Man of Tomorrow

The Book of the Week is “Man of Tomorrow, The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown” by Jim Newton, published in 2020.

Born in April 1938 in San Francisco, Brown had two older sisters and one younger. His father, Pat, was Democrat governor of California in the early 1960’s. Jerry became a devout Jesuit while in college. In 1961, he began law school at Yale, where his tuition was paid via a foundation program that benefited children of California officeholders, run by philanthropist Louis Lurie.

In the mid-1960’s, California governor Ronald Reagan signed bills for laws for three different, moderately liberal causes. The first bill raised taxes. In July 1967, after a scary incident involving the Black Panthers, Reagan ratified the Mulford Act, which outlawed the carrying of a loaded firearm in public. Thirdly, the same year, Reagan (grudgingly) legalized abortion for pregnant Californians whose lives were endangered or who were victims of rape.

Helped by name recognition via his father, after getting elected as California governor in 1974, Brown, fatalist though he was, proved to be an environmentally friendly politician. In autumn 1976, he signed 21 bills intended to provide pollution protection for his state’s coastal areas. Yet, he cut spending and shrunk government– defying his party’s reputation.

During his religious phase as a student and thereafter, Brown spent long hours in philosophical contemplation in order to hash out his political views. He effected prison-sentencing reform that changed “doing time” from rehabilitation to punishment.

However, California’s whole criminal justice system is arbitrary– changing with the tenor of the times, and by imposing sentencing guidelines, as the new law did, at least judges would presumably have been less biased (differ less widely) in meting out punishment. And in his second time around as governor (he was elected again in 2010, and was reelected), he issued a lot of pardons and commutations because he still had faith in humanity.

One issue that affected others was an initiative in which the California government auctioned off quantities of the state’s polluters’ emissions, providing the state with revenues it could use for pet projects of the governor. In the 2010’s, Brown was planning a high-speed railway, wanted to protect poor communities from environmental damage, and (obviously) needed to do maintenance for forest-fighting prevention.

In his four terms, Brown mulled over whether to sign or veto more than twenty thousand potential laws. In 2018 alone, he deemed 201 out of 1,016 of them, unworthy of his support.

Read the book to learn of California history, the history of its popular culture, the forces behind the rise of Brown’s popularity there, and the issues that shaped his actions.

The Passion of Ayn Rand

The Book of the Week is “The Passion of Ayn Rand, A Biography” by Barbara Branden, published in 1986.

Born in St. Petersburg in February 1905, Ayn (rhymes with “mine”) Rand, whose father was a chemist, spent her early childhood in a cultured, Jewish family in Petrograd. After graduating from high school in the Crimea, when the family was poverty-stricken and starving due to the Bolshevik Revolution, Rand taught literacy to Red Army soldiers.

In the early 1920’s, the Russian government evilly schemed to allow “former bourgeoisie” such as Rand’s family to work in cooperatives until it felt sufficient assets were accumulated, at which time it stole those assets by force. Its attitude was: “… workers and peasants were extolled as the highest types of humanity, and intellectuals, unless they employed their intelligence in selfless service to the state, were denounced as parasitical.”

Rand was headstrong in her desire to flee to America and never return to Russia. She eventually got her wish in the mid-1920’s, thanks to her mother’s distant relatives in Chicago. After overcoming numerous obstacles, she lived with her Orthodox-Jewish relatives, and later, struck out on her own in Los Angeles. She was driven to become a writer and let nothing stand in her way.

Rand eventually wrote what became a very famous novel– Atlas Shrugged— whose theme was that if intellectuals are the ones “…who make civilization possible– Why have they never recognized their own power? Why have they never challenged their torturers and expropriators? … it is the victims, the men of virtue and ability, who make the triumph of evil possible by…” being too nice to their oppressors.

Rand thought that the American government, with its anti-trust stance, was persecuting industrialists. She thought the latter deserved to enjoy every last penny of the fruits of their labor because they were the economic engine of the nation.

