Halliburton’s Army – LONG BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Halliburton’s Army, How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War” by Pratap Chatterjee, published in 2009.

This slightly sloppily proofread volume was also slightly redundant and very disorganized. Nevertheless, it was extremely well-documented and detailed. The author personally visited various sites and personally interviewed various people– in addition to sourcing information from documents– about which and whom he wrote.

In the late 1930’s, president Franklin Roosevelt, Congressman Lyndon Johnson and the company Brown & Root (BR) formed a public-private partnership to build the Marshall Ford Dam in Texas. In the early 1940’s, the company built the naval air station Corpus Christi. Taxpayers way overpaid for those projects. The reason was partly because the sweetheart terms of its contract guaranteed it a profit.

BR also built warships for World War II. It allegedly financed Lyndon Johnson’s run for the U.S. Senate in 1948. It built military bases during the Vietnam War. In August 1966, U.S. Congressman Donald Rumsfeld contended that, due to conflicts of interest, the federal government had signed contracts with BR that were “illegal by statute.” Of course, Rumsfeld hated President Johnson.

In October 1966, Rumsfeld and Bob Dole reported that BR had refused to let any government officials see documents associated with a BR construction site. The company and its subcontractors had lost track of $120 million and had thefts of millions of dollars of equipment by the end of its ($1.9-billion-in-costs) ten-year contract.

After the First Gulf War, a company named Halliburton pioneered the user-friendly assembly of cheap, prefab structures on military bases that were comfortable for soldiers in global hotspots. In early 1998, Dick Cheney assisted with the creation of Kellogg, Brown & Root when M.W. Kellogg was added to BR. Then Halliburton took over the whole kit and caboodle.

Through the 1990’s, Halliburton finagled $167.7 million worth of contracts from the U.S. government in Rwanda, Haiti, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Italy. “But it’s hard to convince people that the company had no influence when your entire upper management once worked for the very agencies that awarded the contracts.”

Halliburton’s tentacles also reached into Somalian and Nigerian territory through bribery. It had fun in the Balkans with “… double-billing, inflating prices and providing of unsuitable products.” By the late 1990’s, thanks to Halliburton and Chevron, the previously unspoiled, tourist-filled beaches in Angola’s Cabinda province had turned black.

Donald Rumsfeld was named Secretary of Defense in the United States beginning in 2001. Just prior to 9/11, “Rumsfeld said that the Pentagon was wasting at least $3 billion a year.” In the next eight years, he proceeded to eliminate most of the military’s in-house operations, including payroll, warehousing and sanitation.

Rumsfeld was adding one more area of American life– the military– to the privatization trend of recent decades. It has already gained traction in education, prisons, government entitlements, student loans, spying and courier services. Curiously, healthcare is going in the opposite direction. Why is that?

Well, medicine has undergone a major cultural change in the last fifty years. The family doctor who made house calls used to be a trusted family friend who charged a reasonable rate for his services. Now depersonalized medicine whose costs are sky-high due to technology and specialization is the norm. Healthcare is a mature industry.

Some aspects of healthcare have become capitalism gone hog-wild, especially those that are a matter of life and death. They have become as out of control as Halliburton.

That is why Americans are welcoming the intervention of government regulation to stem the incompetence, fraud, abuse and waste that have inevitably resulted from too much capitalism. Yes, capitalism is good– up to a point.

Anyway, the George H.W. Bush administration initially signed a military-services contract of a few million dollars with Halliburton. Dick Cheney served as CEO of Halliburton from late summer 1995 through 2000.

In those years and beyond, Cheney successfully spurred specific American foreign policy initiatives to win more lucrative contracts for Halliburton. By January 2002, in one of several nefarious policy changes, he got President George W. Bush to lift economic sanctions against the Muslim country of Azerbaijan, human rights and environmentalism be damned. On Halliburton’s behalf, Cheney engaged in friendly dealings with such oil producers as Iran, Libya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and prior to the war, Iraq.

Azerbaijan’s president, Azeri Aliyev came to the United States for prostate cancer surgery in February 2002. A year later, he ran for reelection and won. As a quid pro quo, in November 2003, President George W. Bush got him a World Bank loan for an oil pipeline.

