Front Row At the White House

The Book of the Week is “Front Row At the White House, My Life and Times” by Helen Thomas, published in 1999. The cover of this volume hints at a career memoir, but the contents are mostly about other people and topics– namely, U.S. president-related information meant to entertain as much as inform, targeted at female readers.

Born in 1920, Thomas grew up in Detroit in a family of nine children. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English, she hired on at United Press, a news wire service, assisting with radio broadcasts. When men went off to fight WWII, opportunities became available for women in journalism.

However, in the 1950’s, female journalists were forced to form their own press club; for, until 1971, they were banned from the National Press Club. Thomas was president of the women’s group for the 1959-1960 term. In 1975, she was the first woman to be admitted to the Gridiron Club. It is known mostly for having an annual dinner that roasts elective officeholders.

At the very end of 1960, the author was assigned to cover the White House. She did this for 38 years. It appears that she gathered “soft” news until around the Reagan Era, when her male bosses allowed her to do what the men had been doing. Nevertheless, she built a reputation for herself as a hard-hitting reporter (figuratively).

Initially, Thomas interviewed store owners that sold goods and services to Jackie Kennedy, and wrote about Jackie’s children. Acquiring such information was more difficult than it looked, as Jackie actively hid herself and her children from the media. The tabloid gossip during Lyndon Johnson’s administration included Thomas’ scoop on his daughter’s engagement.

Thomas wasn’t allowed to cover serious political issues until the 1980’s. Yet, ironically, here in the double-digit 2000’s, “journalism” has come full circle. The media is allowed to cover whatever they want. Yet, increasingly, in recent decades, they have continued to insult viewers’, readers’ and listeners’ intelligence. There used to be people called journalists who reported facts. And they checked them.

Now there are people on TV reading Teleprompters, on the radio reading scripts, and providing screen-based text stating their opinions on: the first lady’s clothing, the president’s diet, and all manner of comments from narcissistic attention whores on Twitter. Other outlets are commenting on the fact that their competitors are covering this stupid trivia. Ad nauseam.

Anyway, the author rambled on about press secretaries of Kennedy onward. She described the renovations done to the White House and Air Force One, and the food served in them. She also provided a detailed account of a Washington, D.C. busybody who got involved with the Watergate scandal.

Martha Mitchell (the wife of President Richard Nixon’s campaign manager and Justice Department head, John Mitchell) complained that Nixon wanted her husband to take the rap for the coverup. She also knew Nixon was evil and said– this was about a year and a half before it actually happened– the president should resign.  In August 1974, finally vindicated, she went on the talk-show circuit.

Thomas delved into the personal lives of the first ladies, and how they stood by their men. She showed how President Ronald Reagan’s best friends were plausible denial and willful ignorance.

Read the book to learn much more about trivial White House goings-on from JFK to Bill Clinton, but also– a summary of hard political and historical facts on each president’s administration. Perhaps the latter should have become a separate book– as it could be a valuable resource for a unit on American presidents for a high school social studies class.

Frank

The Book of the Week is “Frank, A Life in Politics From the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage” by Barney Frank, published in 2015.

Born in 1940, Frank grew up in New Jersey. By the early 1970’s, he found himself becoming a career politician. Along the way, he earned a law degree and realized that he possessed the kinds of skills required for leadership in government.

Frank learned many lessons, including that “…[Republican president Richard] Nixon proposed policy changes in health care and welfare that Congressional Democrats rejected as too conservative, only to settle for less years later.” In other words, a partial victory that arises through compromise and playing well with others is better than no victory at all via an attempt to pass comprehensive legislation.

Frank considered himself a civil libertarian in that he favored pornography and prostitution in limited circumstances, and legalizing marijuana and abortion. Yet, he also argued for gun control, strong environmental laws, unions, gay rights and racial integration.

In previous decades, the Republicans were better than Democrats at pressuring their Congresspeople to adopt their political agenda. They continue to accomplish this with front groups which appear to be grass-roots movements secretly funded by special-interest, big-money campaign donors.