In rebelling against her former country’s socialist economic system under its Communist political system, Rand thought workers were becoming too powerful, and she denounced them as parasitical. She dogmatically advocated an extreme version of “survival of the fittest” or Libertarianism.

However, when government becomes an accomplice to its donors’ activities that involve excessive greed, conflicts of interest and unfair economic advantages– society becomes economically unbalanced as wealth becomes too concentrated in a tiny percentage of the population; this situation foments class resentment. For additional information on this situation, see this blog’s posts:

  • Wikinomics / Courting Justice
  • What’s the Matter With Kansas
  • Street Without A Name
  • Sons of Wichita
  • Outsider in the White House
  • Crossing the River
  • Burned Bridge, and
  • Forty Autumns.

Whittaker Chambers wrote in his negative review of Atlas Shrugged, “Miss Rand calls in a Big Brother of her own… She plumps for a technocratic elite… And in reality too, by contrast with fiction, this can only head into a dictatorship…”

Rand formulated the theory of Objectivism, whose purely capitalist-free-market-oriented, rational thinking completely rejected religion. Yet she never did explain– in her lucrative lectures to big-name, elitist, politically liberal (ironically!) American colleges, how that squared with her total rejection of godless Communism / Socialism.

Incidentally, the main character of the novel itself– whose cult of personality persuades intellectuals from all walks of life to go on strike– says, “Force and mind are opposites, morality ends where a gun begins… It is only in retaliation that force may be used and only against the man who starts its use.”

Along these lines, gun-control advocates in the United States have been too nice for too long. Except for short periods, whenever there’s been a proposal to:

  • curb the bearing of arms (not even all arms, just the most destructive ones–that are overkill for hunting or local law enforcement), or
  • enact stricter background checks on the granting of gun permits or licenses,

the opposition has repeatedly, through propaganda and money, convinced enough significantly powerful people that:

  • no stricter background checks should be done, and
  • no firearms should be banned pursuant to the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

Sources with more information include this blog’s posts:

  • A Good Fight
  • Undercover, and
  • Savage Spawn.

If America wants to return to “normal” (have pre-COVID gatherings of a large number of people in one place), it needs to put ILLEGAL-gun control at the top of the agenda.

Anyway, read the book to learn of Rand’s biographer’s relationship to Rand, a wealth of additional details on Rand and how she acquired her wealth, the romantic subplot in the soap opera of her life, and much more on her theories, writings and lectures.

Hugo Black

The Book of the Week is “Hugo Black, A Biography” by Roger K. Newman, published in 1994. It is ironic that the Caucasian subject’s name was Black, as he was involved in many civil-rights controversies.

Born in 1886 in Clay County, Alabama, Black grew up in a small, poor, agricultural community. When he himself was fourteen, his father died of complications from alcoholism. He completed two years of medical school and passed his exams in becoming a doctor like his older brother, but lacked passion. He was more suited to lawyering, so he also graduated with honors in two years from the University of Alabama.

Black’s legal career started to flourish only after he moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where the culture allowed him to meet important people including a mentor, and get experience in labor law. In the single-digit 1900’s, the segregated-by-skin-color city was still an Old South aristocracy that offered hard manual work for blacks (which comprised nearly half the population) in coal, iron, railroads and steel. There were also: numerous taverns, brothels and churches, and a growing temperance movement.

Black joined as many social and civic organizations as he could because he knew they could further his careers in law (representing labor unions) and politics. In 1910, his mentor pressured him into becoming a low-level criminal-court judge for a year to give him more experience from a different perspective. By 1914, Black was elected Jefferson County solicitor (equivalent to district attorney) as a Democrat. He quit in 1917 to join the U.S. Army.

As a litigator, Black was a master of courtroom histrionics. He was not below furthering his career to take on a morally repugnant case, such as defending a friend who had committed murder. In 1923, Black joined the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan stood for unions and of course, white supremacy; spewed hatred against corporations and immigration, and committed physical violence against Catholics, Jews, blacks, etc. Into the 1930’s in the state of Alabama, the group’s political power was so dominant that one was required to be a member in order to win any election in Alabama.

