Monday, November 28, 2016

Have Italians Invaded Cuba?

Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World

Surprisingly, Italian invasions of Cuba from Christopher Columbus to "Lucky" Luciano have been as consequential as American invasions of the Caribbean island.  Here is the complete Cuba chapter of Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World...

Christopher Columbus, Pioneer Park, SF, CA
"Cuba is by far the largest island in the Caribbean. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that when Columbus, hoping to find his way to the riches of Asia, approached its coastline on October 24, 1492, he mistook it for a continent.  He named the island Isla Juana, after the Spanish prince of Asturias.  Columbus seemed to be enchanted by Cuba, pronouncing it the “sweetest and fairest” of lands. He was, however, disappointed not to discover gold on the island and soon moved on to Hispaniola (see Haiti and Dominican Republic).

In addition to Columbus, other Italians played a significant role in establishing and maintaining Spanish rule in Cuba. For example, Italian military engineer Battista Antonelli designed the spectacular El Morro fortress for Havana.

In 1605, Mantua, Cuba, was founded by shipwrecked Italian sailors.

Cuba was under Spanish rule for many centuries. The Spanish- American War of 1898 ended that. An Italian American from New York State, Frank O. Fournia, won the Medal of Honor for rescuing wounded soldiers while serving in the US Army in Cuba during this war.

Café Cubano

Cuba became a major sugar producer in the early twentieth century. It is the mere addition of sugar that distinguishes an authentic café cubano from a traditional Italian espresso. This popular drink might even be classified as a sweet Cuban invasion of Italy!

Cuba and Italy both eventually joined the Allied cause in World War I.

Immediately after Pearl Harbor, Cuba joined the Allies and declared war on fascist Italy. Some Italian Cubans were arrested and imprisoned during the war. A small but efficient Cuban Navy patrolled the waters off Cuba, hunting German and Italian submarines. Italian submarines such as the Leonardo da Vinci and the Enrico Tazzoli retraced the path of Columbus, hunting for merchant ships in the waters off Cuba. Even Ernest Hemingway, who had served in Italy in World War I, took his fishing boat Pilar out hunting for Axis submarines.
"Lucky" Luciano: Sicily Invades Cuba!
The famous mobster "Lucky" Luciano was born in Sicily in 1897. During World War II, while a prisoner at Sing Sing, he provided intelligence information on his native land to the US Navy prior to the July 1943 invasion of Sicily. His sentence was commuted by the governor of New York in 1946 on the condition that he would be deported to Italy. He was, but in October of 1946, he moved to Cuba, where he helped to organize a mob takeover of the island nation. Luciano and Meyer Lanksy sealed a deal with the Batista regime one night in 1946 at the Hotel Nacional. Frank Sinatra provided the entertainment. Havana would be transformed into a Caribbean Las Vegas.

An Italian-born entrepreneur, Amadeo Barletta, was the publisher of El Mundo, one of the largest Cuban newspapers in the 1950s.

Fidel Castro led the Cuban Revolution that would sweep Batista and the Mafia from power in Cuba. Later, the CIA hired the Mafia to assassinate Castro, but with no success.

In 1961, Italian-built 105mm howitzers were used at the Bay of Pigs by Castro’s forces against the American-supported invaders.

A visitor to Havana today might stumble upon the Napoleon Museum, which houses one of the finest collections of Napoleonic memorabilia in the world. This museum, dedicated to the former King of Italy and founded in 1961, was once the home of Orestes Ferrara, an Italian Cuban who had been ambassador to the United States."

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Have Americans Invaded Cuba?

Have Americans Invaded Cuba?

With the death of Fidel Castro at age 90 in November 2016 it seems fitting to reflect on relations between America and Cuba.  Here is the full Cuba chapter of America Invades (

"The beautiful island of Cuba is just ninety miles from Florida, so it’s hardly surprising that over the years we’ve taken a close interest in it. Already by the early nineteenth century, American forces were in action there. At this stage, our main concern was combating piracy, and in the 1820s, we made a number of landings, including, for instance, one in July 1823 when three American vessels attacked a pirate schooner off Matanzas, Cuba. When some of the pirates managed to make it ashore, an

American landing party went after them. It was a scrappy kind of conflict, but a conflict nonetheless and helped make the seas a little bit safer for shipping.

