Message in A Black Hole – BONUS POST

Message in A Black Hole
sung to the tune of “Message in A Bottle” with apologies to The Police.
A song Trump is singing now.

Just a castaway, but I don’t want to concede, oh.
With more votes, I’ll get back in the lead, oh.
More lawyers than anyone could bear.
I haven’t any shame so I don’t care, oh.
I’ll send an SOS to the world.
I’ll send an SOS to the world.
I hope electors get my
I hope electors get my
I hope electors get my message in a black hole, yeah.
Message in a black hole, yeah.
Years have passed since I’ve won the globe
but I resist liberals’ every probe.
I hope my supporters can keep me in power.
I can win again and
I can break those Dems.
I’ll send an SOS to the world.
I’ll send an SOS to the world.
I hope electors get my
I hope electors get my
I hope electors get my message in a black hole.
Message in a black hole.
Oh, message in a black hole, yeah.
Oh, message in a black hole, yeah.
Rallied this morning.
You know what I saw.
Lots and lots of ballots in states that I adore.
Seems I’m in love with being loved.
Lots and lots of lawyers.
I can’t stand being snubbed.
I’ll send an SOS to the world.
I’ll send an SOS to the world.
I hope electors get my
I hope electors get my
I hope electors get my message in a black hole, yeah.
Message in a black hole, yeah.
Oh, message in a black hole, oh.
Oh, message in a black hole.
Sending out an SOS.
Sending out an SOS.
Sending out an SOS…

In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz

The Book of the Week is “In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo” by Michaela Wong, published in 2001.

Various dictators have looted the Belgian colony alternately known as “Zaire” and “Congo” in recent centuries. The late 1800’s saw light-skinned people enslaving the dark-skinned to try to enrich themselves by poaching, harvesting, mining or drilling for the colony’s ivory, rubber, timber, cocoa, diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, uranium and oil on behalf of King Leopold II of Belgium. However, many died of malaria, typhoid or sleeping sickness.

Belgium was still greedy even after Congo, still racked by unrest, declared its independence in 1960. The Soviets wanted a piece of the action, sending troops in to pretend to quell the violence. The United Nations troops entered, throwing soldiers with good intentions, after bad. For the next thirty years, what did change was that the United States and other countries wasted an inconceivably large amount of money supporting the lavish lifestyles of the Congolese dictator and his family and friends, until the CIA discreetly decided it was time for the dictator to go.

In late September 1960, Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (Mobutu, for short) came to power. That translates to “the all powerful warrior who goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.” He ran the nation’s one political party, called “Movement for the Revolution.” He had the charisma, and lack of academic-smarts but plethora of street-smarts of the late American president Ronald Reagan.

However, Mobutu used divide and conquer in his palace politics– telling naive individuals that others were slandering them behind their backs. They believed him. He also assigned the same tasks to subordinates who hated each other without telling the others of the duplicated project-teams. When they learned that the boss had favorites other than them, petty jealousies arose. The hostilities between Mobutu’s underlings kept them busy fighting among themselves, and kept him in power.

Mobutu held rallies all the time. He created jobs galore for his people, in the rubber and cocoa industries. Foreigners who had previously been running operations that exploited Congo’s resources, fled the country. The new native Congolese who were given businesses to run, had no clue how to run them. When the economy crashed, Mobutu, his family, his cronies and his private army had no worries, because their real estate in Brussels, Paris and South Africa, and their Swiss bank accounts remained safe.

In the mid 1980’s, the journalists and diplomats in Kinshasa could spot the Congolese elites by their SUVs and mobile phones from Telecel. Congolese peasants, in order to eat, were forced to grow vegetable gardens throughout the city.

In the 1990’s, desirous of a better life, native Congolese were able to obtain student visas that allowed them to secretly become low-level restaurant or construction workers, or drivers in Brussels. They fled their native country rather than collectively revolt in order to fight for it, having adopted the pessimistic attitude of every man for himself. They had seen with their own eyes that “… politics is a game played by conmen and hypocrites.”

Congo’s cycle of dictatorship had yet to be broken due to the education system, which didn’t teach Congolese history. The younger generation knew nothing of how their recent leaders had come to power. “Knowing nothing about the past of course, frees a population from any sense of blame for the present. How convenient was all this forgetting…”

May 1997 was crunch time similar to that in 1986 in the Philippines and Haiti. In Kinshasa, Tutsi youths were shot in the streets, Japanese journalists sought photo opportunities, journalists of other nationalities and Belgian tourists sought haven in the Hotel InterContinental.

Read the book to learn much more about the history of Congo and its one nuclear reactor, Mobutu, the Congolese people in the 1990’s– rich and famous, poor and unknown, their black markets, their Mutual Benefit Society, their religions, corruption at their airport and with the IMF and World Bank, and about the lingering colonialist nostalgia of Belgium and France.

Do No Harm / Since Yesterday – BONUS POST

The first Bonus Book of the Week is “Do No Harm, Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery” by Henry Marsh, originally published in 2014. In this personal account, the author– a British brain surgeon– described his horribly depressing career. He recounted how he removed brain tumors from, and clipped aneurysms of, his most memorable patients through the decades. Even when a tumor was benign, it would keep growing and inevitably kill the patient unless taken out. Even when a large aneurysm had yet to burst, there was a chance (incalculable, as every patient is different) that it would burst in the patient’s lifetime.

