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Friday, March 13, 2009
The Right to Sleep in the Tompkins Square Public Library in 1935

The Right to Sleep in the Tompkins Square Public Library in 1935

                                                 Harry Reynolds

It is generally believed that public libraries are only for the benefit of all who enter to read.

Not so.

In the winter of 1935, my bachelor uncle Lester went for the first time to the Tompkins Square Library or, more exactly, he entered the library to struggle through a hangover and he couldnít manage another block. The librarian, a Ms Watson - brown dress, white neck collar, pumpkin round face, colourless lips, framed glasses, spinster, pale blue eyes, hair in a bun at the back - all of her approached Lester.

"May I ask what you intend to do here? You look as if you are about to fall asleep", she said sharply.

"I was praying", said Lester.

"Well, this isnít a church, mister. Itís a library. You donít pray in a barber shop, do you?"

"As a matter of fact, madam," said Lester, " I do pray in a barber shop."

"What do you pray for in a barber shop?", said Ms Watson bending over the table, closing her eyelids like a cop.

"I pray for a naked librarian", said Lester.

"Well, said Ms Watson, "letís see whether you get one at the station house. Iím calling the cops right now".

"No, you wonít", said Lester. "If you do, Iíll put a curse on you and your family and believe me there will be a death among you man or boy in six months!" (I was then eight and loved Lester for the way he cursed, tersely, in good Saxon prose.)

Dead silence........Ms Watson looked steadfastly at Lester, her eyelids closing, her mouth tightening as if she were about to spit, and then, raising her fist in the air, she burst into an uncontrollable cry, like a baby. Everyone in the library ran to her asking what had happened. "Did he touch you?""We know who he is!" "Tell me and Iíll give him one right now!", and so on.

Lester didnít move. He looked at the mob, such as it was - there were only five of them with a median age of 68 - and he said to them in a deep, beautifully rounded Irish voice, "Iíll put a curse on this informer if she calls the cops. I was about to fall asleep at this table after a dayís work and no one to go home to and you know how lonely that can make a man feel, donít you?"

They indeed did know; it was why they were in the library, time-servers, no one to go home to, life dull as rain. Not a one of them had a job, nor did Lester have one, but when the library closed they were going home to tell of the job they nearly had that day, the interest that was shown by a certain hint of the employer, the way he nodded approvingly when told of the experience and references, they all count for something or else theyíre nothing, isnít that so, and if you yourself had been there and seen how the clerk himself said good night with his thumb up and a smile thrown in, the feeling I suddenly had, as in a hymn, when I walked up the steps to the flat, and how in a dream only last night I was awakened with a start at a voice that I swear to Jesus Christ was my dead motherís voice, a sign, a real sign it was, that I was soon going to have a proper job.

And so it was that from that day in 1935 until 1939, September, when Poland was invaded and Ms Watson died alone in the corner of a second floor room in St Rose of Limaís Home for the Incurably Ill on Pitt Street on the Lower East Side, it was in that four year period that anyone could sleep peacefully in the Tompkins Square Library on East 10th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B, after which God sent us World War II and everyone had a job, and no one slept in the Tompkins Square Public Library.


Harry Reynolds


Posted at 03:35 pm by chekhov
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Tuesday, February 10, 2009
East Seventh Street: Winter of 1937


                 East Seventh Street: Winter of 1937

                                                           Harry Reynolds

           I am nine years old. There is a God. Jesus Christ is his son. We are Irish, but my deaf mother is Ukrainian. I am in the fourth grade at Most Holy Redeemer Paroachial School. The nuns are Germans. We must attend morning Mass six days a week, excluding Saturday. The nuns are quick to hit us, but I know that I'm at the head of the class, and so I feel safe, most of the time. We are told, and we believe, God is watching us all the time, keeping a record. The Pope is God's representative on earth. We are bound to obey the Pope. If we don't, we will go to Hell and an enternity of torment. The Jews killed Jesus and are accursed for it. They must spend the rest of their lives roaming the earth, despised for what they did.  I learned that today at school.

        I was so overcome that I went home and on the way up to our flat I impulsively stopped at Mrs. Singer's door and knocked.  When she opened it, I told her with awe the news about the Jews that I had learned that day at school. She had a small, wet dish cloth in her hands and looked at me with her blue eyes wide open as if she were looking at a ghost. She said nothing, and slowly closed the door, latching it from inside as if I were a robber and might enter. I am afraid that she will never speak to me again.

          We lived in a cold water railroad flat tenement.  A coal stove is in the kitchen. Across the way is a public park. The branches of its trees reach up to the fourth floor where we live. At night in the dead of winter my mother dresses me in flannel underwear, not once but twice. Socks up to my knees are drawn up. Pants are pulled over my legs. Two flannel shirts and an old sweater and a leather aviator's hat that has flaps - these are added quickly. I am shivering.  Then I am pushed up onto a bed layered with old blankets. When I exhale, I see smoke. Yes, I see smoke coming out of my mouth. I draw the blankets up and turn on my side, reciting, "Our Father who art in heaven...." I try to go to sleep knowing that in all the world I am alone that night in the dark and that should I die in my sleep Jesus and his mother will take me to heaven. But I do not sleep until I see the top branches of the trees across from my window. Their shadows are moving across my ceiling, across the wall over my head, right and left, moving, as if forever, telling me all is well. I am on the earth, and the stars comfort me.  I must tell Mrs. Singer that I am sorry that I hurt her feelings. I will tell her that I did not know what I was saying. I will tell her that I was only telling her the news, otherwise I won't get a nickle from her every Friday afternoon for lighting her gas. I begin to fall asleep. I'll get the nickle and Mrs Singer will like me again.