But already we were beginning to imagine a rather bigger US involvement in Cuba than pursuing a few pirates. In the same year that the pirate schooner off Matanzas was being put out of business, John Quincy Adams, then secretary of state, wrote, “If an apple, severed by the tempest from its native tree, cannot choose but fall to the ground, Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its unnatural connexion [sic] with Spain, and incapable of self-support, can only gravitate towards the North American Union.”

In December of 1823, President Monroe produced the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine (nothing to do with Marilyn, obviously) basically stated that we could accept existing European colonies in the Americas, but from then on, we were going to regard outside interference in South and North America as interference with our own interests. Having chucked King George’s army out of America, Americans felt a natural fellowship for any other locals wanting to chuck out Europeans who were oppressing them. But over the decades, as our power grew, the Monroe Doctrine also began to be interpreted as a concept that we, as the biggest power in the Americas, had a special responsibility for what goes on here. Both attitudes, with a bit of belief in manifest destiny added in as well, were to be much in evidence in our involvement with Cuba.

In 1858, in the Ostend Manifesto, a bunch of American diplomats in Europe recommended that the United States buy Cuba and suggested that if, by any chance, it wasn’t for sale, the United States would be justified in seizing the island from Spain. The manifesto is named after a port in Belgium because that’s where the diplomats ended up meeting. Nothing came of it in the end partly because some Northerners saw in it a Southern attempt to add another slave-owning Southern state to the Union.

Spain had very-long-term ties to the island of Cuba, with Columbus having reached it on his first voyage on October 28, 1492, but by the four hundredth anniversary of that event, things were beginning to look a bit problematic on the island for Spain. In 1868, a local insurrection burst out and dragged on for about ten years, from which, not surprisingly, it got the name of the Ten Years War. Then again in 1895, another rebellion was launched. Harsh measures taken by the Spanish in their attempts to smash the rebellion boosted natural fellow feeling in America for those fighting for freedom from a European power, but we still weren’t yet about to go to war. Not quite yet anyway.

The newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (of Citizen Kane fame) wanted a war in order to help sell newspapers. Hearst had a famous exchange of telegrams with his photo-journalist Frederic Remington who was in Cuba prior to the Spanish American war. Hearst received a telegram from Remington that said, “Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return. Remington.” Hearst sent the answer, “Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.”

USS Maine in Havana Harbor

On January 25, 1898, the USS Maine, an armored cruiser, arrived in Havana harbor. The largest island in the Caribbean had been experiencing an insurrection by local Cuban rebels against their Spanish overlords for the past three years. On February 15, 1898, at 9:40 p.m., one or perhaps two explosions rocked the battleship. About three-quarters of her crew (266 lives) were killed.
What really happened that night remains a mystery that will, perhaps, never be solved. The USN’s Sampson board of inquiry ruled unanimously that a foreign device or mine triggered the explosion and sinking. A variety of suggestions and counter-suggestions have since been put forward for what really happened that night.

If the Maine was, in fact, destroyed by a mine, it is by no means even certain that the Spanish government placed it there, although they did have motivation. It could be that the Cuban rebels themselves might have used a mine in order to get the Americans more deeply involved in Cuba ...
Many in Cuba today are convinced that a false-flag conspiracy (the USN sank its own ship) was to blame. There is no evidence to suggest such a thing.

What we do know for certain is that President McKinley, who had only the USN Sampson report to go by, pressed for war with Spain.

The US Congress debated and passed resolutions calling for Cuban independence. Spain responded by declaring war. President William McKinley’s opening move was to impose a naval blockade of Cuba.

In late June 1898, American troops landed in Cuba. On July 1, Teddy Roosevelt, with the assistance of the African-American Buffalo Soldiers, led his Rough Riders to victory over the Spanish in the Battle of San Juan Hill. The Americans and their Cuban allies had won the war in just over three months at a cost of just under three thousand killed—most of these attributable to disease. Nearby Puerto Rico was annexed as part of the peace settlement.

