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.

Half-Life

The Book of the Week is “Half-Life, The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo, Physicist or Spy” by Frank Close, published in 2015. The author himself was a physicist, so he interspersed physics concepts with the evolution of the development of nuclear technology and its major players. This book was written for readers who would like to learn some nuclear physics, and/or those readers curious about the people involved in Cold War / nuclear physics mysteries.

However, Close made an error, spelling “Lise Meitner” as “Lisa Meitner.” Additionally, since the author was neither a historian nor American (he was British) he was mistaken in declaring, “For supporters of communism in the West, this [the autumn 1956 Hungarian uprising which was bloodily crushed by the Soviets] was probably the most serious crisis of conscience since the Soviet pact with the Nazis in 1939.” Actually, in early 1956, Khrushchev revealed Stalin’s horrific crimes to the world. Americans, especially those who considered themselves Social Democrats, were thrown for a loop ideologically, and became bitterly conflicted in their own minds, and with each other.

Anyway, born in Italy in August 1913, Pontecorvo was the fourth of eight children. In 1931, he transferred from the University of Pisa to that of Rome for his third year of physics studies, mentored by Enrico Fermi. Knowledge of particle physics was in its infancy. Pontecorvo and other scientists jointly filed a patent in autumn 1935 in connection with experiments with neutrons and hydrogen.

The year 1936 saw Pontecorvo flee to Paris after Mussolini cracked down on Jews’ liberty. He studied with Frederic and Irene Joliot-Curie. He was turned on to Communist ideology by his cousin. They attended meetings and rallies.

By the late 1930’s, physicists (and governments) of different nations such as Germany, France, Italy, the USSR, etc. started to realize how important nuclear processes were for creating future weapons of mass destruction– instrumental for their respective homelands’ national security. Beginning in the summer of 1940, nuclear research became secret in the United States. Scientific journals would no longer publish articles on that topic.

The USSR did not lack for brains, but for uranium in the early 1940’s. Beginning in summer 1942 in Moscow, the Soviets worked on an atomic bomb. But scientists in the United Kingdom had a head start, having begun their work the previous year. In December 1942, the United States started the Manhattan Project.

By the end of the 1940’s, having done nuclear research in Tulsa in Oklahoma, the Northwest Territories in Canada and in Harwell in England, Pontecorvo was planning to move himself, his wife and three sons to Liverpool to become a physics professor. The British intelligence service MI5 secretly pushed him in that direction. As is well known, the United States was gripped by anti-Communist hysteria, with the arrests of spies Klaus Fuchs, David Greenglass and the Rosenbergs.

The summer of 1950 saw the Pontecorvo family take a summer vacation in France, Switzerland, and the Italian countryside. There is circumstantial evidence that he met with his Communist cousin and suddenly, all bets were off.

Read the book to learn the fate of the family, the contributions made to science by the scientist, learn why he neither won the Nobel Prize nor collected royalties on the aforementioned patent, and much more.

Killers of the Flower Moon / Heist

The First Book of the Week is “Killers of the Flower Moon, The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann, published in 2017. This volume described in suspenseful anecdotes– a political, social and cultural system suffused with evil– and it highlighted what happened to just one of countless families whose members were victims of the conspiracy.

In 1870, the Osage Native Americans were forced by light-skinned Americans to flee from their homeland in Kansas, to wasteland in northeastern Oklahoma. In 1893, the United States government’s Indian Affairs Department ordered that all children on the Osage reservation attend school. One consequence was that the young people in the area adopted the ways of the “white man.”

On September 16, 1893, the U.S. government shot a gun to kick off a land-grab. The Cherokee Outlet, territory bordering on the Osage’s that was bought by the U.S. government, was handed over to the Cherokees on a first-claimed via physical presence, first-owned basis.

About 42,000 members of the Cherokee nation waited on the border for days until the appointed time of the free-for-all. The fight for land ended in a massacre galore. The government didn’t bother to repeat the above process with the Osage reservation.

