Boomerang

The Book of the Week is “Boomerang, Travels in the New Third World” by Michael Lewis, published in 2011. As the effects of the early 2000’s financial shenanigans began to be felt around the world, the author traveled to newly impoverished countries (Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Germany and the United States) to try to understand their situations, economically, politically and culturally. Human nature is such that very few people see the big picture before it’s too late. Besides that, it takes a long time for the victims to learn who really instigated and funded insidious propaganda campaigns or nefarious activities, if they ever do learn.

Kyle Bass, investment banker from Dallas, raised the alarm prior to the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, but was shouted down by greedy alpha males with hubris syndrome. So he bet against the sheep and made a killing. But he believed the lowest-risk alternative to the securities market was physical gold, and nickels.

Iceland saw the U.S. in the 1980’s enjoying its material wealth, and wanted a piece of that. Iceland’s prime minister David Oddsson ushered in tax cuts and privatization, and greased the wheels of trade. In this way, the government was enticed into the vortex of excessive-deregulation-induced capitalistic greed. Around 2000, fishing industry regulations produced a maximally efficient, maximally profitable oligopoly that prompted Icelanders who weren’t in the fishing industry, to engage in aluminum smelting, and other economically rewarding careers.

The internet has facilitated the forming of relationships between hegemonic financial entities and overseas suckers. Beginning in 2003, young adults in Iceland found that speculative trading in stocks and currency was much more lucrative than fishing.

Ironically, Iceland– whose economy was based on fishing– was ready to take the bait, and become the fish. The former fishermen thought they’d succeed in the financial-services industry because fishing and money-management both involve risk-taking. However, the former requires specific physical and survival skills; the latter, knowledge and experience in the securities markets, business, economics and politics. Icelanders had none of the latter.

Unsurprisingly, when the money started rolling in, the newly rich started to buy houses and cars they couldn’t afford. Human nature is also such that, when people move numbers around on a screen, they don’t feel like they’re moving real money. The bankers and traders in Iceland were borrowing tens of billions from foreigners in the short term, “…then re-lending the money to themselves and their friends to…” overpay for a large financial stake in other banks, sports teams, and other assets. Astute sellers saw the writing on the wall, and left Iceland holding the bag.

European regulators were asleep at the switch. If U.S. financial institutions had been the targets, or had been engaging in such activity, there would have been more early awareness and safeguards in place, in fending off hostile takeovers.

The Americans have their lawyers, directors and officers, and consultants as the first line of defense. Their financial institutions didn’t play the fool the same way major banks in Iceland did. They were largely the lenders and sellers, not the borrowers. But they still got in trouble (!), and also needed adult supervision going forward to bail themselves out.

Incidentally, the SPAC affiliated with former U.S. president Donald Trump needs to continue to find foreign entities (like those that Iceland’s became) with whom he shares the same ethics (or lack thereof), to establish his new media empire. Here’s a little ditty about the situation thus far:

FUN, FUN, FUN

sung to the tune of “Fun, Fun, Fun” with apologies to the Beach Boys.

Well, he’s got his base’s-money
and he’s cruising to his next train WRECK now.

Seems like he forgot all-about
the REAsons he was banned from Big TECH now.

And with the hate-speech blasting
with over-whelming noise full of DRECK now.

And he’ll have fun, fun, fun
till the hackers take his network away.

(Fun, fun, fun till the hackers take his network away.)

Well, the Dems can’t stand him
’cause he’s STILL hogging media space now.

(He’s still hogging space now, he’s still hogging space.)

He gives American politics
a persistent Nix-onian face now.

(He’s still hogging space now, he’s still hogging space.)

A lotta critics try to nail him
but he spins a propaganda chase now.

(He’s still hogging space now, he’s still hogging space.)

And he’ll have fun, fun, fun
till the hackers take his network away.

(Fun, fun, fun till the hackers take his network away.)

Well, he knew all along
that his foes were getting wise to HIM now.

(He needs a new crew now, he needs a new crew.)

And since his stunts are getting old,
they’ve been wishing that his fun is all through now.

(He needs a new crew now, he needs a new crew.)

And things are coming to a head
and his lawyers got a lot to do now.

(He needs a new crew now, he needs a new crew.)

