Arms and the Dudes

The Book of the Week is “Arms and the Dudes, How Three Stoners From Miami Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History” by Guy Lawson, published in 2015.

In summer 2004, when he was eighteen years old, the Orthodox-Jewish high school dropout, pothead and pathological liar Efraim Diveroli became passionate about the lucrative field of supplying firearms to the U.S. military. He had been mentored by his father and uncle on contracting with the U.S. government, through their businesses. There was one particular website where he could see all the needs for weaponry for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Diveroli worked around the clock combing the website’s classified ads for competitive-bidding contracts he thought he could win, and making phone calls to contacts he made to find suppliers from whom to purchase arms, to sell and deliver, via planes and / or trucks to the U.S. military on-location. He also needed lenders to finance the deals, as he had to make down-payments of tens of thousands of dollars he didn’t have, when he was finally awarded a bid.

In early 2005, the battles in Iraq between Shiites and Sunnis became even more fierce, resulting in more roadside bombings, kidnappings, sniper incidents and ambushes. Thus, there occurred an increase in demand for rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47’s (or their equivalents; the whole world was already full of them– but apparently still not full enough), ammunition for them, and missiles.

This resulted in an even bigger spike in the number of bribes, kickbacks and Swiss bank accounts among war profiteers. Diveroli also benefited from the high turnover of inexperienced procurement officers in Iraq. Every few years, he attended war-weaponry trade shows, such as Eurosatory in 2006 in Paris, and the International Defence Exhibition and Conference in 2007 in Abu Dhabi.

The State Department rated resellers such as Diveroli pursuant to their reputations for satisfaction in completing contracts, similar to the way eBay does. Eventually, the Department allegedly compiled a “watch list” of resellers (which included a lot of offshore and shell companies) with whom the Department was supposed to exercise caution in doing business. Diveroli’s company’s name (AEY) was on that list, but background checks were (accidentally-on-purpose) sloppy or non-existent, because the shortages of weaponry and ammunition in Afghanistan were so severe.

Unsurprisingly, there was inter-agency rivalry between the State Department and Defense Department (run by the bureaucrats in the Pentagon). When Congress authorized the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security through a long, complicated document, one little phrase gave the Defense Department unlimited powers: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law.”

To boot, the Pentagon used its new hegemony to wreak capricious vengeance on people who gave it bad publicity for its misdeeds and embarrassed it; there was no honor among thieves in the cut-throat war-weaponry business. One specific overzealous individual at yet another agency, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), helped with the Pentagon’s dirty work.

In May 2007, the main plot of a suspenseful saga started when Diveroli’s two friends (also only in their twenties) from grade-school assisted him with a $300 million (!) contract (that had an interesting origin) with the Department of Defense.

Unfortunately, the trio encountered numerous obstacles in trying to complete the contract and get their money. For one, the shipment of arms and ammunition that was supposed to go from Albania to Kabul was held up at an airport in Kyrgyzstan on a legal technicality. Two, an irresponsible article in the New York Times completely botched up the real story, prompting the Department of Justice to get involved.

Read the book to learn the rest, and what became of the participants (which included a wayward Albanian official, and an Albanian-American investment banker, among other pesky characters).

The Edge of Terror

The Book of the Week is “The Edge of Terror, The Heroic Story of American Families Trapped in the Japanese-Occupied Philippines” by Scott Walker, published in 2009.

This was a suspenseful story that focused mostly on a few lucky survivors of a war ordeal, but “American military losses in the Philippines are staggering and have never been fully realized by the American people.” For the reason of brevity, the author obviously could not cover all aspects of the historical backdrop that came together to determine which people in the story survived or died.

Anyway, in 1898, the Philippine islands became a protectorate of the United States. After WWI, Baptist medical missionaries settled in the city of Capiz on the island of Panay there. They established a nursing school and teaching-hospital, treating patients in a province comprised of approximately three hundred thousand people.

American expatriates in the Philippines fell largely into two categories: missionaries and mining-industry employees. They interacted socially– playing bridge and volleyball, attending beach parties and dances. The islands had mineral resources, and were strategically located on major trade routes.

