Americanized / The Dilbert Future – BONUS POST

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The first Bonus Book of the Week is “Americanized, Rebel Without A Green Card” by Sara Saedi, originally published in 2018.

According to this slim volume (which appeared credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), the author’s family had a difficult time getting permission to live permanently in the United States, after fleeing the Iranian Revolution in the early 1980’s.

The author, born in 1980, provided a host of details on her family’s immigration ordeal, and her own life’s trials and tribulations (mostly First-World problems). Incidentally, she unwittingly wrote a line that would have subjected her to cancel-culture [In 1992]:

“…I’d personally reached peak frustration levels at our country’s complex and seemingly arbitrary immigration laws. I wanted to get on the first flight to Washington, DC, and storm the Capitol, but I didn’t, because any form of criminal activity would get me deported.”

Read the book to learn more.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “The Dilbert Future, Thriving on Stupidity in the 21st Century” by Scott Adams, published in 1997.

The author discussed his predictions, obviously at the book’s writing. One of them was particularly accurate:

“As dense as they [the children] might be, they will eventually notice that adults have spent all the money, spread disease, and turned the planet into a smoky, filthy ball of death. We’re raising an entire generation of dumb, pissed-off kids who know where the handguns are kept.”

(!!!)

Read the book to learn more of the author’s insights.

Misfire

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The Book of the Week is “Misfire, Inside the Downfall of the NRA” by Tim Mak, published in 2021. This volume told the all-too-frequent story of alpha-male executives with hubris syndrome, who use their employer as their personal piggy bank, and bankrupt them. That of the National Rifle Association (NRA) was just the latest in a series of such scandals in recent decades.

As it began to go belly up, the NRA had 76 people on its board of directors, a few of whom were celebrities. They received no salary, but took ridiculous advantage of their expense accounts, and at the same time, and, in an obvious conflict, some were tasked with overseeing the NRA’s finances.

A power vacuum that started in the late 1980’s allowed Wayne LaPierre to assume the most powerful executive position in the organization by 1991. His colleagues– the NRA’s officers, and executives of its outside communications agency — manipulated him in order to form a cult of personality around him. This way, they, too, could partake of all the first-class travel, shopping and host of other aspects of a luxury lifestyle through their outsized salaries and expense accounts.

After the Sandy Hook elementary-school shooting in December 2012, the NRA became even more sociopathic, throwing up distractions in its messaging. It was already aggressively– as it had been since 1977– defeating every bit of firearms-restriction-legislation it possibly could using not only its money, but also its ability to influence politicians and voters through its network of priceless, powerful contacts; even to its own financial and reputational detriment. It argued that politicians should seek to improve America’s mental health system, and that everyone in the country had a right to own a firearm for the purpose of self-defense!

Countless, cowardly politicians have caved under pressure to the NRA’s demands; they voted against even weak proposed laws that would restrict gun acquisitions and gun usage, that would hardly have made a dent in sales of firearms, because they wanted to get reelected. As is well known, the NRA was a monster-sized lobbyist and political donor. It had a mean-spirited cancel-culture: publicly shaming its ex-employees on social media if they criticized it, even years after their employ.

Beginning in April 2019, a decades-long power struggle resulted in an orgy of litigation between and among the NRA, its communications agency, and its law firm, whose main go-to executive had become besties with LaPierre. That executive, too, was availing himself of the benefits derived from financial crimes of excess typical of these kinds of organizations.

Read the book to learn all about it. Wayne LaPierre has been just one (of those countless who are actually caught!) of a few poster boys whose financial crimes borne of excessive greed have been exposed, but sooo few organization leaders such as he, are punished for their misdeeds. Here are a few others, who were actually punished (and the year in which they went to jail):

2005, Dennis Kozlowski

2005, Bernie Ebbers

2006, Jack Abramoff

2007, Richard Scrushy

2012, Bernie Madoff

And here is the song they sing when caught:

I TOOK IT EASY

sung to the tune of “Take It Easy” with apologies to the Eagles.

Well, I got out on BAIL.
You can’t put me in JAIL.
I got SEVen sins on my mind.
Whistleblowers betrayed me.
Prosecutors flayed me.
My lawyers are close friends of mine.

