Blind Ambition: The best book on Watergate


Open Road Integrated Media has re-issued the best book on Watergate,
Blind Ambition by John Dean.

Dean was the smartest of the Nixon gang. As counsel to the President, he coordinated the cover up, investigated the burglary, protected the President, set up the fall guys and arranged the payment of hush money.

As the flood gates of the scandal were about to burst, Dean was the first to defect to the prosecutors, tell all, and wind up with a jail sentence of only four months.

Conspirators who committed lesser crimes than Dean, did far more time.

Unknown.jpeg John Dean, then

Dean’s memoire is self-serving, but the book’s value is the flesh and blood portrayals of the principals—Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Ziegler, Magruder, Mitchell, Chapin, Kalmbach.   Thanks to Dean, the reader can visualize the principals and imagine being in their presence.

Of particular entertainment is Dean’s lifestyle. Prep school graduate, playboy, big spender, and enormous drinker. One could envy Dean, but for his public disgrace and time served.

After being released from jail, Dean sprung back. Unable to practice law, he entered investment banking. At age 60, he began writing books. His interviews and book lectures appear on You Tube.   Now 78, the Dean of the You Tube interviews is unrepentant. He jokes about his role in Watergate.

Unknown-1.jpeg John Dean, now

Whatever one’s personal assessment of Dean, Blind Ambition is a valuable resource for Watergate fans.



Same Family, Different Colors: A pathbreaking study in colorism


Professor Lori Tharps ( has produced a pathbreaking study on colorism—the favored treatment of a light skinned member of a race, ethnic group or nationality. Colorism occurs in the United States, Latin America, Europe, India and East Asia. Based on her personal experience (each of her three children has a different skin tone) and interviews with Black, Latino and Asian people in the United States, Tharps explains the concerns parents have about favoring one child over a sibling or siblings, and equipping a darker skinned child to encounter a color conscious society.

Having light skin is not always an advantage. Tharps discusses the importance of tribal affiliation among members of all races. Accordingly, many light skinned people feel isolated within their own race, ethnic group, or nationality.imgres

Lori Tharps

With pride, Tharps celebrates nascent world-wide efforts to address colorism.

Though the topic is serious, Same Family, Different Colors is a pleasure to read. Tharps tells stories from her own life and warmly recounts experiences of the people she interviews. By the time the book is finished, the reader considers Tharps a friend.

Tharps teaches journalism at Temple University. She must be an exemplary teacher, as her own writing is clear, concise and fast moving.

Same Family, Different Colors (Beacon Press) is highly recommended as an introduction to the challenge of colorism.

Truth and reconciliation on the Day of Atonement

I gave the following talk at Kol Nidre services at Minyan Masorti, Germantown Jewish Centre, Philadelphia, on October 11, 2016.


Our Father, merciful Father, you have visited upon us a daily torrent of retribution, famine, sword, fear and panic. In the morning, we say, “If only it were evening,” and in the evening we say, “If only it were morning.” No one knows who among Your people Israel, Your flock, will survive and who will fall victim to plunder and abuse.

We beg of You, our Father in Heaven, restore Israel to their precincts, sons to their mothers’ embrace, fathers to sons.  Bring peace to the world and remove the evil wind that has come to rest upon Your creatures. 

In his novel about the Lodz Ghetto, Swedish author Steve Sen-Sandberg (See Steve Sen-Sanberg, translated by Sarah Death, “The Emperor of Lies, Farrar, Straus and Geroux (2011), page 284, Adapted, See attributes this prayer to a scribbling on the wall of a prayer room on Podrzeczna Street at the approach of Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement, 1941.

Sen-Sandberg writes about a community on the precipice.  Starvation, disease, overwork, deportation, death are imminent.

Tonight, as we begin 25 hours of fast, prayer, and introspection, we too are on the precipice.   Our conditions are different than those of Lodz. But our concerns for family, friends, Israel, and the world are similar.

As stated in the U-Netaneh Tokef:  All that lives on earth will pass before God.  God will judge each living being and inscribe their destiny.  On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur, it is sealed.  But T’shuvah [repentence], T’fillah [prayer], and Tz’dakah [charity or justice] have the power to transform the harshness of our destiny.”

How does transformation work? Once we have identified our sins – individually and communally, how can we use the powers of T’shuvah, T’fillah, and Tz’dakah to Transform the harshness of our destiny?”