In the first half of 1941, General Douglas MacArthur was appointed the supreme leader of American troops in the Philippines. But he wasn’t physically present for the rest of the war. That summer, some expatriate and military families sent wives and children back to the United States because they knew America would be entering WWII at some point. Up until the last week of December, others were evacuated from Manila to Bataan or Dumalag.

A week after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in early December 1941, they attacked Luzon. American and Filipino troops retreated, leaving large quantities of ammunition, supplies and food. MacArthur, already suffering from a bad case of hubris syndrome, incompetently waited a few weeks too long before deploying American troops to deter an attack on Manila Harbor; that Japanese attack came in the first week of January 1942. Many American lives were lost, and much American military hardware was destroyed. Mining engineers would no longer receive shipments of food, currency and supplies from the harbor.

By February 1942, what with all the bloodshed and disease, about 17,000 Japanese men died on Bataan alone. A couple of months later, the vast majority of 10,000 Americans commanded by 62,000 Japanese men, marched to their deaths there. In certain regions, the American military used scorched-earth tactics. They burned a hospital and sabotaged electricity and water supplies so that the Japanese couldn’t avail themselves of the benefits when they took over.

After several more aggressive attacks in the Philippines in the next several months, the Japanese demanded that the Allies surrender by June 6, 1942 so that they could occupy all of the islands, or they would kill every last person on them.

One particular group of American miners and missionaries decided to defy the Japanese order, and fled into the foothills to hide outside of Katipunan on Panay. They built a community called Hopevale. A few thousand Filipino troops also refused to surrender, and cobbled together a ragtag guerrilla army to fight the Japanese. At any time, the Japanese could have bribed a disloyal individual to tell them were the enemy was hiding. By then, the Japanese had a reputation for barbarism, and didn’t hesitate to massacre, torture, bayonet, rape or behead people, burn villages, etc.

The Japanese aimed to occupy the strategic location of Port Moresby near Australia, but the Americans bested them with air power in the Battle of the Coral Sea. In early 1942, about 3,200 people who didn’t flee for whatever reason, were interned in Manila.

By summer, that number had grown to 7,000. About three quarters of them were American. They organized themselves to fulfill their basic needs, and even educated the young. The living conditions were primitive of course: lack of food and other necessities, poor sanitation, vermin, and limited activities. However, the Japanese were sufficiently liberal to allow dancing, poker playing and touch-football.

Read the book to learn of additional ways war brings out the best in human beings– in terms of cooperating to survive; and the worst in human beings– how they have learned war-crime techniques from previous combatants; and the fates of the Hopevale expatriates, their families and others in the Philippines (Hint– even the survivors’ stories never have an entirely happy ending.)

Guatemala

The Book of the Week is “Guatemala, A Cry From the Heart” by V. David Schwantes, published in 1990.

In November 1988, the author, a businessman, traveled to Guatemala with others from the Center for Global Education. The author described a little of the political history that led to Guatemala’s sorry state of affairs in the 1980’s. For the reason of brevity, the author obviously could not cover all aspects of the historical backdrop that came together to create that decade’s spate of violence and oppression. However, he did know Geopolitics 101.

The reason Guatemala (and so many other countries in the world) have been unable to escape their vicious dictatorship cycle is that [drumroll, please!]:

Foreign interventionists and the nation’s leadership made investments in:

the tools of WARFARE (military weapons and divide-and-conquer political, cultural and social infiltrators that caused instability)

rather than

tools of modernity (education, infrastructure, healthcare and communications)!

It was like a George Carlin joke. Two previous Guatemalan presidents (Arevalo and Arbenz) had successful land-reform programs that spurred JFK to develop the Alliance for Progress. But prior to the Kennedy administration, those programs devolved into ugly political goings-on, thanks to two previous American presidents.

Beginning with the Nixon administration (on the recommendations of Nelson Rockefeller): “Stability was to be our first priority in foreign relations… Thus in 1972, when the average Guatemalan peasant earned just over $80 per year, the U.S. sent almost $7 million in weapons to that country… The U.S. had sent a billion dollars to Guatemala so far this decade, but I saw few signs that the money was making much difference.” Plus, in the late 1980’s, it sold the Guatemalans M-16 rifles. Then again, the Reagan administration cut back on providing financial aid when Guatemala was found to have one of the worst human-rights-abuse records in the world.

