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InCity Times book review

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

IKE’S BLUFF

President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World

By Evan Thomas

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower was the commander of the allied forces in the European theatre during World War II and the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. In the wake of a succession of disastrous Presidents – Richard M. Nixon and especially George W. Bush – Eisenhower’s statute has soared among historians. Seen from the wreckage of the Bush Presidency, Eisenhower was the last real Republican, a man to whom balancing the budget was more important than cutting taxes, making peace was better than waging “pre-emptive” war, and the country invested in infrastructure to build the national highway system.

When Ike left office in 1961, he was not well thought of either by historians or many of his contemporaries. Made old and gray in the service of his country, Eisenhower seemed almost decrepit when compared to the younger, dynamic John F. Kennedy.

Right man

The Eisenhower who emerges in Evan Thomas’ “Ike’s Bluff” is a far different figure. Eisenhower was well prepared by his long career in the military for the Presidency, and was the right figure at the right time for America.

Thomas’ thesis is that Eisenhower bluffed for eight years by threatening to use nuclear weapons against America’s Cold War enemies, the Soviet Union and Red China. This enabled Eisenhower to reduce the Defense budget, to balance the overall federal budget, and to restore America’s fiscal health.

“In truth, Ike was just as weary of the generals as he was of hawkish diplomats, if not more so,” writes Evans. “He knew how the top brass used worst-case scenarios to frighten their civilian masters into spending more on unnecessary new weapons systems and pet boondoggles.”

“Look, let me tell you something,” Eisenhower said to his press secretary,” I know better than any of you fellows how waste in the Pentagon and about how much fat there is to be cut – because I’ve seen those boys operate for a long time.”

Eisenhower was able to play nuclear poker with the Russians because of the aura around him as the man who ordered the 1944 invasion of France. It gave him credibility lacking in his two successors, Kennedy and Johnson. The Soviet Union believed Eisenhower when the U.S. President talked about using nuclear weapons.

Started in Korea

Ike’s first bluff took place in Korea, where American troops were entangled in a bloody stalemate with Red China. Eisenhower made noise about using tactical nuclear weapons, shipping them to Korea, and having studies done on which North Korean airports could be nuked. The Chinese and North Koreans hurriedly made peace.

Over the next eight years Eisenhower played his cards closely, hinting that he had a royal flush, while leaving the Soviets or Chinese wondering if Ike would play his nuclear ace. When Red China launched artillery barrages of Quemoy and Matsu, the two islands between mainland China and Taiwan, the Communists did not go any further because of fear Eisenhower would use nuclear weapons on an invading force.

Yet Eisenhower was deathly afraid of nuclear war. Thomas recounts in one chilling passage a National Security Council meeting in which Eisenhower asked how many nuclear bombs it would take to make the world 100% radioactive. He was told that it was 10,000. Eisenhower then asked how many nuclear explosions it would take to knock the earth off its axis. Knocking the earth of its axis would have totally destroyed life on this plant, and prevented another civilization from arising.

Dwight Eisenhower was a conservative who balanced America’s budget, kept the peace, and gave the United States a period of prosperity. No wonder historians of both the right and left are looking closely at his Presidency.

InCity Times book review

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Killing Lincoln

By Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

I watch Bill O’Reilly almost every night. O’Reilly is the host of “The Factor” one of Fox TV’s most popular shows. He is an egomaniac who uses his show as an extension of his personality. O’Reilly also displays an affection for big words, which he then clings to like a toy.

Politically speaking, O’Reilly can best be described as a right Irish Catholic militant. If you want to know what kind of mentality produced the IRA, picture several hundred Bill O’Reillys growing up in a society which discriminated against them, denied them opportunity, and ridiculed their religion. O’Reilly’s TV show sometimes resembles a group of bomb throwers, using words instead of explosives. Rarely do we get such a display of the primitive bog Irish psyche.

