Almost Golden – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Almost Golden, Jessica Savitch and the Selling of Television News” by Gwenda Blair, published in 1988.

Born in February 1947 in a Philadelphia suburb, Savitch began her broadcasting career in her teenage years. Her high school boyfriend helped get her a job at a small radio station in the Atlantic City area.

Savitch attended upstate New York’s Ithaca college, which had an extensive communications department that taught students how to be producers and cinematographers, as even news-broadcasting was becoming a show-business process. Television was the visual medium at the height of its popularity, that cranked out image-making content– with quantity over quality.

The mentality of the male administrators and students who were affiliated with the school radio station, was that females should not go on the air. Savitch aggressively lobbied against the males’ sexism, but she was still given low-level, off-hours assignments, as competition was fierce.

As a student, Savitch did all sorts of broadcasting and modeling gigs, as she was good-looking and videogenic. By autumn 1968, she had become an anchorwoman at a local (rather than network) TV station in Houston.

Starting in 1971, female employees began to agitate against gender discrimination at NBC. The network tried to appease them by giving them fancier titles but gave them neither higher-level work nor raised their salaries to those of males in equivalent positions. Finally, in 1977, female plaintiffs won a lawsuit that compensated them monetarily, but could never make them whole psychologically.

Meanwhile in 1973, Savitch was covering the human interest element in TV-news stories about females, such as natural childbirth and rape. At the time, those were touchy subjects for television, so they had yet to make the talk-show circuits.

Part of the reason Savitch’s career stalled in the early 1980’s, was that she was acting like a prima donna, insisting that her employer provide her with an entourage: a hairdresser, makeup artist, wardrobe and security guard. Another was that her beauty and great composure on-screen went only so far. She lacked strong intellectual story-gathering and writing skills.

The author inexplicably quoted individuals she interviewed as saying that Savitch’s years-long cocaine use couldn’t (!?) be detected in her appearance or behavior up until a specific incident that occurred in autumn of 1983.

Perhaps the author didn’t want to denigrate members of the entertainment industry by writing that even into the 1980’s, alcohol and drug use was rampant. It was still the elephant in the room until various people and entities (Betty Ford, MADD and talk shows, among others) forced cultural changes for the better, in American society.

Anyway, read the book to learn of many other aspects of Savitch’s lifestyle and personality that led to her fate.

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.

Madam Secretary – BONUS POST

“… the United States lost interest in the region, leaving behind thousands of militant people with few jobs but many guns.”
No, not North America.

1990’s Afghanistan, according to Madeleine Albright. And as is well known, plenty of other decades and places.

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Madam Secretary, A Memoir” by Madeleine Albright with Bill Woodward, published in 2003.

Albright was born in May 1937. She and her parents fled their native Czechoslovakia for England the following year. They moved back after the war. In early 1948, Communists took over Czechoslovakia, while she was sent to boarding school in Switzerland. Meanwhile, her father, a high-level diplomat, moved to the Czech embassy in South Asia to help resolve the dispute over Kashmir. Her mother, brother and sister made their way to the United States. They were eventually granted political asylum.

Albright married a journalist from an “economic royalist” family with extensive real estate and corporate holdings. “We continued to go to Georgia… Colorado… Virginia, where we added land wherever we could…” She built a high-powered career, beginning as a volunteer for political causes that required frequent global travel in the late 1980’s. “But my American passport made all the difference. I was able to meet with dissidents, then board a plane and leave. I didn’t have to make the choices they [Czech citizens, when they were a Soviet satellite] had to make each day of their lives.”

Albright served as UN ambassador in president Bill Clinton’s first term. She switched to secretary of state in the second term. In spring 1997, there remained numerous nations suffering continuous and continual political crises that arguably necessitated military intervention– despite the end of the Cold War. Albright represented the United States government in talks that resulted in an increase in the number of NATO members from sixteen to nineteen through adding Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary because they were approaching democracy sooner than other political territories.

