Caribbean Time Bomb

The Book of the Week is “Caribbean Time Bomb” by Robert Coram, published in 1993. This is a book on Antigua describing the Bird family’s dictatorship in the second half of the twentieth century.

Antigua’s history is largely similar to that of Haiti– an eastern Caribbean island with sugar plantations, dictators and generous financial aid from the United States to ward off overtures from nearby Communist Cuba.

In 1674, Antigua became a colony of Great Britain, whose military kept slave uprisings at bay. Abolitionism in 1834 saw the slaves freed but they had no where else to go, and needed jobs. Therefore, plantation owners got away with paying them slave wages, and didn’t have to feed, house and clothe them.

In 1951, the unions extracted major concessions from management, thanks to V.C. Bird. However, in 1968, he had his law enforcement team spray tear gas at protesting workers. Tim Hector, a journalist/activist/newspaper publisher educated the workers on what to do.

In the 1970’s, Antigua’s economy switched from one based on sugar plantations to that on tourism. The nation achieved independence in 1981, but there was still plenty of black-on-black violence and racial tension with wealthy white tourists.

In the next few decades, the country became a source of huge scandals perpetrated by the government, some of which were clandestinely aided and abetted by the CIA. It also harbored foreign-national white-collar criminals on the run. There was excessive money to be made in infrastructure projects whose planners (corrupt government workers) lined their own pockets with public funds and fed their own egos.  There was no shortage of greed, incompetence, criminality, cost overruns and delays.

Read the book to learn of the Sovereign Order of New Aragon, the would-be aristocracy of Antigua’s sister island of Redonda, the environmental destruction of it and its other sister island, Barbuda, plus the reasons the Birds were able to maintain their stranglehold on power in Antigua for so long, despite its unbelievably bad financial condition.

CNN, The Inside Story

The Book of the Week is “CNN, The Inside Story” by Hank Whittemore, published in 1990. This volume tells the history of CNN, Cable News Network. The point of CNN was to create an alternative to the then-three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, that monopolized American TV.

In 1976, Ted Turner owned a company that provided cable TV via satellite, consisting of games of the professional sports teams owned by him, and movies. By the end of the 1970’s his goal was to start a 24-hour cable network of just news. He was like the American president Donald Trump in that “…Turner had set the goal and the deadline and the sense of mission; and now, as he always did, he was putting together the people who knew how to make it happen.” However, the entertainment industry in the United States is a completely different animal from the federal government.

Nevertheless, a headquarters– a previously decrepit structure, gutted and created from scratch– for the new cable channel in Atlanta, had been readied sufficiently to provide minimal functionality in six months. The secretary of Reese Schonfeld, a high executive in the venture, had this to say, “… they had sketched out the whole newsroom one night on the back of a grocery bag…”

Launched in mid-1980, CNN evolved into a “revolving door” station (viewers tuned in periodically to see whether there was breaking news; they didn’t watch it every second) because it had to do things on the cheap and fill 24 hours of airtime every 24 hours. The big three networks practiced cartelizing behavior in order to shut CNN out of information-sharing. So CNN sued all parties involved, not just the networks.

Read the book to learn of what became of CNN, up until the book’s writing.

Chester Alan Arthur

The Book of the Week is “Chester Alan Arthur” by Zachary Karabell published in 2004. This history book describes a little-known president who became so, through the assassination of President James Garfield.

In 1871, Arthur was earning about $10,000 a year as counsel to the New York Tax Commission when the average American earned about $500 annually. Arthur’s pay rose significantly when he assumed the powerful position of collector of the customhouse of the Port of New York. He received a percentage of the revenue collected when smugglers were caught. The numerous conflicts of interest and widespread influence-peddling that was considered standard procedure in New York City politics then, would be considered morally repulsive in this day and age.

In 1880, the Republican Garfield chose Arthur as his running mate. “They had won the ticket, but they lived hundreds of miles apart, barely knew each other, and were hardly friends.” In those days, a new president was inaugurated on March 4. In summer 1881, Arthur became president, an unwanted promotion. Nevertheless, he got to ride in the then-equivalent of Air Force One– a luxury horse-drawn carriage.

Read the book to learn of Arthur’s public-service career, and what his administration accomplished despite various unhappy circumstances in his life and times.