The Netanyahu Years – BONUS POST

This political biography, “The Netanyahu Years” by Ben Caspit, translated by Ora Cummings, published in 2017, described a speech-making, megalomaniacal Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who made a miraculous comeback, given his situation and mediocre, if not disgraceful record.

This book committed an egregious factual error in two different places: “During Bill Clinton’s first term in office in 1997…” and “His [Netanyahu’s] first meeting with Bill Clinton took place on July 9, 1996. Clinton had already been in office for six months, Netanyahu, barely one month.”

The reader is also left wondering about the following: “On November 21, 2005, Ariel Sharon announced he was leaving the Likud Party…” but in later text, “On December 18, 2004, Prime Minister Sharon suffered a minor stroke… Two weeks later… a second stroke… pushed Sharon into a coma from which he never awoke.”

Besides, this book was sloppily proofread, presented confusing timelines, was redundant and disorganized; perhaps the author believed he was building suspense. Nevertheless, the overall themes of the book’s subject’s career and personality came across as credible.

Born in 1949 in Israel, Netanyahu grew up in a political family. His father’s side believed in Jabotinsky’s brand of Zionism– at one time proposing that the Jewish homeland be located in Uganda. In the early 1940’s, his father got no action from Franklin Roosevelt on saving Europe’s Jews, so he and his Zionist political group allied with Republicans to get some.

In September 1947, the elder Netanyahu put forth a Revisionist proposal at the United Nations opposing the Jewish/Arab partition. He ruled his family by fear and force, with regular beatings. Starting when the younger Netanyahu was eight, the family moved to New York City and two or three years later, Philadelphia. But the youngster’s heart was still in Israel. He returned there every summer during his teen years.

In the late 1960’s, for five years, Netanyahu served in an elite, top secret group in the Israeli military. He was almost killed in a secret Suez Canal mission. Despite serving in the Israeli military, he was apparently able to keep his American citizenship. For, he returned to America to major in physics and chemistry first at Cornell and then graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Netanyahu became a businessman but Moshe Arens convinced him to become a politician (or diplomat/propagandist, to be more specific) on behalf of Israel beginning in the early 1980’s. He was already divorced with a daughter, whom he later very nearly disowned, not through any apparent fault of hers. He then went through a second wife. Not because he was a media whore, although he was also that.

By May 1988, Netanyahu was a high Likud (Conservative) Party official in Israel. Yet he did American-style campaigning. He paid a fortune for voter and polling data, and was a super fundraiser. Like Donald Trump, he had his claques, flacks and sycophants. He started dating another female. They broke up. However, she got pregnant during election season. For the sake of his image, he felt he needed to marry her.

During the next election, Netanyahu still felt he had to prove his sexual prowess by having an affair. His political enemies blackmailed him on this score, but he outwitted them. He went on television to honestly admit it but refused to withdraw from the race. In spring 1993, he reconciled with his wife, with the condition that she was free to behave like a “bridezilla”– not with regard to a wedding ceremony, but with regard to his political career. She owned him and his career ever after.

In 1994 and 1995, again, mimicking an American politico who practices hate-mongering, Netanyahu incited young Likud voters to whip up a frenzy of outrage to protest the peace talks among then-Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, the PLO, Jordan and Syria; such talks were moderated by American president Bill Clinton. Netanyahu tacitly supported the protestors when they gathered “… in Jerusalem’s Zion Square where huge simulated photographs of Rabin in an SS Nazi uniform were raised high. Crazed demonstrators set fire to Rabin’s picture.” Luckily for Netanyahu, the perpetrator of Rabin’s November 1995 assassination was unaffiliated with the Likud party.

In 1996, Netanyahu won his election for prime minister by a nose, partly due to election legislation he helped to enact. Like John F. Kennedy, he underwent an epic fail early in his administration, due to his youth and inexperience. Like with the Bay of Pigs incident, the prime minister authorized a sneak attack on an enemy of his– the terrorist group Hamas.

Netanyahu’s administration was a revolving door of personnel, thanks to his wife’s interference. Together, especially when campaigning, they were like other dictatorial couples– the Ceausescus, the Perons, the Marcoses… with their outsize egos, department of dirty tricks, and broken campaign promises, especially after their election victory in 2009. At his reelection, Netanyahu hogged the jobs of five ministers, plus that of prime minister.

Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu launched a hate campaign against American president Barack Obama when he realized he couldn’t get along with him. This book rambled on in a few chapters on the conversations between the Americans and the Israelis regarding the “Iran nuclear deal” but never did explain what it was. Netanyahu made Obama a scapegoat for all his troubles and derived a huge amount of political capital from doing so. The same way Trump has done.

Read the book to learn more Israeli history, and additional ways Netanyahu was bigger than Israel, given his rumored psychological problems.


Let the People In – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Let the People In, The Life and Times of Ann Richards” by Jan Reid, published in 2012.

Born in September 1933 in Waco, Texas, Richards attended Baylor University on a debate-team scholarship. She gave up the team (and the scholarship) to get married in 1953, but still graduated.

Richards’ immediate family eventually consisted of a husband and four children. They lived in Austin, Texas. Her husband was a lawyer who represented labor unions and civil rights activists. Their social group consisted of hard-partying (drinking, pot-smoking) liberal Democrats, like Molly Ivins. Lots of hippies and anti-war protesters lived in their neighborhood, a college town.

In 1972, Richards kicked off her political career as campaign manager for Sarah Weddington, who was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. Four years later, Richards herself was elected Travis County Commissioner; her husband, Justice of the Peace.

In 1980, it was alcohol-rehab time for Richards, in Minneapolis. Her career comeback began in 1982. During the campaign, her opponent tried to smear her with drunkenness and mental instability. It backfired on him. She was still elected Texas State Treasurer. The following year saw the finalization of her divorce.

Candidates traded vicious slurs in the 1990 campaign for Texas governor. Richards claimed her opponent’s company “… had been cited for intentionally dumping 25,000 barrels of waste mud and oil into a tributary creek of a lake that provided drinking water for the small town of Brenham. Partners and competitors in the oil and gas industry sued his companies more than three hundred times.”

That is the kind of specific data that, if true, should be all over the evening news– constantly screamed from the pro-environmental side of the “global warming” debate. But go one step further: in order to effect real political change, environmentalists should provide solid, numerical information on how humans are ultimately harmed by pollution. Information should be spread far and wide on cancer clusters, financial damage to specific communities, and proposed legislation that strikes a compromise between minimizing economic sacrifices while maximizing environmental friendliness– in order to minimize harm to humans.

For, “global warming” is not rocket science… It’s not even earth science… It’s political science! Everyone knows that usage of the catchall phrase “global warming” is simply a political football used for getting votes and/or money. It an easy way to produce fear and outrage through vast generalizations and mudslinging. It is irrelevant whether “global warming” actually exists, and if so, it is irrelevant the extent to which it is caused by humans. Local pollution in America should be the focus of political action for Americans. Worldwide anti-pollution efforts are too acrimonious and complicated to bother with.

Anyway, once elected, Richards tried to execute environmentally-friendly initiatives. However, her efforts were thwarted because officials in the Texas governor’s office have staggered terms. Workers senior to her were loyal to her predecessor.

It stands to reason that long-term international agreements that regulate geographically wide-ranging desecration would be many times more difficult to come by– if Richards had trouble trying to push through legislation with a few tens of residents of her own state, in Texas alone. Her lieutenant governor was also a thorn in her side. Read the book to learn why, along with much more on the rest of her career and life.

Golda – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Golda, the Uncrowned Queen of Israel” by Robert Slater, published in 1981. This pictorial biography described the life of a revered politician and passionate Zionist.

Born in May 1898 in Kiev in Russia’s Pale of Settlement, Golda Meir was one of only two children in her Yiddish-speaking family to survive infancy. In 1906, the family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. However, as a teenager, Meir absconded to her twenty-something sister’s home in Denver, Colorado. Her parents convinced her to come back, where she was permitted to finish her schooling instead of looking for a husband. Like her parents, she believed in the Zionist cause.

After working for a Zionist nonprofit organization in Chicago for a short stint, in December, 1917, Meir eventually found a husband anyway. In May 1921, they moved to Palestine along with her sister’s family and her parents. She started a teaching job. Eventually, they jumped through all the hoops required to get accepted to the kibbutz of Merhavia.

Meir was assigned to do poultry farming. Her husband didn’t like the fact that parents and children had separate living quarters in the kibbutzim. So three years later, when she was ready to bear children, they moved to Tel Aviv, then Jerusalem. She went to work for another Zionist organization, Histradut, traveling and making speeches. As she was a workaholic, she hardly ever saw her family. It was rumored that she had affairs to advance her career.