Of course, in February 2003, the fix was in and Halliburton was automatically awarded the contract that spelled out the terms of the fait accompli restoration of Iraq’s oil fields after the fait accompli war, ethics be damned. To top it off, the contract guaranteed a hefty profit for Halliburton. The company argued that there was no time for a fair, sealed-bid process before the war.

The “… contract would effectively make Halliburton the biggest recipient of Iraq’s oil money, with no input from the Iraqi people.” More than half of the billings for Halliburton’s oil-related services that the U.S. government would presumably pay for, were actually paid with Iraq cash. In other words, the proceeds of Iraq oil sales were used to pay Halliburton.

An organization that studied the quality of Halliburton’s work in Iraq calculated that “… the potential revenue lost from reduced oil production and exports” was $14.8 billion. Gross incompetence, fraud, abuse and waste were not isolated incidents. The holding company’s entities had a few contracts whose epic failures were hushed up until their projects’ entire budgets were spent, at which time those contracts were cancelled.

For example, there were many inexcusable episodes of oil smuggling by corrupt Iraqi officials, right under the noses of U.S. contractors. Halliburton was supposed to be the party responsible for preventing those episodes until it was fired in mid-2005.

In early 2004, due to public outcry over the no-bid, rigged Halliburton contract, there was new bidding, which was still rigged. The military, politicians and top employees of Halliburton were all co-conspirators in the illegality.

Workers of Halliburton’s subsidiaries and its subcontractors have hailed from a range of nations, including but not limited to: Fiji, Uganda, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bosnia, India and America. Both non-American and American hirees are lured by the promise of high pay.

But often that promise comes with a price; the workers are subjected to mean living quarters, do hard manual labor for long hours, such as twelve hours a day, seven days a week in dangerous conditions, get no health insurance and no paid time off, and might go for months with no pay.

If they’re non-American, workers can’t complain because they’ll likely be threatened with dismissal. They likely borrowed money to travel to their expatriate work in the first place. If they quit their jobs, they would be greatly indebted, and their families back home would be made even more impoverished.

Just a few of the kinds of functions the worldwide network of cheap labor fulfills include: food delivery, preparation and catering, lodging, golf course maintenance, civil engineering, motor vehicle transport of the United States Air Force, United States customs inspection and security.

Read the book to learn the details of numerous Halliburton-related outrages in addition to the aforementioned, and how in 2003 and later, the voices of the handful of people who might have had the power to stop the corruption were eventually drowned out by political actions imposed by the powers that were.

For Jersualem

The Book of the Week is “For Jerusalem, A Life” by Teddy Kollek, with his son, Amos Kollek, published in 1978. Kollek was best known for his mayorship of Jerusalem from 1965 to 1993.

Born in a small village near Budapest in May 1911, Kollek was an athletic bibliophile as a child. When he was eleven, he began joining Zionist youth movements and for the next decade, traveled to Czechoslovakia, Romania and Germany. His grades in high school were poor; he graduated only at the behest of his parents. His father had been an Austrian army officer during WWI, then became an operations manager for the Rothschilds. Most of the Jewish bourgeoisie voted for the Social Democratic party in Austria.

As a true Zionist, Kollek wanted to move to Palestine. He put his name on the waiting list of the Zionist Organization, and was finally granted permission to go the promised land in spring 1935. Once he got there in 1936, he almost had “buyer’s remorse” after suffering a series of illnesses– typhus, malaria, sandfly fever and typhoid, almost dying in a British hospital.

Nonetheless, Kollek was granted Palestine citizenship. Shortly thereafter, he bestowed the same on his Austrian girlfriend by marrying her. He served as village headman in the kibbutz of Ein Gev in the Jordan Valley for a little more than a year. Playing well with the British, he would ride a horse around the mountains all day. Nearby tribes included the Bedouins and Cherkessians. The new Zionist settlers lived in shacks and had a communal shower.

In autumn 1938, Kollek supervised a different youth group in England. He also acted as an intermediary between the German and British authorities to let a few thousand Zionist teenagers become farm workers in England, as there was a shortage of them. He did the same for Austria and the British, negotiating with Adolf Eichmann.

