Message in A Black Hole – BONUS POST

Message in A Black Hole
sung to the tune of “Message in A Bottle” with apologies to The Police.
A song Trump is singing now.

Just a castaway, but I don’t want to concede, oh.
With more votes, I’ll get back in the lead, oh.
More lawyers than anyone could bear.
I haven’t any shame so I don’t care, oh.
I’ll send an SOS to the world.
I’ll send an SOS to the world.
I hope electors get my
I hope electors get my
I hope electors get my message in a black hole, yeah.
Message in a black hole, yeah.
Years have passed since I’ve won the globe
but I resist liberals’ every probe.
I hope my supporters can keep me in power.
I can win again and
I can break those Dems.
I’ll send an SOS to the world.
I’ll send an SOS to the world.
I hope electors get my
I hope electors get my
I hope electors get my message in a black hole.
Message in a black hole.
Oh, message in a black hole, yeah.
Oh, message in a black hole, yeah.
Rallied this morning.
You know what I saw.
Lots and lots of ballots in states that I adore.
Seems I’m in love with being loved.
Lots and lots of lawyers.
I can’t stand being snubbed.
I’ll send an SOS to the world.
I’ll send an SOS to the world.
I hope electors get my
I hope electors get my
I hope electors get my message in a black hole, yeah.
Message in a black hole, yeah.
Oh, message in a black hole, oh.
Oh, message in a black hole.
Sending out an SOS.
Sending out an SOS.
Sending out an SOS…

In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz

The Book of the Week is “In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo” by Michaela Wong, published in 2001.

Various dictators have looted the Belgian colony alternately known as “Zaire” and “Congo” in recent centuries. The late 1800’s saw light-skinned people enslaving the dark-skinned to try to enrich themselves by poaching, harvesting, mining or drilling for the colony’s ivory, rubber, timber, cocoa, diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, uranium and oil on behalf of King Leopold II of Belgium. However, many died of malaria, typhoid or sleeping sickness.

Belgium was still greedy even after Congo, still racked by unrest, declared its independence in 1960. The Soviets wanted a piece of the action, sending troops in to pretend to quell the violence. The United Nations troops entered, throwing soldiers with good intentions, after bad. For the next thirty years, what did change was that the United States and other countries wasted an inconceivably large amount of money supporting the lavish lifestyles of the Congolese dictator and his family and friends, until the CIA discreetly decided it was time for the dictator to go.

In late September 1960, Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (Mobutu, for short) came to power. That translates to “the all powerful warrior who goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.” He ran the nation’s one political party, called “Movement for the Revolution.” He had the charisma, and lack of academic-smarts but plethora of street-smarts of the late American president Ronald Reagan.

However, Mobutu used divide and conquer in his palace politics– telling naive individuals that others were slandering them behind their backs. They believed him. He also assigned the same tasks to subordinates who hated each other without telling the others of the duplicated project-teams. When they learned that the boss had favorites other than them, petty jealousies arose. The hostilities between Mobutu’s underlings kept them busy fighting among themselves, and kept him in power.

Mobutu held rallies all the time. He created jobs galore for his people, in the rubber and cocoa industries. Foreigners who had previously been running operations that exploited Congo’s resources, fled the country. The new native Congolese who were given businesses to run, had no clue how to run them. When the economy crashed, Mobutu, his family, his cronies and his private army had no worries, because their real estate in Brussels, Paris and South Africa, and their Swiss bank accounts remained safe.

In the mid 1980’s, the journalists and diplomats in Kinshasa could spot the Congolese elites by their SUVs and mobile phones from Telecel. Congolese peasants, in order to eat, were forced to grow vegetable gardens throughout the city.

In the 1990’s, desirous of a better life, native Congolese were able to obtain student visas that allowed them to secretly become low-level restaurant or construction workers, or drivers in Brussels. They fled their native country rather than collectively revolt in order to fight for it, having adopted the pessimistic attitude of every man for himself. They had seen with their own eyes that “… politics is a game played by conmen and hypocrites.”

Congo’s cycle of dictatorship had yet to be broken due to the education system, which didn’t teach Congolese history. The younger generation knew nothing of how their recent leaders had come to power. “Knowing nothing about the past of course, frees a population from any sense of blame for the present. How convenient was all this forgetting…”

May 1997 was crunch time similar to that in 1986 in the Philippines and Haiti. In Kinshasa, Tutsi youths were shot in the streets, Japanese journalists sought photo opportunities, journalists of other nationalities and Belgian tourists sought haven in the Hotel InterContinental.

Read the book to learn much more about the history of Congo and its one nuclear reactor, Mobutu, the Congolese people in the 1990’s– rich and famous, poor and unknown, their black markets, their Mutual Benefit Society, their religions, corruption at their airport and with the IMF and World Bank, and about the lingering colonialist nostalgia of Belgium and France.

