It’s very early in the election process (No one has even voted yet.), but it appears that the 2016 Presidential election will be one of the most unusual, entertaining and memorable in US history.  Anything can happen.  On the GOP side we have a wide open field featuring two candidates that have no political experience, one of which is the leader by a comfortable margin, a woman, and an African American.  On the Democratic side the two legitimate candidates include an avowed Socialist and a woman, the presumed nominee, who is under investigation by the FBI and may be indicted during or after the campaign.  In addition, it is possible that others (e.g. Joe Biden, Jerry Brown) are biding their time and will jump in if events provide them with an opening.  Finally, there is the possibility that former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg will enter the race as an Independent, even though no third-party candidate has ever won election.  To quote comedian Arte Johnson of “Laugh-In” fame, “verrrry interesting.”

This scenario has prompted me to blog about other significant/controversial Presidential elections.  Today’s feature is the 1960 election in which John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the Junior Senator from Massachusetts, defeated Vice President Richard Nixon.  This election was notable for several reasons:

  1.  It was extremely close.  At that time, election prognoses were not nearly as sophisticated as they are now, and many states were not “called” until most of the country had already gone to bed.  The lead in many states, such as Texas, Illinois, California, and others, switched back and forth throughout the night.   In fact, ironically, the tv networks prematurely “called” California for JFK early the next morning putting him over the top, but several days later, after all the absentee ballots had been counted, Nixon actually won the state.
  2. The race was so close that JFK only won the popular vote by 113,000 votes (.17 percent).   Nixon became the first candidate to lose while carrying more states than his opponent.
  3. This was the first presidential election in which both major party candidates had been born in the 20th Century.
  4. JFK became the first Roman Catholic President.
  5. JFK’s charisma was very powerful, especially to young voters and teenagers, like me.  He was superb on the “stump.”  He was very telegenic, as was his wife Jackie.  He made people feel optimistic.  His watchword was “The New Frontier,” but it could easily have been “Hope and Change.”
  6. The debates were pivotal.  They were the first ones to be televised.  Many people believe JFK won them because of his youthful, vibrant appearance and with it, the election, itself.  Nixon appeared worn and haggard, especially in the first debate, and his “5 o’clock shadow” showed up on tv giving him a “sinister” look to some viewers.  Indeed, a majority of those who listened on radio felt that Nixon had won.  JFK was also the superior debater.  There is some difference of opinion on the impact of the debates, however, and I could write a whole separate blog on the ins and outs of them.
  7.  This was the first Presidential election in which the incumbent, Dwight Eisenhower, was not eligible to run.  Having already been elected to two terms, Ike was prohibited from running for a third term by the 22nd Amendment, which had been passed in 1951.
  8. There were suspicions of voter fraud, most notably in Illinois and Texas. More on this later.
The nominating process was radically different for the two parties.  For the GOP, Nixon was the obvious nominee, although he had to fend off a challenge from NY Governor, Nelson Rockefeller.  On the other hand, the Democratic nomination was wide open.  Major candidates included JFK, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, California Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown (the current governor’s father), and Senators Hubert Humphrey, Stuart Symington and Wayne Morse.  There were many fewer primaries then, so their results were not decisive.  In fact, Johnson and Symington eschewed them entirely.
JFK had to overcome two big negatives: (1) Some thought he was too young and inexperienced to serve as president and should settle for VP, and (2) there was serious doubt as to whether or not a Catholic could be elected, and, if he were would he be beholden to the Pope.  He overcame the first by declaring “I’m not running for vice president.  I’m running for president.”  He overcame the second one by defeating Humphrey in the primary in West Virginia, a largely Protestant state.
At the convention, initially several candidates had blocs of support pledged to them.  No one could gain a majority.  In addition to the major candidates, a few “favorite sons” emerged.  Eventually, JFK emerged as the leader with LBJ the chief rival.   LBJ, though very popular in the South, could not expand his delegate strength beyond that region.  Late entrant, Adlai Stevenson, never got his candidacy off the ground, despite the strong support of Eleanor Roosevelt.  “Smoke-filled room” maneuvering was intense.
Finally, in a very controversial move, JFK offered LBJ the VP spot in exchange for his crucial support in the South.  This brilliant political move (Larry O’Brien, his campaign manager called it “a stroke of genius”) was bitterly opposed by many of JFK’s insiders, notably Robert Kennedy and Lawrence O’Donnell.  However, it not only cinched the nomination, but it also was likely the difference in the general election.  In any event, many doubted LBJ would accept as he would have had to give up his powerful position in the Senate, but he did.  JFK was nominated on the first ballot.
The two main election issues were the economy (as always) and the Cold War.  JFK benefited from the serious recession in 1957-58, which was still fresh in many people’s minds.  Nixon was thought to have the edge in fighting the Cold War.  As I said, the election was extremely close and controversial.
In Illinois, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who had an unscrupulous reputation, was suspected of holding back Cook County results until he could ascertain how many Democratic votes were needed to carry the state.  This was not the first election to have fostered such suspicions; hence the expression, and I paraphrase, “in Chicago they vote early and often, even from the cemetery.” Furthermore, in Texas in a few precincts there were more votes counted than total registered voters.
As I said previously, election night was very suspenseful because of the closeness of the vote as well as the relatively unsophisticated polling techniques of the day.  Many people stayed up until the wee hours.  As the night wore on, it appeared that JFK would win, albeit narrowly.  In fact, in an early edition of the next day’s newspaper the venerable “New York Times” actually published a headline “Kennedy Elected President.”  In his memoirs, Turner Catledge, the Managing Editor, disclosed that he had had second thoughts later that night.  He wrote that he hoped “a certain Midwestern mayor would steal enough votes to pull Kennedy through” to save “The Times” from the same embarrassment that had befallen the “Chicago Tribune” in the 1948 election.
Nixon could have challenged the results in those states, and others, but chose not to do so despite the urgings of some of his advisors.  Whether he did so to spare the country a long drawn-out and controversial constitutional battle, as some have claimed, or for some other reason, we will never know for sure.  Over the years, it has been the subject of much speculation and has helped make the 1960 election one of the most exciting and controversial in history.