When asked about his membership later by anti-New Dealers, Black rationalized and minimized and lied and said everybody joined in those days, and then changed the subject. Alabama senator Oscar Underwood’s career ended in May 1925 when he spoke out against the K.K.K. Not only that– Underwood was forced to move to Virginia. Ironically, there were poor whites who voted for Black (for Alabama senator) only because the K.K.K. paid their $1.50 poll tax in 1927.

Black was a voracious reader, attacking the Senate library, absorbing biographies and writings of ancient Greek and Roman bigwigs. He was anti-immigration and also anti-trust. In 1933, he led an investigation in the latter area involving “Destroyed records, competitive bidding shunned, questionably large salaries and profits– the picture that emerged was depressingly familiar.” By the end of the 1930’s, other anti-trust cases that grabbed newspaper headlines made the dueling ideologies of the New Deal and Wall Street, cliches.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. military ordered Japanese people on the West Coast to be confined to concentration camps. Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson considered such action to be racism, and arguably a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as it was violating the Japanese’s due-process rights, treating them as though they were already guilty of a crime. Justice Black thought that wartime made such action permissible, because no one could know who was loyal and who was disloyal to the United States.

In addition to civil-rights cases in the 1940’s, the Supreme Court handled a voting-redistricting case. The majority opinion was that it was up to state legislatures to “…apportion properly or to invoke the ample powers of Congress.” But, as with (now) countless cases, “How the people could obtain a remedy from the body that perpetuated the abuse was never explained: it is to admit there is no remedy.” Additional cases on redistricting were adjudicated in the early 1960’s. Meanwhile, as is well known, a series of hotly debated civil-rights cases came down the pike.

In 1963, Black’s take on sit-ins and protests was influenced by his childhood experiences. His father owned a store. He developed the firm belief that the store was his family’s private property, and his father could bar anyone from it, for trespassing. Entering private property was not a Constitutional right, even if people sitting at a lunch counter were perfectly willing to pay for food that the owner refused to serve them.

A sit-in in Black’s mind was an issue of private property, not free speech. He also felt that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s peaceful protests should have been prohibited because there was the potential for crowds to become violent. That was also not a matter of free speech, but of action– also not protected by the Constitution. Unsurprisingly for the times, in Birmingham in spring 1963, “Television showed police dogs attacking peaceful marchers and fire hoses thrashing at them… ” which were actions ordered by Alabama governor George C. Wallace.

Read the book to learn every last detail of how Black became a U.S. Supreme Court associate justice, plus much more about Black’s life, times and Supreme Court cases.

Bella Abzug – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Bella Abzug, An oral history (sic)” by Suzanne Braun Levin and Mary Thom, published in 2007. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Abzug was a pioneer in law and politics, not just due to her gender. Females in each of their respective times had to be tough as nails to be taken sufficiently seriously to wield influence to effect change.

In this day and age, the Web, TV and radio are dominant sources of voting-influence. However, it is difficult to measure how much influence specific individuals (pundits, politicians, celebrities, etc.) of those outlets, have on voters. When users, viewers or listeners merely acknowledge that they like a show or read the messages or posts of someone specific, it is likely they are seeking to confirm what they already believe– those “influencers” aren’t changing the audiences’ minds. Therefore, candidates must try to influence impressionable people who are voting for the first time who make up their minds ahead of time, and try to gauge how significant a sector, are voters who decide at the last minute.

The 2020 presidential election will likely have unprecedented last-minute surprises, so no one really knows how to fully prepare to influence the outcome of the election. Nevertheless, one unbiased open-ended survey question asked of high schoolers, college students, and last-minute voters– which might actually turn out to be all voters in 2020– could be, “What was the biggest influencer of your voting decision for or against a certain candidate– an individual, website, TV show, TV commercial or radio show? Name him, her or it, and specify the candidate, and whether for or against.”

