Monday, August 31, 2015

10 Things I'd Like to See from a Kanye West Presidency

Last night at the VMAs Kanye West announced he's running for President in 2020. While the excited utterance was made while he was high on that good good, and basking in the limelight of his favorite person, himself, I got to thinking about what I'd like to see from a President West administration. So in no particular order...

Kim Kardashian finally gets a solo cover of Vogue

Kanye West swears his wife Kim Kardashian is a super model. He's said it in paper interviews, radio interviews, and on the premier episode of I Am Cait. Never mind that Kim Kardashian is more porn star than super star, and that's not shade just #factsonly. I no more about what her body parts look like than my own and I see myself in the mirror every day. Then there was that one time Kanye got mad that Michelle Obama stay on the cover of Vogue and he had the nerve to say no one is checking for FLOTUS. #LIES.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hurricane Katrina 10 Years Later

It's been 10 year since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans as a Category 3 hurricane. It's been 10 years since 175 mile per hour winds and storm surge of up to 15 feet ripped apart cities in Alabama and Mississippi and caused the levees to break in New Orleans. It's been 10 years since water rushed through the lower 9th ward in New Orleans flooding streets, flooding homes with 20 feet of water, covering others with 24 feet of water and sendingNew Orleans residents who did not evacuate ahead of the storm into their crawl space attics. It's been 10 years since those same people who escaped the water the best way they knew how, escaped into their final resting place, be it their attics, their rooftops, the SuperDome, or the Convention Center. It's been 10 years since 2,000 people were killed by the costliest storm in U.S. history. It's been 10 years since millions of life long New Orleans residents were displaced. It's been 10 years since the news media referred to these Katrina survivor's as refugees even though they were U.S. citizens. It's been 10 years since the city's black folk were called looters and rioters, and the white citizens portrayed as hungry and in need.

Book Reviews: The Cartel

The Cartel 
by Don Winslow
Don Winslow is among other things the author of such books as The Death and Life of Bobby Z, Savages, The Winter of Frankie Machine, and The Power of The Dog. The last title was a favorite mystery/drama/crime book. Even mentioning that it is a crime novel probably gives you the wrong idea. The Power of the Dog is a novel that simultaneously offers an intimate look at the lives of some very broken, dangerous and obsessive people on both sides of the law and a panoramic view of the drug trade originating from south of the border, primarily Mexico. It weaved in some allusions to the real life Iran Contra and the CIA Freeway Ricky Ross scandals. The US government used domestic and foreign organized crime elements to pursue more important goals than drug interdiction. 

The novel's dominant theme was the mutual hate relationship between top Mexican drug kingpin Adan Barrera and American DEA agent Art Keller. Barrera's people tortured and murdered Keller's partner. Barrera's hothead brother is killed. Finally, through familial deceit and betrayal, Art lures Adan across the border into the US, where he is swiftly arrested and later convicted, receiving 12 consecutive federal life sentences. The Cartel picks up the story shortly afterwards. Art is deeply disappointed that his superiors won't look deeply into Adan's financial and political connections. The US government doesn't seem to care that much of the financial and military aid it provides to Mexico and Colombia disappears into private hands or is used to repress political or labor union movements. 

So Art has semi-retired from the DEA. He lives as a monk. Art is also half-Mexican. His mother comes from Adan's home state. Adan is languishing in prison when he learns that his only child, a sickly daughter, has died. He insists upon going to the funeral. In order to make this happen Adan agrees to provide information about some top Mexican organized crime/cartel members. This information is too good to pass up. The White House/DOJ/DEA/CIA/FBI can't say no to this request. 

This is especially the case as Adan is not even asking for release from prison. Adan wants to serve out his time in a Mexican prison, something everyone thinks is insane since as a snitch or dedo, his life there won't be worth much. But a deal is a deal. 
One of Adan's primary characteristics is that with few exceptions he's always the smartest man in the room. The people he's informed on were his bitter enemies. Within top cartel circles Adan's act isn't seen as contemptible and dishonest but rather canny and worthwhile. Of course it helps that Adan's a boss. The Mexican prison he's sent to is run by Diego Tapia, a cartel boss in his own right and Adan's first cousin. 

