by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, January 05, 2016 No Comment(s)

As we concluded Gold Coast magazine’s 50th anniversary year in December, we were reminded that over the years Gold Coast and Gulfstream Media Group’s other magazines have become part of the record of an era. You don’t think about that when publishing a story about an event (such as the birth of the Honda Classic as The Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic in 1972) or an individual, such as the hundreds of profiles we have run over the years, but those stories have legs. It sometimes takes years to recognize that, but it hits home when there is a request for a photo or story that appeared decades ago. You can spend hours just finding the right issue, if it even exists, and more time copying it, sometimes from a bound volume.

Case in point: In 1982, the late Gaeton Fonzi wrote a three-part piece on Ken Burnstine. The name may mean little to many people today, but in the 1970s Burnstine was a notorious drug runner, and flamboyant South Florida figure.  He was a fast man with his fists and kept lions on his property in the Coral Ridge neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale. He started out straight. He spent three years at the University of Pennsylvania, graduated from Northwestern, and served in the Marine Corps. He became a respected developer in Florida. He built the round Kenann Building at Oakland Park Boulevard and U.S. 1 in Fort Lauderdale. The name was a combination of his name and his wife, Ann. He was also an air racer. His beautiful P-51 fighter of World War II vintage made Gold Coast’s cover in 1974.

When he got into financial trouble, Burnstine turned to drug running. Everybody knew he was a crook; he all but admitted it. His planes loaded with dope kept crashing, but it took years for the law to catch up with him. When the feds finally did, he became an informant and was about to bring down dozens of associates when he died in the crash of his P-51 while preparing for an air race in California. At the time there were reports he had faked his death—that the body in the plane was not his and that he had been spotted in Spain and elsewhere.

Fonzi’s articles, “Ken Burnstine Is Still Dead,” debunked those theories, but opened a dramatic door, suggesting Burnstine’s plane may have been sabotaged to keep him from testifying in court. Fonzi also revealed that the man had intelligence connections going back to his Marine Corps days, and may have been involved with the CIA in its Latin America machinations even as he was running drugs.

Requests for copies of those three issues have been made over the years, and two came within a few months last fall. One was a man working on a book in which Burnstine plays a minor role. The other was from a nephew of a pilot killed while he was working for Burnstine. He had heard about the CIA connection and was hoping to discover his uncle was not a bad guy, but might have been working for the government through Burnstine.

Another recent example of the importance of good archives was a request for a copy of a 1976 story we ran on Scotland Cay. Margaret Walker, our associate editor at the time, was friendly with Stan Smoker who, with a few Fort Lauderdale investors, had begun developing the almost empty island. It was one of those investors who wanted a copy of the 1976 piece. Photographer Bob Ruff had accompanied Walker for a weekend as Smoker’s guest on this little island in the Abacos. They presented a portrait of the handful of residents, several from South Florida, who were living a very natural life on the island. It had only recently gotten electricity, and phone service was a novelty, but it did have a runway and a primitive harbor. That was Smoker’s concept. He wanted no commercial interests on the island, and over the years the growing homeowners association resisted efforts to build hotels and stores to attract tourists.

We barely knew Smoker at the time, but he and his son, Ed, have since become well known for development in Fort Lauderdale. He told us that our 1976 story was a landmark in the history of Scotland Cay, and just last month he presented a copy of a new book that says as much.

Scotland Cay: A short history of a small island is a hardback coffee table publication that traces Scotland Cay back to the 1600s when a few hardy souls farmed on the island. Their descendants are in the book, along with dozens of photos of more recent arrivals, many of who are highly visible South Floridians. The book is charmingly written by Laurence Coppedge, with contributions from a number of those who figured in the history of the place. Smoker, now 94, sent along a copy of the book with an expression of appreciation for the old magazine story.

“Your article in the 1976 issue of Gold Coast regarding Scotland Cay brought me affluent European and American buyers. It was responsible for the growth and success of the island,” Smoker wrote. He added that in 1976 there were only five houses on the island; today there are more than 80. To our surprise and pleasure, the magazine article is included in the historical timeline covering several centuries, pictured above.

It is good to know that somebody besides its publisher saved that story.


by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, December 23, 2015 1 Comment(s)

Adulf Hitler

March, 1944

Ronald Dumpt, a New York builder who gained fame by appearances on the popular radio show, The Original Amateur Hour, has surprised the nation by announcing that he is running for the Republican nomination for president. He hopes to beat GOP front-runner Thomas Dewey and then unseat Franklin Roosevelt, who is seeking an unprecedented fourth term. Gold Coast magazine caught up with Mr. Dumpt at his beautiful Palm Beach residence, Watchya Lingo, to find out why he wants to unseat a wartime president.

Magazine: Mr. Dumpt, why do you want to unseat a wartime president?

