Daughter of Destiny / Getting Away With Murder

The first Book of the Week is “Daughter of Destiny, An Autobiography” by Benazir Bhutto, published in 1989.

“If you do not appoint me president along with my team, then I’m afraid I’ll have to explore other options. I may even have to start my own party. I will be your biggest opposition.”

-said to Benazir in late 1984 by one of the Old Guard PPP members in exile in London

Upon the initial sovereignty of Pakistan in 1947, there was an egalitarian climate in terms of gender– women could join the country’s National Guard. Born the oldest of four siblings in June 1953 in Karachi, Benazir Bhutto began studying at Radcliffe College (the sister school to Harvard) in 1969. There, she made many friends who achieved high positions in the world, affording her political assistance through the years.

The Bhuttos were something akin to a royal family in Pakistan in the second half of the twentieth century. They were one of the largest tribes in Sindh. They were Muslim, and most of their members lived in Larkana where they had plantations of rice, sugar cane, cotton and guava. Females inherited land when their relatives died, but their marriages were arranged.

Benazir’s grandfather was progressive in permitting his female descendants to get an education. Ironically, many families didn’t educate their sons because the sons were almost guaranteed a living from supervising servants who worked the land.

Benazir’s father– Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a Sunni, studied abroad at the University of California at Berkeley, and then Oxford University’s law school in England. Benazir’s mother, a Shiite, was: a second-generation Iranian, allowed to forgo covering herself up with clothing, and allowed to drive a car.

As is well known, through the centuries, there has been almost non-stop tribal and religious warfare in the territory that has become Pakistan. In the 1960’s, the major sites of bloodshed included the Kashmir, the Punjab and Sindh. In 1967, Zulfikar (Benazir’s father), a wildly popular government minister experienced in various political areas, helped form the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). In 1974, Zulfikar, as a master diplomatic negotiator, participated in talks over the territory that was to become Bangladesh.

In March 1976, Zulfikar was elected president of Pakistan. He nationalized major corporations, re-allocated land to peasants and outlawed gender discrimination in employment and government. Pairs of groups engaged in constant conflict: separatists in certain regions of Pakistan fought with those who believed the people would be better served by a federal government; rich opposed poor; landowners tangled with the educated, etc. Surprisingly, most of Pakistan’s population was still illiterate.

In the first half of the 1970’s, Zulfikar and his ilk continued to anger the United States with their actions. The leader spoke out against the Vietnam War, made friendly overtures to China, and took the Arab side in the Yom Kippur War.

Beginning around the middle of 1976, the French were teaching the Pakistanis how to make nuclear weapons. The latter were having a little spat with India besides. So the following year, the newly elected president Jimmy Carter secretly sicced the CIA on Zulfikar. It collaborated with the PPP’s rival party, the PNA (comprised of thugs, arsonists and sociopathic sadists with weaponry) to commit black-market currency manipulation to lower the value of the American dollar. Predictably, there were ugly consequences.

Carter and Ronald Reagan after him, like all American presidents, had to decide the kinds and amounts of aid to give to, or withhold from nations such as Pakistan, with its human rights abuses and temptation from the Soviets to adopt Communist policies in exchange for financial aid and weaponry.

As is well known, Pakistan borders on Afghanistan, in which the Soviets militarily insinuated themselves in late 1979. There were complicated economic, trade and geopolitical considerations– including a huge number of Afghan refugees– which as usual, were favored over stemming abusive treatment of ordinary Pakistanis by their government.

In July 1977, Zia ul-Haq, a general, had finally gained sufficient sway over Pakistan’s military to arrest and jail Zulfikar. Zia canceled the elections and declared Martial Law when he saw that there was still huge support among common Pakistanis for the Party (PPP). In October 1979, the Bhutto family’s newspaper was shuttered. The remaining media outlets of course, were censored by dictator Zia. Political parties were outlawed.

Dissidents, including Benazir and her mother (who, for some years stayed and fought, and other years, fled the country until there was less danger of assassination) were subjected to the usual Third-World-country human-rights abuses.