In short time Adan "escapes" from prison and starts rebuilding his power, ruthlessly eliminating anyone and anything in his way. Art is invited back to the DEA to consult with Mexican law enforcement and prosecutors looking to arrest Adan. There are politics, nationalist resentment and corruption to complicate Art's job. And Art won't be content to sit on the sidelines and provide intelligence or advice, especially when he's unsure just whom to trust.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Donald Trump Scares Me: The Politics of Money, Power and Fame.

Photo: Larry Marano
Remember the conversation you used to have, or may even still have, about what characteristic or trait you'd rather have: Money, Power, or Fame, and what you'd do if you had one over the other? Well what happens when a presidential candidate has all three and a significant lead in the polls.

I give you Donald Trump.

Usually early front runners in political races don't amount to much when it's time to cast votes in primaries that are still months off. Remember Herman Cain who was derailed by his harem of women who spilled all the tea about his extramarital affairs? The problem here is that Donald Trump has enough fame to keep himself relevant until the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary. Donald Trump has enough money to bankroll his campaign himself even if he does not win the Republican nomination for Presidency. And Donald Trump has enough power, mostly begotten from his fame and money, to derail any political conversation to his own talking points so that he looks like the favorable candidate.

Remember it was Donald Trump's birther antics that forced President Obama to produce his long form birth certificate the weekend of the White House Correspondent's dinner in May 2011. Remember that's the same weekend the President approved a covert Seal Team 6 mission to take out Osama bin Laden. Donald Trump had enough fame, power, and money to make the Commander in Chief, who was commanding like a boss, to step away for a moment and address his foolish claims that maybe he wasn't an American citizen.

Fast-forward four years later and here we are with Donald Trump dominating the conversation about whatever it is he wants to talk about; mainly immigration and Megyn Kelly's incompetence. Not only does Donald Trump dominate the conservative political conservation, he has also overshadowed one time front runner and suggested shoe in for the Republican Presidential nomination Jeb Bush. In fact, this week Jeb turned into a babbling, bumbling, idiot getting tripped up in a conversation/argument about immigration and anchor babies. And let's not forget how Trump tried to clown Jorge Ramos in Iowa last night.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Black Folks, #BlackLivesMatter and Black on Black Crime

Today in Blackness, Black folks call out the hypocrisy of #BlackLivesMatter in the face of Black on Black crime.  Many arguments have been made that protesting police brutality against Black people has nothing to do with the spate of Black on Black crime that plagues major metropolitan cities across the United States. Baltimore. Chiraq. As an interweb surfing millennial I like and share memes showing support for the movement with sayings like "When Ray Ray kills somebody, Ray Ray goes to jail. But when Officer Josh kills Ray Ray, Officer Josh gets off." It's easy to be an internet activist. But what happens when your mindless, though intentional, like and sharing of memes, tweets, posts, and snaps of support are challenged with the uncomfortable truth? The uncomfortable truth that many of the posthumous beneficiaries of the #BlackLivesMatter rallying cry are Black men and women with criminal pasts or at the very least a run in with the law that could have gone very differently than the encounter that led them to be memorialized by protesters fighting against overzealous police. 

Walter Scott ran from his car after he was pulled over in what began as a routine traffic stop. Eric Harris ran from undercover deputies and detectives when he realized the drug deal he thought he was conducting was a setup. Michael Brown allegedly stole a box of cigars which led to a BOLO going out over the Ferguson police radio allegedly matching Brown's description that further intensified his confrontation with Darren Wilson who heard the scanner traffic. Eric Garner was illegally selling loose cigarettes on a street corner. Christian Taylor broke into a car dealership and damaged several vehicles. And Sandra Bland, yes Sandra Bland, was rude and disrespectful to a police officer at the end of her encounter where all she had to do was sign for her ticket and be on her way.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Buzz Feed Asks the Uncomfortable Questions About Race

Three years ago I unequivocally declared that an honest conversation about race is never and will never be possible between Black folks and White folks in this country. Fast forward three years later and that impossibility seems greater now than it did then, but that doesn't mean the race rabble rousers at Buzz Feed don't want to try.

