Chief Justice

The Book of the Week is “Chief Justice, A Biography of Earl Warren” by Ed Cray, published in 1997.

Born in March 1891 in Southern California, Warren was encouraged by his Scandinavian parents to pay for his education by working odd jobs all through his childhood. Only a small percentage of his contemporaries graduated college. But his father ended up paying his tuition anyway.

Warren majored in political science and law, so that when he graduated– in a class of fifteen students– he could call himself a lawyer, as there was no bar exam then in California.

In 1912, Warren became a Progressive after he saw what a robber baron his father’s employer– the Southern Pacific Railroad in San Francisco– was. It owned the legal system.

The California government’s patronage system was threatened by the International Workers of the World (IWW or the “Wobblies”), a radical group that fought for workers but not for America in World War I. Most of its members consisted of low-level migratory laborers on farms, in mines and the logging industry who were “… womanless, voteless and jobless.” Warren had to deal with labor issues such as the above when he was a legislative aide in Northern California in the early 1920’s.

The local Alameda County government turned a blind eye to vice, which was everywhere. It was the Prohibition Era, after all. Warren joined the Republican party and worked in the District Attorney’s office, where enforcement was a joke. He wanted to change that scene someday.

Warren got his chance in January 1925. He was appointed interim Alameda County District Attorney. He launched an investigation into the cozy relationships among bail bondsmen, jailers and attorneys in the county. In 1926, he was formally elected in a landslide, as a conservative Republican. He prosecuted the sheriff, a KKK member, and an attorney for graft.

After his reelection, Warren proceeded to drain the swamp that was the Oakland Police Department. Ironically, his office was a center of white slavery, of sorts. Attorneys fresh out of law school with impeccable records labored long hours for no pay until there was a staff opening so that Warren could officially hire them.

By 1930, Warren had eliminated partisan patronage from the District Attorney’s office. In 1934, he was elected California Republican Party chairman. By summer 1939, as Attorney General of California, he sought to completely rid the state of illegal gambling in the form of betting on racing dogs and slot machines (including those on cruise ships).

Warren tended to side with liberals on the issues of civil rights and health care. Yet, during WWII, he strongly argued for rounding up all Japanese people living in coastal California who were not American citizens, and confining them in camps. But he was anti-union and his economic views favored capitalism over socialism. He hated the New Deal.

Despite his contradictory words and actions, Warren was handily reelected governor of California in 1946. One reason, though, was that he was allowed to list his name under both the Republican and Democratic parties on the ballot.

Warren attempted to provide all Californians with catastrophic health insurance via legislation. “The outpouring of [newspaper] editorials lent the appearance of massive public opposition to health insurance. That persuaded [California] legislators. Warren could not even invoke party discipline.”

On the other hand, Warren was sufficiently popular to be drafted to run for president. In May 1952, Richard Nixon made a secret deal with Republican presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower that if Eisenhower got the nomination, Nixon would agree to become vice president.

Two months later, on the train that took Eisenhower, Nixon and Warren and their entourages to Chicago for the Republican National Convention, Nixon betrayed both of the other candidates in his party, Robert Taft and Warren, telling people that Eisenhower should get the delegates.

In June 1964, as is well known, President Lyndon Johnson bullied Warren into leading a commission that investigated the late President John F. Kennedy’s assassination (during which the panel members had to pore through about 25,400 pages of FBI reports and more). One member, then-Congressman Gerald Ford insisted that the assassination was a Communist plot instigated by Fidel Castro. No evidence of that was found. In September 1964, the report that described the results of the inquiry numbered 888 pages.

Read the book to learn more about Warren’s words and actions in connection with the landmark cases he handled as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in the 1950’s and 1960’s; about which members of the American government are the ultimate interpreters of the United States Constitution; how due process was affected when the legal system permitted the presence of a media circus in the courtroom in a 1954 case that was about due process itself; and other hot-button issues, such as civil rights, gerrymandering, pornography, etc.


