Killers of the Flower Moon / Heist

The First Book of the Week is “Killers of the Flower Moon, The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann, published in 2017. This volume described in suspenseful anecdotes– a political, social and cultural system suffused with evil– and it highlighted what happened to just one of countless families whose members were victims of the conspiracy.

In 1870, the Osage Native Americans were forced by light-skinned Americans to flee from their homeland in Kansas, to wasteland in northeastern Oklahoma. In 1893, the United States government’s Indian Affairs Department ordered that all children on the Osage reservation attend school. One consequence was that the young people in the area adopted the ways of the “white man.”

On September 16, 1893, the U.S. government shot a gun to kick off a land-grab. The Cherokee Outlet, territory bordering on the Osage’s that was bought by the U.S. government, was handed over to the Cherokees on a first-claimed via physical presence, first-owned basis.

About 42,000 members of the Cherokee nation waited on the border for days until the appointed time of the free-for-all. The fight for land ended in a massacre galore. The government didn’t bother to repeat the above process with the Osage reservation.

Yet, by the very early 1900’s, oil was discovered on the Osage’s land; this opened a Pandora’s box. In 1912, the Department of the Interior auctioned off the then-super-valuable parcels, to which the Osage had mineral rights. The Osage became millionaires overnight, paid royalties by the oil barons.

The local (white) politicians of the oil-rich lands stuck like leeches to the Osage residents, under the guise of regulating commerce. They deemed that (white) guardians of the property be appointed for full-blooded Osage people, as the Native Americans weren’t sufficiently educated or competent to manage their own money. Unsurprisingly, the guardians were thieves and worse.

Read the book to learn about a statistics-defying (but not uncommon among the Osage) rash of deaths (by poisonings, shootings and explosives) that occurred in one Osage family due to the “system” and the growing-pains the Wild West experienced as it evolved into a civilized, law-abiding society with the help of a national law enforcement organization now known as the FBI.

A more recent example of exploitation of Native Americans was described in the Second Book of the Week, “Heist, Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, His Republican Allies, and the Buying of Washington” by Peter H. Stone, published in 2006. Yet again, the hypothetical board game “Survival Roulette” could be applied to this scandal: Native American Exploitation Edition (See “Highly Confident” post).

There have been countless ultimate winners of this game through the centuries: all the people never caught for committing crimes against Native Americans. The vast majority have gone unpunished, including several people mentioned in the book, whose names have already faded from the public’s memory.

However, the most famous hypothetical losers of the game in this book were lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, and Congressman Tom DeLay. Instead of a Monopoly board, in keeping with the casino theme, the central structure of the game could be an actual roulette wheel, whose ball could land on spaces that describe the financial crimes of: bribery, money laundering, fraud, disclosure failures and influence peddling. Plus tax evasion. Just for good measure.

In short, with Abramoff as the ringleader, during the course of three years, the gang milked six Native American tribes for $82 million– that paid for political bribes, funding for a school, lavish gifts, and entertainment and recreation expenses– disguised as lobbying and public relations services on behalf of the tribes.

In this slim volume, the author dispensed with suspense by revealing up front that, when they got caught, Abramoff and his sidekick Scanlon accepted plea deals for their unethical opportunism, unconscionable greed and unmitigated hubris. The author then failed to explain why the Texas state government closed a casino run by the Tigua Indians in February 2002, but did explain later on.

Nevertheless, the story thereafter unfolded in more or less chronological order, starting with backstory from the 1990’s. The Tigua casino actually stayed closed, despite Abramoff’s fat fee, part of which he circuitously funneled through nonprofit organizations that ended up as political donations, and paid for a luxurious golf vacation in the United Kingdom for himself and his cronies.

Abramoff’s shamelessness knew no bounds. He had his friends, in order to service one of his tribal clients, marshal support from the likes of the Christian Coalition to convince the U.S. government that gambling was against their religion, and a reason to close the Tigua casino. At the same, he was lobbying on behalf of the Tiguas through illegal means, to reopen the casino (!) For that, he made megabucks from both sides.

Abramoff also helped to quash legislation that would have taxed his Choctaw client, and would have imposed tougher labor laws on his offshore client that manufactured clothing in the Marianas.

Kevin Sickey, who represented an Indian tribe that hired Abramoff, described the lobbyist’s propaganda thusly: “They exaggerated political threats and they exaggerated economic threats. Then they exaggerated their ability to deal with threats.”

Read the book to learn what led to the start of investigations by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and the Justice Department; Abramoff’s and Scanlon’s early-career adventures; and details of their and others’ punishments, among other nothing-new-under-the-sun type political opportunism, greed and hubris.

As an aside, the dollar value of political wrongdoing has reached dizzying heights in the past few decades, and it has been the same kind of wrongdoing, over and over again– committed mostly by alpha males. People who have an insatiable need for power and money apparently never learn from others whose stories have been well-publicized!