Yet, by the very early 1900’s, oil was discovered on the Osage’s land; this opened a Pandora’s box. In 1912, the Department of the Interior auctioned off the then-super-valuable parcels, to which the Osage had mineral rights. The Osage became millionaires overnight, paid royalties by the oil barons.

The local (white) politicians of the oil-rich lands stuck like leeches to the Osage residents, under the guise of regulating commerce. They deemed that (white) guardians of the property be appointed for full-blooded Osage people, as the Native Americans weren’t sufficiently educated or competent to manage their own money. Unsurprisingly, the guardians were thieves and worse.

Read the book to learn about a statistics-defying (but not uncommon among the Osage) rash of deaths (by poisonings, shootings and explosives) that occurred in one Osage family due to the “system” and the growing-pains the Wild West experienced as it evolved into a civilized, law-abiding society with the help of a national law enforcement organization now known as the FBI.

A more recent example of exploitation of Native Americans was described in the Second Book of the Week, “Heist, Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, His Republican Allies, and the Buying of Washington” by Peter H. Stone, published in 2006. Yet again, the hypothetical board game “Survival Roulette” could be applied to this scandal: Native American Exploitation Edition (See “Highly Confident” post).

There have been countless ultimate winners of this game through the centuries: all the people never caught for committing crimes against Native Americans. The vast majority have gone unpunished, including several people mentioned in the book, whose names have already faded from the public’s memory.

However, the most famous hypothetical losers of the game in this book were lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, and Congressman Tom DeLay. Instead of a Monopoly board, in keeping with the casino theme, the central structure of the game could be an actual roulette wheel, whose ball could land on spaces that describe the financial crimes of: bribery, money laundering, fraud, disclosure failures and influence peddling. Plus tax evasion. Just for good measure.

In short, with Abramoff as the ringleader, during the course of three years, the gang milked six Native American tribes for $82 million– that paid for political bribes, funding for a school, lavish gifts, and entertainment and recreation expenses– disguised as lobbying and public relations services on behalf of the tribes.

In this slim volume, the author dispensed with suspense by revealing up front that, when they got caught, Abramoff and his sidekick Scanlon accepted plea deals for their unethical opportunism, unconscionable greed and unmitigated hubris. The author then failed to explain why the Texas state government closed a casino run by the Tigua Indians in February 2002, but did explain later on.

Nevertheless, the story thereafter unfolded in more or less chronological order, starting with backstory from the 1990’s. The Tigua casino actually stayed closed, despite Abramoff’s fat fee, part of which he circuitously funneled through nonprofit organizations that ended up as political donations, and paid for a luxurious golf vacation in the United Kingdom for himself and his cronies.

Abramoff’s shamelessness knew no bounds. He had his friends, in order to service one of his tribal clients, marshal support from the likes of the Christian Coalition to convince the U.S. government that gambling was against their religion, and a reason to close the Tigua casino. At the same, he was lobbying on behalf of the Tiguas through illegal means, to reopen the casino (!) For that, he made megabucks from both sides.

Abramoff also helped to quash legislation that would have taxed his Choctaw client, and would have imposed tougher labor laws on his offshore client that manufactured clothing in the Marianas.

Kevin Sickey, who represented an Indian tribe that hired Abramoff, described the lobbyist’s propaganda thusly: “They exaggerated political threats and they exaggerated economic threats. Then they exaggerated their ability to deal with threats.”

Read the book to learn what led to the start of investigations by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and the Justice Department; Abramoff’s and Scanlon’s early-career adventures; and details of their and others’ punishments, among other nothing-new-under-the-sun type political opportunism, greed and hubris.

As an aside, the dollar value of political wrongdoing has reached dizzying heights in the past few decades, and it has been the same kind of wrongdoing, over and over again– committed mostly by alpha males. People who have an insatiable need for power and money apparently never learn from others whose stories have been well-publicized!


A Great Wall

The Book of the Week is “A Great Wall, Six Presidents and China: An Investigative History” by Patrick Tyler, published in 1999.

In this tome, the author recounted the history of the relationships between and among the United States, China, Taiwan and the former Soviet Union beginning in 1969. In March of that year, the Chinese started a border skirmish with the Soviets, killing a few tens of them.