34 Days – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “34 Days, Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon” by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, published in 2008. This book described the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, during which about a thousand people died.

In 1982, Israel launched a war with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to drive it out of Lebanon. Hezbollah started to arrive there after the PLO left. President Ronald Reagan of the United States– which for years had been an intermediary truce-negotiating party to Middle Eastern unrest– put discussions about foreign troop withdrawal (Syrian, American, Israeli) from Lebanon on the back burner after that first war ended.

Hezbollah, comprised of Shiites, a sect of Islam, originally formed in Iran. It acquired power in the Lebanese government by electing Parliamentarians beginning in 1992. The group was allowed to keep its weaponry through the years, even though it was allegedly provoking border skirmishes by abducting soldiers.

The second war started in mid-July 2006, when Israel reacted with exaggerated hostility to the abduction of two soldiers by Hezbollah terrorists at the Lebanese border. The Israeli military wanted to entirely wipe out the terrorist group.

Ehud Olmert– Israeli president since 2000, and the “defense” minister he appointed, Amir Peretz, went hog-wild. They agreed with hawkish military leaders to not only take out Hezbollah’s Syrian-supplied Katyusha rockets on the ground before they could be deployed, but to blast transportation, media and energy hubs in Lebanon with sophisticated weaponry, knowing this action would kill many civilians.

Arab states nearby (but not Syria)– Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf Emirates– were silently cheering for Israel to take out Hezbollah, a move related to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The West chastised Israel for its aggression, although it itself was at that moment continuing to violate the Geneva Convention in Iraq, etc.

Read the book to learn details of the unnecessary parting shot at the war’s end taken by Israel, which handled the war incompetently at best and evilly at worst, that caused many needless deaths (especially civilian), with, unsurprisingly, “… both sides racing to ensure their victory and to perpetuate their own narrative of the war” to the media and the public.

The Way Around

The Book of the Week is “The Way Around, Finding My Mother and Myself Among the Yanomami” by David Good, with Daniel Paisner, published in 2015.

The Yanomami is an indigenous, Amazon-rain-forest dwelling tribe in southern Venezuela near Brazil, who developed a reputation for hostility. The author dispelled that myth, while describing his unique experience, as a genetic member of the tribe.

Good’s father, an American from New Jersey, did anthropological fieldwork as a graduate student for about a decade, starting in 1975. Due to the loosely defined concept of marriage in the Yanomami culture, he had to decide whether or not to completely adopt the tribe’s lifestyle in order to continue to study them. He took the plunge. He ended up having three children, including the author, with his Yanomami wife.

However, the tribe’s ways are in an alternate universe, when compared with Americans’. Their lack of clothing alone would be considered primitive, never mind their low-tech, spare existence. The author wrote, “The women were all topless. Their faces were variously decorated with tribal markings; their noses, pierced with hii-hi sticks. The child was completely naked.”

The author’s father thought he would be able to move his immediate family away from his wife’s family in Venezuela in the late 1980’s, as he had a stronger desire to live in the United States. This created a cultural clash that led to a rather extreme consequence and psychological damage for all involved.

Read the book to learn how the author was affected by this adverse turn of events, and how he got through it.

Bess Truman

The Book of the Week is “Bess Truman” by Margaret Truman, published in 1986. The author described as much about the life of her father Harry Truman as about her mother Bess Wallace Truman.

Born in February 1885, in Independence, Missouri, Bess was athletic in her youth. She ice skated, went horseback riding, and played tennis, and sandlot baseball with her three younger brothers. After high school, she attended a finishing school where she was on the basketball and track teams.

Bess’ mother’s wealthy family owned a grain-milling company. However, her low-level-political-operative alcoholic father was continuously made to feel inadequate by his spendthrift wife, so in 1903, when he fell on hard times, he shot himself.

