Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Happy 90th Birthday To The Philadelphia Daily News

My beginnings in journalism, in a sense, began with the Philadelphia Daily News.

I sold the Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer down at the old Navy Yard during the 1960s when I was a teenager. Many years later, I became a contributor to the Daily News, writing commentary on politics and crime.

Today is the Daily News' 90th birthday and Gar Joseph offers a history of the old tabloid newspaper.

William Scott Vare was a vote-stealer and a boodler. It seemed unlikely that his bid for a U.S. Senate seat would win the endorsement of any of Philadelphia's five daily newspapers. So he started his own.

The International News Service announced its March 31, 1925, birth this way: "The first edition of the 'Philadelphia Daily News,' a pictorial tabloid paper, made its appearance on the streets here at noon. A forty page paper was the initial offering of the Philadelphia Tabloid Publishing Company, publishers of the paper. Lee Ellmaker, who has been associated with a number of the leading dailies in the east is the publisher and manager of the company."

Vare's name was not mentioned, although it was his money - millions from the contracting business - that bankrolled the paper. Vare ran the city's Republican machine, which held most of the elected offices. That was good for business as the growing city always had a need for contractors. He also had an arrangement with Waxey Gordon and Lucky Luciano that kept them out of jail in exchange for Vare's veto power over their operations. This was also good for business.

The new tabloid was printed by the Jewish World on 5th Street near Locust — it didn’t have its own presses yet — and its mix of crime, sex, celebrities, sports, politics and big photos made it an immediate hit.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:


Philly Rogue Cops Case: "Nineteen Mutts And A Dirty Cop"

Veteran reporter Ralph Cipriano at bigtrial.net reports on the federal trial of allegedly corrupt Philadelphia police narcotics officers.

A trio of veteran defense lawyers today took turns dismantling the government's case against a band of alleged rogue cops.

Jack McMahon got the party started by describing the government's star witness, former Police Officer Jeffrey Walker, as a "wicked, despicable liar." The rest of the government's stable of witnesses, McMahon said, are a bunch of lying drug dealers who amount to "nineteen bags of trash."

To cap the day, Jimmy Binns, batting third in a lineup of six defense lawyers, described the government's case as "nineteen mutts and a dirty cop."

In the longest opening argument of the day, Binns spent two hours delivering a lengthy, eye-popping recitation of the numerous witnesses in the case that the government supposedly never got around to interviewing. Those witnesses that Binns said would be testifying on behalf of the defendants include a bunch of supervisors in the police department who allegedly were eyewitnesses to many of the incidents in the case, and a couple of young female bartenders who supposedly overheard nightly confessions from a drunken and drooling Officer Walker, before he would pass out.

Most astonishingly, Binns said, the defense plans to call as their witnesses a trio of federal TFOs -- task force operators who work alongside the feds who investigated this case, on the same floor of the office building they share, but somehow were never interviewed by the government.

"This is not a proud day for the Department of Justice," Binns told the jury.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:


You can also read Jeremy Roebuck's coverage of the trial at the Philadelphia Inquirer via the below link:


Kleptocracy: FBI Establishes International Corruption Squads, Targeting Foreign Bribery, Kleptocracy Crimes

The FBI web site offers a report on their establishing international corruption squads.

Late last year, Alstom—a French power and transportation company—pled guilty in U.S. federal court to engaging in a widespread foreign bribery scheme involving tens of millions of dollars. The company agreed to pay a record-setting $772 million fine to resolve the charges.

Alstom’s specific crimes? Violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for more than a decade by paying bribes to government officials around the world—falsifying its books and records in the process—in connection with power, grid, and transportation projects for state-owned entities.  

The FCPA, passed in 1977, makes it illegal for U.S. companies, U.S. persons, and foreign corporations with certain U.S. ties to bribe foreign officials to obtain or retain business overseas. And we take these crimes very seriously—foreign bribery has the ability to impact U.S. financial markets, economic growth, and national security. It also breaks down the international free market system by promoting anti-competitive behavior and, ultimately, makes consumers pay more.

We’re seeing that foreign bribery incidents are increasingly tied to a type of government corruption known as kleptocracy, which is when foreign officials steal from their own government treasuries at the expense of their citizens.

You can read the rest of the report via the below link:


Catch-22: No 80 On The Guardian's 100 Best Novels List

I've read Joseph Heller's comic classic Catch-22 three times in my life. I was a teenager in high school the first time I read Catch-22 and I thought the WWII novel was funny.

The second time I read the novel was a few years later when I was an 18-year-old sailor serving aboard an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. Unlike Heller at the time, I was a military hawk and I supported the U.S. efforts in Vietnam. Yet I enjoyed the anti-war novel even more the second time I read it, as I recognized more clearly and intimately some of the absurdities of military life and war.

The third and last time I read Catch-22 I was in my 40s and I was serving as the civilian administrative officer of  a Defense Department Command in Philadelphia. I was working closely with high-ranking military officers, so from this additional perspective, I got a kick out of Heller's satiric look at command leadership.

Today I remain a military hawk and I still don't subscribe to Heller's world-view. But now that I've left the Defense Department and I cover the military as a writer, perhaps it is time to once again read Catch-22. 

Robert McCrum at the British newspaper the Guardian takes a look back at the novel, as he ranks Catch-22 at number 80 in the newspaper's list of 100 Best Novels.

In 1962, writing in the Observer, Kenneth Tynan saluted Catch-22 as “the most striking debut in American fiction since Catcher in the Rye.” Within a year, he had been joined, in a chorus of praise, by writers as various as Harper Lee, Norman Mailer and Graham Greene. More than 50 years later, this brilliant novel still holds an unforgettable comic grip on the reader.

“It was love at first sight,” Heller begins, setting the tone for everything that follows. “The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.”