For a few years after WWII, Meir became an executive member of the Yishuv– trying to save refugees’ lives through smuggling of people and arms via the Jewish intelligence services, and negotiating with the British. In November 1947, the newly formed United Nations voted in favor of a partition consisting of a Jewish state, and an Arab state, in the territory of Palestine.

Meir became a sufficiently prominent figure in the founding of Israel to sign its Declaration of Independence. Ben-Gurion was its first leader; he appointed her minister to Russia. The Soviet bureaucracy under Stalin ignored foreign diplomats. Israel and the USRR weren’t enemies but they weren’t friends, except for when it came to proposing toasts at social gatherings. Then they were friends.

In spring 1949, Meir became labor minister in Ben-Gurion’s cabinet. She argued for open immigration and housing and jobs. She almost bankrupted the government with her social programs. But living standards of Israelis rose dramatically.

Read the book to learn about the rest of Meir’s political career, health, family and her other crosses to bear.

Moore’s Law / Elon Musk

The Books of the Week are “Moore’s Law, The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley’s Quiet Revolutionary” by Arnold Thackray, David C. Brock and Rachel Jones, published in 2015, and “Elon Musk, Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by Ashlee Vance, published in 2015.

The former biography described not only Gordon Moore’s life, but the histories and cultures of his ancestors, his wife’s family, and the places where he lived.

Born in January 1929 in Pescadero California, Moore was the middle son of three. His father spent most of his working life in law enforcement. He, his father and brothers went fishing and hunting. The family moved to Redwood City in 1938.

At eleven years old, Moore fell in love with chemistry. His “… adolescent hobby of making bombs and explosions” or maybe also the cumulative effect of his noisy hunting excursions were thought to have caused his hearing loss later in life. He wed his college sweetheart and completed a PhD in experimental particle physics at California Institute of Technology.

In 1953, the transistor was starting to replace the vacuum tube in various devices, like TV sets. It also became a handy component in military electronics. In 1956, Moore went to work for William Shockley– a reputable scientist but a psycho boss. Shockley had hubris syndrome and, with his friends from Bell Labs, convinced his company’s major investor to fund the development of a diode rather than the silicon transistor.

In 1957, feeling disgusted and entrepreneurial, Moore and seven of his colleagues left the company and, financed by venture capitalists, eventually formed Fairchild Semiconductor in Mountain View, California. What with the space race, aerospace computing was all the rage. Silicon was a substance that had the right physical properties to advance it.

At Fairchild, Moore formed a research and development group that competed with the manufacturing department. Unfortunately, his temperament was non-confrontational, and his avoidance behavior was bad for business. Fortunately, in 1968, he, Bob Noyce and Andy Grove sported the appropriate diverse set of personalities and skills that maximized profits in a new venture they formed, called Intel. Their strategy was to introduce cutting-edge products to the technology market and be the first to do so.

Intel went public in October 1971, but NOT on a “stock exchange” as the authors wrote. Only on NASDAQ (not an exchange). Moore wanted the company to make computer parts, but not the whole computer, or else it would compete with its customers, such as IBM. By the mid 1970’s, Intel had factories in Malaysia and the Philippines. Moore motivated his initial employees through bribery– stock options and a stock purchase program. He even bribed his own son to finish school.

Intel’s labor- and time-saving devices proliferated in everyday products like calculators, color TV’s, telephone networks, cash registers and watches, not to mention inter-continental ballistic missiles. And spaceships. The authors downplayed the role of video games in the advancement of computer components.

Moore wrote about a concept that played out accurately through the decades that came to be known as Moore’s Law. In 1976, the price of silicon transistors– which are put on memory microchips– was less than a penny. That price got lower and lower as technology got better and faster. Unfortunately, according to the book, this economic growth has run its course in the United States and is predicted to come to an end in the next five years or so.

Read the book to learn how Intel cheated by taking a page from Microsoft’s playbook (and partnered with it)– to become a monopoly– in order to dominate the PC world; what the billionaire Moore did after he was forced to retire (very reluctantly; hint– he engaged in philanthropy from which he required measurability and accountability); and much more about his company, lifestyle and family.

Born into a relatively wealthy family in 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa, Elon Musk is the oldest of three children. A voracious reader, he, like Isaac Asimov, was also an insufferable know-it-all, and thus became a social outcast. At about eight years old, he chose to go live with his psychologically abusive, rabid-apartheidist father when his parents split.