There was the vicious cycle of arrests on false charges, jailings with horrible conditions, arbitrary releases and re-arrests on different, absurd charges; firing on protesters– killing hundreds or thousands (accurate documentation was hard to come by, as foreign journalists were censored or banned from the country during the worst years of the oppression). For, the government controlled the courts, the army, and the media.

By the 1980’s, Pakistan was making a transition from military dictatorship to theocracy, as Zia supported the Wahhabis. However, on and off through the years, Zia must have still cared about world opinion because international complaints prompted him to, among making other concessions, allow Benazir and her mother at different times to be released from jail to receive
treatment abroad for serious medical conditions.

Anne Fadiman, a writer for Life magazine recounted an interesting experience riding in a car with Benazir going to a political rally in August 1986. Benazir stood on the seat with her head through the open sunroof (or emergency exit) when police officers started spraying tear gas. Incidentally, that tear gas was made in America, by Smith & Wesson.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on Pakistan’s political history from the 1970’s up until the book’s writing as seen through Benazir’s eyes and personal experiences (Hint– it involved the usual, repetitive dictatorial shenanigans), and how she portrayed herself as the new Mahatma Gandhi toward the end of the story, in the spring of 1986, amid riots in Karachi over identity politics, and identity cards for voting).

The second Book of the Week is “Getting Away With Murder, Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan” by Heraldo Munoz, published in 2014.

The author wrote, “The commission soon encountered a country deeply skeptical of authority and the justice system because of widespread corruption , abundant behind-the-scenes political deal making, and the regular impunity that had met previous unsolved political assassinations [which included Benazir Bhutto’s brother; her father’s was a death sentence but an assassination nevertheless].”

From its founding in 1947 through the first decade of the twenty-first century, Pakistan has had a European-style / military / theocratic government, each of which has waxed and waned with the vicissitudes of geopolitical shenanigans.

In mid-2004, the United States persuaded Pakistan’s leader Pervez Musharraf (who was turning into a dictator) to plan to give up his generalship in the Pakistani military and exile himself at some future date at U.S. taxpayer expense (because he knew the tide was turning against him), rather than the alternative. Benazir was considering returning to Pakistan to run for the top leadership position in an election, when Musharraf’s latest term was supposedly going to expire.

Talks also dragged on for three years between Musharraf and Benazir over a proposed power-sharing arrangement. Always a bad idea. For, a co-prime-ministership would certainly have failed. In the vast majority of cases, with a more-or-less democratic government, there can be only one leader.

Two very different people such as they, unrelated by marriage or blood are highly unlikely to have enough common vision, complementary talents and skills, and strategic interests to cooperate enough of the time to make it work.

Elections to governing bodies and top leaders in Pakistan were scheduled for January 2008. Benazir Bhutto had, in the past, been at various times– top leader, party leader, jailed, in exile, and physically present– mentored by her father who led Pakistan before her in the 1970’s.

Conspiracy theories abounded surrounding the circumstances of Benazir’s December 2007 assassination in Rawalpindi. A few bullets allegedly penetrated her head (or not– she allegedly bumped her head on the lever controlling the sunroof / emergency exit of the vehicle in which she was standing up with her head exposed to rally-supporters / protesters / political enemies), plus a suicide bomber’s explosives detonated near her vehicle that might have contributed to her death.

However, the fact that she was killed should have come as no surprise. She knew she was at risk for harm, considering that all political leaders are surrounded by security at all times, even those from democratic countries. Ones from Third World countries like Benazir, are especially vulnerable to physical danger from political rivals.

Just one day prior, terror attacks against her supporters in the form of two explosions in Karachi left hundreds wounded and dead. The then-leader of Pakistan’s military dictatorship who had grabbed power in a 1999 coup– the aforementioned Musharraf– refused to allow the FBI or Scotland Yard to investigate, not wanting to appear to be a puppet of the West (though he so obviously was).

A year and half later (!!) (rather than the next day), in February 2009, the United Nations (UN) began an inquiry into Benazir’s death. It wasn’t meant to result in any trial or punishment, but was simply a way for the investigators to remain relevant, and counter the Pakistan government’s historical revisionism with their own.