At the time, we also got another bit of real estate that you’ve heard of. The United States began construction of its oldest overseas naval base,

Guantanamo Bay, in 1898. A long-term lease was negotiated with the Cuban government in 1903.
Having helped free Cuba from a European colonial power, we weren’t about to turn Cuba into our own colony—not officially anyway—but we did regard it as part of our sphere of influence, and we reckoned we had a right to protect our growing interests there.

President Teddy Roosevelt dispatched US forces to occupy Cuba again from 1906 to 1909. The Cuban rebels laid down their arms at the sight of US troops, and there was no bloodshed. The US Army built fifty-seven miles of roads and supervised the free election before their withdrawal.
In 1912, President William Taft sent the navy and US marines to support the Cuban government in suppressing another rebellion.

And in 1917, during World War I, US forces, with the excuse of being invited to practice drilling in a warm climate, helped political unrest cause damage to the sugar industry and sugar harvest. This became known, not entirely unreasonably, as the Sugar Intervention.

Hemingway's Pilar

By the end of 1941, of course, we had quite a lot else on our minds apart from Cuba, like the need to win a world war. Cuba wasn’t exactly on the frontlines during World War II, and for one resident, it was all just too quiet. Ernest Hemingway, a resident of Cuba and avid fisherman, could not stand the idea of missing a war. From the summer of 1942 to the end of 1943, Hemingway, based on Cuba, took Pilar, his wooden fishing yacht, armed with machine guns and hand grenades, out into the Caribbean hunting for German U-boats. He did allegedly finally sight one, only for it to submerge before he could reach it.
Fidel Castro

After the war, Cuba became a fleshpot with casino gambling and the US mafia. Batista, realizing that he could not win electoral victory, seized power in a coup in 1952. Organized crime leaders such as “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Santo Trafficante helped turn Havana into a Latin Las Vegas.
Fidel Castro was the illegitimate son of a wealthy Galician immigrant to Cuba. Six foot three and powerfully built, he became an accomplished athlete. In 1949, he was offered a contract to pitch for the New York Giants baseball team, but he turned them down. History might have been so different, and so might the Giants.

Instead of playing ball with us, Castro began launching attacks on the Moncada army barracks in 1953 to start the Cuban revolution, which lasted until the collapse of the Batista regime in 1958. Batista fled the country on New Year’s Day 1959.

Fidel Castro, who had not started as a Communist, had become America’s worst Cold War nightmare—a revolutionary Communist government on America’s doorstep that was allied with the Soviet Union. We hadn’t been too keen about Spain ruling Cuba, and we were even less keen about Russia moving in next door.

On March 4, 1960, another ship explosion in Havana harbor influenced the course of Cuban-American links and history. This time it was the Belgian La Coubre. Loaded with ammunition, it blew up, causing widespread devastation. This explosion was probably the result of negligence, though Fidel used it as an excuse to accuse the United States of sabotage and to request more arms from the Soviet Union.

The Bay of Pigs fiasco must rank among the more disastrous interventions in US military history. On April 15, 1961, eight American B-26s bombed Cuban airfields as the CIA’s brigade of Cuban exile volunteers approached the Bay of Pigs. JFK, however, refused to provide additional air support for the doomed invasion and the bitter fighting that followed.

After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the US government tried other ways of getting at Castro. The Kennedy brothers initiated Operation Mongoose, which attempted many times to assassinate Fidel Castro. They tried exploding cigars and poisoned ice cream, among others.

JFK retaliated against Cuba in February 1962 by banning the importation of Cuban cigars—a ban that persists to this day. JFK , a devoted smoker, had stocked up on his personal supply in advance.
During the Cuban missile crisis in the fall of 1962, the world came closer to thermonuclear war than any time in its history after a US reconnaissance flight over the island took photos of a missile site under construction. Many options were explored on how to deal with the introduction of Soviet medium-range nuclear missiles on Fidel’s Cuba, some of them involving a US invasion of the island. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed, and we opted for a naval blockade of Cuba.

