American Mirror – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “American Mirror, The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell” by Deborah Solomon, published in 2013.

Born in February 1894 in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan in New York City, Rockwell was an illustrator known for his engaging scenes of ordinary Americans in a kind, lighthearted, innocent time.

The attitude of the United States was forced to change with WWII. FDR speechified about Four Freedoms: of speech, of worship, from want, and from fear. In 1943, Rockwell was tasked with creating images on posters (to promote the sale of War Bonds) that portrayed the freedoms; during which, he helped shape the image of “Rosie the Riveter.” In this way, Rockwell developed a reputation as a patriotic artist who reinforced America’s values, that contrasted with the values of America’s enemies.

Read the book to learn everything you ever wanted to know about Rockwell’s life and career.

ENDNOTE: The 2024 presidential candidates should be asked to explain what they will do to preserve the above Four Freedoms in these modern times. Ironically, freedom of speech is what allows propagandists to whip the public into a frenzy of fear (!)

The freedom from fear directly stems from the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights that, arguably, the U.S. government violates daily, in this electronic age. President George W. Bush pushed for decriminalizing spying on American citizens via Congressional approval of the Patriot Act– a set of federal statutes separate from those contained in the U.S. Constitution. In the past forty years, the following presidents have been accused of a significant number of crimes in the following major categories:

  • war-related crimes: Reagan, H.W. Bush, G.W. Bush;
  • treason-related crimes: Reagan, G.W. Bush, Trump, Biden;
  • financial-related crimes: H.W. Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush, Trump, Biden;
  • sex-related crimes: Clinton, Trump, Biden

It shouldn’t be surprising that Obama’s name is absent from the above. He needed to avoid egregiously unethical behavior because, given his skin color, not only his political enemies, but also hatemongers— witch-hunted his and his family’s history and every move 24/7.

The question for the 2024 election is:

Is the country ready for another variation on the Caucasian Christian/Catholic male presidents– in terms of ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation?

Just About Everybody vs. Howard Hughes

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The Book of the Week is “Just About Everybody vs. Howard Hughes, The Inside Story of The TWA-Howard Hughes Trial” by David B. Tinnin, published in 1973.

In the 1930’s, Howard Hughes inherited his father’s oil-industry-equipment company, Toolco, which sold a unique, patented, lucrative drill. By the early 1950’s, Hughes had become a pilot passionate about acquiring jets (whose engines had technology that was obsolescing pistons) for his airline, TWA. He was an alpha male whose desire for control of his company led to decades of complex litigation involving age-old economic and political issues.

As American society became ever more capitalistic in the Postwar Era, businessmen hired more and more attorneys to wield more and more power and influence. They sought to change the tax laws to make more and more money.

Hughes was a victim of his own success in that he was using highly leveraged, deficit financing to purchase the new jets through his Toolco. Into the 1950’s, individuals (rather than their companies or employers) were the ones responsible for debts if they needed to borrow money for their businesses. This economic condition has come full circle with tech startups.

Hughes borrowed from banks and insurance companies, but by the late 1950’s, his debt was so high, they refused to give him special treatment. He used dirty tricks (which arguably weren’t illegal but were unethical, at best) to order jets from a few different suppliers.

Hughes’ incestuous business transactions generated an escalation of commitment among various parties, who were averse to losing even more money if they withdrew from their ongoing deals with him. Need it be said, there is nothing new under the son (or sun– either one). In the early 1960’s, his creditors terminated his borrowing privileges and created a voting trust that took control of TWA. Neither side wanted to see TWA go bankrupt. There were, of course, other wrenches in the works, which are too numerous to mention here.

The orgy of litigation resulting from Hughes’ business activities triggered a very controversial legal and economic issue. Hughes owned 78.23% of the voting stock of TWA, which was financially affiliated with his Toolco. At that time, TWA shares were not owned by the general public. His side argued that he should be allowed to control his companies as he saw fit, because he had a controlling interest in them. On the other hand, he really didn’t own them– his creditors did!

