The Education of A Woman

The Book of the Week is “The Education of A Woman, The Life of Gloria Steinem” by Carolyn G. Heilbrun, published in 1995.

Born in March 1934, Gloria Steinem was raised in an unconventional household. Her formal education was spotty due to the seasonal livelihood of her parents. They ran a summer resort at Clark Lake, Ohio, and traveled by recreational vehicle to warm climates, such as California or Florida, in the winters. Care of her mentally ill mother was left to her, as her sister Suzanne was nine years older than she was.

Her father was a carefree spendthrift, an obese, bibliophilic dreamer; her mother, a nervous Nellie. However, the former took her seriously and conversed with her as he did an adult. When she was eleven, her parents divorced. She lived with her mother in East Toledo, Ohio. In poverty.

Steinem rebelled against the statistically likely role of her gender in her generation: get married, raise children, do housework and serve her husband. Fortunately, her family was sufficiently interested in her higher education to provide for her Smith College tuition by selling a house. Steinem majored in government.

When Steinem finally began the life she wanted to live, it was like her father’s. No nine-to-five job (which meant intermittent income) and tax evasion. Steinem assisted Clay Felker with the founding of New York magazine. But she was best known for co-founding and being the mouthpiece for Ms. magazine starting at the tail end of 1971.

Other career highlights included assisting with the candidacies of Normal Mailer and Jimmy Breslin for New York City mayor and New York city council president, respectively. Theirs was sort of a joint venture.  Together, they proposed that the metropolitan area and adjacent regions become the 51st state of America. They also floated the idea of banning cars– to be replaced by a public monorail that would grace the perimeter of Manhattan while small crosstown buses shuttled the remaining city occupants to and fro.

Unsurprisingly, Mailer hired Steinem because he wanted to have sex with her. Anyway, the media harped on all the dalliances with the many men Steinem had during her career. In this way and many others, the media were actually a hindrance to the feminist movement. For another, they had many a field day with the cat fights of the females in the movement.

As a successful public figure, Steinem inevitably generated jealousy. She insightfully wrote, “Just as men victimize the weak member of their group, women victimize the strong one.” Also, “The greater part of sexual harassment in the workplace occurs between powerful men and less powerful women.” Not only males, but certain females, such as Betty Friedan and Elizabeth Forsling Harris gave Steinem trouble through the years.

Harris had “borderline personality disorder”– she was a narcissistic attention whore with anger management issues, who made unreasonable demands. She created a hostile work environment at Ms. magazine. Sadly, Steinem was too nice when it came to such people. She was non-confrontational and tolerated Harris’ behavior for too long.

Steinem crisscrossed the country giving speeches on feminism. Her anger about the treatment of women emerged in her commencement speech to the Smith College Class of 1971.

In late 1977, Steinem began a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson Center, using her time to plan a feminism book. The feminist cause helped the civil rights cause and vice versa. The book was sorely needed by America; for, all but one of the Center’s executives were white men, all the secretaries were white women, all the cleaning personnel who operated machines (like floor waxers) were black men, and all other cleaners were black women.

The author put her two cents in: “The environment must become a paramount consideration on a planet hideously misused by male ambitions of domination, exploitation, and arrogance.”

Read the book to learn why the feminist community and Ms. were always embattled financially and ideologically, and much more about Steinem’s awakening in her later years.

A Good Fight – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “A Good Fight” by Sarah Brady With Merrill McLoughlin, published in 2002. This is the autobiography of a secondary victim of firearms-violence turned gun-control activist in the United States.

Sarah’s husband, Jim, had just begun to serve as press secretary for President Ronald Reagan. In March 1981, Jim was caught in the crossfire– shot in the head– in the assassination attempt on Reagan. Jim required extensive medical care, having sustained brain damage that resulted in paralysis of his legs and other ongoing quality-of-life complications.

What sparked an interest in gun-control advocacy in Sarah Brady, a lifelong Republican, was an incident during the summer of 1985 involving the cavalier attitude of adults in her husband’s hometown (Centralia, IL) about firearms. People had guns casually lying around, giving children easy (accidental, but deadly) access. Of course, adults, too, who get a gun can kill someone. It is harder if they don’t have a gun.

Reagan’s would-be assassin might have been denied access to his .22 caliber weapon if the-then gun laws had required a background check on him. When he bought it in a pawn shop in Dallas, he gave a fake address and showed an outdated Texas driver’s license.