Anyway, born in 1920 in New York City, Abzug graduated from Columbia University Law School during WWII. After the war, she applied for a job as an attorney at a law firm that practiced labor law. She said the firm (because they were sexist) “… would offer me money which was lower than the minimum wage paid the workers they were representing!” In those days, law firms didn’t hire attorneys who were female, let alone ones who were Jewish, as was Abzug.

Abzug intentionally avoided learning how to use a typewriter so bosses wouldn’t order her to do typing rather than practice law. In 1972, she was the first member of Congress to call for president Richard Nixon’s impeachment.

There was plenty of political violence during the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Nixon. According to Margot Polivy’s recollection, “Every month or so, there was a major demonstration. Half the time all of downtown Washington (D.C.) reeked of tear gas… All the Nobel Prize winners started to get arrested, and they didn’t have jail space for them.”

In 1974, Abzug coauthored the Privacy Act and FOIA, which required federal government agencies to send unclassified documentation to any member of the public who requested it in connection with the government’s operations and records. Unfortunately, times have changed. Radically.

Read the book to learn much more about Abzug’s personality, family, career and accomplishments.

Political Woman

The Book of the Week is “Political Woman, The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick” by Peter Collier, published in 2012.

Born in 1926 in Oklahoma, Kirkpatrick and her family moved to Illinois when she was twelve. Although her father had higher hopes for her younger brother and gave him more opportunities in life because he was a boy, she became a career academic– teaching, publishing and lecturing in the area of political science. Although she was a Democrat, she was not amused by president Jimmy Carter’s actions; in fact, she was glad she had not been hired to work in his administration. By 1980, she was leaning Republican.

President Ronald Reagan appointed Kirkpatrick to a high government position– ambassador to the United Nations, beginning in February 1981. She got more attention than otherwise for being female. But for her gender, her name would have faded from the public’s memory by now.

Nevertheless, Kirkpatrick turned around the United States’ standing as a doormat, in the United Nations (UN). Voting blocs of UN members enjoyed ganging up on the United States (U.S.) via resolutions the way high school cliques bully each other. However, there were serious human rights abuses in many Third World countries run by brutal dictators, and oppression as usual in the former Soviet Union.

Of course there was hypocrisy galore. The Arabs launched a campaign to oust Israel as a member, but Kirkpatrick foiled their plot by threatening to withhold U.S. funding from the UN if they did so.

Kirkpatrick clashed with secretary of state Al Haig, who sabotaged her via “… infighting and backbiting and damaging leaks” because he needed complete control of American foreign policy.

Seems there’s nothing new under the sun.

And now, breaking news, this just in, and shocking revelations!

But first, a Presidential Candidate Application Form

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT

Please answer the questions below without waffling, and include inconvenient facts. Or else.

NAME:

AGE:

REAL EDUCATION:

CITIZENSHIP:

How would you best describe yourself?

( ) A long-winded, exaggerating speechmaker

( ) A sexy alpha male with boyish good looks

( ) An egotistical attention whore

( ) A Twitter junkie

( ) Two or more of the above

Do you have any detectable vestige of presidential qualifications, besides your assets, contacts, attorneys and public relations team inherited from your daddy; or besides your assets and contacts resulting from your abuse of elective office?

( ) YES ( ) NO

Would it bother you to be the target of unrelenting hatred?

( ) YES ( ) NO

“I can’t wait to be a patronage pig, nepotist and profiteer as president.”

( ) YES ( ) NO

How many times have you declared business bankruptcy, and how many times have you been disciplined by law enforcement for illegal activities you committed in any public office you’ve held?

____________

____________

Do you hate or love illegal immigrants?

( ) HATE ( ) LOVE

List three ways you would deal with them.

  1. _________________________
  2. _________________________
  3. _________________________

Choose an appropriate nickname for yourself:

( ) Slick

( ) Tricky

( ) Crooked

( ) Sleepy

( ) Racist

( ) Dictator

Choose an appropriate image for yourself:

( ) Religious right-wing libertarian crazy

( ) Obese

( ) Law-and-order, xenophobic, corrupt hypocrite

( ) Little discernible brain activity; hate reading

( ) Socialist, bleeding-heart-liberal, global-warming political hack

( ) Two or more of the above

GOOD LUCK with your propaganda war. Remember, plausible denial and willful ignorance are your friends!

