The Foreigner’s Gift – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Foreigner’s Gift, The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq” by Fouad Ajami, published in 2006. This was a repetitive, non-chronological mishmash of the author’s observations about the history of the Middle East intertwined with goings-on in Iraq up until the book’s writing.


The author, an American citizen, grew up in a Shia family in Lebanon. He interviewed all kinds individuals– soldiers, students, government officials, academics, etc.– of different religions, different sects, during his visits to different regions of Iraq in 2003, 2004 and 2005. There were conflicting reports of whether ordinary Iraqis viewed the Americans as “occupiers” or “liberators.”

The author argued that American president George W. Bush wanted to spark a pan-Arab reform movement in the Middle East by attacking Iraq. However, clearly, the American vice president’s motive was profiteering. Yet– anyone who has read his or her history and has basic knowledge about human nature, would know that centuries-old hostilities and hatreds between the Sunnis and Shias is never going to be resolved; not even by someone like Mahatma Gandhi!

Gandhi stopped the fighting between Hindus and Muslims only momentarily. Even he had a crack public relations team who got him featured prominently in the history books, as someone who was more powerful than he actually was. Suffice to say, the American presence in Iraq in the past thirty years has been yet another instance of too many alpha males with hubris syndrome who won their propaganda war. For decades, they have refused to take lessons from seeing military conflicts ranging from: the 1950’s end of French colonialism in Indochina to the 1947 partition of India to the 1980’s civil war in Lebanon, and many others.

Of course, oil threw a wrench in the works. Now, almost twenty years later, the current American government is making a much more aggressive push to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. This, by constantly reminding its citizens that they can assist with energy-related initiatives that arguably slow the changing of planet earth’s atmospheric conditions, that adversely affect humans; changing that has allegedly been caused by humans. So the energy-related issue is a whole other ball of wax now.

But human nature doesn’t change. In America (never mind Iraq), there are still racial tensions and cancel culture. Plus, there is an incidental ideological aspect to the masking order of the COVID crisis: that of forcing Westernized, yet religious Muslim males to empathize with their female relatives. The males now know how it feels to be required to cover their faces.

Read the book to learn of the good consequences and bad consequences of removing Saddam Hussein from power, as seen through many interviewees’ eyes, and the author’s take on the situation, given his knowledge of Middle East history.

Uranium

The Book of the Week is “Uranium, War, Energy, and the Rock That Shaped the World” by Tom Zoellner, published in 2009.

Now, as is well known, one element crucial for making an atomic bomb via the least difficult method, is uranium. It is radioactive– carcinogenic to humans. Without human intervention, an entire sample of it takes billions of years (yes, really, depending on the isotope) to break down into one substance after another, including thirteen heavy metals; ultimately lead.

In the early 1940’s, “The United States military moved quickly to squelch all news of radioactivity. There were worries in the Pentagon that the bomb would be compared to German mustard gas in WWI or other types of wartime atrocities.” Radiation sickness and cancer killed an estimated thirty thousand people in addition to the seventy thousand who perished instantly by the atomic bomb at Hiroshima in August 1945.

In the late 1940’s, radium– an element that helps make a nuclear weapon– was found to be harmful to humans. The (federal) Atomic Energy Commission gave regulatory responsibilities of health and safety to state agencies in Colorado, Arizona and Utah, making the excuse that private mining businesses were outside its jurisdiction. Of course, the states were understaffed and underfunded in regulating radium.

Nevertheless, the radium rush became a government-directed priority because it was a matter of national security. By the 1960’s, the greed was petering out, and Navajo country (in northern Arizona, and small regions of Utah and New Mexico) was a cancer cluster comprised of an eyesore of about thirteen hundred abandoned mines laid waste with radon gas. That was one aspect of the nuclear age. Another was that building fallout-shelters became trendy. The Kennedy family built one at their estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

In the mid-1950’s the “Atoms For Peace” program begun by president Dwight Eisenhower supplied nuclear reactors to Bangladesh, Algeria, Colombia, Jamaica, Ghana, Peru, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, and Belgian Congo for the purpose of deterring the said countries’ enemies from using nuclear weapons against them.

In 1988, the United States supplied Iran with a five megawatt research reactor; China supplied uranium ore, and South Africa, a block of uranium and some plutonium. The Pakistani A.Q. Khan was hired as a scientific consultant.

