The Truths We Hold

The Book of the Week is “The Truths We Hold, An American Journey” by Kamala Harris, published in 2019. This autobiography comes from yet another female in politics who deserves bragging rights. Her passion for justice and common-sense, early-intervention approaches to helping at-risk populations has made a difference in countless lives.

Born in Oakland, California in 1964, the author considers herself “black” although her father was from Jamaica and her mother, from India. Her parents divorced when she was five. She, her mother and younger sister moved to Montreal when she was twelve.

Harris acquired the power to put someone behind bars simply by signing a document, when she became a prosecutor in Berkeley, California. Upon getting elected district attorney in San Francisco, she co-founded a program– Back On Track– that helped first-time law-breakers escape the poverty cycle by helping themselves through: job training, community service, classes that taught GED tutoring and parenting and money management, and drug testing and counseling.

For the first two years of Back On Track’s existence, the recidivism rate among first offenders dropped from 50% to 10%. That turned out to be far less expensive than prosecuting and jailing or imprisoning such people. The program was duplicated in Los Angeles.

In 2010, at a little after 10PM on election night, the San Francisco Chronicle announced the alleged elected attorney-general of California. As is well known, though, newspapers are hugely influential and wrong all the time. But election coverage especially, is emotionally charged. At 11PM, Harris’s opponent, thinking he was the winner, gave an acceptance speech. Weeks later, Harris won the race.

Harris’s was the first state to implement the mandatory use of body cameras for its law enforcement agents. On a different issue, the attorneys general of all fifty states were involved in settlement talks for the subprime mortgage crisis. The big banks were offering literally– a little bit of compensation proportional to the disastrous losses of the residents of respective states, who were behind on their mortgages. Even reasonable reimbursement would not make anyone whole again because bad loans led to adverse subsequent events: joblessness, homelessness, relocations, major life disruptions, suicides.

California had had the highest number of foreclosures of any state (and various victims– not just homeowners– had red ink in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the aggregate). By rejecting the banks’ initial, insulting offer– Harris infuriated both the banks, and most other states’ negotiators. But she inspired grass-roots organizers of homeowners, activists and advocacy groups to push for “…justice for millions of people who needed and deserved help.”

Read the book to learn about: the exciting conclusion of California’s mortgage negotiations saga; Harris’ opinions and actual professional doings in connection with major modern social issues such as immigration and healthcare, and her mother’s cancer care– along with other personal information.

ENDNOTE: Unfortunately, Harris’ running mate, Joe Biden, appears to be less sharp than she is at this time. Here’s a parody that briefly describes his woes:

LAWYERS, LAWYERS AND LAWYERS

sung to the tune of “Lawyers, Guns and Money” with apologies to the Estate of Warren Zevon.

I served some global patrons

the way I always do.

How was I to know, they were with the Russians, too?

I was caught on video bragging.

I hope you take my case.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

I’m trying to save some face. Hah!

I’m an innocent candidate,

but somehow I got caught.

Now I’ve been betrayed

by those who have been bought.

Yes, those who have been bought.

Well, those who have been bought.

Now I’m hiding in my basement.

I hope to stay in the race.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Save me from disgrace.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers. Hah!

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers. Ow!

Eyewitness to Power – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Eyewitness to Power, The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton” by David Gergen, published in 2000.

The author, who worked in various capacities in four presidential administrations, wrote about the components that comprise the best presidential leadership. He drew upon theories and comparisons of historians and political scientists in crafting his arguments.

One other kind of source he could have used more often, was numerous personal accounts such as his own, written by insiders– permanent staffers of presidential administrations– because such horse’s mouth records can provide corroboration on incidents and events from different perspectives; the least inaccurate version of the truth.

Gergen said John Keegan identified six major leaders who shaped the twentieth century: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse Tung, FDR and Churchill– only the last two of whom presided over democracies. As is well known, the last two also inspired other Western nations to help defeat Fascism, as the cliche goes. Had it not been for their leadership, arguably, the world might have seen the collapse of modern civilization.

During Nixon’s second term, Gergen supervised speech-writing, whose approximately fifty contributors included writers, researchers, administrators and correspondents. He continued working in a hostile environment, because it is human nature, especially among the young, to overlook flaws in an employer-leader in a goal-oriented group-effort, as “… Your wagon’s hitched to a star, and you resent those on the outside who tarnish the adventure.”