Bernie Sanders reminds me of an elderly, eccentric uncle.  Many families have one.  He is the kindly, but odd, uncle that you see only at occasional family gatherings.  Otherwise, he is kept tucked away at a safe distance from the rest of the family.  He likes to “hold court” on various matters in his strong, assured, blustery voice.  He has strange, embarrassing views that make little sense, but, so what, after all, its just Uncle Bernie being Uncle Bernie.  Just be sure to warn the kids in advance.  (Full disclosure: I actually have an Uncle Bernie.  He is nothing like Bernie Sanders, and I like him a lot.)

That, I believe, is how many of us, professional politicians, media personnel, and just ordinary voters, view Bernie.  The so-called “conventional wisdom” is that he is just keeping us entertained until the professional politicians take over.  In this odd Presidential election cycle, however, where many of the voters are frustrated, angry and ready for anything and anyone, that would be a mistake.  His political views may be far out of the mainstream, but they appear to be resonating with a lot of people.

Bernie Sanders was born in Brooklyn, NY on September 8, 1941 to Jewish immigrant parents. He characterizes himself as “proud to be Jewish” but “not particularly religious.”  He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1964 at the dawn of the turbulent 60s.

Bernie has always been forthright and proud to identify himself as a socialist.  For example, as a college student, he was an active protest organizer for CORE and SNCC.  In addition, he was a member of the Young People’s Socialist League, and he participated in the March on Washington where he witnessed MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” among other civil rights speeches.  He was very active in the anti-war movement of the 60s and 70s.  He was against the Viet Nam War, and he managed to avoid service by applying for conscientious objector status.

Bernie claims he got his inspiration to enter politics from, Adolph Hitler, of all people.  He denotes that as a result of Hitler’s winning an election (in 1932) 50 million people eventually died in WWII, among them 6 million Jews.  That demonstrated the power of politics to him.  Sounds extreme, but, again, that’s Bernie.

Bernie began his political career in 1981 winning election as mayor of Burlington as an Independent by only TEN votes.  Apparently, he did a good job as he was re-elected three times by increasingly larger majorities.  Bernie moved up to the House in 1990 and the Senate in 2006.  Political trivia buffs will appreciate that in his Senate run Bernie was endorsed by Senator Chuck Schumer, and one of his ardent campaign supporters was a little-known Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.

During his years in Congress Bernie has been identified as an Independent, but he has caucused and voted with the Democrats.  Even his harshest critics acknowledge that he has been consistent throughout his career.  For example:

  1. He supports the extreme social democratic approach of the Nordic countries and other liberal European countries.
  2. He favors economic policies such as income equality (proposing a punitive maximum tax rate as high as 90%), raising the minimum wage, mandatory parental leave, sick leave and vacations, and expanded universal healthcare (more comprehensive than Obamacare).
  3. He has been an outspoken critic of the Patriot Act, the NSA and the police.
  4. He voted against NAFTA (an agreement among the US, Canada and Mexico, which curtailed or eliminated various trade barriers between those countries) and CAFTA (which extended the agreement to include several Central American countries).
  5. He identifies global warming as the greatest threat to national security (ahead of terrorism).


Bernie is wise to run as a Democrat, rather than as the Socialist he really is.  The term “Socialist” is radioactive in American politics.  The last Socialist Presidential candidate, the forgettable Darlington Hoopes, garnered less than 6,000 votes in 1956.

My intent is not to be critical of Bernie or his views.  They are what they are, and he is entitled to them.  At least he is being honest; he says what he thinks and thinks what he says.  I am merely stating that Bernie’s supporters should be cognizant of them before they vote for him.  I believe that about half of the potential voters in the country are either uninformed or don’t care about the issues and the various candidates’ positions on them.  Sad, but true.