Dumpt: The country has no leadership. The Germans and Japs are making us look stupid. The Germans own half of Europe; the Japs own half of China and the Pacific. The next thing you know they’ll be in California. Our borders are a joke.

Magazine: Some people think the term Jap is an ethnic slur.

Dumpt: I’m tired of political correctness. The polls show I’m right.

Magazine: Mr. Dumpt, what polls? There are no polls. They haven’t been invented yet.

Dumpt: But they will be, and they’ll show I’m 50 percent and Dewey is five and Roosevelt is zero. Do you know that man is a cripple? He can’t even walk. (Dumpt mimics a man dragging 10-pound braces on his legs.) And have you seen his wife? Can you imagine looking at that face for four more years?

Magazine: Some people think making fun of a man’s disability is in bad taste. Tom Dewey, who's running against him, would never stoop that low.

Dumpt: He’s low energy. I like Tom, but he’s low energy. He can’t wait for weekends so he can get out of New York and sit around his farm with his thumb…. I guess I shouldn’t say that. Look, all I’m saying is this country needs somebody who can make us great again. I’m very smart and I won’t let other countries push us around. They think we’re stupid. Look what the Japs did at Pearl Harbor. We were asleep. Roosevelt should have resigned.

Magazine: Your opponents say mocking the First Lady’s appearance is cruel.

Dumpt: I never made fun of her. I would never make fun of anybody’s appearance.

Magazine: You just did.

Dumpt: Now you be fair. I never made fun of her. I think she’s beautiful. All I want is to be treated fairly.

Magazine: And I guess you never mentioned the president’s disability.

Dumpt: I would never do that. I would never make fun of anybody’s physical problem. But have you seen him lately? He’s the most dead-looking live man I’ve ever seen. And what happens if he goes? We got that other moron running with him.

Magazine: You mean Harry Truman?

Dumpt: He’s a pants salesman from Kansas. And he failed at that.

Magazine: I think he’s from Missouri.

Dumpt: No difference. Those yokels are all the same.

Magazine: We gather you think the war is being badly run.

Dumpt: Badly? We can’t even beat an enemy that has Italians who would rather be fighting with us. General Eisenhower is another loser. He wasted all that time in North Africa. I would have gone directly into Germany. I like generals who win. And I would win. You will see so much winning you won’t believe it. Besides, I hear he’s got a bit of skirt going for him—his driver or something. We should be bombing hell out of them.

Magazine: I think we are. Just last month we shot down 1,000 German planes in one week. They're already calling it “Big Week.

Dumpt: I would have shot down 10,000. It’s not enough. I’d atom bomb hell out of them.

Magazine: That’s another thing that hasn’t been invented.

Dumpt: I’d invent it. I get things done. I know how to build things. Wait till I end this war and we can get gas again. I’ll build towns like you won’t believe. I’ll build casinos in Atlantic City. I’ll pave over those Florida swamps. We’ll be great again. We’ll win at everything.

Magazine: We just read that Adolf Hitler has called you brilliant, outstanding and a leader. He says you’re the best candidate in the field. Do you like that from a dictator who started a war and is killing millions of people?

Dumpt: You always like it when somebody calls you brilliant. Especially coming from the leader of Germany. At least he’s a leader, which is more than we have in this country.

Magazine: But they say he has killed journalists and political opponents.

Dumpt: I’d like to kill a few myself. Actually, I never said that. I would never kill a reporter no matter how ugly she is.

Magazine: Well, we’re out of time. Mr. Dumpt, thank you for taking time to talk with us.

Dumpt: Thank you for having me.

Magazine: Thank you for thanking us.

Dumpt: Thank you for thanking me for thanking you. I’ll be glad to thank you any time. Just be fair.

Magazine: This interview has been brought to you by Lucky Strike. L.S.M.F.T. Lucky Strike means fine tobacco.

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by Bernard McCormick Friday, December 04, 2015 1 Comment(s)

The legal proceedings seem to go on forever, but actually it was only about nine years. Toward the end, when we finally got the case heard after it seemed like 500 continuances, we had a break from the courtroom drama. Walking the halls of the Broward County Courthouse, we happened to look through the peep hole in the door of another court room. We saw a not-so-young guy in front of a jury. He was crouched, like a guard in a basketball game—arms extended, weaving from side to side, obviously making some important point. We had rarely seen a lawyer so animated, especially one who obviously wasn’t working his first trial.

“Who’s that?” we asked our lawyer, Ted Galatis Jr. He looked through the port, paused for a few seconds, then said, with a touch of excitement in his tone,“That’s Shelly Schlesinger.”

“How much time do we have?” we asked.

“Fifteen minutes,” said Galatis.

We went into the court room and watched a man with the reputation as one of the best in the field of medical malpractice do his stuff. We saw enough to get inspiration—a story for the Sun Sentinel’s Sunday magazine, Sunshine, for which we had written on a fairly regular basis.