To push the above point about stability (or accidentally-on-purpose elimination of), the State Department encouraged fundamentalist Christian and Catholic missionaries to evangelize to the peasants to make them more accepting of their fate (starving). The peasants were led to believe their fate was in the hands of a supreme being. Other ideas pushed on them were: “turn the other cheek” and “money-changing is evil” and “sharing is a virtue” to get them to collectivize (and be smeared as Communists– more on this in a little while).

The author visited the government district of Guatemala City. “In front of the palace were dozens of heavily armed, crisp, polished soldiers. In front of the cathedral were beggars.”

The author spoke with a Catholic minister, various of whose politically active family members had been murdered in previous years. He was an activist pushing for redistribution of land. Roughly 70% of Guatemala’s land was owned by 1% of the people. The peasants had a religious, cultural, emotional attachment to the land, especially with regard to corn, their staple food. However, they were unskilled, uneducated, and scattered.

In 1986, the minister managed to help peasants (who had previously worked individually) to acquire a little land and work collectively, but in 1987, an arsonist burned it. The one percenters launched a smear campaign against the minister, calling him a Communist. In reality, he was pushing the economic system of socialism, as the peasants owned the means of production (the land). If the government had owned the land, that would have been the political system of Communism.

By the early 1980’s, the elites were acquiring farms in volume. And corn could be imported less expensively than it could be grown. Peasants had to borrow money to purchase fertilizer and pesticides, which made them indebted forever. They were less likely to starve if they grew sugar, coffee, sorghum or soybeans.

The author interviewed a worker at a healthcare clinic funded by UNICEF and humanitarian groups in the Netherlands and Canada. A U.S. embassy representative told the author that 40% of Guatemalan children died before the age of 5. The author had heard higher figures from other sources.

The clinic worker– as had the others who had risked their lives to talk with the author– played music during their conversation, just in case spies were present. His residence consisted of eleven family members in two huts, with no plumbing or electricity. They had a wood-burning stove whose smoke gave the women tuberculosis. He was proud that his mother was still alive at 54 years old (a ripe old age in Guatemala). Further, he considered himself wealthy compared to other peasants, as he had access to coffee trees, chickens, ducks, avocados and bananas.

The government began to crack down on males who expressed displeasure with the government. The males were abducted, conscripted, or recruited for hard manual labor, burned, arrested, tortured, or killed if they had Marxist / Leninist books in their homes, or said or wrote anything unpatriotic. Snitches were paid a small sum to spy on peasants and report back to the hierarchy of military leaders of which the government was comprised, up to the federal level.

In 1984, victims of Guatemala’s “dirty little war” formed a political group to help others similarly situated. The group gave bus fare and medical care to women searching for their missing male relatives. They risked their own lives by participating in demonstrations, and searching for their husbands, brothers and sons at detention centers, morgues, and cemeteries. Guatemalan culture dictated that males were the sole breadwinners for their families. But starving women were forced to make and sell tortillas in order to feed their families.

Read the book to learn the wealth of additional details on Guatemalan history and culture that the author learned from personal experience, interviews and documents.

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.

City of Gold

The Book of the Week is “City of Gold, Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism” by Jim Krane, published in 2009.
Location and entrepreneurial opportunists played a big role in making the city of Dubai the westernized hub of modernity it is today. It is located across the Persian Gulf from Iran.
Beginning in 1894, Dubai’s ruling family paved the way for it to become a trading hub, providing financial incentives to Arab, Persian, Indian and Baluchi merchants to use Dubai’s port rather than Iran’s ports. However, a side effect of prosperous trade invited smuggling of black-market goods including firearms, gold, slaves, diamonds and drugs.
The mid-twentieth century finally saw the game- changing discovery of oil in Dubai. In September 1958, the city got a new ruling sheikh who began to introduce better living to his people through infrastructure and utilities. In December 1971, Dubai and other territories in the region shed their British-protectorate status. At the last minute, Iran made a land-grab, but the remaining areas of the seven sheikhdoms became the United Arab Emirates.

