The Defense Never Rests – BONUS POST

The  Bonus Book of the Week is “The Defense Never Rests” by F. Lee Bailey with Harvey Aronson, published in 1971. This is the career memoir of a criminal defense attorney best known for the Sam Sheppard and Boston Strangler cases.

Born in 1933, Bailey served in the Marines, and later started practicing law at a firm in Boston. He became a polygraph-test expert, and later argued that test results should have been admissible in all courts. When he started his career in 1961, Massachusetts law still required that in court, a murder suspect be confined to a wire cage.

Read the book to learn of various cases litigated by the author, including those of Sam Sheppard and the Boston Strangler and his own, when he found himself in trouble (not for murder, though). Perhaps that is why he provided no: Notes, Bibliography, Sources, References or Index in this book, although he did provide verbatim excerpts of court transcripts.

Into the Raging Sea

The Book of the Week is “Into the Raging Sea, Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro” by Rachel Slade, published in 2018. This sloppily proofread volume recounts a suspenseful, emotionally charged story about a rare but preventable epic fail. It is a cautionary tale of how TOO MUCH DEREGULATION in the shipping industry turned out to be penny-wise and pound foolish.

Just as a little bit of socialism is good (in the form of public libraries and the like), too much socialism is bad. So too– some deregulation might be good, but too much deregulation leads to conflicts, corruption, monopolies and crashes (financial and physical). With the ship El Faro, one thing led to another: Getting rid of pesky laws that hindered commerce ultimately increased the risk of deaths, as will be explained.

All the money the government and El Faro‘s owner thought they were “saving” with the help of deregulation, was wasted in the accident in various, extremely high costs– rescue-resources, the emotional toll taken on all of the parties involved, litigation, etc. What happened to the ship showcased the extremes of human nature– greed and hubris of shipping-company executives and their accomplices (politicians) versus the braving of life-threatening conditions, by rescuers trying to prevent deaths in the disaster.

At the beginning of October 2015, El Faro was hauling commercial cargo heading for San Juan in Puerto Rico, but ended up in the path of hurricane Joaquin. The whole voyage was one long cluster screw-up.

For starters, the shipping industry had an abusive, hierarchical culture. There had been a long period of deregulation starting in the 1970’s in the interest of political expedience and profit-seeking; safety be damned. But by the 2010’s in the shipping industry, the gravy train was over.

Due to the safety crackdown, El Faro‘s corporate owner had been doing some lean and mean cost-cutting in connection with all of its holdings, at the expense of vessels and their personnel. El Faro had been grandfathered in under older regulations that made its long-term seaworthiness doubtful. But it was lucrative enough not to be scrapped.

Architecturally, the ship had been designed for speed rather than safety, and the physical arrangement of the cargo caused the ship to ride low in the water, and list in rough seas. Rushed workers sloppily loaded the cargo– consisting of cars and other heavy, unwieldy items, and they weren’t entirely secure (both the workers and cargo). The ship’s anemometer was broken. But for deregulation, the government would have taken the ship’s owners to task on these and various other accident-prevention issues.

During this, El Faro‘s last voyage, in which it encountered a horrific storm, the captain could pick and choose from a few different sources of weather forecasts. He happened to choose the most outdated one, unbeknownst to him. Nevertheless, he stubbornly refused to consider any others, or significantly change the ship’s route, even when his subordinates tried to tell him about storm data from other sources. He needed to please his bosses, whom he knew preferred that he get the ship to its destination ASAP, to minimize costs. In transportation, time is money.

Also, the captain lacked social graces. Not only that, he was a survivalist, one of those nutjobs who was prepared for the end of the world, with weaponry and provisions and planned to defend himself if necessary, against other survivalists. Thanks to deregulation, he was still employed.

The sleep-deprived chief mate of the ship was a new employee, just getting to know the captain, so he was eager to impress him and reluctant to question his authority. The second mate was psychologically weary of her job.

Other ship workers were less than loyal, as they had no job security. To add insult to injury, racial tension pervaded the ranks. To boot, the ship was understaffed.

To be fair, the storm formed faster than anyone had anticipated. But obviously, TOO MUCH DEREGULATION played a major role in the incident.

As an aside, “It’s an open secret in the meteorological community that the ECMWF [the European weather service and hurricane software modeler] is consistently better than the NWS [American National Weather Service and hurricane software modeler].” The former collects more data worldwide and gets more funding than the latter. (Apparently, whenever a storm is brewing near the United States, the American weather media still show the projected route of the American model, as a point of pride).