Bombardier Yossarian is in a military hospital with a pain in his liver that’s not quite jaundice. Hinting at the famous “catch” of the title, Yossarian can be treated if he’s got jaundice, but discharged if he hasn’t. If neither, then he’s in a Kafkaesque limbo, where he’s at the mercy of fate.

This anticipates the notorious conditions under which a combat airman can be grounded: you have to be insane before you’re excused flying combat missions, but if you don’t want to fly any more missions that proves you are not insane. The OED defines this “Catch-22” as “a difficult situation from which there is no escape, because it involves mutually conflicting or dependent conditions”, which is a very dull way to describe the absurd crux whose mad logic exhilarates every page of one of the greatest war novels of all time.

Bombardier Yossarian, who is at odds with his own side as much as with the enemy, is an unforgettable second world war Everyman, whose cat-and-mouse relationship with a cast of deranged oddballs – Milo Minderbinder, Major Major and Doc Daneeka – is played out, amid mounting absurdity, on the island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean. It’s 1944, and Yossarian has figured out that “the enemy is anybody who is going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on”.

Inevitably, the high comedy with which the novel opens eventually modulates into a darker, bleaker humour, and movingly, it’s the tragic death of rear-gunner Snowden which reminds us that Heller’s merriment is the kind of gallows laughter that’s inspired by the horror of war.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:


Note: I was disappointed in Mike Nichol's 1970 film adaptation of Catch-22, despite the film's fine cast. In contrast, I thought Robert Altman's 1970 film M*A*S*H was a fine adaptation of Richard Hooker's comic novel.

You can read Roger Ebert's review of the film Catch-22 via the below link:


Monday, March 30, 2015

A Boston Cop Shooting And Our Post-Truth Era

Mike Barnicle at the Daily Beast offers a column on the shooting of John Moynihan, a hero Boston police officer.

A Career criminal shot a good cop. There's no dispute over the facts. But that doesn't mean everyone accepts them. 

You can read the column via the below link:


The Desk Where Dickens Sat To Write Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend And The Mystery of Edwin Drood Has Been Bought By The Charles Dickens Museum In London

The British newspaper the Telegraph reports on the purchase of beloved author Charles Dickens' desk for the Charles Dickens Musuem in London.

The desk where Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations and his final, unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood has been saved for the nation.

The Charles Dickens Museum in London has been given a grant of more than £780,000 by the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) to buy the desk and chair which he used in his final home, Gad's Hill Place in Kent.
They had been passed down through the Dickens family after the author's death in 1870 but were auctioned for the Great Ormond Street Charitable Trust in 2004.
Since then, the furniture where Dickens sat to write Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend and The Mystery of Edwin Drood has been in private ownership, and could have been sold at public auction if it had not been secured with the grant from the NHMF.  

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Assistant U.S. Attorney In Philadelphia: "Human Trafficking Is The Fastest Growing Crime In The Country"

Lara Witt at the Phildelphia Daily News offers a piece on the growing crime of human trafficking.

"Slavery is not an obsolete relic of the past, it is a global industry that generates $32 billion in profits through forced labor and the bodies of tens of millions of human beings each year."

This is what Ivan Cole, who sits on the board of the Life After Trauma Organization, told an audience yesterday during a conference hosted by the nonprofit at Temple University to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of human trafficking. LATO helps women recover from the trauma of human trafficking.

"The main reason why traffickers engage in this crime is because it is extremely lucrative," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Morgan, during a panel discussion that included six experts on the issue.

According to data from the U.S. State Department, it is estimated that 800,000 people are traded across international borders per year.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Terrorists, Cop Killers Are Communist Cuba's Gruesome Guests

I agree with the New York Post's editorial that Cuba should allow the U.S. to extradite the American terrorists and murderers hiding in Cuba prior to any normalization of relations with the communist island.

The Obama administration — eager to normalize relations with Cuba — is plainly paying lip service to demands that Havana extradite 70-plus American terrorists and murderers whom the Castro regime has granted asylum.

In answer, three New Jersey House Republicans aim to use the power of the purse to exert some much-needed pressure.

Reps. Scott Garrett, Leonard Lance and Tom MacArthur have asked both the GOP chairwoman and the ranking Democrat on a key House Appropriations subcommittee to withhold all funding needed to normalize US-Cuban diplomatic ties.

Their particular concern is Joanne Chesimard (seen in the above photo), a k a Assata Shakur — the Black Liberation Army terrorist sentenced to life in prison in 1977 for the coldblooded killing of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster (seen in the below photo). Six years later, she escaped from prison and made her way to Cuba.

You can read the rest of the editorial via the below link:


'You're A Kite Dancing In A Hurricane, Mr Bond': Brooding 007 Confronts A Face From The Past In Dramatic FIRST Teaser Trailer For SPECTRE

Jason Chester at the British newspaper the Daily Mail reports on the recently released SPECTRE trailer showing Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming's iconic character James Bond.

You can watch the interesting trailer and see photos of the upcoming film via the below link:


Friday, March 27, 2015

'Goodfellas' Mobster Confronted By Victim's Family At Sentencing

Selim Algar a the New York Post reports on the sentencing of a New York mobster connected to the story behind the classic crime film, Goodfellas.

More than 45 years after he was strangled with a dog chain by an infamous “Goodfellas” mobster, Paul Katz finally had his day in court — in a tiny cremation pouch clutched by his trembling daughter as she confronted the man who tried to hide her dad’s murder.

Struggling to keep her composure, Ilsa Katz brought the cremated remains into a Brooklyn federal courtroom, to tell off Bonanno wiseguy Jerome Asaro before a judge sent him to prison for 7 ¹/₂ years.

“He said he had to go meet the guys at the candy store,” she recalled of the day in 1969 that her dad disappeared. “My mother begged him not to go. He never came back.”

