The Nation Got Run Over – BONUS POST

[Please note: The word “Featured” on the left side above was NOT inserted by this blogger, but apparently was inserted by WordPress, and it cannot be removed. NO post in this blog is sponsored.]

THE NATION GOT RUN OVER BY A PLAGUE HERE

sung to the tune of “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” with apologies to Randy Brooks, Elmo (and Patsy) Trigg, and whichever other rights holders this may concern.

The nation got run over by a plague here
from years of White House gyrations election eve.
You can say political donors play Santa
and voters have no CLUE what to believe.

Some are drinking too much Kool-Aid
and others abuse their power so.
Still others scream for medication.
The hostility of some has reached a new low.

When they confined us in 2020,
they began a dangerous age.
We resented the intrusion,
and our State is such
we have yet to turn the page.

The nation got run over by a plague here
from years of White House gyrations election eve.
You can say political donors play Santa
and voters have no CLUE what to believe.

It’s less than A year until midterms.
Our leaders’ messaging’s a joke.
See no masks on players of football
while tests and shots are FORCED on powerless folk.

It’s not nice to fool the people.
All the nation’s mad as hell,
and we just can’t help but wonder,
how much more must we endure before we’re well?

The nation got run over by a plague here
from years of White House gyrations election eve.
You can say political donors play Santa
and voters have no CLUE what to believe.

Soon the voters get to DEcide
whose heads are going to roll.
All those blue and red state mandates
are going to change pursuant to every political poll.

I urge all my fellow Americans:
you need to follow politics and vote.
The government has taken license
to curb our freedoms
and make their enemies the scapegoat.

The nation got run over by a plague here
from years of White House gyrations election eve.
You can say political donors play Santa
and voters have no CLUE what to believe.

The nation got run over by a plague here
from years of White House gyrations election eve.
You can say political donors play Santa
and voters have no CLUE what to believe.

Fatal Subtraction

[Please note: The word “Featured” on the left side above was NOT inserted by this blogger, but apparently was inserted by WordPress, and it cannot be removed. NO post in this blog is sponsored.]

The Book of the Week is “Fatal Subtraction, How Hollywood Really Does Business” by Pierce O’Donnell and Dennis McDougal, published in 1992.

“I asked myself whether this uncanny similarity and anticompetitive market was the result of coincidence or conspiracy. Thanks to my populist tendencies and a healthy distrust of powerful institutions, I opted for the sinister explanation.”

Politics? Big Tech? Medical, legal, music, sports or oil industry?

The above quote happens to refer (in various ways) to all of the major Hollywood movie studios, just after their most lucrative years. The skyrocketing size of the home video market in the 1980’s made movie studios richer and richer, what with cable TV, VCRs and global distribution. They retained the best entertainment law firms on an ongoing basis so that whenever any powerless parties who felt wronged, tried to hire those firms to bring legal actions against them, there were conflicts of interest.

In 1988, Art Buchwald and Alain Bernheim– respectively a seasoned humorous newspaper writer and lecturer who dabbled in the movie industry, and a producer– sued Paramount Pictures Corporation for thirteen causes of action; among them, breach of contract in connection with the movie Coming to America starring Eddie Murphy. They were fortunate in that they were able to hire a big firm and could afford to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire topnotch attorneys to fight a years-long legal battle.

The crux of the dispute involved the boilerplate contracts almost everyone in Hollywood was compelled by their agents to sign, in order to get work. The studios engaged in cartelizing behavior, so the powerless creative personnel were at their mercy at contract-signing. Only a tiny percentage of powerful elite stars reaped a ton of money for all movies they did, regardless of financial success. The agents claimed they were getting great deals for their less powerful talent, but that was a lie. For, starting in the 1950’s, the contracts evolved pursuant to the studios’ shady accounting practices, in a way that cheated screenwriters especially.