Posted at 12:42 pm by chekhov
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             Sunday in Tompkins Square Park: 1938

When I was ten, I was a translator for my lip-reading, deaf mother who frequently needed me to inform her of what someone was attempting to say to her. My skill at doing so involved not only verbal precision but the dramatic use of my face and hands as accompaniments of the movements of my lips. Generally, my services involved passing on ordinary observations of butchers, grocers, and neighbors, or the sympathetic inquiries of priests and nuns. On occasion, however, a stranger would ask me to translate something odd, something that would startle me and cause my mother to make those sounds that the naturally deaf make when alarmed.

Once on a Sunday in that summer, when my mind had not yet broken through its hidden caul, when music was first heard, magical sounding words first read, feelings first felt, brimming over my chest and signaling a heaven not yet found, on such a day my mother and I were sitting on a bench in Tompkins Square Park.

A deranged, crying drunk approached my mother and begged for a dime. She looked at me. I translated his plea and, with a flash, she warded him off with a swing of her pocket book. He stumbled and fell on his seat. He got up and circled us slowly to advance towards me with an extended hand, tears running down his dirty face. I felt so sorry for him that I dug into my pocket and gave him the dime my mother had just given me after Mass that morning. My mother turned to me and said angrily, in our private silent language of signs and lips and facial movements, "Thereís something about you that attracts crazy people". Pointing at her, I said, laughingly, "Youíre right", whereupon she slammed the pocketbook on my head.

We got up, she adjusted her dress, fixed her hair at its sides with a petting motion of both her hands in a way women no longer do, and, winking at me, took my hand as we both walked through an explosion of pigeons that were in our way. I glanced sideways at her. She was indeed beautiful , and knew it in a modest way. As we walked, I glanced again and saw in her lifted chin and high cheekbones the hard face of the people from whom she had descended. I knew that I loved her but yet would never do so warmly, for that drunk had drawn a line between my mother and me, leaving her on one side and the drunk and me on the other.


Posted at 12:35 pm by chekhov
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Thursday, October 16, 2008


        The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror                     Turned into a War on American Ideals

Jane Mayer                Doubleday               2008                $27.50

                           Reviewed by Harold Reynolds

      Foreigners one day may visit this country to teach our children how our democracy decayed, drop by drop. The text for the course will be Jane Mayerís The Dark Side. A classically great work of investigative journalism, it is an appalling, profoundly disturbing revelation of the Bush Administrationís war on terrorism. It is a grim warning of the threat to us that exists in a President who sets himself against the Constitution in a parallel world that he secretly constructs in the name of security. When reading it, you may have the fleeting sense that you are in Berlin and the year is 1938.

      The questions posed to our children will be whether President George W. Bush, Vice-President Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, together with other high office holders and military commanders, should have been indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the violation of federal criminal statutes described in The Dark Side, and whether, failing in that, we endangered ourselves to greater subversions of liberty.

      In September, 2001, when the dust of the Twin Towers had not yet settled, Cheney, mentor to Bush and long fixated on his felt need to increase the power of a presidency weakened by Vietnam and Watergate, took charge of national security issues. President Bush authorized CIA Director Tenet to use secret paramilitary death squads anywhere on earth to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists. When Congress, however, would not give him unlimited war powers, he secretly obtained from a cadre of lawyers in the Department of Justiceís Office of Legal Counsel bizarre, some said insane, legal memoranda that in sum held that Congress could not limit Bushís conduct of warfare. This cadre informally called themselves the "War Council". They advised Bush that he could defend the nation as he saw fit and ride over laws specifically designed to curb him. They assured him that he could set aside statutes prohibiting torture and secret detentions. Terrorists, they said, were outside the body of law, beyond the protection of the Geneva Conventions. They could be tortured. They knew what Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld wanted and accordingly advised Bush that he had inherent authority to use military commissions empowered to sentence illegal combatants to death, all without review by Congress or the courts. These legal memos, hidden from all but a select White House circle, were five-and-dime store stunts manufactured to create a paper world of authority where none existed and upon which the principal actors, such was their contempt for the public, were ready to rely in justification of their abhorrent conduct. Indeed, these masters of self-deceit honed a memo stating that proof of torture required not only proof of the specific intent to inflict suffering but proof that the suffering was of "significant" duration. In short, the world might condemn an act out of hand as painful torture, but the torturer could raise in defense the claim that he intended an objective that involved a result other than that pain.

      And so it was that the natural passion to defend this country and punish those who had slaughtered our people was tragically placed in the hands of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld whose joint cunning and stupidity has caused one of the greatest horrors in our national history.

      The nightmare CIA secret "extraordinary rendition" program sent detainees to Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan for torture. Bush and CIA Director Tenet knew that those renditions were forbidden by the Convention against Torture. Suspects in our custody were held in CIA top-secret "black site" prisons. Thus, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, Mayer contends, are prosecutable for war crimes and crimes against humanity, to say nothing of their violations of our federal criminal law.

      Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld approved of "enhanced" interrogation techniques in violation of the Convention Against Torture. After all, an Office of Legal Counsel memo declared that Convention unconstitutional because Bush, they said, had the power to order any interrogation technique. Indeed, the Office of Legal Counsel declared waterboarding lawful. Sexual humiliation, hoodings, shackled 8-hour standing with arms extended overhead, slamming prisoners headfirst against walls, sleep deprivation, bright light bombardment , 24-hour a day ear-drum shattering noise for weeks, caging squatting men in dog crates, was the order of the day. One of the Office of Legal Counsel scholars hypothetically suggested as lawful the gouging out a prisonerís eyes, "slitting an ear, nose, or lip, or disabling a tongue or limb". Among the barbaric cruelties was "Palestinian hanging" in which a manís hands are secured behind his back and he is suspended from behind like a carcass in a slaughter house. Examining such a corpse, Dr. Michael Baden, the noted forensic pathologist for the New York State Police, found that "asphyxia is what he died from - as in a crucifixion". Surely, to see a crucifixion where beatings, broken bones, and murder were commonplace might give pause even to a predatory animal passing through at night.