Soviet ships that were delivering more missile parts turned around, but the Soviets gained their original strategic objective by forcing the United States to withdraw its own medium-range missiles from Turkey, and Cuba gained a pledge that the United States would never again invade Cuba.
And since then, there have been more plots and a continued Cold War. We’ve remained in Guantanamo, and the Communist government has remained in power in Havana."

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Friday, November 25, 2016

77th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

December 7, 2018, marks the 77th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  This "Day of Infamy" provides a temporal dividing line between the American isolationism that preceded it and the American engagement with the rest of the world that followed.  This engagement, for better or worse, endures into the 21st century.  The lessons we draw from seventy five years ago can help us to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.

The great English historian Edward Gibbon described history as being “little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.”  The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was surely a crime that galvanized and unified our nation.  It also set into motion a series of misfortunes that would culminate with mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki just over 70 years ago.

The Japanese attack was surely a great folly as well.  As Admiral Yamamoto presciently remarked, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”  World War II was remarkable among American wars in many ways but not least because of the political unanimity that followed the Pearl Harbor attack.  All races, creeds and political viewpoints in America were united to remember and avenge Pearl Harbor.  President Franklin D Roosevelt led our nation in the construction of a vast “Arsenal of Democracy” that ground the Axis powers into dust.

FDR Statue, Grosvenor Square, London
Every year at this time, charges arise that FDR knew in advance of the coming attack on Pearl Harbor.  We live in an age of rampant conspiracy theorizing with fires stoked by Internet speculation, yet these charges lack credible evidence.  Yes, FDR knew in a general sense that the Japanese might launch an attack on American military positions throughout the wide Pacific, but he did not know that the naval base at Pearl Harbor would be targeted in the early morning hours of December 7.  FDR, having served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I, loved the US Navy above all other military branches, and he would have done anything in his power to preserve it from destruction.
FDR and Eleanor, FDR Library, Hyde Park, NY
FDR was not a perfect wartime leader.  He trusted Stalin too much.  He was overly suspicious of de Gaulle.  He was excessively partisan when he declined Herbert Hoover’s offer to assist with humanitarian relief during the war.  But he was an inspirational leader who did lead his nation to victory in World War II.  And he was certainly not a traitor.

These charges against FDR are based upon a gross underestimation of Japanese abilities.  The Japanese Navy really did achieve strategic surprise against the Americans.  They did so mainly because Admiral Nagumo ordered the fleet to maintain strict radio silence for its voyage from Japan to the Hawaiian Islands: “All transmissions of messages are strictly forbidden.”

Many Americans simply could not credit the Japanese with such military skill.  Even after the Pearl Harbor attack, some suggested that the Zeroes marked with the Rising Sun must have been piloted by Germans!

When the news of the Battle of Little Bighorn first spread in 1876, many Americans could not accept that Custer’s 7th Cavalry had been wiped out in Montana by a force of Native Americans.

While history may be the record of mankind’s crimes and follies it also holds valuable lessons.  The lesson of December 7 is that one should never allow ethnic stereotypes to underestimate one’s opponent.  The only effective cure for racism is knowledge.

On December 2, 2015 fourteen Americans were killed in San Bernardino.  The lesson of this attack was that the capacity of our enemies should not be underestimated on the basis of gender stereotypes either.


I enjoyed my December 7th radio interview with Jon Grayson of Overnight America.  Please listen here...

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Will Trump Start World War III?

In my recently released book, An Adventure in 1914, I noted that "The World can change fundamentally in a single day".  The world changed on 9/11 and it changed again on December 7. 1941.  It changed in the summer of 1914 that preceded the start of World War I.  It seems also to have changed on November 9, 2016 with the election of Donald Trump.

Many of Trump's critics have been hailing the election results in terms that approximate the end of days.