Like Donald Trump on the GOP side, Bernie has tapped into the extreme frustration and disaffection of many American voters.  Many voters are supporting them not because they agree with their policies, but because they are totally alienated from politics and all conventional politicians.  For example, the latest CNN/ORC poll gives President Obama a 47 percent approval rating.  Not good, but terrific compared to Congress’ approval rating.   Congress’ average approval rating in all the major polls (Gallop, Quinnipiac, Rasmussen, etal.) is 14 percent.  Based upon the situation in the country and the world today, I can’t really blame the voters.


The first major snow storm of the season has arrived.  Like most of us, I am sitting in my house trying to keep occupied and praying I don’t lose power.  So, what better way to pass the time than to write a blog about blizzards.

Exactly, what is the definition of a “blizzard?”  Does it require a certain amount of snow, wind speed, cold temperature?   Glad you asked .  Read on.  The US National Weather Service defines a blizzard as a severe snowstorm characterized by (1) sustained winds or frequent gusts of at least 35 miles per hour, (2) drifting snow that reduces visibility to 1/4 mile  or less, and (3) a duration of at least three hours.  A specific amount of snowfall is not required.  There is also a variation of blizzard called a “ground blizzard,” in which no new snow is falling, but loose snow already on the ground is being blown by strong winds.

Blizzards are formed when dry polar air moving south collides with warm, humid air moving north.  In the mid-Atlantic and New England states we are sometimes hit with “nor’easters,” which are low-pressure areas stationed just off the coast whose winds come from the northeast.  Normally, they produce the most severe hurricanes and blizzards in this area.

How should one prepare for a blizzard, and what are the do’s and don’ts to survive one after it has arrived.  Many of these are common sense, but, as we all know , common sense is not always so “common.”  Some, but, by no means all, of the suggestions are:

  1.  Make sure you have a snow shovel and a sufficient supply of batteries, candles, flashlights, blankets and food (not perishables).  Tuna fish anyone?  Make sure your snow blower or generator has sufficient gas.
  2. Don’t travel unless it is an emergency.  If you must travel, make sure your cell phone is fully charged, and you have plenty of water, food and warm clothes in case you get stuck, as rescue may be delayed.  If you do get stuck, avoid running the car’s engine.  To do so for prolonged periods exposes you to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.  CO is colorless, odorless and tasteless;  you won’t even be aware you are suffocating.  You will just pass out.
  3. Don’t:

a. Go outside without taking basic precautions, such as wearing warm clothes, or knowing the area so you don’t get lost.

b.  Shovel snow using your back muscles; use your legs.  If you are overweight and/or out of shape, don’t do it at all.  In every snowstorm there are deaths attributable to shoveling snow.

c.  Drink alcohol to keep warm.  It will make you feel warm, but it has the opposite affect.

There have been many memorable blizzards over the years.  According to my research the top 10 are summarized below.  You will note they all have nicknames, which is a testament to their notoriety:

  1.  “The Great White Hurricane” (March 1888) – Numero uno!  This nor’easter dumped up to 50 inches of snow in New England and the mid-Atlantic states over a two-day period.  The storm resulted in 400 deaths, including many sailors onboard boats.  The devastation was exacerbated by the fact that the storm was unexpected.  In NYC snow drifts were as high as the second story of some buildings.
  2.  “The Storm of the Century” (March 1993) – This storm affected a wider area than any other in history, 26 states with roughly half the US population.  Also, it produced heavy rain, wind and tornadoes as far south as Central America.  The highest snowfall was 56 inches in Tennessee, and the highest winds were 144 mph in New Hampshire.  It was responsible for 300 deaths.
  3. “The Great Lakes Storm” (November 1913) –  According to the National Weather Service this was the most devastating storm ever in the Great Lakes area.  It lasted five days, caused $5 million in damages, and killed over 200 people, many due to flooding.
  4. “The Cleveland Superbomb” (January 1978) – This storm was characterized by a collision of three low-pressure systems over the Midwest, which caused a sudden, severe drop in air pressure (known as a “weather bomb”).   In some locales the air pressure dropped to readings more characteristic of a hurricane.  The storm produced snow drifts as high as 25 feet.  Indiana’s governor had to use tanks to rescue some stranded drivers.
  5. “The Great Blizzard” (February 1899) – This storm hit the South where most people were prepared to deal with it.  It produced record low temperatures and frost everywhere. In New Orleans, the Port was totally iced over and the Mardi Gras parade was delayed while the snow was cleared from the parade route.  The Washington, DC area had 51 straight hours of snow.
  6. “The NYC Blizzard” (December 1947) –  The impact of this storm was so severe that I actually remember it as a two-year old living in Bellmore, LI.  It dropped 26 inches on NY completely paralyzing the City for days.  It was known as a mesoscale blizzard as the storm fell squarely on NYC, rather than over a broader area.
  7. “The Armistice Day Blizzard” (November 1940) – This storm dumped two feet of snow throughout much of the Midwest with drifts up to 20 feet.  It cut a swath of destruction 1,000 miles wide; its winds were so severe that one newspaper described its gusts as “the winds of hell.”  It was responsible for 150 deaths.  The degree of the devastation it caused was exacerbated by the fact that it was not predicted accurately and caught people by surprise.
  8. “The Halloween Blizzard” (October 1991) – This storm devastated Iowa and Minnesota the day before Halloween.  In Iowa it left up to two inches of ice, $5 million of crop damage and 80,000 homes without power.  In Minnesota it caused damage of $11 million, and a dozen or so counties were designated as “disaster areas.”
  9. “The Blizzard of January 1996” – This nor’easter pounded a wide swath from West Virginia into New England over a two-day period, causing $4 billion in damage.  The highest snow accumulation was four feet in West Virginia.
  10. “The Super Bowl Blizzard” (January 1975) – Many of you probably remember this one as it occurred right before that year’s Super Bowl.  Snow drifts reached 20 feet in parts of the Midwest, and some areas of the South were hit by tornadoes.  And, in case you were wondering, the Steelers beat the Vikings in New Orleans.