I took it easy.
I took it easy.

Don’t believe the evil liars who say I’m guil-ty.

I live it up while I still can.
I hid my assets. Then it hit the fan.
I found a place to make my millions.
I took it easy.

Well I’m STILL your leading male.
I’m just too great to fail.
My claques, flacks and sycophants all aGREE.
I DID nothing wrong.
I’ll delay this CASE so long you’ll give up on punishing me.

Come on, payyy me,
my bonus and sa-alary.
I have no doubt that friends in high places are gonna SAVE me.

TaxPAYERS lose. I win.
You’ll never catch ME again.
So eat your heart out. Look at ME grin.
I took it easy.

Well, I got out on BAIL.
You can’t put me in JAIL.
I got NO remorse on my mind.
No matter how much you hover,
you’ll NEVER recover, all the money you say is not mine.

I took it easy.
I took it easy.
Don’t believe the evil liars who say I’m guil-ty.
Come on, payyy me,
my bonus and sa-alary.
I have no doubt that friends in high places are gonna SAVE me.

Oh, I got it easy.
YOU’RE the one who’s slea-eazy…

Exorbitant Privilege

[Please note: The word “Featured” on the left side above was NOT inserted by this blogger, but apparently was inserted by WordPress, and it cannot be removed. NO post in this blog is sponsored.]

The Book of the Week is “Exorbitant Privilege, The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System” by Barry Eichengreen, published in 2011.

“Often these individuals had little professional training, there being no meaningful federal or in some cases, even state licensing requirements.”

No, the above refers to neither tax preparers nor life coaches.

The author was referring to the bandwagon-jumpers who worked for lenders taking advantage of the excessive deregulation that resulted in the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis in America.

The author listed some factors favoring, and some disfavoring the American dollar’s ability to maintain its global power as a currency and store of value. However, one major factor the author completely neglected to mention (a glaring omission) was that of cryptocurrencies.

Anyway, Brooksley Born, head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, raised the alarm in the late 1990’s on the excessive deregulation that was to lead to the subprime crisis. She deserves more of a historical footnote than she has since received, because sadly, greedy alpha males are better propagandists than prescient, conscientious public-officials such as she.

The author contended that one major reason the American dollar will continue to maintain its dominance in the world, is that other industrialized nations can’t agree on what financial instrument should replace the American dollar as a stabilizer of the world’s other currencies. The greenback has compiled a longer history of trustworthiness, value-consistency, related liquidity-maintenance, and other benefits, in connection with transactions and international trade balances, more than any other instrument. China’s policy of keeping its central banks’ foreign-reserves balance a secret, reduces China’s currency’s trustworthiness.

The powerful U.S. government backs up its currency through treasury bonds and bills, while a (sometimes contentious) collective of European countries (not one government) must agree on how to act when a monetary crisis rears its ugly head. It stands to reason that disagreement or indecision leads to uncertainty, which leads to instability, and a possible worsening or hastening of, the collapse of modern civilization.

The aforementioned are just a few reasons why 54 countries pegged their currency’s values to the American dollar, while 27 pegged theirs to the euro, as of 2009. As is well known, the George W. Bush administration did a number on the U.S. economy, as “… tax cuts and unfunded spending increases [on two extremely expensive wars and a Medicare drug benefit] pushed the budget from surplus in 2000 to a structural deficit of 4 percent of GDP in 2007-2008.” The next two years saw the American government’s debt explosion at its worst.

The author outlined several possible (yet raucously controversial) ways to keep the American dollar globally powerful, through cost-cutting:

  • In a period of non-war– less defense-spending;
  • Reforming healthcare;
  • Raising the retirement age– less pension spending;
  • Liberalizing immigration policy — helps fund Social Security going forward; and
  • Increasing taxes of all kinds.

Read the book to learn a lot more about how the American dollar has fallen in stature in recent decades, and about other geopolitical international: monetary, financial and economic issues; explained for laypeople.

Boomerang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FUN, FUN, FUN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wo wo wo wo woo woo

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

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

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

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

The Most Dangerous Man In Detroit

The Book of the Week is “The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit, Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor” by Nelson Lichtenstein, published in 1995.

