), while in Morocco, he met Sunni Muslims who didn’t pray in the mosques.

One of them explained that, “Because the religious scholars have sold themselves to the governments… When the people are lost, the gangsters are safe.” There must be the right balance of power and integration between a nation’s leaders and the people, politically, economically and culturally (including religion). If the government acquires too much power, the people become lost. If the people acquire too much power, there’s revolution.

Individuals’ mentalities are shaped by their experiences. The author’s much younger brother, Riaz, when he became an adolescent, apparently had a bad experience of culture shock after the family moved to the United States. Riaz’s early Afghani childhood in the late 1950’s must have been a comforting, happy experience. For, in early adulthood, he turned to radical Islam in finding his identity.

Read the book to learn how the author coped with reconciling the cultural clashes he encountered in his life.

The Truths We Hold

The Book of the Week is “The Truths We Hold, An American Journey” by Kamala Harris, published in 2019. This autobiography comes from yet another female in politics who deserves bragging rights. Her passion for justice and common-sense, early-intervention approaches to helping at-risk populations has made a difference in countless lives.

Born in Oakland, California in 1964, the author considers herself “black” although her father was from Jamaica and her mother, from India. Her parents divorced when she was five. She, her mother and younger sister moved to Montreal when she was twelve.

Harris acquired the power to put someone behind bars simply by signing a document, when she became a prosecutor in Berkeley, California. Upon getting elected district attorney in San Francisco, she co-founded a program– Back On Track– that helped first-time law-breakers escape the poverty cycle by helping themselves through: job training, community service, classes that taught GED tutoring and parenting and money management, and drug testing and counseling.

For the first two years of Back On Track’s existence, the recidivism rate among first offenders dropped from 50% to 10%. That turned out to be far less expensive than prosecuting and jailing or imprisoning such people. The program was duplicated in Los Angeles.

In 2010, at a little after 10PM on election night, the San Francisco Chronicle announced the alleged elected attorney-general of California. As is well known, though, newspapers are hugely influential and wrong all the time. But election coverage especially, is emotionally charged. At 11PM, Harris’s opponent, thinking he was the winner, gave an acceptance speech. Weeks later, Harris won the race.

Harris’s was the first state to implement the mandatory use of body cameras for its law enforcement agents. On a different issue, the attorneys general of all fifty states were involved in settlement talks for the subprime mortgage crisis. The big banks were offering literally– a little bit of compensation proportional to the disastrous losses of the residents of respective states, who were behind on their mortgages. Even reasonable reimbursement would not make anyone whole again because bad loans led to adverse subsequent events: joblessness, homelessness, relocations, major life disruptions, suicides.

California had had the highest number of foreclosures of any state (and various victims– not just homeowners– had red ink in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the aggregate). By rejecting the banks’ initial, insulting offer– Harris infuriated both the banks, and most other states’ negotiators. But she inspired grass-roots organizers of homeowners, activists and advocacy groups to push for “…justice for millions of people who needed and deserved help.”

Read the book to learn about: the exciting conclusion of California’s mortgage negotiations saga; Harris’ opinions and actual professional doings in connection with major modern social issues such as immigration and healthcare, and her mother’s cancer care– along with other personal information.

ENDNOTE: Unfortunately, Harris’ running mate, Joe Biden, appears to be less sharp than she is at this time. Here’s a parody that briefly describes his woes:

LAWYERS, LAWYERS AND LAWYERS

sung to the tune of “Lawyers, Guns and Money” with apologies to the Estate of Warren Zevon.

I served some global patrons

the way I always do.

How was I to know, they were with the Russians, too?

I was caught on video bragging.

I hope you take my case.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

I’m trying to save some face. Hah!

I’m an innocent candidate,

but somehow I got caught.

Now I’ve been betrayed

by those who have been bought.

Yes, those who have been bought.

Well, those who have been bought.

Now I’m hiding in my basement.

I hope to stay in the race.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Save me from disgrace.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers. Hah!

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers. Ow!

Cooking With Grease

The Book of the Week is “Cooking With Grease, Stirring the Pots in American Politics” by Donna Brazile, published in 2004.

The author, like any female (Barbara Boxer was another one) who has achieved prolonged success in politics while almost never compromising her principles, deserves bragging rights. On top of that, as is well known, the African American Brazile suffered additional infinite indignities due to her skin color. She recounted many of them in this book.

Born in December 1959 in New Orleans, Brazile was the third oldest of nine children. She grew up in Kenner, a neighboring small city. From there, one had to take the scenic route on more than one public bus in order to get to New Orleans.

Brazile was a bossy, precocious, entrepreneurial tomboy at an early age, but was frequently physically punished for wrongdoing as well as for ideological disagreements with her mother or grandmother. After the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in spring 1968, she attended a Baptist church service at which blacks still sat in the back pews. So Brazile’s political awakening and education started when she was eight years old.

By 1970, she was assisting a woman in her neighborhood with a voter-registration drive with respect to elections for mayor and city council. A few area residents were afraid to vote for fear of retaliatory violence. In August 1971, the author was forced to attend an integrated school in the next town over. She wrote, “Busing was one of the worst public policy decisions ever made.”