Katz was an associate of James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke and Asaro’s father, Vincent Asaro, 79, a Bonanno capo who last year was charged in the $6 million 1978 Lufthansa air cargo heist at JFK airport that was masterminded by Burke and immortalized in the 1990 Martin Scorsese film “Goodfellas.”

... Asaro’s own father also doesn’t think much of him. Caught on a wiretap, he was heard saying: “F—–g Jerry is for Jerry. I lost my son when I made him a skipper. F—–g greedy c——-er. Got him a job. $600 a f—–g week. He didn’t do a f—–g thing.”

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:


'Justified' Creator Aims To Stay True To The Late Writer Elmore Leonard

Terry Gross at NPR's Fresh Air interviewed Graham Yost, the producer of TV's Justified, the crime show based on the late great crime writer Elmore Leonard's novella, Fire in the Hole.

The FX series Justified, which is in its sixth and final season, is based on the novella Fire in the Hole by Elmore Leonard. Leonard was an executive producer of the series until his death in 2013. The show's creator and showrunner, Graham Yost, says he has made it his mission to stay as true as he can to Leonard's vision and storytelling style.

"Ultimately I look at this show as Elmore Leonard's show, and we're all in service of him and his view and his way of writing and creating these characters," Yost tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "So whatever feels like it works within that world is something we're open to."

Set in Harlan County, Ky., which is coal mining country, the story revolves around two men who have known each other since they were in the mines together as teens: Raylan Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant, and Boyd Crowder, played by Walton Goggins. Raylan is now a deputy U.S. marshal and Boyd is an outlaw whose criminal activities include robbing banks. Raylan wants to move to Florida to reconnect with his ex-wife and their 5-month-old child, but first he wants to bring Boyd down, which means catching him when he pulls off his next heist.

The show is violent, but Yost says he and the writers have to walk a line to keep the network happy.

"Elmore's world is a violent world," he says. "In the best Elmore scenes, you think that something is either going to take a hard turn into romance and some kind of liaison, or it's going to take it the other way and go into violence. There's often something oddly humorous about the violence in Elmore's movies and in his books."

You can read the rest of the piece and listen to NPR's audio clip via the below link:


Note: You can also read my Crime Beat column on Elmore Leonard, one of my favorite writers, via the below link:


Thursday, March 26, 2015

US Army National Guard Soldier And His Cousin Arrested For Conspiring to Support Terrorism (ISIL)

The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois and Special Agent in Charge Robert Holley of the FBI’s Chicago Division announced today that two Aurora, Illinois, men were arrested Wednesday night for allegedly conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a foreign terrorist organization.

Army National Guard Specialist Hasan Edmonds, 22, a U.S. citizen, was arrested without incident at Chicago Midway International Airport by members of the Chicago FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) while attempting to fly to Cairo, Egypt.  Jonas Edmonds, 29, a U.S. citizen, was arrested without incident at his home in Aurora.  Both defendants were charged in a criminal complaint filed yesterday in U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois with one count of conspiring to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization.  The initial appearances of Hasan Edmonds and Jonas Edmonds are scheduled for today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan at 3 p.m. CST.

As alleged in the complaint, in late 2014, Hasan Edmonds came to the attention of the FBI.  The investigation subsequently revealed that he and Jonas Edmonds had devised a plan for Hasan Edmonds to travel overseas for the purpose of waging violence on behalf of ISIL.  Hasan Edmonds, a current member of the Illinois Army National Guard, planned to use his military training to fight on behalf of ISIL.  As part of their plans, Hasan Edmonds booked airline travel to depart yesterday from Chicago and arrive in Cairo today, with layovers in Detroit and Amsterdam.

As alleged in the complaint, both defendants also planned for Jonas Edmonds to carry out an act of terrorism in the United States after Hasan Edmonds departed.  In particular, both defendants met with an FBI undercover employee and presented a plan to carry out an armed attack against a U.S. military facility in northern Illinois, an installation where Hasan Edmonds had been training.  Jonas Edmonds asked the FBI undercover employee to assist in the attack and explained that they would use Hasan Edmonds’ uniforms and the information he supplied about how to access the installation and target officers for attack.

“According to the charges filed today, the defendants allegedly conspired to provide material support to ISIL and planned to travel overseas to support the terrorist organization,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin.  “In addition, they plotted to attack members of our military within the United States.  Disturbingly, one of the defendants currently wears the same uniform of those they allegedly planned to attack.  I want to thank the many agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for disrupting the threat posed by these defendants.”

“We will pursue and prosecute with vigor those who support ISIL and its agenda of ruthless violence,” said U.S. Attorney Fardon.  “Anyone who threatens to harm our citizens and allies, whether abroad or here at home, will face the full force of justice.”

“The arrests today are the culmination of a successful investigation that involved a great deal of coordination and communication with our law enforcement and military partners,” said Special Agent in Charge Holley.  “Throughout the course of this investigation, the defendants were closely and carefully monitored to ensure the safety of the public and our service men and women.”

Conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  If convicted, the court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

The case was investigated by the FBI’s JTTF, which is comprised of special agents of the FBI, officers of the Chicago Police Department and representatives from an additional 20 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.  Assistant Attorney General Carlin joins U.S. Attorney Fardon in extending his appreciation to the JTTF.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), the Illinois State Police, the Aurora Police Department and the Illinois National Guard also provided significant assistance.

The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Barry Jonas and John Kness of the Northern District of Illinois, and Trial Attorney Lolita Lukose of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

The public is reminded that a complaint contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt.  The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Protecting The Homeland In The 21st Century: Panel Conducts Review Of FBI Since 9/11 Commission Report

The FBI web site reports on FBI's implementation of recommendations contained in the 2004 9/11 Commission Report.