Metaphorically speaking, some people would say that the outgoing president of the United States is a tumor in the nation’s brain. The author wrote, “You can never know for certain from a brain scan exactly how a tumor will behave until you start to remove it. It might be hard or soft, dry or bloody…” Prior to diagnosis, the most common symptom patients experience is headaches– which are uncharacteristic for them in daily life.

In order for a brain surgeon to acquire experience, he needs to actually practice on real patients, and make mistakes. Even when the surgeon does everything right in treating the patient, something could go wrong, anyway. In addition to stressing over his patients, the author had to deal with bureaucracies. But regardless of the healthcare system an industrialized country has (government-run, commercial, or a combination thereof), it’s comprised of: “… government targets, self-serving politicians, tabloid headlines, scandals, deadlines, civil servants, clinical cock-ups, financial crises, patient press-groups, trade unions, litigation, complaints and self-important doctors…”

Read the book to learn of the author’s trials and tribulations in treating patients not only in Britain, but also in Kiev.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “Since Yesterday, The 1930’s in America, September 3, 1929 – September 3, 1939” by Frederick Lewis Allen, originally published in 1939.

“To hear angry Republicans and angry Democrats talking, one would have supposed the contest was between a tyrant determined to destroy private property, ambition, the Constitution, democracy, and civilization itself; and a dupe of Wall Street who would introduce a fascist dictatorship.” Such was the nature of the 1936 presidential election in America.

Clearly, propagandizing hasn’t changed in ninety years. Presidents want to have it both ways: they take credit for all positive economic news, and blame their predecessors for all negative economic news.

At the dawn of the 1930’s when the economy went south, Americans held very strong opinions about their political preferences, heavily influenced by the propaganda they read in newspapers and magazines. Not much has changed, except that now they can force their opinions on the world at the speed of light. Immediately they think they’re experts from watching the idiot box and/or reading the Web; the attitude is, “I’m not an attorney, not a doctor, and not an economist, but I play one on social media, because I can, and because I’m right.”

Other similarities between the Depression Era and recent times include:

  • Golf was a popular businessman’s game.
  • Fans of professional sports worshipped their star players, like in baseball, tennis, and golf– Babe Ruth, Bill Tilden, Bobby Jones, etc.
  • Automation due to new technologies (such as steam, gasoline and electric power, inventions and farm machinery) and urbanization were eliminating jobs in industry, agriculture, and textiles more than offshoring ever would.
  • Listeners worshipped a pundit on the radio– Father Coughlin– a hate-spewing demagogue from the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak (but he broadcast on only one station, not a national network, so he became nationally known only in his later years in the 1930’s).
  • All players in the banking industry were financially interdependent so when the system collapsed, they all fell like dominoes. Then-president Hoover established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in order to bail out only his corporate cronies, as he didn’t believe in stimulus money for individuals.
  • In summer 1932, Howard Scott and his inscrutable theory of Technocracy was a fad. The author wrote, “Yet in the meantime it had offered an object-lesson in the readiness of the American people for a new messiah and a new credo” just as “Wikinomics” (see the post in this blog) was supposed to be the next big thing.
  • The political agenda behind COVID has forced Americans to relax online similar to the way the Depression brought on: the five-day (rather than six-day) workweek, construction of sports and recreational areas of all kinds, and provision for transportation to get to them.
  • Beginning in late 1936 into 1937, in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States, a bunch of rivers overflowed their banks due to humans’ misuse of land; in the third week of September 1938, 682 people died in an unexpected hurricane that destroyed regions unprepared for flooding, in New England and Mid-Atlantic states.
  • Between 1931 and 1936, there were actually more people leaving the U.S. than coming in, for various reasons, and the U.S. birth rate was slowing.
  • Ultra-rich Americans who refused to face inconvenient facts were the ones who hated FDR when he was elected president.

Proposals distorted in propaganda that played out in the Depression Era, whose outcomes are yet to be seen in recent times, included:

  • In the 1930’s, in order to allow men to keep their dignity, the government put them to work instead of giving them handouts. In their first few years of existence, FDR’s alphabet soup of mostly federal (rather than state or local level) jobs and programs was nonpartisan. However, eventually, the Democrats provided maximum funding as election day approached. On the whole, the financial relief worked well, except in Pennsylvania, where there was gross misuse of funds.
  • FDR’s policies sought to mitigate environmental damage done by people, and prevent future natural disasters with his introduction of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Public Works Administration, and his signing of the Taylor Grazing Act into law. These kinds of measures simply require political backing and money– the sooner a sufficient amount of both are thrown at them, the sooner the problems will be solved!
  • In February 1938, FDR floated a proposal to make seventy years the mandatory retirement age of all federal judges– including U.S. Supreme Court justices– and increase the number of justices from nine to fifteen. That unpopular proposal hurt FDR’s reputation.