A Great Wall

The Book of the Week is “A Great Wall, Six Presidents and China: An Investigative History” by Patrick Tyler, published in 1999.

In this tome, the author recounted the history of the relationships between and among the United States, China, Taiwan and the former Soviet Union beginning in 1969. In March of that year, the Chinese started a border skirmish with the Soviets, killing a few tens of them.

American president Richard Nixon realized that it would be advantageous to play the Soviets off of the Chinese or vice versa, by becoming friendly with one or the other before the end of his administration. His eventual secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, insinuated himself into foreign policy matters early on by marginalizing the then-main adviser, William Rogers.

The socially manipulative Kissinger, by spring 1970, working in the White House, then proceeded to convince Nixon to take the State Department out of the loop on conversations the United States was having with China through the Pakistanis, and other players in the diplomacy game– Taiwan, Japan and the USSR. Nixon feared being criticized for betraying the democratic Taiwan by flirting with the Communists. It was completely antithetical to his past rabid anti-Communist ideology and vicious behavior against them.

Nixon’s desire for reelection in 1972, however, overrode any shred of morality he ever had and any consistent political behavior he ever displayed. In early 1971, after a few telling incidents, he relaxed: travel restrictions on Americans who wanted to go to China, and the trade embargo on products from China. That spring, as a goodwill gesture, the Chinese sent their ping-pong team to Japan to compete against that of the United States.

The major issues Nixon had to tackle in order to get reelected included the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, the Vietnam War, making nice with both China and Taiwan (a very tall order), plus the Pentagon Papers; not to mention the Watergate break-in.

Kissinger tried to generate hysteria by claiming that the Soviets had designs on China, so that’s why it was a bad idea for China to officially swallow Taiwan as part of its property. China was a sworn enemy of Taiwan because its efforts to take it over had been frustrated for decades.

China’s leader, Mao Tse Tung wanted China to take over Taiwan’s seat on the United Nations Security Council. Nixon was in a tough spot because in order to become friendly with the Chinese, he needed to bow to Mao’s wishes– help to oust Taiwan from the UN and terminate all diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the United States. George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley, Pat Buchanan and others disagreed with Nixon’s rejecting Taiwan to court China.

“Nixon’s credibility with America’s allies in Asia and the Pacific would depend on his reassurance that he was not making deals behind their backs…” But with Kissinger as Nixon’s point man, the secret proposed agreements kept on coming, making Nixon one of the biggest liars in the world. The ridiculously phony Kissinger deserved an Academy Award for his performances; telling the Chinese one thing, and the Taiwanese the opposite, secretly wooing the other.

The Chinese and Soviets had their complicated, internal power struggles, too. Mao got rid of his second-in-command in the second half of summer 1971 for trying to argue against fostering harmony with the Americans. For, flirting with the Americans would displease the Soviets. “Even a partial break with Moscow wasn’t popular in the Chinese military, which had been trained and equipped by the Soviets.”

The plot thickened in November 1971 when the Soviet-backed India picked a fight with the Chinese-backed Pakistan. The United States imposed economic sanctions on India. Eventually, East Pakistan became Bangladesh despite Kissinger’s United States’ failed attempt to butt into the fray.

In February 1972, Nixon became the focal point of the universe when he visited Beijing. He made headlines again when he gave a standing ovation at a musical show that had the Communists beating the capitalists (that was actually a PR gaffe).

It might be recalled that former American president Dwight Eisenhower signed the Mutual Defense Treaty, which was supposedly still in effect when Kissinger arrived on the scene. That document asserted that the United States would defend Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai Shek (in exile on Taiwan) and the territory of Taiwan in the event that China got militarily aggressive.

Therefore, Kissinger had to backpedal on a new communique he and Zhou Enlai of China were hammering out. The final version omitted any reference to the protection of Taiwan altogether. It was the least bad compromise Kissinger could muster, as many Nixon administration officials were furious that the president had sold out Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the Americans agreed with the Soviets that they didn’t want the Chinese to develop nuclear weapons, which were in the offing for China by the early 1990’s, according to futurists.

However, Kissinger whispered to China that American military contractors such as General Electric and Westinghouse might license their jet-engine manufacturing and nuclear-reactor technologies to China via Great Britain or France. But he told them the United States would publicly have to say it couldn’t do that because the sellers weren’t supposed to be offering dangerous war tools to Communist nations. However, the United States believed that helping modernize China would be economically beneficial for itself, so it did want to help.

In summer 1973, Mao was livid at Kissinger’s empty promises when the United States announced an agreement with the Soviet Union on reducing nukes and protecting the other in the event of third-party aggression. Besides, the Watergate investigation was raging. Zhou was dying of cancer. Soon, the Arabs and Israelis would be going at it. That’s good times.

In November 1973, amid the full-on palace intrigue in both the United States and China, Kissinger showed himself to be a pathological liar upon his return from personal talks with Zhou. He prepared a thirteen-page memo for his boss, the president, in which he called those talks a “positive success on all fronts.” No joke.