A congressionally mandated panel charged with reviewing the FBI’s implementation of recommendations contained in the 9/11 Commission Report in 2004 today issued its findings.

The release of the 9/11 Review Commission’s report, The FBI: Protecting the Homeland in the 21st Century, followed 14 months of research, interviews, briefings, and field visits by commissioners and their 13-member staff. The commission—which included former Attorney General Edwin Meese, former Congressman Tim Roemer, and Georgetown University professor Bruce Hoffmanbegan its review in 2013 at the FBI’s request after Congress called for an appraisal of the Bureau’s progress since the 9/11 Commission issued its recommendations in 2004. A classified draft of the Review Commission’s report was sent to Congress and to other agencies mentioned in the report; the FBI released the unclassified version for the public.

That report, which can be found on FBI.gov, concludes that the FBI has “transformed itself over the last 10 years” and “made measurable progress building a threat-based, intelligence-driven national security organization.” The commission also makes recommendations on where the FBI can improve.

You can read the rest of the report via the below link:


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

U.S. Army Recommends Desertion Charge for Bergdahl

The DoD News service offers the below:

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2015 - U.S. Army Forces Command has thoroughly reviewed the Army investigation surrounding Sgt. Robert Bowdrie Bergdahl's 2009 disappearance in Afghanistan and formally charged him today under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with "Desertion with Intent to Shirk Important or Hazardous Duty" and "Misbehavior Before The Enemy by Endangering the Safety of a Command, Unit or Place," and has referred the case to an Article 32 preliminary hearing, command officials announced today in a news release.

The remainder of the release follows:

Sgt. Bergdahl is charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with one count of Article 85, "Desertion with Intent to Shirk Important or Hazardous Duty," and one count of Article 99, "Misbehavior Before The Enemy by Endangering the Safety of a Command, Unit or Place." Army Sgt. Bergdahl disappeared June 30, 2009, from Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and was subsequently captured.

An Article 32 preliminary hearing is a legal procedure under the Uniform Code of Military Justice designed to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to merit a court-martial and is required before a case can be tried by a General Court-Martial.

Legal experts often compare this to a civilian grand jury inquiry. The Article 32 hearing will take place at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Specific scheduling details and procedures for news-media coverage of the hearing will be announced at a later date.

Following the Article 32 preliminary hearing and receipt of the Article 32 preliminary hearing officer's recommendations, the report will be forwarded to a General Court-Martial convening authority who may refer charges to a General Court-martial, refer the charges to a Special Court-martial, dismiss the charges, or take any other action deemed appropriate.

Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, "Desertion with Intent to Shirk Important or Hazardous Duty," carries a maximum potential punishment of a dishonorable discharge, reduction to the rank of E-1, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and maximum confinement of five years. Article 99 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, "Misbehavior Before The Enemy by Endangering the Safety of a Command, Unit or Place," carries a maximum potential penalty of dishonorable discharge, reduction to the rank of E-1, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and possible confinement for life.

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the specific legal elements for Article 85, "Desertion with Intent to Shirk Important or Hazardous Duty," are: (1) "The accused quit his (or her) unit or place of duty," (2) "The accused did so with the intent to avoid or shirk certain service," (3) The duty to be performed was hazardous or important," (4) "The accused knew he (or she) was required for the duty or service," and (5) "The accused remained absent until a certain date."

The specific legal elements for Article 99, "Misbehavior Before The Enemy by Endangering the Safety of a Command, Unit or Place," are: (1) "The accused has a duty to defend a unit or place," (2) "The accused committed misconduct," (3) "The accused thereby endangered the unit or place," and (4) "The act occurred before the enemy."

Forces Command officials associated with this legal case cannot discuss or disclose the findings of the 2014 investigation while legal actions are pending out of respect to the judicial process, the rights of the accused, and to ensure the proceeding's fairness and impartiality.

The Army's 2014 investigation into the circumstances of the soldier's 2009 disappearance and capture in Afghanistan is currently being treated as potential evidence in the pending Article 32 preliminary hearing.

2nd Witness IDs Marine As Checking Into Hotel With Slain Transgender Filipina

Seth Robson at Stars and Stripes reports on the trial of the U.S. Marine accused of murder in the Philippines.

OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines — A second witness testified Tuesday that U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton checked into an Olongapo City hotel with a transgender Filipina whose body was found soon afterward.

Pemberton is accused of killing Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, 26, last Oct. 11. Laude’s body was discovered later that evening in a bathroom at the Celzone Lodge – a cheap hotel near the gates of the former U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay.

Media are barred from the trial that began Monday at the Hall of Justice in Olongapo City. Prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos described Tuesday’s proceedings to reporters.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:


Goodfellas Part II?: Feds Want Top Sentence For Mob Kid Who Dug up, Reburied Slain Crony

Selim Alger at the New York Post reports on the feds' case against an organized crime figure in New York.

The feds want a judge to throw the book at a Bonanno hood who’s dad was charged as one of the Lufthansa Heist crew members immortalized in “Goodfellas,” and whose own mob resume includes the requisite exhuming and reburying a body and torching of a nightclub.

Jerome Asaro, the son of longtime Bonanno capo Vincent Asaro, faces federal sentencing guidelines of 77 to 96 months in prison when his fate is handed down by Judge Allyne Ross Thursday.

Citing his grisly mob resume — including digging up and reburying a whacked family associate — prosecutor Nicole Argentieri lobbied in court papers for the top end of the sentencing scale.

Asaro dug up and reburied Paul Katz, a Bonanno crony who the feds say was slain by his father and James “Jimmy The Gent” Burke, a powerful family associate who inspired Robert DeNiro’s Jimmy Conway character in the 1990 Martin Scorsese classic film.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:


Note: You can learn more about the film Goodfellas and the true crime story that inspired Martin Scorsese's classic crime film via the below link:


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Fall Of The Ottomans: The Great War In The Middle East

Veteran journalist and author Joseph C. Goulden offers a good review of Eugene Rogan's The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East for the Washington Times.