In 1994, South Africa achieved majority rule and abolished Apartheid, the rigid, oppressive separation of the races. This achievement was the result of negotiations and compromise between the outgoing White minority government, and the multi-racial, militant African National Congress.

The deal breaker or deal maker was the prosecution of abuses of human rights.

The outgoing White minority government did not want its people to be punished. The African National Congress wanted justice. The compromise was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, then head of the Anglican Church in South Africa, was chair of the Commission. A white social activist, Alex Boraine, former president of the Methodist Church in Southern African was vice chair.

Lyn S. Graybill, who taught African politics at the University of Virginia, (See:   Lyn S. Graybill, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Ethical and Theological Perspectives, Ethics and International Affairs, March 1998, pages 374-376, Adapted, See, reported that the hearings resembled a church service more than a judicial proceeding, with Archbishop Tutu dressed in his purple clerical robes, clearly operating as a religious figure.   Secular academics criticized the very framing of the issue in terms of repentance and forgiveness, which they saw as uniquely Christian concepts.

An interfaith service was held at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.   Commissioners received a candle and an olive branch —symbols of truth and peace.   Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, and traditional African religious leaders blessed the Commissioners who stood in a semi-circle as they stood in a semi-circle with their lighted candles.”

At the first session of the Commission, Archbishop Tutu explained that the Commission would constitute a sacramental ritual of “contrition, confession, and forgiveness” which would contribute to a “corporate nationwide process of healing.”

Archbishop Tutu knew, as did our ancient and medieval rabbis who constructed the liturgy of the Machzor [High Holiday prayerbook], about the power of prayer – T’fillah – and rituals rich with symbols to bring community together and invite them into the process of transformation.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had three functions: first, recognition; second, confession; and third, reparations.

First: Victims told their stories, unfettered by legal formalities such as cross examination, rules of evidence, and burden of proof.

Second: Perpetrators, both Government and opposition, both White and Black, explained their crimes. They could apply for amnesty providing that their crimes were in pursuit of a political ends. Common criminals such as bank robbers were not eligible for amnesty.

Third: The new majority Government granted reparations to victims, in forms ranging from cash, scholarships, and day care or recognition such as street namings and building of community libraries.

It is here, in the Commission’s three goals,   that we see the power of Tz’dakah to transform the harshness of one’s destiny. Tz’dakah is often understood as charity, but it is more correctly and literally translated as justice. When we restore the balance of Justice to those whom we, individually or communally, have wronged, both sides are transformed.


Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris

On November 18, 1999 the late Cyril Harris, then Chief Rabbi of the Orthodox community testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (See, Adapted). He stated:

The Jewish community did not initiate apartheid. Many in the Jewish community did not agree with apartheid. Almost everyone in the Jewish community had a kind of awkward tension about apartheid, but most of the Jewish community benefited in one way or another from apartheid.

The Chief Rabbi noted that some of the most prominent activists against Apartheid were of Jewish origin—many acting from humanitarian motivations more than from Jewish values—and that the Jewish community always voted heavily against the National Party, the party of Apartheid.

The Chief Rabbi confessed about the “silence” of the Jewish community.

It is insufficient to stand apart from violations of human rights. Dissociation is inadequate where vocal protest is urgently called for. Positive steps must be taken to rectify injustice.

The Jewish community in South Africa, confesses a collective failure to protest against apartheid. The situation was not one in which the human rights of the minority were adversely affected. That in itself would have been wrong. It was a situation in which the human rights of the vast majority were systematically and forcibly denied and that is a monstrous aberration.

Noting that Jews have been “the most consistent victims among the people of the world,” the Chief Rabbi said that “Jewish moral teaching, together with the essential lesson of Jewish historical experience should have moved the community to do everything possible to oppose apartheid.   Distancing oneself from the anguished cry of the majority in one’s own midst and myopically pursuing one’s own interests, whether personal or communal, can never be morally justified.

The Chief Rabbi’s powerful statements remind us of the transformational power of T’shuvah. When we look within ourselves and confess what he have discovered — only then can we TRANSFORM ourselves and join with our fellow human beings to TRANSFORM our larger society.

The Chief Rabbi continued

Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, “Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself. Indifference is more universal, more contagious, more dangerous. Indifference is silent justification. Indifference makes possible an evil erupting as an exception, becoming accepted.”

Chief Rabbi Harris continued:

Because of the evil of indifference which so many in the Jewish community professed, we confess that sin today before this commission and we ask forgiveness for it.