Albright claimed that economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council on Libya actually motivated Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi to turn in the two suspects (traced to Libya) for trial, in the terrorist bomb-attack on Pan Am flight 103. However, around the same time, sanctions in the form of a trade embargo, failed to change any of the cronyism and corruption practiced by Fidel Castro of Cuba. Apparently, he wasn’t in a power struggle, and wasn’t afraid that his worldwide reputation would be tarnished by treating his country’s citizens worse than usual.

As for North Korea, in June 2000, president Clinton visited leader Kim Jong il in the capital Pyongyang for a summit meeting that resulted in reunions of South and North Korean families who had been separated for more than fifty years. “North and South Korean athletes marched as one during opening ceremonies of the 2000 Olympic Games…” Ah, the good old days.

Anyway, read the book to learn much more about Albright’s trials, tribulations, and triumphs in trying to achieve world peace. Here is a parody that briefly describes a high-level, foreign-service position.

JOB OF A LIFETIME

sung / spoken to the tune of “Once in a Lifetime” [the long version] with apologies to Talking Heads (Brian Eno, Christopher Frantz, David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, and Tina Weymouth.)

And you may find yourself
living in a luxury hotel.
And you may busy yourself
flying all over the world.

And you may kid yourself
behind the scenes of a large cease-fire agreement.
And you may seat yourself
in a situation room
with a complicated plot.
And you may declare to yourself, well,
There’ll be no nuclear war here!

Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.
Attending meetings, writing reports
while shenanigans abound.

Picking your battles again.
Tribal fighting never gone.
Job of a lifetime, though shenanigans abound.

And you may mutter to yourself
How do I word this?
And you may ask yourself
What happened to that peace-keeping mission?

And you may lament to yourself
This is not in my country’s best interest!
And you may think to yourself
Good luck with that civilian administration.

Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.
Attending meetings, writing reports
while shenanigans abound.

Picking your battles again.
Tribal fighting never gone.
Job of a lifetime, though shenanigans abound.

We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.

Conflict Resolving and troubleshooting.
There is conflict all over the earth.
Visit the conflict, minimize the conflict.
Resolve the conflict, all over the earth.
Conflict resolving and troubleshooting.

Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.
Attending meetings, writing reports
while shenanigans abound.

Picking your battles again.
Break the silence on war, there is conflict on the earth.
While the media cut you down.
Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.
Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.

Picking your battles again.
Tribal fighting never gone.
Job of a lifetime, though shenanigans abound.

You may wonder to yourself
Who is that foreign minister?
You may mumble to yourself
What is the world coming to?
And you may sigh to yourself
Who is right? Who is wrong?
And you may growl to yourself
Arrgh! What is going on?

Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.
Attending meetings, writing reports
while shenanigans abound.

Picking your battles again.
Tribal fighting never gone.
Job of a lifetime, though shenanigans abound.

Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.
Attending meetings, writing reports
while shenanigans abound.

Picking your battles again.
Tribal fighting never gone.
Job of a lifetime, though shenanigans abound.

Witnessing history all the time.
Witnessing history all the time.
Witnessing history all the time.

Thank goodness that war is over.
This treaty has too many loopholes.
And another disaster.

Promote democratic values worldwide.
Promote democratic values worldwide.
Promote democratic values worldwide.
Promote democratic values worldwide.
Promote democratic values worldwide.
Promote democratic values worldwide.

Trying to do your best.
Witnessing history all the time.
And the refugees come.
And here come the refugees.
Lost in translation.
Trying do your best (Witnessing history all the time.)
We need more global cooperation…

Fighting For Common Ground – BONUS POST

PLEASE READ THE POST BELOW THIS ONE, AS BUGGY SOFTWARE PUBLISHED IT OUT OF CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER.

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Fighting For Common Ground, How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress” by Olympia Snowe, published in 2013.