For obvious reasons, most English-language books published on the Great War of 1914-1918 are Eurocentric, focused on the grinding trench warfare of the Western Front. Even the occasional glances eastward seldom got beyond the Gallipoli campaign, and even these accounts stressed the role of Australian and New Zealander troops, not the Middle Eastern armies.

Now comes an absolutely magnificent account of the war from the viewpoint of the Ottoman Empire, which sided with Germany during the conflict and suffered a crushing defeat that turned much of the Middle East into British and French colonial satraps. Eugene Rogan, a British scholar now teaching at Oxford, lived in the Middle East for years. Importantly, he had the linguistic ability to do research in Turkish and other archives seldom visited by Western historians.

His account is geopolitical and military writing at its best — taut, anecdotal and extraordinarily researched. A tangled story, to be sure, one that both commands and rewards the reader’s attention.

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:


Dying Was A Good Career Move, And Other Author-On-Author Insults

Hephzibah Anderson at BBC.com offers an interesting piece on the great insults writers hurled at other writers.

Critics can be cutting when a book displeases them, but it’s their fellow authors that writers should really be wary of. When it comes to searing vitriol, inventive invectives and sheer meanness, rarely do a reviewer’s words rival those of another author. Who was it called George Sand “a great cow full of ink”? That’ll have been Gustave Flaubert, though plenty of others have resorted to animal imagery, from Robert Louis Stevenson on Walt Whitman (“like a large shaggy dog just unchained scouring the beaches of the world and baying at the moon”) to Friedrich Nietzsche on Dante Alighieri (“A hyena that wrote poetry on tombs”).

As bystanders, there’s a special delight to be had from knowing that the greats insulted other greats. We enjoy their jibes because these are people generally known to use words to sublime, transcendent effect, and yet here they are brawling in the mud. It’s like being a kid again and hearing a teacher swear.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:


Note: You can also watch William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal (seen in the above photo) famously argue with each other on TV during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago via the below link:


Two Former U.S. Army Soldiers Sentenced For Stealing $2.7 Million In Government Funds While Stationed In Saudi Arabia

The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:

NEWNAN, GA—Jasen Minter and Louis E. Nock have each been sentenced to four years, nine months in prison for stealing more than $2.7 million from a United States Government bank account while they were on active duty in the United States Army stationed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“This was an egregious abuse of trust by two former U.S. Army soldiers who had access to millions of dollars of government money,” said Acting U.S. Attorney John Horn. “Their conduct betrayed their trust and honor as servicemembers and took substantial funds away from the United States Military Training Mission in Saudi Arabia.”

J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated: “While the sentencing of both former U.S. Army Captain Jasen Minter and Sgt. First Class Louis Nock will finally hold them accountable for their criminal actions in stealing over two million dollars in government monies, it remains to be seen if they will be able to repay the government in spite of the fact that, as part of their sentencing, they are ordered by the court to do so.

While both Minter and Nock were stationed in Saudi Arabia, their purpose as Finance Officers was to support the war fighter through the U.S. Military Training Mission. They, instead, literally sent boxes of U.S. cash back to the States for their own personal gain. This has been an extensive and protracted investigation initiated by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Division and the Department of Defense- Office of Inspector General. The FBI will continue to work with its military components in ensuring that U.S. funds designated for military use are used as intended and not diverted to personal bank accounts as was seen in this case.”

“Instead of serving their country honorably while stationed overseas in a sensitive assignment, these two U.S. Army finance officers betrayed it by abusing their positions of trust and embezzling more than $2.7 million in American taxpayer funds,” said John F. Khin, Special Agent in Charge,

Southeast Field Office, Defense Criminal Investigative Service. “This sentencing should serve as a constant reminder that DCIS and our law enforcement partners will relentlessly pursue corruption, fraud, and abuse within Department of Defense programs anywhere in the world, and bring violators to justice.”

“This sentencing is another great example of the work our special agents do on a daily basis,” said Frank Robey, the director of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit. “The defendants attempted to profit by compromising the readiness of our servicemembers during a time of war, but this joint investigation unraveled their scheme and now they are being held responsible for betraying the trust placed in them.”

According to Acting U.S. Attorney Horn, the charges and other information presented in court: Minter and Nock served as the Finance Officer and Deputy Finance Officer, respectively, for the United States Military Training Mission in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from 2006 to 2007. As part of their duties in the Finance Office, Minter and Nock had access to a U.S. government bank account that was held at the Saudi American Bank.

In June 2006, the defendants withdrew approximately $1.2 million in cash from the bank account and kept those funds for their own benefit. In August 2006, they made another withdrawal of more than $1.5 million in cash, and again kept the funds for their own use instead of returning them to the Finance Office. Before leaving Saudi Arabia, both defendants falsely affirmed in Finance Office records that there were no missing funds from the bank account. An audit conducted by the Department of Defense later revealed the theft of funds.

Jasen Minter, 44, of Fayetteville, Georgia, has been sentenced to four years, nine months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,216,617.97. Minter was convicted on these charges on November 21, 2014, after he pleaded guilty.

Louis E. Nock, 48, of Orlando, Florida, has been sentenced to four years, nine months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,216,617.97 to the United States Army. Nock was convicted of these charges on January 5, 2015, after he pleaded guilty.

This case was investigated by the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and the Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General.

Assistant United States Attorney Jamie Mickelson prosecuted the case.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Little Night Music: Weird Al Yankovic's 'I Hate These Word Crimes'

"Weird Al" Yankovic's satiric take on the song Blurred Lines is very funny and dead on.