Honorable mention, of a sort, goes to the “Snow Winter” of 1880-81, which primarily affected the Midwest.   As far as I could ascertain from my research, this was not characterized by any single record-setting blizzard, but by a series of them and severe cold.  It is generally considered to have been the most severe winter ever in the US.  The first blizzard occurred in October.  It was so early in the year that it took everyone by surprise.  Crops had not been harvested and were destroyed.  There were food and fuel shortages all winter, and many people and livestock starved or died of exposure.  That initial blizzard was followed up by several others and consistent bitter cold temperatures throughout the winter.  In February 1881 a massive blizzard struck that lasted nine days.  The spring thaw did not bring any relief.  It caused massive flooding and further death and destruction.  One family’s real-life struggles to survive this winter was chronicled in “The Long Winter,” a children’s book, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Snowstorms, or rather their aftermath, can be a lot of fun, especially for children (snowmen, sledding, no school, etc.), but they can also be very dangerous.  Enjoy, but be safe.


Imbedded in US history is a rich tradition of combat bravery, heroism, and patriotism exhibited by African Americans.  In fact, the heroic contributions of AAs predate the USA, itself.  Many AAs fought for the colonies in pre-Revolutionary War skirmishes against the British, and an AA named Crispus Attucks had the dubious distinction of becoming the first fatality of the War when he was killed in the “Boston Massacre” in 1770.  Below is a brief outline of the combat history of AAs and Japanese Americans in each war.

Revolutionary War

AAs fought on both sides both as freedmen and slaves.  According to renowned Revolutionary War historian, Gary Nash, approximately 9,000 AAs fought for the Patriots in the Continental Army and Navy.  For example, despite official prohibition by the Continental Congress both George Washington and Francis Marion, aka “The Swamp Fox,” relied on them heavily, even in combat.  It is estimated that, at times, as much as half of Marion’s forces consisted of freed AAs.  Noted historian and author Ray Raphael adds that many slaves also fought for the British.  Many, if not most of them, were no doubt motivated by Emancipation Proclamations issued by the military leaders of British forces in some of the colonies, notably Virginia and New York.  Although some served in combat, most, particularly on the British side, served as orderlies, mechanics, laborers and in other support capacities.

War of 1812

There were no legal restrictions with respect to the enlistment of AAs in the Navy for the very practical reason of manpower shortage.  For example, in the pivotal Battle of Lake Erie approximately 25% of the American personnel were AAs.  In addition, Andrew Jackson’s forces in the famous Battle of New Orleans, which, was actually won after the War was officially over, were supplemented by the Louisiana Battalion of Free Men of Color and a unit of AA soldiers from Santo Domingo.

Mexican War

Again, the Louisiana Battalion of Free Men of Color was an active participant.  Additionally, many AAs served as servants of or slaves to Army and Naval officers.

Civil War

Nearly 200,000 AAs participated.  Approximately 163 units, consisting of both freedmen and runaway slaves, fought for the Union.  The Confederacy utilized fewer amounts of both freedmen and slaves for labor and other support tasks.

Indian Wars

These conflicts occurred primarily between 1863 and the early 20th Century.  AAs were very active participants.  In 1866, the Army formed two regiments of all AA cavalry and four of infantry.  These were the first peacetime all-AA regiments.  For the most part they were under the command of white officers, although occasionally, there was an AA in command, such as Henry Flipper.  Their primary roles were support-related, such as building and maintaining roads and guarding the US mail.  These units were nicknamed “Buffalo Soldiers” by the Native American tribes in the area, and the moniker “stuck.”

Spanish American War

The most notable battle in which the Buffalo Soldiers fought in this war was the Battle of San Juan Hill in July 1898, made famous by the participation of Theodore Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders.”   TR’s “Rough Riders” got most of the publicity and notoriety for the famous victory, but, in reality, it was the “Buffalo Soldiers” who had done most of the heavy fighting.