1) Noam Chomsky states that the Republican Party is "the most dangerous organization in world history”  He goes on to suggest that we are now "accelerating the race to disaster”.  (

Nightmare Scenario
2) A distinguished English observer, General Sir Richard Shirreff, suggested that Trump increases the danger of World War III.  Shirreff spells out his fears the introduction to his novel War With Russia which features a Russian invasion of the Ukraine and all three Baltic Republics in 2017 (  "Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump in an interview with the New York Times cast doubt on America's willingness to come to the aid of a NATO ally under attack.  At a stroke this comment had undermined the notion of NATO's founding principle of collective defense.  NATO is totally dependent on strong US leadership and peace in Europe will only be maintained if there is an absolute certainty that the US will always be there to defend its allies.  Trump's comments will embolden the President (Putin) and make the nightmare scenario in this book more likely."

3) In an August 2016 editorial four star American General, Barry McCaffrey wrote, "Trump lacks the caution and careful judgment that is required by a future president of the United States when forming national-security and foreign-policy decisions."  (

4) In the 9/26/16 presidential debate Trump candidly admitted, "I haven’t given lots of thought to NATO."

5) Finally, according to some folks, even Nostradamus, the French prophet, may have predicted that Donald J. Trump would start World War III way back in the 17th century.  Nostradamus wrote: "The false trumpet concealing madness will cause Byzantium to change its laws"...

Should we be worried?  Should we be building fallout shelters and teaching the young to "duck and cover"?
Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Well, there ARE disturbing parallels between 1914 and our own time.  The world did stumble into war in the summer of 1914 after a terrorist incident in Sarajevo claimed the life of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  This was, in a way, history's greatest train wreck.  Interlocking alliances among the Central Powers and the Triple Entente were a key factor in the march to war.  Russian Czar Nicholas II was the first major nation to mobilize precipitating a response from other nations.

In 2016 terrorism is obviously a major global concern.  NATO, the most successful alliance in world history, is an "interlocking alliance" as General Shirreff points out above.  Article 5 states that an attack on one member is an attack on all.  An invasion by the Russians one or more of the Baltic states who are all NATO members could swiftly trigger a much wider war.

In spite of what Chicago Cubs fans may say, history does NOT always repeat itself.  But it often does rhyme!

There are also, of course, significant differences between now and 1914.

Nicholas II
Putin is NOT Nicholas II.  Putin wishes to cling to power in the Russian kleptocracy over which he presides.   Putin has significantly built up Russian military spending and power.  Russia has today the most powerful military in Europe.  Putin has demonstrated a willingness to use his military invading Georgia in 2008 and the Crimea in 2014.  Putin has ordered construction of 2,500 T-14 supertanks -- the offensive weapon par excellence.  Putin protests about being "surrounded by NATO".  Putin's ultimate goal seems to be the destruction of the NATO alliance. (

There are, however, some reasons to be hopeful.

First, the election of Hillary Clinton would, quite likely, have put America on an even more direct collision course with Russia.  Clinton's contempt for Putin's Russia was evident throughout her campaign.  Her advocacy of a no fly zone in Syria would have been an immediate provocation to Russia. Neither Clinton nor Trump had any military experience in their resume which is why they relied so much on trotting out lists of "generals and admirals" who had endorsed them.

Neither Nicholas II nor Stalin

Second, Putin, while loathsome, is NOT Stalin either.  He does not preside over an ideological nation that is determined to bury world capitalism.  History teaches us that FDR was able to work with Stalin to bring about the destruction of Nazi Germany.  Is it not possible that the Trump administration will be able to work with Putin to attack ISIS in Syria and the Middle East?

Third, the Republican Party establishment, exemplified by Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, fully grasps the importance of the NATO alliance.  They will move quickly to reassure our NATO allies that the USA stands with them.

Fourth, there really is now an opening for a true "Re-Set" with Russia which is, quite frankly long overdue.  Obama utterly botched relations with Russia.  In 2010 he was a no show for the 65th anniversary of the end of World  In 2013 he became the first leader (American or Russian) to actually cancel a scheduled summit with the Russians.  Four out of five German soldiers in World War II were killed on the Russian front.  The "Greatest Generation" that returned to America after the conclusion of World War II to attend college with the GI bill and rebuild America would, at the very least, have been decimated without the immense Soviet effort and sacrifice on the Eastern front.  Over 23 million Russians were killed in World War II.  It is high time that an American president help to explain this basic historic fact to the American people.  Trump has an opportunity to do just that.