      The International Committee for the Red Cross described the treatment of Abu Zubayda, an Al Qaeda logistics chief, as torture that constituted war crimes. The Los Angeles Times demanded a criminal investigation of Bush Administration for war crimes. So dismissive was

      Bush of lawful restraints that he himself ordered the waterboarding of Zubayda. So in-your-face arrogant was the CIA that hundreds of hours of video tapes of the interrogation of Zubayda , including his extensive waterboarding, were withheld from the 9/11 Commission and, in defiance of a federal court, were actually destroyed by the CIA.

      In 2002, one-third of Guantanamoís 600 prisoners had no connection with terrorism, thus implicating Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld in committing war crimes. Bush had thoughtfully determined that they were all "enemy combatants". Rumsfeld was directly involved in the straight out of hell, unutterably inhumane savaging of Mohammed al-Qahtani, the suspected "20th hijacker" who had set out but failed to join the 9/11 hijackers. His torture produced nothing of substance except the Pentagonís dismissal of the charges against him because his torture tainted his confession. Military interrogators opened themselves to prosecution for the brutal abuse of detainees. Frightened by the criminality of military torturers, the FBI denounced them for fear of being implicated. Alberto Mora, General Counsel of the Navy, warned that criminal charges from assault to war crimes were chargeable against Bush Administration officials. Incredibly, a March 2003 memo declared that federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming, and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators in Guantanamo.

      The scenario left by the Bush Administration is beyond ordinary imagining. When the next president is elected, a "transition team" will be designated by him to assist him in taking power. That team will be confronted with determining the location, inhabitants, and history of that parallel world of perhaps thousands of uncharged men and women cut off from access to their families, tortured, humiliated, beaten, kept off stage to this day by Bushís resistant administration.

Word count: 1180




















Posted at 06:28 pm by chekhov
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Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Entitled to a Pulitzer , May 18, 2008


In the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, 2,750 persons were murdered and, of these, only 292 whole bodies were found. A fierce inquiry into the cause of the horrific slaughter was expected, but the dead had died eight months into the presidency of George W. Bush. Where widows saw lost husbands, Karl Rove saw the loss of Bush's presidency. When the widows and others clamored for an inquiry, Bush, Vice-President Richard Cheney, and Speaker Dennis Hastert, strongly fought to block it, but their supporters in Congress, whose political necks were on the line, could not risk the opposition of the widows. In November, 2002, Public Law 107-306 established, and poorly funded, the 9/11 Commission, five Republicans and five Democrats, to inquire into the causes of the attacks. In July, 2004, the Commission released its report. Philip Shenon of The New York Times covered the Commission's work. His Pulitzer worthy book, The Commission, written in crisp, swift moving prose, is the result. It should be given to high school students in order that they may watch truth struggle with political hypocrisy even on the graves of the 9/11 dead. They might be surprised by what they see.

They will see a report that was based only on facts and opinions unanimously found and held, encouraging trades between Commissioners, which actually occurred, and effectively inhibiting dissents. They will see a report that holds no one personally accountable, in short, a lockstep report shaped by politicians and handed down during an intense presidential pre-election period.

They will see a Commission that compromised its duty to state the evidence that 9/11 was caused by America's identification with Israel. Too controversial, said the Commissioners off stage. (Ernst R. May [noted historian and Senior Adviser to the commission] When Government Writes History, A Memoir of the 9/11 Commission, May 23, 2005, The New Republic 33-34.). Surely, in the absence of a supervening cause, it is the duty of this nation to protect the lives of its people by refraining from its identification with any nation that will cause terrorist attacks on it. Such an issue was before the Commission. It hardly lay in anyone's mouth to claim that because it would generate controversy the issue should not be laid before the people.

An archery award should be given to Shenon for his descriptions, among others, of the mind-boggling failures of President Bush, the incompetent Condoleezza Rice, the CIA and FBI, to track and keep under surveillance the 9/11 hijackers, some of whom were seeking big craft flying lessons in the United States. With an equal eye for telling details, Shenon describes counter terrorism Richard Clarke's now historic memorandum of September 4, 2001 that virtually shouted to Rice that a 9/11 type attack was actually imminent. One reads with fixed attention the Department of Transportation's ignorance of terrorist warnings, the FAA's ignorance that the State Department had a watch list, the FAA's failure to alert our Aerospace Defense Command that a passenger plane had been commandeered, the outright lying of generals concerning military reaction to the hijacked planes, the CIA's 150-foot butcher sheet scroll listing minutely the CIA's antiterrorist efforts against Al-Qaeda prior to 9/11, the CIA's plans to kill Bin Laden in the 1990's, and the neanderthal computer equipment of the FBI, including its lack of an email system on 9/11. Shenon believes that FBI Director Louis Freeh's best gift to the FBI was his leaving it in June, 2001, else, writes Shenon, had Freeh been the Director on 9/11 the Commission might have dismantled it, treating Freeh responsible for the FBI's condition during his tenure in 1993-2001. However, Freeh had a full plate with President Clinton's numerous scandals, to say nothing of the moral revulsion had for Clinton by the intelligence services and the Pentagon.