Since 1993, the Atomic Energy Commission was supposed to have recorded incidents in which different forms of uranium (raw ore, yellowcake, hexafluoride, metal oxide, ceramic pellets, and fuel rod assemblies) have gone missing. Incident reportage works on the honor system. Unsurprisingly, the system hasn’t worked because the substance has a very complex, global black-market. Even so, the biggest hurdle to building a nuclear weapon is obtaining uranium in its highly enriched form. Then one must employ people with weapons-design and explosives expertise. Hiding the project (which in part, can be accomplished via a lead sleeve on the finished product– that would fool a radiation detector) might pose additional difficulties. It would cost a total of a few million (U.S.) dollars besides.

In the single-digit 2000’s, the author personally visited the country of Niger to see a uranium town for himself; a life-threatening trip. For, bandits or terrorists (likely of the Tuareg tribe who believe uranium mining has fostered inequality that adversely affects them economically, tribally and health-wise) appeared in front of his bus en route (a not uncommon occurrence). The bus driver was wise to the situation and drove away from the scene to a rural village with electricity, thanks to a nearby French power plant. The two main exports of Niger are uranium and onions. But the nation is still largely agricultural.

Read the book to learn much more about uranium in connection with: its sourcing in Australia, U.S. strategic interests in Soviet Georgia, Yemen’s goals, a Sierra Club legal fight, Vancouver’s ill-gotten gains, etc.

Ghosts of the Tsunami – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Ghosts of the Tsunami, Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone” by Richard Lloyd Parry, published in 2017.

As is well known, cancer cases will cluster among residents near even peacetime nuclear facilities that are working properly. Sadly, Japan’s poor foresight on its energy policy turned it into a boatload of misfortune waiting to happen.

In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami in Japan reminded the world yet again how one disaster can lead to another, especially when it comes to the use of nuclear energy. After radioactivity (colorless and odorless) from its three melted-down nuclear reactors spread across Japan’s countryside, leaving a huge number of people sick and dead, it closed its remaining fifty reactors. Taking a lesson,–Germany, Italy and Switzerland stopped their nuclear energy programs.

The author, however, focused mostly on the no less traumatic deaths (some of them needless) and destruction in one small place, caused by the disasters. He spent an extensive amount of time corresponding with victims in the fishing village of Onagawa on the island of Honshu, where there occurred a large percentage of needless drownings at the local elementary school: 74 of 108 kids, and 10 of the 11 teachers.

The Kitakami river overflowed its banks, but school administrators failed to take precautionary measures to evade the flooding. “Within five minutes– the time it had taken them to evacuate their classrooms– the entire school could have ascended hundreds of feet above sea level, beyond the reach of any conceivable tsunami.”

Read the book to learn about the victims’ families’ quests for finding their loved ones and for the true details of how they died, and whether their deaths were preventable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the fracking company’s toxic practices

were prohibitively expensive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secrets of the Kingdom

The Book of the Week is “Secrets of the Kingdom, The Inside Story of the Saudi-U.S. Connection” by Gerald Posner, published in 2005. There has been a two-faced relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia (also called the Kingdom) for forever. The author provided numerous examples (it got a bit tabloidy) of the greed and power-hunger of historical figures who have adversely affected countless people’s lives by controlling oil prices one way or another. The consequences of the power-brokers’ actions have run the gamut from inconvenience and economic hardship to ruined lives and needless deaths through the decades of the twentieth century into the twenty-first.

In 1973, Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal told Aramco (the oil company jointly owned by the United States and Saudi Arabia’s royal family) to refrain from shipping oil to America to create an artificial oil shortage to push prices up, leading to record profits for mostly the royal family and Aramco. Another excuse for having fun with oil-pricing was the Yom Kippur War.

By the mid-1970’s, Faisal and his family members were deriving inconceivable riches from oil. American businesspeople of all kinds (including executives of financial institutions) were overly eager to get the lucky Saudis (numbering in the thousands) to spend those riches on the trappings of modernity and luxury goods. The Kingdom imported foreigners to fill undesirable jobs, and contracting jobs.

The United States government became an accomplice to the culture of corruption (bribery and money laundering) that permeated the country. There was also a culture of anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic practices, called the “Arab boycott” (for more information, see this blog’s post, Bitter Scent). In March 1975, King Faisal was assassinated but not much changed.