Born in Augusta, Maine in 1947, the author was of Greek extraction. In the mid-1970’s, when she ran as a Republican for the state Senate in Maine, she rode a bicycle around to personally knock on doors to get votes. In the mid-1980’s, the NIH was still (!) providing federal funds for medical research only on men. In 1987, the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and the Environment acknowledged this abomination. Finally in 1993, the author and others pushed through legislation that created an office of the NIH that conducted research on women, that spurred additional research on women at other organizations.

The author wrote that in the early 2000’s, Karl Rove proposed an evil plan involving five issues, with the goal of keeping the Republicans in power indefinitely. In George W. Bush’s second term, the Republicans pushed for and got a federal education mandate, but the other four initiatives were never fully implemented (fortunately): a Christian agenda, privatization of Social Security and healthcare accounts, and some immigration reform.

The author spent a large portion of this book lamenting about how gridlocked Congress has become due to the hostility between America’s two major political parties. Republicans had traditionally believed in maintaining a balanced budget, but that went out the window with the uncontrolled deficit spending in the George W. Bush years.

In early August 2011, Congress members went on their summer recess, shirking a boatload of important business. As a result, America’s national debt rating was downgraded by Standard and Poor’s for the first time in history.

Read the book to learn about the author’s recommendations on how to change the Senate’s protocol and rules in order to improve its functioning, civility and ability to compromise to achieve consensus.

The Passion of Ayn Rand

The Book of the Week is “The Passion of Ayn Rand, A Biography” by Barbara Branden, published in 1986.

Born in St. Petersburg in February 1905, Ayn (rhymes with “mine”) Rand, whose father was a chemist, spent her early childhood in a cultured, Jewish family in Petrograd. After graduating from high school in the Crimea, when the family was poverty-stricken and starving due to the Bolshevik Revolution, Rand taught literacy to Red Army soldiers.

In the early 1920’s, the Russian government evilly schemed to allow “former bourgeoisie” such as Rand’s family to work in cooperatives until it felt sufficient assets were accumulated, at which time it stole those assets by force. Its attitude was: “… workers and peasants were extolled as the highest types of humanity, and intellectuals, unless they employed their intelligence in selfless service to the state, were denounced as parasitical.”

Rand was headstrong in her desire to flee to America and never return to Russia. She eventually got her wish in the mid-1920’s, thanks to her mother’s distant relatives in Chicago. After overcoming numerous obstacles, she lived with her Orthodox-Jewish relatives, and later, struck out on her own in Los Angeles. She was driven to become a writer and let nothing stand in her way.

Rand eventually wrote what became a very famous novel– Atlas Shrugged— whose theme was that if intellectuals are the ones “…who make civilization possible– Why have they never recognized their own power? Why have they never challenged their torturers and expropriators? … it is the victims, the men of virtue and ability, who make the triumph of evil possible by…” being too nice to their oppressors.

Rand thought that the American government, with its anti-trust stance, was persecuting industrialists. She thought the latter deserved to enjoy every last penny of the fruits of their labor because they were the economic engine of the nation.

In rebelling against her former country’s socialist economic system under its Communist political system, Rand thought workers were becoming too powerful, and she denounced them as parasitical. She dogmatically advocated an extreme version of “survival of the fittest” or Libertarianism.

However, when government becomes an accomplice to its donors’ activities that involve excessive greed, conflicts of interest and unfair economic advantages– society becomes economically unbalanced as wealth becomes too concentrated in a tiny percentage of the population; this situation foments class resentment. For additional information on this situation, see this blog’s posts:

  • Wikinomics / Courting Justice
  • What’s the Matter With Kansas
  • Street Without A Name
  • Sons of Wichita
  • Outsider in the White House
  • Crossing the River
  • Burned Bridge, and
  • Forty Autumns.

Whittaker Chambers wrote in his negative review of Atlas Shrugged, “Miss Rand calls in a Big Brother of her own… She plumps for a technocratic elite… And in reality too, by contrast with fiction, this can only head into a dictatorship…”

Rand formulated the theory of Objectivism, whose purely capitalist-free-market-oriented, rational thinking completely rejected religion. Yet she never did explain– in her lucrative lectures to big-name, elitist, politically liberal (ironically!) American colleges, how that squared with her total rejection of godless Communism / Socialism.

