World Class

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

The Book of the Week is “World Class, One Mother’s Journey Halfway Around the Globe in Search of the Best Education for Her Children” by Teru Clavel, published in 2019.

Born in the early 1960’s, the author had very different educational experiences from that of her children. She spent her early childhood years in Greenwich, Connecticut; middle years in New York City, and teens in Westchester county, New York. She, her husband and their three children spent a decade in Asia, and moved back to the United States in 2016.

They began their stay in Hong Kong in the expat community, but the author wanted her children to see how the natives actually lived and learned. The rat race among the super-rich elitists had become tiresome. So in Hong Kong and later in Shanghai, she found a preschool and elementary school that were right for her then-two children. Even so, most local Asian schools demanded discipline and rigorous academics that were standardized nationwide.

In Shanghai, though, her family endured hardships in order for her children to get the best educations– authentic to the culture of that place and time. In Asia, teaching is a highly respected profession for which there is rigorous training and a highly selective hiring process.

Both the author’s family’s local public school and their residence were structurally dilapidated. The former had classrooms that were unheated, so in winter, the kids wore their coats all day. The grounds had no playground, only a concrete basketball court with a bare hoop. The family’s home had vermin and unreliable water and internet service.

At the elementary school, the teachers specialized in math, Mandarin, English language or other subjects, and were paid more than the homeroom teacher. The kids learned with pencils and paper; not tablets and videos.

Every day before preschool began, the kids were subjected to a color-coded health examination: red (a lucky color in China) meant the child was well, yellow meant slight illness but okay to be in class, but blue indicated that the child would spend the day at the school infirmary. Most parents of elementary schoolers work to support a multi-generational household: an only child, the parents, and both sets of grandparents of the child.

The author’s six-year old son’s report card was a 46 page bound book containing assessments in each subject including social skills– comprised of opinions of the parents, teachers and students themselves. According to the author, the Chinese education system is a meritocracy, with high school and college entrance exams the keys to the kingdom.

The author wanted her children to attend high school in the United States, so the family moved to Palo Alto in California– the best school district in the nation; but, as the author found out, only reputationally.

Read the book to learn: many more details of Asian education and cultures, and how they compare to the American system in recent years; the author’s advice and tips for how parents can seek out the best education for their kids; and biographical information on the author and her family.

The Bookseller of Kabul / The Bin Ladens

The First Book of the Week is “The Bookseller of Kabul” by Asne Seierstad, translated by Ingrid Christophersen, originally published in 2002.

“To him, power is more important than peace. He’s mad enough to jeopardize the lives of thousands just so he can be in charge. I can’t imagine why the Americans want to cooperate with a man like that.”

-Said of the Afghan warlord Padsha Khan, who took over Central Asia after the Taliban left in 2002.

The Americans hired Khan to look for members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. The warlord used the American-provided money, weapons (such as B-52’s and F-16 fighter planes), communications devices (such as a satellite phone) and intelligence devices (all of which were also provided to the warlord’s enemies) to kill his enemies in a local conflict in the provinces– instead of seeking America’s enemies.

This paperback tersely yet effectively described the culture of strict Muslim households as seen through the lifestyle (as dictated by its eventual patriarch, Sultan, the oldest son– the favorite child) of a few generations and branches of the Khan family tree. Crazy about books, in the early 1970’s, Sultan opened his first bookshop in Kabul. With his obsessively hard work, his business grew to three shops in a few decades.

As is well known, in September 1996, Afghanistan became a theocracy under the Taliban. Sultan’s behavior and attitudes was typical for a man of his generation and entrepreneurial bent. He traveled to Tehran, Tashkent and Moscow to acquire all kinds of books to sell. He did jail time for offering subversive ones. In Afghanistan, there was actually book-burning in November 1999.

Sultan decreed that his sons quit high school to manage his stores, and his wife performed the administrative work. During the most politically oppressive times, he, his wife and four children lived in Pakistan. After the Taliban were driven out of his native land of Afghanistan in 2002, his family returned. War was the order of the day for his son’s entire seventeen-year lifetime, as the country then devolved into civil war among warlords.