In late 1974, when China’s new negotiator Deng Xiaoping outed Kissinger on his dishonesty, Kissinger responded with indignation, like the hubris-syndrome plagued alpha-male that he was.

President Jimmy Carter needed the support of Congress for his Panama Canal Treaties, so he trod lightly (and contradictorily as had all his predecessors) on the China / Taiwan / Soviet conundrums.

In 1979, Deng received bad publicity for perpetrating human rights abuses even though his were not nearly as harsh as Mao’s. Nevertheless, this new political football led to criticism of Carter’s failure to call him out on them. Also that year, the United States helped China start a secret spying operation in China that monitored the Soviets from Central Asia to the Far East.

The 1980’s saw other complicated issues come into play that involved the usual needless deaths and ruined lives, like the war in Afghanistan and the continuing pesky presence of the Vietnamese in Cambodia.

American president Ronald Reagan was as bad as Kissinger in his doublespeak. Not fooled, the Chinese started meeting with the Soviets. “The pro-Taiwan faction [in the U.S. government] feared that every weapon or high-tech system sold to China would end up in Moscow.”

The American president’s negotiators spent much of the 1980’s in arms-sales talks with China and Taiwan, trying not to anger one or the other. By May 1989 in China, however, dissatisfaction among university students over the authorities’ treatment of themselves and dissidents reached critical mass.

Not coincidentally, the students– because they knew the whole world would be watching– launched a hunger strike and protests in major cities across China at the same time as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Beijing. America’s diplomatic representatives who held their reality show in Shanghai, also had their scene stolen.

Deng was embarrassed and angry that he couldn’t control the students, so he ordered law enforcement officers to disperse them with deadly weapons, arrests and executions, instead of just tear gas, water cannons and cops in riot gear. The horror and bloodshed lasted for about a month, as Hong Kong activists donated millions of dollars to the students’ cause to keep it alive.

In January 1990, president Bush vetoed a bill sponsored by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi that would have allowed Chinese students to stay in the United States as long as martial law stayed in effect in China. Further, he failed to express outrage at Deng’s tyranny because damage to America’s ties to China would result in a financial loss to America.

From a purely ethical standpoint, Deng’s behavior was horrifying. But from a purely economic standpoint, Bush was successful with the Chinese. And economics is what really matters in a reelection campaign.

Bush played a small part in convincing Deng to try some capitalist practices to see how they compared with China’s socialist ways. Also in January 1990, to distract his country from China, ironically, Bush ordered American law enforcement to arrest and try brutal Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, compliments of American taxpayers. Panama must no longer have been profitable for the United States.

The question in Bush’s administration that continued to rear its ugly head, though, was whether trade with China should have been conditional on whether China curbed its human rights abuses.

One argument that favored linking them was that: a country whose sociopathic leader ruled his people with fear and force and disregarded their health and welfare– would behave the same way– dishonestly– in business and trade.

Businesspeople in countries ruled by a dictator make a good living through the organized-crime tactics of bribery, racketeering, money laundering, etc. And low-level workers are always at risk for grave harm due to few or no health and safety laws. Yet imposing sanctions would be economically hurtful to both parties in some sectors.

So a trade agreement between or among nations is a microcosm of a political campaign (translation: propaganda war). The terms that are finally negotiated are always based on a barrage of anecdotal evidence. The specific industries that win or lose might or might not represent a significant sector of a country’s economy.

It’s an opportunity for the agreement’s signers to brag about (projected) job creation, the (projected) stimulation of domestic product purchases, and a (projected) significant resulting increase in wealth for their respective countries’ whole economy. According to them, everyone will live happily ever after with the trade agreement.

Attendant issues that might go unmentioned though, include the impact on labor unions, additional environmental pollution from the change in business practices, a numerical estimate of the rise in prices of specific products affected by additional tariffs (if any are imposed), and whether the signers or the constituents of the signers have any direct financial interests in the terms of the trade agreement (as did Kissinger late in his career, with regard to a U.S. / China joint venture).

Anyway, read the book to learn:

  • the details of the aforementioned nations’ leaders’ major power struggles that led to minor changes in policy (and more blustery talk than anything else)
  • of the propagandizing
  • of the conversational and arms-deals shenanigans, etc., plus
  • whether president Bill Clinton did any better than his predecessors at taking decisive action that would strike a balance among the complex political, economic, cultural and social issues surrounding the United States, China, Taiwan, the former Soviet Union and their neighbors in the diplomatic game.

No Excuses

The Book of the Week is “No Excuses– Concessions of A Serial Campaigner” by Robert Shrum, published in 2007. Shrum was a political consultant for various Democratic candidates for more than four decades.

Shrum perceived that the Washington Post was the sole newspaper that understood that the Watergate break-in wasn’t just an isolated incident. That is why it took so long for Americans to see how evil Nixon really was. Then again, political people are a vengeful lot.