Incidentally, the main character of the novel itself– whose cult of personality persuades intellectuals from all walks of life to go on strike– says, “Force and mind are opposites, morality ends where a gun begins… It is only in retaliation that force may be used and only against the man who starts its use.”

Along these lines, gun-control advocates in the United States have been too nice for too long. Except for short periods, whenever there’s been a proposal to:

  • curb the bearing of arms (not even all arms, just the most destructive ones–that are overkill for hunting or local law enforcement), or
  • enact stricter background checks on the granting of gun permits or licenses,

the opposition has repeatedly, through propaganda and money, convinced enough significantly powerful people that:

  • no stricter background checks should be done, and
  • no firearms should be banned pursuant to the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

Sources with more information include this blog’s posts:

  • A Good Fight
  • Undercover, and
  • Savage Spawn.

If America wants to return to “normal” (have pre-COVID gatherings of a large number of people in one place), it needs to put ILLEGAL-gun control at the top of the agenda.

Anyway, read the book to learn of Rand’s biographer’s relationship to Rand, a wealth of additional details on Rand and how she acquired her wealth, the romantic subplot in the soap opera of her life, and much more on her theories, writings and lectures.

Educated – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Educated, a Memoir” by Tara Westover, published in 2018.

This was an emotionally jarring autobiography of a female whose dysfunctional family members were the major influences in her life. Born in 1986 in rural Idaho, the author was the youngest of seven children. Her father– a fanatically religious Mormon– home-schooled his children, asserting that public school would brainwash them. The author’s mother taught her basic reading and math, but little else academically. Three of her older brothers rebelled, and left home as soon as they could. One of those– who had a thirst for knowledge– worked his way through college, and inspired the author to do so.

Morbid curiosity will keep the reader in suspense throughout this ghastly book that recounts a series of life-threatening injuries, traumatic and violent scenes of family strife, interspersed with anecdotes that spur the reader to cheer the author on during her journey toward self-awareness, healing and profound insights about her life and her family members. Read the book to learn all about it.

ENDNOTE: It took the above author a long, long time. Just as when someone has a lifelong dream, it isn’t usually achieved immediately. He or she is not going to change their mind about it. They’re going to pursue it relentlessly. In an ideal world, the one who prepares for it properly deserves to get it more than others. However, in the world of United States politics, an infinite number of factors complicate the process.

The Truths We Hold

The Book of the Week is “The Truths We Hold, An American Journey” by Kamala Harris, published in 2019. This autobiography comes from yet another female in politics who deserves bragging rights. Her passion for justice and common-sense, early-intervention approaches to helping at-risk populations has made a difference in countless lives.

Born in Oakland, California in 1964, the author considers herself “black” although her father was from Jamaica and her mother, from India. Her parents divorced when she was five. She, her mother and younger sister moved to Montreal when she was twelve.

Harris acquired the power to put someone behind bars simply by signing a document, when she became a prosecutor in Berkeley, California. Upon getting elected district attorney in San Francisco, she co-founded a program– Back On Track– that helped first-time law-breakers escape the poverty cycle by helping themselves through: job training, community service, classes that taught GED tutoring and parenting and money management, and drug testing and counseling.

For the first two years of Back On Track’s existence, the recidivism rate among first offenders dropped from 50% to 10%. That turned out to be far less expensive than prosecuting and jailing or imprisoning such people. The program was duplicated in Los Angeles.

In 2010, at a little after 10PM on election night, the San Francisco Chronicle announced the alleged elected attorney-general of California. As is well known, though, newspapers are hugely influential and wrong all the time. But election coverage especially, is emotionally charged. At 11PM, Harris’s opponent, thinking he was the winner, gave an acceptance speech. Weeks later, Harris won the race.