Bess met Harry in Sunday school but they drifted apart until reuniting at 25 and 26 years old respectively. He had had awful luck trying to save sufficient money for married life, as a farmer, and mining and oil investor. They finally wed in June 1919 after Harry came home from France, having fought in WWI. His haberdasher store, after its initial wild popularity, also failed with the postwar economic malaise of 1920-1921.

In 1922, Harry was elected as a judge for a term of two years in Jackson County, Missouri, even though he lacked a law degree. His daughter Margaret was born in February 1923. He then turned road-building consultant, salesman, then judge again.

Harry passed a bond issue of $6.5 million for road building in his county. He was such a highly respected politician that when the Great Depression hit, he raised almost $8 million for the building of new courthouses. Throughout his life, whenever he became overly stressed by the pressures of the political machine, instead of taking to drink, he went on a retreat.

Harry was coerced into giving patronage jobs to Bess’s brothers Fred and George. The former had trouble with alcohol throughout his life, adding additional drama to Harry’s already harrowing job. In 1934, Harry was pushed into running for the U.S. Senate. The opposing candidate engaged in evil mudslinging. Nevertheless, Harry won. In those days, though, the federal government was frugal. “It was the depths of the Depression and few people were getting paid enough to own a car. Everybody rode the trolleys and buses, even such personages as U.S. senators.”

During Harry’s freshman years as a senator, an ugly bribery scandal wrecked the reputations of various of his fellow Democratic party members in Missouri, including the power broker in his clique. Most of them went to prison.

In 1940, glutton for punishment that he was– but honest and revered among his supporters– Harry ran for reelection. He could boast that he conducted the investigations that revealed extensive corruption in the railroad industry. He “… won without the support of a single major newspaper or political organization.”

During his second term, Harry led additional investigations of other industries, so that he attracted a lot of haters. During his run for the vice-presidency via Roosevelt’s fourth term, Harry’s family name was again dragged through the mud. His opponents could have been neither meaner nor nastier. The saving grace was that he won the election.

Bess hadn’t wanted him to run, but the role of wife in her generation was to be her husband’s supporter– catering to his career and life goals, which were superior to her own. Nonetheless, they both agreed that the president’s actions were good for America, although they hated the manipulative way he used his subordinates to implement his policies.

Little did Harry and Bess have any idea of what they were getting into. A minor annoyance Bess encountered in the White House was “… the complete absence of closets which meant you could keep only a few dresses within reach…” She had that remedied by the time they left.

In spring 1945, FDR was tight-lipped with Harry, and even with the Senate about what he signed at Yalta. So upon his passing away, Harry suddenly and unexpectedly had a long learning curve ahead of him.

Read the book to learn the details of how Harry and Bess handled their high-pressure roles, and their adventures thereafter.

Inside the Olympics – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Inside the Olympics” by Dick Pound, published in 2004. This volume described the trials and tribulations of a Canadian who served in various Olympic capacities, including athlete and governance leader.

As might be recalled, various scandals (relating to the selection of future host countries, illegal doping among athletes, and judging of sports events) plagued the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the turn of the 21st century.

Pound wordily and repetitively discussed his role in helping participating nations agree on rules banning performance-enhancing drugs, and in helping to establish the complicated financial arrangements needed to be made by broadcast networks and sponsors. For, bureaucracy galore abounded. Each nation has a committee. Nations that don’t fund athletes and their attendant expenses depend on revenues derived from event coverage and advertisers, paid to the IOC and redistributed to those committees. Thus, the IOC tended to be the scapegoat for whatever went wrong with all things Olympic-related.

Olympic hosts are saddled with numerous expenses stemming from having to provide modern athletic facilities and accommodations for about 25,000 people.