Against the wishes of his extended family and his first wife, Sultan married a sixteen-year old girl. The girl’s family needed the customary gifts bestowed on them, including supplies, food and animals.

Sultan risked his life, paying people-smugglers in order to go to Pakistan primarily to visit business contacts (and his family), as, after 9/11, the country closed its border with Afghanistan. Lahore in Pakistan had no regard for intellectual property laws, so Sultan could get two to three thousand percent profit margins on stolen texts of books he had printed there. The kind of lawlessness that existed on the Afghan side of the Khyber pass included a free-for-all on hashish and weaponry.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional characteristics about Sultan’s culture, such as wedding rituals, pilgrimages, and about the draconian segregation of the sexes and enforced inferiority of the females.

The Second Book of the Week is “The Bin Ladens, An Arabian Family in the American Century” by Steve Coll, published in 2008.

This large volume described the culture of what Americans would consider to be a huge family of Middle Easterners with the last name Bin Laden, whose households ranged from the strictly Muslim to the very Westernized, over a few generations and branches of its family tree.

Born around the dawn of the twentieth century, one of the family’s major patriarchs was the entrepreneurial Mohamed, a construction contractor who played well with others, and joined the Hadhrami community in Yemen. He kissed up to the Saudi Arabian government in order to build his business.

In the mid-1930’s, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud began to reap riches from oil. This led to various developments in terms of the evolution of the country’s infrastructure and acquisition of Western aid.

During WWII, Great Britain and the United States lavished copious monetary assistance on Saudi Arabia to keep it away from Communist temptations. The Saudis opted to pave roads instead of building railway lines, as automobiles would allow them to prosper by selling oil. Aramco, the jointly owned American and Saudi oil company, did business with Mohamed, too.

Strictly Muslim, Mohamed– a polygamist, was a typical man for his time and place. Of his 54 children, his oldest son, Salem, was born in the mid-1940’s. As such, Salem grew up to become chair of several multi-national corporations his father eventually grew, that built mosques, dams and reservoirs, and renovated the buildings and grounds of pilgrimage regions and military installations.

At the dawn of the 1950’s, the Bin Ladens’ companies were awarded business by the Saudi government partly because American contractors couldn’t deal with the Saudis, as the Saudis were too corrupt. Even so, the Saudi government’s officials, who were big spenders living high on the hog, went deep into debt, and turned out to be bad payers.

About a decade later, Mohamed’s businesses, which were developing structurally complicated kinds of shell companies– acquired a reputation for inexperienced laborers, doing shoddy work and missing deadlines.

President John F. Kennedy initially supported Egypt’s leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1962, but the latter sent guerrilla soldiers to Yemen to agitate for a new government there, and exchanged hostile words with Saudi Arabia’s government. In 1963, the United States changed its mind, probably for various secret geopolitical reasons.

In order to protect Saudi Arabia’s southern frontier from Nasser’s imperialist aspirations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cooperated with Great Britain to provide the Saudis with missiles and military infrastructure there. Mohamed’s contribution was to build roads.

Osama was one of Mohamed’s biological sons, born in January 1958, when his mother was about fifteen years old. His parents divorced in his early childhood. His mother remarried. Mohamed died when he was nine years old. During (what would be equivalent to) junior high school, he joined an after-school Islamic study group. He was later recruited into the Muslim Brotherhood; an anti-Nasser, Koran-purist group approved of by Saudi Arabia’s king in the early 1970’s.

That was a time of foreign-policy contradictions for the Saudis and the West. In 1973, the former imposed an oil embargo meant to harm the Americans (for helping the Israelis), Egyptians and Syrians. At the same time, the Saudis accepted financial aid from the Americans, as the former supplied oil to the latter’s troops in Vietnam. The Saudis also purchased vast quantities of U.S. Treasury Bonds.

Salem became the leader of a few of the most Westernized branches of the family (his younger siblings), encouraging the education of females. He purchased properties in the United States, and began to collect private jets. His relatives had identity crises, caught between two cultures.

