Prime Time

The Book of the Week is “Prime Time, The Life of Edward R. Murrow” by Alexander Kendrick, published in 1969. This is a biography of the famous radio and TV journalist whose career started in the 1920’s.

Born in 1908 in North Carolina, Murrow was the youngest of three sons. He was raised as a Quaker. His family moved to Washington state when he was five years old. Murrow’s graduating high school class numbered eleven. Their motto was “Impossible is un-American.” He then attended Washington State College, majoring in “speech” (public speaking). Participating in student government, he got the chance to travel to Europe.

In the 1930’s, news that was reported via radio in the United States consisted of concerts, sporting events, presidential speeches and sensational courtroom trials– simply conveying facts with no analysis; nothing too depressing. Murrow first went on the air in 1937, covering the coronation of King George VI in England. He did “man on the street” interviews.

Then for nine years, Murrow  was a producer for CBS radio news in London. His boss, Bill Paley introduced the first radio simulcast from London, Paris, Rome, Berlin and Vienna, via shortwave transmitters accompanied by at least one landline, whose signals were sufficiently strong to reach New York City. Such an innovation obsolesced newspapers because it was live. On the eve of WWII, the new political regime in Berlin practiced censoring of broadcasts from Vienna and Prague. But they were live.

Murrow avoided gathering news stories for CBS from certain kinds of people who would profit from peace at any price, and so they favored appeasement of the Germans. Those greedy individuals included war profiteers. He did, however, put himself in harm’s way because he felt obligated to report directly from the “belly of the beast.” One would think he had a death wish and/or an enormous ego. His employer’s office building was bombed in London while he was on a rooftop across the street. He cheated death many times.

After Germany’s surrender, Murrow reported from Buchenwald and Leipzig. After the war, all radio shows went commercial. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began investigating it by subpoenaing scripts of the shows. Murrow became a highly paid radio executive for a year and a half. In the fall of 1947 he made even more money when Campbell’s soup sponsored the interview show he hosted. He took his TV show “See It Now” on location to the Korean war front.

HUAC pressured Murrow to preach hatred for the Soviet Union, or else he would be blacklisted from the broadcasting industry, or worse. Fortunately, he was a sufficiently powerful figure to broadcast what he wanted without getting censored. He was still smeared by the Hearst papers and right-wing leaflet printers.

Murrow had this to say about the interrogations over which freshman Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy presided: “… many of those named by witnesses on camera were never given a chance to reply… the newspapers and magazines… also tended to regard McCarthy’s unsupported charges as proven facts, or at least gave that impression.” He also contended that the senator “… had used sweeping, unsupported statements, hypotheses presented as facts, accusations of lying by witnesses, conversion of a congressional hearing into a trial…” etc., etc., etc. Once again, there’s nothing new under the sun.

Nevertheless, Murrow showed himself to be a hypocrite on more than one occasion in his career. He was a contributor to a sobering Collier’s magazine story published in October 1951, about a hypothetical nuclear war that happened in the summer of 1953. His fictional account covered the part where an atom bomb leveled Moscow. In Paris, he complained via radio about those “…irresponsible magazines in the United States which aid Russian propaganda about American intentions.”

Interesting factoid: At the 1952 presidential conventions, there were twelve hundred each of: casts and crews of news shows and reporters, and political delegates.

Murrow put forth three reasons why the government or journalists lie: “when lying is deemed vital to the national security, or prestige, or face-saving.” As is well known, the use of all three excuses has been abused in meta-lies in past decades; especially those following this book’s writing.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information on the power struggles between sponsors and TV-show creators in monitoring show-content due to the tug of war between the profit motive and the role of broadcasting in society as perceived by the creators and regulators; on Murrow’s troubles with the State Department and the FBI; his radio and TV shows; and on how American propaganda is targeted internationally toward specific peoples in specific ways.

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.

The Deeds of My Fathers

The Book of the Week is “The Deeds of My Fathers” by Paul David Pope, published in 2010. In this tome, the author discussed the lives of his father and grandfather. Annoyingly, lines of dialogue were always accompanied by the word, “said.”

In spring 1906, at fifteen years old, the author’s great grandfather, Generoso Papa, traveled from his birthplace in Italy to New York City. His brother-in-law was already living in America. Papa got a job doing hard, manual labor in the construction trades. His dogged diligence and playing well with vendors, contractors, engineers, building inspectors and city managers led to success. Too, contacts with the Mafia helped maximize profits and crush the competition. By the mid-1920’s, he owned one of the largest construction-industry suppliers in the city. However, workaholic that he was, he never saw his wife and two sons. In January 1927, he had a third son– the author’s father.