Do No Harm / Since Yesterday – BONUS POST

The first Bonus Book of the Week is “Do No Harm, Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery” by Henry Marsh, originally published in 2014. In this personal account, the author– a British brain surgeon– described his horribly depressing career. He recounted how he removed brain tumors from, and clipped aneurysms of, his most memorable patients through the decades. Even when a tumor was benign, it would keep growing and inevitably kill the patient unless taken out. Even when a large aneurysm had yet to burst, there was a chance (incalculable, as every patient is different) that it would burst in the patient’s lifetime.

Metaphorically speaking, some people would say that the outgoing president of the United States is a tumor in the nation’s brain. The author wrote, “You can never know for certain from a brain scan exactly how a tumor will behave until you start to remove it. It might be hard or soft, dry or bloody…” Prior to diagnosis, the most common symptom patients experience is headaches– which are uncharacteristic for them in daily life.

In order for a brain surgeon to acquire experience, he needs to actually practice on real patients, and make mistakes. Even when the surgeon does everything right in treating the patient, something could go wrong, anyway. In addition to stressing over his patients, the author had to deal with bureaucracies. But regardless of the healthcare system an industrialized country has (government-run, commercial, or a combination thereof), it’s comprised of: “… government targets, self-serving politicians, tabloid headlines, scandals, deadlines, civil servants, clinical cock-ups, financial crises, patient press-groups, trade unions, litigation, complaints and self-important doctors…”

Read the book to learn of the author’s trials and tribulations in treating patients not only in Britain, but also in Kiev.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “Since Yesterday, The 1930’s in America, September 3, 1929 – September 3, 1939” by Frederick Lewis Allen, originally published in 1939.

“To hear angry Republicans and angry Democrats talking, one would have supposed the contest was between a tyrant determined to destroy private property, ambition, the Constitution, democracy, and civilization itself; and a dupe of Wall Street who would introduce a fascist dictatorship.” Such was the nature of the 1936 presidential election in America.

Clearly, propagandizing hasn’t changed in ninety years. Presidents want to have it both ways: they take credit for all positive economic news, and blame their predecessors for all negative economic news.

At the dawn of the 1930’s when the economy went south, Americans held very strong opinions about their political preferences, heavily influenced by the propaganda they read in newspapers and magazines. Not much has changed, except that now they can force their opinions on the world at the speed of light. Immediately they think they’re experts from watching the idiot box and/or reading the Web; the attitude is, “I’m not an attorney, not a doctor, and not an economist, but I play one on social media, because I can, and because I’m right.”

Other similarities between the Depression Era and recent times include:

  • Golf was a popular businessman’s game.
  • Fans of professional sports worshipped their star players, like in baseball, tennis, and golf– Babe Ruth, Bill Tilden, Bobby Jones, etc.
  • Automation due to new technologies (such as steam, gasoline and electric power, inventions and farm machinery) and urbanization were eliminating jobs in industry, agriculture, and textiles more than offshoring ever would.
  • Listeners worshipped a pundit on the radio– Father Coughlin– a hate-spewing demagogue from the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak (but he broadcast on only one station, not a national network, so he became nationally known only in his later years in the 1930’s).
  • All players in the banking industry were financially interdependent so when the system collapsed, they all fell like dominoes. Then-president Hoover established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in order to bail out only his corporate cronies, as he didn’t believe in stimulus money for individuals.
  • In summer 1932, Howard Scott and his inscrutable theory of Technocracy was a fad. The author wrote, “Yet in the meantime it had offered an object-lesson in the readiness of the American people for a new messiah and a new credo” just as “Wikinomics” (see the post in this blog) was supposed to be the next big thing.
  • The political agenda behind COVID has forced Americans to relax online similar to the way the Depression brought on: the five-day (rather than six-day) workweek, construction of sports and recreational areas of all kinds, and provision for transportation to get to them.
  • Beginning in late 1936 into 1937, in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States, a bunch of rivers overflowed their banks due to humans’ misuse of land; in the third week of September 1938, 682 people died in an unexpected hurricane that destroyed regions unprepared for flooding, in New England and Mid-Atlantic states.
  • Between 1931 and 1936, there were actually more people leaving the U.S. than coming in, for various reasons, and the U.S. birth rate was slowing.
  • Ultra-rich Americans who refused to face inconvenient facts were the ones who hated FDR when he was elected president.