Beginning in 1992, the Republicans launched a “… nonstop, eight-year campaign to destroy his [Bill Clinton’s] presidency. Everything was fair game in a witch hunt on a tireless search for an offense.” Ken Starr was coming up empty on the Whitewater investigation, so after three and a half years, he convinced the three-judge panel to “… widen his mandate to include possible perjury charges against the president related to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.”

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Shrum was an advisor to candidate Al Gore, during which there was rigorous fact-checking of everything Gore said in debates. Even so, he got a few minor details wrong. The Bush camp jumped right on the errors, accusing Gore of “sighing and lying.”

Voters have no idea how much cooperation (if any) there is behind the scenes of a candidate’s campaign, as media reports are distorted or exaggerated in this regard. But in September 2003, voters who believed the news, were focused on the supposed conflicts plaguing John Kerry’s staff instead of on John Kerry.

One of Kerry’s top aides, Jim Jordan was the source of the trouble. The press reported that Jordan was campaign manager. Jordan didn’t disabuse them of that notion. Howard Dean became a formidable competitor because he effectively raised funds via the Internet. Jordan didn’t believe that that fundraising channel would work, so he discouraged Kerry from trying it.

Jordan ignored political donors and couldn’t “… explain a coherent strategy for winning and we’re [the Kerry campaign] headed in the wrong direction — politically and financially.” Once Jordan was dismissed in November 2003, conditions improved. But not before the media trumpeted the turmoil and published Jordan’s negative utterances about the Kerry campaign.

Interestingly, Kerry enjoyed a small, unexpected boost in voter approval in late October 2004, when an unguarded cache full of American weapons was emptied by the enemy in Iraq. But Kerry’s advisers felt it was more important for their candidate to stay on-message than jump on Bush for this terrorist win; it would have been a distraction. It is such an irony that Americans are killed with their own weapons by terrorists through alleged anti-terrorist actions by the U.S. government.

So the way America’s enemies have acquired American weaponry hasn’t always been secret arms deals. Sometimes it has been. Other times, it has been caused by a raw, evil, greedy power grab perpetrated by a president who stokes fear that his country’s people will be victims again. Might makes right is never a good thing. It is simply a vicious cycle of needless deaths and ruined lives.

Anyway, read the book to learn of numerous other details of the fun insiders have in dealing with difficult: people, issues and publicity while advising a political candidate during an election campaign. So much fun.

Gorsuch – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Gorsuch, The Judge Who Speaks For Himself” by John Greenya, published in 2018.

This volume mostly discussed Neil Gorsuch’s nomination for the position of Supreme Court justice, gleaned from opinion pieces in online publications including blogs, and comments from interviews, in a disorganized fashion. With some of Obama’s political career thrown in. Plus the controversy surrounding Gorsuch’s mother. It got tedious after a while, and should not be classified as a biography.

As is well known, Gorsuch was nominated in an era with an especially emotionally charged political atmosphere. Of course, during his confirmation hearings, Gorsuch was grilled on one particularly extremely controversial issue: abortion.

Some Republicans propagandized that Gorsuch was a gentleman, and a good writer. Some Democrats propagandized that Gorsuch would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade. Prior to his SCOTUS nomination, he had served as an appellate judge for a decade, during which he saw no cases directly related to that case’s decision.

Gorsuch himself, in a book he wrote, conceded that whether abortion is the taking of a human life, hinges on the definition of “human life.” At his confirmation hearing, when pressed on whether he accepted that the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not consider a fetus a person, Gorsuch agreed it is federal law that says a fetus is not a person.

Abortion is one of the most, if not the most, volatile political issue in the United States, because it is a matter of religion and politics, life and death, and its legalization or not, has serious ripple effects on society. There are three major aspects, among a host of peripheral issues, upon which most people seize: biology, women’s rights, and economics.

The first major aspect relates to a few pieces of information that allow people to form opinions on the definition of “human life” to which there is no right or wrong:

A fetus’ heartbeat is detectable approximately two months into a pregnancy. Some people believe that when a heartbeat is detectable in a fetus, that that fetus is a human life.

Besides, a fetus can live outside the womb at approximately two months into a pregnancy, but it still requires a large amount of technological help with sustenance at that stage; around five months is when it can live outside the womb without the extensive assistance of medical technology.

Some people believe that if a fetus can live outside the womb (but the amount of life-support equipment any given fetus requires varies widely), that that fetus is a human life. Thus, some people believe abortion should be illegal from those respective points onward. Others believe life begins at conception. Therefore, according to them, abortion should never be legalized at any point.

The question of abortion obviously disproportionately affects females. Women’s rights involve a female’s control over her own body.

There are two major economics aspects to abortion:

Norman Mailer argued that from a purely economic (non-emotional) standpoint, abortion should have been legalized merely because, according to research, a lot of unwanted babies grow up to become career criminals. Legalization of abortion would eliminate the long-term costs to society of unwanted people.