By the dawn of the 1990’s, big-name actors were allowed to behave like prima donnas, basically enjoying excessive expense accounts and reaping outrageously generous compensation from gross movie revenues. The movie idea originators and writers received net profit participation– i.e., the crumbs after all expenses had been deducted. The studios’ definition of “profit” was topsy turvy so when it came time to pay lowly workers, they claimed their movies were losing money!

O’Donnell and his legal team argued that certain provisions in Buchwald’s and Bernheim’s contracts were unconscionable, and therefore legally unenforceable. On principle, the studios’ oligopoly was economically bad not just for his clients, but for society (See this blog’s post “Wikinomics / Courting Justice”).

Read the book to learn every last detail of the case.

One for the Earth

The Book of the Week is “One for the Earth, Journal of A Sierra Club President” by Susan D. Merrow with Wanda A. Rickerby, published in 1992.

The Sierra Club, founded in May 1892, began with about one hundred members. Its original goal was to prevent the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California from becoming further polluted. Sadly, through the decades, the need for such an organization has grown exponentially. The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, a group that began using the Club’s name, actually helped raise more funds than otherwise for the Club, but took public stances with which the original group disagreed.

Beginning in May 1990, Merrow was appointed president of the Club for a year’s term. She had acquired previous experience teaching adult education classes and lobbying the Connecticut state government on environmental matters. Her new job– for which she received no salary, only reimbursement of expenses– required constant travel. Volunteers did the bulk of the Club’s work. Her and her employer’s major frustration with the then-federal government was that it was regressive in connection with all kinds of energy issues.

The Club’s lobbyists were awfully busy contacting politicians about: incinerators, recycling, composting and source reduction, increasing gas mileage and decreasing emissions in newer cars, advocating for stopping oil drilling in the Arctic, reducing pollution on land and in the sea and in the air, and arguing for stricter waste-disposal laws, etc., etc., etc.

It might be recalled that a year prior, the Exxon Valdez oil spill left about 380,000 birds dead, and resulted in severe health issues for many animals and plants, including hundreds of species of mollusks, fish and coral-reef animals, dolphins and whales. The then-legal case that might compensate injured parties (Alaska and the United States) for the disaster was still pending. However, in April 1990, Exxon suggested that it pay $100 million to settle the civil and criminal charges against it. Tens of studies done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed grievous (and probably irreparable) harm that (if a dollar value had to be put on it) was estimated at $1.1 billion.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, astute people knew that the Clean Air Act that was then working its way through the Congressional-passage process would become diluted by profiteers aided by propagandists. In autumn 1990, the Bryan Bill– mandating the manufacturing of more fuel-efficient cars– was stalled too, by lobbyists in the oil and auto industries, and by other presidential supporters.

The First Gulf War wreaked environmental destruction (now forgotten by Americans) consisting of “… soot from 600 burning oil wells… cloud over farmland and villages in Turkey and Iran… rain filled with toxic chemicals, polluted both the air and water. Severe respiratory illness, cancer, and ruined crops…”

On a diplomatic mission, the author visited staffers at three different magazines: Good Housekeeping, Sports Illustrated, and Seventeen. She hoped to get articles published for targeted readers of their respective, widely different demographic groups in whose interest it was to save the earth.

One concept the author conveyed was that protecting the habitat of one species, aids in the survival of all of the other species in that habitat. So ensuring a safe environment for the bobolink helps: “…lichens, apple trees, ladybugs, sumac, earthworms, chipmunks, monarch butterflies, white birches, wild blueberry bushes, goldenrod, red foxes– even humans.” The flip side is that one negative consequence leads to another when the food chain is disrupted (See this blog’s post, Rat Island).

Read the book to learn what happened to the Johnston-Wallop bill, and much more about the author’s trials, tribulations and triumphs.

Made In China

The Book of the Week is “Made in China, A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Costs of America’s Cheap Goods” by Amelia Pang, published in 2021.

“A guard grabbed a prisoner by his hair, twisted his head, and smashed his face into a heater… They beat him with electric batons until his body convulsed, then hung him by his wrists for two weeks– with his toes barely touching the ground.”