In the video "24 Questions Black people have for White people" Buzz Feed's satirist ask a litany of questions ranging from hair and politics to Black Lives Matter and the appropriation of the black body and black culture.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mel Farr and Old Commercials

Mel Farr recently passed away. He was a former Detroit Lions football player who was a little before my time. I never saw him play football. He also sang backup on Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On". Returning the favor to his friend, Farr helped to arrange a Detroit Lions tryout for Gaye.  
After the recording, Gaye, 31, told Barney and Farr that he wanted to try out for the Lions. The article quotes Gaye from "Marvin Gaye, My Brother, a book by his brother Frankie: "You know what? I'd rather catch a pass and score a touchdown in Tiger Stadium than rack up another gold record." Gaye started working out with his buddies and Lions great Charlie Sanders, and bulked up by 30 pounds. Then-Lions coach Joe Schmidt, also a fan, agreed to take a meeting with Gaye. But when he found out he had never played football, even in high school, he said no to a tryout. But he changed his mind before training camp and agreed to give Gaye a look during a LIons workout at Michigan.  Gaye looked "decent," but Tinsley writes: "Privately, Schmidt imagined the wood-layers of their day — Deacon Jones, Chuck Howley or Dick Butkus — violently greeting one of America's foremost musicians running across the middle. Marvin would've been a moving target. That was too much burden for any coach's conscience."

But it was only in later years that I learned that Farr was a former Lion great. My primary memory of Farr was as the owner of an auto dealership group who tried to ensure that he and other black dealers got fair treatment from the auto companies. He was one of the first if not the first black auto dealers for Ford. He also tried his hand in other business ventures, some of which worked and some of which didn't. I also remembered Farr as the star of some cheesy hard sell commercials. Later on I also learned that he had a reputation as something of a sharp dealer who didn't mind taking advantage of unwary or low credit/impoverished buyers. But that's normal among auto dealers and scarcely bears mentioning. It's not a business which encourages leaving money on the table. I don't think such a business exists. No it's the commercials which are the first thing that came to my mind. And I could not remember the Mel Farr commercials without also recalling some of the other local commercials of note from back in the day, especially the Highland Appliance and WRIF remarkable mouth ads. Those were good times. It's funny how some commercials can instantly transfer you back across decades. I don't watch a lot of television any more and in particular not a lot of local television. But these local television and radio ads bring back fun memories. I also enjoyed the Angels With Dirty Faces Highland Appliance parody and obviously the Faygo commercial. If anyone should ever ask you the best Faygo flavor is Moon Mist.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Movie Reviews: Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton
directed by F. Gary Gray