June 1977 saw president Jimmy Carter of the United States sign an anti-Arab-boycott bill (which got an “A” for effort), but even his policies were handcuffed by the Saudis’ control over oil prices. Inter-agency rivalry raged between the National Security Council and the Justice Department over suppressing the latter’s investigations into Aramco’s (secret, highly lucrative and criminal- in American civil law) transactions.

In the late 1970’s, U.S. colleges such as USC, Duke and Georgetown got small endowments from the Saudis for creating Islamic or Arab studies departments. Even the Smithsonian jumped on the bandwagon.

To make the 1970’s an even more eventful decade for oil-pricing manipulation, there occurred the American president-Carter-brokered peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. The Iranian Revolution prompted the president to send American troops to the Kingdom to protect the oil there. But refused to sell it missiles. So it got missiles from China.

Yet more ugliness that affected geopolitical dynamics included a terrorist attack in Mecca in November 1979, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the following month; not to mention the Iran-Iraq War. Around this time, the United States became the globe’s biggest importer of oil from the Kingdom and a supplier of weaponry to it.

In June 1982, King Fahd became the new leader of Saudi Arabia. Radicals forced Islamic extremism on ordinary Saudis– telling them when to pray, how to dress, how to eat, how to live, and whom their enemies should be– non-Muslims, Israelis, Jews, women.

Greedy American dealmakers didn’t care. They secretly knuckled under on the Arab boycott, even though it was against American law. They hoped to make, or were making megabucks, in the Kingdom and other Arab nations. This included former president Carter, who needed money for his presidential library. He allowed weapons seller Adnan Khashoggi to hold a 1983 fund-raiser for him in New York.

Lest one forget that the Iran-Contra Affair revealed honor among thieves– even sworn enemies (!): In 1983, “Israel supplied the weapons [missiles to Iran] and the Saudis paid for them.”

In 1985, Saudi Arabia bought military planes from Great Britain instead of from the United States, as the Israel lobby in America did achieve small victories from time to time. Nevertheless, terrorist attacks continued through the 1990’s.

Fast forward some years. As is well known, 9/11 was a particularly thorny, game-changing event for everyone involved in Middle Eastern politics, as a significant number of Americans died. It led to many outrages, but initially, little punishment for the planners, aiders and abettors (mostly from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia– NOT Afghanistan and NOT Iraq) of the terror attacks.

The George W. Bush administration coddled almost three hundred outright terrorists, government officials and royal-family members who had special knowledge of and ties to the guilty, by allowing them all to leave the United States on seven private flights while all other flights were suspended, within a week of the attacks. Those special people were never questioned, though they would have been valuable witnesses in connection with the investigation into the attacks.

Read the book to learn about a wealth of other ethical conflicts American government and business leaders faced, and still face in trying to: keep oil prices low, minimize worldwide bloodshed, and make maximum profits (never mind ethics); and additional history on the Kingdom, including its relationship with Osama bin Laden, and a national security scheme it allegedly put in place that, if triggered, would deliberately (!) make it a cancer cluster like Chernobyl. Forever.

In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz

The Book of the Week is “In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo” by Michaela Wong, published in 2001.

Various dictators have looted the Belgian colony alternately known as “Zaire” and “Congo” in recent centuries. The late 1800’s saw light-skinned people enslaving the dark-skinned to try to enrich themselves by poaching, harvesting, mining or drilling for the colony’s ivory, rubber, timber, cocoa, diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, uranium and oil on behalf of King Leopold II of Belgium. However, many died of malaria, typhoid or sleeping sickness.

Belgium was still greedy even after Congo, still racked by unrest, declared its independence in 1960. The Soviets wanted a piece of the action, sending troops in to pretend to quell the violence. The United Nations troops entered, throwing soldiers with good intentions, after bad. For the next thirty years, what did change was that the United States and other countries wasted an inconceivably large amount of money supporting the lavish lifestyles of the Congolese dictator and his family and friends, until the CIA discreetly decided it was time for the dictator to go.

In late September 1960, Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (Mobutu, for short) came to power. That translates to “the all powerful warrior who goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.” He ran the nation’s one political party, called “Movement for the Revolution.” He had the charisma, and lack of academic-smarts but plethora of street-smarts of the late American president Ronald Reagan.