No, the above describes not the Holocaust, not a lynching, but a forced-labor camp in China in 2008 (!)

In the last few decades, the Chinese government has committed human rights abuses against its own citizens– not only dissidents, but also against a group called the Falun Gong (a group that practices exercises, meditation, and espouses certain lifestyle choices). Such citizens are sent to slave-labor camps, where they are tortured and starved but kept alive long enough to serve their sentences by making consumer goods (for export) for no pay amid extremely squalid conditions; they are charged with crimes and punished through what would be considered a complete violation of American-style due process.

In China, as of 2013, the camps numbered an estimated one thousand, at minimum. The author wrote that in all her research, she found only one American company that was ever prosecuted for importing consumer goods from such a camp in China, in the course of twenty years. The camps are bad enough, but to add more shock value to the already unspeakable horrors, the camps are a source of black-market transplant-organs in China, estimated to be worth $1 billion. In December 2013, China said it would be converting its reeducation (brainwashing) camps to ones that imposed labor for drug rehabilitation instead. However, the lipstick on the pig didn’t change the pig.

The main focus of the book was the true story of a man named Sun– a Falun Gong member who was sentenced to two and a half years to an aforementioned camp. He risked his life to hand-write a note containing a desperate plea for help, that ended up in the package of a Halloween product purchased by a woman in Oregon in the United States.

In 2016, Big Brother was growing ever more intrusive in China, as Turkic Muslims (the Uyghur tribe and Kazhaks), were targeted for “blood tests, fingerprints, voice recordings, and facial scans.” An estimated three million of twelve million of them are detained in the camps. They live in a location where China borders more than a few strategically located nations on the Silk Road– still a crucial trade route. The Chinese government doesn’t want any rebellious behavior from them. Reeducation is the goal, besides the economic benefits for China. All of them are forced to speak Mandarin, or else.

The author wrote with some alarm, that the torture chambers for victimized ethnic groups are arguably genocidal. She suggested that China’s atrocities might become comparable to the Holocaust all over again. But– this is not a Hitler situation, and is unlikely to become one. This, because Hitler had grand designs to take over the world through arming a military that committed imperialism, and creating a master race through eliminating the Jews and others he deemed genetically inferior– through genocide.

Matters will eventually come to a head when a significant proportion of the two minority populations are in the camps, and the export market is oversaturated with goods made by them, sold through big-name companies like Nike, Apple, BMW, Amazon, etc. An economic slowdown will mean a reduction in the need for the camps. (That’s NOT to say that the camps should exist, or that nothing should be done to stop the atrocities.)

International outcry will eventually reach critical mass, so that pressure will be brought to bear on China to reduce its human rights abuses, through economic punishments. Unlike most of the rest of the world, –like clockwork every two years– the United States holds elections for some powerful federal and state offices during which, a significant number of Chinese voters can influence political candidates to take a stand on this issue.

Anyway, read the book to learn additional details about Sun’s fate, and how the situation can be changed for the better.

The Most Dangerous Man In Detroit

The Book of the Week is “The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit, Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor” by Nelson Lichtenstein, published in 1995.

Born in September 1907 in West Virginia, Walter Reuther was of German ancestry, raised Lutheran. He quit high school to learn the tool and die trade. In February 1927, he and a friend moved to Detroit for better pay and hours. He eventually made his way to Ford Motor Company, where he quickly rose through the ranks before the Great Depression hit America.

In the early 1930’s, Ford opened a plant to manufacture its Model “A” in the Soviet Union. Americans who believed in socialism were aware that the Stalin-led Soviet government ruled via one party– the Communist, and was perpetrating human rights abuses. But they liked certain economic aspects of its experimental “Five Year Plan.”