Due to the Anschluss in March 1938, Kollek’s parents and brother moved to Palestine. At the start of WWII, Kollek assured the safe transport of contraband arms and people from Syria to Palestine. For the rest of the war, Kollek worked in British intelligence, and then coordinated smuggling operations for the Jewish Agency.

In 1941, David Ben-Gurion thought that Jews in the United States, rather than those in Great Britain, would provide the major impetus ideologically and financially to spur the creation of a Jewish state. He turned out to be correct.

The date May 14, 1948 saw legalization of transport of arms and people to Israel, as it officially achieved sovereignty. Prior to that, there was honor among thieves, according to the author. “In those days, everybody lived frugally and was so utterly devoted, without thinking of himself that we had complete confidence in one another.”

Even so, in the early 1950’s, the new nation had to rob Peter to pay Paul to fund itself, selling bonds and obtaining loans from American banks. And the FBI tailed all of the Jewish freedom fighters, even after independence.

Thanks to a business loan secured with Kollek’s assistance, the Israeli government was able to own and operate a retail chain store, Maskit, which sold handicrafts made by Israelis, co-founded by Moshe Dayan’s wife.

In summer 1952, Kollek was appointed to a position with a lofty title, to serve as a coordinator among government ministries in Prime Minister Ben-Gurion’s administration. In the mid-1950’s, the country obtained financing from gentiles for agricultural research and social and educational projects.

A decade later, Kollek was elected mayor of Jerusalem. His Labor party displaced the Mapai party, which had been the dominant one for years. The mindset of the older generation of (federal) Cabinet members could not shaken– even by Kollek– that they were the caretakers of agricultural collectives, rather than a nation that had become more than three quarters urbanized.

About once a month, Mayor Kollek wanted to resign. Nevertheless, he claimed to have made Jerusalem a better place in numerous ways. The previous mayor had failed to stop Orthodox Jews from throwing rocks at the Mandelbaum Gate because Jordanian Christians in buses en route to religious journeys were disrupting their Sabbath. Kollek’s solution was to bar traffic around Jewish houses of worship on Saturdays.

Perhaps Kollek accomplished so much and was reelected so many times because he lacked the politician’s mentality of expecting the kind of reciprocity that leads to patronage. He truly cared about improving the lives of his fellow Jerusalemites, rather than horse-trading only insofar as to acquire more power or funding.

In sum, Kollek wrote, “Being mayor is the most varied, absorbing, sometimes aggravating (sic), but still the most satisfying job in the world, and while I’m at it, I’ll work as hard as I can, eat as much as I want, and shout at whomever I please.”

Read the book to learn the role radio played in the 1950’s in the lives of Egyptians and Israelis; what Kollek did: for Israel’s tenth anniversary celebration, in the founding of the Israel Museum, during the Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars, with regard to the Western Wall, and much more.

Hold On, Mr. President – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Hold On, Mr. President” by Sam Donaldson, published in 1987. This is the career memoir of an aggressive TV journalist who covered politics.

Donaldson was born in 1934. By his mid-thirties, he had an all-consuming career, working seven days a week for about a year at ABC-TV in Washington D.C. He covered the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, Vietnam on-location for three months in 1971, the Watergate scandal, and, glutton for punishment that he was– president Jimmy Carter in 1976. He asked hard questions of presidents, especially president Ronald Reagan, on whom he spent a lot of time reporting.

Donaldson felt that Reagan’s unwavering stance on all issues was a liability because it resulted in “thoughtless and false certainty… Deciphering Reagan-speak is a constant in the White House press room… But give Reagan a TelePromTer (sic)… and he can communicate without ambiguity and, in the process, sell you a defense budget that will reduce you to rags or a Nicaragua policy that will curl more than your hair.” Countless erroneous facts and figures emanated from Reagan’s mouth, of which Donaldson provided numerous examples.

In the late 1980’s, Reagan held political rallies whose attendees “… had to apply for tickets from local Republican organizations, and people who were not already true believers, didn’t get them.” Some things never change.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on Donaldson and his generation of TV journalism in Washington, D.C.