Read the book to learn how national pride has miraculously kept the modern Olympic games alive since 1896, despite the bad behavior of power politics that has resulted in injustice, financial losses, ill-gotten gains, and deaths.

onassis (sic)

The Book of the Week is “onassis” (sic) by Will Frischauer, published in 1968. The biographer immediately resorted to a disclaimer on his Acknowledgements page. In compiling this volume, he sourced twelve books in his Bibliography, claimed he drew upon interviews, and fifteen years’ worth of his readings on his subject, conceding that “… in many instances the dividing line between fact and fiction is so blurred…”

Nowadays, an equally vague author, whether authorized or unauthorized– to write about a wealthy alpha male (especially a politician) whose crack public-relations mythmakers gloze over unpleasant details– usually has the goal of rewriting history. That did not appear to be the case, at least with this book.

Born in 1906 in Smyrna, Onassis was of Turkish extraction. He was six years old when his mother passed away. His father lucratively sold tobacco, grain and hides. Sent to a Greek Orthodox (Christian) school, Onassis excelled at water polo and, already fluent in Turkish and Greek– became so in English, French and Italian.

In September 1922, when hostilities flared up between the Turks and Greeks, Onassis helped his family (except for his father, who was arrested early on) survive by playing well with parties on both sides of the conflict. His good relationship with the United States Vice Consul (a neutral party) allowed him to reunite with his older sister, two younger half-sisters and stepmother in Athens, and then travel to bail his father out of jail.

The father was furious that Onassis wasted money to bribe the authorities to get him sprung, as he would’ve been released anyway. The Turks froze foreign bank accounts of the family’s business when they took over Smyrna.

In 1923, taking advice from friends, Onassis got a job with a telephone company. He got away with lying about his age (said he was older) and birthplace to obtain an ID card. Then he felt the need to strike out on his own. His persistence paid off after a number of frustrating weeks, when he was finally able to sell his father’s Oriental tobacco to the Argentinians, who had been importing it from Brazil and Cuba.

Onassis was eventually able to get both Argentinian and Greek citizenship with the use of his dishonest identity-document application. After presiding over a failed cigarette business, in the next five or so years, he made his first million dollars. It was unstated exactly how. It was stated that he made business contacts wherever he went, some of whom he obviously inherited from his father.

Onassis was appointed a trade diplomat for the Argentinian government, and got into the shipping business. He started with used ships with Greek registration, then, in the early 1930’s, to avoid petty bureaucrats, switched to Panamanian registration. Other advantages with the latter included financial transactions that were permitted to be made in any currency, that were tax-free.

Onassis revolutionized the industry by ordering the construction of monster-sized oil tankers– with unprecedented capacities of tens of thousands of tons. The Swedes built the boats, and J. Paul Getty shipped the oil to Japan. Onassis, unlike the competition, also built comfortable living quarters for his ships’ crews, to foster employee loyalty.

During WWII, Onassis broke into the whaling industry, selling whale meat to mink farms and whale livers to the Borden food outfit. After the war, he took a bride; she was seventeen, he was forty. They raised their family in Oyster Bay, Long Island.

Yet another unique shipping-related activity Onassis pioneered, involved a risk-management contractual arrangement for international shipping. Prior to its implementation, he thought he had done his due diligence.

Onassis consulted an attorney to make sure he would be complying with maritime law– as he was purchasing surplus vessels of the United States, but registering them under other countries’ flags for purposes of deregulated operations and tax evasion. Nevertheless, by the mid-1950’s, the American Maritime Commission questioned its legality, anyway.

Read the book to learn additional specifics on how Onassis became rich and famous, and stayed that way.

Billy Martin

The Book of the Week is “Billy Martin, Baseball’s Flawed Genius” by Bill Pennington, published in 2015. This biography documented not only Martin’s life, but how the culture of American baseball has changed through the decades.

Born in May 1928, Martin grew up in West Berkeley, California. His lower middle-class family consisted of a mother of Italian extraction, a stepfather of Irish extraction, and four siblings. He was passionate about playing baseball from the time he was a young child.

