The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Incredible True Story of Blondy Baruti, My Unlikely Journey From the Congo to Hollywood” by Blondy Baruti with Joe Layden, published in 2018.
Baruti was born in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the late 1980’s. When he was three, his father– a banker and government official– abandoned his mother, him and his older sister.
In the late 1990’s, eight countries in Africa engaged in an extremely ugly war, ultimately leaving five million dead. The armed, sociopathic sadistic fighters drugged young males and turned them into soldiers like themselves, and young females, into victims of rape and torture. Naturally, Baruti’s family, like millions of others, fled their homes.
The death rate for everyone in the country was ridiculously high, what with rampant disease, animal or human violence, starvation, etc. To push the point, Baruti wrote, “I was sick and exhausted, and sadly accustomed to the sight and smell of death and so I barely reacted [when a bomb hit a village his family was in].”
Read the book to learn how Baruti’s goal-oriented behavior, positive attitude, unwavering faith, great skills and passion for two activities– which are highly coveted careers– led him to get invaluable assistance with changing his lifestyle radically for the better.
The Book of the Week is “The Reckoning, Death and Intrigue in the Promised Land, a True Detective Story” by Patrick Bishop, published in 2014.
Born in 1907 in Poland near the Lithuanian border, Avraham Stern grew up to become an agent of the Irgun (one of the intelligence services in Palestine), coordinating the purchase of weaponry from Italian and Polish sources, to be smuggled into Palestine to help the Jews fight for an independent state, plus spreading propaganda about offensives in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky was a prominent Zionist in the same underground group, who gathered intelligence and launched military offensives in pursuit of Jewish statehood.
Stern, however, was a more radically violent sort, whose spinoff group (called Betar, or Revisionists) committed acts of terrorism against Arabs, even civilians, and later, the British. His group received funding from wealthy Jews who believed in the cause of helping oppressed Jews live freely in a land of their own.
In May 1939, Great Britain issued a White Paper– a follow-up document to the 1917 Balfour Declaration– stating that since there was then a significant Jewish population (450,000) in Palestine, only an additional 75,000 would be let in in the next five years, and those arriving later than that, would require Arab consent.
A governance arrangement would have to be made in the next ten years between the Arabs and the Jews. Of course, no one could know the untoward historical events soon to occur, let alone the number of Jewish refugees who would ultimately be seeking to reside in Palestine.
By 1940, Great Britain was in trouble militarily. In August, Jabotinsky unexpectedly died of a heart attack. Stern, who took the opportunity to occupy the resulting power vacuum, argued that the Zionists should ally with Germany because although anti-Semitic, the Germans might let the Jews emigrate to Palestine.
In desperate need of money, Stern plotted a successful bank robbery in September 1940 that was executed by his henchmen. He himself was an armchair warrior, only the mastermind behind the group’s activities.
Afterwards, Stern went underground, but got friendly with the anti-British Italians through his spy network, so if the Italians were to march into Palestine, they would be benign colonialists, rather than oppressive imperialists. Early 1941 saw Stern solicit the friendship of the German diplomatic corps, too. His overtures later proved to be a waste of time.
In 1941 and 1942, Stern went all out with planning violence because he knew his days were numbered. His group committed a robbery and launched an attack that resulted in the deaths of innocent people, including British cops. He became public enemy number one. A major historical event that might either discredit or make truthfulness more likely in connection with various historical accounts is: the Wannsee Conference held in late January 1942, at which Hitler discussed his plot to create a master race and eliminate all Jews. Thereafter, parties privy to such knowledge began to change their behavior.
Stern and his cohorts hated the British government because the British knew the Jews were seeking refuge from Hitler’s death camps, but they prevented them from reaching the shores of Palestine via boats, anyway. It was inexcusable not to save their lives. Two of Israel’s future politicians, Irgun members (Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin) fought with the ideologically dogmatic Zionists, newly renamed “Lehi.”
Read the book to learn of the way the British intelligence community treated Stern’s terrorist cell as an organized-crime gang– resorting to frontier justice out of fury when law enforcement officers were killed in attacks; the ensuing propaganda war between the Brits and Jews on a specific incident involving Stern; the fate of the head of British intelligence; and the activities of the British and Zionists from 1944 onward.
The Book of the Week is “Whittaker Chambers” by Sam Tanenhaus, published in 1997. This large volume described a situation that lends itself to the hypothetical board game “Survival Roulette: Alleged Commie Edition” (See “Blind Ambition” post).
Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers were just two of thousands of people starting in the late 1940’s who were losers of this game. The winners actually won only temporarily: Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon and other bullies.