According to Larry Sabato, the American presidency is subjected to turmoil about every fifty years: in the 1870’s, there was the Credit Mobilier scandal under president Grant; the 1920’s saw the Teapot Dome shenanigans under Harding; and in the 1970’s, the United States suffered the consequences of a bunch of evil conspiracies under Nixon.

BUT– the author published this book BEFORE the early 2000’s, when the second Iraq War and its associated profiteering, abuse of power and other unconscionable activities became the norm under the leadership of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The author did write, “Whether George W. Bush or Al Gore is elected president in 2000, the winner must place strict safeguards against the abuses of the Clinton years.” Good luck with that.

Gergen also opined that Gorbachev, more than Reagan, put the nail in the coffin of Communism by introducing open-minded reforms because the Soviets could no longer avoid the fact that their empire was crumbling. In November 1989, Gorbachev courageously told his country’s military to refrain from retaliating against the people dismantling the Berlin Wall.

Gergen went on to overlook the negative economic consequences of Reagan’s policies, and unfairly, oversimplify comparisons between recent American presidents through bare-bones generalizations.

Gergen felt that Bill and Hillary Clinton should have provided the Washington Post with all the documents that it was demanding, on Whitewater– a real estate investment entity (that might have committed wrongdoing in connection with Bill’s activities as Arkansas governor, but was unrelated to Bill’s presidential activities). The newspaper threatened to give the president bad press otherwise. However, the Post is neither a congressional committee nor a duly appointed federal investigator. The Clintons rightly refused.

At the time, as one of their political consultants, Gergen thought that if the Clintons had submitted the documents to clear themselves, relentless assaults on their privacy for purposes of political retaliation would have ceased. Oh, and Bill could have accomplished so much more during his presidency, absent those later distractions.

Additionally, Gergen made a comparison that was apples-to-oranges with Nixon’s refusal to reveal what he was doing. For, the Pentagon Papers were leaked to the press and showed at the very least, probable cause of crimes of the president’s activities. There was no probable cause in the Clintons’ case.

Gergen mentioned three crucial aspects to governing: mutual trust and respect between the executive and legislative branches, and long-term integrity. Major laws that have stood the test of time were passed because the president “… understood what it means to govern. A permanent campaign is its antithesis.”

A president who does nothing but seek reelection (via rallies and the like) will obviously say or do anything to get reelected, as the cliche goes. Besides, as America has seen, two factors that can get a candidate elected president– regardless of competence– are inheritance and a power vacuum at the top.

Gergen pointed out that both Truman and Reagan had street-smarts but lacked extensive academic smarts. Yet with 20/20 hindsight, historians have come to laud the political prowess of their administrations. It is interesting to note as well, that the most recent five presidents in a row have attended Ivy League schools, but have had uneven records, to say the least.

So clearly, formal education is only one of a motley group of traits that maximizes a president’s effectiveness. Gergen listed others: “… knowledge, temperament, faith in the future that leads to wise decisions and responsible leadership… core competence and emotional intelligence, courage… clear purpose that is rooted in the nation’s core values as stated in the Declaration of Independence.”

Read the book to learn a slew of details on presidential administrations’ natures and actions that Gergen contended represented good or bad leadership.

Pepper

The Book of the Week is “Pepper, Eyewitness to a Century” by Claude Denson Pepper With Hays Gorey, published in 1987.

Pepper, the oldest of four children, was born in September 1900 in rural Alabama to a Baptist, farming family. In 1928, he ran for the office of Florida state representative. He got permission from a competing candidate in his own Democratic party to be listed as a second choice on the ballot, and got elected.

In 1933, hankering for higher office, Pepper traveled around Florida, generating support for his party. The Kiwanis club paid half of his expenses in exchange for his urging its chapters to participate in the state convention to be held in Tallahassee. In those days, while campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat, he was also allowed to drive around the state’s public places, announcing through bullhorns attached to the car, the times and places of his speaking engagements. His opponent– an old and tired incumbent, paid the poll tax of Italian and Spanish voters who lived in West Tampa and Ibo City. The incumbent won the election through that action and other forms of foul play.

Pepper was elected to the Senate in 1936. He bragged about how he played a key role in introducing the March 1941 “Lend-Lease” legislation that provided crucial assistance to England and the U.S.S.R. during WWII, and how his national-healthcare-proposal gave rise to funding for hospital construction and cancer research. However, voters in Florida’s northern counties that bordered Georgia were less than thrilled with his pro-civil-rights stance.