But sometimes O’Reilly gets an issue right, which I why I watch his entertaining show. It’s also a good way to get in one hour the conservative take on America. I like watching Chris Matthews and then Bill O’Reilly, getting two sharply contrasting points of view.

Comprehensible writing

One of the products O’Reilly has been promoting on his show is the book he co-authored “Killing Lincoln.” I never felt motivated to read “Killing Lincoln,” because I thought O’Reilly would use the book to display his intellectual erudition (The word “erudition” is the type O’Reilly likes to use on “The Factor.” “Erudition” means knowledge derived from reading books.)

Also, this writer does not like reading about the American Civil War. I never understood the obsession some Americans have about the civil war. It was a tragic event, with Americans killing each other by the hundreds of thousands. It must have been a terrible thing to live through. The romanticization of the antebellum south, a society based on slavery, seemed appalling.

Then my sister Sharon, a retired high school principal in Houston, Texas, called me up one day to recommend “Killing Lincoln.” Sharon is the family liberal, educated at Anna Maria before joining the Peace Corps.
I saw “Killing Lincoln” on the display rack in the Worcester Library a few days later and grabbed it.

I literally could not put this book down. There was none of the multi-syllable nonsense one expected from O’Reilly. It is written in clear concise English understandable to any reader, no matter what their level of education.

What makes this book so comprehensible is the way it is organized. The chapters are short, sometimes only a single page. They allow the reader to absorb a factor in the overall story, digest its meaning, and then move on. Instead of wedging a thick stack of photographs into the middle of the book, O’Reilly incorporated them into the narrative, allowing the viewer to use the pictures to visualize the participants acting in the unfolding tale.

Gem of a book

The story picks up near the end of the civil war, as union forces try to surround the remnants of Robert E. Lee’s “Army of Northern Virginia”, as it attempts to escape to the Carolinas and take refuge in the Appalachian Mountains, which it would use as a base to wage guerrilla war against the north. With all the attention grabbing drama of a high-speed action thriller, the narrative builds to a climax as Lincoln’s assassins prepare, carry out, and try to escape after the actual assassination.

Like many other prominent Americans who were died violent deaths (the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X), many suspicions and myths have grown up about a conspiracy to murder Lincoln by members of the union government. These are much like the conspiracy theories that the CIA murdered John F. Kennedy. O’Reilly does not go beyond the historical record, but he does record strange happenings involving members of the federal government, without saying outright that it was a conspiracy.

“Killing Lincoln” is a gem of a book. It’s how history should be written – fast paced, easy to absorb, and fun to read.

InCity Times book review: Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin

By Frank Bailey with Ken Morris & Jeanne Devon

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

I almost feel sorry for Sarah Palin.

Palin has been bashed since John McCain made the questionable decision to make her his Vice Presidential running mate in 2008. Then there was Joe McGinnis’s book “The Rogue: the Search for the Real Sarah Palin”, the recent HBO movie “Game Change” depicting her as a total airhead, and now Frank Bailey’s “Blind Allegiance.”

Bailey’s book is far superior to McGinnis’ book or the movie. McGinnis was on the outside looking in; much of his book was questionable speculation. Bailey was with Palin from the start, an insider in her 2006 race for Governor, director of boards and commissions in Palin’s brief two year administration, and a Christian evangelical who was a true believer in Palin’s platform of fiscal conservatism. His account of her is therefore all the more damaging.

The book is based primarily on 50,000 emails Bailey saved over the years. The emails between Palin, Bailey, and other Alaska political figures are quoted at length. This technique can try the reader’s patience. This book is overwritten from the perspective of someone who reads for enjoyment, but it will be a valuable resource for historians. It speaks to Palin’s own inexperience and lack of judgment as a political operative that she put so many highly revealing remarks, quoted by Bailey, in writing.
Reagan on high heels

Palin became renowned in Alaska when she resigned a $124,000 a year job on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and exposed the corruption of fellow commission member Randy Reudrich, who was also Chairman of the Alaska Republican Party. Palin launched an insurgency within the Republican Party against Republican Governor Frank “Murky” Murkowski, a Nixon-style figure known for his corruption and nepotism. Murkowski actually had the nerve to appoint his own daughter to fill his vacant U.S. Senate seat. Palin alleged that Murkowski was “shafting” Alaska taxpayers by favoring breaks to large oil companies.