At seventeen years old, Osama married a fourteen-year old. She bore him a son, and pursuant to the Koran, he obeyed a laundry list of prohibitions: didn’t covet his neighbor’s wife, and banned photography, music, gambling and alcohol from his life. He did, however, teach his children hunting and shooting, and seemed to have no problem with violating certain religious laws. He quit college and entered the family business.

In early 1985, Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd and Salem met with American president Ronald Reagan. The king secretly funneled money to a Cayman Islands account to fund the Contras (of the infamous Iran-Contra affair).

Read the book to learn how numerous other historical events shaped the activities of Salem and Osama and vice versa through the second half of the twentieth century into the new millennium.

ENDNOTE: Even with all the information the author was able to glean– the story was like Swiss cheese. The United States has suffered the usual in terms of intelligence-gathering in recent decades: incompetence, hubris and inter-agency rivalry, not to mention political and economic inter-dependence between the Arabs and the United States. Other wrenches in the works include the complex web of Bin Laden business dealings and entities, many of which are offshore. Enough said.

Father Son & Co.

The Book of the Week is “Father Son & Co., My Life at IBM and Beyond” by Thomas J. Watson Jr. and Peter Petre, published in 1990.

Curiously, the word “mainframe” never appeared in this volume. Not even once.

Born in 1914, Watson Jr. (hereinafter referred to as “Jr.”), who grew up in Short Hills, New Jersey, was the oldest of four siblings. His father (Watson Sr., hereinafter referred to as “Sr.”), who played well with others, executed a financial turnaround of Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (renamed IBM in 1924).

Sr. instituted a corporate culture of “investiture socialization”– training, educating, and fostering cooperation among employees and rewarding them for performing well. They had air-conditioned offices and factories (rare for the 1930’s) in Endicott, in upstate New York. Their corporate campus afforded them the use of a country club that offered free concerts, a dining room, two golf courses, a shooting range, and library.

Top management encouraged even the lowest-level workers to make suggestions for improving working conditions. On one occasion, an anonymous complaint that reached Sr.’s desk alleged that a heating system in a plant was being renovated too early in spring, making the work environment freezing, and there was one toilet for fifty employees. Jr. was sent to personally investigate. He wrote that he began remedying the situation within one day.

The first half of the twentieth century is obviously a bygone era in employment. The non-union IBM was competing with other employers that provided labor-union: benefits, compensation and job security for their workers.

Sr. was practically the only corporate executive in America in the Depression years who agreed with FDR’s policies. One hard and fast rule under the “cult of personality” which Sr. developed, was that alcohol was prohibited in all IBM offices at all times, including lunchtime off-campus, and even special occasions.

IBM initially sold scales and meat slicers business-to-business, but switched to leasing of, and tech support for, electric typewriters and punch-card machines. That last product automated all accounting functions and processing of sales data.

In 1940, Sr. testified at a Congressional hearing on “technological unemployment”– the unfortunate, economically adverse situation in which people are thrown out of work when processes get automated. Sr. argued that his company was good for the economy, as it stimulated consumerism.

During WWII, IBM contracted with the War Department to manufacture machine guns, and keep tabs on a slew of battle-related statistics: “… bombing results, casualties, prisoners, displaced persons, and supplies.”

IBM found that the most cost-effective way to run its international business through its subsidiary, World Trade, was to assemble machine-parts in various countries so as to force interdependence among them and share the wealth. Immediately after WWII, though, there were disastrous financial losses in Europe especially, until infrastructure could be rebuilt.

By then, the company had about 22,000 employees, most of whom worshipped Sr. His photo hung on the walls of their offices. Nevertheless, at the time, he was smart enough to listen to IBM’s vice president of engineering. The latter was virtually the only manager who had the foresight to raise the alarm early, on the coming obsolescence of the medium of punch-cards, which took up scads of storage space but allowed instantaneous data-viewing. The technologically superior, compact medium of magnetic tape stored data which were invisible until viewed on a monitor. It was unclear how long the transition from punch-card to tape would take, but entrepreneurs were already making inroads on the extremely expensive experimentation required.

