Madame President

The Book of the Week is “Madame President, The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf” by Helene Cooper, published in 2017.

In post-Civil War America, (White) slave owners who had secretly fathered offspring were afraid of further racial strife, so they sent manumitted slaves to Liberia. By the late 1860’s, there were 28 different ethnic groups living there.

Ellen Johnson was born in October 1938 in the country’s capital, Monrovia– ironically, a place that discriminates against dark-skinned people. Her mother was unusually lucky. Her mother’s poverty-stricken parents handed her off to foster care, where her fair skin was received favorably throughout her childhood. Johnson got her mother’s color. Her family predicted she would have a lucky life– a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Even so, Johnson had to endure the difficulties females faced in her culture. These included: an arranged marriage (that allowed polygamy for the husband), the expectation that she would bear children; physical abuse, and sex imposed by males against the wills of females of all ages.

Fortunately, Johnson bore four sons and her husband was an attorney. He and she had valuable social connections that allowed them the chance to study in the United States. Childcare was handled by extended relatives.

When Johnson-Sirleaf was thirty years old, she had had enough of the barbaric practices heaped upon Liberian people of her gender. She obtained a divorce. Right up until the courtroom hearing finalizing the split, she was phobic that her ex would retaliate yet again with even worse domestic violence than before. Divorcing was a radical step for a Liberian female. But she was exceptional; in her life, every special advantage she got led to another. Yet, most of her later achievements were done on her own merits– not as a result of marriage to a powerful man.

The Liberian government had one political party, the True Whig Party, whose members used the government as their personal piggy bank. By the early 1970’s, there was a very wide income/asset gap between the government officials and military thugs, and the unfortunate Liberian citizens; there was no middle class. The nation had been drained of its major resources, rubber and iron, which had been exported to foreign countries by profiteers.

Johnson was academically skilled and played well with others politically. She got a job with the Liberian Debt Service Department at Treasury, and then the Ministry of Finance while radical changes were afoot. She studied accounting, and later, public administration at Harvard. However, her public speech could be inflammatory, because she told the truth. She called the system a “kleptocracy– corrupt to the core.” At a later time, she warned that a peasant revolt was in the offing.

In 1971, the new nepotistic “president” of the country was switching benefactors, from the United States to the U.S.S.R. Allegedly, he was going to help the downtrodden and eliminate corruption. Yet he practiced cronyism on a royal scale and angered the civilian Liberian people in numerous other ways.

Read the book to learn how the tide turned eventually through the ugly events that transpired; how, more than once, Johnson was very nearly killed but instead encountered a checkered fate; and how the United States played a major part in her and Liberia’s survival, despite having blood on its hands.

See You in Court – BONUS POST

The Book of the Week is “See You in Court” by Thomas Geoghegan, published in 2007. The author, a labor lawyer in Illinois, argued in this short paperback that the decline of unions in the United States is responsible for all sorts of ills that were plaguing the nation at the book’s writing (and have gotten worse since), such as the replacing of the of Rule of Law, contract law, and anti-trust law– with tort litigation; the risk of the disappearance of retirement funds at the whim of employers, and the growing income gap between rich and poor.

The author failed to differentiate between unions in the private sector, and ones in the government. Beginning in the 1950’s, the unions in the private sector were becoming unnecessary with the way things were progressing in the United States.

Economics 101 says that a nation requires a healthy, well-educated workforce. Unions in the private sector discouraged upward mobility– why should workers want to acquire more training and edification in their careers if they were making a decent living and their jobs were protected? Unions in low-skilled positions especially, fostered complacency. Private-sector unions fostered a lazy, poorly educated nation of low-skilled employees who went to work to collect a paycheck.

By the 1990’s, non-union, private-sector employees needed no protection. Employee satisfaction gets the same score as customer service. Free-market competition usually kept employers in line.

If employees walked off the job en masse, other employers gladly accepted employees and business lost by the wayward employer. Customers and employees could go over to Wendy’s if McDonald’s was unsatisfactory, or to Target if Walmart didn’t deliver. Low pay and difficult working conditions should have encouraged fry cooks and greeters to go to school to get a better job.

In the early 20th century, there was a need to protect workers– who were easily subjected to exploitation because many workers were poorly skilled, poorly educated new immigrants. There was limited opportunity for education, and limited transportation options even if workers were willing to relocate to find a job. Into the 1990’s, workers had more resources than ever to find work or engage in professional improvement if they wanted to.