T’shuvah, T’fillah, and Tz’dakah have the power to transform.

As we go through our introspection tonight and tomorrow, we can draw guidance and insight from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

We should acknowledge that our pain and our worries are legitimate.

We should appreciate the redemptive quality of confession.

We should make reparations to those whom we have harmed.

The prayer from the Lodz Ghetto resonates tonight:

May it be Your will, You who hear the beseechings of Your petitioners, to hearken to our heart-felt pleadings that emanate from our hearts. . . .  

May all who seek refuge with You experience neither shame nor disgrace.  May God redeem the righteous summarily, promptly and speedily, and let us say, Amen.                                                               


An economic perspective on the causes of the Civil War

Published a century ago, Expansion and Conflict by William Edward Dodd, tells the back story of the Civil War.   Born in North Carolina, Dodd was a leader in the Southern school of history.  He was a liberal, a politically active Democrat, and distinguished professor at the University of Chicago. He served as Ambassador to Germany (1933-1937), where within the bounds of proper diplomatic behavior, he opposed the Nazi regime.


William Edward Dodd (1869-1940)

Expansion and Conflict tells the story of conquest of the West and its connection to the issue of slavery, from the time of Andrew Jackson through the end of the Civil War.

Dodd sees the approaching conflict as a matter of economic competition.  He divides the nation into three regions–the Northeast, the old Northwest (basically the original Northwest Territory of 1787) and the South.  The Northeast was concerned about tariffs.  The Northwest was concerned about settlement of the Great Plains.  The South was concerned about expanding slavery into the West and the Caribbean.

Except for the minority of people in the North (basically the Northeast and the Northwest) who were abolitionists, slavery was not a moral issue but an economic issue.  At various times, there were calls for secession from groups in the Northeast and the South, should their interests not prevail.

Though Dodd expresses a Southern perspective, he is not an apologist.

Though Indian removal is most associated with the South, it was also demanded by the Northwest. Indians from Illinois and neighboring areas were deported to Nebraska.  When Nebraska was found to have rich agricultural potential, the Indians were removed to Oklahoma.   The South took offense, seeing a Northern plot to use the Indian settlements in Oklahoma as a barrier against the westward expansion of slavery.

As the Civil War drew near, Northern interests proposed that the Utah Territory and the New Mexico territory be granted statehood.  The population in both territories were too sparse to support statehood, but from a Southern view, their premature admission to the Union as free states would further block the expansion of slavery and add more anti-slavery representation in Congress.

Dodd portrays slavery from an economic perspective rarely heard today.  According to Dodd, slaveholders appreciated the cash value of their slaves.  European immigrants were hired to dig ditches and drain swamps.  The slaveholders preferred that hired laborers rather than valuable slaves die from tropical diseases.  Dodd says that slaves were provided medical care, to protect the cash value of slaves and the breeding value of slave mothers.

Expansion and Conflict is a fast moving history, easy to read, and not overloaded with unnecessary detail.  It is available as a free ebook from the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg, and Amazon.

A sizzling spy adventure. Has the author led a few prior lives under a few prior names?

Michael Wright has written a sizzling spy adventure. It is the story of an American intelligence agent who goes free lance to discover the killer and avenge the murder of his boarding school pal and sometime lover. As the agent masters contorted twists and sharp turns in the plot, thrilling fights, and precise professional killings, the author informs the reader of the lifestyle, religion, culture and politics of present day Iran.


The writer claims to be an American expat living in Mexico. Judging by his degree of knowledge, I suspect that he has led a few prior lives under a few prior names. Is he living in Mexico only because of the low cost of living or does he have another story to reveal?

Chaim Rumkowski: The evil of collaboration

The only way to demonstrate the soul of Chaim Rumkowski is through a novel, explains Swedish author Steve Sem-Sandberg. In Emperor of Lies (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Sem-Sandberg gives a gripping and grim account of the Lodz Ghetto and its boss Chaim Rumkowski.


Months after conquering Poland and parts of the Soviet Union, the Nazis ordered the Jews into ghettos, usually fenced in and sealed, and located in the poorest parts of a city.   The Nazis held the Jews in ghettos until they could be deported to concentration camps and ultimate death.   As native Jews were moved out of the ghettos, their places were filled by Jews evacuated from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.

The Nazis appointed a Judenrat (Jewish Council) to oversee the civil administration of the ghetto, taking care of food distribution, public health, housing, social services and policing.   Persons appointed to the Judenrat had little choice but to serve. Even if the members had good intentions, they ended up carrying out Nazi orders.

