Man of the House

The Book of the Week is “Man of the House” by Tip O’Neill with William Novak, published in 1987.  This is the career memoir of Tip O’Neill, politician from Massachusetts.

O’Neill had a leg up in politics because his father controlled thousands of civil service jobs as a member of the Cambridge City Council and superintendent of sewers in the very early 1900’s.  Born in December 1912, O’Neill himself was elected to the Massachusetts legislature at just 24 years old. In 1977, he was named Speaker of the House.

In the 1940’s, members of the federal government made numerous, important deals behind closed doors. Secrecy prevailed with regard to the federal budget. When the author protested that a pork-barrel project for his state had been omitted after approval in 1949, a colleague reassured him, “We’ll just put it back in… After all, nobody knows what the figures were.”

Conflicts of interest also abounded, but were considered business as usual in the early to mid-twentieth century.  For example, all Congressmen’s expenses of a 1950’s annual leisure event at the Cleveland Indians’ spring training camp in Daytona Beach, Florida were paid for by local merchants: every Easter break, the two major political parties played a baseball game against each other. The purpose was to promote the area as a vacation destination. According to the author, the Democrats always won. However, he remarked that one Congressman alone usually cannot push through legislation and that is why bribery of one House member doesn’t work.

Another memorable, one-time, traumatic event for the author was when a shooting spree took place on the House floor in March 1954. The five gunmen from Puerto Rico injured several people but no one was killed. Fatefully, just prior to the incident, O’Neill had been called outside by a Boston Globe reporter.

In September 1967, O’Neill informed his constituents that he was changing from hawk to dove on the Vietnam War. This was a politically unpopular action, as the press and most of the Democrats still favored the war. Various members of the CIA and the military had secretly agreed with him. His reasoning was that, because President Lyndon Johnson was refraining from using aggressive firepower, the Americans could never win militarily. Johnson feared that mining harbors, disabling bridges and power plants in Vietnam would spark involvement by the Russians and/or Chinese. So, inefficient guerrilla warfare continued for years, taking many lives needlessly.

Additionally, the author showed that there’s nothing new under the sun. In the 1970’s, Evans and Novak, a well-known pair of political journalists, were nicknamed “Errors and Nonfacts” around D.C. “They’re also known for publishing negative stories about members of Congress, stories often leaked to them by people who don’t have much knowledge and aren’t much respected on Capitol Hill.” Besides, O’Neill wrote that a power-hungry Chief of Staff working for a president who likes to delegate is a “formula for disaster.”

On another topic, the author commented that President Jimmy Carter was the one who actually implemented deregulation in various industries and drew attention to the ballooning federal deficit. Nevertheless, in 1977, Carter’s energy bill would need to be reviewed by as many as seventeen different committees and subcommittees in the House, and each group would object to portions of the document.

Read the book to learn how O’Neill was instrumental in getting the package passed; the evils that Presidents Nixon and Reagan perpetrated; what Lee Iacocca did; how the attitude of Americans has become mean-spirited starting under Reagan, and much more.

Against the Grain

The Book of the Week is “Against the Grain” by Boris Yeltsin, published in 1990. This is the career memoir of the Soviet politician.

Born in 1931, Yeltsin always had a keen sense of justice that got him into trouble.  For, his country’s leadership ruled by fear, force and deferment to the head of state for ultimate authority on all matters, rather than (like in the U.S.) open discussion, checks and balances, and consensus more or less.

After graduating from university, he learned all twelve building trades– carpenter, plasterer, glazier, painter, etc. He then decided to put his management skills to work for the Soviet government in the 1970’s.

Yeltsin was First Party Secretary in Sverdlovsk for nineteen years. He started a chess club after Anatoly Karpov complained that there was none in his district. He also organized a local volleyball team, as that was his favorite sport. He built a road and improved the housing of the worst-off citizens there.

By the early 1980’s, the government of the U.S.S.R. had fallen into stagnation under a lack of strong leadership from Leonid Brezhnev.