Putin

The Book of the Week is “Putin, His Downfall and Russia’s Coming Crash” by Richard Lourie, published in 2017. This slightly sloppily edited volume had strange capitalizations in spots. It was actually more about Russia’s history and recent fossil fuels situation in connection with its allies and enemies, than with its dictatorial leader who started his third term in May 2012.

Born in 1952, Putin grew up in a family that was friendly with Stalin. His father was a spy. He was told that the easiest way to get recruited by the KGB was to go to law school, so he did. He did stints in Leningrad and Dresden. At the tail end of the 1980’s, when the German Democratic Republic was in its last throes, almost all of KGB’s Dresden office’s records were burned. In January 1990, Putin returned to Moscow. Unemployed. Then worked on his doctoral thesis, a portion of which he acquired through plagiarism.

By August 1991, Putin saw which way the wind was blowing, and resigned from the KGB. Poland had been damn near bankrupted by a radical economic program called shock capitalism, imposed upon it by Western Ivy Leaguers. Between 1990 and 1994, in Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, economist Anatoly Chubais forced the same harmful transition on Russians.

Due to rampant inflation, Russians had to sell everything they owned in order to be able to afford food. The United States sent food aid to Russia. In early 1992, a food voucher system was started.

However, Putin signed contracts with food suppliers who raked in big bucks but failed to deliver the food. It is unclear whether Putin knew or cared that those suppliers were crooks, or that Russians were starving. For, rather than personally profiting, he was more interested in attracting foreign financial aid that would modernize Russia, and in collecting long-term valuable political contacts.

In October 1993, Yeltsin ordered Russian troops to fire on protestors (whom the media claimed wanted to bring back Communism) in front of Moscow’s Parliament building. There were tens of deaths.

It was actually a small number of politically astute crooks who conspired with Putin to loot the country. His career took a turn for the better in 1999, when he convinced Yeltsin via blackmail (apparently still a “thing” these days) to step down and let him become Russia’s supreme leader starting in 2000. Once in power, Putin actually kick-started the Russian economy by nationalizing oil companies, and taking control of the gas industry and television.

Read the book to learn of Russia’s aggressive stances on: the Ukraine, the Crimea, former Soviet satellites and former Republics, China, and the Arctic [hint– the extremely likely probability of a catastrophic oil spill, and decades of actual irradiation from nuclear dumping make the Arctic a less than ideal place for a land grab]; the effects of economic sanctions imposed on Russia; and the alleged role of cybercrime in the 2016 presidential election in the United States.

The Class

The Book of the Week is “The Class, A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America” by Heather Won Tesoriero, published in 2018. Despite its sensationalist title, this volume provided a fascinating inside look at one program at an elitist school where brainy kids prepared to fiercely compete for big money and prestige on the high-school science-fair circuit.

The cliche of the baking soda/vinegar volcano as a winning project at the science fair ended decades ago. A Greenwich Connecticut school offers a specific course for self-starting kids passionate about science, whose sole purpose is providing resources– experimental equipment, materials and supervising teacher– with which to enter science fairs.

The author related about ten of the kids’ experiences in the form of vignettes– their personally chosen projects and whether they won an award, personal details of their homes lives, prom adventures, and college acceptances or rejections, etc., roughly over the course of the 2016-2017 academic year, with backstories.

The supervising teacher of the class, who had previously acquired a couple of decades of scientific experience in private industry, had hand-picked the lucky 48 applicants from different grades who partook of this unique opportunity.

They got access to his guidance and professional scientific devices that even well-funded school districts don’t have. Yet another reason Malcolm Gladwell might brand them “outliers” is that some of the chosen students were younger siblings of ones who had gone before.

Most of the science fairs or prizes thereof are funded by corporations and benefactors with big names, such as Google, Intel, Amazon, Xerox, United Technologies, etc.

A great irony is that the event itself is called a science fair when in reality, there were instances mentioned by the author in which the judging of projects was thought to be unfair by the teacher, contestants or their parents. The reasons that certain entries won awards and others did not, were unexplained.

The real reasons would have to be revealed in litigation–probably beyond the scope of this book. It must be said that the author did not mention any litigation.