Unions are always needed in civil service and in a few monopolistic industries (such as couriers, transportation, education and healthcare services), because they are exceptional. They are providing essential services (health, education and welfare), or else the work they provide is a matter of life and death. Government employees who are providing essential services deserve due process, in exchange for not striking.  Striking is illegal, and rightly so. There would be massive economic and/or societal disruption, and possible deaths, if they were to walk off the job en masse. Therefore, civil service unions are a necessary evil.

The unions in the author’s day used to minimize the number of workers’ compensation claims, which have now become tort suits, in which the cause of action (grounds for suing) has become discrimination. Such suits are many more times complex than contract law. The legal bills for these suits keep soaring, as well. Pretrial discovery entails “fishing expeditions”– extremely intrusive investigations of, say, medical records and activities of the plaintiffs, so that the defendants can gain every possible legal advantage.

The author also ranted about various other issues. He wrote that hegemonic institutions such as nonprofit hospitals, Ivy League universities (which get billions of dollars in government grants) and nonprofit organizations sue people for nonpayment but get massive tax breaks themselves.

These entities get away with this because they are allowed to keep their accounting books secret– they file neither tax returns nor SEC documents. The author failed to specify how big a part of the U.S. economy this sector is. That situation has partially changed among the hospitals anyway (but not necessarily improved), due to Obamacare.

The author pointed out that “The more we deregulate, the less stability and civic trust we have… More and more it seems we don’t trust government, we don’t trust business, we don’t even trust each other.”

But– in the 2020’s, after the Trump administration has continued its predecessors’ policies to the extreme–  running the government like one big brand (the president’s own) while allowing monster-sized corporations to ruthlessly profit with regard to neither the workers nor various populations who will be victims of pollution, poor quality education, housing and healthcare– history will have come full circle. There will be a need for unions in the private sector again (!)

Read the book to learn of additional outrages that have arisen in recent decades, such as the replacement of litigation with arbitration imposed by big corporations, how the law has changed to allow widespread usury, why people are suing Social Security to collect disability payments that are rightfully theirs, and how overpaid CEO’s (a redundant phrase) are making U.S. companies’ products less competitive overseas.

The Year of the Goat

The Book of the Week is “The Year of the Goat, 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese” by Margaret Hathaway, published in 2007. This is an account of a couple’s journey to collect data for deciding whether they could and/or wanted, to become goat farmers to produce goat milk, cheese and/or meat for eating.

The author and her boyfriend were New Yorkers when the story started. They were seriously considering a major lifestyle change, realizing how stressful and unhealthy their lives had become.

The couple started their road trip in August 2003, driving around the United States, visiting goat-related events and places like festivals / auctions / conventions / races, farms and stores; even a college of veterinary medicine. They met hundreds of people in the industry.

Read the book to learn all the details and the results of their efforts– whether they took the plunge.

Leadership

The Book of the Week is “Leadership” by Rudy Giuliani, published in 2002. This was a description of actions the author took in supervising and managing people to accomplish his law-enforcement and political goals.

In general, Giuliani wrote that when he was mayor of New York City in the second half of the 1990’s through 2001, he did his homework and lived by the motto “be prepared.” He held an 8am daily meeting for high-level officials of major city agencies for purposes of communication, identifying problem areas, and monitoring progress.

In 2000, he was planning to run for the Senate. However, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The media behaved the way they usually do. “First of all, a great deal of the coverage was wrong. Reporters were talking about me to doctors I’d never even met… Television networks… asked if I’d be willing to have a camera come with me to my MRI and other extremely private moments– even a digital rectal examination.”

The author felt that it was important to learn the basics about every aspect of his administration- through reading, not just talking to people. He wrote, “It helps you distinguish between authentic and make-believe experts, the truly competent and the ideological knee jerkers.”

Giuliani was a very popular mayor who was credited with cleaning up Times Square and truly taking care of New Yorkers.

However, this book’s structure was redundant. It kept returning to the subjects of his law-enforcement achievements and what he saw and did on and after 9/11. Read the book to learn the details of this bragfest (notwithstanding the fact that the man has bragging rights.)

The Long Game

The Book of the Week is “The Long Game” by (Senator) Mitch McConnell, published in 2016. This is the autobiography of a Republeral (Republican Liberal).

Born in 1942 in Alabama, McConnell survived polio when he was a toddler, thanks to his mother’s endless patience in treating him with prescribed exercises. His father fought in WWII. He spent his later formative years in Georgia and Kentucky.

Although he acquired a law degree, McConnell disliked practicing law. Aspiring to a political career,  he had already been elected to leadership positions in high school and college. In 1997 in Louisville, Kentucky, when he ran for a Jefferson County judgeship, he promised to eliminate corruption and patronage among the Democrats.