In autumn 1945, seeking to gain foreign-policy experience (because in the future he hoped to become chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) Pepper met with high-level leaders in nineteen different countries; among them Stalin, Leon Blum and leaders in soon-to-be Soviet satellites. In 1946 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the author attended a rally for vice-president Henry Wallace. Press photos were snapped of him, standing next to Paul Robeson.

The author was complacent about his 1950 Senate reelection bid, because in southern states, incumbents were traditionally returned to office as long as they avoided getting caught for financial crimes or having extramarital affairs. Unfortunately, he was gobsmacked by his political opponents’ smear campaign. A week before primary election day in May 1950, Pepper’s opponent– George Smathers– stabbed him in the back. Years before, Pepper had helped Smathers get his first job in politics.

The Smathers camp distributed a book compiled by hate-mongers and funded by the long-time vicious political operative, Ed Ball. That book contained photos of enemies of the southern Republicans, with whom Pepper had been associating; of diverse ethnicities and political views. The captions– taken out of context, of course– screamed that Pepper was a treasonous “nigger lover” and “Communist” who was going to reveal nuclear secrets and hand over America’s natural resources to the Soviets.

Pepper was blissfully unaware of this abomination until two days before voting day. Even after all that, Pepper still claimed that a democracy necessitated the allowance of all forms of free speech, including childish, negative utterances consisting of “… name-calling, questioning of motives, or assassination of character.”

General criticism against Pepper’s party included blaming FDR and Truman for meekly allowing the Soviets to march into Eastern Europe. One counter-argument to that, was that the United Stated had just been through an exhausting war, and wasn’t all that keen on launching the requisite World War Three that would stop the Soviets from committing further aggression.

Fast forward to the early 1980’s. Pepper was serving as a Democratic Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives. His introduction of a bill was thwarted by the Chair of the Rules Committee. That outrageously powerful Chair could refuse to hold a meeting so that he could stop the passage of a law he didn’t like, even if it had the support of “…the president, leadership of the House, and a majority of the Committee.”

Read the book to learn: about a myriad of other ways American politics have hardly changed in at least the last seventy years; what Pepper did as head of the House Select Committee on Crime in the early 1970’s; how he made his political comeback, and much more about his life and times.

Hugo Black

The Book of the Week is “Hugo Black, A Biography” by Roger K. Newman, published in 1994. It is ironic that the Caucasian subject’s name was Black, as he was involved in many civil-rights controversies.

Born in 1886 in Clay County, Alabama, Black grew up in a small, poor, agricultural community. When he himself was fourteen, his father died of complications from alcoholism. He completed two years of medical school and passed his exams in becoming a doctor like his older brother, but lacked passion. He was more suited to lawyering, so he also graduated with honors in two years from the University of Alabama.

Black’s legal career started to flourish only after he moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where the culture allowed him to meet important people including a mentor, and get experience in labor law. In the single-digit 1900’s, the segregated-by-skin-color city was still an Old South aristocracy that offered hard manual work for blacks (which comprised nearly half the population) in coal, iron, railroads and steel. There were also: numerous taverns, brothels and churches, and a growing temperance movement.

Black joined as many social and civic organizations as he could because he knew they could further his careers in law (representing labor unions) and politics. In 1910, his mentor pressured him into becoming a low-level criminal-court judge for a year to give him more experience from a different perspective. By 1914, Black was elected Jefferson County solicitor (equivalent to district attorney) as a Democrat. He quit in 1917 to join the U.S. Army.

As a litigator, Black was a master of courtroom histrionics. He was not below furthering his career to take on a morally repugnant case, such as defending a friend who had committed murder. In 1923, Black joined the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan stood for unions and of course, white supremacy; spewed hatred against corporations and immigration, and committed physical violence against Catholics, Jews, blacks, etc. Into the 1930’s in the state of Alabama, the group’s political power was so dominant that one was required to be a member in order to win any election in Alabama.

When asked about his membership later by anti-New Dealers, Black rationalized and minimized and lied and said everybody joined in those days, and then changed the subject. Alabama senator Oscar Underwood’s career ended in May 1925 when he spoke out against the K.K.K. Not only that– Underwood was forced to move to Virginia. Ironically, there were poor whites who voted for Black (for Alabama senator) only because the K.K.K. paid their $1.50 poll tax in 1927.