The board’s spaces could describe wiretapped conversations of such evil Commie fronts as the Boy Scouts, and dossiers acquired through the Freedom of Information Act in which every word of every page has been redacted (blacked out) except the names of the 205 guilty State Department officials.
Of course, there could be spaces such as “Go to the Electric Chair” and “IRS Audit.” A “Commie Chest” (rather than Community Chest) card, for instance, could say “Collect $1 in a libel suit while your attorneys collect $50,000.” By the way, any player wearing a red necktie is a Commie.
Chambers, born in 1901 in Brooklyn, was accepted to Columbia University in 1920 through, at that time, simply passing an intelligence test rather than taking entrance examinations. He was fluent in several languages and was a skilled writer. As a commuter from Lynbrook in Long Island, New York, he paid only the school’s annual tuition of $256. The following year, living on campus, he also paid room and board of $400.
As a sophomore and rebellious intellectual, Chambers penned an offensive, blasphemous piece for one of a few campus publications for which he wrote. Fierce critics forced him to take a leave of absence from the school.
In the next several years, he traveled around Europe, came home, held short-term odd jobs he obtained through friends, returned to school, rode the rails out West, etc. in an effort to find himself; also in an attempt to escape his dysfunctional family. According to the author, Chambers suppressed his homosexual urges by having affairs with women.
In the course of his voracious reading– a lifelong passion– Chambers discovered a speech of Vladimir Lenin called The Soviets at Work. In it, Lenin advocated violent authoritarianism. Curious factoid: a line in the speech is reminiscent of a line in the Elton John song “Yellow Brick Road” paraphrased: “… where the dogs of society howl… I’m going back to my plow…”
Anyway, in February 1925, Chambers joined the Workers Party of America, a then-illegal political party that espoused Communist ideals. Its American members numbered about sixteen thousand. He also joined the International Workers of the World.
In the spring of 1927, Chambers was found to have stolen tens of books from Columbia University’s libraries and various other libraries. He was proud rather than ashamed. He wrote articles for The Daily Worker and other Communist publications, got a short story published in The New Masses, that was turned into a play performed internationally.
Some Americans became Communists because they felt that capitalism was the cause of the Great Depression— with its breadlines, labor unrest, suicides, protests, etc. In spring 1932, Chambers joined the OGPU– the Soviet agency that eliminated anyone who expressed the least negative thoughts about Comrade Stalin or his ilk.
Chambers was a valuable addition, as he had experience in bureaucracy, was fluent in German and Russian and literate in the Classics. The American chapter of the Party forced him to become a secret agent man.
But it was fun to play adolescent-boy spy games. And the pay was really good. He played well with others. He and his comrades got secret messages in invisible ink and microfilm from the Germans in their safe house on Gay Street in Greenwich Village. They spied on businesses and the military. He helped steal blueprints for weapons to be built by military contractors, and sent them to the Soviets.
In summer 1934, Chambers was relocated by the Soviets to Washington, D.C. to become a New-Deal advocate for sharecroppers and tenant farmers, who were opposing landowners and big growers in the agricultural industry.
Then Chambers started assisting with generating false passports to be used by his comrades. The initial step was to comprehensively extract information (such as birth dates and names) from the archives of obituaries of babies, in the research branch of the New York Public Library (yes, the one with the lion statues in front).
A birth certificate was then the only proof of citizenship that was required to obtain an American passport, which allowed the easiest travel. The above information (reflecting the then-age and gender of the agent who traveled internationally) would be used to apply for a fraudulent birth certificate, which could then be used to obtain a fraudulent passport.
The Party headquarters was in the U.S.S.R., though, and was the ultimate boss. It could shut down a cell if it saw little productivity. For example, an agent was reassigned to Riga (equivalent to Siberia). But before the transfer, the agent did win the handball championship at a YMCA in the closed Tokyo cell.
Across the United States, there were plenty of organizations posing as Communist fronts, such as a literary agency in San Francisco, the Unemployed Council in Queens county in New York State, and the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians. Chambers used a series of aliases for himself, his wife and daughter with each new assignment.
Changes were always afoot. In the mid-1930’s, the OGPU became the NKVD. Chambers’ boss was purged by Stalin. His highly-strung new boss reflected the Soviet mentality of proactively engaging in an act of generosity to butter up his new office in Washington, D.C. He therefore gave it a large cash gift that was used to purchase Oriental rugs to be given to the top operatives there.
In December 1936, the Soviets considered Germany, Italy and Japan their fascist enemies. The United States, France and England were passively standing on the sidelines. Chambers’ new mission was to, with the help of comrades, procure stolen original State Department documents, take photos of them, and return them, turn the photos into microfilm, and send it to Moscow. Although the documents usually didn’t contain anything world-shaking.