Instead of elaborating on whether he actually fulfilled those promises, the author admitted that he glad-handed every voter in Kentucky in order to prepare to run for a higher elected office– Republican U.S. Senator. This book had zero about what he did in his two terms as a judge.

In 1984, during McConnell’s Senate race, he hired Roger Ailes, who produced ads that humorously cast aspersions on his opponent. When the opponent ran radio ads, he responded in kind with equal air time. Money was no object. His miraculous comeback resulted in a victory by 5,100 votes– 1 vote per district. The recount took two weeks.

McConnell’s stances on numerous issues were incongruous with his party (Republican). He took a Liberal stance when he voted in favor of economic sanctions against South Africa and in favor of free speech issues, even when it came to flag-burning.

McConnell opposed campaign finance reform, but offered an invalid argument against it. He reasoned that the (illusory) Liberal media bias was so strong that limiting “soft” money political donations would limit a candidate’s ability to purchase equal media time for issue ads appearing in a liberal media outlet. However, soft money donations are fungible— not always spent on ads.

The author’s second wife was a Chinese overachiever. In the summer of 2000, she delivered a speech about her experience as an immigrant, and agreed with “… [George W.] Bush’s belief that immigration is not a problem to be solved, but a sign of the continuing appeal of the American dream.” This viewpoint is not usually held by Republicans.

McConnell could not have been clearer about his hero-worship for George W. Bush. One line went, “I think George W. Bush was an outstanding wartime president.” To push the point, the author made outrageously, ridiculously dishonest statements about the war the president started in Iraq; two included: “Morale was very high– among both our troops and the citizens of Iraq.” and “There was simply no question that on the military and tactical levels, the [General David] Petraeus plan had been a tremendous success…” According to most Americans and even government officials, the war actually turned out to be another Vietnam.

Senator McConnell could not get enough of George W. Bush’s Republican Conservative cronyism. He resoundingly voted yea for the president’s alleged deficit reduction bill that imposed austerity on Medicaid, Medicare and farm subsidies, an energy bill, and legislation relating to the Alternative Minimum Tax. The senator wrote that when the economy crashed in 2008, prompting bailouts for only the financial institutions with friends in the Treasury Department– “We had saved the economy from complete peril (and in fact the money given away through TARP has since been repaid with interest).” Was the money a loan or was it given away?

Yet one more head-shaker in McConnell’s book mentioned how, in 2008, when the nation chose Obama as its next president, the author was thrilled that it had elected an African American. Yet he also characterized the new leader as a great speaker, but a poor negotiator, condescending, and a critical lecturer in meetings. Vice President Joe Biden, on the other hand, was honest in expressing his side’s goals and was willing to compromise without offending his counterpart.

The legislation that eventually became Obamacare needed to contain a vast quantity of “pork” or else the Democrats couldn’t have gotten even a sufficient number of their own Congress members to vote for it. Further, McConnell complained bitterly that in 2014, Harry Reid had changed the rules of the Senate to favor the Democrats. In the mid-1990’s, Republicans owned Congress and treated it as their personal fiefdom. Excuse the cliche, but “Turnabout is fair play.”

Read the book to learn of McConnell’s scholarship program at the University of Louisville, and how he finally reached the peak of his career (with the help of two traits– patience and perseverance), despite other crazy contradictions in his words and actions.

Johnny Carson

The Book of the Week is “Johnny Carson” by Henry Bushkin, published in 2013. This is a biography of the most popular late-night TV talk-show host of the 1970’s and 1980’s, as seen through the eyes of his attorney and closest non-spouse confidant in those decades.

Carson might have been a natural at stand-up comedy and interviewing celebrities, but his personal life was always a shambles. His psychological troubles began in his childhood. Both of his parents were emotionally distant, but his mother was a particularly detestable creature. Her treatment of her son gave rise to lifelong self-destructive behavior patterns in him, such as excessive drinking, smoking, and Jekyll-and-Hyde episodes.

A man typical of his generation, Carson believed all of the female stereotypes, and his confirmation bias inevitably led him to meet and marry three gold-digging, emotional women, and pay them big bucks upon divorcing them. He died before divorcing the fourth wife.

During his marriages, he was continually paying for his infidelity by showering his aggrieved partners with expensive gifts. Once he became a member of the super-rich set, he behaved like many of them, sparing no expenses on residences, vehicles and clothing, and throwing money at problems to make them go away.

Up until the 1970’s, prior to acquiring excessive wealth, however, Carson was getting swindled by all of the business professionals he had hired. He had naively chosen to associate with untrustworthy individuals. Upon meeting Carson, the author– who had barely started his career but had savvy legal bosses–  sorted out his financial dealings. He re-negotiated various legal situations to not only stem the bleeding, but maximize earnings for his new boss.