Born in September 1907 in West Virginia, Walter Reuther was of German ancestry, raised Lutheran. He quit high school to learn the tool and die trade. In February 1927, he and a friend moved to Detroit for better pay and hours. He eventually made his way to Ford Motor Company, where he quickly rose through the ranks before the Great Depression hit America.

In the early 1930’s, Ford opened a plant to manufacture its Model “A” in the Soviet Union. Americans who believed in socialism were aware that the Stalin-led Soviet government ruled via one party– the Communist, and was perpetrating human rights abuses. But they liked certain economic aspects of its experimental “Five Year Plan.”

Beginning in early 1933, Walter and his brother Victor bicycled a distance of approximately twelve thousand kilometers during the nine months they were meeting with their European political contacts in various countries. In spring 1933, they were already seeing Fascist oppression in major German cities. In late 1933, they began working in a few Soviet industrial complexes to see labor and political conditions for themselves.

By the late 1930’s, the famine caused by Stalin’s disastrous agricultural-reform program prompted peasant-farmers to go to work in the factories that made steel, cars and tractors. In mid-1934, since they were foreigners and skilled middle-managers (training workers in tool and die making), Walter and Victor were permitted to travel between Stalingrad and Moscow to visit construction projects, collective farms and tractor factories. They were chaperoned by Party bureaucrats. They got special treatment, so perhaps they did not see the abuses suffered by unskilled workers. Their experiences led them to believe that the Soviet system was far less of a police-state than Germany’s.

Walter and Victor wanted to believe so badly in a Soviet workers’ paradise that they rationalized away the serious problems (such as impossible-to-meet production quotas, and reports of fancifully high numbers of vehicles manufactured). In 1934, on supervised tours, the brothers also took a look at labor conditions in China and Japan. October 1935 saw them return to the United States.

On May Day of 1936, in major cities across America, various political groups were speaking in the public square with the goal of unionizing workers; some of them– the Socialists, Proletarian and Communist parties– united to form a Popular Front (the joke in Spain was, “the girl with the Popular Front”).

By the mid-1930’s, the auto industry (which included carmakers, parts suppliers, tool and die makers, etc.) consisted of about a half million union members, thirty thousand of whom were in the United Auto Workers (UAW), a national union. In autumn 1936, Walter became a member of that union’s executive board. He planned and got employees to execute work-stoppages and sit-down strikes in order to get the big automakers like GM, Ford, Chrysler and Dodge to grant collective bargaining rights exclusively to the UAW. Other workplaces such as U.S. Steel were inspired to take such actions, too.

Ford was particularly hostile in its anti-union activities, as it had an in-house security department that spied on workers, fired some, and used violence against photographers. GM took measures to protect against productivity losses by rotating its parts suppliers and building new plants in different locations.

In the late 1930’s, Walter launched propaganda campaigns with the distribution of leaflets, and ran pro-union candidates in local political elections in Midwestern cities. In October 1945, he knew that his UAW workers couldn’t win their strike on just solidarity and militancy. He needed support from other ordinary Americans and the federal government. In January 1946, union workers in a bunch of other industries struck, too; electrical, meatpacking, steel milling, and iron mining.

By the late 1940’s, the power of the unions and corruption in government skyrocketed, so that organized crime used bribery, patronage-contracts and and physical violence in order to rule the “… construction industry, short haul trucking, East Coast longshoring , and the bakery and restaurant trades.”

It is a little-publicized datum that in 1962, president Kennedy granted a cut to all taxpayers that favored corporate America, which also got tax breaks. The rich got richer. That same year, members of the UAW executive board included 21 Caucasians, and one African American, whom they knew wouldn’t buck the status quo.

By then, Walter, a liberal, realized he had been incorrect in thinking that the American labor movement would eliminate discrimination in the workplace when the unions and the economy were strong. But he was still stubborn in insisting on an all-or-nothing egalitarianism. Others of his political ilk, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Hubert Humphrey and Adlai Stevenson were willing to compromise with the Dixiecrats (Southern Democrats who opposed civil-rights legislation) to make a little progress rather than none. The following year, Walter had become more flexible, as he was friendly with JFK and his brother.