The author was named to the UN Commission of Inquiry, which traveled three times to Pakistan. Read the book to learn much more about the history of Pakistan and his experiences in trying to get the facts on the events that led to Benazir’s death.

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.

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.

Revolution 2.0 – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Revolution 2.0, The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power, a Memoir” by Wael Ghonim, published in 2012.

Born in 1980, the author attended high school in Egypt. The country had a rote education system, and cheating was rampant. The underpaid teachers derived the bulk of their income from private tutoring.

The 1980’s had seen the government of Egypt start to change for the worse. There was increasing poverty, brain drain, and oppression of religious groups. In 1987, Hosni Mubarak first came to power. He initially promised to serve only the two-term limit as president. But as he acquired more power, he acquired more ownership. And more power. And broke his promise. Every presidential “election” every six years thereafter, was rigged to allow Mubarak’s reelection three more times. There was only one political party. His.

While attending university in 1998, the author launched an Islamic website that featured audio tracks of the Qur’an. He was a technology geek, and became especially well-versed in Web communications. In 2004, a group of dissidents formed a group called Kefaya, meaning “enough” in Arabic. In 2006, ordinary Egyptians began protesting against the corruption of the regime.

In 2008, after eight months of numerous interviews, the author got a job with Google. In January 2010, in order to escape Mubarak’s oppressive regime, he and his wife and children moved to Dubai. It was around then that the author became politically vocal about Egypt’s rotten government. He wrote, “Out of hopelessness came anger.”

The author and a friend launched a Facebook page to promote an opposition candidate to Mubarak, as another “election” was coming up in 2011. The regime’s public relations machine was a master at smearing its political enemies; so it did, early and often.

In June 2010, the author created a Facebook page to tell the world about how the Egyptian government tortured and killed a dissident, and he posted a gruesome photo of the said dissident. Users commented on it in droves. In the coming months, the author and others used social media to plan peaceful protests to bring down the Mubarak government.

The author helped spark a movement that experienced growing-pains typical for such a movement. For a while, it became a victim of its own success: when a movement grows significantly in a short time– due to the increasing number of people in it– members begin to form factions and disagree, and go off and do their own thing. So some disgruntled members sabotage the original group’s goals.

Also, the political enemies of the movement see it growing, so they send infiltrators to divide and conquer it. That is why progress has been so slow for so many seemingly large political movements, such as civil rights and feminism.

In autumn 2010, the author was starting to get emotionally burnt out. He mistakenly used his personal account that revealed his true identity. Up to then, he had been super-careful to use false identities in his social media accounts, so as to avoid being arrested, jailed, interrogated, tortured and possibly murdered.

Egyptians were encouraged by Tunisia’s street protests, which were going on around the same time. But Egypt’s problems were worse. The author took the plunge to call Egypt’s movement “Revolution Against Torture, Poverty, Corruption and Unemployment.” He helped shape the protest messaging that convinced the public to peacefully take to the streets on Egyptian Police Day, January 25, 2011. He explained that he opposed only human rights abuses committed by law enforcement officials, not the respectful maintenance of order.

The author learned that: his contacts and access to communications were more important than plans, because best-laid plans always go awry– conditions on the ground change rapidly, and “People’s attachment to ideas is much stronger than their attachment to individuals, who can be doubted and defamed.”

Read the book to learn the details of the backstory, and what happened next.

Panama, The Whole Story

The Book of the Week is “Panama, The Whole Story” by Kevin Buckley, published in 1991.

“Weapons cost money, and selling, or helping in the sale of, cocaine produced the enormous revenues that produced the weapons.”

As is well known, democracy is not usually a “thing” in countries that have extensive black markets in weapons and drugs. So by the mid-1980’s, Panama had become a military dictatorship.

Over the course of two decades, Manuel Noriega, a general in the Panamanian army, became the king of trade in illicit weapons and cocaine. He was cozy with president Ronald Reagan, vice president George H.W. Bush, CIA head William Casey, secretary of state George Shultz, colonel Oliver North and a few other top American officials, plus the Drug Enforcement Agency and Fidel Castro.