You can listen to I hate These Word Crimes via the below link:


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dorothy Parker Slices And Dices: A Look Back At The Book Reviews of Writer Dorothy Parker

Ellen Meister at the Daily Beast looks back at the sometimes vicious wit of writer Dorothy Parker, but notes that she also wrote fondly of two of my favorite writers - Ernest Hemingway and Dashiell Hammett.   

You may know Dorothy Parker as the acid-tongued wit who once said a performance by Katharine Hepburn “ran the gamut of emotions from A to B,” and who reviewed a Broadway play with the line, “The House Beautiful is, for me, the play lousy.”

But Parker was more than just a hard-bitten theater critic. She was also a poet, short story writer, screenwriter, and literary critic. In fact, she was The New Yorker’s book reviewer from 1927-1933, writing under the pseudonym Constant Reader, and held a similar post at Esquire decades later. 

Of course, not all of Parker’s reviews were negative.  An avid reader, she loved and hated with equal intensity. And though the positive reviews might not be as entertaining as the scorchers, the books live on, and are worthy of our attention.  Here are five examples of books Dorothy Parker recommended.

Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway
Parker adored this collection of Hemingway short stories, while castigating those who insisted that only his novels should be taken seriously. She said, “Mr. Hemingway's style, this prose stripped to its firm young bones, is far more effective, far more moving in the short story than in the novel. He is, to me, the greatest living writer of short stories; he is, also to me, not the greatest living novelist.” She goes on to say Men Without Women is “a truly magnificent work,” and “I do not know where a greater collection of stories can be found.”

The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett
Dorothy Parker was a big fan of Dashiell Hammett’s work, calling him “as American as a sawed-off shotgun.” And while she explains that he doesn't have Hemingway’s scope or beauty, she says it's true that “he is so hard-boiled you could roll him on the White House lawn. And it is also true that he is a good, hell-bent, cold-hearted writer, with a clear eye for the ways of hard women and a fine ear for the words of hard men, and his books are exciting and powerful and—if I may filch a word from the booksy ones—pulsing.”

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:


Ellen Meister is the author of Farewell Dorothy Parker. 

'Hitchcock' By Michael Wood Is A Beautifully Turned Survey

John Timpane, my editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, offers a good review of Michael Wood's book on the late great film director Alfred Hitchcock.

It's a rare pleasure for a book to carry you from cover to cover with wit, verve, and profit. That's what happens with this new overview by Michael Wood.

Wood is emeritus professor of comparative literature at Princeton. Erudition is not what he wants to show you - it's Alfred Hitchcock's life and movies. In this quick tour, there's much to cover in little space, much written in countless books. But in Wood's hands, it all seems unrushed, easy, and fresh.

There is Hitchcock's middle-class family, the beginnings of what would become "a frightened man who got his fears to work for him on film." There is his Jesuit schooling, his early days in the just-starting English film industry, and his crucial, life-making union with Alma Reville, wife and collaborator of a lifetime. Of her, Woods writes: "He would have been something without her, no doubt, but he would not have been the director we know as Hitchcock."

... Thanks to his command of suspense, his knack of anticipating audience reactions, Hitchcock became famous, beyond his films, for mastery of human psychology. His work probed friendship, guilt, patriotism, love, obsession, the communal mania that attends war - and the communal shell-shock that follows.
You can read the rest of the review via the below link:


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Kim Philby: A Traitor On Honeymoon

Guy Walters offers a piece in the British newspaper the Telegraph on newly published photos of British spy and traitor Kim Philby living in the Soviet Union.

At first glance, it looks like an official news photograph from yesteryear. The figure in the middle is perhaps a politician, visiting a dreary industrial complex, his secretary holding some flowers presented to her by the plant’s management.

But look closely again, especially at that central figure. Unlike the other men, he is not wearing a suit, but a jacket in Prince of Wales check. His smile is uncertain, and his features, softer than those of the burly men around him, suggest that he is a foreigner.
He most certainly was a long way from home, as the Bratsk Hydroelectric Station in Siberia is exactly 3,782 miles from London. When the picture was taken, in the summer of 1972, he had not been home for more than a decade, and at the age of 60, knew that he was unlikely ever to return.

The reason was quite simple: he was a traitor, the worst the United Kingdom has produced for the past century - perhaps the worst it has ever had. In his adopted home of the Soviet Union, he called himself Andrei Fedorovich Fyodorov, whereas the world knew him better by a name that continues both to repel and to fascinate – Kim Philby. These never before published pictures show him on honeymoon in Siberia with his Russian wife Rufina - and a couple of KGB minders.

“Glimpses of Philby’s life after defection are unusual, and are read like tea leaves by espionage historians,” says the spy writer and historian, Jeremy Duns. “These photos are a final glimpse of his ‘normal life’ behind the Iron Curtain before he went into a far darker place.”

You can read the rest of the piece and see the Philby photos via the below link:


You can also learn more about Philby by reading Andrew Lycett's Telegraph review of Ben Macintyre's outstanding book, A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal via the below link:


FBI: Leader Of Violent New Haven Grape Street Crips Street Gang Going To Prison

The FBI web site reports on a multi-agency investigation that dismantled a criminal organization in New Haven, Connecticut:

He headed a dangerous criminal organization responsible for not only a great deal of the gang violence occurring on the streets of New Haven, Connecticut, but also for the large-scale distribution of cocaine in and around the city. But earlier this month, Donald “Main” Ogman was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to federal drug charges. Nineteen of his fellow gang members and other associates have previously pled guilty to various federal charges.

And as a result, the streets of New Haven are a little safer these days.