Read the book to learn: other disturbing lessons; the fate of the ship; and fascinating details of the investigation.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Ruth Bader Ginsburg” by Jane Sherron de Hart, published in 2018.

Born in Brooklyn in March 1933, Bader grew up in a cultured household. She took piano lessons, played the cello, and summered annually at her relatives’ Adirondacks camp. A voracious reader, she was sent to Hebrew school, and skipped an academic grade. However, her mother, with whom she was very close, passed away of cancer when she was seventeen.

The culture and politics of Bader’s generation “… limited aspirations and choices for young women.” The GI Bill, the Federal Housing Administration and Social Security– just to name a few sources of privilege, provided the men with resources denied the women. The far-reaching institutional discrimination they engendered was accepted as a given in American culture.

Bader received a scholarship from Harvard Law School. But, since she married before attending the school, it was naturally assumed that she no longer needed the scholarship because her-father-law would pay the tuition. Obviously, the school would have honored the scholarship if the married Bader had been male.

Unusually, though, Bader’s parents-in-law encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming an attorney, even though she was female. She was one of nine women in her class of 552 students. She made Law Review, and before graduating, had a daughter. Bader’s husband served as a true equal partner while the two alternated attending law school, and fulfilling childcare and domestic responsibilities. Before he graduated, he had a serious bout of testicular cancer.

In 1959, even though Bader graduated co-valedictorian, she couldn’t find a job due to her gender. Such prejudice was equivalent to the denial of graduate-school acceptance of Jews in the Soviet Union that lasted into the 1980’s.

With the help of a law-school professor’s aggressive recommendations, Bader ended up clerking for a judge, teaching law at Rutgers, then teaching law at Columbia University (benefiting from “Affirmative Action”), and directing legal projects on gender discrimination for the ACLU. She was super-dedicated, and worked around the clock.

Unfortunately, Bader was unable to be a major legal mover and shaker in the Women’s Movement because it was fragmented and complex with infighting. Various organizations were trying to further gender equality through litigation and lobbying, whereas, with the Civil Rights Movement, only the NAACP was trying to change laws.

Read the book to learn of how Bader became a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, a few major cases she argued during her career, the difference between “benign discrimination” and “paternalistic discrimination” and much more about her professional and personal life.

The Good Fight – BONUS POST

“The Good Fight, Hard Lessons From Searchlight to Washington” by Harry Reid, published in 2008 is an autobiography that describes the life of a man who suffered many hardships in his early years and has overcome much adversity.

Born in December 1939, Reid grew up in a limited environment in a small mining town– Searchlight– in Nevada. The area’s economy was based on mining and prostitution, not unlike Washington, D.C.

Reid’s father gravitated toward a career (gold mining) suitable for his personality–introverted loner. The author became a lawyer and U.S. senator. One issue that stuck in Reid’s craw was America’s continued involvement in President George W. Bush’s Iraq war which Bush started in 2003. Years later, when Reid was Senate Minority Leader, he visited Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld to try to convince him that the United States should withdraw troops from Iraq. Rumsfeld blew Reid off and treated the war like a joke.

When Reid and other politicians visited Iraq personally, they realized that the emperor really did have no clothes. General David Petraeus put on a show for them, exhibiting soldiers who were training Iraqis to fight on their own, similar to the way the late President Richard Nixon tried to implement “Vietnamization.”

In early 2006, the author and his fellow Democrats defeated an attempt by Bush to privatize Social Security. “We knew we had won when the White House simply stopped talking about it.”

Read the book to learn of Reid’s adventures as chair of the Nevada Gaming Commission starting in 1977, a few of his interesting law cases, and much more.

Deadly Spin

The Book of the Week is “Deadly Spin” by Wendell Potter, published in 2010. This is a book that explains how health insurance companies engage in unethical behavior in the name of profit, that results in needless deaths in the United States.

It follows then, that serving as a top executive at a health insurance company requires sociopathic tendencies, favoring money over people. One reason the insurance companies are so obsessed with their bottom lines (aside from the greed of their top executives) is that they have to answer to Wall Street.

Potter worked for Humana and then CIGNA a combined approximately twenty years as head of their public relations departments. By the late 1980’s, Humana realized it had a conflict in running a for-profit hospital and a managed-care plan simultaneously. The hospital was more than happy to maximize the stays of its most lucrative patients, while the plan’s goal was to minimize costs through preventive health care– promoting wellness.

The author learned to play the game of maximizing his employer’s profits through fighting legislative changes to his industry; and protecting, defending and enhancing his employer’s reputation. For, there was a direct relationship between his employer’s profits and his raises and bonuses. He therefore emotionally detached himself from health insurance plan members, and focused specifically on actuarial tables and legalese to help him project an image of his employer as a reasonable,  if not caring participant in patient care.