Those groups of “concerned voters” flood the media and Internet with misleading, emotionally charged stories and ads– persuasive messages which have been screamed louder and longer than the Democrats’. These smear campaigns have used angry, mean, petty people to target political enemies such as Frank.

The Democratic voters (people who are actual members of grass-roots movements) have historically attended rallies, marches and protests. Usually, to no avail. But the Democrats have caught up and learned to use those sleazy (yet successful) tactics, and have been just as retaliatory of late.

Politics (on BOTH sides) has become one big, abusive hierarchy of vengeful cliques with a few troublemakers– the leaders– acting like teenagers, or sometimes even kindergarteners; this, characterized by social manipulation, bullying, poor impulse control, shameless hypocrisy and narcissistic attention whoredom.

The media are their accomplices, egging them on, and behaving just as immaturely. Some media outlets would have their audiences believe there are an alarming number of morons and nutcases everywhere spreading stupidity. Yes, and it takes one to know one. Lots of pots calling kettles black out there. More airtime than ever is wasted on cutting people down and blaming them for the collapse of modern civilization.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. All parties have to relearn that two wrongs don’t make a right, and an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

In 1989, Frank fought fire with fire when childish Republicans put out a vicious rumor that he was gay. The point was– this is what angry, mean, petty people do to take a swipe at an easy target, sow dissent– regardless of whether it was true or not. He told the press that he would reveal the names of all Republicans who were closeted gays if they ever tried that again. They apologized, because, fortunately, Frank had sufficient power to strike back at them.

In the early 1990’s, Frank pushed for equal rights for gays in the military in a proposal. President Bill Clinton modified it in a way that created a double standard, and it was named “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). Under DADT, if gay servicemen were caught off-duty engaging in any activity indicating their sexual orientation– from electronic communications to sodomy to same-sex dating to simply entering a gay bar– they would be in trouble. When DADT took effect, members of the LGBT community were spied on and punished.

Read the book to learn how the (preventable) 2008 subprime mortgage crisis was spawned by specific people in power such as John Hawke, Sue Kelly, Alan Greenspan, Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich, the House GOP leadership, and most of the GOP– in an excellent, concise, specific explanation for laypeople; and other difficulties Frank faced in doing his job.

Winging It!

The Book of the Week is “Winging It!” by Jack Jefford, published in 1981.

Born in 1910, Jefford knew he wanted to be a pilot when he was six years old. By his late teens, he was taking flying lessons with money earned doing odd jobs. During the Depression Era, he lived on the cheap in Denver’s red-light district, renting a room for $3 a week and paying tens of cents for his meals at restaurants.

In May of 1931, Jefford got his first pilot’s private license issued by the Department of Commerce. He was allowed to fly anywhere in the United States and take on passengers, but only for free. The regions where aviation evolved early on included Nebraska, eastern Colorado, eastern Wyoming and Alaska.

Jefford worked for the Goodall Electric Manufacturing Company. His boss attempted to execute a new concept:  audio advertising from an airplane, via “…a microphone, two powerful amplifiers energized by a wind-driven AC generator, and large horn-shaped airborne speakers.” However, it worked too well, and proved to be not only a nuisance to people below, but a safety hazard. So urban areas outlawed that sort of thing.

Anyhow, autumn 1938 saw Alaskan planes get (Morse-code) radios installed. “Prior to the use of radio, no one knew you were in trouble unless you’d been missing for four or five days.” As various industries progressed thanks to aviation, the author helped collect data for weather forecasters in Oklahoma and helped deliver mail in Arkansas. He even saved some lives by rescuing people with medical emergencies.

It wasn’t always smooth soaring, though. In June 1939, Jefford flew an all-wood Lockheed aircraft from Nome to Seattle into a thunderstorm with noise, turbulence, lightning and hail. His boss– owner of Mirow Air Service, an Alaskan air carrier– died in an air crash that was searching for a downed plane.  The charter service employed an operations manager, a mechanic, a radio operator and pilots. The planes in Alaska had skis on the bottom to land in snow. Otherwise, the planes might roll over, sustaining damage to their three propellers, or their cowlings.