And he’ll have fun, fun, fun
till the hackers take his network away.

(Fun, fun, fun till the hackers take his network away.)

And he’ll have fun, fun, fun
till the hackers take his network away.

(Fun, fun, fun till the hackers take his network away.)

wo wo wo wo woo woo

(Fun, fun, fun till the hackers take his network away.)
(Fun, fun, fun till the hackers take his network away.)
(Fun, fun, fun till the hackers take his network away.)
(Fun, fun, fun till the hackers take his network away.)
(Fun, fun, fun till the hackers take his network away.)
(Fun, fun, fun till the hackers take his network away.)

Anyway, in October 2008, the party was over for Iceland. Lots of fire insurance was bought, and lots of Range Rovers were set on fire. Finally, in February 2009, the aforementioned Oddsson was ousted as head of the central bank.

The story in Greece was that the government was corrupt, overpaid and overstaffed. No tax collection took place because 2009 was an election year. Corporate employees only (not the self-employed) were the only workers who paid income taxes. All three hundred Parliament members evaded real-property taxes through dishonesty. Cash transactions with no paper trail facilitated the evasion of sales taxes throughout the country. There was wilful ignorance (unbelievably sloppy accounting) that masked just how serious the financial crisis was.

Read the book to learn much more about other aspects of the crisis– the alarm-raisers in Iceland, Ireland and the United States, the one protestor in Ireland, the German mentality, and the responses of a few local American politicians.

India

The Book of the Week is “India, A Million Mutinies Now” by V.S. Naipaul, published in 1990. While visiting India a few times, in 1962, in the 1970’s, and the late 1980’s, the author interviewed several Indians from a range of castes, and reminisced with them about how cultural mores changed through the decades. The author provided a bit of historical backdrop with each vignette.

The author was born in 1932 in Trinidad, to which his ancestors migrated from India. They were peasant farmers. The Indian diaspora (prompted by political, religious and economic turmoil) spawned new Indian communities. Through the decades after the 1947 establishment of India’s partition with Pakistan, the culture of the people who left India diverged with Indians who stayed. The former were subject to the culture of their adopted countries. They moved to, in addition to Trinidad– Fiji, South Africa and England in large numbers.

The author interviewed someone who practiced the (extremely non-violent) Jain religion. By the 1960’s, a devout believer such as the latter could no longer work in the construction industry in India, as organized crime had forced him out. He could, however, make a living in the securities industry.

Over the course of half a century starting in the 1930’s, the Untouchables caste (or the Dalits, as they were renamed) had been slowly achieving upward mobility, helped by the inspirational leader, Dr. Ambedkar, who died in 1956. By the 1980’s, they had allied with the Muslims, other victims of discrimination. Speaking of oppressed groups, “The sexual harassment of women in public places, often sly, sometimes quite open, was a problem all over India.”

On his last visit, the author commented on the horrible air pollution in Bombay. Local residents breathed brown-black smoke emanating from motor vehicles fueled partly by kerosene. He also remarked on the Indian mentality, that natives were willing to make the sacrifice of living in the most disgusting, cramped conditions imaginable, thereby saving money on housing, in order to get started making money; then move to a better place later, when their financial situation improved. One indication of this was a humungous shantytown just outside Bombay, where a range of different groups (from the political to the swindling) were just beginning their struggles in the capitalist vein.

The author described conditions back and forth in time, including the atrocious religious, ethnic and skin-color conflicts between and among all different Indians.

In the 1930’s, India practiced segregation in public facilities between Brahmins and other castes similar to the way Americans did between its light-skinned people and those of other phenotypes. Beginning in 1937 in the Indian state of Tamil-Nadu, there was the Hindi-language war in education similar to the mid-1990’s ebonics controversy in Oakland, California (except that the former forced the schools to use Hindi only). The year 1967 saw Brahmins (the top caste) in the southern part of the country violently expressing their hatred for the non-Brahmins in the north. The Dravidians were fighting the Aryans.

On another topic, in India it was commonplace for a bride’s family to incur excessive debt due to various customs, including paying for: all of the venue and food-related expenses of wedding guests comprising the family’s entire community, two days’ worth of traditions, rituals, and a dowry that in modern times involved expensive toys such as motor scooters or electronics, clothes, jewelry, cookware, housewares, bedding; plus ceremonies and festivals throughout the year. A family of sons paid only for their education.