Fifth, eight years ago Americans elected a Bush-Bashing non-interventionist candidate with limited political experience and superior television and new media skills.  We seem to have survived that decision.

How would I advise President-elect Trump?

Russia's long term goal seems to be the destruction of the NATO alliance.  The West is in dire need of a long term strategy.  The long term goal for the America and the West should be THE INCORPORATION OF RUSSIA INTO THE NATO ALLIANCE. We know that terrorism in many forms will remain a global threat that threatens both American AND Russian interests.  We know that rogue states armed with nuclear weapons (e.g. North Korea and soon Iran) are a threat to both nations.  And we know that both nations' concerns and fears about China are only likely to grow.  For all these reasons, we should strongly consider wooing / seducing Russia into the NATO alliance over the long term.

US Navy carrier

For many reasons Trump needs to immediately display some distance from Putin's Russia.  He should send a US Aircraft Carrier on permanent station into the Baltic.  He should deploy, at a minimum, a brigade strength US Army unit to the Baltic Republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  The purpose of these moves would be not to provoke to rather to communicate American intentions and values to our NATO allies and the world.  The message must be crystal clear: America stands with our allies and in favor of self determination for states large and small.   America still stands for freedom and tolerance in a dark and complicated world.

The best way to entice Russia into NATO is to demonstrate that the Alliance works and can preserve and protect the territorial integrity of Russia along with all of its member states.

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

In Defence of the Electoral College

2016 County Map
Trump / Hillary

In the light of the recent election results some have advocated the abolishment of the Electoral College in favor of electing candidates based solely on the popular vote.  Here is one such effort from the Daily  It is interesting to note that the Daily Kos and others had no problem with the results of the last two Presidential election cycles.

Trump seems to have taken 30 out of 50 states winning 306 Electoral votes to Clinton's 232 (Trump's win in Michigan was made official on 11/12/16.).  Clinton seems to have won New Hampshire by a razor thin margin while Trump took Michigan and Arizona in close contests.  Even without AZ and MI Trump won 279 electoral votes to win the election.

Some have falsely claimed that Hillary actually won a majority of the popular votes.  She did not.  Final results are not yet in but she seems to be on track to have won about 47.8% of votes cast slightly ahead of Trump's 47.3.

This is the fifth time in US history that one candidate won the Electoral college while another won the popular vote.   The winning candidate had fewer popular votes than their opponent in 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and, apparently, in 2016.

Before you sign the petition to "save American democracy" by abolishing the Electoral College you may want to consider the following...

1) The USA has never been a pure democracy.  Our system of government is a Federal Republic.  It is the states (and DC) that are empowered to select a President every four years.  For many years US Senators were selected by state legislatures.  The 17th Amendment to the Constitution only changed this in 1913.  This means that instead of winning one big election candidates are forced to compete in 51 smaller contests.

2) The Electoral College is an old fashioned system.  It may be a bit creaky but it has proven to work for hundreds of years.  A popular vote system would be new and unproven.  The Electoral college is a bit like champagne.  A popular vote system would be more like Red Bull.

3)  Because the Electoral College has many component parts (the states) it is also much harder to create a fraudulent result.  This should be critical to anyone who cares about preserving fair elections.

4)  But the Electoral College system is difficult for foreigners to understand?  Chalk up another advantage for the Electoral College!
American Samoa..Life is Unfair!
5) Are some Americans disenfranchised by the current system?  Yes, a few are.

JFK famously said, "Life is unfair". He was right about that.  Is it unfair that residents of American Samoa do not have a voice in quadrennial presidential general elections?  Yes, get over it.  Is it unfair that residents of American Samoa do not have dig out their driveways from six feet of snow every January.  Yes, Life is unfair.  Get over it.

6) Do some Americans votes count more than others?  Yes the ratio of electoral votes per voter is higher in a small state with 3 electoral votes like Montana than it is in a big state like California.  Again, life is unfair.  Get over it. 