American president Richard Nixon realized that it would be advantageous to play the Soviets off of the Chinese or vice versa, by becoming friendly with one or the other before the end of his administration. His eventual secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, insinuated himself into foreign policy matters early on by marginalizing the then-main adviser, William Rogers.

The socially manipulative Kissinger, by spring 1970, working in the White House, then proceeded to convince Nixon to take the State Department out of the loop on conversations the United States was having with China through the Pakistanis, and other players in the diplomacy game– Taiwan, Japan and the USSR. Nixon feared being criticized for betraying the democratic Taiwan by flirting with the Communists. It was completely antithetical to his past rabid anti-Communist ideology and vicious behavior against them.

Nixon’s desire for reelection in 1972, however, overrode any shred of morality he ever had and any consistent political behavior he ever displayed. In early 1971, after a few telling incidents, he relaxed: travel restrictions on Americans who wanted to go to China, and the trade embargo on products from China. That spring, as a goodwill gesture, the Chinese sent their ping-pong team to Japan to compete against that of the United States.

The major issues Nixon had to tackle in order to get reelected included the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, the Vietnam War, making nice with both China and Taiwan (a very tall order), plus the Pentagon Papers; not to mention the Watergate break-in.

Kissinger tried to generate hysteria by claiming that the Soviets had designs on China, so that’s why it was a bad idea for China to officially swallow Taiwan as part of its property. China was a sworn enemy of Taiwan because its efforts to take it over had been frustrated for decades.

China’s leader, Mao Tse Tung wanted China to take over Taiwan’s seat on the United Nations Security Council. Nixon was in a tough spot because in order to become friendly with the Chinese, he needed to bow to Mao’s wishes– help to oust Taiwan from the UN and terminate all diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the United States. George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley, Pat Buchanan and others disagreed with Nixon’s rejecting Taiwan to court China.

“Nixon’s credibility with America’s allies in Asia and the Pacific would depend on his reassurance that he was not making deals behind their backs…” But with Kissinger as Nixon’s point man, the secret proposed agreements kept on coming, making Nixon one of the biggest liars in the world. The ridiculously phony Kissinger deserved an Academy Award for his performances; telling the Chinese one thing, and the Taiwanese the opposite, secretly wooing the other.

The Chinese and Soviets had their complicated, internal power struggles, too. Mao got rid of his second-in-command in the second half of summer 1971 for trying to argue against fostering harmony with the Americans. For, flirting with the Americans would displease the Soviets. “Even a partial break with Moscow wasn’t popular in the Chinese military, which had been trained and equipped by the Soviets.”

The plot thickened in November 1971 when the Soviet-backed India picked a fight with the Chinese-backed Pakistan. The United States imposed economic sanctions on India. Eventually, East Pakistan became Bangladesh despite Kissinger’s United States’ failed attempt to butt into the fray.

In February 1972, Nixon became the focal point of the universe when he visited Beijing. He made headlines again when he gave a standing ovation at a musical show that had the Communists beating the capitalists (that was actually a PR gaffe).

It might be recalled that former American president Dwight Eisenhower signed the Mutual Defense Treaty, which was supposedly still in effect when Kissinger arrived on the scene. That document asserted that the United States would defend Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai Shek (in exile on Taiwan) and the territory of Taiwan in the event that China got militarily aggressive.

Therefore, Kissinger had to backpedal on a new communique he and Zhou Enlai of China were hammering out. The final version omitted any reference to the protection of Taiwan altogether. It was the least bad compromise Kissinger could muster, as many Nixon administration officials were furious that the president had sold out Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the Americans agreed with the Soviets that they didn’t want the Chinese to develop nuclear weapons, which were in the offing for China by the early 1990’s, according to futurists.

However, Kissinger whispered to China that American military contractors such as General Electric and Westinghouse might license their jet-engine manufacturing and nuclear-reactor technologies to China via Great Britain or France. But he told them the United States would publicly have to say it couldn’t do that because the sellers weren’t supposed to be offering dangerous war tools to Communist nations. However, the United States believed that helping modernize China would be economically beneficial for itself, so it did want to help.