Just to push the point on how universal some of India’s problems are that prompt political upheaval: “Where there isn’t a sense of history, myth can begin in that region which is just beyond the memory of our fathers or grandfathers, just beyond living witness.”

Read the book to learn much more about India’s political, economic, cultural and social problems, as seen through the eyes of all different Indian castes, ethnic groups and religions (such as Jains, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs) in different decades (1930’s through the 1980’s) in different Indian regions, including Bombay, Calcutta and Lucknow.

Somebody Down Here… / How Football… BONUS POST

The first Bonus Book of the Week is “Somebody Down Here Likes Me Too” by Rocky Graziano with Ralph Corsel, originally published in 1981.

Born in January 1921, Graziano grew up in Little Italy and the East Village in Manhattan. However, when he wed in 1943, he moved in with his wife’s well-to-do family on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn; of which he nostalgically remarked, “They got Coney Island and Nathan’s hot dogs and Sheepshead Bay with all that good seafood, and they got Ebbetts’ Field and the Dodgers and a few bums like Leo Durocher…”

Nonetheless, his poverty-stricken childhood experiences and abusive father soured him on life at an early age. He continually ran afoul of the law, but his mother, who loved him unconditionally, kept bailing him out. For such boys in his generation (rejected by the military because he was an ex-con), the only way to escape his bad environment was to succeed in the “rackets” or make it big in show business or become a professional boxer. Read the book to learn how he turned his life around when he put his mind to do two of the three.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “How Football Explains America, by Sal Paolantonio, published in 2008.

Incidentally, Vince Lombardi sought to recruit wayward boys such as Graziano for the high school football team he coached in New Jersey in the late 1930’s. He used the Englewood police department as his talent source.

Another interesting bit of information from the author in describing how professional football evolved into its current state: safety rules had to be imposed so the sport could turn its barbaric reputation around. For, in 1905, there occurred “…battered faces, broken ribs, bloody skulls, and at least 18 recorded on-field fatalities.”

Read the book to learn many other ways football and American culture became intertwined.

One for the Earth

The Book of the Week is “One for the Earth, Journal of A Sierra Club President” by Susan D. Merrow with Wanda A. Rickerby, published in 1992.

The Sierra Club, founded in May 1892, began with about one hundred members. Its original goal was to prevent the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California from becoming further polluted. Sadly, through the decades, the need for such an organization has grown exponentially. The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, a group that began using the Club’s name, actually helped raise more funds than otherwise for the Club, but took public stances with which the original group disagreed.

Beginning in May 1990, Merrow was appointed president of the Club for a year’s term. She had acquired previous experience teaching adult education classes and lobbying the Connecticut state government on environmental matters. Her new job– for which she received no salary, only reimbursement of expenses– required constant travel. Volunteers did the bulk of the Club’s work. Her and her employer’s major frustration with the then-federal government was that it was regressive in connection with all kinds of energy issues.

The Club’s lobbyists were awfully busy contacting politicians about: incinerators, recycling, composting and source reduction, increasing gas mileage and decreasing emissions in newer cars, advocating for stopping oil drilling in the Arctic, reducing pollution on land and in the sea and in the air, and arguing for stricter waste-disposal laws, etc., etc., etc.

It might be recalled that a year prior, the Exxon Valdez oil spill left about 380,000 birds dead, and resulted in severe health issues for many animals and plants, including hundreds of species of mollusks, fish and coral-reef animals, dolphins and whales. The then-legal case that might compensate injured parties (Alaska and the United States) for the disaster was still pending. However, in April 1990, Exxon suggested that it pay $100 million to settle the civil and criminal charges against it. Tens of studies done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed grievous (and probably irreparable) harm that (if a dollar value had to be put on it) was estimated at $1.1 billion.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, astute people knew that the Clean Air Act that was then working its way through the Congressional-passage process would become diluted by profiteers aided by propagandists. In autumn 1990, the Bryan Bill– mandating the manufacturing of more fuel-efficient cars– was stalled too, by lobbyists in the oil and auto industries, and by other presidential supporters.