Approximately, 350,000 AAs served.  Again, most of them were utilized in support roles.  Perhaps, the most notable unit was known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” which served with great distinction on the Western Front for several months, one of the longest tenured units to serve on the Front.  The “Hellfighters” were a new unit, organized in 1916 in NY.  The unit consisted entirely of AA enlisted men with both AA and white officers.  The unit earned over 100 medals, both French and American.  Two members became the first Americans to earn the very distinguished French Croix de Guerre (Cross of War).


AAs enlisted in copious amounts, however, regardless, were still not treated well or fairly.  Segregation was very much alive and well in the Armed Forces.  Approximately, 125,000 AAs served overseas primarily as truck drivers, stevedores, mess cooks, and in other support capacities.

One of the most notable units was the Tuskegee Airmen under the command of Benjamin Davis, Jr.   The derivation of the name was based on the fact that all of the approximately 1,000 pilots in the unit had been educated at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama and also trained in the area.  These pilots were widely considered to be among the finest pilots in the Armed Services.  During the War, they served with great distinction primarily in North Africa and Italy, earning a considerable number of medals.  Afterwards, following integration, many of them became officers and instructors.   Three of them became generals.  Mr. Davis became the first AA general in the US Air Force.  He was following in the footsteps of his father, Benjamin Davis, Sr., who had become the first AA general in the US Army in 1940.  Quite the family.   The unit has been the subject of countless books, movies and tv programs.

Another notable AA was Mr. Doris Miller.  Mr. Miller was a mess attendant in the Navy stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  During the Japanese surprise attack he voluntarily manned an anti-aircraft gun against the Japanese with great distinction despite having had no prior training on the weapon.  As a result of his extreme bravery he became the first AA to earn the Naval Cross.

In 1944 thirteen AAs, aka “The Golden Thirteen,” became the Navy’s first AAs to be commissioned as officers.  One of them, Mr. Samuel Gravely, Jr., went on to become the first AA Admiral.   Also, in 1944, the Allies were suffering heavy losses of combat soldiers during the pivotal Battle of the Bulge, and there was a severe shortage of replacements.  As a result, General Eisenhower made the executive decision to integrate AAs into some white combat units.   As always, AAs fought with great distinction.   No doubt, the success of this de facto integration influenced President Harry Truman’s decision to order the integration of the Armed Forces, which he did in July 1948 by Executive Order.  In turn, many believe that the integration of the Armed Forces influenced American Society as a whole toward overall integration of AAs.

This account would not be complete without mentioning the contributions of Americans of Japanese descent during WWII.   Most of you are cognizant of the fact that because of the fear and hysteria following the attack on Pearl Harbor (not to mention racism and prejudice toward Asians in many quarters), Japanese living on the Pacific Coast of the US were placed in Internment Camps, where they suffered many deprivations and indignities.  (I have blogged about this previously.)

Despite this, many of them, being patriots, volunteered to fight for the US.  These JAs, aka “Nisei,” were second generation American citizens.  They were assigned to segregated units under the command of white officers.  They were active mostly in Italy, Southern France and Germany.  One of these units, the 442nd Regiment, became the most highly decorated unit in the entire war.  They were very brave and aggressive, and suffered very heavy casualties, earning the moniker “the Purple Heart Battalion.”  It is estimated that many of the original 4,000 men had to be replaced over three times.  The unit’s motto was “Go for broke!”

One of the unit’s most famous achievements was the rescue of a Texas-based unit that was hopelessly pinned down by superior German forces.  This became a legend known as the “rescue of the lost battalion.”  Thus, a unit comprised of “disgraced” persons, who had been considered “disloyal” and “untrustworthy,” if not out and out spies, ended up becoming heroes.


AAs and other persecuted minorities have a rich history of heroism on behalf of America in times of conflict.   They have earned more than their fair share of medals and awards.  Due to time and space, I have only recounted a fraction of their contributions.  How ironic that these persecuted minorities, time and again, have, nevertheless, risen above these circumstances to achieve greatness.  Only in America!



Celebrate a great man’s birthday

We Built It Blog by Larry Jacob

Yesterday, we celebrated Martin Luther King’s birthday. For some people the day holds no special meaning; it is just a day off from work; a day to spend with family or friends; part of a long three-day weekend. For many of us, however, particularly those of us who were alive in the 1950s and 1960s, it is much, much more.

MLK was born on January 15, 1929. He became the most prominent and influential American civil rights leader in the 1950s and 1960s, maybe ever. MLK was more than just a pastor. He believed that more could be achieved by civil disobedience and non-violence than by violence. He preached peaceful disobedience, sit-ins, marches and demonstrations, often in the face of violence and cruelty by the police and others, rather than rioting. In this regard, he was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. In turn, he inspired others such as the Black Civil…

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America is a country of immigrants.  One of the most basic of American customs and beliefs is to welcome refugees.   Perhaps, the most recognizable and enduring symbol of this is the Statue of Liberty, which rests in NY harbor.  Note the inscription on the statue:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

For generations of refugees arriving from Europe the Statue was the first thing they saw and was symbolic of freedom and a fresh start.  Furthermore, most of us are descendants of refugees.