We decided to follow the trial, which involved Broward General Hospital, and in the course of it approached Shelly Schlesinger about doing a story. He was wary. In fact, we did not talk to him directly; rather his co-counsel. We did not get a quick answer. We suspect he was checking us out, and when the answer came it was OK, but only after this trial was over.

We eventually met in his office, at the time a converted house on Third Avenue, close to the spectacular courthouse-style building on Davie Boulevard that was soon to house his firm. By then we had gained his trust, and the interview was one of the most interesting and easiest we ever had.

He told us how he began after law school at the University of Miami. He hung up his shingle and got three cases. One was a domestic dispute, which he detested. Can’t recall the second, but it bored him. The third was a medical issue, by far the most interesting of the cases. He decided to make it his specialty. Medical malpractice was not a common legal category in 1954. Schlesinger literally helped invent the specialty.

His most notable cases were often theater. He could exude charm at times, but in describing a child trying to breathe after a medical error, he could appear on the verge of a coronary. You could almost see jurors trying to breathe themselves. 

One of his most famous cases was Susan Von Stetina. Every Sunday for years we heard prayers for her at St. Anthony Church. Schlesinger arranged a visit with the woman, or what was left of her. She had been in a  vegetative state for more than a decade after a respiratory failure in a busy emergency room. Old photos showed a pretty young girl. The woman we saw was pasty and inert—not recognizable as the same person who had been in an auto accident. It became known as a $38 million case.  

After that visit, we had interviews with medical people who knew him well (and not always happily), as well as other lawyers who uniformly revered him.

We learned that the worst mistake doctors made was challenging him, a lawyer, when it came to their medical expertise. When they got sniffy or condescending, he destroyed them. He often seemed to know more about medicine than the doctors he faced in court.

That piece wrote itself. Sunshine made it a cover story. Schlesinger liked it, and not long after suggested we help him write a book. He gave us some money to get started, but after we knocked off an introduction he changed his mind. He did not want a book that glorified his career. Instead, he graciously turned the money into an investment in a new company we were forming. We had won our case and needed to revive Gold Coast magazine.

In short order Fred Ruffner came along. Instead of investing, he bought the magazine, which had published only one unimpressive issue. Our handful of investors, including Scheslinger, made a few quick bucks. Eighteen months later Fred Ruffner was losing money like foam over a waterfall, and wanted to sell it back to us. His investment and good taste had restored the magazine’s credibility. But we needed to raise serious money fast. Son Mark McCormick was joining our effort. Over the years in this business you meet some credit-worthy people, and we decided to approach successful men who had sons who could represent them on a new board. Dads would invest and it would be nice association for the young people.

Shelly Schlesinger was one of the first we approached. He had two sons who had joined him in his firm. It took just a few minutes to explain the father-son concept.

“How much are you looking for?” he asked, cutting to the chase.

“We’re thinking about $25,000,” we said.

“I’ll go two bits,” he said, that quickly.

We saw little of Shelly Schlesinger during the last 20 years, but his lawyer son Gregg, on our board, kept him advised. Last spring he called. He had read about the 50th anniversary of the magazine. He said how pleased he felt to have been part of it these last two decades. He said he knew how difficult it was to keep a business going that long. He may have been thinking that his own law practice was more than 60 years old, and that he would leave behind a reputation as one of the giants in his field.

And that he has done, as of Wednesday. He came to work, age 85, probably dressed in a jacket and tie that he usually wore. He did not go home. He died with his boots on, as they say.

A funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at Temple Beth El, 1351 S. 14th Ave., Hollywood


by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, December 02, 2015 1 Comment(s)

George Romney

It was a big event for us. George Romney was paying a visit to a small paper in a declining Pennsylvania industrial town where we did not often see prominent national figures. Romney was one. He had a distinguished business career as CEO of American Motors. He was governor of Michigan. He came to Chester that day to meet with our editorial board and make his case to be the next president of the United States.

This was an old newspaper office, right out of the "Front Page" era. It had pneumatic tubes, which took copy from the newsroom up to the composing room, where the clank of machines stamping out metal type seemed non-stop. You only see that communication technology today at bank drive-thru stations. The editors worked under low-hanging lamps and wore green eyeshades. The senior woman who wrote obituaries studied the racing sheets and mumbled names of horses and jockeys between chats with funeral homes. When the presses on the ground floor rolled, the whole building shook. The reporters’ desks were old and had generations of coffee stains that turned the finish to tar. If you sat on the edge of a desk, it stained your pants.

We were not aware at the time that we had an editorial board, but we put one together pretty fast. Mr. Romney showed up looking very presidential—a handsome man with silver slicked back hair, he exuded command and control. He was a candidate for the Republican nomination. Many of us thought we were meeting a future president. Not long after, the man was toast.