In 1935, FDR introduced economic change to the country by instituting the Social Security system, financial assistance only for Americans 65 and older. In 1965, LBJ introduced economic change to the country by instituting the Medicare and Medicaid systems, healthcare funding for only those Americans who are poor and / or 65 and older.

In the future, the United States government might be introducing a better overall system of healthcare funding for all Americans of all ages and income levels (which is obviously much more complex than any system that has ever been created before in this country, so it’s not going to be perfect the first time around). In order to pay for the improved system, the government will likely have to raise taxes on the rich.

Along these lines, economics 101 says a nation’s economy is strongest when it has a healthy, well-educated workforce.

Whether deliberately or not, the political agenda revolving around COVID has rewarded education-software makers by closing schools across the country. So ironically, by allowing the software makers to get richer (because, presumably, their higher taxes will be paying for the improved healthcare-funding system), the software makers are dictating education policy. So in the long run, the nation will have a healthy, poorly educated workforce!

Anyway, read the book to learn much more about the tenor of the times in 1930’s America, culturally, politically and economically.

Second Chance

The Book of the Week is “Second Chance, Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower” by Zbigniew Brzezinski, published in 2007.

“American policy has divided its friends while uniting its foes, fear has been exploited to mobilize public support for policy, and strategic impatience and self-ostracism have narrowed United States diplomatic options.”

The author wrote the above about the George W. Bush administration. Yes, really. The author critiqued the presidencies of George H.W. Bush (Bush 41), Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (Bush 43) in terms of the natures of their administrations, and how they could have mitigated or even warded off the worsening political turmoil in America.

Bush 41 failed to follow through on American-foreign-policy vision and plans to foster international cooperation among Russia, China and other developing nations after he chased Iraq out of Kuwait in early 1991. He didn’t get to do so in a second term because he neglected problems at home.

During the Clinton administration, the media declared that America was trying to cultivate new enemies (maybe it was), one after another– Libya, Iraq, Iran, China, etc., while Clinton appeared to negotiate agreements such as the ones between Israel and the PLO, that actually turned out to be worthless pieces of paper. Unsurprisingly.

Other treaties that have been violated time and again, are those regarding nuclear non-proliferation. Various countries have continued to test nuclear weapons through the years, including France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea. This has resulted in:

  • contaminating the earth, sea and air, and harming people;
  • teasing the other treaty-signers into giving the violators financial aid;
  • imposing ineffective financial punishment; and/or
  • pushing them to ally with their neighbors.

The Clinton years saw a two-faced policy with Russia. The president gave Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin generous financial and economic aid, but contrarily, by 1998, American Ivy-League economist Jeffrey Sachs had bankrupted Russia by persuading Yeltsin to execute his “shock-capitalism” tactics. Compounding of the corruption ensued with the intervention of the International Monetary Fund, which extended “loans” to Russia to bail it out. Capital flight from investors in the United States ensued. Unsurprisingly.

Bush 43 wrongly imposed “might makes right” on Iraq and Afghanistan, thinking democracy would magically assert itself in those war-torn countries. But– the author wrote– democracy requires the following laborious steps:

  • A government must respect the political and economic human rights of its citizens;
  • A government must impose rule of law to achieve and maintain a state of civility among its people, more or less;
  • The structures of power must write and abide by legal and Constitutional rules on which they must agree, more or less; and
  • There must be free and fair elections, which leads to a system whose leaders see the value of compromise and accommodation– rather than a winner-take-all stubbornness.

In his first term, Bush 43 and his sidekick Dick Cheney exploited the world for the purpose of acquiring raw power, and fun and profit at the expense of his own countrymen and America’s good relationships with its allies. In his second term, the president showed a “… basic lack of interest in peacekeeping, global poverty or ecology.” Middle Eastern countries destabilized by the Iraq War were driven into the arms of China as a financial partner, because– although China’s people are oppressed, China’s government isn’t embattled– it’s stable.

Read the book to learn of the author’s recommendations on the steps America should take to mend fences in the world, and of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that have arisen via the natures of the administrations of the aforementioned three presidents.

Educated – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Educated, a Memoir” by Tara Westover, published in 2018.

This was an emotionally jarring autobiography of a female whose dysfunctional family members were the major influences in her life. Born in 1986 in rural Idaho, the author was the youngest of seven children. Her father– a fanatically religious Mormon– home-schooled his children, asserting that public school would brainwash them. The author’s mother taught her basic reading and math, but little else academically. Three of her older brothers rebelled, and left home as soon as they could. One of those– who had a thirst for knowledge– worked his way through college, and inspired the author to do so.

Morbid curiosity will keep the reader in suspense throughout this ghastly book that recounts a series of life-threatening injuries, traumatic and violent scenes of family strife, interspersed with anecdotes that spur the reader to cheer the author on during her journey toward self-awareness, healing and profound insights about her life and her family members. Read the book to learn all about it.

ENDNOTE: It took the above author a long, long time. Just as when someone has a lifelong dream, it isn’t usually achieved immediately. He or she is not going to change their mind about it. They’re going to pursue it relentlessly. In an ideal world, the one who prepares for it properly deserves to get it more than others. However, in the world of United States politics, an infinite number of factors complicate the process.