The First Gulf War wreaked environmental destruction (now forgotten by Americans) consisting of “… soot from 600 burning oil wells… cloud over farmland and villages in Turkey and Iran… rain filled with toxic chemicals, polluted both the air and water. Severe respiratory illness, cancer, and ruined crops…”

On a diplomatic mission, the author visited staffers at three different magazines: Good Housekeeping, Sports Illustrated, and Seventeen. She hoped to get articles published for targeted readers of their respective, widely different demographic groups in whose interest it was to save the earth.

One concept the author conveyed was that protecting the habitat of one species, aids in the survival of all of the other species in that habitat. So ensuring a safe environment for the bobolink helps: “…lichens, apple trees, ladybugs, sumac, earthworms, chipmunks, monarch butterflies, white birches, wild blueberry bushes, goldenrod, red foxes– even humans.” The flip side is that one negative consequence leads to another when the food chain is disrupted (See this blog’s post, Rat Island).

Read the book to learn what happened to the Johnston-Wallop bill, and much more about the author’s trials, tribulations and triumphs.

Back to the US-Threats War – BONUS POST

In case you missed it: Facebook is the new USSR.

Back to the US-Threats War

sung to the tune of “Back in the USSR” with apologies to the Beatles and rights-owners it may concern.

Facebook got outed on its policies.
The website didn’t work last week.
I couldN’T keep in touch with my families.
The press enjoyed a dreadful leak.

Back to the US-threats war.
We know how disruptive you are, yeah.
Back to the US-threats war.

Been away so long, I was bored to tears.
Gee it’s good to see my wall.
You can’t wait to REsume inciting fears.
Some say you’re heading FOR a fall.

Back to the US-threats war.
Back to the US, back to the US.
Back to the US-threats war.

Well, your Instagram really tricks it out.
It’s addictive and unkind.
And all those haters make me rant and shout.
That highest bidder’s always on your, your, your, your, your, your, your, your, your, mind!

[Bring it on, yeah sure alright yeah yeah]

Hey, back to the US-threats war.
We know how disruptive you are, yeah.
Back to the US-threats war.

Well, your Instagram really tricks it out.
It’s addictive and unkind.
And all those haters make me rant and shout.
That highest bidder’s always on your, your, your, your, your, your, your, your, your, mind!

Oh, show me round your polarizing political fights.
Take me to your lies and smears.
I unwittingly help the infoTAINment dance.
I love to see my allies’ jeers.

Back to the US-threats war.
We know how disruptive you are, yeah.
Back to the US-threats war.

[Really, really ?!]

We’re back, we’re back…

Dianne Feinstein

The Book of the Week is “Dianne Feinstein, Never Let Them See You Cry” by Jerry Roberts, published in 1994.

Born in June 1933 in San Francisco, Feinstein was the oldest of three sisters. Her uncle inspired her to become a politician. In November 1969, she was sufficiently popular to get elected not only to the board of supervisors of San Francisco, but also get elected its president. However, in 1974, she lost her primary campaign for mayor, though she was good at fundraising, and adopted moderate views on most every issue.

A number of traumatic events occurred in the mid to late 1970’s in the Bay Area, some of which ignited controversy around Feinstein:

  • Beginning in October 1973 – the “Zebra” killings, which left fifteen dead and fanned the flames of racial tension in San Francisco;
  • February 1974 – Patty Hearst’s kidnapping in Berkeley;
  • January 1975 – mail bombs were sent to San Francisco politicians but were defused by law enforcement;
  • Beginning in 1975, the New World Liberation Front (NWLF) sent threatening messages to Feinstein and other local politicians, that they better help the poor or else;
  • August 1975 – San Francisco police officers and firefighters went on strike;
  • September 1975 – assassination attempt on president Gerald Ford in San Francisco;
  • December 1975 – an explosive device failed to go off, that might have killed Feinstein’s teenage daughter at their residence, and the NWLF claimed responsibility in demanding better prison conditions;
  • November 1978 – murders and mass suicides at the compound of Jim Jones’ cult in Guyana, and around the same time, the mayor of San Francisco and a member of the board of supervisors were shot and killed.