In September 1967, Romney gave an interview with a Detroit TV reporter. He was asked about the Vietnam War, which had grown unpopular, and Romney, apparently caught in a contradiction with a previous stance—not uncommon in politics—said he had been “brainwashed” by military figures. Had he used that same term when he met with us some months before, it might not even have made the paper. At that time, everybody was brainwashed by the military, who kept saying we were winning a war in which the shipping caskets bearing dead young men were arriving more frequently every day, with very little to show for it. Nobody realized it then, but President Kennedy’s growing opposition to that war is one reason he was killed.

But when George Romney used the term that day, expressing a thought so common as to be almost irrelevant, his political career was over. The press picked it up and made Romney look like an earnest dunce who had to rely on military spokesmen, including the secretary of defense, to form his opinions about world affairs. Romney quickly fell out of favor with his party, and the result was the election of Richard Nixon, whose 1968 campaign consisted of appearances before audiences that were hand-picked and who, upon election, approved an idea for Republicans to counter their perceived media bias by starting their own news network. Today it is called Fox News.

We have wondered over the years why George Romney’s phrase was such a big deal. We wonder it more strongly today when we see what outrageous things politicians say and it seems to make no difference to their fans. Despite, we should add, almost universal criticism from the media.

Take Donald Trump’s assertion that thousands of people cheered in New Jersey when the twin towers went down. There is no way that could have happened without thousands of reporters screaming about it. But Trump insists he is correct. He also insists he would never make fun of a person’s handicap, although he clearly made fun of a reporter shaking as the result of a nerve disease. These are just the most recent of a series of statements, including mocking John McCain’s war record, which back in the 1960s would have destroyed him, or any other candidate who made them.

And yet, if we believe the polls, they seem to make little difference to his Republican fans. And we think of poor George Romney, looking presidential as could be, until he made a statement, which was as true as it seems, today, innocuous.

Are Republicans today really that dumb? Or were they dumb in 1967?

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by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, November 25, 2015 No Comment(s)

Rugby

In the grand plan, there was to be no uniform comment this season. However, uniforms have been so uniformly disgusting this football fall, that good taste requires some comment. This became glaringly apparent when Notre Dame, whose uniforms are about as traditional as they get, came out against Boston College in uniforms variously described as the GEICO creature, or in the words of Byron Calhoun, who notices trivia, like a horde of Peter Pans. While intended as a novelty getup to enliven the game between the only two Catholic schools in big time football, they caused even some Oregon fans to suffer gastric distress. Notre Dame has succumbed to this trend of departing from tradition a few times in recent years, which is a good reason to fire the coach and president of the school. Not to mention, Notre Dame barely won a game in which it was a solid favorite.

Before that, of course, Notre Dame had worn the same outfits almost since the time football players started using helmets. People probably thought they were too cheap to get new outfits. Pictures of Johnny Lujack in the 1940s show a uniform almost identical to what Tim Brown wore 40 years later and what Will Fuller wears today—gleaming gold helmets and pants with either navy blue jerseys at home or white on the road, with a minimum of decoration anywhere to be seen. And, once in awhile (usually to provide inspiration for big games) they pull out green jerseys. But that is part of tradition and quite acceptable.

During the last 70 years there have been occasional insults to the tradition, and each time God punished the Irish for their sacrilege. Back in the late 1950s, they abandoned the gold helmets for unpainted and very old-fashioned looking leather helmets. The players responded with some of the worst seasons in Irish history, including a 2-8 record in 1960. The only other major deviation from its legendary style was when the high school coach, Gerry Faust, changed the dark blue to a Blessed Mother blue, and was rewarded with four mediocre years, crowned by a 58-7 loss to Miami in 1985.

Notre Dame’s recent putrid performance broke the camel’s back, but it was hardly the worst uniform offense of the season. Closer to home, UM has set its program back light years by changing looks every other game so that the players don’t even recognize their own teammates in clutch situations, frequently passing the ball to the other team or tackling cheerleaders. Some of the looks have been just awful, but the worst was going to dark helmets on dark uniforms. The color was schwartzgrun—a black-green—probably with paint left over from the Luftwaffe, which used the same shade on Messerschmitts. It totally negated the effect of one of the most recognizable logos in sports—the green and orange “U,” which adorned their white helmets since the glory days of Howard Schnellenberger and Jim Kelly. The “U” stands out boldly against white, but virtually disappears on a dark background. Miami’s success disappeared with it.

Much as we admired coach Al Golden and hated to see him go, he frankly sealed his fate by allowing his team to dress like buffoons. It is hard to believe a man who came out of the Penn State program, with such unaffected and recognizable uniforms, right up there with Notre Dame, Alabama, Michigan and Texas, could have let the hot weather here affect his judgment.

Other local disgraces: FAU keeps switching its look. We saw them in dark blue helmets, then against Florida last week they came out in all white. Not bad, except there is no sense of the past, of tradition. They almost beat Florida, but only because Florida wore those stupid blue pants. You will never be accepted in modern society until you decide who you are, and what you look like. FAU appears hopeless.

