The Opposite of Woe / Square Peg

The First Book of the Week is “The Opposite of Woe, My Life in Beer and Politics” by John Hickenlooper with Maximillian Potter, published in 2016.

Born in February 1952, the author is a colorful character, having had a few different careers as businessman and politician. He plays well with others, but he claimed that persistence has been a major factor that has led to his successes in life.

Starting in 2003, Hickenlooper was elected mayor of Denver, and then governor of Colorado. In the book, he briefly described his activities in connection with a range of political issues. One issue had to do with illegal-immigrants, education and driver’s licenses.

While Hickenlooper was governor (2011 through 2018; he didn’t specify the year) he conditionally granted a college-tuition discount in Colorado to undocumented residents (as he called them), to encourage them to become better educated, as he thought that would help his state. Additionally, he conditionally also granted driver’s licenses to them.

The license applicants were required to purchase insurance just like everyone else, and– Hickenlooper claimed that the stakeholders on this issue agreed with him to have the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) charge those undocumented residents three times the fees that U.S. citizens paid.

Of course, the governor was raising more revenue than otherwise for Colorado. But– another aspect of this subject is that driving is expensive, so the DMV would be able to track only those immigrants who could afford to drive, and who desired to do so enough to jump through all the hoops to do it. And he was giving them an opportunity to widen their horizons by traveling more and doing things they couldn’t do otherwise.

Presumably, the kinds of people who are granted that chance, though, likely risked their lives in leaving their homeland to come to this country to seek a better life. Fear of being sent back to that place of oppression keeps them from misbehaving, and must have motivated them to make a living that allows them to be able to afford to drive.

Anti-immigrant propagandists rail that those undocumented residents committed a crime by crossing into the United States illegally. Then the propagandists wave around anecdotal evidence of additional crimes that a few or some of the residents have committed, so why should all of them be rewarded with opportunities for a better life when they don’t pay income tax? Therein lies the decades-old political football.

Those residents’ presence must have far-reaching, presumably sufficiently beneficial economic and political effects on the whole country, or else why wouldn’t politicians have already (years ago!) thought that it was worth the huge expenses to deport them in large numbers or build an extensive wall to keep them out of the United States, and have already done so?

Anyway, read the book to learn of Hickenlooper’s business ventures and adventures in business, and political accomplishments for which he considered himself responsible, plus depressing, traumatic occurrences that happened in Colorado during his administrations.

The Second Book of the Week is “Square Peg, Confessions of a Citizen Senator” by Orrin Hatch, published in 2002.

Against all odds, the Republican Hatch from Utah won his U.S. Senate race in 1976. He actually wrote more about a few different political events (with a Republican slant– omitting inconvenient details) that occurred during his career, than events that directly, personally affected him as a senator.

Hatch recounted that in spring 1978, the Senate launched a filibuster to block a bill that might have made the Democratic party outrageously powerful because unions would have gained the upper hand on management nationwide. He and his fellow coalition members whipped up five hundred amendments to the bill. He filed them with the Senate reporting clerk. “I could force the Senate to vote on each amendment filed prior to cloture, which together would take almost seven consecutive twenty-four hour sessions to complete… weeks or even months.”

At the time of the book’s writing, both houses of Congress proposed approximately 7,600 bills per session, about 440 of which, on average, became law. Read the book to learn of Hatch’s take on several political events of the last half century, and a few of his experiences in politics.

From Jailer to Jailed – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “From Jailer to Jailed, My Journey from Correction and Police Commissioner to Inmate #84888-054” by Bernard. B. Kerik, published in 2015.

While he was in prison, Kerik met many people whose punishments he felt were too severe or inappropriate (including his own, of course), given the crimes they’d committed.

The author recommended that all employees of the American justice system “…should have to spend seventy-two hours in the hole [solitary confinement in prison] to see what it’s like.” This way, the law enforcers would understand how psychologically damaging such punishment is, and might impose it with more discretion.

Throughout the book, Kerik repeatedly complained about the “… insane money our country wastes on incarcerating people who could be dealt with, punished in alternative ways.”