Musk engaged in the usual leisure pursuits of nerdy boys of his generation: Dungeons and Dragons, computer programming, rocketry and chemistry explosions. Being super-smart, he learned that the United States was superior to South Africa in terms  entrepreneurial opportunities. He therefore got Canadian citizenship through his mother’s ancestors, and then moved to the United States as a young man.

Musk attended college and graduate school in Pennsylvania. He studied business, physics and economics. He charged admission for alcohol parties to raise money to pay for his tuition. In 1995, he went into business with his brother. Four years later, their website start-up, Zip2, was sold to Compaq for a tidy sum. He then started and/or worked on other projects, including an internet bank, an electric car, spacecraft and devices that harness solar power.

Certain aspects of Musk’s personality in the workplace are comparable to various other famous people. Musk’s dysfunctional managerial style is a blessing and a curse. He, like the late Steve Jobs, is hard-driving on employees to the point of meanness. But his focus and workaholic business ventures have achieved what many said was impossible. His keen entrepreneurial instincts, similar to those of Bill Gates, have seen him through. Also like Gates, he has delivered on what he promised, but usually way over deadline.

When it comes to space exploration, Musk, like Freeman Dyson, shoots not for colonizing the moon, but for colonizing Mars. Musk, like Richard Stallman, believes in the free exchange of information. He truly wants to improve humanity so much so that, according to the author, he eventually shared with the world (!) the intellectual property of his electric car company, Tesla. In 2005, its first car was completed by a mere eighteen workers.

However, in 2007, Musk was very possessive of Tesla. Contrary the recommendation of an interim CEO, he stubbornly refused to cut the near-bankrupt company’s losses and sell it to an experienced international automaker. He was competing with not only overwhelmingly powerful and politically influential automakers, but also with military contractors and the oil industry.

Read the book to learn of two major automakers who have invested in Tesla; of how the Obama administration helped keep the company afloat; of the myriad benefits the world is deriving from Musk’s  innovations; and of Musk’s personal life.

A Complex Fate

The Book of the Week is “A Complex Fate, William L. Shirer and the American Century” by Ken Cuthbertson, published in 2015. This tome was supposed to be the career biography with historical backdrop, of a colleague of Edward R. Murrow. However, it was sloppily edited and recounted as much about Murrow’s career as Shirer’s.

Born in February 1904 in Chicago, Shirer was the second oldest of three children; his father, a Republican attorney. After graduating from a small Christian college, while bumming around Europe for a few months, Shirer got a job as a copy editor at the foreign office of the Chicago Tribune.

Shirer met the celebrity literary social set, including Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Thurber, Thornton Wilder and Ezra Pound. At the paper, “letters to the editor” were fabricated. The writers, who composed stories from cabled summaries, didn’t go out and get the stories themselves. Not only that, the stories were embellished with fictional details. Sounds familiar.

In any case, in the late 1920’s, Shirer was promoted to foreign correspondent. Because he traveled all over Europe covering sporting events and royal-family trivia, he was able to have a love affair with a Hungarian countess.

In 1930, Shirer’s long hours of hard work and quality writing paid off. For, his new position of Eastern-European-bureau-chief put him in charge of formerly Ottoman-Empire countries. His office was in the economically socialist Vienna.

Since it took a week for Shirer’s articles to be cabled to Chicago where they were published, he had to write about tabloidy areas of interest– scandals, crime, sex and weird items (what passes for “breaking news” these days)– that appealed to American Midwesterners.

Shirer was soon commanded by his autocratic boss to get the lowdown on Gandhi. However, before undertaking an arduous bunch of flights in new-fangled yet primitive machines, he became a pincushion for syringes containing disease-preventing contents. While in India, he contracted malaria and dysentery, anyway.

Shirer found his career on the skids by the mid-1930’s. He insisted on enjoying a luxurious lifestyle even though he then had a family to support. In the autumn of 1937, desperate for a job, he was hired by Edward R. Murrow to produce CBS radio broadcasts from Vienna; i.e., he marshaled the resources required for them.

On the eve of the Anschluss in March 1938, Shirer found himself fleeing Austria for London via Berlin and then Amsterdam, packed in with a planeload of Jewish passengers. NBC had already scooped the story of the takeover– disseminating Hitler’s speech on the alarming historical development, translated into English, live.

Thereafter, CBS president William Paley allowed Murrow and Shirer to actually gather stories and broadcast them themselves. Shirer was resistant to switching to radio from print. His voice was less than mellifluous and he lacked the instincts of a good announcer or newscaster.