Finally, the pros. This one is subtle. The Dolphins changed their color, ever so gently, but ever so stupidly. Back in the glory days they wore aqua—sort of a feminine color, but don’t mention that to Larry Csonka. The Dolphins made that shade formidable with the great, undefeated team and two Super Bowl wins. Who would ever change the look of success? Well, some fool at the Dolphins did, when the aqua changed to a lighter, almost flowery blue—same mistake Notre Dame made years before. And look at the result: coach fired, for a uniform change that has no rational explanation, and will haunt the team until Garo rises from the grave.

Do uniforms count? We are not alone. When Howard Schnellenberger took FAU from a startup to national recognition in record time, we chatted one day about the uniforms. We told him we liked them.

Thanks, I designed them, he said. It was about the time Miami, his former team, began screwing up its championship look—with uniforms that featured Arabian Nights slashes. We asked what he thought about the new UM look.

It’s awful, he said. And that said it all.

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by Bernard McCormick Thursday, November 19, 2015 1 Comment(s)

Miami Beach

 

Vanity Fair has a nice piece on the efforts being made by Miami Beach to avoid going under water.  Unlike some people in Florida, the Beach’s mayor, Philip Levine, believes in climate change, and is doing something about it. Read the whole story, but the essence is that he is working with planners to attempt to deal with the inevitable rise of sea levels. South Florida is not Holland, where dikes can hold out water.

Our porous soil isn’t made for that. And even if the sea could be held back, a huge challenge given our storm-prone location, the water will literally rise from the earth to flood large areas. Some scientists, notably Harold Wanless, chairman of the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami, thinks it is already too late, that even with a best case scenario, large sections of South Florida will be inundated before this century is out. Vanity Fair quotes Wanless: “[The developers are] building like there’s no tomorrow—and they’re right!”

Others are not as pessimistic, and the Vanity Fair piece names them. They trust that science will ultimately prevail in reversing the warming trend, if indeed it is caused by human activity. One way or the other, Mayor Levine is addressing the problem (he ran for election on the platform) and the platform is something of a platform itself—literally planning to raise the level of Miami Beach. One idea is putting the whole famous city on stilts. Sound fantastic? It is, but at least the mayor is involving experts who are climate change optimists to test the limits of technological imagination in attempting to deal with the problem.

The problem, alas, is not just Miami Beach. In this case no city built by man is an island, able to obstruct the forces of nature alone. To raise Miami Beach one needs to raise access roads to it, and where do those roads lead but to flooded areas, unless those areas also are being raised? We must not underestimate the power of human enterprise. Consider that historians observe that George Washington could move around no faster than Julius Caesar, until the industrial revolution changed everything and relegated horses to the entertainment business.

Still, there are obvious limits to man’s ability to harness nature. We still haven’t figured out a way to turn hurricanes away. They only made one Moses. And it seems that a South Florida problem requires a South Florida solution, and a South Florida solution requires that the leaders of state take an interest. So far, we see little interest from a governor who is obsessed with growth and doesn’t like to hear the words climate change. Instead, he encourages businesses to move to the state and pave over more land that within decades may be under water, if not all the time, often enough to make living and working there unrealistic.

The ideas proposed to slow global warming may not work. And some economists argue the cost of making them work is too high. But even the less expensive and obvious ideas are meeting resistance. Florida, with its sunshine, should be a leader in solar energy, which could cut the fossil fuel emissions drastically if cars and homes were powered by solar-produced electricity.

And yet, the Scott Administration, which is increasingly viewed as for sale to the highest contributors, is getting in the way of this common sense initiative. Attorney General Pam Bondi has joined lawsuits, trying to block the development of solar power companies in the state, and reduce emissions from the major power companies in Florida. It is no coincidence that the power companies, who have the most to lose if solar power achieves its potential, are major contributors to the Republican leadership in Tallahassee.

Without the realization that we are all in the same boat as the oceans rise, Miami Beach’s Mayor Levine is up a creek with a very small paddle.

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by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, November 11, 2015 No Comment(s)

Unsung Veterans

Veterans Day was designed to give this great nation something to divert the masses before we had air conditioning, the Internet and Republican primary debates. Although it grew out of World War I, Veterans Day was retrofitted to include other great wars, such as the Civil War. All over the country, we honor the brave leaders who have statues of themselves on horseback.

Those statues have individuality, depending on the pose of the horse. Exactly what it meant escapes us after all these years, but it had something to do with a horse's hoof being raised if the general had been killed or wounded. If the horse were rearing, it meant the general got thrown from his mount more than once. If the horse were upside down with the general underneath, it meant either the sculptor was drunk or the general had been sacked.