Nevertheless, since major business entities are running the show, the projects must certainly be seen in terms of their commercial applications, not just in terms of their potential for societal good, like curing diseases or finding new sources of renewable energy.

For instance, one girl’s project that was passed over for an award involved computational biology. The software she coded was, with 80% accuracy, able to identify the most effective breast cancer drugs. Without question, that project had a very valuable commercial application that would open a Pandora’s box.

In another case, a boy who was competing for an “XPRIZE” was advised by his personal attorney to drop out of that contest. He was exceptional for various reasons, much more advanced than his classmates– already attempting to patent his work, and the kind who has the potential to be a future Nobel-prize winner.

At the other end of the spectrum, the author also wrote about kids who weren’t able to get their acts together, due to honest ineptitude. However, the author also related that, in previous years, there had been mean-spirited activity in the lab. In the documented academic year, there was cyberbullying by students and parents even in the science-fair community (!), borne of jealousy and whiny sour grapes expressed by the non-winners. Sadly, as is well known, the parents can be worse than the kids.

Read the book to learn of the triumphs and setbacks, trials and tribulations of the privileged kids and their teacher.

Code Name “Mary” – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Code Name ‘Mary’ – Memoir of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground” by Muriel Gardiner, published in 1983.

Born in 1901 in Chicago, the author inherited significant wealth from her father’s meat-packing business. However, her father died when she was twelve.

By the early 1920’s, the author, fluent in European languages, was studying in Rome. She was also active in the Socialist Defense League, an underground anti-Fascist political group. In October 1922, when the Fascists marched into the city, she and her friends didn’t take them seriously.

By the late 1920’s, she had moved to Vienna. It was a socialist city, with affordable housing, “…absence of slums, the clean streets, the well tended parks, and the beautiful Wienerwald – the Vienna Woods.” The people were pushing for national health insurance, “… something most Americans then considered absolutely immoral.”

There were then two major political parties in Austria. Each had their own militia. In July 1927, a literal battle between them resulted in a hundred deaths in protests, and the burning down of the Ministry of Justice.

The author was a social butterfly, traveling around Europe in the decades after she graduated from Wellesley College. She kept in touch with some of her fellow alumnae, and spoke with university students of different nations, such as Finland, Hungary and Bulgaria.

At a social gathering in Moscow in August 1932, they all thought Hitler was a harmless buffoon. Americans were too self-absorbed to worry about some clown an ocean away because they had their own serious financial troubles. The European students speculated that the Communists would take over Germany by 1933. Of course, compared to the author, they had grown up in an insular world, had read only Russian propaganda, and were engaging in wishful thinking.

Gardiner’s ultimate career goal was to become a teacher, but also a psychoanalyst in America. At that time, a medical degree (!) was required for the latter in the United States. The author had been psychoanalyzed by a disciple of Freud in Vienna, and become interested in the subject.

When Gardiner began medical school in the autumn of 1932, the anatomy department consisted of two separate sections: Jews and Socialists (some of whom were American), and Nazis. The latter physically attacked the former on various occasions. Because they could.

In the May 1932 election in Austria, Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss formed a Christian Socialist government. Nonetheless, having only one vote’s majority over the Nazis and Social Democrats, he still had to play nice with them.

By March 1933, power had gone to Dollfuss’s head. He declared a national emergency so that he could rule autocratically. He allied with Mussolini because France and England didn’t assist him with trying to head off the Anschluss. By the end of the year, there was only one political party in Austria.

The author’s social set, members of the underground, worked as clerks and posed as patrons at the local library so that they could convey seditious messages on slips of paper in the books they checked out.

In November 1937, many of the author’s contacts were arrested. Her boyfriend, whom she later married, escaped arrest because he happened to be out of town. The group recruited new members.

On a Friday night in March 1938, the Austrian government announced that the Anschluss was going into effect, in a live speech and via radio. “The noise of the low-flying planes together with the blaring of loudspeakers on the streets was deafening.”

The author was caught unawares and became quite agitated because she had illegal literature in her apartment. She burned some and flushed some down the toilet. Fortunately, that morning, she had withdrawn a lot of money, including American greenbacks from the local bank. She also had a large account in the Netherlands.