Moreover, prior to the time abortions became legal, poor women who couldn’t afford illegal abortions done by an experienced medical professional, attempted abortion methods themselves, which were dangerous to their own health. So there arose long-term costs to society in the form of their medical expenses, if they didn’t die from complications.

Even though abortion is now legal conditionally, some poor women still cannot afford it. That raises the can of worms of whether abortions should be publicly funded. Which leads to a vicious cycle for poor women. And society.

Biological aspects of abortion that make abortion laws conditional, include: specifics on the trimester in which the procedure is performed, whether the mother’s or baby’s life is in danger and whether the baby is developmentally normal. An additional wrench in the works is whether a female should be able to have an abortion in a case of rape or incest.

The religious aspects of abortion are a whole other explosive ball of wax. Especially when sex education is thrown into the mix. Yet another cause of heated discussions is that it is impossible to prove how often abortion is used as a birth-control method.

The yelling and screaming, litigation and legislative debate is guaranteed to never stop, because there will always be questions such as: If the mother is extremely young– does she need a parent’s consent to have an abortion?

And can a pregnant woman of any age cross state lines in order to gain access to an abortion that is legal, given her situation? Which leads to the controversy of States’ Rights.

In the last several decades, the Democrats have faced a dilemma when they nominated a Catholic presidential candidate. The Democrats favor laws that allow abortion. Some Catholic and Christian voters say they would never vote for any candidate who is a Democrat for that reason alone. They say they wouldn’t waver on that. The question for the ages is: Is the number of these voters sufficient to affect the outcome of a presidential election?

Anyway, read the book to learn of other issues on which Gorsuch’s positions had yet to be seen as of the book’s writing, and tabloid writers’ and politicians’ take on his fitness for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Child of the Ghetto / The Three of Us

As is well known, WWII did a number on Italy. Here are two books that described the experiences of females during and after the war.

The First Book of the Week is “Child of the Ghetto, Coming of Age in Fascist Italy: A Memoir 1926-1946” by Edda Servi Machlin, published in 1995.

Born in February 1926 in a small village outside Rome, the author was named Edda, after Mussolini’s daughter. Her father was the community’s rabbi. The family was actually anti-fascist, but used her name as a cover for avoiding trouble. The Italian government began its abusive treatment of Jews starting in the late summer of 1938. Jewish teachers and public-school employees were fired.

Since the author was no longer allowed to get an education, she spent her adolescence up until her late teens in real-world job training, as a maid, bookkeeper and seamstress. Signage in retail outlets’ windows stated, “This is an Aryan-race store.” Everyone was required to show ID cards that stated his or her religion.

Mid-July 1943 saw a change in Italy’s government but not in its war alliances, pro-Fascism bent, or treatment of Jews. Even though in September it pledged to stop fighting against the Allies. The author’s two older brothers went to hide in the woods to avoid conscription. Because they were Jews, they were denied admittance to an anti-Fascist youth group.

According to the author, in October 1943, the Germans who were sociopathic sadists with weaponry, descended on Rome in the middle of the night to abduct via truck, more than three thousand Jews. Luckily, in the next two months, when a roundup began in neighboring regions, the author, her brothers, and younger sister had been on the run in an area spanning hundreds of miles of countryside around Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, etc., hiding in various homes of benevolent farmers willing to risk their lives. Her parents and younger brother, however, were taken away.

The author heard “through the grapevine” that two American soldiers had bailed out of a warplane and parachuted into her village. That was exciting, because she had been rooting for the Allies all along. Her mentality was, “America, the mythical country of our childhood dreams, was so far away… And Lello [her older brother] had met two of her children! We were enthralled.”

Read the book to learn the fate of the author’s family members, her prewar existence, her adventures in the forests and farmyards during the war, and of her later endeavors.

The Second Book of the Week is “The Three of Us” by Marisa Giardina, published in 2012. This is the suspenseful, depressing story of a female whose girlhood ended before she turned three years old, due to WWII.

The author, her mother and older sister fled on a ship bound for Italy from their native Libya with hardly more than the clothes on their backs. They left her father and her two older brothers behind. The goal in their travels was to reach Fiuggi, where her grandfather was being held as a prisoner of war.

They spent an inordinate amount of time in a bomb shelter and their diet consisted of dried bread crumbs when they could get them. As their situation worsened, refugees such as they, resorted to prostitution, thefts of crops from farms, black-market trading, and illegally occupying abandoned, rubble-strewn buildings, among other tactics to stay alive.

“Italy was in chaos after the war and the Italians lost their compassion for their fellow men.” Non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross and CARE handed out food and sweaters, which were acquired after days of waiting in a queue.

Read the book to learn more about the countless hardships endured by the author, and her incredible will to live, considering her circumstances.



Harry Belafonte / Shirley Chisholm

The First Book of the Week is “Harry Belafonte, My Song, a Memoir” with Michael Shnayerson, published in 2011.