Read the book to learn how the author handled an emergency in dense ice-fog on a C-123 plane that had lost use of its elevators, jet power and one of its two engines; plus, learn about many more of his piloting adventures from the 1930’s through the 1970’s.

Turmoil and Triumph

The Book of the Week is “Turmoil and Triumph, My Years as Secretary of State” by George P. Shultz, published in 1993. This tome described the author’s every conversation, meeting and diplomatic action, complete with historical backdrop– the behind-the scenes issue-wrangling that occurred among top U.S. officials and world leaders during the author’s tenure as secretary of state under president Ronald Reagan.

Shultz came to office in the summer of 1982, after Alexander Haig’s resignation. Shultz was very careful to minimize conflicts of interest– resigning as president of Bechtel and from teaching at Stanford University. He put his assets in a truly blind trust– not managed by family members.

The policy of the administration with regard to most matters of international diplomacy seemed to be “Might makes right.” Cold War hysteria was still in full force, and the United States continually stockpiled weaponry and sent its troops to foreign shores on various continents to deter the Soviets from taking over more territory. Starting at the tail end of the 1970’s through the 1980’s, hostage-taking was all the rage. Terrorist groups sponsored by evil regimes were using people as bargaining chips to achieve their political goals at every turn. The U.S. therefore used the threat of its weaponry and armed forces at every turn.

When Shultz took office, controversy was raging over the Israelis’ attack on the PLO in Lebanon. Various countries– Israel, Jordan, Syria, Iran, NATO countries, and the United States were jockeying for position in the complicated situation. Shultz, of course, tried to represent the interests of the United States– oil accessibility and continued goodwill with Israel.

Unfortunately, Israel had been and continued to be unnecessarily militarily hostile in various ways. Reagan simply decided to have the United States troops leave Lebanon altogether rather than risk additional deaths of Americans– which wasn’t necessarily a cowardly act. That would avoid a quagmire like Vietnam. But a year later, in the autumn of 1983, the American military was back in Lebanon. And in Grenada.

According to Shultz, “The report was sharp and clear:  some Western democracies were again ready to use the military strength they had harbored and built up over the years in defense of their principles and interest.”

Eighteen American troops died in Grenada during the “rescue” operation of one thousand American medical students (who weren’t in immediate danger, according to some people who were physically present, contrary to Shultz’s account) at the school there. The CIA had convinced Shultz that Grenada was a weapons-transporting-Cuban-aircraft refueling stop between Cuba and Angola or Ethiopia.

In summer 1983, there was a power struggle between the National Security Council and Shultz over America’s policy in Central America, when he learned that both he and Congress weren’t informed of the agency’s activities. In summer 1984, the Council authorized U.S. peace-keeping forces to engage in a secret mission in Honduras.

This was ostensibly to protect the Contras, a Nicaraguan fighting force (generously rewarded by the United States because they were anti-Communist) that had infiltrated Honduras. According to what Shultz was told at the time, Saudi Arabia was sending financial aid of one million dollars a month to the Contras. Shultz wrote that he wanted that allowance to end by the end of 1984.

The CIA told Shultz that the Soviets were sending the Sandinistas (the Contras’ enemy) Czech-made weaponry. In addition, the spy agency ordered the American military to line Nicaragua’s harbors with land mines. An international court said that was a crime.

In 1985, Shultz agreed with the policy conveyed by America to foreign officials– that it was against sending arms to Iraq and Iran, in order to discourage them from continuing their war.

At that time, Shultz said he himself, at least one member of the State Department, and a counter-terrorist official weren’t informed that National Security Council adviser Bud McFarlane and non-government individuals were arranging arms sales from Israel to Iran. This, in order for strings to be pulled to release American hostages held by terrorist groups in Lebanon. Others in on the deal included John Kelly, Middle East ambassador from the United States– located in Beirut, the CIA, and some people in the White House.