Nonetheless, with their game-changing live five-minute news updates from London, they had listeners in five European cities in six time zones. But most of the airtime was still taken up by music and quiz shows arranged by Murrow and Shirer, because sponsors shied away from news that caused arguments. Finally, in autumn 1938 when Czechoslovakia became Germany’s next victim, radio news woke up. Shirer visited all the different territories suffering from the German takeover.

The author’s text was unclear about exactly how German authorities restricted American broadcasting, aside from censoring it: “By 25 August [1939], the German government had severed radio, telephone, and cable communications with the outside world…” yet “In his August 26 broadcast from Berlin, Shirer somberly declared…”

The author contradicted himself, but related that New Yorkers were supposedly receiving CBS radio broadcasts from Berlin. He failed to state exactly how many listeners there were.

By the end of September 1939, hardships abounded in Europe. In 1940, Shirer tried to report the secret, growing hostility between Germany and the USSR, but was thwarted by three censors. He was able to do intelligence-gathering, though, after being told what to look for– observing the quantity of war resources the Germans actually had, rather than what their propaganda claimed. They lacked troops, tanks, supply vehicles, etc. Top German officials disagreed with each other on how to execute the war.

In late 1940, Shirer took a break from the trauma of war reporting and moved to New York. He wrote a book, delivered a lecture series and starred in a newsreel.

After his previous good luck in journalistic endeavors, fate dealt Shirer a cruel blow. His name appeared in the booklet “Red Channels.” “Suddenly, he was faced with the task of defending himself against an indefensible accusation– the kind of reverse onus proposition, so common in totalitarian states, that puts the burden not on the accuser– the state– but rather squarely on the accused.” This resulted in a rift in his relationship with Murrow, and other adverse consequences.

The owners of “… America’s mass media and advertising agencies… were cowards; none of them had the courage to question the tactics, much less the truthfulness or motivations of the politicians and their disciples who were bullying Congress, spreading fear, publishing lies, and defaming innocent people.”

Nowadays, America’s mass media and advertising agencies are willing accomplices to smear-fests. But at least there’s free speech on each side, and hardly anyone is persecuted (not hired at all or being fired for not taking a loyalty oath, or thrown in jail for having the wrong friends or not naming names) for their political beliefs. Just smeared. Don Rickles would be proud.

Moreover, it is a good thing that both sides are encouraging citizens to vote. Voting is a gesture that shows belief in the democratic process. A significant number of people need to buy into the process of free and fair elections, in order for democracy to work.

Voter apathy breeds dictatorship. In 1972, voter turnout was the lowest since 1948:  55%. It might be recalled that Richard Nixon was reelected in a landslide.

Anyhow, read the book to learn of the catharsis Shirer underwent that revived his livelihood, and much more.

The Rise of A Prairie Statesman

The Book of the Week is “The Rise of A Prairie Statesman: The Life and Times of George McGovern” by Thomas J. Knock, published in 2016. This biography covered the senator’s life only through the 1960’s, and his remaining history would presumably be told in another volume.

McGovern’s uncle, whose name he got– George– was born into a poor family in 1881. That uncle was the youngest of six children of Irish/Scottish extraction. McGovern’s grandmother died when his youngest uncle was less than a year old. McGovern’s grandfather was a miner; his father– the oldest child in his family– Joseph, too, started mining at nine years old.

Joseph became a Methodist minister in South Dakota, a state with an agricultural economy– wheat and corn. Harsh conditions abounded, including blizzards, locusts, grasshoppers, floods, hail, and prairie fires. And dust storms from drought. To add insult to injury, the Great Depression hit. South Dakota got more financial aid than any other state.

Joseph’s first wife died when he was 49. He wed the second in 1918. McGovern was born in Mitchell, a medium-sized town in July 1922, the second oldest of four siblings. It was “Life With Father.” Nevertheless, leisure pursuits included pheasant hunting, picnics, swimming in the creek, (sneaked-into) movies, etc.

The high school personnel cared about their students. The Episcopalian basketball coach would wake up his team on Sunday mornings to take them to religious services, and then to lunch of burgers and rhubarb pie at a cafe. An English teacher told McGovern to join the debate team to get him out of his shell.

McGovern graduated third in his high school class of one hundred forty. He got a scholarship to Dakota Wesleyan University. During the Depression, the school accepted farm animals and crops in lieu of tuition. But there were no dances, fraternities or sororities allowed because it was Methodist.