Noriega controlled Panama’s ports, customs and railroads. The U.S. State Department was well aware of his drug trafficking, money laundering and human rights abuses. President Reagan loved him because he provided training facilities for the Contras– the militia who were fighting supposed Communists in Nicaragua. A major goal of the Reagan administration was to provide funding, weapons and military assistance for the Contras so that Central American countries wouldn’t fall to the Communists like dominoes. Assistance by any means necessary. Even via adolescent-boy spy, secret, treasonous means.

Anyway, through the 1980’s, Noriega engaged in various actions that angered common Panamanians– including ordering a hit on one of his Panamanian political enemies. He had one major American political enemy– Senator Jesse Helms. When the senator’s assistant visited Panama on a fact-finding mission, the American press (was told to) spread smears and lies about her. In June 1986, New York Times journalist Seymour Hersh finally outed Noriega as the detestable creature that he was, revealing details of his wickedness. But the U.S. was still not ready to oust Noriega.

In June 1987, patience among ordinary Panamanians was running short. Panama’s true fearless leader Noriega had crashed the economy (never the mind the figurehead Panamanian “president”) with his dictatorial shenanigans in collaboration with the United States. A minority of Americans were also fed up. They helped form the National Civic Crusade at Panama’s Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. Their goal was to oust Noriega and bring ethical behavior back to Panama’s government.

The U.S. Senate even voted to suspend Noriega’s leadership while it investigated charges that he fixed his country’s “presidential” election in 1984. February 1988 saw Noriega indicted in absentia on drug charges in Miami– which indicated that Americans finally viewed drug trafficking as more anathema than Communism(!).

In spring 1988, as per usual for a non-democratic country, government troops fired at civilian protesters in Panama City streets, killing tens or thousands (no source was able to verify its own estimate). However, a U.S. Army memo admitted that the U.S. Defense Department wanted to deny compensation to the deserving victims’ families who asserted that the U.S. was legally liable for the harm done, as there might be too huge a number of such claims.

Read the book to learn of wrenches in the works that kept Noriega in power way longer than otherwise (hint: the Panama Canal Treaties, the 1988 U.S. presidential election, Elliott Abrams’ misleading pronouncements, etc., etc., etc.) and the events that finally forced matters to come to a head (hint: 23 Americans died in the fighting.)

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.

Patriot Number One

Americans believe in the two-party system. One on Friday, one on Saturday.

Insanely enough, Americans are not allowed to have parties anymore. Because, ironically, America is becoming like China!

The following is an excerpt from a China-bashing opinion piece penned by Newt Gingrich for the Fox News website, dated April 30, 2020. However, every occasion of “Chinese” has been replaced with “American” and “Communist” with “Two-Party” and vice versa.

“Chinese and their allies seem to forget that the heart of the rise of the American Two-Party [system] was a deep dedication to effective education and propaganda. They have had nearly a century of experience at waging intellectual and psychological warfare as the necessary foundation of winning and keeping power.”

The following is a quote from Bertrand Russell: “There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dare not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.”

During the Cold War, America always stoked the fear that all countries had the potential to fall to Communism like dominoes. Currently, the local leaders of this country, America (!)– have fallen into line like dominoes. At any time, either major American political party has possessed the power to reject this oppression, but instead, both parties have collaborated to encourage it. Because they are comprised of people who will say or do anything to get elected or reelected in the event there continue to be free and fair elections.

AS IS WELL KNOWN, A SIGN OF DEMOCRACY IS FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS. IF THE INCUMBENTS ALMOST AUTOMATICALLY WIN THIS FALL, IS THAT FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS?

From the early 1960’s into the 1970’s, only men of military age had reason to fear the power of the government. Currently, every man, woman and child has reason to fear. It is not just the president who has the potential to wield outrageous power, but all government leaders across the entire country, not unlike in China.

The United States is now at a turning point in its history. Either it will become even more like China in its totalitarian ways, or its leaders will get back to restoring its citizens’ freedoms.