Black was a voracious reader, attacking the Senate library, absorbing biographies and writings of ancient Greek and Roman bigwigs. He was anti-immigration and also anti-trust. In 1933, he led an investigation in the latter area involving “Destroyed records, competitive bidding shunned, questionably large salaries and profits– the picture that emerged was depressingly familiar.” By the end of the 1930’s, other anti-trust cases that grabbed newspaper headlines made the dueling ideologies of the New Deal and Wall Street, cliches.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. military ordered Japanese people on the West Coast to be confined to concentration camps. Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson considered such action to be racism, and arguably a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as it was violating the Japanese’s due-process rights, treating them as though they were already guilty of a crime. Justice Black thought that wartime made such action permissible, because no one could know who was loyal and who was disloyal to the United States.

In addition to civil-rights cases in the 1940’s, the Supreme Court handled a voting-redistricting case. The majority opinion was that it was up to state legislatures to “…apportion properly or to invoke the ample powers of Congress.” But, as with (now) countless cases, “How the people could obtain a remedy from the body that perpetuated the abuse was never explained: it is to admit there is no remedy.” Additional cases on redistricting were adjudicated in the early 1960’s. Meanwhile, as is well known, a series of hotly debated civil-rights cases came down the pike.

In 1963, Black’s take on sit-ins and protests was influenced by his childhood experiences. His father owned a store. He developed the firm belief that the store was his family’s private property, and his father could bar anyone from it, for trespassing. Entering private property was not a Constitutional right, even if people sitting at a lunch counter were perfectly willing to pay for food that the owner refused to serve them.

A sit-in in Black’s mind was an issue of private property, not free speech. He also felt that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s peaceful protests should have been prohibited because there was the potential for crowds to become violent. That was also not a matter of free speech, but of action– also not protected by the Constitution. Unsurprisingly for the times, in Birmingham in spring 1963, “Television showed police dogs attacking peaceful marchers and fire hoses thrashing at them… ” which were actions ordered by Alabama governor George C. Wallace.

Read the book to learn every last detail of how Black became a U.S. Supreme Court associate justice, plus much more about Black’s life, times and Supreme Court cases.

Pharma

The Book of the Week is “Pharma– Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America” by Gerald Posner, published in 2020.

In 2016, the “superbug” Enterobacteriaceae turned out to be resistant to 26 different antibiotics. About half of patients who contract it, die. There are a bunch of other similar bacteria in the world. The author warned that in the future, a bacterial pandemic was on the way, for which there would be no antibiotic cure. Apparently, there can be a viral pandemic, too– one that cannot be treated with antibiotics at all.

For, antibiotics kill only bacteria, if that. Yet, in the United States, for decades, antibiotics have been prescribed to treat (mild!) viral illnesses. That is one major reason that superbugs have become a trend. And there has been an epidemic of diabetes type II. And many other adverse consequences.

Anyway, the author recounted the history of big-name drug companies, which began selling morphine to soldiers during the American Civil War. In the second half of the 1800’s, Pfizer, Squibb, Wyeth, Parke-Davis, Eli Lilly, and Burroughs-Wellcome began mostly as family proprietorships that sold highly addictive, unregulated drugs. Bayer produced heroin in 1898. The twentieth century saw Merck put cocaine in its products; other companies jumped on the cocaine bandwagon.

In 1904, the head of the United States government’s Bureau of Chemistry, Harvey Wiley, was concerned about contaminants in the nation’s food supply. Consumers were being sickened by chemicals that were supposed to retard spoilage or enhance the appeal of foods. They included, but were far from limited to: borax, salicylic acid, formaldehyde, benzoate, copper sulfate and sulfites. Trendy patent medicines were also doing harm to consumers. The word “patent” gave the impression of approval or regulation of some kind, but actually meant nothing.

Through the first third of the twentieth century, the government continued categorizing, monitoring and taxing drugs, but the pharmaceutical companies continued using trade groups and legal strategists to protect their profits. The 1930’s saw the big drug companies start research laboratories. Finally in 1938, the government established the Food and Drug Administration, and began to require extensive product-testing and labeling, and factory inspections. That same year, the Wheeler-Lea Act prohibited false advertising of drugs, except for previously manufactured barbiturates and amphetamines.

After Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941, America sought to manufacture penicillin in volume. For, the newly introduced antibiotic would be very helpful to the war wounded. But the drug’s fermentation process required a rare ingredient. In spring 1942, one patient who had friends in high places was cured. That largely used up the penicillin supply in the entire country. Other kinds of antibiotics were produced in the next decade, but their profitability was hampered by the bureaucratic processes of patent applications and FDA approval applications.

In the late 1940’s, Arthur Sackler and his brothers founded a family drug-company dynasty. The author revealed excessive trivia from FBI files on them and other greedy characters whose tentacles pervaded all businesses that could help sell (translation: maximize profits of) the family’s healthcare goods and services. This meant consulting, advertising, publishing, charities, public relations, database services, etc. The parties failed to disclose countless conflicts of interest.

In the early 1950’s, drug companies successfully lobbied the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to allow drugs with strikingly similar molecular structures to be deemed different so that they could be granted separate patents. A higher number of drugs could then be rushed to market sooner, and make the most money.

In 1952, farmers fed Pfizer’s antibiotics to their animals so that they grew bigger (both Pfizer and the animals). In the mid-1950’s, Pfizer, Lederle, Squibb, Bristol and Upjohn engaged in an illegal tetracycline price-fixing scheme. They reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in earnings. The FDA chief was in Sackler’s back pocket. So when violations came to light, the FTC and FDA gave the offenders a slap on the wrist. However, senator Estes Kefauver was a thorn in their side.

Kefauver led an investigation as to why America’s drug prices were so excessively high when compared with those in other nations. In fighting back, the drug industry smeared Kefauver as a liberal pinko, claiming he had designs on forcing socialized medicine on the United States. The nineteen drugmakers under the gun gave bogus excuses. The real reason is that America’s drug prices and patents are subjected to minimal or no regulation, unlike everywhere else.

In 1956, Americans were told they were stressed, but a wonder drug called “Miltown” would help calm them down. The mild tranquilizer became a best-seller, until it was counterfeited and appeared on the black market, and its adverse side effects gave it bad publicity. Oh, well.

Then in the 1960’s came the culture-changing birth control Pill, and Valium– also called “mother’s little helper” that was marketed as a weight-loss aid. The next game-changer was thalidomide. Kefauver used the worldwide backlash against this drug to push through some drug safety and effectiveness regulation in the United States in 1963. For a change. Even so, in 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed certain regulatory powers conferred on the FDA, drugmakers merely sought additional markets for their products on other continents.

In 1976, there was a swine flu epidemic in America. Healthcare companies were reluctant to develop a vaccine for it, fearing an orgy of litigation from victims if any harm was done. So the government unwisely agreed to foot any legal bills. Sure enough, some vaccine recipients developed cases of Guillain Barre syndrome, and neurological complications. The (taxpayer-funded) Justice Department took the hit. Other parties piled on. “The CDC had exploited ‘Washington’s panic’ to ‘increase the size of its empire and multiply its budget.’ “

Moving on, the author told the whole sordid story of the “opioid crisis” in America. In a nutshell: in May 2002, Purdue Pharma, maker and unethical marketer of OxyContin, hired Rudy Giuliani’s firm to defend it against the firestorm from its host of illegal activities. The firm collected a $3 million fee per month. Purdue collected $30 million per week from OxyContin sales. To be fair, Purdue and the Sackler family were the poster-scapegoats of the crisis. Numerous other parties aided and abetted them: other pharmaceutical companies, doctors, FDA bureaucrats, and pain management “experts” and pharmacists. The far-reaching consequences have caused a lot of trouble for society as a whole in the areas of: increased healthcare costs, criminal justice, social services, drug rehabilitation services, lost productivity and earnings, etc.

Read the book to learn an additional wealth of details and the details of wealth of the healthcare industry’s evolution into a hegemonic legal behemoth / excessive profit center, in the form of a series of cautionary tales in various topic areas– drug advertising, blood donations, biotech, epidemics, pharmacy benefit managers– that wrought major good and bad (mostly bad) cultural and regulatory changes (including the Hatch-Waxman Act and the Orphan Drug Act); plus the family battles following the sudden death of Arthur Sackler.

Klondike

The Book of the Week is “Klondike, the Alaskan Oil Boom” by Daniel Jack Chasan, published in 1971.

For decades, oil has been a political football that has caused international strife. This book recounts the story that has become a cliche: what transpired when oil was discovered in Alaska in March 1968.