Crooked backroom deals were the norm, as top government officials were resistant to sacrifice their lavish perks in order to serve their nation’s citizens. Such perks included use of a luxury dacha, a car and driver available 24/7, the highest level of medical expertise the country had to offer, and a variety of expensive foods that were unavailable to the general population. Even so, because all of these were actually State-owned, the top government official (Gorbachev) could confiscate any of them on a whim. Furthermore, Yeltsin wrote, “It had been drummed into everyone from kindergarten onward that we were supposed to thank the Party [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] for all our achievements.”

Gorbachev’s attempts to reform his nation’s government resulted in two linguistic terms that were tossed around for a decade or so:  glasnost and perestroika. Yeltsin had a strong desire to implement the policies they were supposed to represent. A sign that the former was working, was the unprecedented Moscow newspaper coverage of stories on vice and corruption among local politicians. However, it took some years for the author and others to engender the power struggle required to get the country moving again.

In June of 1988, the author delivered a government-conference speech that contained the following: “Clearly, we all need to master the rules of political discussion, to tolerate dissenting opinions as Lenin did; not to hang labels on people and not to regard them as heretics.”

Read the book to learn how the author came to hold different Moscow political positions while numerous government officials and organizations tried to discredit him and ruin his reputation; and of his proposals to improve the governance of the then-Soviet Union.

The Age of Turbulence

The Book of the Week is “The Age of Turbulence” by Alan Greenspan, published in 2007. This is a career memoir / global macroeconomics overview in one tome. Perhaps it should have been split into two books so as to be more comprehensive, as the author, in describing the recent economic affairs of India, Russia and China, failed to mention major factors in connection therewith; such as the caste system, Jeffrey Sachs’ advice to Boris Yeltsin, and a detailed description of China’s one-child policy.

Born in 1926, Greenspan studied business and finance at New York University after WWII. While there, he spent two months on freelance work doing economics research. It involved pencil, paper and a slide rule. These days, it would take minutes and involve software.

In August 1974, the author was appointed chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. He cited President Nixon’s price and wage controls as an example of government action that leads to resistance from the market. The first quarter of 1976 saw the U.S. economy grow at 9.3% and the second quarter, at less than 2%. Greenspan was not alarmed by this kind of extreme swing; however, the slowing economy caused voters to choose Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford for president in 1976. During Carter’s term, economists learned that the way for a country to achieve long-term prosperity is to control inflation. The reason Carter caused financial havoc was that his economic goals contradicted each other.

In summer 1987, Greenspan became chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. In 1993, Bill Clinton chose to reduce the federal deficit rather than keep his campaign promises that necessitated increasing spending on various items. He could not afford to do both. The result was a budget surplus by 1998.

In late 1994, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve had to take action to prevent Mexico’s financial collapse. Otherwise, the southwestern states would be adversely affected, and immigrants coming into the U.S. would double.

In 1996, more and more households were exposing themselves to equity risks. Even so, introduction of the World Wide Web appears to have been an innovation that temporarily increased the economy’s ability to expand on an unusually grand scale. Approximately during the Web’s first decade, the economy wasn’t in a normal business cycle. The Web’s ability to make information available instantaneously, thus reducing uncertainty, provided a major boost to corporate America. The Fed, therefore, raised interest rates to curb inflation only in autumn 1998, what with the dire financial straits of the Russians, and hedge fund Long Term Capital Management’s bailout.

In the autumn of 2002, the Republicans turned a deaf ear to the author when he tried to tell them why it was important to rein in spending and renew the Budget Enforcement Act. He already had a difficult job, as he explained, “But too often we have to deal with incomplete and faulty data, unreasoning human fear, and inadequate legal clarity.” Nevertheless, Greenspan is optimistic about the future because the level of worldwide commerce and living standards can continue to rise indefinitely. He believes the presence of wholly competitive free markets and ever-improving technology are what drive them.

Read the book to learn about the two major elements required for a market economy and two others that are essential for growth and prosperity; the factors involved in predicting the health of the U.S. economy in 2030; three important influences on global growth; about the nature of economic populism, and much more.