For dramatic lying, an award to Cheney might be given for denying that on 9/11 he had unlawfully authorized the shooting down of passenger planes that were disobedient to military orders. Necessity, according to Shenon, tempers faulting Cheney. Therefore, for lying long and on a panoramic scale, the lying medal, with a cluster diamond heart pendent, should go to George Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence, for his world class dysfunction to recall his conversations with Bush and facts such as a written directive to the CIA to kill Bin Laden.

For quick thinking by a patriot, the prize should be extended immediately to Henry Kissinger, first chairman of the commission. He met with the 9/11 widows who, he must have thought, had just come from a soccer game. Instead, they demanded that he make his client list public. When they asked whether he had Saudi clients, or clients named Bin Laden, the frightened Kissinger, Shenon reports, nearly fell to the floor from his couch. Kissinger resigned the next morning, sixteen days after his appointment.

Philip Zelikow, the Commission's executive director, dubbed by the staff the White House mole, was the iron handed ruler, and micro watcher of the work of the investigators who despised him. He had been part of Bush's transition team, author of Bush's paper supporting pre-emptive war, co-author of a book with Condoleezza Rice, and, from the Commission, secret communicator with Rice and Rove. He was a walking hotbed of conflicts of interest, a fact that did not stop the Commission's chair and vice-chair from stating publicly that they did not detect in Zelikow any conflict of interest, an opinion that arched the eyebrows of the Commission's staff. When appointed Secretary of State, Rice appointed the grateful Zelikow her counselor, a job that he had always wanted, presumably even as he sat in the Commission's office.

The granting of the Master Criminal award would unquestionably attract high school students to Sandy Berger as a recognizable class mate. He had been President Clinton's national security adviser and was Clinton's liaison with the Commission. In October, 2003, Berger, tasked by Clinton, went to the National Archives to examine classified national security papers of the Clinton administration copies or notes of which could not be made and taken from the archives. On a prior visit, he was seen walking to the men's room with papers rolled around and sticking out of his socks. On his October visit, however, the archivists, having set a trap, caught him. For his life of archival crime, Burger netted a misdemeanor conviction, a three-year loss of security clearance, and a $50,000 fine.

In November, 2004, Bush was re-elected with the help of the Commission's report, for it made the nation mindful of the threat of another 9/11 attack and, in connection with that attack, no fault was found by the Commission in Bush. And so Rove had his presidency, and the widows were left with no one held accountable.

Posted at 05:51 pm by chekhov
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Thursday, July 26, 2007
Hillary Clinton's Discretion with Deceit

Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton

Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. Little, Brown and Company New York 2007 $29.00

Reviewed by Harold Reynolds

Jeff Garth and Don Van Natta have labored hard to produce Her Way, their portrait of a cold, severe, dominating, power-obsessed Hillary Clinton. In a note posted at the beginning of the book, they complain that Hillary is reachable only through her loyal intermediaries who are fearful of retribution by her should they speak to the authors. The authors apparently believe that, had Hillary been deranged enough to speak to them, they would have laid even more before us. Nevertheless, those self-flaggelants who read Her Way from beginning to end, however small their number, will be grateful to the authors for their 483 pages of plain, reportorial prose, untouched by literary merit, colorless like the Hillary they repeatedly describe, the text as lively as a baggage receipt. To all others, take caution: do not read the book while seated in a rocking chair before an open fire. After a hundred or so pages you may reach the tipping point and end up as an index number in the Surrogate's Court.

Hillary is born in 1947 on page 14 and in 8 pages enters Wellesley where, as if genetically programmed, she becomes a whirlwind of political activity, president of the student government and, as senior student speaker at her 1969 commencement, gains national attention by turning, without forewarning, upon the invited speaker, hapless U.S. Senator Edward Brooke, calling him to account for his failure to speak on Vietnam and civil rights.

Yale Law School follows in 1969. Hillary develops an all consuming interest in children's rights, falls in love with fellow student Bill Clinton in 1970, and lives with him in 1971. Graduating in 1973, she becomes at 26 one of 43 staffers of the House Nixon impeachment inquiry. She joins Bill in Arkansas in 1974 where, in their mid-twenties, they enter, say the authors, into "a secret pact of ambition to capture the presidency for Bill" and "to do whatever it took to win election and defeat their opponents. Bill would be the project's public face, of course. And Hillary would serve as the enterprise's behind the scenes manager and enforcer". They are married in October, 1974, by a Reverend Nixon, proof, perhaps, of God's dark sense of humor.

Reaching into the trash basket of history, the authors call on stage names mercifully now only cardboard pop-ups in memory: Jim McDougal, White River, Madison Guaranty, Rose Law Firm, righteous Kenneth Starr, smiling Monica Lewinsky and her historically famous semen-stained dress, Hillary's billing records, Paula Jones, the tragic suicide of Vincent Foster, the masked right wing conspiracy, humble Bill and his White House fly act, and, most of all, those justice loving people who, if it meant only their holding of a spike in place, were enfevered to bring the judgment of God down upon the Clintons. Looking back, few can recall the why of it all. Many, indeed, today may wonder in a free moment over their lack of compassion for the Clintons as they were tracked, trapped, and tormented.

Transfixed by the Clinton's 1974 "secret pact" to gain the presidency, the authors excitedly report that in 1993 the Clintons planned two terms for Bill and, later, two for Hillary. For proof they offer purported statements of Leon Panetta and Taylor Branch. Panetta, Bill's former presidential chief of staff, has issued no statement in support , while Branch, a much respected historian and author, denounced their story as "preposterous". (Michael Tomasky, Can We Know Her?, NY Rev. Books, July 19, 2007, pp. 14, 15) Rare the reader who does not laugh at the authors' boasting of their alleged "discovery" of a "secret pact" the rumors of which had long travelled the rounds of Washington. (Jennifer Senior, NY Times Book Rev., July 15, 2007, 8, 9)

Following the book's publication, Van Natta said "...we don't make any judgment that it's a bad thing or a good thing. We simply report this. This is news." (MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, June 12, 2007 edition) Their "news", however, is that Bonnie and Clyde have been planning a long time to come to town and strong arm anyone barring their way into the White House.