In the 1950’s, the U.S. government commissioned IBM and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to do a joint defense project called SAGE. In 1957, the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik showed SAGE to be “… a costly fantasy, the SDI of its day. Before long, we found ourselves vastly overarmed, faced with the danger of mutual annihilation.”

In 1967, in the wake of racial tensions in America, IBM built a plant in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York City. It was part of a social program that was modestly successful; suggested by a task force comprised of white business leaders who assisted a black community board with economic development.

The author admitted that IBM had become a monopoly of sorts by the 1970’s. “The [anti-trust case against IBM] dragged on for twelve years, until the Reagan administration finally dropped it in 1981… the natural forces of technology etched away whatever monopoly we may have had.”

Read the book to learn about the role played by IBM with regard to other major negative and positive economic trends driving America over the course of more than half a century, plus more biographical information on the author and his family.

ENDNOTE: Alarmists on both sides of the economic spectrum shouldn’t have nearly as much fodder with which to propagandize, if they heed the lessons from this book, lessons that smack of deju vu all over again :

  • Some people might say Moore’s Law has run its course in the United States (See the post, “Moore’s Law / Elon Musk”).
  • Microsoft learned the most lucrative lessons from IBM in preparing its own legal defense against the Justice Department’s antitrust accusations.
  • The national healthcare system of the United States can only improve in the coming decades– eliminating one major cost for employers that was seriously hampering their bottom line.
  • The way IBM began to do business internationally decades ago, is still in existence. And
  • supply and demand will compel Americans to find solutions to seemingly overwhelming problems, such as those relating to energy, environmentalism and education.

Of course, there will always be leaders who, grateful for term limits, lacking courage– adopt the attitude of the character Linus in the “Peanuts” comic strip: No problem is ever so big or so complicated that it can’t be run away from.

Patriot Number One

Americans believe in the two-party system. One on Friday, one on Saturday.

Insanely enough, Americans are not allowed to have parties anymore. Because, ironically, America is becoming like China!

The following is an excerpt from a China-bashing opinion piece penned by Newt Gingrich for the Fox News website, dated April 30, 2020. However, every occasion of “Chinese” has been replaced with “American” and “Communist” with “Two-Party” and vice versa.

“Chinese and their allies seem to forget that the heart of the rise of the American Two-Party [system] was a deep dedication to effective education and propaganda. They have had nearly a century of experience at waging intellectual and psychological warfare as the necessary foundation of winning and keeping power.”

The following is a quote from Bertrand Russell: “There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dare not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.”

During the Cold War, America always stoked the fear that all countries had the potential to fall to Communism like dominoes. Currently, the local leaders of this country, America (!)– have fallen into line like dominoes. At any time, either major American political party has possessed the power to reject this oppression, but instead, both parties have collaborated to encourage it. Because they are comprised of people who will say or do anything to get elected or reelected in the event there continue to be free and fair elections.

AS IS WELL KNOWN, A SIGN OF DEMOCRACY IS FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS. IF THE INCUMBENTS ALMOST AUTOMATICALLY WIN THIS FALL, IS THAT FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS?

From the early 1960’s into the 1970’s, only men of military age had reason to fear the power of the government. Currently, every man, woman and child has reason to fear. It is not just the president who has the potential to wield outrageous power, but all government leaders across the entire country, not unlike in China.

The United States is now at a turning point in its history. Either it will become even more like China in its totalitarian ways, or its leaders will get back to restoring its citizens’ freedoms.

It might be recalled that Chinese Communist dictator Mao Tse Tung took the following steps, among many other steps, in acquiring more and more power:

  • Land reform– seizing private property from wealthy capitalists and landlords to redistribute it among everyone else (but this actually resulted in famine in which tens of millions of people died; famine is probably one thing Americans won’t suffer from)
  • nationalizing businesses
  • having a state-approved, heavily armed military force roam the streets, arbitrarily violating peoples’ civil rights
  • Inviting citizens to air their grievances, and then arresting, jailing and torturing them for speaking out against the government
  • Eliminating free speech, freedom of the press, and the right to assemble, and
  • Reducing the number of China’s political parties to one: The Communist Party, and forcing people to join it or be even more oppressed

For more information, see the following posts:

  • The Most Wanted Man in China
  • The Man on Mao’s Right
  • Colors of the Mountain

Is the above what America wants to be??