Beginning in early 1933, Walter and his brother Victor bicycled a distance of approximately twelve thousand kilometers during the nine months they were meeting with their European political contacts in various countries. In spring 1933, they were already seeing Fascist oppression in major German cities. In late 1933, they began working in a few Soviet industrial complexes to see labor and political conditions for themselves.

By the late 1930’s, the famine caused by Stalin’s disastrous agricultural-reform program prompted peasant-farmers to go to work in the factories that made steel, cars and tractors. In mid-1934, since they were foreigners and skilled middle-managers (training workers in tool and die making), Walter and Victor were permitted to travel between Stalingrad and Moscow to visit construction projects, collective farms and tractor factories. They were chaperoned by Party bureaucrats. They got special treatment, so perhaps they did not see the abuses suffered by unskilled workers. Their experiences led them to believe that the Soviet system was far less of a police-state than Germany’s.

Walter and Victor wanted to believe so badly in a Soviet workers’ paradise that they rationalized away the serious problems (such as impossible-to-meet production quotas, and reports of fancifully high numbers of vehicles manufactured). In 1934, on supervised tours, the brothers also took a look at labor conditions in China and Japan. October 1935 saw them return to the United States.

On May Day of 1936, in major cities across America, various political groups were speaking in the public square with the goal of unionizing workers; some of them– the Socialists, Proletarian and Communist parties– united to form a Popular Front (the joke in Spain was, “the girl with the Popular Front”).

By the mid-1930’s, the auto industry (which included carmakers, parts suppliers, tool and die makers, etc.) consisted of about a half million union members, thirty thousand of whom were in the United Auto Workers (UAW), a national union. In autumn 1936, Walter became a member of that union’s executive board. He planned and got employees to execute work-stoppages and sit-down strikes in order to get the big automakers like GM, Ford, Chrysler and Dodge to grant collective bargaining rights exclusively to the UAW. Other workplaces such as U.S. Steel were inspired to take such actions, too.

Ford was particularly hostile in its anti-union activities, as it had an in-house security department that spied on workers, fired some, and used violence against photographers. GM took measures to protect against productivity losses by rotating its parts suppliers and building new plants in different locations.

In the late 1930’s, Walter launched propaganda campaigns with the distribution of leaflets, and ran pro-union candidates in local political elections in Midwestern cities. In October 1945, he knew that his UAW workers couldn’t win their strike on just solidarity and militancy. He needed support from other ordinary Americans and the federal government. In January 1946, union workers in a bunch of other industries struck, too; electrical, meatpacking, steel milling, and iron mining.

By the late 1940’s, the power of the unions and corruption in government skyrocketed, so that organized crime used bribery, patronage-contracts and and physical violence in order to rule the “… construction industry, short haul trucking, East Coast longshoring , and the bakery and restaurant trades.”

It is a little-publicized datum that in 1962, president Kennedy granted a cut to all taxpayers that favored corporate America, which also got tax breaks. The rich got richer. That same year, members of the UAW executive board included 21 Caucasians, and one African American, whom they knew wouldn’t buck the status quo.

By then, Walter, a liberal, realized he had been incorrect in thinking that the American labor movement would eliminate discrimination in the workplace when the unions and the economy were strong. But he was still stubborn in insisting on an all-or-nothing egalitarianism. Others of his political ilk, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Hubert Humphrey and Adlai Stevenson were willing to compromise with the Dixiecrats (Southern Democrats who opposed civil-rights legislation) to make a little progress rather than none. The following year, Walter had become more flexible, as he was friendly with JFK and his brother.

In July 1967, the race riots in Detroit resulted in the deaths of 43 people and $250 million in property damage. The mayor, and the governor of Michigan assigned a 39-member panel of leaders and influencers in the community to suggest solutions for quelling hostilities. Various actions were taken; among the major ones:

  • throwing money at low-cost housing;
  • hiring of black workers at Ford and GM; and
  • throwing money at black community groups

but nothing seemed to help. The automakers moved their plants from Detroit to Troy and Dearborn.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information on Walter’s trials, tribulations, triumphs, and disputes with the AFL and CIO (unions competing against, and with different views from, the UAW); the growing-pains of the labor movement– how it was affected by: the WWII years (hint– the government ordered it to make war weaponry), political elections, regulation of pricing / wages / production in the steel industry, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War; how and why different automakers’ compensation structures changed, and much more. See this blog’s post “See You In Court” for more information on the pros and cons of unions in America.