Nevertheless, circumstances were getting dangerous for Chambers. He was considering withdrawing from the Party, but then he and his family would have to disappear. He didn’t want to end up like Ignace Reiss, a “…well dressed corpse, perforated with bullet holes.” In spring 1938, he took the plunge and went into hiding. About a year later, he was able to get a job through a friend at Time, Inc.
Chambers knew the NKVD could kill him or harm his family at any time. Besides that, he could be convicted and imprisoned for treason, and he couldn’t afford to flee. So in September 1939, he turned state’s evidence instead. He named names of Treasury Department and State Department members and discussed the U.S. military’s Communist spy ring.
Into the 1940’s, Chambers continued to work around the clock at Time, Inc., where he received an obscenely high salary for his new rabidly anti-Communist editorial bent. His intuitions were correct, however. He knew that the Soviets had designs on world domination.
In August 1948, Chambers was subpoenaed to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Reputable officials and journalists were angry that in a public hearing, Chambers claimed that Alger Hiss, a high-level State Department official had been a Communist in the 1930’s. Hiss’s integrity had been irreproachable up to that point. The then-freshman Congressman Richard Nixon (R., CA) was the only member of the Committee who insisted on continuing the case against Hiss.
Initially, Chambers couldn’t name anything Hiss had done that was illegal. For, Party membership hadn’t been illegal in the previous decade. Neither had paying Party dues, nor meeting with other Communists.
However, with circumstantial evidence that Chambers produced in his own sweet time, he was able to convince the authorities that Hiss had lied under oath. Another crime that Hiss might have been punished for, was espionage. Fortunately for Hiss and Chambers, the three year statute of limitations on that had expired.
Political accusers always seem to scream about risks to national security!!! But it has become a cliche that more often than not, documents have been labeled top-secret, not to become declassified for decades– in order to cover up government’s bad, embarrassing behavior, NOT because American lives are at risk.
For approximately the last seventy years, on and off, vicious political vengeance has been the norm– best interests of the country be damned. However, the punishments haven’t fit the crimes. The most guilty and least punished perpetrators have acted in ways that have resulted in needless deaths and ruined lives.
Who knows what else Hiss did– making love to an intern in the Old Executive Office Building? He did get caught lying under oath.
Based on lies, the most guilty perpetrators have led the United States to attack other countries and smeared their political opponents for their own selfish political and financial ends. At least they didn’t get caught lying under oath.
Anyway, as is common with these kinds of situations, different government agencies are fighting to grab glory for bringing the perpetrators to justice. In the Hiss case, it was the Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and HUAC.
Individuals such as Nixon and Robert Stripling, the chief investigator of HUAC, were also jockeying for power and bragging rights. Then-Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter testified on behalf of Hiss, an unprecedented move, and possible conflict.
Read the book to learn why Chambers wasn’t also tried for lying under oath, even though he was the biggest liar in the world; every ugly detail of the Hiss case, and much more about Chambers’ life.
The Book of the Week is “Ten Green Bottles, The True Story of One Family’s Journey From War-Torn Austria to the Ghettos of Shanghai” by Vivian Jeanette Kaplan, published in 2002. The author was actually the writer of the story of her mother, Nini.
The story started in Vienna in 1921, when the five-year old Nini, her thirteen-year old sister Erna, ten-year old sister Stella, and newborn brother Willi, began to mourn the loss of their father, the owner of dry goods stores. Their mother then had to run the business. They continued to enjoy the benefits of growing up in a wealthy Jewish family, with lessons in piano, violin, skiing, skating and French. They went to the opera and belonged to a synagogue.
However, beginning in 1933, the Social Democratic state of Austria was occupied by German anti-Semitic Fascist agitators called Nazis. Nini attended rallies that defended the political status quo, to no avail.
Nini’s uncles and aunts were naively optimistic, rationalizing that eventually, the oppressive conditions would go away when Austria’s leadership changed. The Nazis brainwashed non-Jewish Austrians into believing that the Jews were to blame for the country’s problems, as it was clear that the Jews had conspiratorially amassed power and wealth. Jews were beaten in the streets, had their jobs, assets and civil rights stripped from them by the Nazis.
As the months passed, the Murphy’s Law variant, “Nothing is ever so bad that it can’t get worse” applied to Nini’s family and her new Polish boyfriend– who encountered Mussolini’s wrath when he went to visit relatives in Milan.