With regard to the last two aforementioned deaths, “The speed with which the lobbying began reflected the political reality that a massive vacuum of power had suddenly opened in the polarized city.” Within days, the opportunists made Feinstein mayor.

  • In May 1979, when the verdict and sentence on San Francisco’s political murderer was announced, rioting ensued around City Hall.

Feinstein had a reputation for favoring gay rights, up until her actions during the above rioting. Also, in late 1979, local religious authorities of various stripes convinced her to veto a bill that conditionally treated co-habitating lovers like common-law marriage partners so that they got certain government benefits. After that, gays criticized her. But, she acted early and often and decisively to stem the AIDS epidemic beginning in 1983.

In summer 1982, she signed a bill that banned handguns in San Francisco. She started by turning in her own handguns. Nevertheless, California state courts ruled that the city’s law was unenforceable. Unsurprisingly, her gun-control stance did not sit well with the NRA. In 1983, her enemies tried to petition for her to be recalled as mayor.

Read the book to learn much more about Feinstein’s political career, all of which was spent in a male-dominated field, and a quarter century of which was spent in an urban area with a unique geographic, demographic and political composition.

Flying Close to the Sun

The Book of the Week is “Flying Close to the Sun” by Cathy Wilkerson, published in 2007.

Born in January 1945 in Hartsdale, a northern suburb of New York City, the author spent most of her childhood in Connecticut. At a young age, she was drawn to politics. At Swarthmore College, she joined the group, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and engaged in political activism for decades. Many young people were brainwashed into thinking that the revolutions in China, Vietnam and Cuba had been successful in creating a societal paradise.

In turbulent 1960’s America, the counter-cultural attitude was:

“If corporations were stealing from us and selling us products that killed, then we too could steal from them and support the movement.”

As is well known, during the Vietnam War, more than a few American companies were cooperating with the U.S. government to supply the U.S. military with napalm and agent orange, two chemicals toxic to vegetation as well as humans.

In June 1969, SDS held a convention for its chapters across the country. However, there was lots of infighting over ideology and the direction of the movement. Later that month, a few SDS members wrote a paper that said that the United States government should be overthrown because it was imperialist, and oppressed blacks and the poor. The plan was that the revolutionaries would impose Marxist-Leninist socialism so that Americans in the new world order could live happily ever after.

The paper inspired some SDS members, including Wilkerson, to form a new group which called itself the Weatherman. She began to think that the only way to change the world was through revolution. Weatherman started to provoke the local Chicago police the way the Black Panthers had been doing. The former became very focused on the Black Power movement, at the expense of the women’s movement.

Wilkerson gave talks that advocated working with women of all ages around issues of domestic violence and workplace harassment. She was bullied at a self-criticism meeting about not being more against racism. She was told she was being selfish; that blacks were being treated worse than women. SDS leaders said that’s why blacks deserved more attention. The group should focus on the blacks and when they achieved equality, then women’s equality would follow.

In summer 1969 in Columbus, Ohio, two dozen SDSers recruited high schoolers in their hangouts such as streets, beaches, bars, etc. In three not-so-great neighborhoods, they incited blacks to riot and commit violence against the police. Unsurprisingly, the mayor called in the National Guard.

That same summer, SDS member Mike Klonsky resigned. He had realized that violence was a childish way to resolve conflicts, and suggested that instead, people work through their anger about injustice by pressuring politicians to combat racism, and raise awareness in workplaces.

The late 1960’s and early 1970’s saw incidents of unrest that scarred the American psyche; the most well-publicized included: Columbia University in spring 1968, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August 1968, San Francisco State College beginning in late 1968, and Kent State in Ohio in May 1970. Wilkerson and others in the “movement” thought that these incidents indicated that activists were catching on and making progress.

As a low-level member of Weatherman, Wilkerson lived in the collective, and did what they did. She learned martial arts, exercised, and discussed and argued for hours about the agenda of the organization. The collective voted to do away with monogamy, as that would allow full participation of all members. The group wanted to have a collective sense of humanity– it was bigger than oneself.

Read the book to learn of a game-changing event that occurred in March 1970 involving Wilkerson, that radically changed her group’s and her circumstances, and of much more about her life and times.