In February 1943, McGovern was drafted. He became a war hero, flying 35 bombing missions over Germany. The ten-man flight crews wore heated suits, oxygen masks, and wool-lined boots and gloves because at 20,000 feet altitude, the temperature fell to about minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Life-threatening risks included being shot down, a blown plane engine and/or tires, and damage to a plane and its occupants from anti-aircraft flak. Most of these happened to McGovern and his crews but they survived.

McGovern also suffered psychological trauma when, on a mission, his plane accidentally let go its bomb right onto an Austrian farmhouse, just when it was likely the family would be eating their midday meal. He never found out how many people if any, died in that incident, but the entire place was destroyed.

Through the years, McGovern got married, had five children and earned a PhD in history from Northwestern University in Illinois, on the GI Bill. He traveled to various states to research his thesis on the Colorado Coal strike of 1913-1914. “Through his scholarship, McGovern had become a firsthand witness to the exercise of power without accountability, and he soon surmised that people who held such advantages rarely surrendered it voluntarily.”

McGovern became a professor and coached the debate team at Dakota Wesleyan. He supported Henry Wallace in 1948. Even though McGovern was a “local boy who made good” J. Edgar Hoover still compiled an FBI file on him. McGovern gave up a brilliant teaching career to enter politics. He re-grouped the Democratic Party in South Dakota– traditionally a Republican state– after Adlai Stevenson’s loss to Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.

In June 1953, the US had fifteen hundred nuclear weapons; by January 1961, eighteen thousand. The nuclear tests in 1958 alone numbered about 81, most of each of them about fifty times more destructive than the bomb that hit Hiroshima.

McGovern’s speeches and writings recommended that America stop such scary stupidity (and cancer cluster proliferation) that was supposedly taking place in the name of peace. To no avail. His voice of reason, one of the few, was outnumbered. An estimate of the cost of nuclear weapons alone was fifteen billion dollars for 1963 alone; in fiscal 1964, the military budget was actually $54.8 billion. This accounted for more than half of the entire federal budget, and exceeded the cost of all the programs of the New Deal from 1933 to 1940.

In September 1963, more than one hundred nations (except for France and China) including the US, signed a nuclear test ban treaty whose inevitable loophole was the allowance for unlimited underground testing. Sure, the treaty banned testing in the sea and air, but humans, due to their nature, are destroying the earth, anyway.

Sadly, many well-intentioned documents governing test bans, arms reduction, peace, economic arrangements and environmental initiatives among nations have historically turned out to be worthless pieces of paper.

A handshake can be as trustworthy (or not) as a document; it depends on whose hands are doing the shaking. Government officials can accomplish things through fear and force, but they won’t earn respect. Or they can exude charisma and make people feel good, even if they break their campaign promises or act against the nation’s best interests. The images of friendly, jokey leaders are more fondly remembered historically than serious, insecure, mean-spirited ones.

McGovern should have continued his academic career. His idea– that instead of possibly overkilling the world with nuclear arms, the money spent to build them could more wisely be used for providing Americans with better education and health care– was ignored. It sucked for him. And the world.

In 1961, after McGovern lost his senate race, President John F. Kennedy appointed McGovern to lead the Food for Peace Program. According to the author, “Adding in the school lunch program, he had coordinated the feeding of more hungry people than any other individual in American history.” Or was it Herbert Hoover?

Anyway, read the book to learn of other international aid programs orchestrated by McGovern and how the humanitarian goal of the original program was turned on its ear (instead of feeding the starving, it fed people in the war machine) unbeknownst to McGovern; the dirty campaigning in McGovern’s senate elections; and his political views and actions on various issues.

The Chief

The Book of the Week is “The Chief, The Life of William Randolph Hearst” by David Nasaw, published in 2000. This tome described not just the life of the media emperor, but the historical backdrop of his generation.

Born in April 1863 in San Francisco, Hearst was a mama’s boy. He grew up in a highly cultured family. However, its fortunes waned, and finally waxed in the 1870’s. The father was in the gold mining business; politics too– he was elected as a Democratic member of the state assembly of California in November 1865.

When Hearst was at Harvard, his mother “…redecorated his rooms [in Matthews Hall] in Harvard crimson, equipped him with a library, hired a maid and valet to look after her boy.” In those days, one student could live in an on-campus suite and have servants. Hearst was an outsider who bought himself a position in society by making the Harvard Lampoon profitable and donating big money to Harvard’s sports teams. But he lacked the manners to get invited to the elitist summer resorts.