As is well known, Austria was annexed to Germany in spring 1938. Nini’s family hired a Jewish attorney to help them procure documentation that allowed them to flee to Shanghai. Nini’s family’s new home was not much better than the old one. Just different. The Japanese were oppressing the Chinese, Nazi-style. The Jews weren’t being treated significantly better, either.
Eventually, Nini’s kin found their way into communities of people of their own kind (Jewish) who rebuilt their lives and again prospered. Poldi fit right in, as he had a knack for bartering on the black market. Even under occupation, they re-created civilization– starting small businesses like coffeehouses, a school, a chamber orchestra, and a movie theater that screened old Hollywood movies. They secretly got access to shortwave radios so they could hear war news from Europe and the Pacific.
Nevertheless, Hitler’s persecution machine learned of the Jews’ new-found happiness and put the kibosh on it by having the Japanese herd them into ghettos in spring 1942. So their fortunes changed again.
Read the book to learn of Nini’s and her people’s postwar fate, considering that the reputation of “… the new State of Israel was rumored to be a hostile desert in the Middle East where thousands of Arabs angrily resist the arrival of Jews.”
The Bonus Book of the Week is “Yeager, An Autobiography by General Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos” published in 1985.
Born in February 1923 in West Virginia, Yeager was the second oldest of five children. He was raised as a Methodist Republican.
When his older brother was six and Yeager was four and a half, the two accidentally killed their two-year old sister while playing with their father’s twelve-gauge shotgun. The family never spoke of the incident. But Yeager wrote, “By the time I was six, I knew how to shoot a .22 rifle and hunted squirrel and rabbit.” Which the family ate. Later, he went on trips with his father’s buddies, hunting deer, bear, quail and wild turkeys. Having field-independent vision gave him a great advantage at that, and at flying.
In spring 1943, Yeager signed up for a Flying Sergeant program in the Army Air Corps in California. He became a passionate fighter pilot. In March 1944, he was shot down by a Focke Wulf 20 millimeter cannon over southern France. His situation was rather uncertain for a while, but he survived.
Acting against the rules of the War Department, Yeager got special permission to continue flying combat missions. Theoretically, the American president, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, had ultimate authority to decide that.However, if the president has sole control over the military and it obeys only him, is loyal only to him, including in connection with all top-secret foreign policy matters– THERE IS POTENTIAL FOR THE PRESIDENT TO BECOME A DICTATOR.
Anyway, of the thirty original fighters in the squadron who arrived in Leiston, England, four, including Yeager, were left by the end of the war.
Yeager became one of the best pilots in the Air Force, spending time as a maintenance officer, air-show performer and aircraft tester. His expertise allowed him to skirt other rules and weasel out of flight test school and other training classes.
Instead, he risked his life for hours every day in the air. When he was gearing up to break the sound barrier, his aircraft was “… carrying six hundred gallons of LOX and water alcohol on board that can blow up at the flick of an igniter switch and scatter your pieces over several counties.”
By the end of his career, he had spent some ten thousand hours in the air in 180 different military (including aerospace-related) aircraft built by various nations.
Read the book to learn how Yeager got out of WWII alive, and numerous other tough situations alive, his (almost non-existent) personal and family life, and his global adventures with other crazy characters.
The Book of the Week is “Ibn Saud, The Desert Warrior Who Created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” by Michael Darlow and Barbara Bray, originally published in 2010. This wordy and redundant biography described the life of a pivotal figure in the history of the Middle East in the twentieth century and his legacy in the twenty-first century.
Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud (hereinafter referred to as “Saud”) was born circa 1881. He was the oldest surviving son of his forever growing family. The culture of his Islamic, nomadic tribe involved a Robin-Hood like practice called “ghazzu.” Only at a time when a tribe was literally starving, would it rustle camels and/or livestock for itself, from a tribe that was better off, inasmuch as it needed to survive. The raid was not for the purpose of conquest.
A boy would become a man by aiding his fellow men in such a raid. Due to a forced evacuation by a militant attack by the Rashid family in the Middle Eastern desert in 1891, Saud left his family when he was about ten. He assisted with a ghazzu with the Al Murra– one of the poorer Bedouin tribes. They were Muslim, but not as fanatically religious as the Wahhabis in Riyadh, where Saud’s family lived.
Saud’s family was allowed to reside in Kuwait until his father could regain his sheikdom from the Rashid family. In the 1890’s, the whole region was being fought over by the Ottoman Empire, Germany, France, Russia and Great Britain for purposes of international commerce, rail transportation and shipping.
In 1899, Saud took a bride in his second arranged marriage, and his first son was born the following year. He was to have: more than one hundred wives, almost one hundred children, plus numerous concubines in his lifetime, but only three wives at any given time, pursuant to the Quran. At that time in Saud’s culture, divorce was cheap and fast.