One more hint for winning, especially for the incumbent:

Charisma wins the day, regardless of what you did. It might be recalled that when president Ronald Reagan’s naughty behavior was exposed, his charisma mitigated his culpability. Besides, he got away with the senility defense because he was telling the truth when he testified that he remembered nothing, at the Iran-Contra hearings. Previous presidents who got into trouble remained lucid and sane, to their detriment. Pesky facts got in their way, but their charisma too, mitigated their culpability!

And now, the real SPOILER ALERT.

IN GENERAL, the United States’ current political situation resembles that of the waning months of the Nixon administration. The president has become toxic like Nixon, or else the Republicans wouldn’t be throwing in with the Democrats. The Republicans HATE the Democrats. They should be fighting the Democrats’ alleged tyranny tooth and nail, as usual. Instead, they are keeping all past president-related actions under wraps.

The Republicans know the incumbent can’t be reelected because he can’t win without mudslinging, and there’s way, way too much mud on him.

ALL of the government’s leaders might say they don’t want the current president to engage in any more dirty tricks that could lead to a total dictatorship before a new president comes to power. However, it is becoming apparent that a nationwide lockdown was actually completely unnecessary. The Republicans went along with it only to save face because it kills them to admit that they never liked the president, but they know it’s time for him to go.

The two ways the president has squelched practically all bad publicity in connection with his wrongdoing include: paying people to shut up and go away via nondisclosure agreements; and labeling government documents “classified” because they relate to national security matters and allegedly might reveal state secrets if publicized. The president might not resign, but his reign will end sooner than he would like.

Now, back to the regularly scheduled Book of the Week.

In later years, fans of Kirkpatrick tried to draft her to run for office, as she favored the Equal Rights Amendment, was pro-choice and was strongly pro-Israel. She became wealthy from speaking and writing, although her 1990’s writings contradicted her previous UN attitude.

Kirkpatrick, pursuant to her neoconservative ideology, was worried that America would be “… drawn into ever more ‘expansive, expensive’ global projects, along with fear left over from the 1970’s, [– as] rushing to impose utopian values on the world usually wound up adversely affecting America’s interests.”

She harshly criticized president Bill Clinton for his attempts to help achieve peace in the world’s hotspots through working with the UN rather than sending in American troops and aid the way Reagan did– and she approved of everything Reagan did.

Read the book to learn of Kirkpatrick’s views and actions in connection with her loyally following Reagan’s policies in Central America, the USSR and Grenada; and her flip-flopping on her hawkishness in the Clinton era, the period just after 9/11, and long after.

Inventing Al Gore – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Inventing Al Gore, A Biography” by Bill Turque, published in 2000.

Gore was born in 1948 in Washington, D.C. into a family of economic royalists originally from Tennessee. He had a decade-older sister, and built a political career like his senator-father. After graduating from Harvard in spring 1969 during a raging Vietnam War, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he was assigned to be a journalist. Stationed in Alabama, his job was to spread war propaganda on alleged war heroes.

There was a good chance he wouldn’t have seen combat, but there was anecdotal evidence that he had General William Westmoreland pull strings for him to stay safe anyway. Draft-dodging would have hurt his anti-war father’s chances for reelection to the U.S. Senate in 1970. His father lost, regardless.

In early 1971, finally having been granted his request to go to Vietnam to dispel vicious rumors, Gore served less than five months there in a non-combat capacity. He had post-traumatic stress disorder when he came back. He turned toward religion– traditional Baptism and New Age spiritualism, and environmentalism.

The author’s account was murky on exactly how Gore could possibly attend classes in a special one-year divinity school program, be a full-time reporter (working long hours) for the “Tennessean” newspaper, assist his father with a home-building business on the weekends, and socialize with family and friends– all simultaneously for a year and a half (!)