The 1968 Gun Control Act was rendered useless when gun makers found a loophole in it. Importing of “Saturday night specials” was banned, but importing of their parts wasn’t. So the guns were assembled upon arrival at the factory and sold in this country.

Sarah initially volunteered to help a nonprofit group called Handgun Control, which pushed for gun-control legislation. In 1986, it put forth the Brady Bill, which would close the loopholes in the existing laws and  require background checks on gun buyers. It did not try to ban anyone from buying or possessing firearms altogether. State laws diverged significantly in working on gun control legislation, due to pressures imposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other groups.

Sarah explicitly wrote that she wasn’t pushing to eliminate the Second Amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights. She began speech-making at universities, city clubs and civic organizations.

In 1988, Handgun Control successfully lobbied to ban (non-metal) handguns able to fool metal detectors at airports. The group received invaluable assistance from Senator Nancy Kassebaum, Republican from Kansas. Sarah mentioned various other politicians, helpful and obstructionist. The vast majority showed her minimum courtesy by returning her telephone calls. Not then-Congressman Dick Cheney from Wyoming. Never.

George H.W. Bush claimed that he “so admired” the work Handgun Control was doing. However, a major campaign donor of his, the NRA, prevented him from acting on that sentiment to support the Brady Bill in any way, shape or form in 1989, when it still had yet to pass Congress.

Sarah delivered a speech at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Childish, vicious hecklers with poor impulse control shouted her down, screaming “Liar, liar!!!” Law enforcement officers did nothing to eject them, but had semi-automatic weapons at the ready– in case they got violent. And people wonder why there are so many shooting sprees in the United States.

One small way that shooting sprees could possibly be reduced would be to regulate hate speech and threats on social media. If, pursuant to a legal definition of “hate speech” and “threats” the perpetrators of hate speech and threats could be not only banned, but deemed to be breaking the law (if they mention weaponry in their messages)– then law enforcement would have probable cause to obtain a warrant to search their homes and workplaces for weaponry that is unlicensed or was obtained through dishonest means. Thus, if executed carefully, such a chain of events wouldn’t be a Fourth Amendment violation. It is unclear at this time whether this would be a Federal or State matter.

Read the book to learn why 1994 was a banner year for gun-control advocates, about disputes on concealed weapons, about a 1997 ruling of the U. S. Supreme Court, why a background check on American gun buyers in almost half of the states is not really thorough, and much more about Sarah.

Herbert Hoover/Hubert Humphrey

The Books of the Week are “Herbert Hoover, A Life” by Glen Jeansonne with David Luhrssen, published in 2016 and “Hubert Humphrey, A Biography” by Carl Solberg, published in 1984. Both of these slightly sloppily edited, structurally flawed– redundant– volumes described charismatic, liberal twentieth-century politicians. The Republican and Democratic leaders respectively were blamed for major adverse historical events over which they had largely no control.

The Humphrey book’s last chapter summarized all of its previous contents. This chapter would be a good reading assignment for a college class, as it provided a substantive overview of the man’s political career.

Sadly, Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression are inseparable whenever either is mentioned, due to vicious scapegoating. Yet, “Hoover fed an estimated 83 million people and was doubtless responsible for saving more lives than any individual in history.” Additionally, “Hoover took responsibility for errors and shunned credit helping to develop ties of trust in both directions.”

Born in 1874 in Iowa, Hoover grew up in a Quaker family in an agricultural community. He enjoyed outdoor farm chores better than school. His father died of typhus when he was six; his mother, of pneumonia when he was nine. In his teens, he moved to the Oregon home of his uncle, a medical doctor.

Hoover was in the first graduating class of Stanford University. Eventually, he successively managed large mining operations in various nations, that provided raw materials for weaponry. Thus, his vast wealth continued to snowball at an even faster pace with the start of WWI.

Ironically, Hoover was a humanitarian. In the nineteen-teens, he got permission from warring nations to deliver food to Germany-occupied Belgium to ward off famine there; northern France, too. Germany conceded because it feared that if Belgium starved, the United States might enter the war. Further, Hoover made sure that he, as the leader of the privately funded group that transported the food, refrained from engaging in war profiteering. The group boasted only one percent fixed costs, and when it was dissolved, donated its $35 million surplus to colleges in Belgium, as well as to a Belgian-American exchange program. To top it off, Hoover collected no salary.

Hoover was able to make Americans feel proud that they helped the Allies win the war by not wasting food in their own country. They internalized Hoover’s message via radio, newsreels, feature films and celebrity appearances from May 1917 through April 1919. Then in 1921, he began a food program for the Soviets. According to the author, “After the Great Engineer morphed into perhaps the greatest secretary of commerce in history, he was noted for his kind treatment of everyone who worked for him, as was the case when he became president.”