The idea of monuments to remember our veterans really caught on. At Gettysburg today there are more monuments than there were soldiers in the battle. And, we think it was George Will who observed that some visitors to that national park are overheard saying the battle could not have been that bad—there are no bullet holes on the monuments. And the monuments keep coming. The Vietnam Memorial, a classic of its kind, with its stark-black wall, now has replicas, which move around the nation.

We always thought the Iwo Jima flag-raising statue in Arlington, Virginia was the appropriate monument for World War II. But it seems that such a big war deserves more. We have read that individual battles have crusaders for their own memorials. Somebody wants a monument to the Battle of the Bulge, obviously in Washington, although the battle occurred in the snows of Belgium.

This abundance of memorials is a sensitive matter to the silent majority of us who are veterans of no wars. We don't have exact figures, but almost surely for every man or woman who actually stood in harms way, there are probably 10 who wore the uniform and did nothing. No campaign ribbons decorate our uniforms. It hurts when we see some of these old guys whose entire body seems to be made up of ribbons and medals. They look like walking Christmas trees.

Over the years, there is a special kind of stress that builds up. Sometimes at church they ask veterans to stand, even come up on the altar for a special blessing. They include everybody who was ever in the service, which is a lot of people. Those who were in battles, or meaningful military situations, deserve such recognition. But as our friend W.C. says, "I'm embarrassed to stand up. I never did anything."

We wonder if it would help if some politicians with nothing to do in Washington took up the cause of the Veterans of No Wars. Why not have an impressive memorial to the millions of us who went through sometimes rigorous training, studying to be forward artillery observers, jumping out of airplanes and such, and then were sent to the reserves for eight years, where, with minor exceptions, we did nothing.

Thus we propose a memorial featuring one unit to represent all those who underserved our great nation. How about a lifesize statue, or series of statues, for the 90 or so men of the legendary 446th Civil Affairs Company, Upland, Pennsylvania, Colonel (later general) Clarence D. Bell, commanding?

To be fair, this great outfit had members who had been in the Korean War and were in the reserves to get in 20 years for retirement benefits. But most of us had slipped between wars, too young for Korea, and out of uniform by the time Vietnam heated up. Commissioned through ROTC, we got six months active duty, which was basically all training, and eight years in the reserves.

The case of the 446th is especially poignant. In a war we would have been military government (although most of us had trained for fighting roles), which meant we would come in when the shooting was over and try to put towns and countries back together. As such, we were loaded with brass; about half of us were officers, and we would actually have been pretty good at our jobs if ever called upon. Our commander was a state senator, who built his political career on getting potholes filled during northern winters. We had doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, service station owners, a Mercedes Benz dealer, an industrial relations specialist, several law enforcement types, academics and two non-war correspondents.

We were, in short, one of the finest groups of B.S. artists our great nation has produced. We were perfect for running devastated countries. Among the skills we learned was one from a labor negotiator, who taught us that when under pressure, when people were screaming for you to do something—the best stall was to light a pipe.

“There is something about a man lighting a pipe that defies interruption,” explained Captain Piatt. “You can easily waste five minutes in that process, and if you can’t think of anything to say in that time, you don’t deserve to hold your job.”

Major Gleason was a college English professor who warned us with a cackle that any man found sleeping in the barracks during work hours would be “defenestrated.” From the Latin “fenestra,” meaning “window,” and “de,” meaning “out of”—thrown out of a window.

Our nominal job was public welfare officer—whatever that meant, but in reality we handled public relations—writing newspaper columns so that the public knew what great work we weren’t doing to protect the nation. From summer camp we wrote such classics as, “The General’s Martini,” “The Night We Boiled The Major,” “The Magpie At The 202 Club” and other pieces describing our daily activities. One day, we were taking a refresher course, shooting machine guns on a range, when a deer danced across our target area. A dozen machine guns opened up trying to hit the creature, which escaped unscathed. “Can’t Anybody Here Hit That Buck?” caught the drama of the moment.

We were dedicated patriots; nobody ever quit the 446th. Alas, the government quit us. At the height of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam (a time when young men were fleeing to Canada to avoid service), we were thrown out of the army. Our demise had been rumored for several years. Desperate efforts were made to justify our existence. At one point we were actually taught some Arabic, on the absurd premise that American forces would ever be active in the Middle East.

You can imagine the hurt. Not only did we do nothing, but also we were considered so useless that in time of war, the government sent us hiking. We have largely been forgotten, and now the boys are dying off. There ought to be something to remember us, like 90 life-sized statues in the National Mall, each in character. Captain Piatt would be the one lighting a pipe; we would be framed by a window. Horses are optional. 

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by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, November 04, 2015 2 Comment(s)

Up and down the tracks you see the future—piles of ballast waiting to be spread for new rails; a clean new track appearing where none existed a week before; a street crossing closed for a weekend and reopened with a second track where before only one existed; and, 40 miles apart, whole streets being closed as the foundations for modern stations in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale are being sunk. All Aboard Florida is underway.