However, Mobutu used divide and conquer in his palace politics– telling naive individuals that others were slandering them behind their backs. They believed him. He also assigned the same tasks to subordinates who hated each other without telling the others of the duplicated project-teams. When they learned that the boss had favorites other than them, petty jealousies arose. The hostilities between Mobutu’s underlings kept them busy fighting among themselves, and kept him in power.

Mobutu held rallies all the time. He created jobs galore for his people, in the rubber and cocoa industries. Foreigners who had previously been running operations that exploited Congo’s resources, fled the country. The new native Congolese who were given businesses to run, had no clue how to run them. When the economy crashed, Mobutu, his family, his cronies and his private army had no worries, because their real estate in Brussels, Paris and South Africa, and their Swiss bank accounts remained safe.

In the mid 1980’s, the journalists and diplomats in Kinshasa could spot the Congolese elites by their SUVs and mobile phones from Telecel. Congolese peasants, in order to eat, were forced to grow vegetable gardens throughout the city.

In the 1990’s, desirous of a better life, native Congolese were able to obtain student visas that allowed them to secretly become low-level restaurant or construction workers, or drivers in Brussels. They fled their native country rather than collectively revolt in order to fight for it, having adopted the pessimistic attitude of every man for himself. They had seen with their own eyes that “… politics is a game played by conmen and hypocrites.”

Congo’s cycle of dictatorship had yet to be broken due to the education system, which didn’t teach Congolese history. The younger generation knew nothing of how their recent leaders had come to power. “Knowing nothing about the past of course, frees a population from any sense of blame for the present. How convenient was all this forgetting…”

May 1997 was crunch time similar to that in 1986 in the Philippines and Haiti. In Kinshasa, Tutsi youths were shot in the streets, Japanese journalists sought photo opportunities, journalists of other nationalities and Belgian tourists sought haven in the Hotel InterContinental.

Read the book to learn much more about the history of Congo and its one nuclear reactor, Mobutu, the Congolese people in the 1990’s– rich and famous, poor and unknown, their black markets, their Mutual Benefit Society, their religions, corruption at their airport and with the IMF and World Bank, and about the lingering colonialist nostalgia of Belgium and France.

Klondike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside the Five-Sided Box / With All Due Respect

The first Book of the Week is “Inside the Five-Sided Box, Lessons From A Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon” by Ash Carter, published in 2019.

Beginning his career as a physicist, Carter served in various capacities in presidential administrations starting with Ronald Reagan’s. He served as U.S. Secretary of Defense in 2015 and 2016. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, even if other people disagreed with him. Of course, as a scientist, he gathered data and then provided evidence to back up what he was talking about.

Such was the case when he said, “So for both technological and systemic reasons, the [‘Start Wars’– er, uh,] ‘Star Wars’ missile defense scheme was pure fantasy.” Members of Reagan’s inner circle (power-hungry political hacks angry at anyone who criticized the president’s agenda) told the media to trash Carter, and they did.

The year 1993 saw Carter supervise the disarmament of the former Soviet Union and its satellites. All the parts, equipment and materials that went into making nuclear weapons had to be secured, lest they be sold on the black market to terrorists.

Carter described president Barack Obama as an organized, concise, decisive, clear communicator who ended meetings with a call to action, unlike Susan Rice. The president didn’t say one thing and do another. Carter bragged about revamping the topsy-turvy compensation system in the Joint Strike Fighter Program, and how he implemented improvements in military equipment and logistics that reduced casualties during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Carter commented that unsurprisingly, Congress members use semantic tricks in order to dishonestly brag to their constituents that they passed a law that funds a specific initiative. In reality, the money is actually going nowhere, and nothing is ever going to get done on whatever it is. He barely scratched the surface on why American foreign policy is so inconsistent, underhanded, politically fraught: “The Saudi leaders ply U.S. politicians, journalists and think tanks with abundant cash.”

Yet, he also made a few ridiculously naive statements, including: “… Practically all these institutions are government dominated; few Chinese institutions are truly independent, as U.S. think tanks and universities are.”

Read the book to learn: the details of why, beginning in 2015, fighting ISIS was so difficult (hint– it would be like Vietnam all over again), the details of relevant planning operations in 2016, what eventually happened, and who falsely took credit for it; Carter’s take on Russian interference in America’s presidential election in 2016; various other of Carter’s career highlights, and a few of his views on now-president Donald Trump.