Gardiner served as an intermediary in helping get fake passports for members of the resistance movement to flee Austria. In mid-June 1938, Jews weren’t allowed to graduate alongside Aryans from Vienna Medical School. Their ceremony was postponed. It was a Nazi university, and the graduates had to salute Hitler with the raised arm.

Read the book to learn how Gardiner, her boyfriend and daughter fared during those turbulent years and beyond.

The Last Man Who Knew Everything

The Book of the Week is “The Last Man Who Knew Everything, The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Atomic Age” by David N. Schwartz, published in 2017.

Born to a wealthy family in September 1901 in Italy, Fermi was mentored in science by a colleague of his father, who worked for the railroad. This, after suffering the trauma of having his older brother die unexpectedly having throat surgery in 1914.

Fermi had a photographic memory, which helped to make him a brilliant student in mathematics and physics from studying textbooks. He was required to learn German too, to keep abreast of developments in the scholarly journals.

Fermi eventually became a physics professor at the University of Rome. His teaching gig, which he was also really good at, lasted from 1926 to 1938. He married in July 1927 and several years later, he wrote, and his wife edited and translated, a high school physics textbook that became part of the standard high school curriculum in Italy.

Quantum statistical mechanics was his specialty. Athleticism was another. Fiercely competitive, he always outdid his colleagues in hiking and climbing the hills around Rome. He became well traveled, thanks to attendance at international physics conferences. Some were hosted in the United States, which had better research funding than his native country.

By the late 1920’s, Fermi had cofounded a world-class nuclear physics research institute in Rome. The first entering class consisted of three graduate students. The younger generation was reflecting on new quantum theories to which the old-school Italian physicists were resistant. Fermi was in the former group.

In spring 1929, Mussolini selected members, of which Fermi was one, for an elite scientific society. He offered them big money so that they would do Italy proud (like academic and athletic scholarships bestowed upon fiercely competitive students, dispensed by elitist schools in the United States nowadays).

In the early 1930’s, Fermi supervised scientists who traveled internationally to different labs to learn from their fellow Europeans; yet they also competed with physicists at prestigious institutions in Berlin, Paris, Berkeley in California, and Cambridge in England.

In October 1934, Fermi’s team discovered that “…slowing down neutrons enhanced the radioactivity induced by neutron bombardment.” In connection therewith, he applied for a patent in Italy and the United States. He got a new lab.

By 1936, Mussolini was finding that invading Ethiopia was an expensive proposition. He began to depend on financial aid from Nazi Germany. By summer 1938, Hitler had control over ruining careers of Jews in licensed professions, civil servants, and white collar jobs in Italy.

In late 1938, after much red tape and worrisome scheming, Fermi and his wife (who had been deemed Jewish) escaped Italy first for the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm, at which he took his trophy and money, and then for the United States. He ended up working at Columbia University.

At a Washington, D.C. conference in January 1939, physicists announced they had figured out how to produce fission, the process required to detonate an atomic bomb. Some were concerned that if Hitler’s scientists got hold of such knowledge, he would order mass destruction of his enemies before they could stop him. Fermi felt there was a low probability that Germany could build such a device. But Fermi was persuaded to share the thereafter-secret formula with the United States Navy. This would show his loyalty to America at a time when Italy was not exactly America’s ally.

Read the book to learn the parties involved with, locations of, trials and tribulations regarding, and Fermi’s role in the Manhattan Project; what Fermi did thereafter; and the Edward Teller/J. Robert Oppenheimer dispute, plus other physics-related occurrences up until Fermi’s death.

The Defense Never Rests – BONUS POST

The  Bonus Book of the Week is “The Defense Never Rests” by F. Lee Bailey with Harvey Aronson, published in 1971. This is the career memoir of a criminal defense attorney best known for the Sam Sheppard and Boston Strangler cases.

Born in 1933, Bailey served in the Marines, and later started practicing law at a firm in Boston. He became a polygraph-test expert, and later argued that test results should have been admissible in all courts. When he started his career in 1961, Massachusetts law still required that in court, a murder suspect be confined to a wire cage.