6) But isn't the US popular vote a better reflection of the popular will of the American people?  No, not really.  Due to the nature of the US system voter participation is suppressed in non-battleground states.  Republican leaning voters in the blue states of New York or California are more likely to not vote assuming that their vote is irrelevant.  Likewise, Democratic leaning voters in red state Wyoming are less likely to show up at the polls as well.  These distortions imply that the total popular vote cannot really be taken as a reliable guide to the political will of the American people.

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Presidential Greatness

Crooked vs Crazy
Our Dismal choice

In 2016 American voters seem to be confronting a stark choice between crooked and crazy in the tawdriest campaign in our Republic's history.  So this may be an odd time to be considering the nature of Presidential Greatness.  But, in fact, there could be no better time to reflect on the lives of great men.

Two things are required for Greatness in our Commander in Chief: Moral Clarity and Strategic Ability.

FDR, Grosvenor Square, London

By "Moral Clarity" I do not mean to suggest that our president must be morally perfect.  That is an impossible standard.  Presidents, being human, will have their flaws.  FDR, for example, was an imperfect husband but a great American president.  By "Moral Clarity" I mean that a President grasps the central moral dilemma of their time.
George Washington, West Point, NY
George Washington recognized that the central moral issue of his time was whether the thirteen colonies would be independent or remain part of Britain.  Abraham Lincoln recognized that the moral issue of his time was slavery.  He famously noted that the US Civil War had been "in some way about slavery."  FDR recognized that the central moral issue of his day was the global confrontation with Fascism and Imperial Japan.   Many Americans wrongly believed, with Charles Lindbergh, that the central moral issue was the preservation of peace at any price.  Eisenhower recognized that the central moral issue of his time was not the confrontation with Communism (McCarthyism) but rather the avoidance of atomic war between the superpowers.

Lincoln statue, Spokane, WA
Moral Clarity and Strategic Ability are equally the sine qua nons of Presidential Greatness.  Moral Clarity without Strategic Ability gives us Jimmy Carter while Strategic Ability without Moral Clarity elects Richard Nixon.
Eisenhower, Grosvenor Square, London
George Washington did not merely cheer on the Declaration of Independence from the sidelines.  He inspired the Patriot cause and led Americans to victory at battlefields such as Princeton and Yorktown.  Lincoln lacked Washington's strategic gifts but he was a political mastermind who recognized and promoted the talents of Ulysses S. Grant and Sherman.  Lincoln said of Grant, "I can't spare this man, he fights".  FDR could match wits with Winston Churchill when it came to planning for victory in World War II.  FDR also retained able subordinates such as Marshall, Eisenhower and MacArthur. FDR was also refreshingly non-ideological when it came to war-making employing Republicans such as Henry Stimson (Secretary of War), Frank Knox (Secretary of the Navy) and "Wild Bill" Donovan at the OSS (Office of Strategic Services).  Eisenhower was a master strategist who planned the D-Day invasion.  As president he ended a stalemated war in Korea and refused to use atomic weapons in support of the French in Indochina (Dien Bien Phu).
Ronald Reagan, Grosvenor Square, London
What about Ronald Reagan?  Reagan's Moral Clarity could discern the raw evil of the Soviet Gulag.  Freedom is and always has been morally superior to slavery.  Moreover, Reagan had the Strategic Ability recognizing that the West had the means to win the Cold War without igniting World War III.

Commander Kelly in DC
Where does all this leave us in 2016?  Adrift and without a paddle.  Presidential Greatness seems nowhere in sight.  Neither candidate inspires confidence in terms of either Moral Vision or Strategic Ability.  Hillary supported a disastrous intervention in Libya and repeatedly heartens our enemies by announcing her intention to take strategic options off the table ("no US ground troops").  Trump, meanwhile, disparages American heroes such as John McCain and the NATO alliance which has been the guarantor of peace for nearly seventy years. Both candidates lack the fundamental seriousness that is required to be a successful Commander in Chief.  Hillary disdains the most basic security protocols while Trump tweets about his "enemies" into the wee hours.

Meanwhile, Putin rearms Russia ( and laughs up his sleeve.