It was the late eighties. I was temporarily home from college for some reason or the other. My younger brother, bless his heart, had wasted no time turning what was formerly our bedroom into his bedroom. 
One of the ways in which he signaled this change in management was by blasting what I later learned was N.W.A.'s seminal album Straight Outta Compton as loudly as he could. I didn't really sit down and listen to the lyrics then. All I heard was all the profanity and racial slurs. I politely advised my sibling that as free speech was not necessarily a guaranteed right in our residence when it came to profanity if he wished to avoid a serious (ahem) correction, he would need to turn that **** off before our father returned home. Otherwise things could get ugly. And I didn't want any of that correction bouncing off my brother and hitting me. That would have just ruined my day. Quickly coming to his senses, my brother agreed. Still there was something about the music which almost forced you to listen. 
I picked up the album later. It was raw, ugly, vicious and admittedly every kind of problematic "ist" you could think of. The album Straight Outta Compton was outlaw chic that went to heights, or rather depths, which had only briefly been previously reached by similar styled rappers such as Ice-T or Schoolly D in "6 in the morning" or "P.S.K", respectively. It certainly wasn't the kind of music I listened to in mixed company or in front of my father. 
But it also was music that was in its way directly descended from the hardest core blues (check out some uncensored versions of Stag-o-lee, songs about prison rape or Pat Hare's I'm gonna murder my baby) or some of the bleaker soul music of the seventies (some of Curtis Mayfield's work). N.W.A. made mostly nihilistic music that claimed to tell the story of the streets. This music was often apolitical in that it made few attempts at any sort of uplifting message. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Watch: Stevie Wonder and Jazmine Sullivan 'Riff It Up' In Philly

Yesterday afternoon Stevie Wonder surprised Philadelphia with a free concert in Dillworth Park. Despite the obnoxious heat, swarms of fans flocked to city hall, while city government workers gazed on from there city hall office windows.

One of the highlights from yesterday's pop up concert was hearing Stevie Wonder and local talent Jazmine Sullivan exchange riffs on stage. In an entertainment industry riddled with mediocre voices, it is always a pleasure to hear real singers perform live and this is a great example of two generations of exceptional talent giving fans a nice summer treat.

Enjoy the video below.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Book Reviews: Brothers in Arms

Brothers in Arms
by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton
It's not as widely known as it should be but former NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (KAJ) is something of a Renaissance Man.

He's not just a former player and coach but also an author, actor, film producer, essayist and historian. It's this last which is important for this review. KAJ's father was one of the first black NYC transit cops. The elder Alcindor's good friend was Leonard Smith, also one of the first black NYC transit cops. 

Smitty, as he was called, was a godfather/uncle figure to KAJ, watching out for him in the NYC concrete jungle and making sure that KAJ did not get in any trouble, legal or otherwise. One night in the Lincoln Center, KAJ was in the audience to watch a documentary about the 761st Tank Battalion, a predominantly black unit, which after being attached to General Patton's Third Army, was the first black armored unit in WW2 to see combat. KAJ was modestly involved with the film, rounding up veterans to speak of their combat experiences.

KAJ's father was a veteran though he saw no combat. So KAJ was shocked to accidentally run into Smitty at the event and completely flabbergasted to learn that the oft humorous, optimistic and self-effacing Smitty was a decorated combat vet of the 761st. He had served as a tank gunner and loader, won a Bronze Star and seen action in numerous battles in five countries, including the Battle of the Bulge.

However Smitty had never mentioned this to Al Alcindor or to his son KAJ. KAJ learned a lot watching the documentary but was disappointed by some quality and factual errors. KAJ decided that he would tell the tale about the 761st Tank Battalion and by extension, all black combat veterans of WW2 ,before it was too late.

This 2004 book was the result. Most of those veterans have long since departed this vale of tears but Brothers in Arms remains a fitting testament to their struggles, failures and ultimate triumphs. I have often written that I don't know how people of my parents' generations managed to live through all of the racism, segregation and violence which they did, let alone people of my grandparents' generation, such as Leonard Smith. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Movie Reviews: Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four
directed by Josh Trank
When the director tweets out (and later deletes) that the final film product is not what he originally intended or indeed created it's not the best sign. This could be a good old fashioned case of CYA and blamestorming. Or it could be God's honest truth. The best thing one can say about this film is that it is indeed quite not as bad as some of the more vitriolic responses have indicated. Nevertheless it is a bad film. It is not emotionally engaging in the slightest bit. It is a summer blockbuster based on a comic book which was never one of my favorites. But even by the low standards of "comic book" movies this film was flat. It was so flat that I don't want to spend a huge number of paragraphs explaining why. It's not worth my time, which has lately become scarce. And you would be bored before you got halfway through. If films like The Dark Knight, Sin City and 300 show that the best comic books or graphic novels can reflect timeless myths that come to amazing life on the big screen and compare favorably with literary prose, films like Fantastic Four show that weak source material combined with bad casting and worse direction can produce a film that is going to have to peddle itself furiously overseas to have even a remote chance of making its production budget back.