Perhaps it is the inevitability of this new passenger train that has caused a decline in the noisy objections, which have been heard since it was announced several years ago. It was not so bad in the Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel, where there was only an occasional letter opposing the new train. But Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast were different. The Palm Beach Post for months seemed to carry at least one letter a day attacking Florida East Coast Industries new high-speed passenger train from Miami to Orlando. 

The project has been opposed on various grounds. Some, such as the interference with marine traffic, are valid. Others are not well founded. Some of the objectors are influential people, lawmakers and such, reacting to the sentiment of their constituents. We presume local talk radio was also filled with such rants.

It seems to have slowed recently. Maybe it’s because with construction visibly underway, opponents have given up. Or, more likely, it has begun to sink in that this train may not be the end of the world for the communities through which it will pass. If so, we can thank some thoughtful comments from business leaders who have stressed the long-range benefits of the train. What some people forecast as disaster may turn out to be the best thing for South Florida since, well, since Henry Flagler brought his railroad through almost 125 years ago.

Its detractors say the train from Miami to Orlando will never draw enough traffic to pay for itself. That’s a reasonable argument, given the state of passenger trains elsewhere in the country—few of which would exist without government support. Reasonable, unless you realize that the Florida East Coast people are obviously thinking of real estate development as well as passenger service.

We already see that happening in Miami, where a major commercial development is underway surrounding a new station—the southern terminus of the fast train. Already, Tri-Rail, a nice train on the wrong track, is planning to shift some trains to the new Miami station by way of an existing connection between the CSX tracks and the FEC in Dade County. That will make Tri-Rail into the heart of Miami (it presently ends far to the west at the airport) and provide an appreciably more useful service.

But that benefit pales compared to Tri-Rail’s ultimate goal of putting some service on the FEC’s new fast track all the way from downtown Miami to Palm Beach, and possibly beyond. Tri-Rail has already identified (and published) possible stations along that route. The realization that this will happen may have a lot to do with the quieting of objectors.

One of their major criticisms has been noise (although modern fast passenger trains don’t make much noise and what they do passes quickly) and a decline in property values along the route.

It may be sinking in that just the opposite should happen. Elsewhere in the country, where commuter trains are long established, property near stations is gold. Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and other cities with extensive commuter networks have seen apartments and office buildings spring up within walking distance or short drives from stations. In New York, Madison Square Garden is built over Penn Station. Philadelphia has Penn Center, a complex of office towers, restaurants and hotels stretching for blocks over underground tracks that were once at ground level. In the suburbs (a comparison appropriate to our local situation) homes that are close to stations have notably greater value than similar neighborhoods not as conveniently located near rail lines. It is already happening here, in downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale, where there has been a rush of construction (too much, many think) within a few blocks of the new station underway near Broward Boulevard.

Our hunch is that this reality is not lost on developers—who are probably already moving on land near proposed Tri-Rail stations in Palm Beach County. That land, where developed, is often low use, light industry and a bit on the seedy side. That’s why such businesses are near rail lines, out of the public’s sight on property not suited for much else. It is a perfect opportunity for investors with vision. Certainly the planners at the FEC have understood this all along. The railroad has extensive land holdings all along its tracks. 

It has taken some time, but the public seems to be getting the message, too.

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by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, October 28, 2015 No Comment(s)

The Devil's ChessboardIt was 1966, at a motel room in Wildwood, New Jersey. It has been almost 50 years, but you can still hear Vince Salandria's rumbling voice.

"Don't you see it, boys? Don't you see it? There's only one outfit who could have pulled this off."

Salandria was talking about the assassination three years before of President John F. Kennedy. He had contacted Gaeton Fonzi at Philadelphia magazine to point out discrepancies in the Warren Commission Report, which concluded that a lone nut had murdered an American president. We happened to be working with Fonzi on a light piece on Wildwood called "The Workingman's Riviera." I had an interest in the Kennedy assassination and tagged along when Gaeton took time from our barhopping to meet Salandria. Very few people had challenged the conclusions of the Warren Commission Report, but in truth almost nobody had read the 26 volumes of evidence in the report. Salandria, a Philadelphia school board lawyer, had read it all and what he was telling us that day is that the only outfit who could have pulled this off—by that he meant the killing and the cover up—was the CIA.

What Salandria showed us that day was largely the glaring physical contradictions between the president's wounds and the Warren Commission's conclusions. It was enough to convince us both that more than one person shot at the president. Shortly thereafter, Fonzi confronted Arlen Specter, the man who came up with the 'magic bullet' theory for the Warren Commission. That theory was crucial to blaming a lone gunman. At the time, Specter was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, and later a longtime U.S. Senator. Unprepared for Fonzi’s detailed questions, he could not explain his own theory.