One more thing– ironically, China is in the stage of its economic development that the United States was in, about a hundred years ago: industrialization and operating factories galore (of course, China also has modern electronic technology). But the poorest of China’s citizens have yet to form labor unions to protest unjust working conditions. Some people in the United States government are pushing for a return to American manufacturing, strangely enough.

Anyway, the Book of the Week is “Patriot Number One, American Dreams in Chinatown” by Lauren Hilgers, published in 2018. This book described the Chinese immigrant experience in very recent years for a rural-village couple who are now in their thirties, and a student, who settled in the Flushing section of New York City, in Queens county.

Born in 1983 in the rural village of Wukan near Shenzhen, Zhuang Liehong grew up in a poverty-stricken family. His father was a sometime crab fisherman. He was handed off from one extended relative to another in Hong Kong beginning when he was about six years old.

Zhuang ended his formal education with middle school, not wanting to impose the financial burden of high school tuition on his family. In the 1990’s, his hometown became the victim of eminent-domain abuse of sorts, when investors invaded with infrastructure and modernization projects as a result of Deng Xiaoping’s 1980’s economic initiatives.

Zhuang was elected to a seat on Wukan’s village council, and became a political activist. Autumn 2011 saw common farmers and former landowners protest in the streets against the local government’s stealing their properties in the name of money. However, they themselves weren’t entirely innocent of law-breaking, as they had engaged in illegal building on their former land, or had been “smugglers, gamblers, ticket scalpers.”

As is very common with such unrest, the local authorities bashed some heads, rounded up the worst offenders and sentenced a few of them to a few years in jail, and trampled on what would be considered “due process” in the United States.

A few years later, after Zhuang (and his wife) had executed his carefully planned scheme to flee to the United States, the local government also set up a bribery scandal that involved the village council, prompting more oppression of the community.

A possible legal way, then, for Zhuang to move permanently to the United States, was for him to apply for political asylum. More people from China than from any other nation apply for political asylum, followed by Guatemala, El Salvador and Egypt.

Read the book to learn of Zhuang’s family’s adventures in the United States, and of the adventures of a young female student who became friendly with Zhuang’s wife.

Forty Autumns

The Book of the Week is “Forty Autumns, A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival On Both Sides of the Berlin Wall” by Nina Willner, published in 2016.

The author was the daughter of an East German refugee named Hannah. After WWII, Hannah’s family residence happened to be located in Schwaneberg, in East Germany. The area was liberated by Americans, but was taken over by the Soviets in short order. Hannah’s father was the headmaster of the local school. He was forced to teach Communism to his students.

In 1948, at twenty years old, Hannah, the second oldest in her immediate family (which would eventually consist of nine children), risked getting shot or imprisoned in fleeing to West Germany. The Soviets charged such people with treason– she was young and healthy and refused to help rebuild East Germany.

East Germany indoctrinated the children with their Communist youth groups in which they recited a loyalty oath, sang jingoistic songs, had film-viewings and acted in plays. The children were rewarded for being snitches on their own immediate families, neighbors, friends, teachers– whoever said anything negative about the State. Prison terms awaited the tattled-on.

This prompted a super-serious case of brain-drain and flight of capital and a labor force from East Germany to West Germany. In spring 1953, tensions of the oppressed boiled over. Soviet tanks rolled in, leaving hundreds dead. By the mid-1950’s, the government owned the media, which spewed positive propaganda about itself, and negative about any place other than Soviet-controlled territories.

Initially, the Berlin Wall consisted of the following: concrete that was twelve feet high and one to three feet thick; a slippery, rounded top; wire mesh; electric signal fencing; barbed wire; electric alarms; searchlights; trenches; raked sand to reveal escapees’ footsteps; floodlights; tripwires; booby-traps; attack dogs; not to mention wooden watchtowers. And armed guards, too.