In 1928, the author’s grandfather purchased Il Progresso, the largest Italian newspaper in the city. In it, he praised Mussolini, raised money for him, and printed Fascist propaganda. In the ensuing years, he became friends with politicians, including New York City mayors Jimmy Walker and Fiorello LaGuardia, and presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Roy Cohn helped him purchase a radio station.

In the early 1950’s, the author’s father, who called himself Gene Pope, had a falling out with his mother and older brothers. He was crowded out of the family businesses. In 1952, he struck out on his own and acquired what became the National Enquirer with seed money from a Mafia don. He changed its editorial bent. It became like today’s media. Tabloidy.

This was Pope’s philosophy on his publication’s contents: “Crime was the most important ingredient, followed by scandals, disasters and personalities; the more famous people were, the more they were laid low and humiliated.” Sounds like the 2018 midterm-elections attack-ads in America (!) It seems the candidates want more hate. 

Some candidates claim not to know about the attack ads against their opponents. However, a man is known by the company he keeps, and the candidates keep company with the producers of the ads. It would be different if the ads were 100% true.

And now, a parody, sung to the tune of “The Beat Goes On” (apologies to Cher, and the estate of Sonny Bono):

The hate goes on, the hate goes on
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

Woo-oo-dstock was once the rage, uh huh
History has turned the page, uh huh
Facebook, the current thing, uh huh

Twitter is our newborn king, uh huh
And the hate goes on, the hate goes on
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

The Internet’s the new frontier, uh huh
Little minds still inspire fear, uh huh
And leading men still keep assigning blame
Technology lets them stay in the game

And the hate goes on, the hate goes on
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da
Voters sit in Starbucks and complain
Politicians scheming just to gain

Negativity flying faster all the time
NRA still cries, we have to arm ourselves against crime!

And the hate goes on, the hate goes on.
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain.
La de da de de, la de da de da.

And the hate goes on, yes, the hate goes on.
And the hate goes on, and the hate goes on.
The hate goes on, and the hate goes on.

It would be refreshing to see a candidate condemn the attack ads against his opponent, instead of tacitly applauding them, or repeating their contents loudly and often… And instead– actually concentrate on the issues– how he or she is going to be a PUBLIC SERVANT.

In future elections, it would be even nicer to see a political-contribution boycott of the hate-mongers. However, it would take more than one influential, courageous donor to stand up and refuse to be a party to purchasing airtime for the purpose of spreading ugly lies.

But it is the candidates who must ultimately decide to take the high road and grow up. Voters might react favorably to the first side to do so. Even so, this would be an extremely difficult feat. “Everybody does it” is the excuse everybody uses to justify their unethical behavior. Everyone is drowning each other out with a blizzard of defamation. So multiple groups on one side would have to agree to run a wrap-around campaign to promise to spread messages based on substance, and follow through.

That said, unfortunately, honesty isn’t always a guarantee of competence for an elected official. President Jimmy Carter wasn’t widely reputed to be a liar. Yet, most Americans agree, he was a terrible president. Assessing a candidate, and predicting election results are like gambling–  difficult to gauge– because human behavior is unpredictable in the short term.

Anyhow, in 1957, the National Enquirer‘s stories sought to satisfy readers’ morbid curiosity by detailing gruesome occurrences in the city. The publication that was initially drowning in a sea of red ink, turned profitable after years and years. By the mid-1960’s, readers were enthralled by poignant, inspirational stories about underdogs who triumphed, medical matters, celebrity gossip and aliens.

In the early 1970’s, Gene moved his publication’s printing presses from New Jersey to Florida. “He worried about his health, claiming air pollution was killing him, even as he continued to smoke four packs a day.”

Gene spared no expenses in getting a story– bribing anyone and everyone associated with stories to get exclusive, salacious information, and sending his reporters on-location– around the corner or around the world. In this way, the Enquirer acquired a reputation as a tabloid that appealed to the lowest common denominator. The highbrow New York Times didn’t pay interviewees, but instead appealed to their egos, generating favorable publicity for them if they talked.

The author wrote that his father developed psychological problems in his later years, and ruled his empire by fear. He had dirt on various people and let them know it, so that way, he could cash in on a favor from them in the future if he so desired. The son lamented, “No doubt I was spoiled by material things, but not by love.” Read the book to learn the details.

Grand Delusions – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Grand Delusions, The Cosmic Career of John DeLorean” by Hillel Levin, published in 1983. This volume described the adventures of a car company engineer and entrepreneur, not to mention swindler.