Proposals distorted in propaganda that played out in the Depression Era, whose outcomes are yet to be seen in recent times, included:

  • In the 1930’s, in order to allow men to keep their dignity, the government put them to work instead of giving them handouts. In their first few years of existence, FDR’s alphabet soup of mostly federal (rather than state or local level) jobs and programs was nonpartisan. However, eventually, the Democrats provided maximum funding as election day approached. On the whole, the financial relief worked well, except in Pennsylvania, where there was gross misuse of funds.
  • FDR’s policies sought to mitigate environmental damage done by people, and prevent future natural disasters with his introduction of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Public Works Administration, and his signing of the Taylor Grazing Act into law. These kinds of measures simply require political backing and money– the sooner a sufficient amount of both are thrown at them, the sooner the problems will be solved!
  • In February 1938, FDR floated a proposal to make seventy years the mandatory retirement age of all federal judges– including U.S. Supreme Court justices– and increase the number of justices from nine to fifteen. That unpopular proposal hurt FDR’s reputation.

In 1935, FDR introduced economic change to the country by instituting the Social Security system, financial assistance only for Americans 65 and older. In 1965, LBJ introduced economic change to the country by instituting the Medicare and Medicaid systems, healthcare funding for only those Americans who are poor and / or 65 and older.

In the future, the United States government might be introducing a better overall system of healthcare funding for all Americans of all ages and income levels (which is obviously much more complex than any system that has ever been created before in this country, so it’s not going to be perfect the first time around). In order to pay for the improved system, the government will likely have to raise taxes on the rich.

Along these lines, economics 101 says a nation’s economy is strongest when it has a healthy, well-educated workforce.

Whether deliberately or not, the political agenda revolving around COVID has rewarded education-software makers by closing schools across the country. So ironically, by allowing the software makers to get richer (because, presumably, their higher taxes will be paying for the improved healthcare-funding system), the software makers are dictating education policy. So in the long run, the nation will have a healthy, poorly educated workforce!

Anyway, read the book to learn much more about the tenor of the times in 1930’s America, culturally, politically and economically.

Second Chance

The Book of the Week is “Second Chance, Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower” by Zbigniew Brzezinski, published in 2007.

“American policy has divided its friends while uniting its foes, fear has been exploited to mobilize public support for policy, and strategic impatience and self-ostracism have narrowed United States diplomatic options.”

The author wrote the above about the George W. Bush administration. Yes, really. The author critiqued the presidencies of George H.W. Bush (Bush 41), Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (Bush 43) in terms of the natures of their administrations, and how they could have mitigated or even warded off the worsening political turmoil in America.

Bush 41 failed to follow through on American-foreign-policy vision and plans to foster international cooperation among Russia, China and other developing nations after he chased Iraq out of Kuwait in early 1991. He didn’t get to do so in a second term because he neglected problems at home.

During the Clinton administration, the media declared that America was trying to cultivate new enemies (maybe it was), one after another– Libya, Iraq, Iran, China, etc., while Clinton appeared to negotiate agreements such as the ones between Israel and the PLO, that actually turned out to be worthless pieces of paper. Unsurprisingly.

Other treaties that have been violated time and again, are those regarding nuclear non-proliferation. Various countries have continued to test nuclear weapons through the years, including France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea. This has resulted in:

  • contaminating the earth, sea and air, and harming people;
  • teasing the other treaty-signers into giving the violators financial aid;
  • imposing ineffective financial punishment; and/or
  • pushing them to ally with their neighbors.

The Clinton years saw a two-faced policy with Russia. The president gave Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin generous financial and economic aid, but contrarily, by 1998, American Ivy-League economist Jeffrey Sachs had bankrupted Russia by persuading Yeltsin to execute his “shock-capitalism” tactics. Compounding of the corruption ensued with the intervention of the International Monetary Fund, which extended “loans” to Russia to bail it out. Capital flight from investors in the United States ensued. Unsurprisingly.

Bush 43 wrongly imposed “might makes right” on Iraq and Afghanistan, thinking democracy would magically assert itself in those war-torn countries. But– the author wrote– democracy requires the following laborious steps:

  • A government must respect the political and economic human rights of its citizens;
  • A government must impose rule of law to achieve and maintain a state of civility among its people, more or less;
  • The structures of power must write and abide by legal and Constitutional rules on which they must agree, more or less; and
  • There must be free and fair elections, which leads to a system whose leaders see the value of compromise and accommodation– rather than a winner-take-all stubbornness.

In his first term, Bush 43 and his sidekick Dick Cheney exploited the world for the purpose of acquiring raw power, and fun and profit at the expense of his own countrymen and America’s good relationships with its allies. In his second term, the president showed a “… basic lack of interest in peacekeeping, global poverty or ecology.” Middle Eastern countries destabilized by the Iraq War were driven into the arms of China as a financial partner, because– although China’s people are oppressed, China’s government isn’t embattled– it’s stable.

Read the book to learn of the author’s recommendations on the steps America should take to mend fences in the world, and of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that have arisen via the natures of the administrations of the aforementioned three presidents.

Educated – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Educated, a Memoir” by Tara Westover, published in 2018.