Currently, there is great controversy over whether or not the US should accept refugees from Syria.  According to the latest Rasmussen poll, 60% of Americans oppose accepting these refugees.  Most of them, Republican and Democrat alike, are concerned that terrorists may be imbedded among some of them.

This is not far-fetched as that is precisely what has happened in Europe.  Much, if not most, of the violence, lawlessness and terrorism that has been occurring in France, Germany, the UK and other countries can be traced either to current Muslim emigrants or the descendants of those who have emigrated over the last 70 years.  For various reasons, as delineated below, they were allowed to emigrate without sufficient vetting.  We don’t have to guess or hypothesize the result of wholesale unrestricted emigration, we have empirical evidence in Europe. It’s all there for us to see if we just pay attention with an open, objective mind.

At the very least, polls demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of Americans want to limit access to those who have survived a rigorous vetting process.  They are suspicious of the reliability of the current process (and with good reason, as we will see below).  To that point, the House has passed a bill requiring a more rigorous vetting process.  In addition, thirty-one governors have voiced strenuous opposition to any refugees being settled in their respective states.

Others feel  that the vetting process is adequate, and we should grant access.  After all, they say, “it is who we are.”  Many Administration spokespersons have implied that anyone who opposes admitting refugees is hard-hearted, anti-poor or anti-Muslim.

This issue has become very contentious and threatens to become a crucial election issue.  Let’s all take a deep breath and examine some background and facts.

Historically, Muslims and non-Muslims have generally not interacted well.  Conflicts can be traced to the 8th Century when the Umayyads, an Islamic group that claimed to be descendants of a relative of Muhammad, conquered most of what is now Spain and Portugal.  Eventually, their advance onto Europe was halted by the Franks at the Battle of Tours (France) in 732.  Over the centuries, there have been many conflicts, including, most notably, the “Crusades.”   In addition, don’t forget the Barbary Pirates.  As I described in a recent blog, they terrorized shipping in the Mediterranean from the 16th through the 19th centuries, murdering and enslaving European and American merchant sailors in the name of Allah.

Additionally, at different times, parts of Europe were conquered by the Moors and the Ottomans, among others.  The Ottomans were finally expelled for good following WWI.   Many believe that radical Muslims are still “fighting the Crusades” to this day, but that is an issue for another blog on another day.

The foregoing is the preamble of the current issue of the Muslim refugees.  Some facts:

  1. It is estimated that 44 million Muslims are now living in Europe (6% of the total population).   In 2015 a Pew Research study projected that number would increase to 8% by 2030 and 10% by 2050. For the most part, they are descendants of people who have emigrated to Europe over the last 70 years.  For example:
           a.  After WWII Western European countries began accepting war refugees from Muslim countries.
           b.  France accepted refugees from North Africa during and after the Algerian War of Independence.
            c.  Over the years, Germany, the UK and other countries have encouraged emigration and accepted refugees based on the need for cheap labor and, perhaps, guilt over the Holocaust and centuries of colonialism as well.
             d.  Muslims have generally resisted assimilation.  They consider their own religious, social, legal and cultural beliefs to be superior to those of the country in which they reside.
             e.  Many of them are protesting the economic conditions in their country using violent means rather than peaceful ones.  Just within the last year we have seen violence in France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK.   These violent acts have had religious and cultural overtones.  The recent violence in Germany was particularly egregious as it involved sexual assault, including rape, perpetrated by an organized mob of hundreds of males of “Northern African or Middle Eastern” appearance.  Naturally, most non-Muslim citizens are frightened , frustrated and outraged.  Their governments have not only been unable to control the violence, but, in some cases, abetted by the media, they have downplayed it.
2.  According to Pew, presently, 13 million Muslims reside in the EU countries.  Among EU countries, Germany (4.8 million, 5.8% of the country’s total) and France (4.7 million, 7.5% of the total) have the largest Muslim population.
3.  Demographically, Muslims are younger and have larger families, which accounts for the above growth estimates.
Now, back to the central issue: should we or should we not accept refugees from Syria?
In my opinion, the answer is quite clear.   Before accepting any refugees we should insist that they go through a rigorous vetting process by reliable agencies.  The current vetting process, with initial screening by the UN (under the aegis of the UNHCR) and follow-up by the State Department and DHS, is woefully inadequate and unreliable.  For example:
1. There is a tendency to place too much trust on the applicant, particularly in view of the other factors listed below.
2. The civil war in Syria makes it extremely difficult to obtain and verify information.
3. Due to a paucity of assets on the ground and insights into Syria, itself, the FBI has expressed serious doubts as to the US’s ability to obtain and/or verify the information it needs for reliable vetting.
4. UNHCR is severely understaffed for the task.  It has about 2,300 staff members that are tasked with reviewing over 4 million cases.  Also, many of those 2,300 are support staff, such as drivers, translators and administrators.  A proper vetting includes not only the interview, itself, but also obtaining, checking and recording documents, follow-up interviews, and a myriad of other tasks.  There is no way the UN can do a proper vetting.
5.  Even UNHCR has acknowledged the existence of fraud in some cases.  This includes false identity claims,  misrepresenting, exaggerating or inventing the nature or details of their refugee status claims, or even out and out bribery.
No one wants to appear to be hard-hearted, unsympathetic or anti-Muslim as some have been portrayed.  Most people want to help legitimate refugees, and I’m sure that the overwhelming majority of them are fine and legitimate.  But our first duty is to protect America and Americans.  We have seen what failure to do this can do.  This is not speculation; it  is fact.  Therefore, it is essential that we deny access to terrorists, criminals and others that cannot support a LEGITIMATE need to gain entry.  As I have stated in a previous blog the most critical issue today is the protection and security of Americans.   If we don’t have that, we don’t have anything.  The safety and security of America and Americans must outweigh political correctness.
Someone once said:  “The refugee has got to be checked because, unfortunately, among the refugees there are some spies, as has been found in other countries.”  Who said that?  Not Donald Trump.  Not Bill O’Reilly.  In fact, no current politician or journalist.  In point of fact, those words were uttered by President Franklyn Delano Roosevelt in 1940.  They were true then, and they are true today, except one could substitute the word “terrorists” for “spies.”