On her first day at school there in Metairie, white parents of the local students threw eggs and tomatoes at her and other blacks, and cursed them out. The school principal saw Brazile as a peacemaker and cut her some slack in small increments in order to make the best of a bad situation. She organized protests, and rebelled in various ways, such as refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

In 1984, Brazile worked seven days a week, upwards of eighteen hours a day for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. In 1988, when she worked for presidential candidate Dick Gephardt, she was forced to enlist the help of a white friend to rent an apartment in Boston.

Brazile felt that her bosses were giving insufficient attention to racial issues and thus losing the black vote. Of course, the opposing candidate would smear them if they did address taxes, crime, welfare and affirmative action. The tension was too much for her, and her mouth got her into trouble. She took heart later in her career, as “To his credit, Bill Clinton surrounded himself with African Americans, and we were always strategizing.”

George W. Bush’s presidential run started way before 2000. His camp spread lies and smears early and often. In fall 1999, when Brazile was asked to make Al Gore’s presidential campaign leaner and meaner, she used all the brains she had, and all the brains she could borrow. However, there were lots of problems. When speaking to her– unlike when it spoke to anyone else– the media focused on her skin color. By June 2000, Gore’s side felt the author had become disposable because African Americans’ votes, which the author had garnered, were pretty much assured.

The Gore team was largely comprised of highly compensated consultants who believed the conventional wisdom that spending the bulk of their limited budget on airing attack-ads just before election day was the way to go. Brazile contended that personally visiting fickle voters in swing states would be more effective.

On election day, the Bush camp pulled all sorts of dirty tricks to minimize the votes for Gore; mostly in Florida:

  • Absentee ballots were deemed disqualified because signatures weren’t “certified” even though they didn’t need be certified;
  • Ballots in the Creole language weren’t available to voters;
  • Voters were told they needed two or three (!) government-issued forms of ID in order to vote (but it’s very difficult for poor people get a driver’s license or passport, let alone both);
  • In Chicago, police targeted cab drivers for violations when the cabs were taking poor passengers to voting sites;
  • In Tallahassee, law enforcement wouldn’t let people enter a voting site;
  • Some polling places claimed to be out of ballots or claimed it was too late to vote when voters arrived shortly before the places closed;
  • Some voting venues held criminal background checks of voters, and deemed those voters supposedly ineligible to vote; and
  • of course, it was discovered that some ballots were thrown away.

Read the book to learn about a slew of triumphs, and other trials and tribulations Brazile experienced up until the book’s writing, and the kind of cuisine she and her family enjoy.

Pepper

The Book of the Week is “Pepper, Eyewitness to a Century” by Claude Denson Pepper With Hays Gorey, published in 1987.

Pepper, the oldest of four children, was born in September 1900 in rural Alabama to a Baptist, farming family. In 1928, he ran for the office of Florida state representative. He got permission from a competing candidate in his own Democratic party to be listed as a second choice on the ballot, and got elected.

In 1933, hankering for higher office, Pepper traveled around Florida, generating support for his party. The Kiwanis club paid half of his expenses in exchange for his urging its chapters to participate in the state convention to be held in Tallahassee. In those days, while campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat, he was also allowed to drive around the state’s public places, announcing through bullhorns attached to the car, the times and places of his speaking engagements. His opponent– an old and tired incumbent, paid the poll tax of Italian and Spanish voters who lived in West Tampa and Ibo City. The incumbent won the election through that action and other forms of foul play.

Pepper was elected to the Senate in 1936. He bragged about how he played a key role in introducing the March 1941 “Lend-Lease” legislation that provided crucial assistance to England and the U.S.S.R. during WWII, and how his national-healthcare-proposal gave rise to funding for hospital construction and cancer research. However, voters in Florida’s northern counties that bordered Georgia were less than thrilled with his pro-civil-rights stance.

In autumn 1945, seeking to gain foreign-policy experience (because in the future he hoped to become chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) Pepper met with high-level leaders in nineteen different countries; among them Stalin, Leon Blum and leaders in soon-to-be Soviet satellites. In 1946 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the author attended a rally for vice-president Henry Wallace. Press photos were snapped of him, standing next to Paul Robeson.

The author was complacent about his 1950 Senate reelection bid, because in southern states, incumbents were traditionally returned to office as long as they avoided getting caught for financial crimes or having extramarital affairs. Unfortunately, he was gobsmacked by his political opponents’ smear campaign. A week before primary election day in May 1950, Pepper’s opponent– George Smathers– stabbed him in the back. Years before, Pepper had helped Smathers get his first job in politics.

The Smathers camp distributed a book compiled by hate-mongers and funded by the long-time vicious political operative, Ed Ball. That book contained photos of enemies of the southern Republicans, with whom Pepper had been associating; of diverse ethnicities and political views. The captions– taken out of context, of course– screamed that Pepper was a treasonous “nigger lover” and “Communist” who was going to reveal nuclear secrets and hand over America’s natural resources to the Soviets.

Pepper was blissfully unaware of this abomination until two days before voting day. Even after all that, Pepper still claimed that a democracy necessitated the allowance of all forms of free speech, including childish, negative utterances consisting of “… name-calling, questioning of motives, or assassination of character.”