Born in March 1927 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the singer best known for the “Banana Boat Song” actually did a lot more in his lifetime than give concerts and act. He was instrumental in helping fund and organize the civil rights movement.

Belafonte’s older relatives were interracial; they hailed from Jamaica in the Caribbean; the light-skinned ones living there were Scottish. Growing up dirt poor, he lived alternately between upper Manhattan and Jamaica for years at a time, bounced among them.

For Belafonte, it was one psychological trauma after another. He had undiagnosed dyslexia, in addition to having accidentally with sewing scissors, as a toddler, blinded himself in one eye.

Fortunately, Belafonte’s mother, an illegal immigrant, had survival skills. But she practiced spousification with him in his early years. When he was five years old, he was tasked with taking care of his baby brother while she worked. She instilled in him a love of music, taking him to see the great singers of the 1930’s and 1940’s at the Apollo Theater in upper Manhattan.

The author’s mother hired someone to give him piano lessons. However, he played hooky from them because the teacher cruelly beat his fingers, just like the nuns at his parochial school. He ended up quitting school for good in the middle of ninth grade.

Belafonte’s father, an abusive, mean drunk, was frequently out of town– either acting as head chef on a banana boat in the Caribbean, or philandering. But there were a few occasions of quality time, playing marbles.

Belafonte was able to pay for drama school with the G.I. Bill, after his Navy service during World War II. He befriended the politically-active, drama and jazz crowds, many of whom, like him, would later became world famous.

By the early 1960’s, the nation was violently divided. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded Belafonte that “… compromise was a crucial tenet of nonviolence. If compromise got you closer to your goal, then it was worth any loss of face.” As is well known, there was excessive bloodshed throughout the 1960’s– so there must have been a lot of men who couldn’t stand to swallow their pride for the good of the nation.

Anyway, read the book to learn why Belafonte, even after becoming fabulously famous and wealthy, never did lead a charmed life. He did, however, raise funds for Shirley Chisholm.

The Second Book of the Week is “Shirley Chisholm, Catalyst for Change” by Barbara Winslow, published in 2014.

Born in Brooklyn in 1924, Chisholm had a grandfather who worked on the Panama Canal, whose construction spurred the upward mobility of sugarcane slaves from Barbados. Her ancestors believed in education and home ownership.

Chisholm spent roughly three and a half years of her early childhood in Barbados; the rest, in New York City. She experienced culture shock moving from a rural, agricultural village to big, scary, crime-ridden neighborhoods– Brownsville, and then Bedford-Stuyvesant, both in Brooklyn.

Chisholm’s goal was to become an elementary school teacher but she couldn’t get hired because she was black. With her master’s degree in early childhood education, Chisholm eventually became a consultant to the day care department of New York City’s welfare agency, supervising tens of employees. She “… would always have to face men who tried to infantilize, patronize or demonize her.”

In 1964, Chisholm won an assembly seat in New York State. She worked with three other black politicians in New York: Charles Rangel, David Dinkins and Percy Sutton. She was very prolific; eight of the fifty bills she sponsored were passed.

In 1968, with the slogan, “Vote for Shirley Chisholm for Congress– unbought and unbossed” she became the first African American woman elected to Congress. When she expressed her intention to run for president in 1972, men bristled.

Chisholm had a particular reason for rescinding her plan to personally campaign in Wisconsin, involving public relations. She disappointed a bunch of dedicated grass-roots volunteers. But she would have visited the state for only two or three days anyway, and not have gotten significant support over and above her loyal followers’. So by not visiting, she could brag that she got, say, 5% of the vote without even campaigning there– that’s how much people loved her.

In May 1972, after racist presidential candidate George Wallace was shot, Chisholm behaved compassionately, visiting him in the hospital.

Read the book to learn more about Chisholm’s life and times, including why she was actually bossed, but not bought.

Thomas E. Dewey and his times (sic)

The Book of the Week is “Thomas E. Dewey and his times (sic), The First Full-Scale Biography of the Maker of the Modern Republican Party” by Richard Norton Smith, published in 1982.

As early as the 1820’s in New York City, there were political nefarious goings-on via the Democratic machine. Judges chosen by the big boss William Marcy Tweed, “…swore in new citizens [newly arrived immigrants] a thousand a day in the weeks before a crucial election.”

When Thomas E. Dewey was born in March 1902 in Michigan, major American cities had been seeing political shenanigans from both Democrats and Republicans, for decades.

From a young age, Dewey was active in Republican clubs. In early 1931, he became an assistant U.S. attorney. He developed a reputation for investigating organized crime among politicians, labor leaders and the criminal justice system. He launched a sting against vice in order to expose the corruption in the system. About a hundred prostitutes and madams were arrested for the purpose of serving as witnesses who testified against racketeers, in exchange for lesser punishment. In 1936, a jury deemed Lucky Luciano guilty of 559 different crimes.