The book’s first chapter was a summary of his entire career, suspense be damned. The section on his makeover and marriages was disorganized and redundant. One more criticism– the author interviewed only the book’s subject twice, and listed no notes, references or bibliography.

Anyhow, born in January 1925 in Detroit, DeLorean was the oldest of five sons. His father was an alcoholic Romanian; his mother, an Austrian. He kept busy while attending Lawrence Tech in Michigan. He wrote for the school newspaper and was on the student council. He joined a fraternity, danced in night clubs and drove a fast car.

DeLorean held a series of jobs including salesman, trainee in a special program at Chrysler, engineer at Packard, head engineer and then general manager of General Motors’ Pontiac division, and by the late 1960’s, general manager of its Chevrolet division.

After departing from his full-time job under murky circumstances, DeLorean and his sidekick Roy Nesseth posed as entrepreneurs who executed crooked business deals. Victims included an auto-parts patent holder, a farmer/rancher, and a financially struggling Cadillac dealership, among others. By the mid-1970’s, the pair had a bunch of business failures and lawsuits against them.

Journalists were suckered into writing about DeLorean’s past glory as a brilliant engineer. He “… must have learned that if he didn’t say too much, the reporter wouldn’t bother to check any further… They were still looking for dirt on General Motors, and the ex-executive was more than willing to give it to them… The maverick auto engineer was too compelling a character to be deflated with investigative journalism.” DeLorean fooled people just like Bernie Madoff did, although not on as grand a scale.

When he started his own car company, DeLorean let his attorney create a complicated network of sister companies to deliberately obfuscate financial and legal matters. It took the entire second half of the Seventies.

A boatload of fundraising was required to pay lavish executives’ salaries, design their offices, choose a manufacturing site, build the factory, sign up the car dealers, etc. The author erroneously used the term “comptroller” instead of “controller” when discussing the pesky bean-counter who complained about the arrogant, greedy DeLorean’s huge monetary outlays on all things for himself. “As Dewey [DeLorean’s first controller] predicted, the improprieties grew exponentially with the influx of money from the British government.”

DeLorean was the type of man who fancied himself as having some of the traits of James Bond. A man such as this, with a big ego, marries a model or actress at least a decade younger than himself. Like DeLorean, other James-Bond wannabes have assumed prominent leadership roles, and become international celebrities. The list includes but is far from limited to: Charlie Chaplin, Cornelius Vanderbilt IV, John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Elon Musk and of course, Ian Fleming.

Read the book to learn the details of the combination of honest ineptitude and premeditated, nervy criminality in which DeLorean and his accomplices engaged in the context of how not to become an automaker.

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.

Madam Speaker

The Book of the Week is “Madam Speaker, Nancy Pelosi’s Life, Times, and Rise to Power” by Marc Sandalow, published in 2008. This was a biography of a workaholic liberal Democrat who achieved a few “female firsts” in politics. It was anti-Pelosi in subtle ways.

Sloppy editing in this book created confusion with regard to Pelosi’s age in three different places:

“…she first won election to Congress in June 1987… the then 53-year old Congresswoman…”

“On March 26, 1940… Nancy Patricia D’Alessandro weighed in at eight and a half pounds.”

“On December 30, 1956… His seventeen year old daughter joined him…”

In addition, the cover photo– of Pelosi hugging a young child (as a prop) in what appeared to be a campaign– was demeaning. The author would never have dared to use such a photo of a male politician doing that. Family is still thought of as an issue for females.

Not that Pelosi didn’t brag about her family in every campaign, but the presence of the child in the photo implied that she couldn’t have achieved what she did without a family (Book cover photos always show a male politician alone).

Perhaps it was part of Pelosi’s appeal, but family should have been irrelevant to her qualifications for holding the offices she held. No male politicians make having a family a major reason for voting for them.

Sadly, due to human nature, the following arguments:

  • persuasive mudslinging (“Vote for me because my opponent is a Nazi.”)
  • fiercely loyal party affiliation (“Vote for me because I’m a member of your party– I know you believe every word you hear from our party-funded information sources and that’s all you hear, thank you!”)
  • ridiculous promises (“Vote for me because I’ll make you rich quick.”)
  • phony outrage (“Vote for me because- how dare they accuse us?! They started it!”)
  • creating a common enemy (“Vote for me because, just like you– I hate the media.”) and
  • appeals to tribal unity (“Vote for me because I’m the same ethnicity / religion / skin color / gender / sexual orientation you are, and my opponent is NOT.”)

more often win elections than a candidate’s ability to act in constituents’ best interests.