Bailey saw Palin as a “Reagan on high heels” and called her at home to offer to work in her campaign. After an exchange of emails, he attended in November 2005 a Palin fundraiser in Wasilla, the town where Palin was Mayor.

Bailey introduced himself to Palin and said, “I can paint. Clean floors and toilets. Wash windows.”

“[M]y sincerely naïve offer struck the right cord,” recalled Bailey. “With little more than this brief introduction Sarah invited me inside the campaign. As I’ve learned since, only in Alaska is it possible to be invisible one day and in the middle of a political movement the next.”

Republican revolt

Bailey’s book describes an insurrection within the Alaska Republican party led by Palin. It was a real grass roots rebellion by fiscal conservatives, “a seat of the pants operation” micromanaged by Palin. Bailey describes how the campaign purchased a machine to make their own campaign buttons, and searched through sofa cushions for coins to put in parking meters, rather than paying for more expensive garage parking. “Literally, we were a campaign for which a $100 outlay might require the attention of Sarah, me, and as many as three or four others,” said Bailey.

“However, our seat-of-the-pants operation suited us,” continued Bailey. “I believed that the we operated was how government should be run and would be run under Sarah Palin: cutting waste and chopping expenses to the bone; fiscal conservatism at its finest. Sell assets, reduce government, and simply do more for less.”

Disillusionment set in. Palin turned out to be quite the diva; she was given to rages against subordinates, friends, and above all, political enemies. She was ultra-sensitive to any form of criticism, whether it was coming from newspaper editorials, talk show hosts, or Internet bloggers. Bailey spends much of this book relating how Palin would order her subordinates to respond through surrogates to political criticism, no matter how minute or inconsequential.

Bailey himself appears like a cult member, blindly obeying and doing Palin’s bidding, no matter how distasteful he found it. Reading between the lines, one gets the impression that Bailey was in love with Palin and found himself being led around like a lovesick puppy.

Bailey does clear up some misconceptions about Palin, He wrote that the rumors that Palin’s youngest child, Trig, was actually the daughter of Palin’s daughter Brisol, are completely false. McGuiness in his book gave this canard some credence.

Writing about Palin’s famous stumble with Katie Couric, Bailey said that Palin read Alaska’s daily newspapers every day and received a summary report on what was said by other media outlets. But Palin, demonstrating an understandable inferiority complex about relying on Alaska’s local media, made the disastrous decision to evade the question rather than answer it truthfully. If Palin had told the truth, the entire matter would have been ignored.

Intellectually unqualified

There are some good things that can be said about Sarah Palin. She had the courage to lead a successful insurgency against a corrupt political establishment dominated by her own party, speaking out when others remained silent. Finding out during her pregnancy that the child she was carrying had Down’s syndrome, Palin made the courageous decision to have the child instead of aborting it.

But she clearly is unqualified intellectually and temperamentally to be President of the United States. Which is to bad for the Republican party, because America as a whole would benefit if someone with Sarah Palin’s charisma would lead fiscal conservatives to take back the Republican party from the warmongers and deficit producing supply-siders who have hijacked it.

InCity Times book review

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

LAST WORD: MY INDICTMENT OF THE CIA IN THE MURDER OF JFK

 By Mark Lane

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

 This is a book that does not live up to its rather flamboyant title. One expected, with a title like this, that it would have a “smoking gun”; i.e., some documentary evidence the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) did in fact assassinate President John F. Kennedy (JFK) on November 22, 1963 in Dallas Texas. But in reality, this book is an episodic recount of how Attorney Mark Lane handled the fall out from his 1966 classic “Rush to Judgment”. The conclusion that the CIA assassinated JFK is based on much speculation by Lane. This is not to say that the CIA didn’t kill Kennedy; just that this book makes a very poor case for that particular argument.