By November 1986, it was revealed that McFarlane and four others flew to Tehran using phony Irish passports to make the secret deal. Shultz did admit to encouraging talks for the release of hostages, but absent arms sales. He felt that selling arms to a rogue state would be an invitation for them to keep taking hostages one by one to acquire more arms.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes claimed that Shultz knew about the deal during its execution. Treasury Secretary and later Chief of Staff Don Regan claimed the same– at least since a November 1985 meeting. Shultz said no, he didn’t know. Incidentally, Congress didn’t know. Reagan claimed he didn’t. Then he did. Then he didn’t. No one will ever know. Admiral John Poindexter contended that he just found out in November 1986.

[Insert scandal here.]

Poindexter changed his story after it was revealed that some Iranian-weapons-sales-proceeds had been sent to the Contras in Nicaragua. It was just by chance that the CIA head William Casey was debilitated by a brain tumor when he was. Otherwise, the scheming co-conspirators would have continued their clandestine activities.

Shultz egotistically wrote, “… we have lied to the American people and misused our friends abroad. We are revealed to have been dealing with some of the sleaziest international characters around… There is a Watergate-like atmosphere around here as the White House staff has become secretive, self-deluding, and vindictive… But almost every aspect of our foreign policy agenda will suffer unless the  president makes the decision now to halt this operation and let me clean up the mess.”

Shultz was aggrieved that in the Reagan Era, foreign policy and intelligence analysis were commingled at the CIA. Shultz– at the State Department, was left out of the loop. Separating those functions previously minimized possible abuses because the State Department used to handle policy; the CIA, analysis.

Further, having people who weren’t currently U.S. government employees, represent the United States abroad in diplomacy was risky. Shultz pointed out that people such as Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson weren’t accountable to the American government. A secretary of state, prior to taking office– like Shultz– was subjected to a rigorous vetting process. Shultz was outraged that during Iran-Contra, clowns off the street who had friends in high places were allowed to be hostage negotiators, unbeknownst to him.

Anyhow, most of the book described the arms-reduction talks between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. There was a tug-of-war over the interpretation of the ABM Treaty. Reagan had agreed to allow the military to begin a research project into the “Strategic Defense Initiative” — a weapons system that was decades away from actual implementation and broke the bank, but was intended to scare the Soviets into agreeing to do away with more of its offensive weapons than otherwise.

There were indications that Reagan was going senile, but Shultz tried to gloze over them and cover for him when he became loopy in public. “Once a certain arrangement of facts was in his head, I could hardly ever get them out.”

Read the book to learn of the untold taxpayer dollars that were wasted making dictatorial shenanigans go away (amid a flurry of propaganda) in Haiti, Panama, the Philippines, Libya, Chile, Angola, Namibia and South Africa; the three skills a secretary of state should have; of every last interaction between the Reagan administration and the Soviets; and how Shultz (according to Shultz) saved Reagan’s presidency.

A Lawyer’s Life – BONUS POST

The Book of the Week is “A Lawyer’s Life” by Johnnie Cochran With David Fisher, published in 2002. This is obviously the autobiography of Johnnie Cochran, of O.J. Simpson defense-attorney fame.

Born in 1938, he grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana and Los Angeles, California. Cochran never saw a piece of legal business he didn’t like. He was passionate about the law, handling or assisting with, cases of various practice areas. He conveniently forgot to mention that he wasn’t licensed to practice law in New York State or other states, so he glozed over that by saying he preferred to work with a legal team. He described a number of non-California litigation cases where he was asked to join the team– slap his sensational name on a case– merely for publicity purposes, to scare the opposition. He explicitly stated, “…the one thing I bring to every case in which I get involved is the media.”

When he started practicing law in the 1960’s, the system was rife with discrimination against poor people, who happened to not have light-colored skin. He wrote of those days (sarcastically), “Apparently, the police have an amazing ability to arrest only guilty people, they never make a mistake.”