Her Way accelerates with details of Kenneth Starr's unyielding pursuit, Hillary's incredible power over national policy issues, her disastrous handling of her health care plan, Bill's outrageous pretense of ignorance of the Rwanda genocide (erroneously measured by the authors as "a few weeks" instead of three months), and the Clinton's low bred fund raising activities (Want a White House cup of coffee for big bucks, or do you have bigger bucks for a sleep over in Lincoln's bedroom?). Particularly revealing is Hillary's back stage maneuvering for a New York Senate seat while a simple, good hearted America saw her only as the icon of a grieving, loyal wife, defending a repentant husband caught in his adulteries and perjuries, to say nothing of his wholesale, bold face lying to the entire nation. There is mordant humor to be found in the failed impeachment proceedings, the Starr Report's overly detailed descriptions of Bill's sexual conduct, that must have made the Clintons run for cover, followed surprisingly by the public's warm hearted support of Bill and the public's acknowledgment that Hillary, after all, actually had human feelings. Still, Bill hardly looked attractive leaving office after dealing with the substantial risk of a federal indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice, to say nothing of his issuance of 140 scandal tainted pardons as he fleet footed it down the White House steps.

It was a good point in Her Way to turn the camera on Hillary in the Senate where she has sat supported by both her staff and her unequalled personal political organization, oiled and fired 24/7 to win her the presidency. Here are areas of interest to the uninformed reader, areas that disclose fault lines in Hillary's character. The authors succeed in revealing her dead-pan skill for marketing her history of major mistakes with a certain fondness for tempering discretion with deceit. For example, they zero in on her reckless failure to read the entire National Intelligence Estimate that made war against Iraq less lawful than Bush claimed. They point to her adoption of Bush's false claim of an Al Quaeda-Iraq relationship and its tie to 9/11. She was so anxious to show her capacity for military leadership that she didn't do the due diligence required for dealing with the one decision that she considered the most important in her life.

She appeared before the Council of Foreign Relations mouthing Bush-like statements but, as the war turned about, and the prospect of the presidency began to whet her appetite, she mischaracterized the intelligence available to her in the National Intelligence Estimate and, the authors argue, twisted the meaing of the war resolution in order to blame Bush for having misled her to support the war he planned. Howevermuch Her Way fails as a biographical work of literature, it hits its target here, for

a weakness to dodge truth instead of admitting major error is fatal to any candidate for the presidency. It leads people to live daily in the light of false dawns, a curse no nation deserves.


Posted at 02:30 pm by chekhov
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Friday, February 16, 2007

                           Reviewed by Harry Reynolds

                                 Grand Illusion

              The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11


By Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins HarperCollins New York, N.Y. 390 pages $25.95

              Why is that fireman with helmet of thorn

               Tapping on Giuliani's window since 9/11 morn?


Rudolph Giuliani was sworn mayor in 1994 within a minute's walk of the World Trade Center bombed in 1993. Reviewing Giuliani's mayoralty in 2000, Wayne Barrett, one of America's great investigative journalists, saw Giuliani as a cruel, unstable, destructive hypocrite, a man judged by the press to be barely human and inwardly empty. Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani (2000)

In September, 2001, the arc of Giuliani's political life was in the descendant; his second marriage had crashed publicly and his senatorial plans had been aborted by prostate cancer. With an eye on the approaching end of his mayoralty, he had begun planning a consulting business, a natural refuge for unskilled, former office holders.

On September 11th, Giuliani was at breakfast in a midtown hotel when two planes that had just flown overhead made him speed downtown to a Hell where he would see men and women, not long from their breakfasts, holding hands and jumping to their deaths from the flames of the110-story towers of the World Trade Center. There 2,150 would be killed in the Twin Towers alone. Three hundred forty-three firemen would die. We, transfixed by our television screens, stunned by what it all portended, would be calmed by Giuliani's words, credit for which, few know and let history note, belongs to Michael Cohen, a psychologist expert in handling crisis communications who was summoned the night of 9/11 and early the next morning carefully instructed Giuliani on what to say and not to say to the public, after which Giuliani appeared before the media and spoke to us.

And so it was that Giuliani, for a brief moment in our extremity, became us, and we, him. Thus out of 9/11 arose the myth of Giuliani, a myth exhaustively challenged in Grand Illusion, by Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins, who by daunting proof show that the myth of Giuliani arose out of a Hell in the creation of which he himself had had a hand, a myth from which he now profits, for he travels the nation, self-declared expert on terrorism, redemptor of New York City, receiving tens of millions in his expanding consulting business, eagerly seeking the Presidency with a genuinely commercial smile. If the facts in Grand Illusion are true, a beguiled public may see that their mythical Giuliani is a quick change artist given to the practice of an economy of truth.

Though Giuliani claims to have been obsessed with terrorism almost eight years prior to 9/11, and to have held many meetings concerning it, we know of no one with whom he shared his obsession and no one who recalls having met with him about it, though it was their business to do so. Giuliani had acted during those years as if the 1993 bombing had never happened. As John Miller, an acute City Hall observer of Giuliani, said of Giuliani's claims, "Hello, history. Give me rewrite."