Saud led men into the vendetta-laden battle between his family and the Rashid. Allying with other tribes in the area, they fought on camels with swords, rocks and fire. Saud achieved victory in January 1902.
Two months later, his messengers arrived to tell government leaders in London, India, Istanbul and Moscow. Saud’s father’s army retook the territory over the next two years, but the Ottoman empire had the resources to re-conquer the Saud family’s small military and tentative claim on land the Saud family had previously owned. So the two parties signed a treaty conditionally acknowledging the land’s owner.
Until WW I, Saud allied with the Wahhabi tribe, Ottomans and British, but would not help them during the war. To Saud, the Rashid remained an enemy, and Sharif Husayn– British diplomat and leader of a rival tribe– became a new one. All still had territorial claims to the Arabian peninsula.
In 1922, the presence of oil was suspected in the disputed territories. However, the oil drilling equipment at the time was too primitive to the find the oil.
In the mid-1920’s, Saud was allied with the Wahhabi-related Ikhwan tribe, which were fanatically religious and violent with their livestock-grabbing, looting, plundering, destroying Shia artifacts and killing enemy males of all ages– forcing them to flee the Arabia/Iraq border. Saud had to tell the Ikhwan to cool it. Even so, Saud didn’t compensate the enemy for his allies’ war crimes. He kept all the territory he got, and acquired more.
Into the early twentieth century, the Arab tribes thought of the desert as an ocean, around which they could wander because no nation had a sovereign claim on it. Since Najdis (residents of Najd) and Iraqi Bedouins (both allies of Saud) were having border skirmishes against the British, the British thought they had a right to build forts to clarify their claimed territories to corral the local nomadic tribes. Of course the British, having a more advanced military and weaponry, plus the world’s best navy, had the upper hand on the ocean too.
In 1928, one oil company each from America, Britain, Netherlands and France agreed to divvy up any oil that was discovered in the Middle East.
After various battles, finally, in September 1932, Saud named his territory the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, governed exclusively by a literal interpretation of the Quran. In other words, It was a theocratic, not a constitutional, monarchy. For the rest of Saud’s life, excessive amounts of money were spent on keeping Saudi Arabia’s citizens (Saud’s royal family and others, plus millions of charity seekers–to whom hospitality was an obligation according to the Quran) loyal to King Saud.
Read the book to learn what transpired:
when a significant amount of oil was finally discovered in Saudi Arabia;
what Saud did just before and during WWII;
that led the Americans to become besties with Saudi Arabia for decades– which was related to how Saud reacted to the debate over the territory of Palestine and how Saudi Arabia ran into financial trouble in the latter half of the twentieth century; and
when Saud died– how his successors led the country in the next half century.
The Book of the Week is “Blind Ambition, The White House Years” by John Dean, published in 1976.
Investigations of politicians accused of wrongdoing at the highest level of the U.S. government, are complicated, because officials must at least make a pretense of complying with due process.
There is document gathering and analysis, subpoenas that compel witnesses to testify, endless debates on various interpretations of various sources of laws pertaining to the federal government, etc.; not to mention the most important aspect of the whole kit and caboodle: public relations! Plus, nowadays, the media and social media keep the constant barrage of inane comments coming.
In fact, there ought to be a board game, “Survival Roulette” that tests players’ ability to weasel out of legal trouble through shaping public opinion using claques, flacks, sycophants and attorneys.
Of course, Survival Roulette could be tailored to the Nixon White House; it could be the Politician Edition. The game could be structured like Monopoly, with players rolling dice and moving pieces onto spaces that describe financial crimes, illegal-surveillance crimes and damage-control speeches. The most famous space could be “Go To Jail” and there could also be “Cash In Political Favors.” The ultimate winner could be Rich Little.
In the Tabloid Celebrity Edition, the object of the game is to become the ultimate winner, Marc Rich. Other players (the losers) end up as other notorious figures who face different punishment scenarios: Jimmy Hoffa, Jeffrey Epstein, O.J., Bernie Madoff, Bill Cosby and Martha Stewart. The board spaces could describe financial crimes, sex crimes, violent crimes, and social media postings.
The Teenage Edition could feature more recent celebrities– simply spreading vicious rumors about them, rather than confirmed offenses– like in the case of Dakota Fanning.
In Survival Roulette: Politician Edition, John Dean could be one of the worse losers. He was one of various attorneys and consultants who: a) aided and abetted President Richard Nixon’s nefarious attempts to wreak vengeance on his political enemies (whom Nixon believed were revolutionaries and anarchists who used dirty tricks on him in the 1968 presidential election) and b) help Nixon keep his job as president (which Nixon believed was to play God).