Whenever a threat to his former employers’ profits arose, such as the movie “Sicko” or proposed legislation that financially favored patients, his former employers hired a big-name, monster-sized public relations firm, and secretly co-funded and co-founded a political front group, such as “Health Care America” that publicly pretended to favor health care consumers, but truly sought to maximize insurance industry profits. The group was a propaganda machine, and an object lesson in how to lie with statistics.

Other tricks of the trade include:  “…rescinding individual policies, denying claims, cheating doctors, pushing new mothers and breast cancer patients out of the hospital prematurely and shifting costs to consumers.”

Read the book to learn additional details of the hegemony of the health insurance companies. One interesting endnote: “Obama opposed any requirement that everyone buy insurance, one of the few points on which he disagreed with Hillary.”

Indecent Exposure

The Book of the Week is “Indecent Exposure, A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street” by David McClintick, published in 1982. This volume with the provocative but misleading title had nothing to do with sex. It actually consisted of a suspenseful, albeit long story seen mostly through the eyes of Alan J. Hirschfield, the CEO and officer at Columbia, the movie company. It was about how a lack of honesty, the power of propaganda, and clashing egos basically resulted in the redistribution of wealth among the wealthy. This sort of thing happens all the time.

In February 1977, then-famous actor Cliff Robertson received a document saying he owed taxes in connection with a check he never received. He later found out that the check had been forged and cashed in his name, by David Begelman, a high-level executive at the aforesaid Columbia.

It was common practice for Hollywood studios to send movie actors checks for thousands of dollars (usually unreported to the IRS) that defrayed a small portion of their promotion expenses for a new picture. The IRS had just then begun cracking down on that taxable income. Robertson’s reaction set in motion a series of consequences that affected thousands of people; mostly financially.

Columbia was a public company, and the bad publicity resulting from news of a serious crime committed by one of its executives was a serious public relations problem. Hirschfield, who was on the board of directors, was told by an attorney that he had a duty to inform the executive committee, corporate counsel and the SEC after an internal investigation had been conducted.

As has been the case since the discovery of journalism/tabloidism, (supposedly said by Mark Twain), “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Begelman’s friends in the Hollywood community (of which the check forger had many) rushed to his defense, having heard only vague rumors that described his transgressions in euphemisms. They really had no clue that he had actually committed several felonies, it turned out. They didn’t want to know.

The friends planted tabloidy messages in the media making the excuse “Everybody Does It” because they took unethical liberties with their own expense accounts, and made Hirschfield the villain, saying he was a power-hungry, vindictive executive, as he technically did compete for power with Begelman in the company hierarchy. Hollywood’s and the public’s gullibility in automatically believing in Begelman’s innocence and Hirschfield’s treachery is human nature.

At the board meeting that initiated the long, heated discussion that would determine whether Begelman was fired, Begelman acted like a prisoner on death row who had suddenly found religion. He implied he might kill himself if removed from his primary job. But actually, anyone who knows this kind of person knows that he would be too arrogant to kill himself.

A preliminary inquiry into Begelman’s history yielded more than one serious crime during his Columbia tenure, and previous lying and other worse misdeeds. Hirschfield argued for termination, saying Begelman was unlikely to change his spots, as dishonesty was a lifelong habit with him. Over the next few years, the Hollywood community and the public, however, still having heard only distorted soundbites that minimized Begelman’s sins, fooled itself into believing they weren’t that bad, and continued to defend him.

Interesting sidenote: In 1982, in a joking context, Hirschfield exclaimed to a female friend who was high on the corporate ladder, in front of some colleagues: “Female executives suck!” She laughed. Clearly, if that was uttered in 2018, hilarity would NOT ensue.

Read the book to learn of the consequences of the stupid actions taken by most of the main characters of this entertaining saga.

The Greatest Story Ever Sold – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Greatest Story Ever Sold, The Decline and Fall of the Truth from 9/11 to Katrina” by Frank Rich, published in 2006. Rich was right when he said, “…the very idea of truth is an afterthought and an irrelevancy in a culture where the best story wins.” There have been so many “great” stories in history, but Rich obviously thought this one was the greatest.

The author argued that the George W. Bush administration was one big, taxpayer-paid-for propaganda monster that used clever timing to minimize all adverse occurrences, to paper over the greed, incompetence and evilness of its leadership. The administration used insidious strategies, including secrecy, restricting of access to information, and even censorship to muffle opponents. Sounds familiar… Unfortunately, the reason history repeats itself so often is that human nature doesn’t change.