Harris’s was the first state to implement the mandatory use of body cameras for its law enforcement agents. On a different issue, the attorneys general of all fifty states were involved in settlement talks for the subprime mortgage crisis. The big banks were offering literally– a little bit of compensation proportional to the disastrous losses of the residents of respective states, who were behind on their mortgages. Even reasonable reimbursement would not make anyone whole again because bad loans led to adverse subsequent events: joblessness, homelessness, relocations, major life disruptions, suicides.

California had had the highest number of foreclosures of any state (and various victims– not just homeowners– had red ink in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the aggregate). By rejecting the banks’ initial, insulting offer– Harris infuriated both the banks, and most other states’ negotiators. But she inspired grass-roots organizers of homeowners, activists and advocacy groups to push for “…justice for millions of people who needed and deserved help.”

Read the book to learn about: the exciting conclusion of California’s mortgage negotiations saga; Harris’ opinions and actual professional doings in connection with major modern social issues such as immigration and healthcare, and her mother’s cancer care– along with other personal information.

ENDNOTE: Unfortunately, Harris’ running mate, Joe Biden, appears to be less sharp than she is at this time. Here’s a parody that briefly describes his woes:

LAWYERS, LAWYERS AND LAWYERS

sung to the tune of “Lawyers, Guns and Money” with apologies to the Estate of Warren Zevon.

I served some global patrons

the way I always do.

How was I to know, they were with the Russians, too?

I was caught on video bragging.

I hope you take my case.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

I’m trying to save some face. Hah!

I’m an innocent candidate,

but somehow I got caught.

Now I’ve been betrayed

by those who have been bought.

Yes, those who have been bought.

Well, those who have been bought.

Now I’m hiding in my basement.

I hope to stay in the race.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Save me from disgrace.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers. Hah!

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers. Ow!

Cooking With Grease

The Book of the Week is “Cooking With Grease, Stirring the Pots in American Politics” by Donna Brazile, published in 2004.

The author, like any female (Barbara Boxer was another one) who has achieved prolonged success in politics while almost never compromising her principles, deserves bragging rights. On top of that, as is well known, the African American Brazile suffered additional infinite indignities due to her skin color. She recounted many of them in this book.

Born in December 1959 in New Orleans, Brazile was the third oldest of nine children. She grew up in Kenner, a neighboring small city. From there, one had to take the scenic route on more than one public bus in order to get to New Orleans.

Brazile was a bossy, precocious, entrepreneurial tomboy at an early age, but was frequently physically punished for wrongdoing as well as for ideological disagreements with her mother or grandmother. After the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in spring 1968, she attended a Baptist church service at which blacks still sat in the back pews. So Brazile’s political awakening and education started when she was eight years old.

By 1970, she was assisting a woman in her neighborhood with a voter-registration drive with respect to elections for mayor and city council. A few area residents were afraid to vote for fear of retaliatory violence. In August 1971, the author was forced to attend an integrated school in the next town over. She wrote, “Busing was one of the worst public policy decisions ever made.”

On her first day at school there in Metairie, white parents of the local students threw eggs and tomatoes at her and other blacks, and cursed them out. The school principal saw Brazile as a peacemaker and cut her some slack in small increments in order to make the best of a bad situation. She organized protests, and rebelled in various ways, such as refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

In 1984, Brazile worked seven days a week, upwards of eighteen hours a day for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. In 1988, when she worked for presidential candidate Dick Gephardt, she was forced to enlist the help of a white friend to rent an apartment in Boston.

Brazile felt that her bosses were giving insufficient attention to racial issues and thus losing the black vote. Of course, the opposing candidate would smear them if they did address taxes, crime, welfare and affirmative action. The tension was too much for her, and her mouth got her into trouble. She took heart later in her career, as “To his credit, Bill Clinton surrounded himself with African Americans, and we were always strategizing.”