My Wild World

The Book of the Week is “My Wild World” by Joan Embery With Denise Demong, published in 1980. This is the career memoir of an animal lover and trainer.
The San Diego Zoo was founded in 1916. In the late 1960’s, the author went to work for the Children’s Zoo there. An entry-level position normally involves lots of dirty work.
By early 1970, Embery was a public relations representative for the zoo. She went on numerous TV shows such as “What’s My Line” and “The Steve Allen Show” to promote the animals. One of her signature feats was training Carol the elephant to paint by holding a brush with her trunk.
Training animals is challenging and entertaining, but can also be a frustrating, dangerous business. Lots of behind-the-scenes work goes into simply displaying animals at a zoo; never mind animal shows. Many specialists are involved, including a lawyer (in the United States, of course), veterinarians, pathologists and behaviorists.

In 1969, the San Diego Zoo began to build the Wild Animal Park, a monorail ride for visitors that shows wild animals in their natural habitat. A major issue always associated with animals is finding sufficient space for housing them. The Siberian tiger can weigh as much as 800 lbs, and an elephant gains about 60 lbs a month when it is maturing. Various birth control methods are employed to minimize overbreeding.

In the early 1980’s, a computer database was initiated to the facilitate the exchange of animals among zoological establishments, to foster the reproduction of endangered animals.

Read the book to learn of the author’s experiences working and performing with, and serving as owner of, exotic animals such as pachyderms, reptiles, marsupials, predatory cats, and more.

Up Late With Joe Franklin

The Book of the Week is “Up Late With Joe Franklin” by Joe Franklin with R.J. Marx, published in 1995. This is the career memoir of an entertainment jockey.

Franklin started his career in radio, playing old records. He was a compulsive hoarder of them. When he moved to television, he introduced old movies. Then he became a late, late night talk show host. Although Franklin had popular shows that ran for years and years, fewer people have heard of him than of other talk show hosts because his shows ran at 1am or later.

Read the book to learn how Franklin achieved his entertainment success, and a little trivia about tens (out of hundreds) of the celebrity-guests Franklin had on his shows, which ones he interviewed before they were famous, and the ones he claims he made famous.

The Ordinary Spaceman

The Book of the Week is “The Ordinary Spaceman” by Clayton C. Anderson, published in 2015. This book describes everything you ever wanted to know– including all the disgusting details– about riding and living in a spacecraft via NASA employment.

There were 338 men and women who left earth’s atmosphere between 1959, when NASA first began hiring astronauts, and 2013, when the probability of being hired was .6%. NASA has a laborious, rigorous annual recruitment process. The author was hired on his fifteenth try. Prior to that, he had worked for NASA as an engineer.

Once someone beats the odds and wins approval to go on a mission, they require months or years of training in extreme conditions, such as handling diverse, high-pressure physical and mental tasks underwater, atop a blizzardy mountain, in the desert, and in a device that imposes centrifugal force. Working in a tightly confined vehicle calls for a specific set of social and physical skills and talents. Read the book to learn the degrees to which the author possessed different ones, and how he fared in space.

From Exile to Washington

The Book of the Week is “From Exile to Washington” by W. Michael Blumenthal, published in 2013. This tome describes the historical times of the author, with some autobiographical bragging thrown in.

Blumenthal, born in 1926 in Germany, happened to have a Jewish last name when Hitler came to power. He endured the hardships of living in Shanghai as a refugee when his family fled Germany on the eve of WWII. After the war, as a Displaced Person, he waited years for permission to live in the United States. When the Jews in Shanghai learned of the atrocities that had been committed against their fellow religionists, they considered the terms “Germany” and “Germans” anathema. No one wanted to go back to Europe. The most sought after destinations were Palestine, America, Australia or South America.

The author became Americanized but his life experiences gave him a unique perspective on his homeland and China that not many people had. In 1960, he, like many other Americans, was inspired by President Kennedy’s language of idealism and sacrifice to volunteer to help his country through government service.

Read the book to learn about the lofty corporate and government positions held by the author, and the historical backdrop of his life.