Serpent on the Rock

The Book of the Week is “Serpent on the Rock” by Kurt Eichenwald, published in 1995.

This volume contained an egregious error. It appeared in an anecdote about a member of the Belzberg family, Canadian Orthodox-Jews. In the late 1970’s, Belzberg was acquiring a large quantity of stock of the retail brokerage named Bache, so one of Bache’s executives met with him, to find out his intentions.

As the meeting ended, the author wrote that Belzberg shook hands with the Bache executive. That was obviously a fictionalized detail of the story, because Orthodox Jews do not shake hands with, or touch others, except for close family members.

Anyway, in the second half of the 1970’s, tax shelters became trendy in the securities industry. In the 1980’s, Bache (with a shady reputation in the first place) sold tax shelters in the form of limited partnerships of various kinds (oil and real estate were the most common) and reaped fat fees of as much as 8%. On a bunch of them, printed marketing communications illegally contained material omissions and misstatements.

Bache’s clients were clearly unsophisticated, because anyone with a minimal knowledge of finance should have seen that the objectives of the investment were contradictory: “income, growth and safety” (!)

Brokers dispensed with the printed prospectuses (which contained disclaimers required by law), and focused on verbally selling the money-losing financial instruments to their clients. They lied about the projected financial returns (14 to 15%, when they were pretty sure there would actually be disastrous losses). They called the investments “safe”– a word that should NEVER be used on Wall Street. The proper lingo should be “low-risk” and only when that’s the truth. The limited partnerships were “high-risk.”

One man, Jim Darr, became particularly powerful in the Direct Investment Group, and engaged in a boatload of excessively greedy, unethical activities and white-collar crimes that made him fabulously wealthy. In 1983, he flew all the way to a small thrift bank in Arkansas to get a home loan of $1.8 million to purchase a mansion in Connecticut. At that time, there were plenty of local lenders he could have approached.

Another sleazy character, Clifton Harrison, after pulling his last act of unbelievable thievery, gave the excuse, “I’ve just been borrowing some money against future fees.” Read the book to learn more about the various individuals who shaped Bache’s history, and what became of them.

ENDNOTE: The above shenanigans happens every few years in the United States. The line from the movie “That Thing You Do” describes it perfectly: A very common tale, boys, a very common tale. Here is a brief elaboration of the last forty years:

Steps of the American Politico-Economic Cycle

  1. An extremely pro-business president comes to power.
  2. Excessive deregulation ensues.
  3. Shady financial instruments and money-making vehicles spike in popularity (tax shelters, savings and loan associations, goodwill valuations, junk bonds, derivatives, dot-com stocks, stock-options-repricing, subprime mortgages, payday lenders, for-profit colleges, the PACE program, etc., etc., etc.)
  4. Out-of-control greed ensues.
  5. Profiteers of all political persuasions dispense with ethical behavior.
  6. The bubble bursts. A financial crash ensues.
  7. Lawsuit time!
  8. The impoverishment rate accelerates for the middle class and the poor.
  9. Election time. “It’s the economy, stupid.” Whether true or not (usually not!), campaign-propaganda convinces voters that the president is solely responsible for their personal financial situations.
  10. The reelected president, or one from the same party, continues some of the same hog-wild policies, or the new president reverses what he can. Re-regulation ensues.
  11. Time for another round of Survival Roulette (See this blog’s post, “Blind Ambition”).
  12. Opposition-propagandists pull strings to reverse what the new president reversed. They make voters impatient for improvement, even though undoing the damage takes years and years.
  13. Election time. Repeat steps 1-12.