In summer 1973, Mao was livid at Kissinger’s empty promises when the United States announced an agreement with the Soviet Union on reducing nukes and protecting the other in the event of third-party aggression. Besides, the Watergate investigation was raging. Zhou was dying of cancer. Soon, the Arabs and Israelis would be going at it. That’s good times.

In November 1973, amid the full-on palace intrigue in both the United States and China, Kissinger showed himself to be a pathological liar upon his return from personal talks with Zhou. He prepared a thirteen-page memo for his boss, the president, in which he called those talks a “positive success on all fronts.” No joke.

In late 1974, when China’s new negotiator Deng Xiaoping outed Kissinger on his dishonesty, Kissinger responded with indignation, like the hubris-syndrome plagued alpha-male that he was.

President Jimmy Carter needed the support of Congress for his Panama Canal Treaties, so he trod lightly (and contradictorily as had all his predecessors) on the China / Taiwan / Soviet conundrums.

In 1979, Deng received bad publicity for perpetrating human rights abuses even though his were not nearly as harsh as Mao’s. Nevertheless, this new political football led to criticism of Carter’s failure to call him out on them. Also that year, the United States helped China start a secret spying operation in China that monitored the Soviets from Central Asia to the Far East.

The 1980’s saw other complicated issues come into play that involved the usual needless deaths and ruined lives, like the war in Afghanistan and the continuing pesky presence of the Vietnamese in Cambodia.

American president Ronald Reagan was as bad as Kissinger in his doublespeak. Not fooled, the Chinese started meeting with the Soviets. “The pro-Taiwan faction [in the U.S. government] feared that every weapon or high-tech system sold to China would end up in Moscow.”

The American president’s negotiators spent much of the 1980’s in arms-sales talks with China and Taiwan, trying not to anger one or the other. By May 1989 in China, however, dissatisfaction among university students over the authorities’ treatment of themselves and dissidents reached critical mass.

Not coincidentally, the students– because they knew the whole world would be watching– launched a hunger strike and protests in major cities across China at the same time as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Beijing. America’s diplomatic representatives who held their reality show in Shanghai, also had their scene stolen.

Deng was embarrassed and angry that he couldn’t control the students, so he ordered law enforcement officers to disperse them with deadly weapons, arrests and executions, instead of just tear gas, water cannons and cops in riot gear. The horror and bloodshed lasted for about a month, as Hong Kong activists donated millions of dollars to the students’ cause to keep it alive.

In January 1990, president Bush vetoed a bill sponsored by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi that would have allowed Chinese students to stay in the United States as long as martial law stayed in effect in China. Further, he failed to express outrage at Deng’s tyranny because damage to America’s ties to China would result in a financial loss to America.

From a purely ethical standpoint, Deng’s behavior was horrifying. But from a purely economic standpoint, Bush was successful with the Chinese. And economics is what really matters in a reelection campaign.

Bush played a small part in convincing Deng to try some capitalist practices to see how they compared with China’s socialist ways. Also in January 1990, to distract his country from China, ironically, Bush ordered American law enforcement to arrest and try brutal Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, compliments of American taxpayers. Panama must no longer have been profitable for the United States.

The question in Bush’s administration that continued to rear its ugly head, though, was whether trade with China should have been conditional on whether China curbed its human rights abuses.

One argument that favored linking them was that: a country whose sociopathic leader ruled his people with fear and force and disregarded their health and welfare– would behave the same way– dishonestly– in business and trade.

Businesspeople in countries ruled by a dictator make a good living through the organized-crime tactics of bribery, racketeering, money laundering, etc. And low-level workers are always at risk for grave harm due to few or no health and safety laws. Yet imposing sanctions would be economically hurtful to both parties in some sectors.

So a trade agreement between or among nations is a microcosm of a political campaign (translation: propaganda war). The terms that are finally negotiated are always based on a barrage of anecdotal evidence. The specific industries that win or lose might or might not represent a significant sector of a country’s economy.