In the summer of 1970, Dean’s career took a leap from the Justice Department up to the President’s side, as one of his legal advisors. He thought of his new department as a law firm, so he solicited legal work in all practice areas to make it grow; it did, to five people.
Dean quickly began to feel uneasy about his new position, even though it carried luxurious perks. The White House was fraught with politically incorrect goings-on. There was friction with various federal agencies, such as the FBI.
The FBI was dominated by J. Edgar Hoover, whom it was thought, possessed the means to blackmail the administration. He supposedly had evidence that the president had ordered the secret wiretapping of both the media and leakers on his staff.
As became well known, such wiretapping turned out to be the tip of the iceberg. Nixon recorded himself— every conversation he ever had in the White House! He had listening devices planted to spy on protestors against the Vietnam War, and his other political enemies, which appeared to be almost infinite in number.
Nowadays, the equivalent would be a “loose cannon” with hubris syndrome, addicted to: Tweeting / posting on Facebook but keeping a private profile / texting and emailing, who didn’t destroy his electronic devices.
In July 1971, Dean encountered his first major ethical conflict. He felt obligated to appeal to presidential aide John Ehrlichman to restrain Special Counsel Chuck Colson from orchestrating a break-in to steal Pentagon-Papers documents at the offices of the Brookings Institution. Nonetheless, Dean did sic the IRS on Brookings, and suggested that its contracts with the Nixon administration be cancelled.
Dean got so caught up in the excitement of helping the president get reelected in 1972 that he proposed expanding the collection of intelligence, which was already sizable. Yet he was also disturbed by reelection-committee director G. Gordon Liddy’s crazy plots to steal the 1972 election via burglary, spying, kidnapping, etc.
Dean attempted to remain willfully ignorant of Liddy’s actions thereafter so that he would have the defense of plausible denial in the future. However, after the Watergate break-in June 1972, he rationalized that he was protected by the attorney-client relationship and executive privilege.
One meta-illegality of the coverup of the administration’s various, serious crimes involved the distribution of hush money to hundreds of people who knew too much. By the late summer of 1972, seven individuals were found to have committed the Watergate break-in. Nixon basically said in his communications to the world that those perpetrators were the only ones responsible for that incident, which he claimed was an isolated one. Of course it wasn’t.
The president’s men held their breaths and crossed their fingers counting down to re-election day, as the White House was still the target of inquiries, and a party to legal skirmishes with the FBI, Department of Justice, Congress, the General Accounting Office and journalists. Immediately after election day, Nixon ordered a Stalin-style purge (merely job termination, actually) of all sub-Cabinet officers he had previously appointed.
As the palace intrigue continued into late 1972, Dean, through his own research, learned that he himself could be criminally liable for obstruction of justice. He would inevitably be forced to choose between betraying his colleagues (who hadn’t been all that friendly to him) or perjuring himself to save others insofar as it helped save his own hide.
A true “prisoner’s dilemma” existed among the several indicted bad actors. No one would receive immunity for tattling on the others, but no one knew of any deals made with prosecutors except their own.
Dean wrote of early spring of 1973: “He [Nixon] is posturing himself, I thought– always placing his own role in an innocuous perspective and seeking my agreement… The White House was taking advantage of its power, and betting that millions of people did not wish to believe a man who called the president a liar.”
The Bonus Book of the Week is “City Room” by Arthur Gelb, published in 2003. This large volume presented the highlights of the author’s 45-year New York Times career. There were two short passages that might cause confusion for the reader: when the author discussed health department and city infrastructure programs in 1947 or 1948, and also, “After covering Colombo’s murder during a rally in Columbus Circle on Columbus Day, June 28, 1971…”
In 1933, president Franklin Roosevelt insisted that the White House press corps get his permission to quote him directly. The journalists accepted that condition with nary a protest. Having grown up in East Harlem and the Bronx, New York City, Gelb began his career as a copy boy at the Times in May 1944. At the newspaper, writers and editors were always at odds over editorial control. Subjectively, the copy of each was ruined or improved by his counterpart.
In August 1956, the author described how he solicited enough money to keep Joseph Papp’s non-profit, Shakespearean theater organization alive by reviewing a partially rained-out production of the Taming of the Shrew. The following year, the Shakespeare Workshop won its lawsuit against New York City parks commissioner Robert Moses, obtaining a permit to have free shows in Central Park.