Cochran was extremely busy after the Watts Riots in California in the mid-1960’s, and again after the South Central Los Angeles riots in the spring of 1992.

For three years, starting in 1997, Cochran was host or co-host of a show on Court TV out of New York that discussed legal issues. Some of the time, he read from a TelePrompTer like everyone else. Concurrent with that, he was helping to represent black plaintiffs who were victims of racial incidents in the city.

The then-mayor Rudy Giuliani tried to sweep police-brutality complaints under the rug. However, the Abner Louima case was too egregious to ignore, so he appointed a committee to research police brutality. A year later when its report was issued, he made excuses as to why no recommendations could be implemented. “Rudy Giuliani stayed as far away as possible from this case.” Further, “Most members of New York’s minority community did not believe the mayor ever acted in their interests.”

Cochran made a couple of rather naive statements showing his lack of historical knowledge; first, saying that the O.J. Simpson trial “… had created… law as entertainment.” and second, saying of the Latrell Sprewell case, “It was an ugly incident, and there had never been anything like it in sports.”

One tyro error to which Cochran admitted was a legal case in Buffalo, New York. He expressed his displeasure with the nature of the jury. Of course, the media twisted his words and the jury wasn’t sequestered. There was a chance that a newspaper headline had tainted the jury, but fortunately, nothing came of it.

Read the book to learn the details of diverse cases with which Cochran was involved. His goal was not only to make maximum money for himself and his client, but according to him, to effect change in a court/political/social system that made racial discrimination possible.

Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Carson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethel Merman, An Autobiography

The Book of the Week is “Ethel Merman, An Autobiography” with George Eells, published in 1978.

Born in 1912 in Astoria (a section of Queens in New York City), Ethel Merman started singing when she was five years old. Her parents encouraged her to do so. By the tail end of the 1920’s, she had acquired stenography/shorthand training and had become a secretary, just in case the show business thing didn’t work out.

Working full-time during the day, and singing in dives at night and on weekends, Merman was extremely lucky to be “discovered” in a matter of a few years. She got herself an agent and was off and running. She played in big-name clubs, movie venues and vaudeville theaters in and around New York City– doing five shows a day at the Brooklyn Paramount. She got to meet celebrities like singer Guy Lombardo and composer George Gershwin. She sang in the musical “Girl Crazy” on Broadway.

Merman never had singing lessons or a vocal coach; she was just a natural. Early on, Ginger Rogers got paid $1,500 a week, while Merman got $375. For a number of years, Merman moved back and forth between Los Angeles to make movies, and New York City to appear in Broadway musicals.

In the 1930’s, Broadway musicals thrived. The culture was such that “Nobody worried whether it [a song] fit logically into the score, and the successful songwriters thought more about reaching the top of the Hit Parade than integrating the song into the story.” She played Annie in “Annie Get Your Gun” eight times a week for two years between 1945 and 1946.

The one beef Merman had about her fabulous career, though, was the media’s intrusion into her private life. Read the book to learn the details of her almost instantaneous and long-lived success, her psychologically troubled love life, and much more.

Clinton and Me

The Book of the Week is “Clinton and Me, A Real Life Political Comedy” by Mark Katz, published in 2003. This is the engaging story of how an incurable wiseass used his comedic talent and skills in the political arena.

Born in 1963 in Brooklyn, the precocious author  received a political education in his formative years, thanks to the Watergate hearings. He was a class clown in school, no doubt. Careerwise, he began as a low-level staffer for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Next he cut his teeth as an unpaid volunteer on the Mike Dukakis presidential campaign. “My year on the Dukakis campaign sensitized me to the outrageous, insidious and coded tactics…[of evil, mudslinging political consultants]” Of course, there is nothing new under the sun. Katz then did a stint copywriting in general advertising prior to the advent of the World Wide Web.

Finally, the author parlayed this foundation into a relatively brief but rewarding set of adventures writing jokes contained in speeches for President Bill Clinton. Read the book to learn the lessons the author learned, in making a living for a politician soliciting laughs.