In July 1967, the race riots in Detroit resulted in the deaths of 43 people and $250 million in property damage. The mayor, and the governor of Michigan assigned a 39-member panel of leaders and influencers in the community to suggest solutions for quelling hostilities. Various actions were taken; among the major ones:

  • throwing money at low-cost housing;
  • hiring of black workers at Ford and GM; and
  • throwing money at black community groups

but nothing seemed to help. The automakers moved their plants from Detroit to Troy and Dearborn.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information on Walter’s trials, tribulations, triumphs, and disputes with the AFL and CIO (unions competing against, and with different views from, the UAW); the growing-pains of the labor movement– how it was affected by: the WWII years (hint– the government ordered it to make war weaponry), political elections, regulation of pricing / wages / production in the steel industry, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War; how and why different automakers’ compensation structures changed, and much more. See this blog’s post “See You In Court” for more information on the pros and cons of unions in America.

The Real Cost of Fracking / The Buffalo Creek Disaster / A Trust Betrayed – BONUS POST

The first Bonus Book of the Week is “The Real Cost of Fracking, How America’s Shale Gas Boom is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food” by Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald, published in 2014.

Through the decades, monster-sized American corporations have mastered the game of political machinations, public relations and propaganda in doing tremendous harm to Americans (and getting away with it!), and in defending themselves against environmental-damage lawsuits, and premises-liability, personal-injury and wrongful death lawsuits. These corporations tend to be energy companies. See the following posts in this blog for several other examples (in no particular order):

  • Klondike
  • The Law of the Jungle
  • Sons of Wichita
  • Fateful Harvest
  • The World According to Monsanto
  • Superpower: One Man’s Quest…
  • The Oil Road
  • In the Name of Profit
  • Killers of the Flower Moon, and
  • Let the People In (see boldfaced paragraphs)

American companies that do fracking is the same story. The authors loosely define fracking as “unconventional drilling” for gas and oil, and hydraulic fracturing. The fracking industry has successfully convinced landowners (through omissions, half-truths and outright lies in their pitches) that they (the owners of small farms) could make big bucks from leasing their land for the purpose of fracking (when it turned out to be the other way around, most every time).

There are three major reasons it takes so long for the public to catch on to companies that damage the earth and people and can destroy communities and/or a way of life:

  • The companies put political pressure on the EPA and state-politicians to shut up;
  • The companies have the damaged parties sign non-disclosure agreements; and
  • The companies pay hush money to, or threaten any other parties who might give them bad publicity.

“Proving proximate cause for illness is complex because the water, soil and air have multiple chemicals of varying toxicities, and [have] hardly any pre- and post-drilling testing of air, and water, soil, people and animals.”

The consequences of fracking have far-reaching potential to contaminate the nation’s food supply, when cows, chickens and other food-animals are exposed to fracking toxins.

Sadly, Pennsylvania is only one of several states that has sold out to the pro-fracking interests. The authors had hours of discussions with those very adversely affected by the litany of unpronounceable toxins very likely produced by fracking. Beginning in September of 2009, those owners of small farms developed the following health problems: rashes, burning eyes, sore throats, headaches, nosebleeds and unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms.

The victims’ farm animals and pets had trouble reproducing, or they died. Air pollution resulted from dust, dirt and noise from heavy earth-moving vehicles and tanker trucks. In spring 2010, one family’s only water supply was terminated by the fracking company.

In addition, the family lost their livelihood breeding horses and dogs. They couldn’t afford to buy bottled water for the horses. The fracking company graciously offered to incinerate the horse’s corpse. One of their dogs also died even though it was drinking bottled water and was barely two years old. The suspected reason was that it drank wastewater that was poured on the family’s property.

Further, tests sufficiently specific to provide evidence of proximate cause between:

the family’s health problems, their animals’ deaths, and the drop in their property’s value due to contamination; and

the fracking company’s toxic practices

were prohibitively expensive.

Also, apparently, the company wasn’t legally required to disclose which toxins were produced by its operations, because it didn’t– when the leasing documents were signed with the landowners.