Besides that, if TWA went belly-up, there would be far-reaching economic consequences for many stakeholders. All employees of TWA would lose their jobs, competing airlines would benefit financially, contractors supplying jets and their parts to TWA would lose a customer, Hughes’ lenders would lose megabucks, etc., etc., etc.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, and Bibliography), in June 1961, the big lawsuit initially launched in federal court in the Southern District of New York against Hughes was named TWA v. Howard Hughes. TWA charged Hughes with making special deals with third parties that led to financial harm for TWA. He tried to keep competing airlines from buying jets he wanted for TWA, through monopolistic practices.

BUT, due to disastrous losses (from a downturn in air travel that prompted proposals of various airline mergers, and his tax-evasion tricks), Hughes chose to cancel a portion of jet orders for TWA. Under his crushing debt load, he couldn’t afford to pay for all of his purchases. So the airline couldn’t stay competitive in the commercial airline industry. Other airlines were purchasing jets sooner at lower cost. Hughes’ series of attorneys through the years, of course used all manner of shenanigans (through: filing a blizzard of documents with creative legal arguments, counter-suing and appealing rulings) to delay the case.

One last-minute development that aided Hughes’ attorney before Hughes would be charged with contempt of court yet again, was a curious January 1963 Supreme Court ruling regarding jurisdiction in connection with a monopolistic entity. There was a little federal agency called the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), that had been regulating the airlines. The attorney repeatedly tried to get the case against Hughes dismissed– by arguing that CAB, rather than a federal court, should have been trying Hughes’ case.

Read the book to learn every last detail of this suspenseful story that spawned reams of tabloid fodder, but also greatly impacted the legal, economic and tax cultures of corporate America.

Our House – BONUS POST

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Here’s a little ditty that summarizes events of the past week or so in the United States House of Representatives.

OUR HOUSE

sung to the tune of “Our House” with apologies to “Madness” (the band).

McCarthy sold-his-SOUL, feeling pressed.

Reps are tired, they need a rest.

The committees are plotting beHIND closed doors.

The Caucus’s power took a LEAP. [ah-ah-ah]

Biden holds an olive branch, his legacy is now.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.

Our House, in the middle of the–

The Caucus was uncowed.

Males are always power-struggling and they’re usually quite proud.

The Speaker went-fifTEEN-rounds.

Only concessions slowed him down but defeat was not allowed.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.
Our House, in the middle of the–

Our House, in the middle of the heat.

Our House [Tabloids tell us that the radicals took hold of it.]

in the middle of the–

McCarthy rejected-the-Jan.-6 panel’s work.

His base didn’t know, whom to desert.

Then he wanted to probe the probers.

See him long-to-stay where Trump’s YOKE is. [ah ah ah]

Pelosi’s the one they’re going to miss in lots of ways.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.
Our House, in the middle of the–

[I remember way back when, men had honor

and the world didn’t have so very MANY spies.

No more PRIvate lives.

Such a FREE time.

And I remember how we’d live, simply face to face,

used our brains.

Software wouldn’t come between us.

No Tweeters.]

McCarthy sold-his-SOUL, feeling pressed.
Reps are tired, they need a rest.
The committees are plotting beHIND closed doors.
The Caucus’s power took a LEAP. [ah-ah-ah]
Biden holds an olive branch, his legacy is now.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.

Our House, in the middle of the–

Our House, we need IT for demo-cracy.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.

Our House, that is where some people sleep.

Our House…

Gratitude In Low Voices

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The Book of the Week is “Gratitude In Low Voices, A Memoir” by Dawit Gebremichael Habte, published in 2017. According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked an extensive list of detailed sources, and an index), through the decades of the twentieth century, Eritrea suffered the usual traumas of a former colony (of Italy from 1890 to 1941) that was fighting for independence:

  • exploitation of its assets and resources (including dry docks, factories, railway cars by the British, and oil by the British and the Americans in the 1940’s);
  • oppression of its people (by Ethiopia in the 1950’s and 1960’s, via a UN resolution that was violated after a decade);
  • a military draft (by the Ethiopian government in 1983);
  • famine (in 1984);
  • ideology and language of the oppressors forced on students in the schools (by Ethiopians, funded by the Soviets in the mid-1980’s); and
  • arrests of and atrocities committed against, Eritrean people who uttered one word in any form, critical of Ethiopia (beginning in the mid-1980’s).