Read the book to learn of various cases litigated by the author, including those of Sam Sheppard and the Boston Strangler and his own, when he found himself in trouble (not for murder, though). Perhaps that is why he provided no: Notes, Bibliography, Sources, References or Index in this book, although he did provide verbatim excerpts of court transcripts.

Into the Raging Sea

The Book of the Week is “Into the Raging Sea, Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro” by Rachel Slade, published in 2018. This sloppily proofread volume recounts a suspenseful, emotionally charged story about a rare but preventable epic fail. It is a cautionary tale of how TOO MUCH DEREGULATION in the shipping industry turned out to be penny-wise and pound foolish.

Just as a little bit of socialism is good (in the form of public libraries and the like), too much socialism is bad. So too– some deregulation might be good, but too much deregulation leads to conflicts, corruption, monopolies and crashes (financial and physical). With the ship El Faro, one thing led to another: Getting rid of pesky laws that hindered commerce ultimately increased the risk of deaths, as will be explained.

All the money the government and El Faro‘s owner thought they were “saving” with the help of deregulation, was wasted in the accident in various, extremely high costs– rescue-resources, the emotional toll taken on all of the parties involved, litigation, etc. What happened to the ship showcased the extremes of human nature– greed and hubris of shipping-company executives and their accomplices (politicians) versus the braving of life-threatening conditions, by rescuers trying to prevent deaths in the disaster.

At the beginning of October 2015, El Faro was hauling commercial cargo heading for San Juan in Puerto Rico, but ended up in the path of hurricane Joaquin. The whole voyage was one long cluster screw-up.

For starters, the shipping industry had an abusive, hierarchical culture. There had been a long period of deregulation starting in the 1970’s in the interest of political expedience and profit-seeking; safety be damned. But by the 2010’s in the shipping industry, the gravy train was over.

Due to the safety crackdown, El Faro‘s corporate owner had been doing some lean and mean cost-cutting in connection with all of its holdings, at the expense of vessels and their personnel. El Faro had been grandfathered in under older regulations that made its long-term seaworthiness doubtful. But it was lucrative enough not to be scrapped.

Architecturally, the ship had been designed for speed rather than safety, and the physical arrangement of the cargo caused the ship to ride low in the water, and list in rough seas. Rushed workers sloppily loaded the cargo– consisting of cars and other heavy, unwieldy items, and they weren’t entirely secure (both the workers and cargo). The ship’s anemometer was broken. But for deregulation, the government would have taken the ship’s owners to task on these and various other accident-prevention issues.

During this, El Faro‘s last voyage, in which it encountered a horrific storm, the captain could pick and choose from a few different sources of weather forecasts. He happened to choose the most outdated one, unbeknownst to him. Nevertheless, he stubbornly refused to consider any others, or significantly change the ship’s route, even when his subordinates tried to tell him about storm data from other sources. He needed to please his bosses, whom he knew preferred that he get the ship to its destination ASAP, to minimize costs. In transportation, time is money.

Also, the captain lacked social graces. Not only that, he was a survivalist, one of those nutjobs who was prepared for the end of the world, with weaponry and provisions and planned to defend himself if necessary, against other survivalists. Thanks to deregulation, he was still employed.

The sleep-deprived chief mate of the ship was a new employee, just getting to know the captain, so he was eager to impress him and reluctant to question his authority. The second mate was psychologically weary of her job.

Other ship workers were less than loyal, as they had no job security. To add insult to injury, racial tension pervaded the ranks. To boot, the ship was understaffed.

To be fair, the storm formed faster than anyone had anticipated. But obviously, TOO MUCH DEREGULATION played a major role in the incident.

As an aside, “It’s an open secret in the meteorological community that the ECMWF [the European weather service and hurricane software modeler] is consistently better than the NWS [American National Weather Service and hurricane software modeler].” The former collects more data worldwide and gets more funding than the latter. (Apparently, whenever a storm is brewing near the United States, the American weather media still show the projected route of the American model, as a point of pride).

Read the book to learn: other disturbing lessons; the fate of the ship; and fascinating details of the investigation.