Through the 1800’s, Alaska’s economy was based on fur trading (exploited by the Russians whose activities left many native Alaskans dead of disease and from weapons), canneries, sawmills, gold, and whaling (exploited by the Americans, who forced many native Alaskans to migrate or else they would starve); by the mid-1900’s, it was based on salmon, lumber, gold, copper, hunting, private prop planes, and during wartime– military bases.

In January, 1970, the author visited an Eskimo village, whose residents hunted caribou for food, lived in plywood cabins, and got around in snowmobiles. They sold masks made of caribou in tourist shops in Alaskan cities to make a living. On average, they passed away in their mid-30’s.

In 1912, the Alaskan Native Brotherhood was formed to help aboriginal Alaskans assert their legal rights. Through the decades, various tribes of natives, including the Tlingits, Haidas, Tanacross, Minto, and Inupiat had their lands grabbed by the United States federal government. Finally, in 1966, they formed a group called the Alaska Federation of Natives but it became a political front that actually separated the tribes from their lands. Different tribes had beefs with other tribes, and there were divided loyalties. In the last three years of the 1960’s, Alaska’s state government had political differences with the federal Department of the Interior.

Just a few of the actual consequences (which were ongoing, and were likely to get worse in the future, due to ongoing legal wrangling at the book’s writing) of oil discovery included:

  • Eskimos’, Indians’ and Aleuts’ ways of life were disrupted emotionally, financially and property-wise, due to the mere planning of the oil companies involved.
  • Many activities associated with the extraction of the oil were environmentally damaging to the land and air due to the construction of: a pipeline to be completed in 1972, and the flying in of temporary housing, vehicles and facilities for workers, etc. (Los Angeles would get the oil if it was ever extracted, thus decreasing oil prices and increasing its smog), and
  • Some of the parties involved with the whole extravaganza profited before a drop of oil was even extracted: lawyers, oil workers, Alaska Airlines, and Alaska’s state government– which collected revenues from lease payments, filing fees, drilling permits, etc.

There was always the incalculable potential for ecological disasters which could rear their ugly heads at any time: oil spills and earthquakes. Of course, “The Interior Department had no such trouble computing the possible benefits of the pipeline.”

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details of why Alaska’s natives were at many disadvantages in their fight with “city hall” (hint– one was that an Alaskan senator doubled as the chair of the Senate Interior Committee, who was friendly with president Richard Nixon’s Environmental Quality Council) and which kinds of compensation, if any, to which some of them might be entitled.

Bonus Post

SEE NOTHING AND NOBODY

DOWN BY THE SCHOOLYARD

sung to the tune of “See Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” with apologies to Paul Simon.

President Trump said reopen schools.

So did the czar of education.

When the teachers found out they began to shout,

which started the litigation.

Teachers said naw! Teachers said naw!

A lot of sick we saw.

There ought to be a law.

Florida’s gov stood his ground, said we’re not bound

to conform to the convention.

Other govs said you must open schools or we’ll legally quash your dissension.

We’ve lost our way.

Don’t know where we’re going.

We’ve lost our way.

Law takes its time. Don’t know where…

Goodbye democracy, via the scourge of Corona.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

Oh oh, people are saying they’re going to take school away and have online and home education.

And when the special interest groups have total control,

we’re gonna have an airheaded nation.

We’ve lost our way.

Don’t know where we’re going.

We’ve lost our way.

Law takes its time. Don’t know where…

Goodbye democracy, via the scourge of Corona.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

Embattled Wall

The Book of the Week is “Embattled Wall, Americans United: An Idea and a Man” by C. Stanley Lowell, published in 1966.

Separation of Church and State requires a zero-tolerance policy, lest little things open the floodgates to bigger things, one thing leads to another, and those little things eventually lead to the Spanish Inquisition, or some other theocracy as is seen in many countries in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Besides, there are other reasons for separation of Church and State:

  • Religious entities that pay no taxes have a competitive advantage if they provide goods and services the same way tax-paying capitalist entities do. This includes private education services, and
  • Citizens probably don’t want their taxes to financially assist institutions associated with a religion other than their own.

After WWII in the United States, the power of the Catholic Church was on the increase. Beginning in 1947, the Church began to aggressively request government subsidies for its parochial school system. The author wrote, “…The National Catholic Welfare Conference… [were] like professional lobbyists… actually assisting in the drafting of legislation… cajoling, promising, threatening.”