It’s an opportunity for the agreement’s signers to brag about (projected) job creation, the (projected) stimulation of domestic product purchases, and a (projected) significant resulting increase in wealth for their respective countries’ whole economy. According to them, everyone will live happily ever after with the trade agreement.

Attendant issues that might go unmentioned though, include the impact on labor unions, additional environmental pollution from the change in business practices, a numerical estimate of the rise in prices of specific products affected by additional tariffs (if any are imposed), and whether the signers or the constituents of the signers have any direct financial interests in the terms of the trade agreement (as did Kissinger late in his career, with regard to a U.S. / China joint venture).

Anyway, read the book to learn:

  • the details of the aforementioned nations’ leaders’ major power struggles that led to minor changes in policy (and more blustery talk than anything else)
  • of the propagandizing
  • of the conversational and arms-deals shenanigans, etc., plus
  • whether president Bill Clinton did any better than his predecessors at taking decisive action that would strike a balance among the complex political, economic, cultural and social issues surrounding the United States, China, Taiwan, the former Soviet Union and their neighbors in the diplomatic game.

No Excuses

The Book of the Week is “No Excuses– Concessions of A Serial Campaigner” by Robert Shrum, published in 2007. Shrum was a political consultant for various Democratic candidates for more than four decades.

Shrum perceived that the Washington Post was the sole newspaper that understood that the Watergate break-in wasn’t just an isolated incident. That is why it took so long for Americans to see how evil Nixon really was. Then again, political people are a vengeful lot.

Beginning in 1992, the Republicans launched a “… nonstop, eight-year campaign to destroy his [Bill Clinton’s] presidency. Everything was fair game in a witch hunt on a tireless search for an offense.” Ken Starr was coming up empty on the Whitewater investigation, so after three and a half years, he convinced the three-judge panel to “… widen his mandate to include possible perjury charges against the president related to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.”

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Shrum was an advisor to candidate Al Gore, during which there was rigorous fact-checking of everything Gore said in debates. Even so, he got a few minor details wrong. The Bush camp jumped right on the errors, accusing Gore of “sighing and lying.”

Voters have no idea how much cooperation (if any) there is behind the scenes of a candidate’s campaign, as media reports are distorted or exaggerated in this regard. But in September 2003, voters who believed the news, were focused on the supposed conflicts plaguing John Kerry’s staff instead of on John Kerry.

One of Kerry’s top aides, Jim Jordan was the source of the trouble. The press reported that Jordan was campaign manager. Jordan didn’t disabuse them of that notion. Howard Dean became a formidable competitor because he effectively raised funds via the Internet. Jordan didn’t believe that that fundraising channel would work, so he discouraged Kerry from trying it.

Jordan ignored political donors and couldn’t “… explain a coherent strategy for winning and we’re [the Kerry campaign] headed in the wrong direction — politically and financially.” Once Jordan was dismissed in November 2003, conditions improved. But not before the media trumpeted the turmoil and published Jordan’s negative utterances about the Kerry campaign.

Interestingly, Kerry enjoyed a small, unexpected boost in voter approval in late October 2004, when an unguarded cache full of American weapons was emptied by the enemy in Iraq. But Kerry’s advisers felt it was more important for their candidate to stay on-message than jump on Bush for this terrorist win; it would have been a distraction. It is such an irony that Americans are killed with their own weapons by terrorists through alleged anti-terrorist actions by the U.S. government.

So the way America’s enemies have acquired American weaponry hasn’t always been secret arms deals. Sometimes it has been. Other times, it has been caused by a raw, evil, greedy power grab perpetrated by a president who stokes fear that his country’s people will be victims again. Might makes right is never a good thing. It is simply a vicious cycle of needless deaths and ruined lives.

Anyway, read the book to learn of numerous other details of the fun insiders have in dealing with difficult: people, issues and publicity while advising a political candidate during an election campaign. So much fun.

Gorsuch – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Gorsuch, The Judge Who Speaks For Himself” by John Greenya, published in 2018.