In May 2003, to the tune of $120 million compliments of American taxpayers, Kerik went to Iraq with a few tens of other men to try to rebuild a local law enforcement system modeled on the West’s notions of justice meted out for street crime.

Ten years later, Kerik realized it had been an epic fail. Saddam Hussein’s regime had sadistic cops administering torture at the drop of a hat, and Americans’ efforts to change their attitudes, even in the absence of Saddam, were too little and misguided, to put it generously.

In November 2007, thanks to viciously vengeful political enemies, Kerik was charged with sixteen counts’ worth of federal crimes. He felt the judge was outrageously unfair to him.

Read the book to learn of Kerik’s experiences and his well-informed suggestions for how to improve America’s criminal justice system.

The Autobiography… / Kingfish

The subject of the First Book of the Week wrote:

“In fact there is no unemployed. We got one hundred and twenty million people working overtime just repeating rumors.”

“If we ever pass out as a great nation, we ought to put on our tombstone ‘America died from a delusion that she had moral leadership.’ “

“We are used to having everybody named as Presidential candidates, but the country hasn’t quite got to the professional comedian stage.”

The above quotes were published in September 1931, June 1931, and January 1928.

The First Book of the Week is “The Autobiography of Will Rogers” published in 1949. The author’s original writings were presented as is, unedited, with his atrocious spelling and (folksy) grammatical errors.

Born in November 1879 in Oklahoma, Rogers was the youngest of seven children. He was a quick-tempered rebellious child, but super-talented with a rodeo lasso.

At seventeen, Rogers quit the military school in Missouri to which he was sent by his father to find a ranching job. He traveled to Western states to enter roping and riding contests, and provided entertainment at state fairs in the Midwest.

He and his friends posed as musicians (but were really shills) in a sixty-man band who interrupted the shows to rope steers.

Rogers traveled the world via boat, seeking international ranching gigs. He eventually found that Rio de Janeiro was better for that than London. South Africa wasn’t bad, either. In Australia, he joined the Wirth Brothers circus in Sydney.

Along around WWI, Rogers began doing stand-up comedy for Ziegfeld Follies, and the Midnight Frolic. His Henry Ford jokes were getting old before the new shows were launched every four months. His wife suggested that he joke about what he read in the papers.

So from then on, the amusing content of Rogers’ newspaper columns came from Congress. In a December 1934 column, he commented that young people lack life experience. That is why they can’t help but look toward their futures. Older folks look back because their pasts are always with them. “But we are both standing on the same ground, and their feet is there as firmly as ours.”

Read the book to learn of Rogers’ movie-acting and public-speaking careers, too, and much more about his life.

The Second Book of the Week is “Kingfish, The Reign of Huey P. Long” by Richard D. White, Jr., published in 2006.

Not to be confused with Huey Newton (or Huey Lewis), Huey Long was a composite of every successful power-hungry American politician who ever lived, if success is measured by the amount of power he acquired, given the offices he held.

Born in August 1893 in Louisiana, Long grew up one of nine children in a farming and ranching family. He was an avid reader and control freak. Expelled from high school his senior year, he got a series of sales jobs before trying law school for the second time in the autumn of 1914. He failed most of the classes but passed the oral bar exam for Louisiana in 1915.

While struggling to make a living at practicing law, Long knew he was a born politician. So on his second attempt, he won the governorship of Louisiana for the Democratic party in early 1928. His then-techniques were innovative– mudslinging and delivering speeches on the radio to Shreveport, and driving trucks containing bullhorns that blared at rallies all around the state, where he met every voter and put up campaign posters everywhere he possibly could.

Long tailored his campaign promises to specific audiences such as drinkers, Catholics, businessmen, sugar-cane growers, etc. “Because each newspaper gave one-sided coverage to its own candidate and ignored the other two, citizens needed to buy different papers to keep up with the campaigns.”

Long acquired massive power because he was a master at manipulating legal loopholes and eliminating enemies. He collected lackeys through sweetheart contracts and patronage galore; not to mention through bribery, influence peddling, racketeering, and corruption. His underlings did his will because they themselves were desperate for money and/or power.

Long actually did some good until 1931. He built highways and a new state Capitol, repaired streets and sewers in New Orleans and refinanced its port. He made Louisiana State University a world-class school.