The Good (this will be short)
Some of the special effects were good, particularly Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) and Ben Grimm (The Thing). They actually looked real. You could feel the horror in being a rocky malformed well...thing, who will never know the ability to physically love a woman again. Sue's initial inability to control her access to the visible spectrum actually had pathos.
Reg Cathey's work as Dr. Franklin Storm, father of Johnny and Sue Storm, is worthy of note. Cathey brought an admirable intensity to a role that was more than a bit hackneyed. I remember him from The Wire. Unfortunately in Fantastic Four he had little chemistry with either of his children but I blame that more on the writing than on him. And that's about it for the good that I saw in this film.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly: Period Politics

I wrote before that Donald Trump is incredibly thin skinned for a man of such immense wealth. This was not any great insight on my part by any means. It's so obvious a blind man could see it. Trump does not take criticism well, sees slights everywhere and very quickly gets in beefs with folks over the most asinine things. Of course he or his supporters would say that someone who takes criticism well tends to get a lot of criticism. From this POV the best thing to do is to attack immediately and set expectations. I think Trump tries to live by the Office Space lawyer's advice passed on from his imprisoned client to "kick someone's a$$ the first day or become someone's b****." The other thing about Trump is that rather than attack someone's argument or theories he always attacks the person's intelligence, wealth, appearance or immutable characteristics. Trump did this most recently with Fox News personality and Republican debate moderator Megyn Kelly. In an interview with CNN's Don Lemon Trump made a dismissive reference to Kelly's period as a way of explaining what he saw as her undue aggression. He also retweeted a reference to Kelly as a bimbo. These comments, tweets and retweets all obviously caused some current and former Fox News personalities to attack Trump. Other conservatives have rescinded invitations to Trump to speak. I am loving this. It's amazing and amusing to me that a right wing movement that has said far worse things about the President, the First Lady and their children is now up in arms because of what Trump says about Megyn Kelly. Republicans already take it as an article of faith that President Obama is a man with no class. Heck, during the Democratic 2008 debates President Obama came under some criticism from fellow Democrats (wrongly in my opinion) for merely telling rival Hillary Clinton that she was "likable enough". I don't think the President would have been elected or re-elected if he were on public record telling anyone that the only reason some woman was attacking him or doing something else to annoy him was because she was on her cycle. Time will tell if these comments damage Trump's brand among conservatives. But they show that whatever else he is Trump is not a deep thinker or a man who is able to or willing to make intelligent arguments when faced with opposition. So maybe he is the perfect candidate for a Republican base that is increasingly filled with know-nothings.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Who Won/Lost the 1st Republican Debate?

Last night was the first 2016 Republican Primary debate on Fox News.  The top 10 Republican candidates, all men, took to the stage to let the world know who they are and what they are about.  Coming into the debate, Donald Trump was the front runner in all of the polls.  Accordingly, he got the most clock time and attention from the Fox News moderators. But how did he and the others do?

The recap/highlights per CNN:

Like the wall he's pledged to build along the U.S.-Mexico border, Donald Trump was immovable.
Trump proved yet again that he's not going to back down from his bombastic rhetoric. The Republican frontrunner kicked off the debate by refusing -- again -- to rule out a third-party run and pledge his support to the Republican nominee, regardless of who takes the crown.
Instead, Trump said: "I can totally make the pledge if I'm the nominee."
The moderators didn't mince words with Trump: Asking him about calling some undocumented immigrants "rapists" and slamming women he's previously sparred with as "fat pigs" and "slobs."
"Only Rosie O'Donnell," Trump interjected, before saying he doesn't "frankly have time for total political correctness."
But the result didn't give voters much in the way of specifics on Trump's policies, and he refused to do so when pressed on immigration by moderator Chris Wallace -- instead saying "our leaders are stupid."