In his teen years, Martin was an amateur boxer at the local community center, and played on his high school basketball team. But he was mentored by minor-league and professional baseball players at his local baseball field, in James Kenney Park. He learned all the tricks, including the unethical ones.

At eighteen years old, the hot-tempered Martin was hired as a member of a minor league team in Idaho Falls, Idaho, thanks to mentor Casey Stengel– a baseball great– who spotted his doggedness and obvious talent. Most of the time, though, rather than play, he was assigned to loudly trash-talk the opposing teams in front of his team’s dugout. This was a valued activity in baseball in the 1940’s and 1950’s, practiced by teenagers all the way up to professionals.

Martin’s dream to play for the New York Yankees came true, starting in 1950. “There was free booze in every clubhouse in the country, and every stadium had a press room lounge where the drinks were complimentary… Players, coaches, reporters and managers” were no stranger to the clubby atmosphere.

Martin was a drinker with his buddies, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. However, Martin developed a reputation for getting into not only barroom brawls, but also fights with umpires– often kicking dirt on them– and getting thrown out of games. Through the years, he had trouble staying employed for more than three seasons at a time, as a player, scout, coach or manager on various teams. As a manager, his expertise lay in turning around losing teams.

In 1972, fans braved subfreezing cold weather overnight outside the stadium, standing in line to buy tickets to the final regular-season game of the Detroit Tigers, who of course made the playoffs, under Martin’s intense, win-at-all-costs management.

Martin taught his players how to steal opposing teams’ signals, and steal bases– even three at a time when the bases were loaded– plus how to bunt.

One edgy trick Martin got away with was executed by his Yankees in the last game of the 1976 World Series. The half-inning ended with a bad call, as a Yankees baseman “… caught the ball in stride [but too late] and then quickly ran off the field before the call was made.” In on the ruse, the team followed. The umpire wrongly called the safe runner out.

Later, the Bronx fans threw things onto the field, at the Kansas City Royals players. That was normal fan behavior into the 1970’s. Ejections by security were few and far between.

Furthermore, just as the last 1977 playoffs game was ending, fans who had run onto the field obstructed the last base runner from scoring until a group of ten police officers surrounded the runner to allow him to get to home plate. Exciting for its time: that player’s game-winning home run was videotaped in color from multiple camera angles.

Yet another bygone aspect of baseball included gratuitous violence. In the 1977 playoffs, “[George] Brett slid hard at third base… propelling him into [Graig] Nettles, whom he also shoved with a forearm to the chest. Nettles responded by kicking Brett in the ribs as he lay on the ground. Brett jumped up and threw a right hand punch that grazed the top of Nettles’ head and knocked off his cap… [unsurprisingly] the benches emptied…”

During the 1980 season, Martin taught his Oakland A’s pitchers how to get away with an illicit spitball. He told them to rub an excessive amount of soap on the inner thigh of their uniform. This would mix with their sweat. Rubbing the ball on it before pitching would give them an edge in striking out batters. At the time, a suspicious umpire would inspect body parts other than the thigh, so the pitcher wouldn’t get caught.

By the end of 1988, George Steinbrenner had owned the Yankees for fifteen years. During that period, he had changed managers fifteen times, five of which involved Billy Martin.

Read the book to learn of numerous episodes of Martin’s shenanigans on and off the field.

Counselor

The Book of the Week is “Counselor, Life At the Edge of History” by Ted Sorensen, published in 2008. This was the autobiography of a political consultant best known for most closely advising JFK for eleven years.

Born in May 1928 in Lincoln, Nebraska, Sorensen considered himself a Danish Russian Jewish Unitarian. His father, appointed Attorney General beginning in 1929, was the oldest of ten surviving children. He helped pass a law that created one nonpartisan legislative body in the Nebraska statehouse. That way, there were no fights, delays or blaming.

Sorensen himself was one of five children. He grew up in an agricultural community with a harsh climate in Nebraska, not unlike that of George McGovern’s South Dakota. There were: droughts, floods, hailstorms, blizzards and grasshoppers.