This volume mostly discussed Neil Gorsuch’s nomination for the position of Supreme Court justice, gleaned from opinion pieces in online publications including blogs, and comments from interviews, in a disorganized fashion. With some of Obama’s political career thrown in. Plus the controversy surrounding Gorsuch’s mother. It got tedious after a while, and should not be classified as a biography.

As is well known, Gorsuch was nominated in an era with an especially emotionally charged political atmosphere. Of course, during his confirmation hearings, Gorsuch was grilled on one particularly extremely controversial issue: abortion.

Some Republicans propagandized that Gorsuch was a gentleman, and a good writer. Some Democrats propagandized that Gorsuch would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade. Prior to his SCOTUS nomination, he had served as an appellate judge for a decade, during which he saw no cases directly related to that case’s decision.

Gorsuch himself, in a book he wrote, conceded that whether abortion is the taking of a human life, hinges on the definition of “human life.” At his confirmation hearing, when pressed on whether he accepted that the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not consider a fetus a person, Gorsuch agreed it is federal law that says a fetus is not a person.

Abortion is one of the most, if not the most, volatile political issue in the United States, because it is a matter of religion and politics, life and death, and its legalization or not, has serious ripple effects on society. There are three major aspects, among a host of peripheral issues, upon which most people seize: biology, women’s rights, and economics.

The first major aspect relates to a few pieces of information that allow people to form opinions on the definition of “human life” to which there is no right or wrong:

A fetus’ heartbeat is detectable approximately two months into a pregnancy. Some people believe that when a heartbeat is detectable in a fetus, that that fetus is a human life.

Besides, a fetus can live outside the womb at approximately two months into a pregnancy, but it still requires a large amount of technological help with sustenance at that stage; around five months is when it can live outside the womb without the extensive assistance of medical technology.

Some people believe that if a fetus can live outside the womb (but the amount of life-support equipment any given fetus requires varies widely), that that fetus is a human life. Thus, some people believe abortion should be illegal from those respective points onward. Others believe life begins at conception. Therefore, according to them, abortion should never be legalized at any point.

The question of abortion obviously disproportionately affects females. Women’s rights involve a female’s control over her own body.

There are two major economics aspects to abortion:

Norman Mailer argued that from a purely economic (non-emotional) standpoint, abortion should have been legalized merely because, according to research, a lot of unwanted babies grow up to become career criminals. Legalization of abortion would eliminate the long-term costs to society of unwanted people.

Moreover, prior to the time abortions became legal, poor women who couldn’t afford illegal abortions done by an experienced medical professional, attempted abortion methods themselves, which were dangerous to their own health. So there arose long-term costs to society in the form of their medical expenses, if they didn’t die from complications.

Even though abortion is now legal conditionally, some poor women still cannot afford it. That raises the can of worms of whether abortions should be publicly funded. Which leads to a vicious cycle for poor women. And society.

Biological aspects of abortion that make abortion laws conditional, include: specifics on the trimester in which the procedure is performed, whether the mother’s or baby’s life is in danger and whether the baby is developmentally normal. An additional wrench in the works is whether a female should be able to have an abortion in a case of rape or incest.

The religious aspects of abortion are a whole other explosive ball of wax. Especially when sex education is thrown into the mix. Yet another cause of heated discussions is that it is impossible to prove how often abortion is used as a birth-control method.

The yelling and screaming, litigation and legislative debate is guaranteed to never stop, because there will always be questions such as: If the mother is extremely young– does she need a parent’s consent to have an abortion?

And can a pregnant woman of any age cross state lines in order to gain access to an abortion that is legal, given her situation? Which leads to the controversy of States’ Rights.

In the last several decades, the Democrats have faced a dilemma when they nominated a Catholic presidential candidate. The Democrats favor laws that allow abortion. Some Catholic and Christian voters say they would never vote for any candidate who is a Democrat for that reason alone. They say they wouldn’t waver on that. The question for the ages is: Is the number of these voters sufficient to affect the outcome of a presidential election?

Anyway, read the book to learn of other issues on which Gorsuch’s positions had yet to be seen as of the book’s writing, and tabloid writers’ and politicians’ take on his fitness for the U.S. Supreme Court.