General criticism against Pepper’s party included blaming FDR and Truman for meekly allowing the Soviets to march into Eastern Europe. One counter-argument to that, was that the United Stated had just been through an exhausting war, and wasn’t all that keen on launching the requisite World War Three that would stop the Soviets from committing further aggression.

Fast forward to the early 1980’s. Pepper was serving as a Democratic Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives. His introduction of a bill was thwarted by the Chair of the Rules Committee. That outrageously powerful Chair could refuse to hold a meeting so that he could stop the passage of a law he didn’t like, even if it had the support of “…the president, leadership of the House, and a majority of the Committee.”

Read the book to learn: about a myriad of other ways American politics have hardly changed in at least the last seventy years; what Pepper did as head of the House Select Committee on Crime in the early 1970’s; how he made his political comeback, and much more about his life and times.

Hugo Black

The Book of the Week is “Hugo Black, A Biography” by Roger K. Newman, published in 1994. It is ironic that the Caucasian subject’s name was Black, as he was involved in many civil-rights controversies.

Born in 1886 in Clay County, Alabama, Black grew up in a small, poor, agricultural community. When he himself was fourteen, his father died of complications from alcoholism. He completed two years of medical school and passed his exams in becoming a doctor like his older brother, but lacked passion. He was more suited to lawyering, so he also graduated with honors in two years from the University of Alabama.

Black’s legal career started to flourish only after he moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where the culture allowed him to meet important people including a mentor, and get experience in labor law. In the single-digit 1900’s, the segregated-by-skin-color city was still an Old South aristocracy that offered hard manual work for blacks (which comprised nearly half the population) in coal, iron, railroads and steel. There were also: numerous taverns, brothels and churches, and a growing temperance movement.

Black joined as many social and civic organizations as he could because he knew they could further his careers in law (representing labor unions) and politics. In 1910, his mentor pressured him into becoming a low-level criminal-court judge for a year to give him more experience from a different perspective. By 1914, Black was elected Jefferson County solicitor (equivalent to district attorney) as a Democrat. He quit in 1917 to join the U.S. Army.

As a litigator, Black was a master of courtroom histrionics. He was not below furthering his career to take on a morally repugnant case, such as defending a friend who had committed murder. In 1923, Black joined the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan stood for unions and of course, white supremacy; spewed hatred against corporations and immigration, and committed physical violence against Catholics, Jews, blacks, etc. Into the 1930’s in the state of Alabama, the group’s political power was so dominant that one was required to be a member in order to win any election in Alabama.

When asked about his membership later by anti-New Dealers, Black rationalized and minimized and lied and said everybody joined in those days, and then changed the subject. Alabama senator Oscar Underwood’s career ended in May 1925 when he spoke out against the K.K.K. Not only that– Underwood was forced to move to Virginia. Ironically, there were poor whites who voted for Black (for Alabama senator) only because the K.K.K. paid their $1.50 poll tax in 1927.

Black was a voracious reader, attacking the Senate library, absorbing biographies and writings of ancient Greek and Roman bigwigs. He was anti-immigration and also anti-trust. In 1933, he led an investigation in the latter area involving “Destroyed records, competitive bidding shunned, questionably large salaries and profits– the picture that emerged was depressingly familiar.” By the end of the 1930’s, other anti-trust cases that grabbed newspaper headlines made the dueling ideologies of the New Deal and Wall Street, cliches.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. military ordered Japanese people on the West Coast to be confined to concentration camps. Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson considered such action to be racism, and arguably a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as it was violating the Japanese’s due-process rights, treating them as though they were already guilty of a crime. Justice Black thought that wartime made such action permissible, because no one could know who was loyal and who was disloyal to the United States.

In addition to civil-rights cases in the 1940’s, the Supreme Court handled a voting-redistricting case. The majority opinion was that it was up to state legislatures to “…apportion properly or to invoke the ample powers of Congress.” But, as with (now) countless cases, “How the people could obtain a remedy from the body that perpetuated the abuse was never explained: it is to admit there is no remedy.” Additional cases on redistricting were adjudicated in the early 1960’s. Meanwhile, as is well known, a series of hotly debated civil-rights cases came down the pike.

In 1963, Black’s take on sit-ins and protests was influenced by his childhood experiences. His father owned a store. He developed the firm belief that the store was his family’s private property, and his father could bar anyone from it, for trespassing. Entering private property was not a Constitutional right, even if people sitting at a lunch counter were perfectly willing to pay for food that the owner refused to serve them.

A sit-in in Black’s mind was an issue of private property, not free speech. He also felt that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s peaceful protests should have been prohibited because there was the potential for crowds to become violent. That was also not a matter of free speech, but of action– also not protected by the Constitution. Unsurprisingly for the times, in Birmingham in spring 1963, “Television showed police dogs attacking peaceful marchers and fire hoses thrashing at them… ” which were actions ordered by Alabama governor George C. Wallace.

Read the book to learn every last detail of how Black became a U.S. Supreme Court associate justice, plus much more about Black’s life, times and Supreme Court cases.