All Day – BONUS POST

The Book is “All Day, A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island” by Liza Jessie Peterson, published in 2017. This is a personal account of a “starving artist” who became a jail-school teacher to support herself.

The author wrote that she initially did a stint at Rikers Island (the famous jail in New York City) as a substitute teacher in spring 2008 for three weeks. She was then hired full-time in the autumn to teach a pre-GED (the then-high-school equivalency exam) class of youths awaiting transfers or releases.

The author described in detail what went on in the classroom and how she was able to relate to, and inspire her students to try to turn their lives around. The teenage students had had troubled home lives and some had committed truly serious crimes.

In mid-autumn 2008, the teachers at the school got an ultimatum to teach the “rubric” curriculum. There were specific (unrealistic) time allotments for different activities during a period. The clueless educrats who were imposing the new, draconian, inscrutable system weren’t even American education consultants. The author wrote they were from Australia (!)

Further, the author was spot-on in her description of the changes to education in recent decades, “Just follow the dollars. There is a rush to incarcerate rather than educate. The pipeline is clear… overcrowded, under-resourced classrooms. Outdated textbooks. Overworked, underpaid teachers…”

Read the book to learn of the multiple frustrations, traumas and triumphs the author claimed to have lived, in a dark, stressful, depressing place.

ENDNOTE: Peterson ended up resigning in early February of 2009, to maintain her sanity, and to work at a job with at-risk youths. So it was not an entire “year” as in the book’s title. Also, her terminology was outdated for the time in which claimed she taught. She mentioned “correctional officers,” “Board of Education,” and “superintendent” whom she named as Cami Anderson. The reason for this was unclear, as the newer terms would have shown that she really had taught those kids like she said she did. It does matter for the fact that the book was supposedly nonfiction– her own personal account. She should have honestly told the reader it was someone else’s experience, as told to her. This way, she wouldn’t appear to be another Janet Cooke of Washington Post fame. Too bad, because the author’s descriptions rang true about life for the sector of society she had witnessed and was attempting to assist.

Made In America

The Book of the Week is “Made in America” by Peter Ueberroth with Richard Levin and Amy Quinn, published in 1985. This book described what happened when Ueberroth became president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee which planned the summer games in 1984.

Ueberroth was elected in early 1979. He immediately had to begin to direct the preparations for the events due to the large scale of the ceremonies and athletic competitions to come. Eventually, thousands of people would work behind the scenes in finance, security, transportation, revenue raising (sponsorship), site selection, etc. in order to optimally enhance the image of the United States in the eyes of the world. Just some of the resources involved “…27 stadiums and facilities located in three states, nine counties, and 29 cities– including satellite soccer sites in Palo Alto, Boston and Annapolis… tougher than staging ten Super Bowls a day for sixteen straight days.”

Ueberroth had previously been a successful entrepreneur, running a travel business. As Los Angeles Olympic Committee president, he had to work with a board of directors consisting of 62 members of the committee, comprised of a few Olympians, and many local bureaucrats and businesspeople.

Numerous Los Angeles taxpayers strongly favored private rather than government funding of the Olympics. They forced the Committee to strictly adhere to soliciting donations from private sources. This was just one of many instances in which Ueberroth became a prime target of people’s wrath in connection with the Olympics. A group of radical aforementioned taxpayers went so far as to kill his two family dogs with poisoned meat. As the planning process progressed, he, his wife and four children were subjected to constant harassment and even death threats.

Everyone was banging down Ueberroth’s door with demands, complaints, suggestions and ideas. He had to worry about teams whose diplomatic relations with other nations were less than ideal, such as Turkey. An exception was made for it and Israel to allow them to hire their own security services.

The security of teams traveling from their accommodations to their various sports venues had to be tight all the way. For example, between UCLA in Westwood (site of accommodations) and Anaheim (the venue), law enforcement jurisdictions included the state police, the Los Angeles Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and the Anaheim Police Department if all went well. If there was a detour, other agencies might have to join in.