The Mob owned the garment and trucking industries. Local business owners were forced to pay protection money to racketeers or they or their families would face serious injury or death. They passed on this higher cost of doing business in the form of significantly higher prices, to consumers. Thus, all city dwellers became victims of the scourge.

In 1937, Dewey ran for the law enforcement office of district attorney in New York City. To voters around Manhattan, he showed a highlights reel of his crime-fighting prowess, and made radio broadcasts.

In 1940 in Denver, when Dewey was running for U.S. president, he proclaimed “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the National Debt.” Unfortunately, that line has borne repetition for the last 80 years.

As New York State governor in March 1945, Dewey achieved approval via the state legislature, of a bill that outlawed anti-black practices in housing and employment. A fellow Republican believed that the three major issues of the day were: international relations, race relations and labor relations, respectively.

In the 1948 presidential campaign, the incumbent Democrat Truman mongered fear among farmers and labor unions that the nation would experience an economic downturn if voters changed direction, and elected a Republican to the White House.

As is well known, some people were shocked that Dewey lost the election. “Dewey was ahead until the last two weeks of the campaign, [Samuel] Lubell concluded [referring to a poll from the University of Michigan], when millions of voters switched their allegiance.”

No doubt, presidential campaigns are all about the propaganda war. But because voters have short memories, ten months before an election is like the first quarter of a football game. It will be a loooong time before a winner becomes official.

Anyway, Dewey continued to serve as New York State governor. In September 1949 in Peekskill, Paul Robeson sang at a concert at which fifteen thousand fans were victimized by rabid anti-Communists. The latter seriously injured the former with stone-throwing and head-bashing with clubs. State troopers failed to keep order. Dewey called in the sheriff and district attorney to investigate. Dewey said that although Communists had a reputation for being subversive and oppressing other people, the concert-goers had rights to free speech and assembly– which were violated.

Dewey prepared for the 1952 Republican convention for president that would nominate Dwight Eisenhower, by ordering fourteen bullhorns from a Pennsylvania company, just in case the microphones there unexpectedly cut out. Incidentally, there was a dispute between competing Republican candidates Eisenhower and Robert Taft, over how delegates chose their candidates, or vice versa.

As a result, in early 1954, Dewey instituted New York State’s first code of ethics for public officials. It would regulate conflicts of interest of legislature members and other office holders. Apparently (or rather, unsurprisingly), there were loopholes in the law. In the 1960’s, the Republican governor of New York State, Nelson Rockefeller was “…funding grandiose building projects… brilliant subterfuges in which independent agencies acted as surrogate spenders for the state. Rocky’s state budget was five times that of Dewey’s administration.

Anyhow, read the book to learn a wealth of additional details about Dewey and his times.

BONUS POST

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http://www.angusrobertson.com.au/books/the-education-and-deconstruction-of-mr-bloomberg-sally-a-friedman/p/9781450099028I am pleased to announce that my book: “The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive” is available through the following online channels:

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Piety & Power / Troublemaker

The First Book of the Week is “Piety & Power, Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House” by Tom LoBianco, published in 2019. This volume recounted the political adventures of Mike Pence, elected vice president of the United States in 2016.

By November 1990, Pence had lost two Congressional races. “He didn’t grasp that using the campaign cash to make his mortgage and car payments was a clear violation of their [his Republican colleagues’] trust.” Thereafter, the Federal Election Commission deemed that activity illegal.

Pence lets political expedience dictate his religious / ideological bent. Over the course of twenty years, beginning in the late 1970’s, he proceeded to play the roles of: evangelist, conservative Republican, mainstream Republican, Libertarian, evangelical megachurch supporter, and finally, Christian Rightist.

Pence was finally elected to Congress in 2000. In 2013, he became governor of Indiana. He gave Hoosiers a small tax cut but promoted it as a big one. He proposed funding free pre-kindergarten for poor kids (of course, knowing him, he’d push for allowing pre-kindergarten to teach religion), but actually obtained more federal Medicare funding. He also proposed a state-run news service– which of course was looked at askance, and died on the drawing board.

In March 2015, Pence signed a bill that allowed (translation: encouraged) religious ministers and businesses to refuse to provide services for gay marriage ceremonies. He failed to anticipate the public relations crisis that ensued.

Pence figured that a Donald Trump loss in 2016 would increase his own chances of getting elected president in 2020. For, Pence was instrumental in helping Trump win the Rust Belt and other swing states.

Read the book to learn of other interesting factoids about Pence.

The Second Book of the Week is “Troublemaker, Let’s Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again” by Christine O’Donnell, published in 2011.

Born in 1969 into a family that was eventually comprised of six children, O’Donnell is of Irish and Italian extraction. The family moved from Philadelphia to Moorestown, New Jersey when she was little.

When O’Donnell participated in the commencement ceremony at Fairleigh Dickinson University, she still owed $8,000 in tuition, and was six credits short of graduating. At the podium, the leather portfolio she was handed contained a bursar’s bill instead of a degree. By that time, she had decided she wanted to pursue a career in politics. Her naivete was a blessing and a curse, as it is with so many passionate young people who seek to work for a cause that is bigger than themselves.