Under Ogman’s leadership, his criminal enterprise—the Grape Street Crips—was a force to be reckoned with. Much of the violence—a lot of it in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven—was attributed to the turf battle occurring between the Crips and other gangs. The Grape Street Crips wanted to maintain their influence over drug trafficking and firearms trafficking in the Hill, and they used intimidation, threats of violence, shootings, assaults, and homicides to make sure that they did.

But Ogman also had a direct hand in the trafficking of drugs—he would purchase large quantities of cocaine from criminal suppliers, and then, after processing the cocaine into “crack,” redistribute it to gang members and others in the Hill and other neighborhoods. Ogman often cooked the cocaine into crack himself and used drug addicts (or “friends,” as he called them) to test the batches he made.

Trying to get a handle on the drug trafficking and violence being perpetrated by the Grape Street Crips and other gangs, the FBI’s New Haven Safe Streets Task Force—which includes the Connecticut Department of Corrections, the Connecticut State Police, and the New Haven, Hamden, and Milford Police Departments—began to investigate and soon honed in on Ogman and his associates.

The FBI has 164 Violent Gang Safe Streets Task Forces in field offices nationwide, staffed by nearly 850 Bureau agents, more than 1,500 state and local law enforcement personnel, and almost 100 other federal law enforcement agents. These task forces go after violent gangs through sustained, proactive, coordinated investigations—often using federal laws targeting racketeering, drug conspiracy, and firearms violations to identify and prosecute the leadership of these gangs and obtain lengthy prison sentences. Our Safe Streets initiative is the principal federal, state, and local partnership engaged in reducing violent crime throughout the country.

For the investigation into Donald Ogman and the Grape Street Crips, Bureau agents and task force officers working side by side used a variety of techniques to uncover the extent of the group’s criminal activity, including court-authorized wiretaps, the execution of search and seizure warrants, electronic and physical surveillance, and confidential informants. Between March and September 2011, law enforcement also set up a series of about 75 controlled drug buys—using confidential informants to purchase cocaine from members and associates of the gang, including Ogman.

The wiretaps on Ogman’s phone were fruitful as well, providing evidence of his leadership of the Grape Street Crips and his involvement in drug trafficking. During one particular conversation he had with an associate, the two discussed a couple of unrelated federal drug investigations in New Haven and mused on the perils of being the target of such an investigation.

Ogman soon found out how perilous it could be. In March 2012, investigators executed a series of search warrants, seizing drugs, drug paraphernalia, cash, firearms, ammunition, and other items. Ogman was charged and taken into custody, as were a number of his fellow gang members and associates. In March 2014, he pled guilty to drug conspiracy charges prior to his sentencing.

And not long after Ogman was taken into custody and his criminal enterprise was virtually dismantled, New Haven police reportedly noted a reduction in crime in the neighborhood areas where the Grape Street Crips operated.

Note: The FBI released the above photo of the New Haven gang leader's house.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Republican Members Of Congress Cite Castro Espionage Apparatus, National Security Risk, in Opposing Opening of Cuban Embassy in Washington, DC

Communist Cuba is as well known for spies as it is for cigars.

Cuba's KGB-Trained General Directorate of Intelligence (DGI) has a well-deserved reputation for "punching above its weight." The DGI was and is a very successful intelligence agency.

So Republican Cuban-American Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen (seen in the above photo) released the below:

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, was joined by her colleagues Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), in sending a letter to Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson and National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs Ricardo Zuniga in opposing the opening of a Cuban embassy in Washington, DC. Statement by Ros-Lehtinen: 

Contrary to popular belief and the propaganda of the Castro brothers, the Cuban espionage apparatus remains one of the most advanced in the world, and is almost exclusively focused on targeting the United States and keeping the regime in power. By allowing the Cuban regime to open an embassy in our nation’s capital, and potentially additional consular offices around the country, the administration risks allowing Cuban spies even more access to sensitive information that can be sold to the highest bidder.

“Cuba’s long history of espionage in the United States has already had severe consequences for our national security. There is no doubt that the regime will continue to jeopardize the security and economic prosperity of the United States by stealing and selling the intelligence it gleans here in order to stay in power and oppress the Cuban people. It’s time for the Obama administration to put aside its aspirations for a foreign policy legacy, end these misguided talks with the thugs in Havana, stand up for the human rights of the Cuban people, and stop putting politics before US national security.”

You can read my Philadelphia Inquirer review of Scott W. Carmichael's True Believer: Inside the Investigation and Capture of Ana Montes, Cuba's Master Spy via the below link:


And you can read an earlier post on Cuban spies via the below link:


As Sentencings Approach, A Look At Mob Ties In FirstPlus Case

Veteran organized crime reporter and author George Anastasia (seen in the above photo) offers a look at the organized crime ties to the FirstPlus case for bigtrial.net.

Unless there are some unforeseen developments -- and in this case that's always possible -- the hammer comes down next week in the multi-million dollar FirstPlus Financial fraud case.

Nicodemo S. Scarfo, Salvatore Pelullo and the brothers John and William Maxwell each have sentencing hearings before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Kugler in the same federal courtroom in Camden where a jury delivered guilty verdicts last year.

Scarfo, the 49-year-old son of jailed mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, is looking at a sentence that could land him in prison for the better part of the rest of his life. The same can be said for Pelullo, 47, described as a mob associate and with Scarfo the brains behind the 2007 takeover and looting of the Texas-based mortgage company.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:


You can also read my Philadelphia Inquirer of George Anastasia's latest true crime book, Gotti's Rules, via the below link:


America's Greatest Weapon: Mesmerizing Pictures Capture America's Aircraft Carriers Sailing The World Through The Years In All Their Humongous Glory

As an old carrier sailor who served on the USS Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War, I was pleased to discover a piece on the history of American aircraft carriers that the British newspaper the Daily Mail offered on their web site.