In October 2001, American troops in Afghanistan weren’t made available to journalists– war information came from a press pool. Only Al Jazeera, an Arab network based in Qatar (not viewed in the U.S.), was allowed to show (horrific) images of the war. An organization, the Office of Strategic Influence was specially created to spread fake war-news. The New York Times blew its cover in February 2002.

Next, a year later, the administration aired an ABC-TV reality show (!) about the war in Afghanistan. Too bad it got poor ratings. In order to increase security abroad, Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered plenty of wild goose chases, arresting people left and right. No one was ever proven to be a terrorist. But numerous suspects were denied due process in military tribunals– the proceedings, legal and illegal, were all kept secret, including the torture.

One would have thought America was winning the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and on terror– but only because the American government engaged in extensive efforts to report on only war heroes and battle victories, and smear as “unpatriotic” everyone with any negative utterances (even true ones!) about the troops, the wars, war coverage (or forced lack thereof), etc.

In May 2003, Bush proclaimed, “… major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” Tell that to all the members of the American military who were redeployed immediately after their “last” tour and those who died, journalists of all nationalities who died, and Iraqis of all stripes who died in 2004, 2005, 2006…

By 2004, needless deaths numbered in the hundreds. That was before the propaganda blitz helped Bush to beat John Kerry in his re-election bid. A litany of liars from the Bush campaign screamed louder and longer, and apparently more convincingly than Kerry’s.

Another example of how effective repetition can be: Question: How is it known that six million Jews died in the Holocaust? Answer: The Jews have been screaming that figure louder and longer than anyone for the last seventy years.

If, for instance, the Democrats were to scream for the next two years (not that they should, but if they did) that Donald Trump declared business bankruptcy six times (!!!!!!) during his business career, such repetition might influence voters. Not that the Holocaust is comparable to financial ruin.

But a few media outlets would have viewers believe that the current presidency’s recent political scandals have ruined numerous lives and caused permanent ruptures in the fabric of the universe. If any recent presidency has done that, it was the George Bush administration.

Sadly, there wasn’t room enough in the book to mention the numerous other ways the president’s henchmen employed thought-control on the American populace during the Bush/Kerry election. However, one was a viral, comedic, animated/cgi music video created by the Spiridellis brothers, “This Land!”– a parody of the folk song “This Land is Your Land, This Land Is My Land.” It helped to give the impression that Kerry was big on bragging about his three purple hearts he received fighting in the Vietnam War while Bush was macho. Arguably, the video favored Bush.

Other memorable messages the media spewed against Kerry was that he was “un-presidential” and his wife displayed behavior unbecoming a potential first lady.

Read the book to learn why the author thought that Bush was worse than the late former president Richard Nixon; and how much taxpayers shelled out for the scripted, repulsive, libelous, slanderous reality-show featuring a morally bankrupt cast of characters that was the George W. Bush administration.

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

The Book of the Week is “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate” by Al Franken, published in 2017.

Born in 1951, Al Franken grew up in Minnesota. His career as a comedy writer for the TV show Saturday Night Live spanned about fifteen non-consecutive years, starting with its first season in 1975. He also entertained American servicemen in the Middle East in the single-digit 2000’s.

Franken wrote that Norm Coleman put his own life and other American lives in danger because he failed to make sure that Americans stationed in Iraq in 2003 were provided with adequate protective gear. Coleman’s job was to oversee war contracting of equipment and hold hearings when he witnessed fraud, waste or abuse. He held zero hearings; Harry S Truman, who held a similar position during the United State’s WWII preparations, held 432 hearings.

Then, after decades in show business, Franken really sold out and entered politics. He eventually ran against Norm Coleman for the office of U.S. senator from Minnesota. Coleman, petty and litigious, contested the election results to the maximum– a recipe for sky-high legal bills and time-consuming nonsense; eight months to be exact… wait for it… Franken won.

Franken’s political opponents were masters at using misleading statistics. Fortunately, his sensitivity to liars was on high-alert. He pointed out that by 2016, the Republican landscape was littered with broken promises. They had failed to prove that Kenya was Obama’s birthplace, were unable to bankrupt Planned Parenthood by stripping it of subsidies, and failed to overhaul the new national healthcare system. Franken expressed his skepticism about replacing that last item. Ever.

Read the book to learn what it’s like to be a senator, what Franken was still seeking to accomplish politically at the book’s writing, and the (funny!) jokes he couldn’t tell in public (uncensored!).