Folks who wished to express their dissatisfaction had a Constitutional right to assemble outside the grounds of the athletic venues; the job of security was to protect the people inside.

American President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev were conducting arms-reduction negotiations at the same time that the Soviets were pushing to get special advantages for their own athletes. The Soviet Union was spouting propaganda so as to be seen as a freedom-loving sovereignty while keeping its athletes on a short leash to prevent their defections.

Not only that, Ueberroth hoped to minimize unexpected, expensive mishaps out of his control like labor strikes, natural disasters and sponsorship fickleness, not to mention diplomatic power struggles. The rules were more or less dictated by the Olympic Charter in an American presidential election year, in which, eventually 140 nations participated, the highest number up to that time.

Read the book to learn of the subsequent actions of other countries due to the Soviet Union’s behavior and the infinite headaches that Ueberroth had to deal with in organizing the Olympic games.

A Lawyer’s Life – BONUS POST

The Book of the Week is “A Lawyer’s Life” by Johnnie Cochran With David Fisher, published in 2002. This is obviously the autobiography of Johnnie Cochran, of O.J. Simpson defense-attorney fame.

Born in 1938, he grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana and Los Angeles, California. Cochran never saw a piece of legal business he didn’t like. He was passionate about the law, handling or assisting with, cases of various practice areas. He conveniently forgot to mention that he wasn’t licensed to practice law in New York State or other states, so he glozed over that by saying he preferred to work with a legal team. He described a number of non-California litigation cases where he was asked to join the team– slap his sensational name on a case– merely for publicity purposes, to scare the opposition. He explicitly stated, “…the one thing I bring to every case in which I get involved is the media.”

When he started practicing law in the 1960’s, the system was rife with discrimination against poor people, who happened to not have light-colored skin. He wrote of those days (sarcastically), “Apparently, the police have an amazing ability to arrest only guilty people, they never make a mistake.”

Cochran was extremely busy after the Watts Riots in California in the mid-1960’s, and again after the South Central Los Angeles riots in the spring of 1992.

For three years, starting in 1997, Cochran was host or co-host of a show on Court TV out of New York that discussed legal issues. Some of the time, he read from a TelePrompTer like everyone else. Concurrent with that, he was helping to represent black plaintiffs who were victims of racial incidents in the city.

The then-mayor Rudy Giuliani tried to sweep police-brutality complaints under the rug. However, the Abner Louima case was too egregious to ignore, so he appointed a committee to research police brutality. A year later when its report was issued, he made excuses as to why no recommendations could be implemented. “Rudy Giuliani stayed as far away as possible from this case.” Further, “Most members of New York’s minority community did not believe the mayor ever acted in their interests.”

Cochran made a couple of rather naive statements showing his lack of historical knowledge; first, saying that the O.J. Simpson trial “… had created… law as entertainment.” and second, saying of the Latrell Sprewell case, “It was an ugly incident, and there had never been anything like it in sports.”

One tyro error to which Cochran admitted was a legal case in Buffalo, New York. He expressed his displeasure with the nature of the jury. Of course, the media twisted his words and the jury wasn’t sequestered. There was a chance that a newspaper headline had tainted the jury, but fortunately, nothing came of it.

Read the book to learn the details of diverse cases with which Cochran was involved. His goal was not only to make maximum money for himself and his client, but according to him, to effect change in a court/political/social system that made racial discrimination possible.

Devils on the Deep Blue Sea

The Book of the Week is “Devils on the Deep Blue Sea, The Dreams, Schemes and Showdowns that Built America’s Cruise-Ship Empires” by Kristoffer A. Garin, published in 2005.

As of the book’s writing, Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean were two holding companies that dominated the pleasure cruise industry. The chairman and CEO of the former controlled almost half of the passenger capacity.

The passenger capacity of one cruise ship skyrocketed from less than two hundred to seven hundred fifty in the decade after WWII. Vacation culture was changing from wintertime to year-round Caribbean jaunts. Miami, Florida was the place of embarkation.