Lane’s case

            The case Lane makes for the CIA’s involvement centers around a September 1963 alleged Oswald visit to the Cuban and Russian embassies to get a visa to travel to Cuba. Lane believes that an imposter impersonating Oswald visited the embassies in an effort to implicate the Cubans in the assassination. In fact, photographs later released by the CIA of the man showed that it definitely was not Oswald.

            Lane further argues that the CIA had a history of murdering several foreign leaders, in the “notorious “Phoenix” program murdered tens of thousands of Vietnamese, that the CIA opposed Kennedy’s plans to withdraw from Vietnam and make peace with Cuban tyrant Fidel Castro. From these facts, he leaps to the conclusion that the CIA murdered JFK because it had a motive and the means to do so.

Lane wrote this book apparently for the JFK assassination novices who know little of the history of this crime. He reviews such basics as the Warren Commission and how it was dominated by the CIA director Allen Dulles, who JFK fired for lying about the Bay of Pigs; the magic bullet theory by which the Warren Commission explained how Oswald was able to get off three shots and inflict multiple wounds on Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connolly; the “grassy knoll” from which a second assassin supposedly fired the fatal head shot; and the Zapruder film, a close up amateur video by Abraham Zapruder, arguallbly the most studied film in history.

Details battles


            Much of the book is spent detailing how Lane battled his own critics. There is a lengthy recount of the unsuccessful suit against him by Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, whom Lane accused being part of the CIA plot to murder JFK. Lane was the frequent target of Warren Commission supporters, who Lane reviles at length in this book.

            There are so many theories about the Kennedy assassination: the Russians, the pro-Castro Cubans, anti-Castro Cubans, organized crime, the CIA, military intelligence, organized crime, southern racists, Kennedy successor Lyndon Baines Johnson, Kenendy nemesis Richard M. Nixon, and the hundreds of small time confessors to the crime.

            What this book sounds like is that Lane is cashing in on the hungry market of avid Kennedy assassination readers. With its glossy cover and flamboyant title, it appears to be marketed to attract a bookstore patron into shelling out $24.95 to buy a book with little new evidence to reveal.

ICT book review: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Monday, February 6th, 2012

InCity Times book review: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

By Manning Marable

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

This book is too long. For the amateur writer and history buff like myself, it was a long read at 487 pages. But it is a valuable tome on one of the 20th century’s most important African-Americans.

Recently I met a young woman who gave me a book to read by Kiki Swinson, “Life After Wifey.” (2007 Kensington Publishing). It is fictionalized account of the African-American drug subculture in Washington D.C. It is laced with the “N” word every other paragraph. At first I thought it was written by someone in the Ku Klux Klan, so negative was its portrayal of African Americans. “What did you think of it?” she asked.

“To be honest, I thought it was very racist,” I said. She protested that Click to continue »

InCity Times book review by Steve Maher

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America’s Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs
By Jim Rasenberger

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

The Bay of Pigs means very little to anyone under the age of 50. It was a four day affair in which 1,200 American backed Cuban exiles suffered an ignominious defeat trying to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in April 1961. For the United States, it was a humiliating setback that left new President John F. Kennedy being perceived as weak and indecisive by the Soviet Union. For Fidel Castro, it was “the first defeat of imperialism in the Americas”, a triumph that consolidated his regime and made him a hero to Cuban nationalists.
Rasenberger has written the best book yet on the subject. It is cogent, well documented, and very readable.

Unfortunate digression

Between 1956 and 1958 Castro waged a successful guerilla war against old style tyrant Fulgencio Batista, taking power when Batista fled to the Dominican Republic on New Year’s Day 1959. Rasenberger picks up the story shortly after that, when Castro visited the United States in April 1959.