This was an emotionally jarring autobiography of a female whose dysfunctional family members were the major influences in her life. Born in 1986 in rural Idaho, the author was the youngest of seven children. Her father– a fanatically religious Mormon– home-schooled his children, asserting that public school would brainwash them. The author’s mother taught her basic reading and math, but little else academically. Three of her older brothers rebelled, and left home as soon as they could. One of those– who had a thirst for knowledge– worked his way through college, and inspired the author to do so.

Morbid curiosity will keep the reader in suspense throughout this ghastly book that recounts a series of life-threatening injuries, traumatic and violent scenes of family strife, interspersed with anecdotes that spur the reader to cheer the author on during her journey toward self-awareness, healing and profound insights about her life and her family members. Read the book to learn all about it.

ENDNOTE: It took the above author a long, long time. Just as when someone has a lifelong dream, it isn’t usually achieved immediately. He or she is not going to change their mind about it. They’re going to pursue it relentlessly. In an ideal world, the one who prepares for it properly deserves to get it more than others. However, in the world of United States politics, an infinite number of factors complicate the process.

Skunk Works

“I asked the Air Force for $30 million, but they had only $20 million to spend in discretionary funds for secret projects by which they bypassed Congressional appropriations procedures.”

The above was written by Ben Rich, head of the Skunk Works– a secret division of military-contractor Lockheed in Burbank, California in summer 1975.

The Book of the Week is “Skunk Works, A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed” by Ben R. Rich & Leo Janos, published in 1994.

In January 1975, the author, a scientist, helped with projects to build weaponry for the CIA and the U.S. Air Force. At the time, the U.S. government was cutting military spending, as the Vietnam War was ending.

Lockheed was suffering from a bribery scandal, and the longtime head of the Skunk Works was retiring. The out-going executive had contentious relations with Lockheed’s customers, but knew how to manage people building weaponry. The author was promoted to replace him.

In summer 1975, unbeknownst to Lockheed, competitive bidding among military contractors had already started for producing a “stealth” plane; meaning, undetected by radar, that could spy or drop bombs. One military school-of-thought was pushing missiles rather than bombs, because missiles could travel long distances, and required a minimum of military personnel.

As is well known, 1970’s software that powered military planes was extremely primitive. The complex aerodynamics involved in making a plane invisible to radar, requires reverse-engineering– quickly computing billions of bits of information obtained from surveilling the wings of the plane while it’s flying above, and taking photos of or dropping bombs on, enemy territory.

The stealth plane project was “Top Secret” so extraordinary measures had to be taken to keep it quiet; necessitating an alarm system, code-names, pass codes, security clearances, etc. Contractor workers labored around the clock to meet deadlines and budgets, despite numerous setbacks and frustrations. It was ultimately up to American president Jimmy Carter to decide which plane models the military was to build in future years. He did, in June 1977. Nevertheless, it takes eight to ten years for a non-secret plane to be designed, tested, and manufactured. It is even more difficult to estimate how long a secret one will take.

For, more problems arose with the stealth project, including a strike by the machinists’ union in August 1977. From the start, intrusive Air Force, Navy and OSHA inspectors had provided yet other stressful procedures-and -paperwork-and-more-paperwork diversions from the research and development.

August 1979 saw the “competitive” in competitive bidding. Pilots pitted the stealth fighter with high-precision, laser-guided bombs against an existing T-38 plane with Hawk missiles in the Nevada desert. After a July 1980 deadline was missed, finally, in June 1981, the contract-award-winner executed a first test-flight witnessed by government, military and weapons-making leaders from the White House Situation Room and the Tactical Air Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

One aspect of a spy-plane test-flight, is that the plane breaks the sound barrier– faster than the earth rotates, at a speed of, say almost mach 2 or 3– so its vibrations rattle or can break windows of structures on earth. Test flights that have failed have killed pilots, but successful ones have transported pilots cross-country in record time: from San Diego, California to Savannah Beach, Georgia in one hour.

Yes, Americans derive a few benefits and excitement from military toys. However– greedy, power-hungry people who fail to foster international cooperation, continue to argue that it is still necessary for the security of the nation, to build ridiculously expensive, high-tech weaponry that will never be used. The wasted money might be better spent on other budget items.

The author admitted that even during the Cold War, his operation “… almost wrecked our own free enterprise system by chasing after enormously costly technologies that were simply beyond our creative grasp …We spent a hell of a lot of money in deception and very little in behalf of worthwhile technology.”

Read the book to learn: how the author harnessed his and his underlings’ knowledge and experience in personnel management, physics, chemistry, aerodynamics, engineering, economics, contract-law and various other disciplines to stay on top of the juggling act that was his job; a wealth of additional information on the research and development of high-tech planes (including the tortuous ways they were paid for, and by whom; and how, with the knowledge gained in developing one of the spy planes– the Challenger disaster could have been averted).

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.