In central Arkansas, fracking wastewater was recycled when it was injected into deep wells, causing small earthquakes. Other states that allowed fracking at the book’s writing included: Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, North Dakota and New York.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on fracking, its adverse effects, of the complicated laws governing (or not governing) land in Pennsylvania and New York State at the book’s writing, and the authors’ suggestions for how to regulate the oil and gas industry to strike a balance between extracting needed fossil fuels and public health and safety; and sensible energy policy.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “The Buffalo Creek Disaster, The Story of the Survivors’ Unprecedented Lawsuit” by Gerald M. Stern, published in 1976.

“If the government ever did knock on my door, I’d probably expect harm and harassment instead of help.”

-The [Caucasian] author’s attitude when he was a federal civil-rights attorney, personally visiting unannounced, helpless black families in Southern States, to inquire whether they required assistance with registering to vote, or with being protected, during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s.

In West Virginia coal country in the 1950’s, one dam overflowed. Then two more dams were built. The construction of the third dam– built cheaply– was subpar pursuant to civil engineering standards. The dam-builder was the Buffalo Creek Mining Company. Its holding company Pittston Company knowingly allowed a burning pile of coal waste-products to obstruct the stream, so that sooner or later, a tidal wave would flood the area.

In February 1972, it happened. More than 125 people drowned and hundreds were left homeless in a valley when the third dam broke, causing a stream to overflow in Middle Fork Hollow.

The possible causes of action in the ensuing class action suit included involuntary manslaughter and criminal negligence, but “psychic impairment” was a relatively new concept that had yet to be commonly litigated. It was known as “shell shock” in WWI. The new label for it after the Vietnam War was “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD).

In April 1972, the author and his public-interest law firm, Arnold & Porter began to represent people harmed by the flood. They had to take the case on contingency, a rarity, only because those survivors couldn’t afford to pay the lawyers with any other fee structure. There occurred the usual frustrations, uncertainties and wrenches in the works that complicated the case, making it more expensive and time-consuming. Just a few included:

  • the fact that the wife of and daughter of, and the rival himself of the recently elected United Mine Workers Union’s president were murdered;
  • Once the lawyers decided whom to sue and in which court, it was hard to guess which of three judges would be assigned to the case (bringing up the cliche, “good to know the law, better to know the judge”);
  • At that time, there was a limit of $110,000 that could be awarded to each personal injury / wrongful death victim in the state of West Virginia; and
  • The disaster occurred less than two months prior to the West Virginia gubernatorial election.

Read the book to learn of the slew of additional details on the case and the fate of the stakeholders.

Yet one more largely similar disaster case was documented in the third Bonus Book of the Week, “A Trust Betrayed, The Untold Story of Camp Lejeune and the Poisoning of Generations of Marines and Their Families” by Mike Magner, published in 2014.

Like the fracking and coal-country stories, this story involved contaminated water, too. However, it was not a monster-sized corporation’s, but the United States government’s, negligence and secrecy that harmed people.

This story also differed in that the residents of the community were fluid– living there only months or a few years, compared to the fracking and coal-country victims. So they didn’t immediately connect the harm done to them with their drinking water, and communication among them was more scattered.

At the dawn of the 1980’s, an under-resourced water-testing lab at Camp Lejeune (where U.S. Marines were stationed) in North Carolina began to get an inkling that wells that provided drinking-water contained toxins such as THM’s, TCE, PCE, pesticides, PCB’s, VOC’s and benzene.

New federal clean-water laws were going into effect, so the Navy had to comply. The water was supposed to be tested regularly for grease, oil and suspended solids. If results showed contamination above a certain level, the lab was supposed to tell the EPA, but it didn’t handle cleanup.

The lab’s five (alarming) test-results between October 1980 and February 1981, were sent to Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Atlantic Division, where they disappeared into a black hole; not necessarily because there was a cover-up at that time, but merely due to bureaucracy– the lab workers thought the Navy knew what they were doing and would do the testing and regulating.

Camp Lejeune’s base commanders didn’t want to know whether individual wells were polluted. They hoped the base had sufficient clean wells to dilute the water from the contaminated ones. Shutting down any of the wells would produce a water shortage for the whole base during the summer, when demand for water was highest. Besides, water-testing was expensive.

Starting in the 1960’s and for decades thereafter, the military families and employees who lived in a certain geographic area on the base saw a disproportionate number of miscarriages, birth defects, and in later years, cancer. The suspected sources of pollution (or legal-defense scapegoats) included a dry cleaners, fuel tanks and a pumping station that exuded gallons and gallons of fuels and chemicals (through spills, leaks and inadequate safety practices) all the time.