The piece offers some great old photos and videos of America's aircraft carriers, including the above photo of the USS Kitty Hawk making her final voyage from Japan in 2008.

On September 11, 2001, the USS Enterprise was cruising the Indian Ocean when news broke that the World Trade Center and Pentagon had been hit by hijacked airplanes. 

The aircraft carrier was immediately turned around towards the Middle East, and for weeks carried out air raids on the terrorist cells believed to have carried out the attack.

When it comes to military might, America's greatest weapon is its large fleet of aircraft carriers that patrol the world and can respond to incidents in a matter of hours from international waters. 

No other country in the world maintains a fleet as large as the U.S., giving America no uncertain advantage. There are currently 10 supercarriers in commission, two under construction and another in planning. The few countries that can afford to invest in aircraft carriers usually maintain just one - at the most two. 

See how America's aircraft carriers have changed over the years, from one of the first launched in 1920 to the modern super carrier. 

You can read the rest of the piece and check out the photos and the videos via the below link:


Note: You can see photos of the USS Kitty Hawk via the link below:


Thursday, March 19, 2015

A New Biography Of The Most Famous American Of His Time: Mark Twain

Michael Dirda reviews Roy Morris Jr.'s book, American Vandal: Mark Twain Abroad.

There are probably more studies and biographies of Mark Twain — the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910) — than of any other figure in American literature. And why not?

After all, Twain produced at least three or four titles that rank high on almost everyone’s list of favorite books. “Huckleberry Finn” is a leading contender in the The Great American Novel sweepstakes. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” as biographer Roy Morris Jr. observes, “seems to take place in perpetual summer” and conveys an “ineffable magic.” Twain’s own favorites, if no one else’s, were “The Prince and the Pauper” and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Instead of those “English” novels, I would argue for “Life on the Mississippi.”

However, Mark Twain was more than just an author. The barefoot boy from hardscrabble Hannibal, Mo., rose to become a global celebrity, the most famous American of his time, rivaled only by Teddy Roosevelt (whom he once derided as the “Tom Sawyer of the political world”). His quips and yarn-filled performances in “Mark Twain at Home” took him to lyceums, opera halls and auditoriums around the world. In fact, as “American Vandal” reminds us, he spent more than a dozen years of his adult life outside the United States.

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:


Ouch: Conan O'Brien On New Sex Survey

Conan O'Brien told a good one on his late night show:

A new study has shown that women who get more sleep have better sex. Unfortunately, the study was conducted by Bill Cosby.

Ouch, indeed.

You can visit Conan O'Brien's web site via the below link:


Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary: 'America's Most Haunted Building'

Some years ago I was given an interesting and informative tour of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia by Francis X. Dolan, who was then the site manager of the historic site and the author of Eastern State Penitentiary. 

I was interested in visiting the creepy old prison, as it was the site where notorious criminals like bank robber Willy Sutton and gangster Al Capone were held.

Willie Sutton reportedly was asked why he robbed banks and he replied, "That's where the money is."

Capone, who was caught with an illegal gun by Philadelphia detectives, served a year in the pen. The story goes that Capone arranged his own arrest and imprisonment to avoid the intense heat brought on by his ordering the infamous "Saint Valentine's Day Massacre" murders in Chicago.

Capone, due to his wealth and criminal influence, lived a good deal better than the other inmates, as one can see from a photo of his old cell at the Eastern State pen:

Eastern State Penitentiary is also noted for holding all prisoners in total solitary confinement.

According to the Eastern State Penitentiary web site:

In the ambitious age of reform following the American Revolution, the new nation aspired to change profoundly its public institutions, and to set an example for the world in social development. Every type of institution that we are familiar with today--educational, medical and governmental--was revolutionized in these years by the rational and humanistic principles of the Enlightenment.

Of all of the radical innovations born in this era, American democracy was, of course, the most influential. The second major intellectual export was prison design and reform.

Most eighteenth century prisons were simply large holding pens. Groups of adults and children, men and women, and petty thieves and murderers, sorted out their own affairs behind locked doors. Physical punishment and mutilation were common, and abuse of the prisoners by the guards and overseers was assumed.

In 1787, a group of well-known and powerful Philadelphians convened in the home of Benjamin Franklin. The members of The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons expressed growing concern with the conditions in American and European prisons. Dr. Benjamin Rush spoke on the Society's goal, to see the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania set the international standard in prison design. He proposed a radical idea: to build a true penitentiary, a prison designed to create genuine regret and penitence in the criminal's heart. The concept grew from Enlightenment thinking, but no government had successfully carried out such a program.

It took the Society more than thirty years to convince the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to build the kind of prison it suggested: a revolutionary new building on farmland outside Philadelphia.

Eastern State Penitentiary broke sharply with the prisons of its day, abandoning corporal punishment and ill treatment.

This massive new structure, opened in 1829, became one of the most expensive American buildings of its day and soon the most famous prison in the world. The Penitentiary would not simply punish, but move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change. The method was a Quaker-inspired system of isolation from other prisoners, with labor. The early system was strict.

To prevent distraction, knowledge of the building, and even mild interaction with guards, inmates were hooded whenever they were outside their cells. But the proponents of the system believed strongly that the criminals, exposed, in silence, to thoughts of their behavior and the ugliness of their crimes, would become genuinely penitent. Thus the new word, penitentiary.   

You can read the rest of the pen's history via the below link:


Today the Eastern State Pen is also famous for their annual Halloween event. The old prison is a good place to come for a good scare, as the pen has a reputation for being haunted.

The British newspaper the Daily Mail reports on the supposedly haunted prison and offers some good photos. You can read the piece and see the photos via the below link:


Dolan's book also has some fine historic photos in it. You can purchase the book via the below link:


Note: The above photos are from the Eastern State Penitentiary web site. You can click on them to enlarge.