Abu Dhabi held 88% of the land and 90% of the oil. So, through the 1970’s, Dubai’s ruling family further reduced Dubai’s financial dependence on oil by branching out into trade, construction and services– importing cheap labor to do it. The city built an aluminum smelter, a seaport and a dry dock– which in the 1980’s, repaired vessels from Iran that were damaged in its war with Iraq. The gentrification trend inevitably involved a little eminent-domain abuse, Arab-style, but Dubai citizens and capitalist expatriates needed luxurious places to live in the desert.

From the late 1990’s into the 2000’s, with the introduction of the Internet, Dubai lured the world’s biggest technology and media companies with generous financial incentives, building corporate villages for them. In 2000, Dubai allowed foreigners to buy real estate. The following year, the city had a stock market.

After 9/11, Arab investors transferred their money from the United States to Dubai. In February 2006, New York State Senator Charles Schumer and the media whipped up a frenzy of anti-Arab hysteria by telling the public that Dubai owned some of America’s most important Eastern-Seaboard ports. Hillary Clinton and hate-spewing pundits piled on. “Yet Dubai and the UAE remained among America’s closest Arab counter-terror Allies, even though the United States government has problems with Dubai’s freewheeling trade with Iran.”

Fast forward to 2007. Dubai’s small population of about a million citizens (mostly royal family members) allowed the government to adopt a socialist policy of generous entitlements, including an average annual $55,000 in stimulus money, and low-cost or no-cost: cooling of their lavish homes, car-fuel, food, education, healthcare, and water.

One last factoid: Dubai keeps its population safe because “The government is on the lookout for any form of radical expression, whether it’s Saudi Wahhabism, Salafism, or radical Shiite theology from Iraq and Iran. The Muslim Brotherhood cannot operate openly.”

Read the book to learn about: how the British stifled Dubai’s growth, and many more details on the city’s political, economic and cultural history, beginning with ancient times.

Man of Tomorrow

The Book of the Week is “Man of Tomorrow, The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown” by Jim Newton, published in 2020.

Born in April 1938 in San Francisco, Brown had two older sisters and one younger. His father, Pat, was Democrat governor of California in the early 1960’s. Jerry became a devout Jesuit while in college. In 1961, he began law school at Yale, where his tuition was paid via a foundation program that benefited children of California officeholders, run by philanthropist Louis Lurie.

In the mid-1960’s, California governor Ronald Reagan signed bills for laws for three different, moderately liberal causes. The first bill raised taxes. In July 1967, after a scary incident involving the Black Panthers, Reagan ratified the Mulford Act, which outlawed the carrying of a loaded firearm in public. Thirdly, the same year, Reagan (grudgingly) legalized abortion for pregnant Californians whose lives were endangered or who were victims of rape.

Helped by name recognition via his father, after getting elected as California governor in 1974, Brown, fatalist though he was, proved to be an environmentally friendly politician. In autumn 1976, he signed 21 bills intended to provide pollution protection for his state’s coastal areas. Yet, he cut spending and shrunk government– defying his party’s reputation.

During his religious phase as a student and thereafter, Brown spent long hours in philosophical contemplation in order to hash out his political views. He effected prison-sentencing reform that changed “doing time” from rehabilitation to punishment.

However, California’s whole criminal justice system is arbitrary– changing with the tenor of the times, and by imposing sentencing guidelines, as the new law did, at least judges would presumably have been less biased (differ less widely) in meting out punishment. And in his second time around as governor (he was elected again in 2010, and was reelected), he issued a lot of pardons and commutations because he still had faith in humanity.

One issue that affected others was an initiative in which the California government auctioned off quantities of the state’s polluters’ emissions, providing the state with revenues it could use for pet projects of the governor. In the 2010’s, Brown was planning a high-speed railway, wanted to protect poor communities from environmental damage, and (obviously) needed to do maintenance for forest-fighting prevention.

In his four terms, Brown mulled over whether to sign or veto more than twenty thousand potential laws. In 2018 alone, he deemed 201 out of 1,016 of them, unworthy of his support.

Read the book to learn of California history, the history of its popular culture, the forces behind the rise of Brown’s popularity there, and the issues that shaped his actions.