In spring 1985, the crisis started to hit the fan, when the Navy was compelled to notify the residents that their drinking water might be unsafe (when in reality, for decades, it definitely had been).

Read the book to learn lots of additional details of what happened then (hint: the usual federal and state inter-agency (and military-branch) fighting, finger-pointing, report-writing, excuses for delays in the form of follow-up-research, and all manner of bureaucratic secrecy and shenanigans; after which the victims and taxpayers were the ones who paid the price).

Pharma

The Book of the Week is “Pharma– Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America” by Gerald Posner, published in 2020.

In 2016, the “superbug” Enterobacteriaceae turned out to be resistant to 26 different antibiotics. About half of patients who contract it, die. There are a bunch of other similar bacteria in the world. The author warned that in the future, a bacterial pandemic was on the way, for which there would be no antibiotic cure. Apparently, there can be a viral pandemic, too– one that cannot be treated with antibiotics at all.

For, antibiotics kill only bacteria, if that. Yet, in the United States, for decades, antibiotics have been prescribed to treat (mild!) viral illnesses. That is one major reason that superbugs have become a trend. And there has been an epidemic of diabetes type II. And many other adverse consequences.

Anyway, the author recounted the history of big-name drug companies, which began selling morphine to soldiers during the American Civil War. In the second half of the 1800’s, Pfizer, Squibb, Wyeth, Parke-Davis, Eli Lilly, and Burroughs-Wellcome began mostly as family proprietorships that sold highly addictive, unregulated drugs. Bayer produced heroin in 1898. The twentieth century saw Merck put cocaine in its products; other companies jumped on the cocaine bandwagon.

In 1904, the head of the United States government’s Bureau of Chemistry, Harvey Wiley, was concerned about contaminants in the nation’s food supply. Consumers were being sickened by chemicals that were supposed to retard spoilage or enhance the appeal of foods. They included, but were far from limited to: borax, salicylic acid, formaldehyde, benzoate, copper sulfate and sulfites. Trendy patent medicines were also doing harm to consumers. The word “patent” gave the impression of approval or regulation of some kind, but actually meant nothing.

Through the first third of the twentieth century, the government continued categorizing, monitoring and taxing drugs, but the pharmaceutical companies continued using trade groups and legal strategists to protect their profits. The 1930’s saw the big drug companies start research laboratories. Finally in 1938, the government established the Food and Drug Administration, and began to require extensive product-testing and labeling, and factory inspections. That same year, the Wheeler-Lea Act prohibited false advertising of drugs, except for previously manufactured barbiturates and amphetamines.

After Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941, America sought to manufacture penicillin in volume. For, the newly introduced antibiotic would be very helpful to the war wounded. But the drug’s fermentation process required a rare ingredient. In spring 1942, one patient who had friends in high places was cured. That largely used up the penicillin supply in the entire country. Other kinds of antibiotics were produced in the next decade, but their profitability was hampered by the bureaucratic processes of patent applications and FDA approval applications.

In the late 1940’s, Arthur Sackler and his brothers founded a family drug-company dynasty. The author revealed excessive trivia from FBI files on them and other greedy characters whose tentacles pervaded all businesses that could help sell (translation: maximize profits of) the family’s healthcare goods and services. This meant consulting, advertising, publishing, charities, public relations, database services, etc. The parties failed to disclose countless conflicts of interest.

In the early 1950’s, drug companies successfully lobbied the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to allow drugs with strikingly similar molecular structures to be deemed different so that they could be granted separate patents. A higher number of drugs could then be rushed to market sooner, and make the most money.

In 1952, farmers fed Pfizer’s antibiotics to their animals so that they grew bigger (both Pfizer and the animals). In the mid-1950’s, Pfizer, Lederle, Squibb, Bristol and Upjohn engaged in an illegal tetracycline price-fixing scheme. They reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in earnings. The FDA chief was in Sackler’s back pocket. So when violations came to light, the FTC and FDA gave the offenders a slap on the wrist. However, senator Estes Kefauver was a thorn in their side.