In autumn 1965, a cruise fire caused 91 deaths, and put the industry on edge. Negligence and incompetence of the captain and crew were to blame. Nevertheless, even at that time, the travel company owner was able to weasel out of legal trouble because the ship was registered in Panama. He didn’t escape financial trouble thereafter, though.

In 1966, Miami got a new passenger terminal. The 1970’s saw the city’s docks fraught with organized crime, thanks to the port director. Starting in the late 1970’s, the TV show “Love Boat” significantly boosted the number of people of all ages who tried cruising. In 1981, the industry experienced labor trouble.

Read the book to learn how the industry evolved; how Ted Arison earned his less-than-stellar reputation; how business-savvy executives seeking to merge with or acquire distressed cruise-line assets did so through the decades, including the Princess Cruises saga; and the tax, employment and supply-chain tricks they use to maximize profits.

Madame President

The Book of the Week is “Madame President, The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf” by Helene Cooper, published in 2017.

In post-Civil War America, (White) slave owners who had secretly fathered offspring were afraid of further racial strife, so they sent manumitted slaves to Liberia. By the late 1860’s, there were 28 different ethnic groups living there.

Ellen Johnson was born in October 1938 in the country’s capital, Monrovia– ironically, a place that discriminates against dark-skinned people. Her mother was unusually lucky. Her mother’s poverty-stricken parents handed her off to foster care, where her fair skin was received favorably throughout her childhood. Johnson got her mother’s color. Her family predicted she would have a lucky life– a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Even so, Johnson had to endure the difficulties females faced in her culture. These included: an arranged marriage (that allowed polygamy for the husband), the expectation that she would bear children; physical abuse, and sex imposed by males against the wills of females of all ages.

Fortunately, Johnson bore four sons and her husband was an attorney. He and she had valuable social connections that allowed them the chance to study in the United States. Childcare was handled by extended relatives.

When Johnson-Sirleaf was thirty years old, she had had enough of the barbaric practices heaped upon Liberian people of her gender. She obtained a divorce. Right up until the courtroom hearing finalizing the split, she was phobic that her ex would retaliate yet again with even worse domestic violence than before. Divorcing was a radical step for a Liberian female. But she was exceptional; in her life, every special advantage she got led to another. Yet, most of her later achievements were done on her own merits– not as a result of marriage to a powerful man.

The Liberian government had one political party, the True Whig Party, whose members used the government as their personal piggy bank. By the early 1970’s, there was a very wide income/asset gap between the government officials and military thugs, and the unfortunate Liberian citizens; there was no middle class. The nation had been drained of its major resources, rubber and iron, which had been exported to foreign countries by profiteers.

Johnson was academically skilled and played well with others politically. She got a job with the Liberian Debt Service Department at Treasury, and then the Ministry of Finance while radical changes were afoot. She studied accounting, and later, public administration at Harvard. However, her public speech could be inflammatory, because she told the truth. She called the system a “kleptocracy– corrupt to the core.” At a later time, she warned that a peasant revolt was in the offing.

In 1971, the new nepotistic “president” of the country was switching benefactors, from the United States to the U.S.S.R. Allegedly, he was going to help the downtrodden and eliminate corruption. Yet he practiced cronyism on a royal scale and angered the civilian Liberian people in numerous other ways.

Read the book to learn how the tide turned eventually through the ugly events that transpired; how, more than once, Johnson was very nearly killed but instead encountered a checkered fate; and how the United States played a major part in her and Liberia’s survival, despite having blood on its hands.

See You in Court – BONUS POST

The Book of the Week is “See You in Court” by Thomas Geoghegan, published in 2007. The author, a labor lawyer in Illinois, argued in this short paperback that the decline of unions in the United States is responsible for all sorts of ills that were plaguing the nation at the book’s writing (and have gotten worse since), such as the replacing of the of Rule of Law, contract law, and anti-trust law– with tort litigation; the risk of the disappearance of retirement funds at the whim of employers, and the growing income gap between rich and poor.

The author failed to differentiate between unions in the private sector, and ones in the government. Beginning in the 1950’s, the unions in the private sector were becoming unnecessary with the way things were progressing in the United States.