What did inventors Wilbur and Orville Wright (airplane), Richard Drew (scotch tape), George Westinghouse (air brakes), Willis Carrier (air conditioning), Thomas Edison (incandescent light bulb), Alexander Graham Bell (telephone), Clarence Birdseye (flash freezing foods), and countless others before or since have in common?  At the risk of oversimplification I would say one word: perseverance.

Yes, there are many traits a successful inventor has to have, such as, among others, the vision to spot a need, sufficient financial backing, technical expertise to actually build or create the product or service, and marketing ability to sell it, but in my opinion the one crucial element is the ability to persevere.  One has to have the faith and confidence to overcome the “naysayers,” the doubters, those who will say it can’t be done.  “If it could have been done,” they will say, “it would have been.”  In addition, the invention will likely not be successful at first.  Typically, one must suffer through years of trial and error, failed experiments, derision, ridicule and rejection before achieving success.  Moreover, often, the doubters will include those who are closest to the inventor, such as spouses, parents and siblings.  That is why it is so uplifting to hear the tales of success.

Such is the case of Joy Mangano.  Joy was born in New York City in 1956, but she was raised on Long Island where she still lives.  She began to exhibit her flair for inventing as a teenager.  While working in a local pet store she developed the idea for a fluorescent flea collar for dogs.  However, she failed to secure a patent , and, eventually, Hartz Mountain patented and marketed it.  However, that became a valuable learning experience.

Joy’s early adult life was fairly ordinary.  She graduated Pace University with a degree in business administration;  she got married, divorced and raised three children as a single mom; and she had various mundane, non-fulfilling jobs, such as a waitress and an airline reservations clerk.

At some point,  she began to realize one major deficiency in the floor mops then in general use.  Typically, when mopping the kitchen or bathroom floor one would have to wring out the wet, dirty mop by hand several times to complete the job.  This was not only sloppy and uncomfortable, it was also unsanitary.   I am sure many others also recognized the problem, but Joy was the one who did something about it.

She invented a plastic mop with a head composed of a continuous 300 foot loop of cotton.  The so-called “Miracle Mop” could be wrung out without getting one’s hands wet and dirty.  This time, Joy remembered to file the necessary patents.  Fine, but then she had to mass produce it and sell it.  She had to overcome the “naysayers,” including some in her own family.  Eventually, she figured out how to mass-produce the mops , obtained the necessary financing and figured out how to sell it to the masses.   Along the way, she endured much ridicule and suffered through rejection after rejection.  As I said in my opening paragraph, all this took a great amount of perseverance.

Eventually, she convinced QVC to agree to market her mops.  Initially, they didn’t sell well, but she convinced QVC to let her “pitch” them herself.  This was unheard of at QVC.  They had always used professional pitchmen, but Joy would not take “no” for an answer.   Due to her enthusiasm and product expertise, Joy turned about to be a very successful “pitchman,” and she was on her way.


Joy did not stop with the Miracle Mop.  As of today, she holds patents on over 100 products, such as “huggable hangers,” Home Shopping Network’s best selling product of 2010, which are no-slip hangers with a thin profile that requires significantly less closet space, and “forever fragrant,” a line of home odor neutralizers.  Joy prefers the direct selling approach, and, as I mentioned above, she excels at it.   She  is HSN’s top salesperson with annual sales in excess of $150 million.