Kefauver led an investigation as to why America’s drug prices were so excessively high when compared with those in other nations. In fighting back, the drug industry smeared Kefauver as a liberal pinko, claiming he had designs on forcing socialized medicine on the United States. The nineteen drugmakers under the gun gave bogus excuses. The real reason is that America’s drug prices and patents are subjected to minimal or no regulation, unlike everywhere else.

In 1956, Americans were told they were stressed, but a wonder drug called “Miltown” would help calm them down. The mild tranquilizer became a best-seller, until it was counterfeited and appeared on the black market, and its adverse side effects gave it bad publicity. Oh, well.

Then in the 1960’s came the culture-changing birth control Pill, and Valium– also called “mother’s little helper” that was marketed as a weight-loss aid. The next game-changer was thalidomide. Kefauver used the worldwide backlash against this drug to push through some drug safety and effectiveness regulation in the United States in 1963. For a change. Even so, in 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed certain regulatory powers conferred on the FDA, drugmakers merely sought additional markets for their products on other continents.

In 1976, there was a swine flu epidemic in America. Healthcare companies were reluctant to develop a vaccine for it, fearing an orgy of litigation from victims if any harm was done. So the government unwisely agreed to foot any legal bills. Sure enough, some vaccine recipients developed cases of Guillain Barre syndrome, and neurological complications. The (taxpayer-funded) Justice Department took the hit. Other parties piled on. “The CDC had exploited ‘Washington’s panic’ to ‘increase the size of its empire and multiply its budget.’ “

Moving on, the author told the whole sordid story of the “opioid crisis” in America. In a nutshell: in May 2002, Purdue Pharma, maker and unethical marketer of OxyContin, hired Rudy Giuliani’s firm to defend it against the firestorm from its host of illegal activities. The firm collected a $3 million fee per month. Purdue collected $30 million per week from OxyContin sales. To be fair, Purdue and the Sackler family were the poster-scapegoats of the crisis. Numerous other parties aided and abetted them: other pharmaceutical companies, doctors, FDA bureaucrats, and pain management “experts” and pharmacists. The far-reaching consequences have caused a lot of trouble for society as a whole in the areas of: increased healthcare costs, criminal justice, social services, drug rehabilitation services, lost productivity and earnings, etc.

Read the book to learn an additional wealth of details and the details of wealth of the healthcare industry’s evolution into a hegemonic legal behemoth / excessive profit center, in the form of a series of cautionary tales in various topic areas– drug advertising, blood donations, biotech, epidemics, pharmacy benefit managers– that wrought major good and bad (mostly bad) cultural and regulatory changes (including the Hatch-Waxman Act and the Orphan Drug Act); plus the family battles following the sudden death of Arthur Sackler.

Samsung Rising

The Book of the Week is “Samsung Rising, The Inside Story of the South Korean Giant That Set Out to Beat Apple and Conquer Tech” by Geoffrey Cain, published in 2020.

In 2009, the author, a Korean-speaking journalist moved to South Korea to find out all he could about the then-electronics company Samsung, the most famous company in the country. In the ensuing years, Samsung’s relationships with technology-products makers became incestuous because it decided to make its own products while simultaneously supplying its competitors with parts for their products.

The author personally visited the city of Daegu, hometown of Samsung’s founder. In March 1938, Samsung started as a produce stand. The founder followed the Japanese business model of building an empire owned by family members, that involved complicated, group-focused, loyalty-oriented arrangements. Sounds somewhat familiar.

Anyway, in the 1950’s, he branched out into different industries, such as wool clothing, sugar refining, insurance, banking, retailing etc. The corporate culture involves slogan-chanting, and a drill team. But different divisions of the company harbor petty jealousies. The company’s success as a whole is treated as a zero-sum game, so one division’s success is considered to come at the expense of another’s. Sounds somewhat familiar. In autumn 2011, when Samsung’s division in America successfully marketed its new phone and stole a significant amount of market share from Apple, Samsung’s marketing division in South Korea lost face.

The founder made valuable government contacts that invited the kind of corruption that used to be frowned upon in the United States twenty years ago. Ironically, the United States has always provided significant financial aid to South Korea beginning with the Cold War and thereafter.