George W. Bush’s presidential run started way before 2000. His camp spread lies and smears early and often. In fall 1999, when Brazile was asked to make Al Gore’s presidential campaign leaner and meaner, she used all the brains she had, and all the brains she could borrow. However, there were lots of problems. When speaking to her– unlike when it spoke to anyone else– the media focused on her skin color. By June 2000, Gore’s side felt the author had become disposable because African Americans’ votes, which the author had garnered, were pretty much assured.

The Gore team was largely comprised of highly compensated consultants who believed the conventional wisdom that spending the bulk of their limited budget on airing attack-ads just before election day was the way to go. Brazile contended that personally visiting fickle voters in swing states would be more effective.

On election day, the Bush camp pulled all sorts of dirty tricks to minimize the votes for Gore; mostly in Florida:

  • Absentee ballots were deemed disqualified because signatures weren’t “certified” even though they didn’t need be certified;
  • Ballots in the Creole language weren’t available to voters;
  • Voters were told they needed two or three (!) government-issued forms of ID in order to vote (but it’s very difficult for poor people get a driver’s license or passport, let alone both);
  • In Chicago, police targeted cab drivers for violations when the cabs were taking poor passengers to voting sites;
  • In Tallahassee, law enforcement wouldn’t let people enter a voting site;
  • Some polling places claimed to be out of ballots or claimed it was too late to vote when voters arrived shortly before the places closed;
  • Some voting venues held criminal background checks of voters, and deemed those voters supposedly ineligible to vote; and
  • of course, it was discovered that some ballots were thrown away.

Read the book to learn about a slew of triumphs, and other trials and tribulations Brazile experienced up until the book’s writing, and the kind of cuisine she and her family enjoy.

Bella Abzug – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Bella Abzug, An oral history (sic)” by Suzanne Braun Levin and Mary Thom, published in 2007. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Abzug was a pioneer in law and politics, not just due to her gender. Females in each of their respective times had to be tough as nails to be taken sufficiently seriously to wield influence to effect change.

In this day and age, the Web, TV and radio are dominant sources of voting-influence. However, it is difficult to measure how much influence specific individuals (pundits, politicians, celebrities, etc.) of those outlets, have on voters. When users, viewers or listeners merely acknowledge that they like a show or read the messages or posts of someone specific, it is likely they are seeking to confirm what they already believe– those “influencers” aren’t changing the audiences’ minds. Therefore, candidates must try to influence impressionable people who are voting for the first time who make up their minds ahead of time, and try to gauge how significant a sector, are voters who decide at the last minute.

The 2020 presidential election will likely have unprecedented last-minute surprises, so no one really knows how to fully prepare to influence the outcome of the election. Nevertheless, one unbiased open-ended survey question asked of high schoolers, college students, and last-minute voters– which might actually turn out to be all voters in 2020– could be, “What was the biggest influencer of your voting decision for or against a certain candidate– an individual, website, TV show, TV commercial or radio show? Name him, her or it, and specify the candidate, and whether for or against.”

Anyway, born in 1920 in New York City, Abzug graduated from Columbia University Law School during WWII. After the war, she applied for a job as an attorney at a law firm that practiced labor law. She said the firm (because they were sexist) “… would offer me money which was lower than the minimum wage paid the workers they were representing!” In those days, law firms didn’t hire attorneys who were female, let alone ones who were Jewish, as was Abzug.

Abzug intentionally avoided learning how to use a typewriter so bosses wouldn’t order her to do typing rather than practice law. In 1972, she was the first member of Congress to call for president Richard Nixon’s impeachment.

There was plenty of political violence during the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Nixon. According to Margot Polivy’s recollection, “Every month or so, there was a major demonstration. Half the time all of downtown Washington (D.C.) reeked of tear gas… All the Nobel Prize winners started to get arrested, and they didn’t have jail space for them.”

In 1974, Abzug coauthored the Privacy Act and FOIA, which required federal government agencies to send unclassified documentation to any member of the public who requested it in connection with the government’s operations and records. Unfortunately, times have changed. Radically.

Read the book to learn much more about Abzug’s personality, family, career and accomplishments.