Read the book to learn much more about the impact Bushkin had on Carson’s life, and vice versa.

Appetite for Self-Destruction

The Book of the Week is “Appetite for Self-Destruction, The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age” by Steve Knopper, published in 2009. This is an account of how the American music industry, for the most part, reacted badly to the jarring changes wrought by technological advances starting in the late 1970’s.

For decades prior to the 1970’s, the music market in the United States had had a shady reputation– involving drugs, kickbacks, bribes and cronyism, among other vices.

Even after CDs proved to provide sound that was superior to plastic records, entities in the music industry supply chain resisted making CDs because it necessitated the reconfiguring of their: factories, marketing materials, store displays, etc. Modernizing everything was expensive.

In 1978, the Sony CDP-101 could play the first CD title:  “52nd Street” from Billy Joel. But only in Japan. PolyGram Records, CBS Records and Sony understood the value of the new product. Arista Records, Capitol Records and EMI didn’t.

In addition to the widespread introduction of CDs in America by the late 1980’s, the sale of CBS Records was another disruptive force in the industry, resulting in power struggles and lots of layoffs. The old-school record labels depended on MTV, radio and music stores to distribute their wares for another decade.

The tail end of the 1990’s saw a new technology that really turned the industry on its ear:  the World Wide Web. It enabled people to create software that allowed free (no-cost and no restrictions) electronic-music-file sharing. In December 1999, the organization regulating intellectual property rights on music, the RIAA, sued one of the major organizations doing the sharing– Napster– for copyright violations. By the following summer, the latter had approximately nineteen million users per month.

Read the book to learn of the outcome of the above and other legal battles; the new 1990’s and early 2000’s music conduits and devices, their relationships to the laws on music piracy; and many other actions taken by the American music industry that have fueled the current state of digital music sales.

50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People

The Book of the Week is “50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People” by Sally Beare, originally published in  2003. The author visited five places in the world where people are unusually long-lived. She argued that their lifestyles account for that phenomenon.

The residents of Okinawa, Symi, Campodimele, Huza and Bama all have insular cultures and an absence of pollution. Three of the above-named places are in Asia and two are in Europe.  The societies’ economies are self-sustaining agricultural and/or fishing and/or herding villages. They engage in rigorous manual labor– lots of exercise– and have the healthiest diets on the planet. Also, they don’t smoke.

Their diets consist mostly of raw or lightly cooked leafy greens, whole grains, seafood, soy products and other legumes, and fresh fruit; plus, hundreds of different herbs, locally grown. They might flavor their food with extra virgin olive oil, capers, garlic and onions. If they have alcohol, it is rice wine, in moderation. Daily beverages include green tea and calcium-rich water.

The author claimed that the farming societies used no pesticides, artificial fertilizers or genetic modification that generate higher crop yields. Yet the societies had adequate food, insects and birds in the food chain that eliminated pests that would harm the crops.

“Most genetically modified crops grown in the United States are corn, canola, and soybeans, as well as cotton, papaya and squash… Genetically modified crops have nothing to do with feeding the world and everything to do with the billions of dollars they are worth annually.”

The author mentioned Monsanto as just one monster-sized corporation that creates substances that contaminate America’s food supply. Disclosure of the data collected by various entities on carcinogens and other harmful food additives created by Monsanto, has been suppressed with cooperation by the U.S. government, just like with the tobacco companies in previous decades.

Read the book to learn which specific foods cut the risk of cancer, and why they do so; and the specific foods, exercises and activities that can help retard aging.

Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

The Book of the Week is “Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” by Al Franken, published in 2003. This was a comedic look at news reporters, commentators, politicians and even media outlets who and that intended to deceive, and succeeded in deceiving viewers, listeners and readers via distortion, misleading statements, exaggeration, outright fabrication and all shades of falsity in between. Franken did his homework with the help of Harvard students, and called people to get information directly from “the horse’s mouth.”

First, the author provided credible research results showing that there was no liberal media bias at least up until the book’s writing. In fact, one of countless examples was that Al Gore was covered more negatively than George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. Further, after the Monica Lewinsky story broke, former President Bill Clinton was criticized nonstop by media people of all persuasions.

At that time, cost-cutting measures in the media had also taken hold. In-depth reports cost big money– compared to two pundits who read one tabloid article on a popular political issue, and then heatedly argue on camera.

Franken provided ample evidence that political commentator Ann Coulter produced little or no support for her supposedly factual statements on conservative issues mentioned in books she wrote. The few sources she mentioned were in hard-to-find endnotes.