Economics 101 says that a nation requires a healthy, well-educated workforce. Unions in the private sector discouraged upward mobility– why should workers want to acquire more training and edification in their careers if they were making a decent living and their jobs were protected? Unions in low-skilled positions especially, fostered complacency. Private-sector unions fostered a lazy, poorly educated nation of low-skilled employees who went to work to collect a paycheck.

By the 1990’s, non-union, private-sector employees needed no protection. Employee satisfaction gets the same score as customer service. Free-market competition usually kept employers in line.

If employees walked off the job en masse, other employers gladly accepted employees and business lost by the wayward employer. Customers and employees could go over to Wendy’s if McDonald’s was unsatisfactory, or to Target if Walmart didn’t deliver. Low pay and difficult working conditions should have encouraged fry cooks and greeters to go to school to get a better job.

In the early 20th century, there was a need to protect workers– who were easily subjected to exploitation because many workers were poorly skilled, poorly educated new immigrants. There was limited opportunity for education, and limited transportation options even if workers were willing to relocate to find a job. Into the 1990’s, workers had more resources than ever to find work or engage in professional improvement if they wanted to.

Unions are always needed in civil service and in a few monopolistic industries (such as couriers, transportation, education and healthcare services), because they are exceptional. They are providing essential services (health, education and welfare), or else the work they provide is a matter of life and death. Government employees who are providing essential services deserve due process, in exchange for not striking.  Striking is illegal, and rightly so. There would be massive economic and/or societal disruption, and possible deaths, if they were to walk off the job en masse. Therefore, civil service unions are a necessary evil.

The unions in the author’s day used to minimize the number of workers’ compensation claims, which have now become tort suits, in which the cause of action (grounds for suing) has become discrimination. Such suits are many more times complex than contract law. The legal bills for these suits keep soaring, as well. Pretrial discovery entails “fishing expeditions”– extremely intrusive investigations of, say, medical records and activities of the plaintiffs, so that the defendants can gain every possible legal advantage.

The author also ranted about various other issues. He wrote that hegemonic institutions such as nonprofit hospitals, Ivy League universities (which get billions of dollars in government grants) and nonprofit organizations sue people for nonpayment but get massive tax breaks themselves.

These entities get away with this because they are allowed to keep their accounting books secret– they file neither tax returns nor SEC documents. The author failed to specify how big a part of the U.S. economy this sector is. That situation has partially changed among the hospitals anyway (but not necessarily improved), due to Obamacare.

The author pointed out that “The more we deregulate, the less stability and civic trust we have… More and more it seems we don’t trust government, we don’t trust business, we don’t even trust each other.”

But– in the 2020’s, after the Trump administration has continued its predecessors’ policies to the extreme–  running the government like one big brand (the president’s own) while allowing monster-sized corporations to ruthlessly profit with regard to neither the workers nor various populations who will be victims of pollution, poor quality education, housing and healthcare– history will have come full circle. There will be a need for unions in the private sector again (!)

Read the book to learn of additional outrages that have arisen in recent decades, such as the replacement of litigation with arbitration imposed by big corporations, how the law has changed to allow widespread usury, why people are suing Social Security to collect disability payments that are rightfully theirs, and how overpaid CEO’s (a redundant phrase) are making U.S. companies’ products less competitive overseas.

The Year of the Goat

The Book of the Week is “The Year of the Goat, 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese” by Margaret Hathaway, published in 2007. This is an account of a couple’s journey to collect data for deciding whether they could and/or wanted, to become goat farmers to produce goat milk, cheese and/or meat for eating.

The author and her boyfriend were New Yorkers when the story started. They were seriously considering a major lifestyle change, realizing how stressful and unhealthy their lives had become.

The couple started their road trip in August 2003, driving around the United States, visiting goat-related events and places like festivals / auctions / conventions / races, farms and stores; even a college of veterinary medicine. They met hundreds of people in the industry.

Read the book to learn all the details and the results of their efforts– whether they took the plunge.