The second Book of the Week is “With All Due Respect, Defending America With Grit and Grace” by Nikki R. Haley, published in 2019. This volume was a combination memoir / history textbook / Obama-bashing self-bragfest. At times, the book read like a few strung-together episodes of a pundit’s TV show, what with the omission of inconvenient facts. The brief historical backgrounds on the places she visited, were too brief.

Haley served as governor of South Carolina for about six years prior to becoming the United Nations ambassador for the first two years of president Donald Trump’s administration. Working for the president, Haley had an infuriating, depressing, thankless job; nevertheless, she insisted it was fulfilling for her.

In January 2016, she was tapped to provide commentary on president Obama’s State of the Union address, for the media. Her public relations people gauged viewer reactions to her commentary via public comments on TV and Twitter. Another indicator of the tenor of the times occurred in September 2017 when president Trump tweeted, “I tweeted this morning, and it’s killing on Twitter” in reference to having called North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un “Little Rocket Man.”

Haley helped negotiate the imposing of three sets of increasingly harsh economic sanctions on North Korea with China’s help (even though it is in China’s best interests to keep Kim Jong Un in power) in order to get Kim to stop testing nuclear weapons. No matter. Brutal dictators rarely change their spots; more of their citizens suffer, rather than their weapons programs. North Korea has continued testing to this day. It is naive to think that people such as Kim Jong Un can be shamed into better behavior.

Also in connection with North Korea, Haley was tasked with securing the release of 21-year old American Otto Warmbier. He was tortured and taken hostage. It was a bad editorial decision for her to mention him at all in her book. For, she never did explain a burning question: Why was Warmbier in North Korea in the first place? The U.S. State Department presumably had a travel ban to North Korea. Haley did, however, take credit for securing his release, even though he died shortly thereafter.

In addition, Haley showed that she let her detractors psychologically control her, as she spent several paragraphs discussing smears against her. The president never appeared to be bothered by what other people thought of him; even when his provocative tweets got him in trouble.

Haley spoke her mind, even to the president. He behaved in a way that showed lack of leadership. Whenever high-level staff members disagreed on a specific action to take on a major issue, Haley wrote, “Once again, the president told us to resolve our differences and come back and see him.” Whoever had his ear at the right moment, got their way.

As ambassador, Haley encountered two megalomaniacs: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. They thought they alone could save the United States by being able to do what they thought best. No one should get in their way. Not even the president. They thought they were always right.

Anyway, often, Haley tried to salvage other hopeless situations, too. “It takes a lot to move the UN Security Council to action. Even after this gruesome report on all the violence that followed yet another meaningless cease-fire, some on the council still argued that a weapons embargo would hurt the ‘peace process.’ ” This describes most any Third-World nation. Haley thought her job was to get Americans to care about oppressed peoples. She visited some of them, such as those in South Sudan. She got asked a lot, why should Americans care?

The cynical answer is that South Sudan is a backup source of oil for the United States– which has invested billions of dollars in it already. The hopeful answer is that a rising tide lifts all boats and what comes around goes around — any generosity toward human beings (even downtrodden ones) anywhere in the world helps improve the world, it reduces the suckiness in the world, if only just a little. Although the problems of Third-World countries might seem overwhelming, the few individuals (who win the international aid / sympathetic journalist lottery) have limitless appreciation for appropriate assistance.

Haley sat on the UN Security Council, which was concerned with only “peace and security” of nations, not with human rights abuses. Another UN division, the Human Rights Council (HRC), handled the latter; hypocritically and corruptly, after a while. That is why she helped the United States withdraw from HRC in summer 2018. Some of its remaining member-nations were run by brutal dictators. It had become a joke– like the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in recent decades.

Read the book to learn of Haley’s opinions on economics and immigration (which she should have covered in whole other books); mind-boggling evil she heard about from peoples she personally visited in Palestinian refugee camps, Iran, Congo, South Sudan and elsewhere, and other traumatic events in her career (for more information on brutal dictators, see the post, “Ian Fleming – BONUS POST” and scroll down to the spreadsheet; for more background on the aforementioned countries, type in their names in the search bar of this blog).

Sovietstan / Kabul Beauty School

(WARNING: Long Post)

The First Book of the Week is Sovietstan, Travels in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Taijikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan” by Erika Fatland, (translated by Kari Dickson), published in 2020.

In the past decade, the author personally visited countries whose names end in “stan” except for Afghanistan. Those Central Asian nations became, more or less, independent from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990’s.