In summer of 1951, after graduating from a special five-year university law program, Sorensen sought a job by personally walking into law firms to speak with the hirers. He began his career at the Federal Security Administration, which has come to be known as the Department of Health and Human Services. He became depressed when he started to wise up and witness more of the culture of Washington, D.C.: “… more hypocrites than heroes, more sinners than saints.”

At the suggestion of the joint committee staff director, Sorensen lied about his age– put down 25 instead of 24 on his resume because men of 25 were viewed as better job candidates, having more experience. In 1952, he became a speechwriter, advisor and personal assistant to then-Senator John F. Kennedy, his opposite. Sorensen was a plain ol’ country boy, rather than a Northeastern elitist. He didn’t run with JFK’s crowd.

Sorensen claimed that JFK himself actually did the writing of the book “Profiles in Courage” despite rumors that others did. He and others helped with the research. Sorensen mentioned various of the book’s rumored ghostwriters but failed to mention the most commonly named one– Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Upon becoming president, “John F. Kennedy’s speeches stood out because they revived idealism, eloquence, and progressivism, after a decade of Eisenhower’s bland, dry approach and Joe McCarthy’s evil tirades.”

Unfortunately, JFK was afraid of being criticized for being “soft on Communism”– a common fear in those days among politicians who wanted to get reelected. So JFK continued Eisenhower’s actions; by late 1963, he had sent sixteen thousand American military advisors to South Vietnam. In 1968, Sorensen became a campaign advisor to Robert F. Kennedy in his presidential bid; sadly, not for long. Then he practiced law.

Read the book to learn of Sorenson’s adventures with the famed senator and president; his views on what would have happened had JFK not been assassinated; his other endeavors; the toll taken on his health by years of severe sleep deprivation and nonstop (no downtime) international business travel; and much more.

Bitter Scent – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Bitter Scent, The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis and the Arab Boycott” by Michael Bar-Zohar, published in 1996.

The complicated history that led up to the situation which monster-sized international health-and-beauty-aids company L’Oreal faced in 1989 was most ironic. It dated back to the start of WWII, when two future executives of L’Oreal and Francois Mitterand (future president of France) became good friends, Nazi collaborators– pro-Vichy propagandists and sabotage-plotters, and then, when the tide of the war changed in 1943, allies of the Allies.

In March 1989, Jean Frydman (Israeli and French citizen, Jew, and former member of the WWII French Resistance,) was vice president of Paravision, his film distribution company. Unbeknownst to him, he resigned from the board of directors of Paravision in a fait-accompli by L’Oreal executives. He was ousted in absentia because he had business dealings in Israel.

Various business entities had significant financial interests in others, among them, Paravision, L’Oreal (based in a Paris suburb) and its international subsidiaries, Columbia Pictures, Nestle and Coca-Cola. L’Oreal executives felt the need to comply with a troublesome policy called the “Arab boycott” — considered ethically repugnant by non-Arab industrialized nations. L’Oreal executives were willing to go through a tremendous amount of trouble (most of which they didn’t anticipate) to comply with the boycott to enhance their business interests, but also arguably, because they were anti-Semitic.

The boycott imposed by the Arab League began in 1948 to financially strangle Israel by banning companies that did business with Israel, from doing business with any Arab countries. L’Oreal needed to get Frydman out of the way so it could say it did no business with Israel. But besides, there was a big-name cosmetics company called Helena Rubinstein located in Israel, with which L’Oreal was affiliated. The Arabs were pressuring L’Oreal to dispose of that asset as well, before it allowed lucrative trade with their side.

When Frydman was gobsmacked by his fellow executives and learned that top people at L’Oreal (including its founder) had been Nazi collaborators, hilarity did not ensue. Instead, an orgy of litigation, fishing expeditions, political machinations, palace intrigue, and of course, a propaganda war did.

Read the book to learn the details of this suspenseful, sordid story.