Protestants felt that money was earned through work, not subsidies, so initially, they were against public funding for their schools. Thus, when over-achieving attorney Glenn Archer founded the group, Americans United— which litigated for separation of Church and State– Protestants assisted him.

The actual full name of the organization was “Protestants and Other Americans United For Separation of Church and State” (hereinafter referred to as “AU”). Other groups that supported them included Seventh Day Adventists and Christian Scientists. Jews mostly avoided the fray, but they were offended that the group had the word “church” in its name.

The Catholics launched a smear campaign against Archer and AU. Catholic publications trotted out the usual righteously indignant accusations, “bigot, religious prejudice, Ku Klux Klan, Communist, racist,” etc. The language in Jesuit propaganda was open to multiple interpretations (among many other examples):

“Freedom of choice in education”

which, in AU’s words, translated to:

Canon Law 1374 denies freedom of choice in education to Catholic parents, ordering them to send their children to Catholic schools.” In other words, the Catholic Church strongly believes that its worshippers should follow religious law before civil law whenever there is a clash between them.

Jesuits: “Justice for children”

AU: “Subsidies for Catholic schools”

The author also described a Catholic rabble rouser: “His posture of outraged purity impressed the majority who had no understanding of the real issues in the case.”

When American president Harry Truman proposed the appointing of an ambassador to the Vatican, AU protested that this was a violation of separation of Church and State, as the leader of the Vatican (the Pope) was a worldwide religious leader. AU and a sufficient number of individual complainants helped put the kibosh on that appointment.

The State Department was peeved because it could have used the Catholic Church (which had many houses of worship around the world) to assist with espionage– er, uh, fostering friendly relationships with nations that had Catholic citizens.

In 1958, the world got a new Pope, thanks in part to votes cast by Catholic cardinals in America. AU cited 8 U.S. Code 1481 of the Immigration and Nationality Act as a reason to revoke the citizenship of those cardinals. For, any American citizen who votes in a foreign country could be stripped of his citizenship.

The Church weakly counter-argued that the Pope is primarily a religious leader, and secondarily a national leader. However, AU produced support for its own arguments in the form of a few previous legal cases of citizenship revocations, plus American government documentation that showed the Vatican to be a political entity.

During the 1960 presidential election between Richard Nixon and the Catholic John F. Kennedy, AU asked questions to determine JFK’s positions on separation of Church and State. The U.S. Supreme Court, AU and JFK were all in agreement.

A few different laws were passed through the years, that granted subsidies pursuant to state laws, in addition to ongoing student loan programs:

  • 1948, the Taft Bill
  • 1958, Defense Education Act
  • 1963, Higher Education Facilities Act (which allowed a university– even that run by a religious institution– to acquire property at a fire-sale price from the government, and then to get permission to construct campus buildings with public funds), and
  • 1965, Elementary and Secondary Education Act

During those years, in effect, federal taxpayers were financially aiding Catholic education more than that of any other religion, as 95% of religious schools were Catholic.

In the late 1950’s, Franklin County in Missouri won a great legal victory against the Catholic Church. The court ruled that, “…schools were not in fact free public schools and were not entitled to be supported by public school money or public funds.”

In a Burlington, Vermont lawsuit, AU cited the First and Fourteenth Amendments because the vague language of the Vermont Constitution regarding separation of Church and State allowed for loopholes.

Read the book to learn about the practice of “captive schools” and a wealth of additional information on the tenor of the times in connection with legal fights over public funding for religious education.

Paris 1919

The Book of the Week is “Paris 1919, Six Months That Changed the World” by Margaret MacMillan, originally published in 2001. In penning this large volume, the author gained access to “horse’s-mouth” documentation, largely thanks to meticulous recording of the peace conference’s participants’ every verbal exchange in more than two hundred meetings for three months, beginning in late April 1919.

After the usual needless deaths and ruined lives brought on by a war among a large number of diverse peoples (of different histories, religions, languages and cultures)– in the whole first half of 1919, the hegemony-possessing countries of the world engaged in complex, emotionally heated negotiations meant to achieve world peace. Alas, human nature intervened.

By the end of the extravaganza, there were nearly sixty commissions and committees that tried to put their two cents into the Versailles Treaty– that primarily tried to make Germany pay for its WWI aggression.