In 1973 or 1974, the author was born into a typical lifestyle for his time and place. He herded sheep and goats at an early age. By then, the Eritrean independence movement was gaining ground in the form of two armed groups resisting Ethiopian oppression: Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). His father joined the former group, and desirous to have his son educated, in the early 1980’s, sent him to school in Asmara.

Through his formative years, the author received an eclectic education. At about nine years old, he became apprenticed to a carpenter. Afraid the generous pay would corrupt him, his mother sent him to study the Bible at Saint George Orthodox Church. There, he learned Tigrinya, the language of his native people. His father went to Saudi Arabia to work, and sent money home. Eventually, his family became refugees from the violence and left Asmara but stayed in Eritrea.

Read the book to learn what transpired when the author wished to gain access to the resources in a library in his neighborhood and later, when he paid a people-smuggler to help him flee for Kenya; and his and Eritrea’s fate.

Sunflower in the Snow

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The Book of the Week is “Sunflower in the Snow, Tales From A Wartime Childhood” by Rachel Patron, published in 2020.

The author was born in January 1936 in Bialystock (in Poland). Her family’s textile-dyeing factory was requisitioned by the Soviets when they occupied their portion of Poland in autumn 1939. The family moved in with extended relatives elsewhere in Poland. In spring 1940, they moved back to Bialystock to their prewar house. But the NKVD requisitioned that, too.

Good news: The family wasn’t sent to a concentration camp. Bad news: The family was sent to Siberia in summer 1941, where they almost froze and starved to death, anyway. Their way of life was turned upside-down, due to all kinds of political, economic, religious and linguistic changes wrought by the War; to name just a few:

  • After the Germans broke up with the Soviets, the former sought to arrest all Communists and Socialists. The author’s father and much older brother were taken away by the Commissar’s thugs to serve as slave labor, and in the Red Army, respectively.
  • There was bartering in black markets.
  • The atheist Soviets canceled Christmas.
  • The author’s family spoke Yiddish among themselves because the Soviets did not speak it, but they spoke Russian to local officials.

When she was an adolescent, after various long interruptions of her formal education due to the government’s closing of schools for ideological reasons, the author was told she was a Socialist Zionist. This entailed:

  • atheism, which meant the author didn’t have to observe a kosher diet; and
  • the Law of Return– automatic citizenship for all Jews around the world after Israel declared its independence in May 1948.

Read the book to learn: more details of the author’s experiences, traumas specific to her family, and what became of them.

The Courage to Survive – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Courage to Survive” by Dennis J. Kucinich, published in 2007. This raw, emotional, personal story was similar to those of: journalist Joe Queenan (Closing Time), and teacher Tara Westover (Educated).

Born in October 1946 in Cleveland, the author had a difficult childhood in an ever-growing, poverty-stricken family. His mother was of Irish ancestry; his father, Croatian. The latter was a mean, physically abusive drunk. In his daily life, the author was fortunate to receive guidance and life-lessons from community role models such as his parents, teachers, coaches, his many relatives, (Catholic) priests, godparents, etc.

Nevertheless, the author’s take on life by the time he reached his teens was as follows: “The violence I witnessed at home percolated … I was ready to unleash it, but not in the street… What do you do when you are a kid and you feel violent? Do you look in your neighborhood for people to beat up? Do you vandalize? Do you just plain raise hell?”

More and more in America, such young males who feel like powder kegs pick up firearms and shoot innocent strangers or rival gang members, or engage in cyber attacks and fraud. Instead, if they are lucky– their anger is channeled into competitive sports, the military, performing arts, or politics.

Read the book to learn about the forces that shaped the author’s start in politics.

Sandworm

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The Book of the Week is “Sandworm, A New Era of Cyberwar and the hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers” by Andy Greenberg, published in 2019. In this eye-opening volume, the author provided the backstory (out of chronological order, in a confusing, cherry-picked way) on how and why Russia has become the world’s biggest disrupter of society yet again through a new method. “Sandworm” refers to the Russian hackers who perpetrated cyberattacks. The author implied that knocking out power grids was one new way to destabilize target nations. But this is NOT a new idea.