It might be recalled that Chinese Communist dictator Mao Tse Tung took the following steps, among many other steps, in acquiring more and more power:

  • Land reform– seizing private property from wealthy capitalists and landlords to redistribute it among everyone else (but this actually resulted in famine in which tens of millions of people died; famine is probably one thing Americans won’t suffer from)
  • nationalizing businesses
  • having a state-approved, heavily armed military force roam the streets, arbitrarily violating peoples’ civil rights
  • Inviting citizens to air their grievances, and then arresting, jailing and torturing them for speaking out against the government
  • Eliminating free speech, freedom of the press, and the right to assemble, and
  • Reducing the number of China’s political parties to one: The Communist Party, and forcing people to join it or be even more oppressed

For more information, see the following posts:

  • The Most Wanted Man in China
  • The Man on Mao’s Right
  • Colors of the Mountain

Is the above what America wants to be??

One more thing– ironically, China is in the stage of its economic development that the United States was in, about a hundred years ago: industrialization and operating factories galore (of course, China also has modern electronic technology). But the poorest of China’s citizens have yet to form labor unions to protest unjust working conditions. Some people in the United States government are pushing for a return to American manufacturing, strangely enough.

Anyway, the Book of the Week is “Patriot Number One, American Dreams in Chinatown” by Lauren Hilgers, published in 2018. This book described the Chinese immigrant experience in very recent years for a rural-village couple who are now in their thirties, and a student, who settled in the Flushing section of New York City, in Queens county.

Born in 1983 in the rural village of Wukan near Shenzhen, Zhuang Liehong grew up in a poverty-stricken family. His father was a sometime crab fisherman. He was handed off from one extended relative to another in Hong Kong beginning when he was about six years old.

Zhuang ended his formal education with middle school, not wanting to impose the financial burden of high school tuition on his family. In the 1990’s, his hometown became the victim of eminent-domain abuse of sorts, when investors invaded with infrastructure and modernization projects as a result of Deng Xiaoping’s 1980’s economic initiatives.

Zhuang was elected to a seat on Wukan’s village council, and became a political activist. Autumn 2011 saw common farmers and former landowners protest in the streets against the local government’s stealing their properties in the name of money. However, they themselves weren’t entirely innocent of law-breaking, as they had engaged in illegal building on their former land, or had been “smugglers, gamblers, ticket scalpers.”

As is very common with such unrest, the local authorities bashed some heads, rounded up the worst offenders and sentenced a few of them to a few years in jail, and trampled on what would be considered “due process” in the United States.

A few years later, after Zhuang (and his wife) had executed his carefully planned scheme to flee to the United States, the local government also set up a bribery scandal that involved the village council, prompting more oppression of the community.

A possible legal way, then, for Zhuang to move permanently to the United States, was for him to apply for political asylum. More people from China than from any other nation apply for political asylum, followed by Guatemala, El Salvador and Egypt.

Read the book to learn of Zhuang’s family’s adventures in the United States, and of the adventures of a young female student who became friendly with Zhuang’s wife.

The Man on Mao’s Right

The Book of the Week is “The Man on Mao’s Right, From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square, My Life Inside China’s Foreign Ministry” by Ji Chaozhu, published in 2008.

Born in 1929 in the Chinese village of Taijun, Ji lived a charmed early childhood, as his politically connected father was a law professor and commissioner of education. In 1937, his family was forced to move in with his paternal grandfather in Fenyang when the Japanese continued their siege of China.

By the end of the 1930’s, the family had fled from their palace to the United States. They moved into a tiny tenement in the East Village in Manhattan. One aspect of their living standards that was actually higher, was the modern plumbing.

Ji had a much, much older, politically connected brother– old enough to be his father– who purported to aid the Chinese Communists, then Americans, alternating between the two throughout his life. But his loyalties truly lay with the Communists.

Ji’s father behaved similarly, translating between English and Japanese for the U.S. Office of War Information after the Pearl Harbor attack, but also starting a secret pro-Communist Chinese newspaper sold in Chinatown. In 1946, he returned to China to become president of Peking University.

Ji learned English in a progressive private school. As he got older, he too began to believe that the Americans were imperialists, as they invaded Korea. He therefore quit Harvard in his junior year to return to China.