In 1999, Samsung and Sprint cooperated in a venture to make and export cell phones to the United States. Pursuant to South Korean culture, “After the bonding over booze and karaoke, it’s an accepted practice to roll out bags of cash and other gifts for your partners [American telephone service companies].” However, Samsung had to learn that Americans don’t do business that way (at least not explicitly).

In April 2008, Samsung’s chairman was charged with stock manipulation and tax evasion. In August 2010, and again in July 2011, Apple and Samsung launched an orgy of patent litigation against each other. In October 2011, Samsung already supplied parts for Google’s Android phone, but decided to introduce a phone of its own, the Galaxy Note series. It was a cross between a phone and a tablet, that would compete with Apple’s iPhone. Samsung sought to steal Apple’s customers. Apple had a reputation for making only one version of an overpriced product that delivered exactly what customers desired, that made them feel they were in the “in” crowd. Samsung would offer a choice of different-sized screens. It came late to the market, but improved upon existing products.

In August 2016, Samsung launched a new Galaxy Note phone. In October 2016, Samsung compounded its problems by denying that its phone burst into flames without warning. Its employees who were native South Koreans were under pressure not to express any negative sentiments about anything associated with their employer. For they risked ruining their careers, as word would get around to the few other competing employers in the country, and they would never work anywhere in their homeland again. Sounds somewhat familiar.

Read the book to learn about a wealth of additional details on the culture of South Korea (which is the same as the corporate culture of Samsung), how Samsung came to focus solely on technology parts and products, and much more.

Klondike

The Book of the Week is “Klondike, the Alaskan Oil Boom” by Daniel Jack Chasan, published in 1971.

For decades, oil has been a political football that has caused international strife. This book recounts the story that has become a cliche: what transpired when oil was discovered in Alaska in March 1968.

Through the 1800’s, Alaska’s economy was based on fur trading (exploited by the Russians whose activities left many native Alaskans dead of disease and from weapons), canneries, sawmills, gold, and whaling (exploited by the Americans, who forced many native Alaskans to migrate or else they would starve); by the mid-1900’s, it was based on salmon, lumber, gold, copper, hunting, private prop planes, and during wartime– military bases.

In January, 1970, the author visited an Eskimo village, whose residents hunted caribou for food, lived in plywood cabins, and got around in snowmobiles. They sold masks made of caribou in tourist shops in Alaskan cities to make a living. On average, they passed away in their mid-30’s.

In 1912, the Alaskan Native Brotherhood was formed to help aboriginal Alaskans assert their legal rights. Through the decades, various tribes of natives, including the Tlingits, Haidas, Tanacross, Minto, and Inupiat had their lands grabbed by the United States federal government. Finally, in 1966, they formed a group called the Alaska Federation of Natives but it became a political front that actually separated the tribes from their lands. Different tribes had beefs with other tribes, and there were divided loyalties. In the last three years of the 1960’s, Alaska’s state government had political differences with the federal Department of the Interior.

Just a few of the actual consequences (which were ongoing, and were likely to get worse in the future, due to ongoing legal wrangling at the book’s writing) of oil discovery included:

  • Eskimos’, Indians’ and Aleuts’ ways of life were disrupted emotionally, financially and property-wise, due to the mere planning of the oil companies involved.
  • Many activities associated with the extraction of the oil were environmentally damaging to the land and air due to the construction of: a pipeline to be completed in 1972, and the flying in of temporary housing, vehicles and facilities for workers, etc. (Los Angeles would get the oil if it was ever extracted, thus decreasing oil prices and increasing its smog), and
  • Some of the parties involved with the whole extravaganza profited before a drop of oil was even extracted: lawyers, oil workers, Alaska Airlines, and Alaska’s state government– which collected revenues from lease payments, filing fees, drilling permits, etc.

There was always the incalculable potential for ecological disasters which could rear their ugly heads at any time: oil spills and earthquakes. Of course, “The Interior Department had no such trouble computing the possible benefits of the pipeline.”

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details of why Alaska’s natives were at many disadvantages in their fight with “city hall” (hint– one was that an Alaskan senator doubled as the chair of the Senate Interior Committee, who was friendly with president Richard Nixon’s Environmental Quality Council) and which kinds of compensation, if any, to which some of them might be entitled.