In mid-April 1987, Gore jumped into the race for president. It may be recalled that in the following month, candidate Gary Hart was forced out of the race after busybodies exposed his marital infidelity. That was the election season when the New York Times‘ nosiness reached new heights with all the presidential candidates.

From 1993 to 1994, Gore was an active participant in president Bill Clinton’s “… solid accomplishments like deficit reduction, NAFTA, FMLA, and the Earned Income Tax Credit…” However, other controversial issues reared their ugly heads, such as “… gays in the military, the leviathan health care package…” Of course, political enemies constantly needled Clinton with his every professional and personal misstep.

Nevertheless, during his presidency, Clinton attacked major issues. It appears that the U.S. government has yet to take major, major action in connection with decades-old, explosive issues– such as illegal immigration and illegal-gun control– for economic and/or political reasons. Yet it has taken major, major action on, say, abortion (with Roe. v. Wade), civil rights, women’s suffrage, and Prohibition– for ideological and/or religious reasons; it hasn’t been for the money. Healthcare and education are too broad, fragmented and complex to generalize about one way or the other.

Nonetheless, read the book to learn additional tabloidy details about Gore’s life and times.

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.

Harry Belafonte / Shirley Chisholm

The First Book of the Week is “Harry Belafonte, My Song, a Memoir” with Michael Shnayerson, published in 2011.

Born in March 1927 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the singer best known for the “Banana Boat Song” actually did a lot more in his lifetime than give concerts and act. He was instrumental in helping fund and organize the civil rights movement.

Belafonte’s older relatives were interracial; they hailed from Jamaica in the Caribbean; the light-skinned ones living there were Scottish. Growing up dirt poor, he lived alternately between upper Manhattan and Jamaica for years at a time, bounced among them.

For Belafonte, it was one psychological trauma after another. He had undiagnosed dyslexia, in addition to having accidentally with sewing scissors, as a toddler, blinded himself in one eye.

Fortunately, Belafonte’s mother, an illegal immigrant, had survival skills. But she practiced spousification with him in his early years. When he was five years old, he was tasked with taking care of his baby brother while she worked. She instilled in him a love of music, taking him to see the great singers of the 1930’s and 1940’s at the Apollo Theater in upper Manhattan.

The author’s mother hired someone to give him piano lessons. However, he played hooky from them because the teacher cruelly beat his fingers, just like the nuns at his parochial school. He ended up quitting school for good in the middle of ninth grade.

Belafonte’s father, an abusive, mean drunk, was frequently out of town– either acting as head chef on a banana boat in the Caribbean, or philandering. But there were a few occasions of quality time, playing marbles.

Belafonte was able to pay for drama school with the G.I. Bill, after his Navy service during World War II. He befriended the politically-active, drama and jazz crowds, many of whom, like him, would later became world famous.

By the early 1960’s, the nation was violently divided. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded Belafonte that “… compromise was a crucial tenet of nonviolence. If compromise got you closer to your goal, then it was worth any loss of face.” As is well known, there was excessive bloodshed throughout the 1960’s– so there must have been a lot of men who couldn’t stand to swallow their pride for the good of the nation.

Anyway, read the book to learn why Belafonte, even after becoming fabulously famous and wealthy, never did lead a charmed life. He did, however, raise funds for Shirley Chisholm.

The Second Book of the Week is “Shirley Chisholm, Catalyst for Change” by Barbara Winslow, published in 2014.

Born in Brooklyn in 1924, Chisholm had a grandfather who worked on the Panama Canal, whose construction spurred the upward mobility of sugarcane slaves from Barbados. Her ancestors believed in education and home ownership.

Chisholm spent roughly three and a half years of her early childhood in Barbados; the rest, in New York City. She experienced culture shock moving from a rural, agricultural village to big, scary, crime-ridden neighborhoods– Brownsville, and then Bedford-Stuyvesant, both in Brooklyn.

Chisholm’s goal was to become an elementary school teacher but she couldn’t get hired because she was black. With her master’s degree in early childhood education, Chisholm eventually became a consultant to the day care department of New York City’s welfare agency, supervising tens of employees. She “… would always have to face men who tried to infantilize, patronize or demonize her.”