Chris Christie and Rand Paul Duked it Out
While Trump didn't go full-Donald to beat back the Kentucky senator's attacks, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took advantage when given the opportunity to address his beef with Paul over national security.
Months after Rand Paul's 10-and-a-half hour filibuster to block the NSA's reauthorization -- which prompted attacks from Christie -- the pair showed Thursday that they will continue to grapple on the issue.
As the two squabbled, Christie slammed Paul for simply "blowing hot air" from the comfort of a Senate subcommittee. Paul fired back at Christie over his hugging of Obama right before the 2012 election. But Christie had the last word.
"Senator Paul, you know the hugs I remember are the hugs that I gave to the families who lost their people on September 11th," Christie said.
It's a sign that Christie will continue to be Paul's foil on the campaign trail as the libertarian-leaning senator's unorthodox national security and foreign policy positions continue to clash with the GOP mold.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich Did Well on Getting His Name Out There
For a guy who barely squeaked his way onto the debate stage, John Kasich's main goal was to get his name out -- and his home state helped him meet and exceed his goal.
Playing off a home-court advantage, Kasich deftly handled questions on the attacks Democrats would lob at him and took a pass on attacking Trump. And he did so with authenticity and while pivoting to his credentials as a budget hawk and his foreign policy resume.
Kasich insisted that Trump is "hitting a nerve in this country."
"People are frustrated, they're fed up," Kasich said. "For people to just tune them out is a mistake."

Jeb Bush Didn't Really "Wow" Anybody
Bush started off his week stumbling in New Hampshire, pushed toward the debate with a major gaffe on women's health care and teed off the debate Thursday stumbling through his answers yet again.
Bush -- who has been out of the political glare for nearly a decade -- appeared out of practice when fielding the first questions in the debate Thursday.
But he got stronger as the night went on, and began hitting his stride after he was asked about his pledge to bring 4% economic growth to the country and as he defended his work for a Michael Bloomberg nonprofit that gave money to Planned Parenthood.
However, Bush certainly didn't prove himself as the unequivocal frontrunner that many in the Republican establishment once believed him to be, as other candidates like Kasich and Rubio proved their top-tier status as well.


The winners from last night are Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie because they really capitalized on the opportunity to use the debate to help raise their profiles.  By contrast, the losers were Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and especially Jeb Bush because they failed to do the same.

What do you think about last night's debate?  

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Hiroshima: War, Peace and Memory

"When you got an all out prize fight, you wait until the fight is over, one guy is left standing and that's how you know who won." -Al Capone from The Untouchables.
Today is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. A few days later will see the 70th anniversary of the subsequent atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Each bombing immediately killed as many as 80,000 people in each city by most estimates. There would be many other people who would die later from wounds, radiation and cancers. The bombings finally convinced the Japanese Emperor Hirohito to drop most of his terms for surrender (over the vociferous objection of the military although like most so-called royalty being self-serving Hirohito requested to retain royal prerogatives). The other three conditions for surrender which the Emperor and the military leadership had previously insisted upon were (1) no military occupation of Japan (2) Japan would try its own war criminals (3) Japan would disarm itself. These conditions were obvious non-starters to the US though I would argue that the ensuing occupation was much easier than Japan had any reason to expect.