In 1966, the Times reported on the classic problems of education in the city. Mayor John Lindsay controlled the nine-member school board. Minority parents and civil rights groups thought he was indifferent to educating their children, as “… 85% of minority students in the city read far below grade level… The teachers’ union was perceived by some in the community as virtually a Jewish institution and racist as well.”
In spring 1970, a former law-enforcement official hired by the Times took six months to write a three-part series on extensive corruption in the New York City police department. It took that long to collect and verify all the information in the articles. “… we had numerous sources and stacks of documents and tape-recorded conversations corroborated what we had published.”
And the journalist assigned the series, David Burnham, declined to write a book on the whole sordid affair, “… ethical to the bone, [he] did not feel he should profit from having performed a public service.” Mayor Lindsay was furious that the Times exposed his poor record on corruption; he tried to pressure the paper not to print it.
In spring 1971, it took almost three months for numerous Times employees working around the clock, to prepare the Pentagon Papers for publication. Newspaper executive A.M. Rosenthal was pleasantly shocked that they were able to keep the project secret for that long!
There ensued prolonged, torturous and tortuous legal wrangling over how much the public has a right to know about the government’s nefarious activities. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of free speech.
In a nutshell: old-school journalism used to be comprised of an alcohol-lubricated male-dominated field of workaholics, some of whom were investigative reporters– critical thinkers who asked intelligent, probing questions (like, ‘How’s the building of “the wall” coming along?’).
If this was fifty years ago, the Times would have a reporter personally go to “the wall” and have someone write a human-interest story about what they saw and heard. With their own eyes and ears. Maybe even a detailed, two-part series. And follow up every month or so.
Not now. Can’t afford to send anyone anywhere anymore to get a firsthand account, to write any fact-filled article, rather than an opinion-filled one. Neither can any other media outlet. This, for a host of reasons that have been accumulating for decades. Everywhere Americans try to get honest, factual information– TV (including cable), radio, newspapers, magazines, internet, rallies and political (junk) mail– they can’t. Trust is at an all-time low.
For years, readers, listeners and viewers have read, seen and heard contradictory stories, and video and audio clips. Sometimes fanciful ones. Additionally, quotes have been taken out of context, words have been deleted, and the rest, spliced together. Which ones? Only the editors know. Sure, some websites do fact-checking, but the audience gravitates toward the sites simply to confirm their beliefs, not really to get the truth.
Now it’s all unctuous political hacks with fertile imaginations, whose goal is to get a candidate elected, reelected or to cut down political enemies– not to educate the populace. Such nonsense comes from both sides of the aisle.
As is well known, one slogan of the 1992 presidential campaign was “It’s the economy, stupid.” The 2020 election might well say, “It’s the media, stupid.” Wait. That should be rephrased: “It’s the stupid media.”
Eventually, dissatisfaction with this sorry state of affairs will reach critical mass. There will be sufficient backlash to reverse the trend. Because the audience will stop paying attention until influential parties inspire value in honesty and fact-checking again.
Anyway, read the book to learn about the adventures of Gelb and his colleagues.
The Book of the Week is “The Code, The Evolution of Secrecy From Mary, Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography” by Simon Singh, published in 1999. This book described a few different contexts in which communications needed to be deciphered or kept secret– in war, in determining whether to execute a queen, in learning about life in ancient Egypt and Greece, and in electronic exchanges to prevent theft of identity or assets, or maintain privacy.
The author related not only the details of how the WWII Allies were able to outwit the Germans by learning what they were doing, but also every last technical detail of the code-breaking, which is brain-breaking for most laypeople. But not for cryptography hobbyists.
Anyway, beginning in the early 1930’s for about eight years, a German intelligence agent sold information on his country’s secret communications operations, to a French intelligence agent. The French couldn’t have been bothered with such time-consuming, labor-intensive work that would allow them to intercept encoded military messages to and from Germans.
However, Poland was interested. The French turned it over to the Poles because the latter felt vulnerable to invasion from both sides, from the Soviets and Germans. Fortunately, Poland had a long standing-agreement with France to share such information.
Also, fortunately, the Poles’ lead cryptographer was a genius. But it took even him a year to compile a catalogue of alphabet-letter chain lengths in order to be able to decipher the Germans’ daily messages, whose code was different every day.
In 1938, the Germans added two more scramblers to their existing three, which made code-breaking by foreign intelligence agents, very nearly impossible. So in the summer of 1939, the Poles sent their deciphering equipment to Great Britain, which took over the spying operation.
In early September 1939, the Government Code and Cypher School in Britain hired its own genius, Alan Turing. He invented a setup of structures in which the completing of an electrical circuit would be indicated by a lit bulb when a code was broken. Construction of the contraptions of the top secret operation was completed by summer 1940, but the code-breaking was still agonizingly slow.