In 1964, Chisholm won an assembly seat in New York State. She worked with three other black politicians in New York: Charles Rangel, David Dinkins and Percy Sutton. She was very prolific; eight of the fifty bills she sponsored were passed.

In 1968, with the slogan, “Vote for Shirley Chisholm for Congress– unbought and unbossed” she became the first African American woman elected to Congress. When she expressed her intention to run for president in 1972, men bristled.

Chisholm had a particular reason for rescinding her plan to personally campaign in Wisconsin, involving public relations. She disappointed a bunch of dedicated grass-roots volunteers. But she would have visited the state for only two or three days anyway, and not have gotten significant support over and above her loyal followers’. So by not visiting, she could brag that she got, say, 5% of the vote without even campaigning there– that’s how much people loved her.

In May 1972, after racist presidential candidate George Wallace was shot, Chisholm behaved compassionately, visiting him in the hospital.

Read the book to learn more about Chisholm’s life and times, including why she was actually bossed, but not bought.

Thomas E. Dewey and his times (sic)

The Book of the Week is “Thomas E. Dewey and his times (sic), The First Full-Scale Biography of the Maker of the Modern Republican Party” by Richard Norton Smith, published in 1982.

As early as the 1820’s in New York City, there were political nefarious goings-on via the Democratic machine. Judges chosen by the big boss William Marcy Tweed, “…swore in new citizens [newly arrived immigrants] a thousand a day in the weeks before a crucial election.”

When Thomas E. Dewey was born in March 1902 in Michigan, major American cities had been seeing political shenanigans from both Democrats and Republicans, for decades.

From a young age, Dewey was active in Republican clubs. In early 1931, he became an assistant U.S. attorney. He developed a reputation for investigating organized crime among politicians, labor leaders and the criminal justice system. He launched a sting against vice in order to expose the corruption in the system. About a hundred prostitutes and madams were arrested for the purpose of serving as witnesses who testified against racketeers, in exchange for lesser punishment. In 1936, a jury deemed Lucky Luciano guilty of 559 different crimes.

The Mob owned the garment and trucking industries. Local business owners were forced to pay protection money to racketeers or they or their families would face serious injury or death. They passed on this higher cost of doing business in the form of significantly higher prices, to consumers. Thus, all city dwellers became victims of the scourge.

In 1937, Dewey ran for the law enforcement office of district attorney in New York City. To voters around Manhattan, he showed a highlights reel of his crime-fighting prowess, and made radio broadcasts.

In 1940 in Denver, when Dewey was running for U.S. president, he proclaimed “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the National Debt.” Unfortunately, that line has borne repetition for the last 80 years.

As New York State governor in March 1945, Dewey achieved approval via the state legislature, of a bill that outlawed anti-black practices in housing and employment. A fellow Republican believed that the three major issues of the day were: international relations, race relations and labor relations, respectively.

In the 1948 presidential campaign, the incumbent Democrat Truman mongered fear among farmers and labor unions that the nation would experience an economic downturn if voters changed direction, and elected a Republican to the White House.

As is well known, some people were shocked that Dewey lost the election. “Dewey was ahead until the last two weeks of the campaign, [Samuel] Lubell concluded [referring to a poll from the University of Michigan], when millions of voters switched their allegiance.”

No doubt, presidential campaigns are all about the propaganda war. But because voters have short memories, ten months before an election is like the first quarter of a football game. It will be a loooong time before a winner becomes official.

Anyway, Dewey continued to serve as New York State governor. In September 1949 in Peekskill, Paul Robeson sang at a concert at which fifteen thousand fans were victimized by rabid anti-Communists. The latter seriously injured the former with stone-throwing and head-bashing with clubs. State troopers failed to keep order. Dewey called in the sheriff and district attorney to investigate. Dewey said that although Communists had a reputation for being subversive and oppressing other people, the concert-goers had rights to free speech and assembly– which were violated.