In any event the idea that one bomb could destroy one city made a huge impact at the time and obviously in the decades since then. There were some people at the time of the atomic bombings who thought that they were unnecessary if not criminal in nature. These weren't just people outside of the military either. Whether for moral or other reasons some leaders within the military and political establishment weren't sure that the use of the atomic bombs was justified. Others saw no problem with using the new weapon. Surely it was no different than the first person using a gun against an overconfident swordsman. If you're at war and have superior technology you use it. The Japanese surrender made a US invasion unnecessary and thus saved American lives. Before the atomic bombings, the Battle of Okinawa lasted almost 90 days and saw unbelievably vicious fighting and atrocities by both sides, including rape and deliberate targeting of civilians. The US lost around 14,000 marines and soldiers while the Japanese lost at least 77,000 troops. From this battle, both sides took the lesson that the invasion of Japan would be something close to an exterminationist undertaking. Now counterfactuals are always just that. No one can say for sure what would have happened. Some people have accepted the narrative that the atomic bombings were war crimes for which the US should be ashamed. Others say that we must work to rid the world of all nuclear weapons.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Should Russell Wilson Have a Relationship with Future Jr.?

Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson with Girlfriend Ciara's Son

In case you don't know the back story........

Ciara is an entertainer who was previously engaged to a  Rapper/Producer named Future. Future has children with a few different women. During their relationship when reporters would ask Ciara about the parental situation that she would inherit, she would get really upset. Despite all the signs Ciara went on to have a baby with Future and now they are no longer together. They never got married and it appears that they have a really messy and immature non-adult like relationship. There co-parenting doesn't appear to be copacetic. 

Now in comes Ciara's new boyfriend Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Book Reviews: Mob Boss

Mob Boss
by Jerry Capeci and Tom Robbins
Everyone is the hero in their own life story. This hoary truism was very obvious reading the book Mob Boss, which detailed the life and career of the titular Mafiosi character, one Alphonse "Little Al" D'Arco. Despite the book's title, D'Arco was technically never the boss of the Lucchese Crime Family, a powerful criminal organization which dates back to at least the 1920s in its present form. But for a short time period D'Arco was indeed the acting boss while the actual boss and underboss fled underground to dodge arrest and trial. 

The underboss, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, put out his own story a few years back in a book written by late biographer Phillip Carlo. In that book, Casso depicted D'Arco as an initially loyal bumbler who let the authority inherent in the acting boss position go to his head, becoming greedy. However Casso was a stone killer and quite likely, though the term is overused, a paranoid psychopath. He had a very loose connection with the truth. Casso is currently serving thirteen consecutive life sentences plus 455 years in federal prison. Like D'Arco Casso became an informant but federal authorities decided that Casso was simply too evil and untrustworthy (they caught him in lies) to use as a witness. So it goes. So D'Arco tells things as he saw them in this book. Many people who could contradict him are either dead or in prison. 

For what it's worth, Capeci and Robbins, two mob experts of long standing, say that they never caught D'Arco in a lie. Every organization has youthful prodigies and shining stars who blossom into consistent top performers in later years. They very quickly become leaders who are well respected for the wealth and status they bring to the organization. Every organization also has people who fervently search for every opportunity to do the least amount of work possible. These people spend their entire career getting performance reviews that read "...has room for improvement....not fully invested in the company's program....needs to reverse current trends." If there are ever cutbacks these employees are immediate and unanimous choices for termination. And finally there are people closer to the middle of the bell curve who are rarely close to being fired but who certainly aren't on the fast track to status and power either. This last is the group to which D'Arco belonged. 

Although he had a decent mob pedigree (both his father-in-law and blood relations on both sides of his family were noted mobsters), D'Arco hadn't had a meteoric rise in the Lucchese Family. He wasn't made (formally inducted) until he was fifty years old, in part because some other members of the Family weren't too impressed with his criminal skills. For much of his career D'Arco earned more money from legitimate businesses such as restaurants, food trucks, real estate and burger stands than he did from such ventures as labor rackeetering, hijacking, burglary, gambling, extortion and loan sharking that made up the bulk of his criminal portfolio. He was also imprisoned for some time, including a sentence for drug dealing, which he claims was a faulty charge. Although he claims to have been mostly opposed to drugs he readily admits to other drug deals. D'Arco is just adamant that the particular drug charge that saw him imprisoned was bogus.