Former president George W. Bush lied numerous times during his 2000 presidential campaign and thereafter. One particular set of lies was about past crimes he committed for which he never spent a day in prison: insider trading, cocaine possession, drunk driving, and going AWOL from the National Guard.  The author cited reliable sources– it wasn’t just tabloid gossip.

When the book went to print, a particular Fox political show with four commentators which claimed to be “balanced” actually featured “…two hard-core conservatives and two centrists.”

Bill O’Reilly (remember him?) prevaricated pathologically. He had a “… shopworn inventory of boorish tactics– bluster, bullying and belittling– in order to advance a thinly disguised conservative agenda.”

Dick Cheney contended that his and Halliburton’s profiting in an extremely, extremely large way through Halliburton’s secret subsidiaries was unrelated to the United States government. Yet his company was able to completely ignore the law to do business with Iran and Iraq, anyway. In July 2000, Cheney made known on ABC’s This Week that he was allegedly ignorant (willfully ignorant, if he was, which is unlikely) of Halliburton’s business deals in Iraq. This continued while America  went to war with that member-state of the “Axis of Evil.”

The Wall Street Journal also insulted the intelligence of Americans by giving credit to former President George W. Bush for the drop in crime during the years former President Bill Clinton was in office (!)  Dick Cheney tried to credit his boss’s administration for the effectiveness of the American military in Afghanistan and Iraq. But in August 2000, prior to the wars, he said “A Commander in Chief leads the military built by those who came before him.” That would be Bill’s Clinton’s lookout, not Bush’s.

Although Sean Hannity probably truly believed what he was saying, he meant to dishonestly sway his viewers:  “I think the weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq] will be found. I don’t think we don’t have any doubt about that.” He gives viewers the false impression that he knows something they don’t know. And they believe him; otherwise, they wouldn’t watch him. In late May 2003, speaking to TV viewers in Poland, President Bush announced, “We found weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq].” Rush Limbaugh uttered similar opinions in the same vein. The dishonest utterances just went on and on.

Read the book to learn of a boatload of people and entities who and that, twisted the truth on important issues; to name just a few issues: George W. Bush’s tax cut, his education program erroneously entitled “No Child Left Behind” and the horrible pollution of both hog farms and coal mining operations resulting from Bush’s relaxation of health and safety laws; and the adversely affected parties– taxpayers, students, and residents near the farms and mines.

Endnote: It’s a shame that this physical book lacked an index, which would have outed the liars in a comprehensive list, immediately. Since the author was already stooping to their level in name-calling, he should have gone all the way and saved his critics time by telling them where they were mentioned. Franken would not have had to reply to a significant additional barrage of inane online comments. Lazy, angry people who don’t do their homework are going to lash out at people who attack their side with factual research results, even if they have the most comprehensive research tools in the world.

Lastly, this was a book of jokes, but it actually covered lies about serious issues– life and death, money, education, etc. The nation is still lying about serious issues, and it appears that’s not going to change anytime soon.

Start-Up Nation

The Book of the Week is “Start-Up Nation, The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, published in 2009. The authors of this extended essay ponder why Israel had, at the book’s writing, a huger number of tech start-ups than all other industrialized nations, second only to the United States’. The reasons range from the cultural to the political to the economic.

The Israeli corporate and military mentality involves: complete focus; learning from errors (which are tolerated and treated as learning experiences); constant debriefings and self-criticism sessions; endless, heated debate; and empowerment of employees at all status levels to use their initiative and resources– even to the point of upstaging their bosses with their input. This atmosphere encourages independent thinking, and discourages herd mentality and blind obedience.

Militarily, all Israelis serve a minimum of two to three years and then become reservists for two more decades. Close social ties are formed that foster business relationships later. The exceptional rising stars participate in special nine-year training programs that create  “foxes” rather than “hedgehogs.” Foxes use diverse skills from operating and maintaining high-tech equipment to imaginatively solving problems.

After serving their country, many Israelis then attend university. Finally, employers consider quality and quantity of military experience as major hiring criteria.

The authors provided real-life examples of how the traits Israelis possess cause them to gravitate toward entrepreneurial ventures. In 1965, in one instance, kibbutzniks digging a well hoping to find drinking water instead encountered warm, salty water. A creative academic advised them to breed tropical food-fish. By-products of the fish-farm were used for fertilizer for their olive and date trees.

Read the book to learn of additional characteristics of and actions taken by Israelis and their government that have helped them achieve technological advances in various economically rewarding areas, including medicine, auto manufacturing and computing.