In October 1880, Hearst’s father bought San Francisco’s Evening Examiner and turned it into a morning newspaper to win a future election. Father and son helped get Grover Cleveland elected president in November 1884. Two years later, Hearst’s father was elected to the U.S. Senate. Hearst eventually failed out of Harvard.

In his mid-twenties, Hearst got an opportunity to attempt a financial turnaround of the Examiner. He took various creative steps to achieve this goal. The Examiner‘s editorial bent was pro-labor, anti-capital and anti-railroad.

In the 1890’s, the culture of journalism was a mixture of “fact-based reporting, opinion and literature.” Readers liked emotionally-moving stories. They could tolerate a lot of fiction in their news. And they must’ve, when Hearst published made-up war stories to help Cuba gain its independence from Spain in 1898. However, toward the mid-twentieth century, journalism strove to be more objective.

In 1893 at the time Hearst bought the New York Morning Journal, there were eight established morning newspapers in New York. The Journal‘s editorial bent was pro-labor, pro-immigrant and anti-Republican. But it did have anti-African-American cartoons and jokes. According to Hearst, New Yorkers were overpaying for their gas, power, coal, ice, milk and even water due to monopolies (in those days called “trusts”).

In 1900 and 1901, the Hearst papers constantly criticized and even mentioned killing president McKinley. When the president was shot by a madman in September 1901, Hearst was accused of hiring the hitman. In 1902, Hearst was elected to Congress as a Democrat from New York, eleventh district. When he ran for a third term, he gave every man, woman and child in his district a free trip to Coney Island, including most of the Luna Park shows (thousands of tickets). Then he changed his mind and ran for mayor instead in 1905 in an attempt to “drain the swamp.” He wed in 1903, at forty years old. In May 1905, he bought Cosmopolitan magazine, kicking off his entry into the magazine business.

Hearst lived high on the hog and spared no expense when it came to gathering stories for his growing media empire. He paid his employees well, sent droves of them to cover stories which appeared in his newspapers that had more pages and special features than the competition’s. His business was losing more money than ever.

In the early 1920’s, “After 2 decades of debate and agitation, the rise and fall of Populist, Progressive and Socialist parties…” and lots of labor unrest, there was general consensus between government and American business “… that the role of government was not to supersede or control the corporation, but to legalize and legitimize it by regulating its excesses.”

Public relations at the turn of the twentieth century consisted of billboards and posters, newsreels and serial films, stunts, service features and contests. Radio was the next big thing in the 1920’s.

After recording political history for decades, Hearst concluded that “…politicians were, with few exceptions, mendacious, corrupt, and incompetent. The country needed a leader who was not tainted by the political process and was not dependent on the largess of machine politicians or big businessmen.”

On one trip on Hearst’s yacht, with a group of Hollywood celebrities, a movie director was celebrating his 43rd birthday. The director had a major heart attack and later died. All sorts of wild stories abounded in the newspapers that Hearst had killed him. A 2001 FICTIONAL movie called “The Cat’s Meow” was made of one wild-story version. No evidence of any crime has ever surfaced, except Hearst’s violating Prohibition– a crime whose exposure he wanted to avoid. That was the reason he didn’t want the media anywhere near the heart attack victim.

In late 1927, for nearly a month, Hearst had published front page articles based entirely on fictitious sources. He had libeled several nations, dozens of foreign statesmen, at least two prominent American journalists, Oswald Garrison Villard and Ernest Gruening, and four U.S. senators. Yet he wasn’t taken to task on any of that. There’s nothing new under the sun.

Read the book to learn the details of Hearst’s friendly relationships with William Jennings Bryan, Marion Davies, Mussolini, Hitler, Churchill and others; his wire service; his reporting on Tammany Hall; San Simeon and how his other estates with mansions came to be; his art collection; the size to which his media empire grew; his rabid anti-Communist activities; and how he worked his way out of financial ruin. Most of the aforementioned involved disgusting excesses.

inventing late night

The Book of the Week is “inventing late night (sic), Steve Allen and the original tonight show (sic)” by ben alba, published in 2005.  This slightly sloppily edited book tells how Steve Allen created the format for late night talk shows on American television, starting in the early 1950’s.