In addition, she has become a bona-fide celebrity.  For example:

  1. She has partnered with celebrities such as Serena Williams, Frank Sepe and Rosie O’Donnell to sell their products on HSN.
  2. She has appeared on television shows, such as “The View.”
  3. In 2009 she opened her own restaurant, Porto Vivo, on Long Island.
  4. In 1997 Ernst and Young named her “LI Entrepreneur of the Year.”
  5. In 2009 Fast Company ranked her #77 on its list of “The 100 Most Creative People in Business,” and in 2010 it included her on its list of “The Ten Most Creative Women in Business.”
  6. Hollywood has released  a movie about her and her successes, called “Joy.”  It stars Jennifer Lawrence as Joy and features Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Virginia Madsen and Elizabeth Rohm.  I have seen this movie and I recommend it.  Guys, it is not a “women’s movie.”  It is a “feel-good” movie with an excellent cast about achieving success against all odds.


Undoubtedly, most of you are familiar with the lyrics “the shores of Tripoli,” which are included in the “Marine Hymn.”  But, most of you may not be cognizant of the facts, circumstances and significance behind them.  If you are interested, read on.

Between the 16th and 19th centuries the northern coast of Africa was ruled by four Muslim states – Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis, which were part of the Ottoman Empire, and The Sultanet of Morocco, which was independent.  Collectively, they were known as the Barbary States.   The Barbary States featured a fighting force known as the Barbary Pirates, and their ferocity in battle was unequalled.  It was said that they won many a battle before it even began.  The pirates would forcibly board a ship, many of which were unarmed merchant ships, with “one dagger in each hand and another in their mouth.”  At that point, it was not unusual for the merchant ship to surrender.

The  pirates would enslave their captives and either sell them as slaves or hold them for ransom.   According to Robert Davis, a noted historian and author of the book “British Slaves on the Barbary Coast,” during their four century reign of terror, the pirates captured and enslaved between one million and 1.25 million Europeans.  Most countries paid annual tribute to them to protect their shipping from attacks.  Others paid handsome ransoms to free captives.  This activity comprised the major portion of the Barbary States’ income.   European countries and their merchants were not happy with the situation but viewed it as another cost of doing business.

Before 1783 the American colonies’ shipping was under the protection first of England (prior to the Revolutionary War) and then France (during the War) and, therefore, safe from the pirates’ raiding.  After 1783 the US was on its own, and problems quickly arose.  In the late 18th and first few years of the 19th centuries the fledgling US government was forced to pay ransom to release captured American sailors several times.  For example, it paid over $1 million in 1795 alone, which amounted to 1/6 of its entire budget for that year.  Most captured seamen were virtually enslaved and suffered greatly.  They were subjected to hard labor under very trying conditions and exposed to poor diet, unsanitary conditions and disease.

In the late 18th century Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, recognizing the seriousness of the problem, became very active proponents of seeking a diplomatic solution.  They negotiated repeatedly with Barbary diplomats to no avail.  As an example of Tripoli’s intransigence in this matter, at one point its ambassador to England was quoted as declaring: “It was written in the Koran that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every [pirate] who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise…”  Sound familiar?  Things haven’t really changed much, except, perhaps, for the method of attacks.

Jefferson and Adams were against paying tribute, rightfully recognizing that it would merely invite further raids and, likely, bankrupt the country.  But, the US had little choice as it did not yet possess a navy that could protect its shipping from the pirates.  Americans had just fought a long and exhausting war and had neither the funds nor the will for another one. Finally, in 1798 the US Department of the Navy was formed with one of its primary missions being to protect shipping from the pirates.

In 1801 Thomas Jefferson was elected the third President of the US.  He was now in a position to “push” his plan to deal with the pirates militarily.  In 1804 the US Navy was finally ready for war.  The decisive battle was the capture of the Tripolitan city of Derna, which was located on the coast of present-day Libya near Alexandria, Egypt.  This was a major turning point in US military history.  Not only was it the first time the US flag was raised in victory on foreign soil, but also it earned the US much needed respect with both the Barbary States and the rest of the world.

It was this victorious battle that became memorialized in the Marine Hymn with the line, “the shores of Tripoli.”  (The reference to the “Halls of Montezuma” refers to the battle of Chapultec Castle in Mexico City during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.)   The Marines were founded in 1775.  The Hymn dates back to the 19th century.  The author is unknown.

This war demonstrated that the US could fight as a cohesive nation, not merely as New Yorkers or Pennsylvanians.  The new country had indeed arrived.


Unfortunately, the Barbary States reneged on the treaty in 1807.  At the time, the US was distracted by its deteriorating relations with England, which ultimately led to the War of 1812.  By 1815 the US was able to refocus on the pirates.  They fought a Second Barbary war (which caused the previous war to be renamed as The First Barbary War) in which the US again earned a decisive victory.  This ended the reign of terror of the Barbary Pirates for good.

The heroes of the First Barbary War are further memorialized by the “Tripoli Monument.”   It is the oldest military monument in the US.  Over the years, it has been located in various venues, but currently it resides at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.

In addition, Hollywood got into the act.  The Barbary Wars are depicted in the 1942 movie “To the Shores of Tripoli” starring John Payne, Maureen O’Hara and Randolph Scott.