Just for good measure, in the mid-1970’s, the Wall was fortified with metal spikes, nail beds, fences with touch-sensitive alarms and bullet-dischargers, concrete watchtowers, tripwires that set off signal flares; concrete barriers, electrified fences, and additional attack dogs.

Unsurprisingly, by then, countless people had been shot and killed trying to get past the Wall. Their murderers were rewarded with promotions and awards ceremonies. East German government officials enjoyed luxury housing in the Wanderlitz Forest Settlement (equivalent to a corporate village full of dachas) and drove Volvos.

East Germany’s leader decided to boost national pride by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in sports research and sports medicine to churn out the best Olympic athletes. And the nation did so into the 1980’s.

Unfortunately, by the end of the 1970’s, the country was $10 billion in debt to West Germany. It got so desperate to feed its people, it awarded plots of land to individual families so they could grow their own food. It was an un-Communist move– taking power and property away from the State. But after about thirty years, the chickens were coming home to roost under the East German brand of socialism.

In modern times, in the West, it is possible to be capitalistic in one’s economic thinking, and be mildly Soviet in one’s political thinking.

Read the book to learn the fates of the different family members, and how their lives changed during and after the Cold War.

Killers of the Flower Moon / Heist

The First Book of the Week is “Killers of the Flower Moon, The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann, published in 2017. This volume described in suspenseful anecdotes– a political, social and cultural system suffused with evil– and it highlighted what happened to just one of countless families whose members were victims of the conspiracy.

In 1870, the Osage Native Americans were forced by light-skinned Americans to flee from their homeland in Kansas, to wasteland in northeastern Oklahoma. In 1893, the United States government’s Indian Affairs Department ordered that all children on the Osage reservation attend school. One consequence was that the young people in the area adopted the ways of the “white man.”

On September 16, 1893, the U.S. government shot a gun to kick off a land-grab. The Cherokee Outlet, territory bordering on the Osage’s that was bought by the U.S. government, was handed over to the Cherokees on a first-claimed via physical presence, first-owned basis.

About 42,000 members of the Cherokee nation waited on the border for days until the appointed time of the free-for-all. The fight for land ended in a massacre galore. The government didn’t bother to repeat the above process with the Osage reservation.

Yet, by the very early 1900’s, oil was discovered on the Osage’s land; this opened a Pandora’s box. In 1912, the Department of the Interior auctioned off the then-super-valuable parcels, to which the Osage had mineral rights. The Osage became millionaires overnight, paid royalties by the oil barons.

The local (white) politicians of the oil-rich lands stuck like leeches to the Osage residents, under the guise of regulating commerce. They deemed that (white) guardians of the property be appointed for full-blooded Osage people, as the Native Americans weren’t sufficiently educated or competent to manage their own money. Unsurprisingly, the guardians were thieves and worse.

Read the book to learn about a statistics-defying (but not uncommon among the Osage) rash of deaths (by poisonings, shootings and explosives) that occurred in one Osage family due to the “system” and the growing-pains the Wild West experienced as it evolved into a civilized, law-abiding society with the help of a national law enforcement organization now known as the FBI.

A more recent example of exploitation of Native Americans was described in the Second Book of the Week, “Heist, Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, His Republican Allies, and the Buying of Washington” by Peter H. Stone, published in 2006. Yet again, the hypothetical board game “Survival Roulette” could be applied to this scandal: Native American Exploitation Edition (See “Highly Confident” post).

There have been countless ultimate winners of this game through the centuries: all the people never caught for committing crimes against Native Americans. The vast majority have gone unpunished, including several people mentioned in the book, whose names have already faded from the public’s memory.

However, the most famous hypothetical losers of the game in this book were lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, and Congressman Tom DeLay. Instead of a Monopoly board, in keeping with the casino theme, the central structure of the game could be an actual roulette wheel, whose ball could land on spaces that describe the financial crimes of: bribery, money laundering, fraud, disclosure failures and influence peddling. Plus tax evasion. Just for good measure.