Rasenberger spends much time on the historical debate on whether Castro was a Communist when he took power on January 1, 1959, or became a Communist as a nationalist response to American pressure against his regime. This is an unfortunate digression. Most historians considered this matter resolved by Castro’s revelation to biographer Tad Szulc, that he contacted the Cuban Communist Party for assistance in Communizing Cuba shortly after he entered Havana in January 1959.

The April 1959 Castro visit was important from another perspective. Castro met with Vice President Richard M. Nixon, Click to continue »

ICT book review by Steven R. Maher

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America’s Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs
By Jim Rasenberger

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

The Bay of Pigs means very little to anyone under the age of 50. It was a four day affair in which 1,200 American backed Cuban exiles suffered an ignominious defeat trying to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in April 1961. For the United States, it was a humiliating setback that left new President John F. Kennedy being perceived as weak and indecisive by the Soviet Union. For Fidel Castro, it was “the first defeat of imperialism in the Americas”, a triumph that consolidated his regime and made him a hero to Cuban nationalists.

Rasenberger has written the best book yet on the subject. It is cogent, well documented, and very readable.

Unfortunate digression

Between 1956 and 1958 Castro waged a successful guerilla war against old style tyrant Fulgencio Batista, taking power when Batista fled to the Dominican Republic on New Year’s Day 1959. Rasenberger picks up the story shortly after that, when Castro visited the United States in April 1959. Click to continue »

InCity Times book review: Main Street $marts, by Grace Ross

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

By Chris Horton

Grace Ross’ book “Main Street $marts, Who got us into this economic mess and how we get through it …” is out. But why a book by Grace Ross?

A list of authors of other well-known books about the crisis includes seven professors, three heads of think tanks or consulting firms and two Nobel Prize winners, cabinet secretaries and advisors to Presidents, liberals and conservatives, all Very Important People.

But Grace Ross? Community and housing rights activist? First-time author? Sometime candidate for public office? No PhD? Not even a gig with the IMF or the Treasury Dept.?

First, not one of those other books was written by someone who knows firsthand what is going on, has been hearing what regular people are saying and seeing what they are going through. Not one of them has been working at our sides as we struggle for our rights and for our survival. Click to continue »

InCity Times book review

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Obama’s Wars By Bob Woodward

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

If you have a relative in the armed services or a friend who is a political aficionado, “Obama’s Wars” would make a nifty gift. It’s the latest inside look at Presidential decision making by Bob Woodward, whose previous books include “Bush at War” and “Plan of Attack.”

In these books Woodward interviews the President, major political figures, generals, and other participants. He tries as much as possible to have his sources confirm each other’s accounts, so as to ensure historical accuracy. Woodward goes to lengths at being impartial. This truly is the first draft of history.

Woodward first rose to national prominence in the early 1970s as part of a two man team of investigative reporters for the Washington Post, exposing the seamy side of the Nixon presidency in the Watergate scandal. Nixon was forced to resign to avoid being impeached.

Thoughtful man

The Obama who emerges in these pages is a deeply thoughtful man who gives due consideration to the consequences of his decisions. Click to continue »

Book Review: Necessary Secrets, By Gabriel Schoenfeld

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Necessary Secrets

By Gabriel Schoenfeld

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

In March 2006 Gabriel Schoenfeld wrote an essay in Commentary calling upon the Bush administration to prosecute New York Times personnel for publishing details about the National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance of Al-Qaeda emails and telephone calls. In “Necessary Secrets” Schoenfeld expanded the essay into a book, in which he examines the collision between a free press operating in a democratic society, and the legitimate need for secrecy in the war on terror.

“In vibrant democracies there will always be tensions between the government’s need to keep secrets and the news media’s need to reveal them,” noted lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz wrote on Schoenfeld’s book. “There will never be a perfect solution or an agreed-upon balance. This is as it should be. Constant tension between the government and the press is an essential requisite of our system of checks and balances.”

Neocon book

Schoenfeld’s March 2006 essay made him a hero on the right, which despises the New York Times. This is a neocon book, about as persuasive an argument as can be made for limiting a free press. Click to continue »