When Giuliani claims that the police and fire departments had been prepared prior to 9/11 to act in coordination in a terror attack, we wonder first over his memory, and then over his integrity, for the operational chiefs of those departments do not recall it, to say nothing of the 9/11 Commission's finding that as of 9/11 those departments "were not prepared to comprehensively coordinate their efforts in responding to a major incident." As Giuliani must recall, the city did not even have a formalized Incident Command System. Bizarre as it sounds, the city on his watch actually suffered from mutually antagonistic fire and police departments, an ongoing scandal in itself . If the police and fire departments had had a joint post, the fire chiefs would have received the police helicopter warnings of the imminent collapse of the South Tower and many lives would have been saved in those nine minutes.

On 9/11, there was no central command position to control our reaction to the attack, for, mysteriously, Giuliani, against all advice and in a highly questionable exercise of judgment, had insisted that the Office of Emergency Management be located within walking distance of City Hall in the predictably targeted 47-story 7World Trade Center, 23 floors over a Con Ed substation and its 106,000 gallon fuel tank, the world's first bunker in the sky that was instantly evacuated on 9/11 and that collapsed, leaving the city without any command center and, as the 9/11 Commission noted, without any "backup site". Picture the mayor stumbling through a choking, blinding chaos looking for his police commissioner, the learned Bernard Kerick, who in the police department had never been higher than a third grade detective, thereafter chauffeur and bodyguard to Giuliani, later to be unforgettably recommended by Giuliani to President Bush as the head of Homeland Security and overseer of its billions of dollars, such is the nature of chance and opportunity in our wonderful democracy. Giuliani looked too, for his politically selected fire commissioner, Tom Von Essen, once head of the firefighters union who had never achieved any rank above that of a uniformed fireman but had thoughtfully delivered firefighters as political campaign workers for Giulianni in 1993. As fire commissioner, Von Essen failed to create a substantial plan for the handling of high-rise fires. These intellectual stars wound up in Giuliani's post-9/11 consulting business.

As for the hundreds of our dead firemen, they and their wives and children must haunt Giuliani, for he knew that they were equipped by his administration with notoriously ineffective"walkie-talkies" condemned as dangerous to firemen and public as early as 1990. They caused the deaths of those firemen and many others in the towers. The departmental brass did not know that civilians below the fires were told to stay in place after the chiefs had ordered full evacuations. One cannot but think that there was a glacial silence when Giuliani before the 9/11 Commission said that the command and control breakdown on 9/11 "was not a major problem", a breakdown in which fire chiefs relied on runners for messages. He even suggested before the Commission that it was "unpatriotic" to discuss mistakes. This from the mayor whose heroic firemen were sent to their deaths to extinguish fires that their superiors knew were uncontrollable. This mayor in his uniquely hidden eight-year obsession with terrorism never had room for a plan for handling mega fires in one of the largest citys on earth, no plan for aircraft striking the towers, no holding of even one multi-agency coordinated drill for a mega high attack, no systematic approach for the rescue of the 200 people trapped in elevators where they died. This the mayor who, as his myth widened, thoughtfully wrote a book entitled "Leadership", the leader who failed to inform workers at Ground Zero, and the public, of the hazardous toxicity of the air proved by the city's own test results.

         Grand Illusion marks the point at which Giuliani's political life should be over, when the piano player stops, the lights are turned out, and the fat lady sings.


Posted at 07:24 pm by chekhov
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Friday, June 16, 2006


                                       BUSH THE MYSTIC

By: Harry Reynolds

President Bush thinks nothing of claiming a power ordinarily found in mystics. He flew to Baghdad this week, he claims, in order to look into Iraq's prime minister's eyes and divine the poor man's true self. Bush used his power of divination in 2001when for the first time he met Vladimir Putin. On that occasion, he said, "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul."

In 2002, after Bush got a sense of Putin's soul, Putin, the former KGB head, without fanfare ordered postage stamps issued commemorating "The 80th Anniversary of Soviet Counterintelligence".

The KGB, Russia's secret police, is a lineal descendent of the notorious Cheka, GPU, OGPU, NKVD, and NKGB. In one stamp, Putin happily commemorated the face of Vsevolod Balitsky, the GPU butcher who in the 1930s participated in the deaths of 10 million Ukrainians in Russia's creation of the greatest man-made famine in history, imposed to break the backs of the Ukrainian peasants many of whom were driven to the madness of cannibalism. A second stamp celebrates Vladimir Styrne, slaughterer in the 1920s of thousands of Uzbeks, a third salutes Artur Artuzov, the dreaded OGPU leader who oversaw the savage political slaughter of the early 1920s, and a fourth exults the murderer Sergei Puzitsky who killed a half million Cossacks in 1931.

There is something eerie in Mr Bush trudging through life speaking English as a second language, claiming that God has willed him to be our president, and stopping every now and then to perform his divination trick.


Posted at 04:11 pm by chekhov
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Sunday, April 02, 2006
The Brother

                                        The Brother

                                        Reviewed by Harry Reynolds

Sam Roberts      The Brother      Random House     2001      543 pp.    $35

   The untold story of atomic spy David Greenglass and how he sent his

                   sister, Ethel Rosenberg, to the electric chair.


Fifty years ago, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, after a trial by jury, were convicted of espionage and sentenced to death. The verdict was based essentially upon the evidence of Ethel's younger brother, David Greenglass, and his wife Ruth.