Fonzi was off on a journey that led him to write The Last Investigation, a book that was the first to connect the accused killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, to the CIA. We know it well. It first appeared as two long articles in our Gold Coast magazine and Washingtonian magazine.

Gaeton Fonzi's book was a landmark in the long examination of JFK's murder. His work is cited in virtually every important book on the subject, including one just out. David Talbot's The Devil's Chessboard traces the career of Allen Dulles, who headed the CIA until President Kennedy removed him. Talbot presents strong evidence that Dulles and his network of spies were behind the murder, and behind them was a group of some of the most influential businessmen in the country. Their common bond was a hatred for President Kennedy, whom they regarded as soft on communism—basically a traitor.

Talbot's work would not surprise Gaeton Fonzi, who died three years ago. He spent five years on government payroll when the Kennedy investigation was reopened in the mid-1970s. He connected Oswald to the CIA as a low-level operative set up to be blamed for the crime. At the time, investigators referred to a "rogue" group within the CIA as responsible for the crime. But Fonzi knew the highly placed CIA men he connected to Oswald could not have acted without approval from the top—and the top was Allen Dulles.

Talbot’s book is mostly about Dulles' tawdry career before JFK. He was the brother of John Foster Dulles, secretary of state under President Eisenhower. Allen Dulles had been a spook since World War I. Under him, the CIA became its own government, free to bribe and murder foreign leaders, and even protect Nazis who should have been tried for war crimes. The CIA found the Germans’ experience useful in fighting the Communist threat. In that atmosphere, murdering a president would be a challenging exercise, but only they could get away with.

In a sense they did. The whole intelligence crowd and the men who supported them are all gone. Safe from justice, they might even enjoy the recognition today.

An aspect of Talbot’s book we appreciated was his indictment of the media for its negligence in the JFK investigation. He points out how friendly the CIA was with key elements of the press. Fonzi sensed that decades ago, when his dramatic piece on Arlen Specter in Philadelphia was ignored by local papers, and years later his book initially was dismissed by many critics, who at the same time praised shallow (and many think CIA backed) books, such as Gerald Posner’s Case Closed, which supported the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Oswald acted alone.

For reasons difficult to fathom, the disinformation goes on to this day. Even as most of the country, and the world, accepts the idea that JFK’s death was a conspiracy, key elements of the media refuse to accept the obvious. Even Chris Matthews, who wrote a book on President Kennedy—and as a liberal broadcaster should relish the right wing being blamed for his murder—continues to occasionally refer to Oswald as a lone nut. He recently ridiculed the Investigation of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison in the 1990s.

Garrison, it turns out, was on to something—at least Robert Kennedy thought so. Garrison was brushing against the CIA, and events relating to the crime. Robert Kennedy suspected the CIA from the start. But Garrison’s investigation was infiltrated by spies and discredited by much of the media. You can thank Allen Dulles for that.

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by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, October 20, 2015 No Comment(s)

It appears that gun control will be an issue in the upcoming election. We say this because Hillary Clinton says so, and is already bringing it up in her primary campaign. She may even have some emails on the subject. We hope so. It gives the Republicans a chance to spend a few million dollars to find out.

 Our position on guns is clear. Guns don’t kill. People do. So if you shoot all the people, problem solved.

In Florida, if someone introduces a bill allowing you to shoot everybody, it would probably pass. What would not pass is a bill saying that crazy people should not be allowed to shoot people. The second amendment does not speak to that. But polls sure do. As recently as Tuesday’s Sun-Sentinel, a poll conducted for the University of South Florida said 85 percent of those surveyed favor mental health screening before a person can buy or receive a gun.

That is a pretty lopsided poll, but consistent with studies elsewhere. You would think such attitudes could be easily translated into law. If that happened, there would be very few guns out there. There are basically three categories of people who possess handguns. One is law enforcement people who sometimes need to shoot the second category—bad people who need guns to protect themselves if something goes wrong when they are committing a crime. The third category, which may be the largest, is people who are crazy.

These are the people who think they need a gun to protect themselves from category two criminals, which doesn’t happen very often, and when it does it is often somebody shooting somebody without any real good reason, except maybe they are drunk, and then claiming self defense under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

If these people really feel threatened, they are at least a little paranoid, which is a form of mental illness, depending on the degree of paranoia. If there’s someone who read about a mass shooting, and immediately ran out and bought a gun (often another gun, because they think that government is going to take their guns away, so they need to own several of them), then they are seriously paranoid, which does qualify as crazy. And if they think they need to own a military assault rifle for protection, then they are seriously crazy.

One way or the other, such people would have a hard time qualifying for a gun if they had to pass a mental health test and explain why they needed a concealable handgun or an assault rifle. They would be refused the purchase of a gun on the grounds they were crazy. In summary, most people who wanted to buy a gun would be deemed crazy, and therefore couldn't have one. This is such a basic concept that it would make a good book.

Problem is somebody already wrote it. It is called Catch 22.

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