Postscript: This was written the Monday before the 2016 election.  Time will tell whether the American people handed the "paddle" to an able navigator.  We have many troubled waters to steer through.  Trump is undeniably a hard-working and patriotic American.  Wishing today that Trump will surprise us with unexpected greatness.

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Friday, November 4, 2016

1914 & 2016: Does History Repeat Itself?

This week Chicago Cubs' fans learned that history can indeed repeat itself with the Cubbies taking the pennant after a 108 year drought.  Congratulations to the 2016 Cubs and their long-suffering fans!

Ty Cobb
In An Adventure in 1914 I noted that, "In 1914, Ty Cobb led the American League with a .368 batting average, and the Boston Braves won the World Series in four games. On October 9, 1915, Woodrow Wilson became the first sitting president to attend a World Series and throw out the first pitch, when the newly christened Boston Red Sox defeated the Phillies at the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia by a score of two to one. The Red Sox would go on to win the pennant that year, taking it in four games to one."  (

While Americans were playing baseball in the summer of 1914 Europeans were going to war.

Gavril Princip
The Black Hand was the ISIS of 1914
In 1914 the world stumbled into war.  World War I was, in a sense, history's greatest traffic accident.  Over seventeen million were killed in the war that launched Communism and Fascism and set the stage for World War II.  Four Empires were broken up as a result of the war.  The breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the Treaty of Versailles created the nations of Syria and Iraq.  World War I was the original sin of the 20th Century.

Does 2016 resemble 1914 in ways that could be profoundly disturbing?

Assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914
1) TERRORISM.  In 1914 terrorism was a major problem.  The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie took place on June 28, 1914 (  This act of terrorism triggered an Austrian demand for justice and was the catalyst for the march to war.  The Black Hand conspirators of 1914 were the rough equivalent of ISIS today.
In 1914 liberal France was allied with Czarist Russia
2) INTERLOCKING ALLIANCES.  Europe was divided into two armed camps in 1914.  The Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary confronted the Triple Alliance of France, Britain and Czarist Russia.  The Austrian invasion of Serbia triggered Russian mobilization and war.  In 2016 the NATO Alliance is founded on Article Five which insists that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all.  Thus an attack by Russia to recover the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has the potential to trigger immediate American involvement and a World War.  (See...
Thomas Tileston Wells
Author of An Adventure in 1914
Stranded in Venice
3) FINANCIAL CRISIS.  The start of World War I, horrible in itself, also triggered an immediate financial crisis.  Interest rates soared and liquidity dried up.  Thomas Wells, my own great grandfather, was stranded in Venice and could not pay his hotel bill.  Fear of bank failure was widespread.  The 21st century has, of course, had our own experience of financial crisis.

The German Kaiser, King George V and Nicholas II were cousins
4) NON-IDEOLOGICAL CONFLICT.  World War I was a non-ideological war.  France was in 1914 the most liberal nation in Europe.  Yet France had aligned herself with Czarist Russia which was the most autocratic nation in Europe.  World War I was about power politics not ideology --many of the crowned heads were related to each other.  Putin's Russia has differences with the West and is hardly democratic but these differences are not primarily ideological.
Trapped in a web of sex and surveillance
Mata Hari & Huma Abedin...?

5) SURVEILLANCE SOCIETY.  Today in the age of Wiki-leaks we live in a Surveillance Society.  This really had its origins in World War I.  With the dawn of Marconi and radio traffic governments began listening in on everyone's mail.  In An Adventure in 1914 I wrote, "Room 40 also decrypted messages that identified Mata Hari, a Dutch courtesan and exotic dancer in Paris who was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, in 1876, as H-21, a German spy. The information was passed to French intelligence, and the femme fatale was arrested, convicted, and executed by firing squad in 1917." (  Today Huma Abedin seems to be trapped in somewhat similar web of sex and surveillance.

6) THREAT OF WAR.  Today the threat of war looms in Syria, in Iraq, on the Korean Peninsula, in the Ukraine, in the Baltic Republics and even in the Pacific Ocean.  Even after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand few expected the outbreak of a devastating World War.  But it happened nonetheless.

History does not, thank goodness, always repeat itself but it often rhymes.

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