Dewey prepared for the 1952 Republican convention for president that would nominate Dwight Eisenhower, by ordering fourteen bullhorns from a Pennsylvania company, just in case the microphones there unexpectedly cut out. Incidentally, there was a dispute between competing Republican candidates Eisenhower and Robert Taft, over how delegates chose their candidates, or vice versa.

As a result, in early 1954, Dewey instituted New York State’s first code of ethics for public officials. It would regulate conflicts of interest of legislature members and other office holders. Apparently (or rather, unsurprisingly), there were loopholes in the law. In the 1960’s, the Republican governor of New York State, Nelson Rockefeller was “…funding grandiose building projects… brilliant subterfuges in which independent agencies acted as surrogate spenders for the state. Rocky’s state budget was five times that of Dewey’s administration.

Anyhow, read the book to learn a wealth of additional details about Dewey and his times.

The Reckoning

The Book of the Week is “The Reckoning, Death and Intrigue in the Promised Land, a True Detective Story” by Patrick Bishop, published in 2014.

Born in 1907 in Poland near the Lithuanian border, Avraham Stern grew up to become an agent of the Irgun (one of the intelligence services in Palestine), coordinating the purchase of weaponry from Italian and Polish sources, to be smuggled into Palestine to help the Jews fight for an independent state, plus spreading propaganda about offensives in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky was a prominent Zionist in the same underground group, who gathered intelligence and launched military offensives in pursuit of Jewish statehood.

Stern, however, was a more radically violent sort, whose spinoff group (called Betar, or Revisionists) committed acts of terrorism against Arabs, even civilians, and later, the British. His group received funding from wealthy Jews who believed in the cause of helping oppressed Jews live freely in a land of their own.

In May 1939, Great Britain issued a White Paper– a follow-up document to the 1917 Balfour Declaration– stating that since there was then a significant Jewish population (450,000) in Palestine, only an additional 75,000 would be let in in the next five years, and those arriving later than that, would require Arab consent.

A governance arrangement would have to be made in the next ten years between the Arabs and the Jews. Of course, no one could know the untoward historical events soon to occur, let alone the number of Jewish refugees who would ultimately be seeking to reside in Palestine.

By 1940, Great Britain was in trouble militarily. In August, Jabotinsky unexpectedly died of a heart attack. Stern, who took the opportunity to occupy the resulting power vacuum, argued that the Zionists should ally with Germany because although anti-Semitic, the Germans might let the Jews emigrate to Palestine.

In desperate need of money, Stern plotted a successful bank robbery in September 1940 that was executed by his henchmen. He himself was an armchair warrior, only the mastermind behind the group’s activities.

Afterwards, Stern went underground, but got friendly with the anti-British Italians through his spy network, so if the Italians were to march into Palestine, they would be benign colonialists, rather than oppressive imperialists. Early 1941 saw Stern solicit the friendship of the German diplomatic corps, too. His overtures later proved to be a waste of time.

In 1941 and 1942, Stern went all out with planning violence because he knew his days were numbered. His group committed a robbery and launched an attack that resulted in the deaths of innocent people, including British cops. He became public enemy number one. A major historical event that might either discredit or make truthfulness more likely in connection with various historical accounts is: the Wannsee Conference held in late January 1942, at which Hitler discussed his plot to create a master race and eliminate all Jews. Thereafter, parties privy to such knowledge began to change their behavior.

Stern and his cohorts hated the British government because the British knew the Jews were seeking refuge from Hitler’s death camps, but they prevented them from reaching the shores of Palestine via boats, anyway. It was inexcusable not to save their lives. Two of Israel’s future politicians, Irgun members (Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin) fought with the ideologically dogmatic Zionists, newly renamed “Lehi.”

Read the book to learn of the way the British intelligence community treated Stern’s terrorist cell as an organized-crime gang– resorting to frontier justice out of fury when law enforcement officers were killed in attacks; the ensuing propaganda war between the Brits and Jews on a specific incident involving Stern; the fate of the head of British intelligence; and the activities of the British and Zionists from 1944 onward.