Hoover was a conservative capitalist– advocating a low income tax to aid business activities but high estate taxes to prevent perpetuities. Tax cuts, plus new technologies in the utilities, entertainment and automotive industries fueled tremendous economic growth between 1922 and 1928. Hoover convinced president Calvin Coolidge to let him meddle in all government affairs, in addition to his own domain– domestic and international commerce.

When Coolidge declined to run for reelection in the summer of 1927, Hoover let his friends speak for him in public about how great a president he himself would be. Those friends included all manner of journalists, authors, college communities, senators, business leaders, etc. Upon his election, he collected no government pay and he paid all his own expenses, including those covering White House entertainment.

Hoover filed more antitrust lawsuits than under any president before him. However, “By 1929, some of the nation’s most eminent businessmen– including Joseph P. Kennedy, Bernard Baruch, and Herbert Hoover– began to quietly divest themselves of stocks.”

In 1928, the world was heading for economic disaster for several reasons. American bankers lent money to European governments at usurious interest rates because they could, and Central and Eastern European governments sold bonds at interest rates they couldn’t possibly afford to make good on, because they needed to– debt from WWI was sky-high for a lot of countries.

The war had produced widespread destruction and serious shortages of resources of all kinds. American citizens were going crazy engaging in short-term trading rather than long-term investing in the stock market. There were massive political upheavals in Russia, Asia, Europe and Latin America. A government cannot create wealth, it can only redistribute it.

When the Depression hit, Hoover attempted to help Americans, even at political cost to himself. He argued that local and state governments rather than the federal government, should provide financial aid to their people because they knew their local residents’ needs better than the latter.

Read the book to learn the outcomes of Hoover’s arms-control summits; how he dealt with WWI veterans who demanded that their bonuses be paid early; why he was against the New Deal; the idealistic goal of Stanford’s Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, which he founded; and much more.

Born in May 1911 in a small town in Minnesota, Hubert Humphrey graduated first of sixteen students from his high school class. Due to his family’s dire financial situation, he was forced to become a druggist in his family’s store for several years. He then was able to get married and attend the University of Minnesota. In  order to afford school, he did all different low-level odd jobs while he took one and a half times the course load of normal students. He wanted to go to graduate school but his first child put the kibosh on that.

Skilled at debating and delivering speeches, Humphrey was pressured by friends and colleagues into becoming a politician rather than a teacher. In 1945, he was elected mayor of Minneapolis. Part of his platform from the get-go, and throughout his career was civil rights. Workaholic that he was, when running for the U.S. Senate in 1948, he traveled to all 87 of Minnesota’s counties at least twice– 31,000 miles, making seven hundred speeches. He hardly ever saw his growing family.

Humphrey was pro-union but he was no Communist. At the same time, in 1951 he agreed with Senator William Benton of Minnesota that Joseph McCarthy was using “Hitler’s Big Lie techniques.” In summer 1953, he took a page from Herbert Hoover’s playbook by creating an organization that used surplus crop yields from Minnesota to feed the hungry peoples of foreign nations.

Unfortunately, beginning in early 1966, when he was vice president, Humphrey became President Lyndon Johnson’s slavish mouthpiece on Vietnam. He visited the war zone and got it in his head that China was provoking aggression against the U.S. He had developed the same hubris syndrome as the president.

In late winter 1968, the controlling Johnson (finally, inconsiderately) withdrew from the presidential campaign. It was Humphrey’s turn to run for the head job. He was able to raise funds from wealthy sources who hated Robert Kennedy. But his campaigns had and always would have shoestring budgets. And after Kennedy was shot, Humphrey donors switched their allegiance to Republicans.

The two remaining Democratic candidates, Humphrey and Gene McCarthy, had survivor’s guilt. Psychologically, Johnson was like a father figure to the former, and he couldn’t, and didn’t become his own man until many years later.

One campaign promise Humphrey finally made in late September 1968, was to stop the bombing of Vietnam if the demilitarized zone was restored. The book’s author wrote that the “China Lobby” was again interfering with an American presidential election, as it had in 1948. In the earlier year, the China Lobby consisted of a “shadowy coterie of exiles and lobbyists” who sought to elect a Republican rather than reelect the Democrat Harry Truman because a Republican would be more likely to reverse U.S. policy and help Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek become the clear-cut, recognized leader of China. Well, it didn’t work. But, according to the author, the China Lobby’s activities worked in 1968.