In June, 1953, Julius and Ethel were slain - it's the only honest word for it - by Joseph Francel, an upstate journeyman electrician who pocketed $150 for each death. Each had refused to disclose information to officials who were standing ready to stop the killings if the Rosenbergs would speak. Two days later, their hearses passed thousands of spectators many of whom had compassion for them as innocent victims of the Cold War, for McCarthyism was then our temporary aberration that led many on the left to discount, in favour of the Soviet Union, any accusation of treason. Many others, however, despised the Rosenbergs as traitors. Years of protest and vilification of the government for slaying the innocent Rosenbergs followed. Among the onlookers as the Rosenberg hearses drove by was six-year old Sam Roberts, now a New York Times editor and host of New York Close-Up, the Times's nightly public affairs program on NY 1, and formerly city editor of the New York DailyNews.

At hand is Roberts's book, The Brother: The Untold Story of Atomic Spy David Greenglass and How He Sent His Sister, Ethel Rosenberg, to the Electric Chair. He writes that their deaths "would define the legacy... of an unrelated six-year old boy [Roberts] who ... bore silent witness as a cortege bearing history silently, but indelibly, rolled by". Their deaths became his "lifelong obsession". His obsession explains why in midlife he worked over a 13-year period to inquire into the Rosenbergs' guilt, notwithstanding that their guilt as members of a major Soviet espionage operation was put beyond question on July 12, 1995 with the disclosure by the United States of the once top secret Venona project documents, the brilliant breaking by our government of the Soviet Union's coded documents, a project begun in 1943 and kept secret throughout the Rosenberg case.

Whatever Roberts's reason for writing The Brother, his book is without equal in the vast literature about the Rosenbergs. Its uniqueness lies not in the fact that The Brother is the most current and comprehensive book about the Rosenbergs, or because Roberts successfully traced and dogged David Greenglass after his prison release and interviewed him at length. It is because Roberts's book stands by itself as an extraordinary literary achievement. He has given us a magnificently readable, intellectually rich work. It is a book that talks. One is tempted to say that it has a certain Russian literary quality about it. It reads as if Roberts were next to you, reading the book aloud, quietly laughing at his allusive and occasionally witty asides and wry judgments. All of this in a prose style that has a tensile strength of just the right degree to keep the reader turning one page after another. His Nabokovian description of virtually every fact - down to the Greenglass family's huge kitchen "bathtub that squatted on cast-iron legs and came with a versatile enamel cover", a cover found on that bathtub in the kitchen of every Lower East Side Old Law Tenement - is like watching the exfoliation of things out of the words that evoke them. Like Proust's madeleine, Roberts's casual reference to Ethel's mother's weekly "supply of clear, blue, and green glass seltzer bottles" will stir up in the minds of many memories of long ago. Roberts's mastery of fact reportage, his sense of just the right sequences of scenes, gives one a sense of reading a perfect cinematic script. What kind of wood was used to make the electric chair to which the Rosenbergs were strapped? Look at page 16. What were the exact movements of 20-year old Ruth Greenglass after she arrived in Albuquerque on 26 November, 1944? Read page 89; it reads like a Hollywood movie camera man's shooting list. The Greenglass family at 64 Sheriff Street right off Delancey? Read Roberts' book. You can almost see them, as if transfixed, standing in the daunting August air of the cluttered rooms in which they slept. In short, one reads with a sense of living in the real time of Roberts's narrative, the ultimate art for a non-fiction work that deserves consideration for a Pulitzer Prize.

As for the trial, Roberts lays it out in its almost startling simplicity, for the issue of conspiracy to commit espionage was, in the Rosenberg case, an issue only of credibility - no fingerprints, no papers, no recordings, no witnesses, only the actors, the verdict, and the exit. David Greenglass testified that in 1944 and 1945 he gave information to Julius Rosenberg about Los Alamos and the atom bomb. Ruth Greenglass and Harry Gold, a Soviet courier, corroborated David Greenglass's evidence insofar as it related to them. Proof was given that, after Gold's arrest, the Rosenbergs prepared to flee. In defence, the Rosenbergs denied everything in the Greenglass's story that concerned espionage. It took very little to persuade the jury that the Rosenbergs were liars.

As for the death sentences for which Judge Irving Kaufman and the government were long vilified, the Rosenbergs were traitors who supported a system in which Lenin's ideas of violence, dictatorship and terror were integral, a system in which Stalin used the weapons of the Cheka, erected the forced labour camps of the gulag, maintained the mono-ideological one-party state, extinguished the idea of free, popular elections, legalized administrative arbitrariness, repressed the press and religion, harried intellectuals into the secret hand to hand world of the samzidat, and subjugated Russia to the dread, sadistic Great Terror, to say nothing of the unutterably barbaric genocide of six million peasants in the first state-created famine in history, a famine calculated to break the backs and will of the peasant class. It was on the door of this madhouse of the 20th century that the Rosenbergs, arrogant in their political ignorance, knocked and offered atomic and other military secrets usable against us, a free society. For many the unquestionable legality of the sentences forecloses further inquiry. For others, as it is for this reviewer, though revenge may please, there is the innate feeling of something insuperably abnormal about the death penalty, something like a forbidden reversal by man of the act of creation.

Last, a temptation for the intellectually curious. If Ethel was slain principally because she had typed an alleged description of atomic bomb information supplied by David, what lie, one seemingly so casual and minor, did David tell the jury, a lie that Roberts learned in his interview of David, a lie that might well have led to Joseph Francel's $150 flipping of the switch on Ethel? Read Chapter 36, The Final Confession. It's only 12 pages.

Posted at 05:53 pm by chekhov
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Monday, February 27, 2006
Beyond Glory: Joe Louis v. Max Schmeling

                    Reviewed by Harry Reynolds

Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink

By David Margolick, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, N.Y. 423 pages, $26.95

In his Pulitzer worthy Beyond Glory, David Margolick harrows the era of the Louis-Schmeling championship fights and, as on a grand screen, recreates it. No one will ever revisit it with something new. His transfixing story of two boxers in an America spiralling towards unprecedented war is written with a photogenic eye for the graphic detail and an ear with a precision that makes speech rise out of the page. Dickens would have loved this book.