Anyway, as is well known, in recent decades, for various reasons, Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, ordered his military to attack Estonia (in 1999 and later), Georgia in 2008 (yes, Soviet Georgia– not the American state), and Ukraine. These offensives were accomplished not just on the ground, but also through technology. Ukraine’s election process and electric power were both seriously damaged through the Internet.

In the United States, various federal agencies fight for the power to set policy on the country’s cybersecurity: FBI, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security; plus the U.S. military, North American Electric Reliability Corporation, and SANS Institute.

During the George W. Bush administration, America and Israel started a secret project to develop virulent malware that could wreak cyberwar on their enemies, but whose main purpose was to stop Iran from making nuclear weapons.

During the Obama administration, a young, bright Air Force officer was hired to build a cyber-security department from the ground up, within the NSA. However, he got disgusted with the abusive hierarchy of the American military, as new recruits’ talent was wasted because the status quo dictated that they pay their dues.

Meanwhile, after years of work, investigators found evidence that the Russians were to blame for penetrating America’s technology infrastructure in 2016. Even conservative radio-show host Rush Limbaugh jumped on the bandwagon, saying, “It was an acrylic [sic] keyboard!” [He meant Cyrillic].

In 2017, Britain’s National Health Service was disabled via malicious software code that demanded a small amount of bitcoins as ransom. Other entities hit included a German railway, a Russian bank , colleges in China, police departments in India, and malware called “NotPetya” that did a number on Ukrainian civilians who were really inconvenienced in living their everyday lives.

In sum, it’s deju vu all over again in terms of a Cold War arms race involving Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and the U.S. This time, though, the weapon is technology and the threats are made by numerous worldwide terrorist cells who can hack a target’s infrastructure and its political system (like with online voting in Arizona and Illinois) whenever their territory’s leader commands them to do so. Another difference is that the kinds of cyberattacks seen thus far are akin to one aspect of Nazism: sowing social unrest (rather than killing people; not that the Nazis didn’t also do that) to bring a nation down. Damage done by psychological harassment from foul play via the Internet is economically incalculable and extremely difficult to regulate because it is international.

As is well known, through the twentieth century into the new millennium, information sources evolved from newspapers, magazines, books, and radio, to television, cable television, and then the Internet. Currently, Google and social media can serve as news aggregators, but more often, they are for-profit propaganda tools, just like all the aforementioned media. Most Americans think of movies as entertainment rather than as a source of news or education, but in the Postwar Era, they have also become for-profit propaganda tools.

But take heart, America! There is at least one area of optimism that will help this country’s democracy continue:

Compared to now, there was as much as or even more social unrest in this country in 1968. Before and after, the nation suffered through two dictatorial presidents in a row— LBJ and Nixon– who were recruiting all men of military age; many against their will, to fight in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in a war that was extremely expensive in so many ways. They sowed social unrest among their own people. America has not had two such presidents in a row since.

Even so, LBJ was kind of schizophrenic because he helped pass major civil-rights legislation. However, his ego wouldn’t let him order a stop to the war. Nixon went all-out on lies and deception, wreaking vicious political vengeance on his perceived enemies because he didn’t think he’d ever get punished. As journalist P.J. O’Rourke commented, beginning in the mid-1960’s, the Baby Boomers threw “a decade-long temper tantrum.” But now, their generation is wise to political shenanigans of decades past.

In 1972, voter apathy was so severe that Nixon was reelected in a landslide. Nowadays, voter turnout is at an all-time high. This is cause for celebration. Americans are starting to understand why voting is so important: it shows they believe in the democratic process (regardless of for whom they vote). A significant number of voters are required in order for democracy to work. When a dictatorial leader senses the people aren’t paying attention to what he’s doing, he will take advantage of that to acquire more power. He’s more likely to do the people’s will when he sees their anger is close to reaching critical mass.

On that note, read the book to learn much more about the author’s alarmist take on the global cybersecurity situation.