A high-level Nixon campaign staff member named Madame Anna Chan Chennault pulled strings with the president of South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu, convincing him to concoct some last-minute objections to peace negotiations– adding conditions for stopping the bombing– as an excuse for boycotting talks in Paris. Thieu was teasing Humphrey and made him lose to Nixon because Humphrey couldn’t tell American voters that he could stop the bombing. Thieu thought Nixon would give him more of what he wanted. In late October, Johnson– still president at the time– tacitly conspired with Nixon. Johnson wouldn’t allow Humphrey to attend the  meeting with Nixon and George Wallace where they talked to Thieu via conference call.

However, a week before election day, Johnson– no skin off his nose– did attend Humphrey’s rally at the Houston Astrodome to say nice things about him. The candidate thought that three things were required for him to get elected: a robust economy, a possibility that the (evil) Nixon could win (which voters would chafe at), and peace in Vietnam. The third thing was obviously lacking.

Humphrey was made aware of the China Lobby situation before election day. But he naively thought that Nixon didn’t know of Madame Chennault’s influence on President Thieu. His magnanimous nature led him to omit mention of the conspiracy against himself in his speeches to voters.

Early on election day, California governor Jesse Unruh lied to voters, telling them that Humphrey would win California. So lots of voters who believed him didn’t bother to vote– they thought Humphrey had won already.

Read the book to learn of many more anecdotes regarding Humphrey’s too-nice nature, and much more about his whole life.

On Trial

The Book of the Week is “On Trial” by Gerald Dickler, published in 1993. This book described thirteen of the most famous court cases in the history of the world. These cases show that there’s nothing new under the sun. Political and religious battles will never cease, due to human nature.

Socrates was tried in 399 B.C. in Athens, when he was seventy. A scholarly wiseass, Socrates believed that most members of Greece’s government were “…crude politicians lacking in wisdom and ill-equipped for high office … I found that the men most in repute were all but the most foolish, and that others less esteemed were really wiser and better.”

Sad to say, some of the personality traits that cause one to be perceived as a good leader and popular are also those that inevitably leads to unethical behavior: dishonesty (also known as public relations), greed (fundraising and pork-barrel-amassing abilities), power hunger (perhaps perceived as taking charge), and bullying (perceived as refusing to suffer fools gladly- or avenging others on the politician’s behalf). In government, people in possession of the above are handsomely rewarded.

Granted, most political candidates run with the best of intentions. However, when they get elected, they realize how fraught with conflicts of interest the job is and can’t help but be hypocrites if they want to get reelected. Excuse the cliche, but fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.

Andrew Johnson wasn’t careful with what he wished for. He was promoted from vice president to president after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. He was a Democrat from the South, post-civil war, outnumbered by Republicans from the North, whose goal was to continue rubbing salt into the wounds of the South. The Republicans were mean of spirit, petty and vengeful. They tried to get an impeachment case together first against Lincoln, and then actually voted concerning  Johnson. That means that they voted to have a trial to remove the president from office.

With Johnson, the key question was, “Was the Senate sitting as a court or as a legislative body?” The trial took place in 1868.

People put on trial on political grounds also included King Charles I of England, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the Reichstag fire perpetrator (for an alleged Communist plot).

Jesus was put on trial for blasphemy. His philosophy happened to clash with that of powerful capitalists and religious leaders in his community. The fact that Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Messiah was the charge on which he was convicted, though.

Galileo was yet another figure who was seen as a heretic, in 1633. Unfortunately, he was trying to teach science in a time of extreme religious strife. The advancement of science occurred after his death, when the religious craziness had subsided and logic and reason came into vogue. More observations led scientists to adopt the heliocentric model of the solar system– that the planets revolve around the sun; not the earth, and not around Pope Urban VIII or any other pope.

Some cases were both religious and political:  John T. Scopes, Nuremberg and Dreyfus.

Dreyfus was a French army captain perceived to be Jewish. He was accused to spying on behalf of the enemy Germany in the 1890’s. Upon his court-martial, he was imprisoned forthwith for more than a decade while a huge number of people jumped on the bandwagon of anti-Semitic hatred-spewing; random events also conspired against him. The case involved hundreds of phony anti-Dreyfus documents, a rumor mill, rioting, looting, etc., etc.

Many of the above trials can be summed up thusly: “As so often happens, the hysteria ground to a halt through its own excesses.”

Read the book to learn more about the court cases– that became very, very famous internationally– because they had far-reaching consequences in history.