When television was in its infancy, Allen’s original ad-libbing and off-the-wall physical comedy made audiences laugh through the 1950’s.  However, since history is written by the most prolific propagandists, and Allen was modest and less than aggressive at self-promotion, other entertainment-industry moguls such as Johnny Carson and his ilk, bragged that they were the ones amusing Americans in an unprecedented way on their late-night talk shows. David Letterman was one of the few who attributed his show’s stunts to Allen’s ideas.

In autumn 1954, Pat Weaver, president of NBC, gave Allen free rein to do whatever he wanted on his new, unrehearsed, live (!) program, “Tonight!” What resulted was an unscripted variety show featuring insane stunts, a band, singers, celebrity guests, news and theater reviews. In planning each weeknight’s episode, Allen would loosely specify the number of minutes of each segment– but continue with a segment if it got a great audience response, and cut the next act on the spot. If the show was a bit slow, he would go into the audience to converse with them.  Every minute of airtime was unpredictable. The only segment that was usually predictable, was the music.

Unfortunately, episodes of the taped, live shows were later incinerated due to lack of storage space at the network. Shortly after the airing of the show, the only way for the general public and cast and crew to get a recording was to buy one– a kinescope for $160. The singers made about $300 a week.

Eydie Gorme had this to say: “All of us working singers would go the Brill Building [in Manhattan] and get all the new sheet music, which they gave you free in those days.” Other celebrities who appeared on the show and were interviewed for this book, lamented that of late, performers of recent decades have resorted to obscenity and vulgarity to elicit cheap laughs from the audience, because they lack talent and creativity. Sadly, most audience members are unaware that their intelligence is being insulted. Even so, the younger ones are unaware of how high Steve Allen set the bar for quality entertainment.

Even more impressive– Allen’s show had TWO writers and twenty band members, while nowadays, late-night shows have TWENTY writers and five or six band members.

Read the book to learn the specifics of Allen’s stunts, antics, routines and style, and what changed when he started a second talk show simultaneously with what became “The Tonight Show.”

Michelle Obama

The Book of the Week is “Michelle Obama” by Peter Slevin, published in 2015. In this biography, the author writes that Michelle possesses the skills, talents and abilities of a politician. She is a great public speaker who appeals to blacks of all economic classes. However, the book also implies that she is looking forward to living a life free of the political spotlight and its attendant stresses.

Initially, the book describes the historical backdrop of Michelle’s generation as much as a general overview of her life, and then, Barack’s political life. She is a rare bird, having risen from humble beginnings in Chicago. She is what Malcolm Gladwell would describe as an “outlier.” She grew up in a loving but strict home environment where her parents had high expectations for her, and believed that success could be achieved through hard work. After receiving an elitist education, she became a community organizer. She was able to raise a family while managing her high-powered career despite her politician-husband’s frequent absences, because she got assistance from relatives and close friends, who also rose to prominence and prosperity.

It will be recalled that during the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack was attacked on various fronts– his beliefs, nationality and high school and college lifestyle. His skin color also evoked the controversial debate on the root causes of black disadvantage.

Michelle’s experience in community organizing came in handy on the campaign trail, enabling her to: exchange personal stories, make one-on-one connections, gather a following and inspire voters and volunteers to lead. Nevertheless, by 2012, Michelle had been characterized as elitist, socialist and militant by her critics.

Upon his election, Barack faced a difficult state of affairs. For, “The $236 billion surplus at the end of the Clinton years turned into a $1.3 trillion deficit under George W. Bush, thanks to substantial Republican-inspired tax cuts for the wealthy and a pair of wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, churning along without end.” Not to mention a recession. Meanwhile, as First Lady, Michelle was expected to hire and supervise staff to work in the the White House, where there are 36 rooms, including 11 bedrooms and 16 bathrooms.

Read the book to learn of the three major political initiatives Michelle launched:  Let’s Move, Joining Forces and Reach Higher, and the details of her life and times.

Trouble Man

The Book of the Week is “Trouble Man” by Steve Turner, published in 1998. This is a biography of Marvin Gaye. His father, a Pentecostal preacher for the House of God church, and violent drunk, was the third oldest of thirteen surviving siblings, born in October 1914.

Gaye was born in April 1939. His full name was Marvin Pentz Gaye II. “His Motown image was still that of a polite, handsome black man who believed in fidelity, success and family life… like his father, Marvin was misogynistic. The function of women, he believed, was to serve and obey men.”

Unfortunately, his life spiraled downward into drug addiction and promiscuity, not unlike another famous and popular peforming artist of a later generation– Richard Pryor. Read the book to learn the details.