The author accepted hospitality from numerous people in the region, and related the historical backdrops of the respective lands. She spoke with several people who thought life was better under the old Soviet system, because they had had education, healthcare and culture then. Americans would consider the said countries to be dictatorships, although the author courteously called their leaders “presidents.”

Turkmenistan has oil and gas, the latter of which it exports to China. Its geography is comprised of more than eighty percent desert. Its political system is authoritarian.

Claiming she was a “student” (but was actually a tourist collecting information to write her book) in order to obtain a visa that was issued to very few applicants to begin with, the author was supervised every second of her stay; limited to a maximum of three weeks.

The author saw only a few Mercedes (and hardly any other cars) on the eight-lane main roads in the capital, Ashgabat. The bus shelters were air-conditioned. Most of the buildings were made of white marble.

There were a luxury Ferris wheel, and bright, colorfully lit fountains at night. However, there were only three ATMs in the whole nation that accepted foreign bank cards. Seven days a week, cops surveiled people on the streets to enforce the 11pm curfew.

Photos of the “president” hung everywhere in public places. Starting in 1992, he provided free utilities and car fuel for everyone. In 1999, he declared himself the nation’s ruler for the rest of his life. He wrote a book called Ruhnama, meaning Book of the Soul. No one questioned its greatness. Or else. It became the only reading material in schools. No more science or humanities were taught.

In the course of about four years, the dictator rid his people of Soviet culture, and banned dogs and recorded music. The health and welfare systems went to hell. Although no one paid taxes, more than half of the people were unemployed. That explained the almost empty roads the author saw in the capital city. Mercifully, the dictator died in late 2006.

Another ruler replaced him who forced the people to read his books. The author visited a rural farming village where the people herded camels and goats. They spoke only Turkmen, not Russian.

When the author and a cab driver were in the desert where no one else was present for miles around, she asked him why people had only the highest praise for their leader — worshipped him like a god and would never dare say a negative word about him.

The driver criticized himself for not working hard enough. He said, “Each one of us has a responsibility to play our part and to help our country develop.” The author wrote that he was born into the system– had never known any other mentality. This aspect of authoritarianism that the author witnessed bears a chilling resemblance to a recent line of propaganda in the United States (!): “We’re all in this together.” Who paid people to say that??

The author was forced to attend a horse show, and the next day, horse races. Attendance was mandatory for the nation’s every town, all of which had hippodromes. The dictator was a jockey in one race, but he accidentally fell after his horse crossed the finish line first, of course. Security compelled all attendees to delete any presidential-mishap footage from their cameras. The next day, a bootleg clip of the embarrassment surfaced on YouTube, anyway.

Predictably, very few citizens of Turkmenistan could afford to stay in the skyscrapers in the resort town of Turkmenbashi. The ones who could afford to go anywhere, holidayed on Turkey’s beaches instead because the former offered “Soviet-style service, bad food and no Internet.” Moreover, Turkmenistan’s dictator owned and controlled nearly all of their homeland’s hotels, restaurants and shops.

Kazakhstan— the most resource-rich nation in Central Asia– is flush with oil, gas, minerals, gold, coal and uranium; the first of which it extracts through Russian pipelines.

The author was pleased to see that the country had an open, Westernized society. It purchases most of its consumer goods from China. People spend their leisure time horse-racing and playing a game mounted on horses, batting around a goat carcass. They eat horse meat and drink soured mare’s milk regularly.

The author was able to travel around unaccompanied by a chaperone. Even so, at the entrance to the capital city of Astana, all buses’ passengers had their identity papers and baggage checked by security, while she and her cab driver weren’t subjected to what Americans would consider undue privacy intrusion.

As an aside, the privacy pendulum has finally swung the other way for political candidates in the United States. In the last several decades, in every election, every candidate’s political enemies have subjected candidates to increasingly punitive fishing-expeditions (It might be recalled that vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and her husband were mercilessly put through the wringer in 1984).

Supposedly, a candidate’s history of financial dealings are an indicator of a candidate’s character. BUT, it is not necessarily an indicator of how well a candidate will do his or her job in the elective office.

Case in point: President Jimmy Carter’s tax returns were presumably squeaky-clean– as was his character— but there is general consensus that he did a poor job as president. That just shows that the real purpose of the privacy intrusion has been political vengeance!