Ji had no problem enduring mean living conditions there– more than a hundred students in his Tsinghua University dorm had to share one bathroom. They had a communal bathhouse. A food shortage meant that his diet consisted of only sorghum, corn millet, dried sweet potato flour and pickled vegetables. There were no chairs in the cafeteria– students ate standing up.

When Mao Tse Tung’s Communist party took over China in 1949, the U.S. Seventh Fleet in Taiwan protected Chiang Kai-Shek, the corrupt, exiled leader of the defeated Nationalist party.

In April 1951, Douglas MacArthur was dismissed from his military leadership position by president Harry Truman for having grand plans to wage nuclear war against the Communists. Congress member Albert Gore, Sr. echoed MacArthur’s hawkish sentiments, proposing that the United States warn people to evacuate Korea, and then showering it with nuclear waste to force a stop to the war.

Ji began to attend self-criticism meetings and worship Mao as though he were a supreme being. But Ji wasn’t automatically accepted as a member of the Communist party because his reputation was tainted with Western values. His father and much, much older brother had worked for the American government in various capacities, and his family had lived in America for a time.

Nevertheless, Ji’s fluency in English, high-level education, and understanding of Western culture were major assets that few Chinese people had. So China’s Foreign Ministry recruited him to translate and take notes at the Korean peace talks in spring 1952. He and his fellow interpreters risked their lives in traveling to the site of the negotiations in Panmunjon in North Korea. They survived shelling, strafing and bombing.

Ji then survived the pressure to perfectly, manually type up the excessive number of revisions in Korean, English and Chinese that led to an almost-final written agreement in July 1953. This, after about two million war deaths over the course of two years, with neither of the multi-national sides making any significant progress geographically.

After a short stop at home, Ji was then sent to Geneva for more abuse, but without life-threatening dangers overhead.

Back in China, the landlords and the capitalists were under physical siege by the peasants in rural farming villages. Mao egged on the violence. However, in late 1956, after the common Hungarian people staged an uprising against their Communist oppressors, Mao realized he needed to take steps to avoid that kind of situation in China. So, “… for the first time, American magazines, books, and the occasional film became available. Before that, any Western literature or movies were banned.”

In a move that was nothing new under the sun, Mao gave the Chinese people a chance to air their grievances. One professor complained that Party members and cadres were living high on the hog while the peasants were starving.

Mao then wrote articles saying that the government then knew who the infidels were. He launched his Anti-Rightist campaign. A lot of bourgeois people were fired from their jobs, and sent to reeducation camps. Many people suicided, were executed or never heard from again. Unsurprisingly, the famine in China resulted in about thirty million deaths.

Beginning in the late 1950’s, over the next decade, Ji dutifully did the jobs he was assigned. For months at a time, he alternated between going to rural areas to help with manual labor, and sitting at Zhou Enlai’s side, sometimes even at Mao’s side– interpreting at diplomatic meetings.

In August 1966, a group of adolescents comprised of sociopathic sadists supplied with weaponry– also known as the Red Guards– terrorized anyone accused of disloyalty to Communist ideology (i.e., ownership by the dictatorial State, rather than ownership by private parties, of the means of production; plus other conditions). Anyone could be an accuser. Mao encouraged everyone to be snitches. The victims of violence also included embassy personnel of the former Soviet Union, India and Burma. Not to mention, in August 1967, people in the British consulate.

While ugliness raged in China and was exacerbated with U.S. intervention in Vietnam, there was a similarity with the two countries’ leadership. Zhou Enlai’s role under Mao was like vice president Hubert Humphrey’s under president Lyndon Johnson’s. The second fiddles both obeyed their bosses to keep their jobs, even though their bosses’s actions caused an excessive number of needless deaths and ruined lives.

Read the book to learn much more about the history of China, and Ji’s life and times.

Underground

The Book of the Week is “Underground, My Life With SDS and the Weathermen” by Mark Rudd, published in 2009.

March 1969 saw the start of Nixon’s secret bombing campaign against Cambodia. The author wrote, “I was so sure I knew better than my parents; after all, their generation had brought the world to this state of affairs, if only by their acquiescence.”