The Nazis found their ultimate collaborator in Chaim Rumkowski, a businessman and director of the largest orphanage in Lodz.   They appointed him Eldest of the Jews of Lodz.

Rumkowski devised a survival strategy. He turned the Lodz Ghetto into an industrial complex—a city of workers—manufacturing uniforms, military equipment and consumer goods for the Germans. Rumkowski hoped that Lodz would be so productive and so valuable that the Germans would never liquidate the ghetto.

He was wrong. In July and August 1944, the Lodz Ghetto was liquidated. Rumkowski and his family were placed on the last train to Auschwitz, where he died.


Steve Sem-Sandberg

Sem-Sandberg bases his fictional account of the Lodz Ghetto on the daily Chronicle published by the Judenrat, diaries left behind in the Ghetto, memoirs and interviews with survivors. However, one cannot distinguish actual events from incidents made up by the author.

Nevertheless, the character portrayed by Sem-Sandberg is clear, strong and disgusting. Rumkowski was not a politician. He was a stooge of the Germans and dictator over the Jews. He carried out German orders.   He had little bargaining power with the oppressors. He directed the Ghetto administration to prepare lists of Jews for deportation.

Rumkowski was corrupt. Compared to the other Ghetto residents, Rumkowski lived like a king. He had adequate food, clothes and at least two residences. He gave his friends and family jobs in the Ghetto administration. He was a child molester and sexual predator.   He built a cult of personality. His face appeared on postage stamps. Automobiles were banned inside the ghetto. He was driven around in a fancy carriage drawn by a white horse.


Lodz Ghetto postage stamp shows picture of Rumkowski.  The Germans renamed the city Litzmannstadt.

Ultimately, Rumkowski’s strategy failed.   When the Russians arrived in Lodz in January 1945, only 800 of the 200,000 Jews who once lived in the Ghetto, remained. They were detailed to dismantling the industrial equipment and cleaning up the Ghetto, before they themselves would have been deported.

Chaim Rumkowski, The Emperor of Lies, exemplifies the evil of collaboration.

Steve Sen-Sandberg discusses book at Kansas City Public Library.


Why the Soviet Union is history


Cold War junkies will find affirmation, and anticommunists will get validation from Louis Sell’s new book From Washington to Moscow (Duke University Press).

Sell retired after 27 years in the foreign service.  Sell spent most of his time at the American embassy in the Moscow and at the Soviet desk in the State Department.

Sell recounts the last two decades of the Soviet Union and its East European client states, from the reign of Leonid Brezhnev until its disintegration under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991.

Sell says that the Soviet system collapsed from internal rot.   The Soviet Union was governed by a succession of old, sick men.  The economy was burdened with excessive bureaucracy.  The military was over extended with the war in Afghanistan.

Sell depicts President Ronald Reagan as a smart, strong leader, who knew what he wanted to do.   He tells how Reagan encouraged Saudi Arabia to increase oil production, causing a drop in world oil prices.   The Soviet Union’s revenues from oil exports thereby dropped, adding strain to the Soviet economy.

louis sell - small

Louis Sell

He writes how the Reagan Administration, the American labor movement, and the Vatican supported the Solidarity movement in Poland, which led to the unraveling of the Communist system in Eastern Europe.

Sells recounts the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and how the Soviet leadership bungled crisis management.  He discusses the tedious arms control negotiations which led to agreements helpful to both sides.

In Moscow, Sell acted as liaison to Soviet dissidents.  He discusses Reagan’s diplomatic efforts for human rights, which widened cracks in the Soviet system.

Sell gives a rapidly moving account of the collapse of the Soviet client states in Eastern Europe. Particularly exciting is his telling of the disintegration of the German Democratic Republic and the opening of the Berlin Wall.

He praises the restrained but firm leadership of President George H. W. Bush.

Sell’s writing is fresh and in most places fast paced.  He interjects his personal experiences.  He adds a bit of humor.

He first visited the Soviet Union as part of a student summer tour.  He learned that easy money could be made by bringing currency into the Soviet Union.

He and a classmate were stopped by Soviet customs inspectors.   Sell and his companion thought they were in big trouble.  It turned out that they had written their birth dates on their transit papers in the American (month/date/year) rather than the European style (date/month/year).  They were required to fill out new forms.

Little did the customs officials know that they had stuffed currency, but I won’t tell you where.