However, the more one reads, hears or sees about politics, the more cynical one becomes; one does not even need to run for office to see what dirty a business it is. The sooner one learns this, and the lessons O’Donnell learned, the better. Apparently, a certain political climate at certain times allows particular instances of what could be considered unethical, or at best, dishonest activities to proceed.

Anyway, O’Donnell wrote candidly about her work experiences. She described what some might say were conflicts of interest that were minor, in that the goals were to spread propaganda and cover all the bases, more than make money.

Some believe that a media outlet should not be used solely as a political mouthpiece. Nevertheless, in 1994, from Washington, D.C., the Republican National Committee aired a Haley Barbour-created TV show, “Rising Tide.” The weekly show had affiliates around the nation, including Chicago. O’Donnell– whose job was to sell the show– got it on the air on a cable access channel in New York City.

In another case, in 2008, Senator Joe Biden re-ran for the U.S. Senate at the same time he ran for vice president. Biden won both elections. As is well known, he has been a gadfly ever since. Currently, some people, even those from his own party, wish he would go away.

At any rate, O’Donnell advised the reader on ways she saved money after she again lost her run for the U.S. Senate as a Republican from Delaware, of all states. In her late thirties, she had crushing debt load, but she swallowed her pride and:

  • worked cleaning houses
  • babysat
  • became a laundress
  • sold her possessions on eBay and Craigslist
  • cancelled her cable TV subscription
  • borrowed free DVDs from her local library
  • got free internet access from her local library
  • moved into a small apartment
  • shopped at thrift stores, and
  • destroyed her credit cards.

Running for office is undeniably expensive, regardless of the age of the candidate; just ask even now-famous politicians who lost elections in the past. Those who emerge as election losers but are still wealthy are those who inherit endless money. Or obtain it through unethical means at the very least, or both.

O’Donnell clearly had a stronger desire to change the world than profit. Obviously, by the third time she ran for the Senate in 2010, she knew there would be adverse financial consequences. However, she did not anticipate the extreme abuse she would suffer.

During the author’s race, the opposition (unsurprisingly), but also her own political party (!) launched vicious smear campaigns against her. And the IRS audited her for years. Notwithstanding, in summer 2010, she went on Mark Levin’s national radio show, and listeners consequently donated $12,000 to her campaign in a matter of hours. After she won the nomination in September, Rush Limbaugh endorsed her on his radio show and donations poured into her campaign.

Mike Castle, O’Donnell’s primary opponent was a sore loser. Karl Rove and his GOP operatives cast aspersions on her, too. Toward the end of this book, she cast aspersions on Barack Obama. She blamed him for almost all the nation’s troubles.

O’Donnell didn’t understand that on the economic front, one economic period cannot be fairly compared to any other, because times and conditions are constantly changing. It is incalculable how much credit the current president deserves for the current success of certain economic sectors or indicators. Does former president Bill Clinton deserve full credit for the economic upturn that, without question, resulted from the rise of the Internet? Anyway– as is well known, Al Gore invented the Information Superhighway, so perhaps he deserves full credit.

One way to get an idea of the extent of dishonesty of idiot-box drama on a political show, or one momentarily reporting on politics– is to mute the TV and see whether the person reading the Teleprompter is blinking frequently. If they are, what they are reading is likely lies; blinking like crazy is body language that likely indicates lying.

O’Donnell gave the reader tips on how to be an activist. She wrote, “Whether liberal, conservative, Republican or Democrat, good people should be able to run for office without concern for getting trashed in the public eye or having phony claims thrown at them. Thug politics have to stop.” Good luck with that, all.

Read the book to learn of O’Donnell’s other political and personal experiences.

The Incredible True Story of Blondy Baruti – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Incredible True Story of Blondy Baruti, My Unlikely Journey From the Congo to Hollywood” by Blondy Baruti with Joe Layden, published in 2018.

Baruti was born in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the late 1980’s. When he was three, his father– a banker and government official– abandoned his mother, him and his older sister.

In the late 1990’s, eight countries in Africa engaged in an extremely ugly war, ultimately leaving five million dead. The armed, sociopathic sadistic fighters drugged young males and turned them into soldiers like themselves, and young females, into victims of rape and torture. Naturally, Baruti’s family, like millions of others, fled their homes.

The death rate for everyone in the country was ridiculously high, what with rampant disease, animal or human violence, starvation, etc. To push the point, Baruti wrote, “I was sick and exhausted, and sadly accustomed to the sight and smell of death and so I barely reacted [when a bomb hit a village his family was in].”

Read the book to learn how Baruti’s goal-oriented behavior, positive attitude, unwavering faith, great skills and passion for two activities– which are highly coveted careers– led him to get invaluable assistance with changing his lifestyle radically for the better.