Anyway, Pelosi was the youngest of seven children. Her father was a Baltimore politician. Like him, she was a natural. In 1969, she moved with her husband to San Francisco, where, while raising her growing family, started volunteering for various Democratic organizations. Thanks to her father, she already had friends in high places, but she made many more with her driven work ethic and patronage power.

Pelosi served on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors (city council). In 1987, she ran against a gay candidate for Congress. Her pet issues were increasing funding to fight AIDS, preserving the Presidio (a military base) and Chinese human rights.

In 1989, in a legislative proposal, Pelosi favored pressuring China to curb its human rights abuses through otherwise threatening to raise tariffs on Chinese imports to the US. The Congresswoman visited China in September 1991.

According to the author, “Pelosi said prisoners had told her that the conditions in Chinese jails had miraculously improved each year when Congress debated Most Favored Nation status.” It was unclear whether the author’s “miraculously” was meant sarcastically to indicate that China was putting on a show for the United States, and Pelosi was just another naive, bleeding-heart liberal. President Bill Clinton initially agreed with Pelosi and said he would enact the law imposing financial punishment, but then betrayed her in May 1993.

The argument against erecting trade barriers as a punishment for bad behavior is this: Unfortunately, dictators, like leopards, do not usually change their spots. The Chinese leaders would continue to oppress their people, regardless of how much deprivation the goods producers and exporters would suffer due to sanctions. Besides, the leaders would blame the United States for their hardships. Moreover, there would be adverse global economic consequences.

Pelosi was reelected House Whip in late 2001. From the get-go, she opposed the war in Iraq. She presciently “… warned that a war in Iraq would diminish the nation’s standing, and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.” She was right on both counts.

The latter count was a rerun of Vietnam: Several times, the president forced Congress to approve additional megabucks to fund the war. Forced, because members were made phobic about putting the lives of American servicepeople at risk due to lack of money for inadequate safety equipment. But due to waste, incompetence and war profiteering, the US military in Iraq didn’t have what they needed, anyway.

Read the book to learn how Pelosi earned her party’s respect (hint– she practiced what she preached), and much more about her.

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 Rise of Marco Rubio

The Book of the Week is “The Rise of Marco Rubio” by Manuel Roig-Franzia, published in 2012.

This volume’s opening words indicate that Rubio considers himself the focal point of the universe. He is admittedly a Ronald Reagan wannabe. He does have an appeaser personality, and the major essentials of a career politician–unctuous public speaking ability and phony friendships with wealthy donors.

Born in May 1971 in Miami, the third of four siblings, he has Cuban ancestry. In 1979, Rubio’s family moved to Las Vegas for four years. There, they, except for his father, converted to Mormonism. Rubio clearly has ambivalence about his religious bent, as it appears to be both Mormon and Catholic. He is against gambling.

Rubio graduated high school in 1989, having played on the football team. He started attending Tarkio College in Nebraska on a partial football scholarship. He eventually earned a law degree from the University of Miami Law School.

In 1996, Rubio worked for Bob Dole. In 1998, a moderate Republican, he was elected to the West Miami City Commission. Good at collecting valuable contacts, he became chummy with the mayor of his political territory, West Miami, which was like a small town of less than three thousand people.

The author’s language is unclear as to whether Rubio fathered a child before he married his girlfriend he’d had for eight years. But Rubio did assist with gerrymandering in his areas of dominant influence. In 2001 and 2002, he requested lots of pork barrel money, but asked for none the following year. For, then he ran for and got elected as a Representative in Florida.

Rubio copied a plan (but his was less helpful) from the Democrats, to add to the prescription benefits of financially struggling seniors. He created fundraising front groups for conservatives. Unfortunately, they “… were plagued by accounting glitches and perception problems.” They were actually financial patronage vehicles for his family members. In 2004, he unsuccessfully pushed for a state tax subsidy to pay for a new stadium for the Florida Marlins baseball team.

Rubio is a big spender with both taxpayer-, and his personal, moneys. Nevertheless, in 2010, he got himself elected US GOP Senator from Florida. During the campaign, he fancied himself a maverick with Tea Party support but after his victory, he distanced himself from those supporters. He is pro-life, favors reducing the national deficit but contradictorily–  cutting taxes and increasing military spending.

In the summer of 2011, a “news” show on the network Univision was sniffing into decades-old trouble involving Rubio’s brother-in-law. Rubio’s brother-in-law was a private citizen, not a public servant, not paid by the taxpayers. Rubio asked the TV sleaze machine whether he could pry into the private life of the station’s news anchor. There was no comment.

Read the book to learn how Rubio was a mythmaker with regard to his family’s heritage, and other information.

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.