Long also dealt with the political issues of education, gambling and natural gas. He manipulated the system so that he was elected U.S. Senator in September 1930 but finished his Louisiana governorship before taking that office in January 1932.

Other outrageous acts for which he initially went unpunished included extensive election fraud. “In one New Orleans precinct, votes were tallied before the polls closed, while in another, voting began before they opened. Huey ordered state workers to contribute to the pro-Long campaign and if they didn’t, they lost their jobs. His machine spent huge sums to pay the one-dollar poll taxes for impoverished farmers.” But no empire lasts forever.

Read the book to learn of the steps Long took to counteract the results of his deficit spending (hint– he dictated tax hikes), of how he became an absolute ruler like no other in the history of Louisiana, and what became of him in 1935, among other details of this cautionary tale.

…And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since / Citizen Lane

The first Book of the Week is “…And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since, From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress” by Charles B. Rangel with Leon Wynter, published in 2007.

This repetitive, stream-of-consciousness autobiography was a bragfest, but the author’s major point was that his near-death experience while serving in the Korean War led him to realize that surviving everything else in his life has been a cakewalk.

Born in June 1930 in West Harlem, New York City– Rangel, his older brother and younger sister were raised mostly by his mother, mother’s brother and mother’s father. His maternal grandparents– white father and black mother– were originally from Virginia. His mother raised him as a Catholic.

Rangel’s mother worked as an attendant in a hotel and in resorts in the Catskills in upstate New York, while the author stayed in West Harlem with his grandfather or uncle, both elevator operators. Starting when he was about nine years old and throughout his childhood, Rangel worked at a drugstore, as a paperboy, at a hardware store, as a shoe-store assistant, cargo loader, etc.

Rangel was deeply influenced by his grandfather’s reverence for attorneys, whom he saw all day at his job in the elevator of a courthouse. Nevertheless, Rangel’s social circles in Harlem did not expose him to anyone who particularly valued education. He therefore dropped out of high school after sophomore year. He was also deeply influenced by his older brother, who valued working and volunteering for the U.S. military.

So after Rangel’s four years in the military, during which he was unexpectedly sent to Korea, he was persuaded by his brother to choose work in civilian life instead of a military career.

Eventually, realizing that his life was directionless and his lack of education was holding him back, Rangel appealed to the Veterans Administration (VA) for help– aggressively, as he was an arrogant youth with a sense of entitlement as a war hero. A VA representative provided him with the kind of guidance he needed, pushing him to focus on the goal of becoming an attorney to please his grandfather.

Rangel expanded his worldview at St. John’s law school, meeting other blacks, plus Italian, Irish and Jewish students. Later, as a Congressman, his frequent international travel led him to change his views on Catholicism.

Rangel became less religious, as “When you find Washington saying it has no moral responsibility for social services, that it’s on local or state government or the private sector, you would expect the Church to be screaming with outrage. Not just about the unborn, but about the born… I had to remind Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the media that we spend $100,000 per year just to keep one kid locked up in the city’s [New York City’s] Rikers Island detention center… Imagine if we were investing even a fraction of that in the education of every kid in New York.”

Read the book to learn how Rangel came to have daily gratitude for life after his war experiences, and rose through the ranks to have an illustrious political career, and for all the great accomplishments he considered himself responsible.

The second Book of the Week is “Citizen Lane, Defending Our Rights in the Courts, the Capitol, and the Streets” by Mark Lane, published in 2012. This autobiography was a bragfest, too.

Born in the Bronx in 1927, Lane spent his childhood in Brooklyn. He spent his early career years practicing law as a solo practitioner in East Harlem. Even though his skin was white, he defended minority teen gang members accused of serious crimes. The juries were wealthy white males only. Lane also sued slumlords on behalf of tenants.

In the second half of the 1950’s, Lane helped reveal the scandalous conditions at the Wassaic State School in upstate New York; human nature, being what it is– in the early 1970’s, Geraldo Rivera told a largely similar story involving Willowbrook State School.

Teenagers accused of petty crimes who were deemed “mental defectives” determined by only one IQ test were placed in Wassaic State School. The IQ test was given in English only. Not coincidentally, many Puerto Ricans (Spanish speakers) were immediately placed in the school.