Throughout, the negotiators experienced the five stages of psychological loss theorized by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Desire for: revenge, and financial and territorial compensation were the order of the day. Of course, those were the reasons for going to war, too. This was not unlike the political situation in 2020 in the United States between its two major political parties which have been fiercely fighting a roughly forty-year war; amid an epidemic, and a work-in-progress-national-healthcare-system.

One power-exercising technique used by certain local American politicians is to allow their citizens the option of wearing a mask (allegedly a preventive measure in spreading the current epidemic; a humiliation ritual that lacks significant scientific evidence for its existence)– giving the appearance of restoring a freedom the citizens lost.

The politicians can then see the proportion of people who are still fearful of contracting or spreading the disease. They can then further their abuse of power accordingly by imposing or reimposing such a tool of oppression on a whim!

Another example of the mentality of power-hungry nations of the last hundred years comes in the form of a ditty– a parody of “This Land” –Woody Guthrie’s song about the United States:

This land is my land, and only my land.

If you don’t get off,

I’ll shoot your head off.

I’ve got a shotgun, and you don’t got one.

This land was made for only me. Not you.

Anyway, each participant in 1919 Paris had largely similar arguments for their demands (unsurprisingly, the colonizers presented fanciful statistics as facts as part and parcel of their propaganda):

  • millions of their people made the ultimate sacrifice in the war.
  • the war-winners thought they were entitled to take back territories they had previously colonized (euphemistically calling the authority to recover them “mandates”) because peoples living in those territories weren’t sufficiently sophisticated to govern themselves (i.e., they were inferior, uncivilized), and
  • Statistically or ethnologically, there were significant populations of the conquering peoples in the sought-after cities or regions; likewise, the land had historically been theirs, or else it had been on a trade route important for their economic survival.

Except for a short break in March, American president Woodrow Wilson was physically present in Paris the whole time. He pushed for his idealistic agenda of “Fourteen Points” and a League of Nations.

The latter was supposed to be a group of countries that agreed to militarily protect each other in the event they were attacked. Pacifists felt that members should agree to get rid of their weapons and refrain from fighting in the first place.

Postwar, France favored the League. Feeling vulnerable, she was seeking to make nice with nations that had the resources she needed to feel secure: Russia for manpower, and Great Britain for naval and industrial strength. In general, the English-speaking peoples of the world wanted to believe in the rule of law– that wronged peoples could obtain recourse through international agreements and tribunals.

By April 1919, South African leader Jan Smuts had drafted a proposal for the League. The plans included neither a military force, nor a tribunal. Not much would get done anyway, because a unanimous vote would be required to make decisions.

Early on at the conference, Italy was beginning to exhibit the Fascism it would become known for. Poet, playwright and WWI hero Gabriele D’Annunzio oozed charisma, but his jingoistic bragging about Italy was based on nothing but energy and ego: “Victorious Italy– the most victorious of all the nations– victorious over herself and over the enemy– will have on the Alps and over her sea the Pax Romana, the sole peace that is fitting.” He passionately demanded that his country should get, among other territories, the town of Fiume, strategically located on the Adriatic.

By March, the peace talks had been narrowed down to four countries whose representatives (arrogant drama queens, all) would hammer out the documents that described the terms and conditions, benefits and limitations that would, it was fervently hoped, keep peace in the future. However, they snuck in vague language to invite loopholes.

Those four consisted of France, United States, Italy and Great Britain; in the form of statesmen Georges Clemenceau, Wilson, Vittorio Orlando and Lloyd George, respectively. The leaders were obligated to consult dozens of other treaties and agreements, usually between pairs of countries, that were signed on an ongoing basis during and after the war. A large number of agreements had been signed in secret.

Just a few wrenches in the works of the good-faith talks included:

  • In 1917, the Bolsheviks in Russia had begun creating a new society in which people would live happily ever after. But they were committing atrocities to do it.
  • The Balkans weren’t particularly interested in forming one big, happily family called Yugoslavia; they were comprised of Serbs, Croats, Albanians, Bulgarians and Macedonians; arguably Greeks and Romanians, and a slew of minorities; a few pairs of which hated each other, and
  • The Ottoman Empire was breaking up; in late 1918, hapless Hungary was militarily invaded by Bolsheviks, and in summer 1919 by Romania, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

Read the book to learn who swayed whom and why and how; the fates of: Shantung, Turkey, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Smyrna, Kurdistan, Armenia, Germany; of the personalities involved; and of numerous other political footballs.