Different German contingents, such as the North Africa campaign, the army in Europe, the Luftwaffe, and the navy each had different codes. The navy’s was the hardest to break. But the work was worth doing because it significantly shortened the war by informing the British what the Germans were going to do next.
The Allies’ knowledge of German messages was especially helpful in the Battle of the Atlantic, and was instrumental in the Pacific Theater at Midway– in killing a powerful Japanese admiral in the Solomon Islands.
Eventually, 420 Native Americans of the Navajo tribe conveyed messages on behalf of, and to and from the Americans, because their language was indecipherable to the Japanese.
At this book’s writing, “Diffie, Hellman and Merkle [Americans] have become world famous cryptographers who [allegedly] invented the concept of public-key cryptography while Rivest, Shamir and Adelman [also Americans] have been credited with developing RSA [in 1977], the most beautiful implementation of public-key cryptography.”
However, three different British men conceived of the concept first– by early 1974. They were sworn to secrecy, as it was part of a classified military operation, and computing at the time wasn’t powerful enough to implement their concept. Being Americans, the aforementioned latter trio patented their method, and in 1996, sold their company for $200 million.
Interesting factoids: Cryptanalysts are in greater demand than ever before. The U.S. National Security Agency is still the world’s largest employer of mathematicians.
At this book’s writing, quantum cryptography was the wave of the future in cybersecurity, because it would be absolutely unbreakable. It would use either photon transmission or fiber-optics. The message sender and receiver could see whether there was an interloper because the messages would be altered. A card game– Hanabi– has since been invented, that uses the logic that allows communicators to decipher one another’s messages, while preventing third parties from doing so.
Read the book to learn about Philip Zimmermann (someone whom the National Security Agency viewed as a troublemaker), and the whole kit and caboodle on how codes were historically made and broken, and how messages can be kept secure. Six ways to Sunday.
The Book of the Week is “Believer, My Forty Years in Politics” by David Axelrod, published in 2015. This book is mostly about Axelrod’s role as a political campaign consultant and close aide to Barack Obama.
Born in February 1955 in New York City, the author became passionate about politics at the age of five, when his nanny took him to a political rally for JFK. At nine, he volunteered to assist with RFK’s New York State Senate run.
Axelrod began a career in journalism, covering politics for a number of years. His mother’s cousin introduced him to powerful political figures in Washington, D.C. This gave Axelrod a leg up in co-founding a political consulting firm located in major American cities, serving various mayoral candidates.
In addition to having friendly contacts of all stripes, the best and brightest consultants ought to be extremely well-read in history, politics, psychology, law and economics. Life-experience and cynicism, too, can help with opposition-intelligence and creative messaging.
During the last days of the presidential election in 2008, “[vice-presidential candidate– thought by many to be the presidential candidate– Sarah] Palin ramped up the ferocity of her attacks, to the delight of angry throngs who streamed to greet her… some chanted vile epithets about [presidential candidate Barack] Obama… resented taxes, reviled gun control and eagerly parroted right-wing tripe questioning whether Obama was even a citizen…”
In 2016, it was deja vu all over again, with Donald Trump’s copying Sarah Palin in his targeting and messaging. Trump copied the late president Ronald Reagan too, with his tax cut and also, with taking an active role in foreign policy, some of which for Reagan at least, did not end well. Axelrod commented that performing was Reagan’s forte. However, Obama was not as willing a performer. Trump is neither good at reading scripts nor good at speaking off the cuff.
Unlike Trump, Obama was principled and ideologically-oriented rather than reelection-oriented. He was his own man as much as he could be, given that he was forced into extremely difficult situations. He inherited a slew of problems from his predecessor George W. Bush, including a crashed economy and two wars. In 2009, then-Harvard law professor and bankruptcy specialist, Elizabeth Warren, helped Obama create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Axelrod claimed that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., KY) started the obstructionist attitude in which the party ruling a house of Congress pettily blocks all legislation the opposing party is trying to pass. There have been previous periods of American history in which each side engaged in shenanigans to thwart the other– such as during the impeachment debate surrounding president Andrew Johnson in the 1860’s (!)
However, nowadays, angry and mean-spirited polarization becomes viral at the speed of light, as the easily brainwashed who have access to social media become easily outraged by the finger-pointing hypocrisy, hypocritical finger-pointing, and poison propaganda spewed by one side or the other.
Axelrod wrote, “Fear too often trumps reason.” Read the book to learn about the kinds of situations Trump has reason to fear, and Obama’s campaigns and administration.