Despite the name of the institution, inmates received no academic instruction– only psychological, physical and sexual abuse, and solitary confinement for minor infractions, at the hands of sadistic guards.

Restraints were used willy-nilly. The food was inedible. The inmates had no recreation whatsoever, not even reading. In October 1955, Paul H. Hoch, commissioner of the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene called a hearing only after New York State governor Averell Harriman was prompted by political motives to do something. Hoch said it was a public hearing, but banned the press from attending. Big mistake.

The press gathered around the hearing-building and wouldn’t leave. Lane gave them the lowdown on the testimony he heard firsthand. The reader can guess where this is going. The only heads that rolled were the guards’. No one else’s. Dr. George Etling, director of the school, remained so for another eighteen years until he comfortably retired.

The next episode in Lane’s heroic career related to cofounding– with the reverend of the Mid-Harlem Community Parish– of a free-of-charge (unlicensed; read, illegal) heroin rehabilitation clinic in West Harlem. The patients kicked their addictions cold turkey through sedatives and therapy administered by doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists. Lane allegedly got Jackie Robinson to hire all the recovered addicts (many of whom were ex-cons) by the Chock full o’Nuts restaurant chain.

Prior to election year 1960, judges and other office holders were able to vote for their cronies, even though they had moved out of the candidates’ East Harlem and Yorkville district years before. Lane’s young polling volunteers told the illegal voters they had to sign an affidavit swearing to their current addresses. Busted, the would-be voters slunk away instead.

In spring 1961, Lane and black attorney Percy Sutton went on a “Freedom Ride” (i.e., risked their lives) via buses and a plane through different southern cities, ending in Jackson, Mississippi. There, they were arrested for “…disorderly conduct by improperly ‘congregating’ and placed in separate segregated cells.” But they hadn’t been the least bit hostile. They were convicted without a trial and sentenced to four months’ imprisonment. In March 1962, the state of Mississippi changed its tune and the charges were dropped.

In 2004, Lane started co-hosting a weekly radio show from New Jersey, in which he wasn’t obnoxious to callers, and “…all ridicule would be reserved exclusively for the leaders of our nation who led us into a war in which they traded blood for oil… I read the names of those who died that week in Iraq, to remind us of what we are doing.”

Read the book to learn of other major historical events in which Lane was supposedly front and center, and the ways in which he did his best to investigate scandals (including JFK’s and MLK’s deaths) in a bygone era in which:

  • security in buildings was poor
  • forensics were primitive
  • racism was rampant, and
  • cover-ups were rife (thanks to aggressive, dishonest politicians and intelligence services who spied on and oppressed their own citizens).

Thank goodness cover-ups aren’t rife anymore, given the current mean, nasty divided political situation in the United States. Right.

Four Wars of 1812 – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Four Wars of 1812” by D. Peter MacLeod, published in 2012. This was a multi-faceted, brief account of conflicts among the U.S., Britain, Canada and Native Americans between 1812 and 1815, that simultaneously showcased the art of that era.

Britain was interfering with America’s commercial and military shipping– including embargoing the country’s eastern seaboard and Shanghaiing sailors for the Royal Navy– and interfering with America’s imperialistic activities against Native Americans in its western states. America’s anger reached a boiling point in June 1812, when it declared war. True to their stereotype, the Canadians didn’t really hate anyone, but the closest place the Americans’ enemy (Britain) happened to be, was in Canada.

Late summer 1812 saw the then-United States invade Canada, the Great Lakes, Quebec and later, Halifax to fight the British, who retreated from Lake Erie.

Britain’s goal was to defend Canada without hindering its ability to fight France. Having the same enemy (the U.S.), Britain and the Native Americans helped each other capture Detroit in 1812.

The author neglected to mention the number of military and civilian deaths caused by the wars. The artwork mostly avoided gruesome battle scenes, but portrayed or consisted of: weaponry, ships, people, and patriotic artifacts such as commemorative coins.

In October 1814, a poem penned by Francis Scott Key was set to music. It became the Star-Spangled Banner.

Read the book to learn more details of which battles occurred when, and how the fighting was stopped.