In 1935, Jews dominated every aspect of boxing in America. Joe Louis, born in Alabama, a poor sharecropperís child, entered that boxing world at 21 after the cigar chomping, meanspirited, buckdriven Mike Jacobs, who controlled boxing in New York, signed him. The press would eventually write of Louis that he was an illiterate, emotionless, good natured, stupid animal. In 1935, he mercilessly beat Primo Carnera and nearly killed Max Baer. In 1936, he dispatched Charley Retzlaff in 85 seconds but in June Louis was severely beaten by Nazi Germanyís Max Schmeling. In August, Louis whacked out Jack Sharkey and in September and October he took Al Ettore in 5 and Jorge Brescia in 3. In 1937, with an eye on champion Jim Braddock, the "Cinderella Man", Louis beat Bob Pastor and Natie Brown, and barnstormed through six states. In June, at 23 and the 12 to 5 favorite, he became world champion when he thrashed Braddock who, Damon Runyon wrote, was left on the canvas like "a frozen haddock". And then, in June, 1938, Louis wiped out Schmeling. Had he not done so, Beyond Glory would not have been written.

Now you have the names and dates, but here is how it all happened and how it all ended.

America in the thirties was anti-black, anti-Semitic, and deep in the Depression. Lynching blacks was not news, nor was their unutterable poverty. Segregation was the rule. Hitler was in power, terrifying Jews in Germany and in the United States, to say nothing of his view of blacks as subhumans. Into that mix, Max Schmeling stepped in New York and was soon cast by the Nazis as their global hero. For a time, his boxing manager was five foot two, Hells Kitchen bred Joe Jacobs who could say kaddish for his mother while eating a ham sandwich.

In 1935, the nationís black communities exploded with joy when Louis at Yankee Stadium beat the Italian giant, Carnera. When shortly thereafter Louis almost killed Max Baer at the stadium, the 85,000 spectators went mad with excitement. Margolickís description of Harlem going wild is only one of the bookís many displays of his literary skill, exercised repeatedly throughout the book by integrating with it the culled work of sharp tongued sportswriters who poured out copy like evangelists at tent meetings, in all giving the effect not of reportage but of voices naturalling speaking along with Margolick as he wrote.

In Louisís 1936 fight with Schmeling, ninety per cent of black America favored Louis. as did boxingís top fighters, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Baer and Braddock. When, however, Schmeling severely beat Louis , the nation was shocked. Nothing can equal Margolickís description of that dismay, nothing coud be more compassionate than his detailed report of the broken heart of the crushed black community. Germany, of course, was unrestrained in its pleasure. Schmelingís popularity there, now at its height, was in the service of the murderous Nazis who had politicized boxing.

A chastened Louis turned about and toppled a line of fighters. Jews boycotted Schmeling. Nazis violently attacked Jews in Americaís boxing world. Blacks refused to support the Jewish boycott because , they said, Jews had not supported blacks domestically. In the end, money called the shots and led to a Louis-Schmeling rematch after Louis devastated Jim Braddock and thus gained the world title, an event that triggered joy and violence in black America.

On June 22, 1938, with tens of thousands looking on in Yankee Stadium and the whole world listening to their radios, Louis nearly killed Schmeling in 2 minutes, 4 seconds, and would have done so had Schmelingís trainer not rushed into the ring and stopped the fight. Margolickís telling of that beating, blow by blow by blow, must be read to experience the force of his literary skill. I began to read it sitting and ended it standing. Cries of horror had rung out at that beating. A blow to the left kidney caused Schmeling to let out such a high pitched scream, heard through out the stadium, that someone said he sounded "like a stuck pig". The ensuing beating literally frightened spectators near the ring . In the end, it left Schmeling sitting in his corner, openly weeping. For almost 2 years, Louis, the presssís "stupid animal", Louis, the Southís "nigger", Louis, the Northís "illiterate", Louis, whose boxing flaw Schmeling had bragged of discovering by watching movies of Louis boxing, that Louis had patiently hunted for Schmeling, at one point watching over and over movies of Schmeling boxing. As Louis in his soft, gentle drawl said, "Either me or him will drop early. They ainít gonna be no decision. All the judges can stay home that night".

In 1942, Louis enlisted in our segregated army. He donated large sums from title defenses to army and navy relief funds for the taxes on which the IRS would hound him into mental illness. He lost his money in gambling, high living, and money schemes. He suffered humiliating boxing defeats, and wound up refereeing wrestling matches. With medication, he worked as a "greeter" at Caesarís Palace. Left paralyzed by a stroke in 1977, he died in1981 at the age of sixty-six.

As for Schmeling, he served Hitler as a propaganda idol and as a paratrooper. He died seven months short of his hundredth birthday in 2005, having received in 1954 from James Farley, onetime New York boxing commissioner and Democratic Party chairman, the offer of a Coca Cola distributorship in Germany by means of which Schmeling became a multimillionaire, a member of the West German establishment, and a philanthropist. Coke, according to Margolick, "never wanted anything to do with Joe Louis, even in his prime." Schmeling claimed to have paid for Louisís funeral.

And so the moral of this story is that there isnít any moral, but there sure was a hell of a lot of action in Yankee Stadium the night of June 22, 1938, and a bagful of memories for everyone who waited for and watched that fight, and then went out on the town for the night of their lives.



Posted at 10:42 pm by chekhov
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