Rudd became the poster boy for the media as a protest leader at Columbia University during its period of violent unrest in the spring of 1968. He started his degree there in the autumn of 1965. At the time, the school employed African American female maids to clean the dorm bathrooms, a service included with the boarding fee.

Rudd joined the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in March 1966. He had grown up in a suburban Jewish family. His father had fought in the Second World War, during which Hitler was perceived as “Absolute Evil.” The United States used its powers for good to defeat the latter. However, twenty years later, when Lyndon Johnson’s war crimes began to be revealed, Rudd became disillusioned with his own country.

Rudd and his contemporaries didn’t support any presidential candidate in 1968 because “Electoral politics was beneath our concern.” He and his fellow political activists were concerned, however, about the deleterious effects of a senseless war perpetrated by the federal government, along with the university’s related and other nefarious activities.

For at least the last half century, hypocritical liberals have sought to “… co-opt the energy of radical young people into working for meaningless reforms…” However, with Vietnam, some would say the protests were justified. For, the American president started a needless war that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and ruined lives– recruiting cannon fodder against their will. The stubborn, arrogant president didn’t take a lesson from the stubborn, arrogant French, who epically failed in clinging to their fast-fading colonialism in mid-1950’s Indochina.

Columbia University had secret contracts with the U.S. government– researching both war weaponry for the Pentagon and war policy for the execution of the war. In spring 1968, this accounted for 46% (!) of the nation’s budget. The university was also abusing eminent domain in planning both to construct a segregated sports complex in Morningside Park, and more dormitories on West 114th Street off of Broadway near its campus. For years, it had quashed the formation of a union of black and Latino cafeteria workers.

Rudd and his fellow activists held rallies and went on protest marches. He wrote to school publications. The protesting led to occupations of campus buildings by, eventually, thousands of activists in the last week of April 1968.

Although Rudd’s became the most recognized name and face associated with the historical event (possibly because he was a white male), there were plenty of other activist organizations of different ethnicities whose members were arrested and got beaten up by law enforcement sent in by New York City Mayor John Lindsay; those fighting for civil rights, black-power, and peace.

The New York Times propagandized that the destructive and immature hooligans provoked the police; the police were the good guys. It should have come as no surprise to the cynical that the university was in bed with the newspaper. The school’s board of trustees claimed the newspaper’s publisher as one of their own. He was also an alumnus. The Times’ employees were alumni of the Columbia School of Journalism. Nevertheless, the university actually met about half of the six-odd demands of the activists.

After he was expelled from Columbia, Rudd became a recruiter for SDS, visiting various chapters and speaking at universities around the nation. The two major issues were always Vietnam and racism. Various groups within and without SDS, including the Weathermen (a spinoff of SDS), the Maoist Progressive Labor Party, the Black Panthers and the Revolutionary Youth Movement began arguing among themselves and with each other at conferences they jointly held in the next few years.

Rudd was in the Weathermen. He believed that the way to rebel against “the man” was through armed struggle. According to his FBI dossier, he urged college kids to kill cops. But his group was anti-racist, pro-Communist and anti-reactionary.

In the summer of 1969 in New York City, he and his fellow revolutionaries came across as so violent, they turned people off when they spoke at a Central Park rally. The other SDS factions thought the Weathermen (or, as they had renamed themselves, the Weather Bureau) were anarchistic, chauvinistic, masochistic and Custeristic.

In Chicago, there were clashes between sadistic cops and radical protestors. “Cook County Jail was overflowing with the addition of almost three hundred Weathermen, the total number arrested over the three days. The period was named ‘Days of Rage.’ ” After that, Rudd’s group went underground and broke off from SDS.

Rudd’s group’s heroes continued to be: Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, Vladimir Lenin, Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers.

By the mid-1970’s, Rudd’s group had claimed responsibility for more than twenty-four bombings, which were intended to destroy only property. There occurred three accidental deaths of its own radicals from a botched bomb-making operation in Greenwich Village in spring 1970.

Read the book to learn a wealth of other details of the tenor of the times, the mentalities of Rudd’s contemporaries, and how Rudd fared after his Chicago arrest.