In short, with Abramoff as the ringleader, during the course of three years, the gang milked six Native American tribes for $82 million– that paid for political bribes, funding for a school, lavish gifts, and entertainment and recreation expenses– disguised as lobbying and public relations services on behalf of the tribes.

In this slim volume, the author dispensed with suspense by revealing up front that, when they got caught, Abramoff and his sidekick Scanlon accepted plea deals for their unethical opportunism, unconscionable greed and unmitigated hubris. The author then failed to explain why the Texas state government closed a casino run by the Tigua Indians in February 2002, but did explain later on.

Nevertheless, the story thereafter unfolded in more or less chronological order, starting with backstory from the 1990’s. The Tigua casino actually stayed closed, despite Abramoff’s fat fee, part of which he circuitously funneled through nonprofit organizations that ended up as political donations, and paid for a luxurious golf vacation in the United Kingdom for himself and his cronies.

Abramoff’s shamelessness knew no bounds. He had his friends, in order to service one of his tribal clients, marshal support from the likes of the Christian Coalition to convince the U.S. government that gambling was against their religion, and a reason to close the Tigua casino. At the same, he was lobbying on behalf of the Tiguas through illegal means, to reopen the casino (!) For that, he made megabucks from both sides.

Abramoff also helped to quash legislation that would have taxed his Choctaw client, and would have imposed tougher labor laws on his offshore client that manufactured clothing in the Marianas.

Kevin Sickey, who represented an Indian tribe that hired Abramoff, described the lobbyist’s propaganda thusly: “They exaggerated political threats and they exaggerated economic threats. Then they exaggerated their ability to deal with threats.”

Read the book to learn what led to the start of investigations by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and the Justice Department; Abramoff’s and Scanlon’s early-career adventures; and details of their and others’ punishments, among other nothing-new-under-the-sun type political opportunism, greed and hubris.

As an aside, the dollar value of political wrongdoing has reached dizzying heights in the past few decades, and it has been the same kind of wrongdoing, over and over again– committed mostly by alpha males. People who have an insatiable need for power and money apparently never learn from others whose stories have been well-publicized!


Janet & Jackie

The Book of the Week is “Janet & Jackie” by Jan Pottker, published in 2001. This is a double biography– of Janet Lee Auchincloss and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Born in 1908, Janet Lee grew up in a rich family. Her obsession with equestrianism in her youth and young adulthood saw her through the stressful times of her life. She won many ribbons.

“For an Irish American woman in the late 1920’s, marriage was the only way to move out of an unhappy household.” She wed for the first time when she was twenty. The groom, Jack Bouvier, a drinker and womanizer, was 36. Her daughter, Jacqueline (Jackie) was born the following summer. The pattern of an unhappy household was repeated until the divorce between Janet and Jack was finalized when Jackie was eleven years old. Jackie, too, took up equestrianism. Jack indulged Jackie’s every whim.

Marriage number two was consummated in 1942. There were only about ten years’ difference in age between Janet and Hugh Auchincloss. Janet kept in touch with her former in-laws and stepchildren, and parented them, even though the Bouviers’ social status was a notch below that of the next man she married. For a while, they were snowbirds between their mansions in Washington, D.C. and Newport, RI.

Janet led Jackie to believe that her highest desire should be to have a man love her. Jackie got the message and wed John F. Kennedy. However, although Jackie’s first husband was a womanizer– his family’s politics, newness of riches and internal loyalty were opposite to her family’s.

Joe Kennedy, the patriarch, treated the wedding as just another political campaign– a well-publicized extravaganza to showcase his son. But he shelled out the money for it. They compromised on the religious issues (as Jackie was Episcopalian, sort of):  the ceremony was officiated by an archbishop in the presence of a monsignor and four priests.

As is well known, in 1963, Jackie’s Jack was shot in Dallas, where he died. Fast forward to 1968. Jackie was ready to wed again, to the 62-year old Aristotle Onassis. Her psychological need for a man was evident; for, she sacrificed a sizeable widow’s pension and Secret Service protection in the process.

Read the book to learn a wealth of information, and the information of wealth as the behavior patterns of the daughter’s life, intertwined with her mother’s, became, well, repetitive.