There are plenty of ways other than scrutinizing personal financial behavior, to try to ascertain whether a candidate will be the public servant the voters want them to be.

Anyway, by the early 1950’s, high incidences of birth defects, mental illness, high blood pressure, and a cancer cluster plagued the region of Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, thanks to secret testing of weapons of mass destruction by the Soviets beginning in 1949. The author learned this by personally visiting with the victims and their descendants, only the poorest of whom were still living there.

Tajikistan is resource-poor and has primitive infrastructure. Its geography is comprised of more than ninety percent mountains. In autumn 1991, the Communist party candidate won the election for president. He became increasingly unpopular. For, between June 1992 and March 1993, the nation suffered a bloody civil war, in which tens of thousands died. During the fighting, “Having regained power in parts of the country, the Rahmon [Nabiyev] government chose revenge rather than reconciliation, in keeping with old clan culture.”

Tajikistan’s fourth largest town lacks full-time electricity and heat, and has no indoor plumbing. Most of the people who live there are alcoholics. The vast majority of its people are Sunni Muslims. The men go to Russia to earn money to send back to their families. Some divorce their wives and never return home. But such income accounts for about half of the nation’s gross domestic product.

The author’s cab driver bribed three different border guards to minimize trouble when she traveled from Tajikistan into Kyrgyzstan. In the latter country, it was refreshing for her to see an absence of the dictator’s portraits everywhere, and to hear people speaking freely, both verbally and in the press, even negatively (!) about their government, with no punishment whatsoever.

Kyrgyzstan is, comparatively, the freest nation in Central Asia– the first to have a Parliament. Nonetheless, people tolerate corruption and nepotism from their leaders to avoid repeating the two difficult, past periods of political instability they suffered in the past three decades. They’ll vote for the same criminals over and over– which shows how much they want peace at all costs.

Also, at the time of the book’s writing, they lived in a culture in which any man could take a bride (even a Russian one) by abducting her, and she could not protest. He could even take more than one wife. In most cases the bride was likely headed for a life of marriage and children anyway, as she was unlikely to have an education, her own money, or somewhere to flee. Most families encouraged the practice.

Uzbekistan is one of the most oppressive States in Central Asia. The author wrote, “With great cunning, Karimov has used the fear of ethnic violence, Islamist fundamentalism and unstable neighbors as an excuse to rule with an iron fist.” The government’s imposed collectivist Soviet model of cotton growing was an epic economic fail. The author was subjected to unrelenting public scrutiny via police officers and video cameras everywhere she went.

Read the book to learn of numerous other adventures the author had in the aforementioned countries of Central Asia.

The Second Book of the Week is “Kabul Beauty School, An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil” by Deborah Rodriguez with Kristin Ohlson, published 2007.

This career memoir described the author’s early-21st century experiences in Afghanistan, teaching young women how to become beauticians. She wrote, “I love the Afghans, but their true national sport is gossip.”

The American author moved to Afghanistan in May 2002. Her mother owned a hair salon in Holland in the state of Michigan, so she had grown up immersed in that business’s culture. When she volunteered with an international aid organization to get away from her second husband, who was abusive, she realized her calling.

Also, the author wanted to help Afghan females, in one of the few environments that was strictly for them, where they could escape from the daily oppression they suffered, stemming from their culture and from their country’s war-torn situation.

The people of Afghanistan are descended from all different rivalrous tribes. Afghan females are treated as second-class citizens, especially if they are Muslims. They are still forced into arranged marriages. A prospective groom’s mother chooses a first wife for her own son. The men are allowed to take on additional wives if they so choose.

The later wives are those whose reputations have been ruined for one reason or another; some through no fault of their own. If they are not virgins when they are first chosen to be wives, say, due to having been raped, they are damaged goods, and might have an unusually horrible prospect pushed on them– one who is decades older, more abusive than usual, or poverty stricken.

The author’s Afghan friends planned to set up a husband for her. She had two previous failed marriages. The man they chose seemed nice and wealthy enough. He had an oil-drilling business in Saudi Arabia. By the way, the friends were finally pressed to mention, though, that he already had a first wife and seven daughters back in Saudi Arabia. He was hoping the author could bear him a son. The author had already had two sons from her first marriage, living in the United States.

The author felt obliged to get married because any woman seen alone with any man, engaged or not, was assumed to be a prostitute.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details about Afghan culture, the hardships the author faced in furthering her career, and more about her life.