Shrub

The Book of the Week is “Shrub, The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush” by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, published in 2000.

The contents of this slim volume were presumably published before election day, 2000. For, it seems that the authors were trying to deter readers from voting for (now former president) George W. Bush for president. The arguments were clear, concise and full of facts.

In a nutshell, as the governor of Texas in the late 1990’s, “From the record, it appears that he [Bush] doesn’t know much, doesn’t do much, and doesn’t care much about governing.” The authors recounted the allegedly positive actions taken on crime, education, the budget and some other issues by Bush’s predecessor, Ann Richards, and then explained how he reversed them.

Bush came from a privileged, wealthy, widely socially connected family, whose name (especially his daddy’s) he used to solicit other people’s money to make a large quantity for himself (and get elected to public office). Those other people didn’t mind that Bush’s 1980’s oil venture in which they invested, failed big-time, because they got huge tax write-offs, and gained patronage jobs and networking opportunities. Basically, it was redistribution of wealth among the wealthy.

Judging from Governor Bush’s record on the spike in cruel and unusual punishment in the criminal justice system, pollution free-for-all enjoyed by big corporations, and the gravy train resulting from privatization of welfare in Texas, the reader would think he had sociopathic tendencies. Unsurprisingly, the people who benefited from his policies were his major campaign donors.

In the 1980’s, H. Ross Perot was appointed as an education consultant to improve Texas public schools. He made a great positive impact on the system by acting on the common-sense theme that “Most experts agree the single most important step Texas took during the long process of reform was [drumroll, please] mandating smaller class sizes in the lower grades and emphasizing early education.” Bush claimed Perot’s results as his own. Not only that, his cronies favored charter schools, so he advocated for the maximum number Texas could open.  The result was 151 of them in only six months in 1997. Their quality has been uneven at best, and there were a few that cheated numerous students out of an education because they faced mismanagement and financial ruin and closed.

The authors do give Bush credit for his effort to preserve education funding when his governorship was forced to impose budget cuts. However, the results of even additional funding for education can be worse than budget cuts to education when the money is spent on the wrong items– such as sweetheart no-bid contractors, profit-oriented consultants and the subsidizing of charter schools that close.

Read the book to learn the details of the damage done by “W” when he was governor of Texas, etc., etc., etc.

Koop

The Book of the Week is “Koop, The Memoirs of America’s Family Doctor” by C. Everett Koop, M.D., published in 1991.

Koop grew up in Brooklyn, New York. In the late 1920’s, when he was in his teens, the operating rooms at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital had no security, so he pretended to be a medical student in order to watch surgeries. He snuck in, thanks to his next door neighbor, who worked there. In the late 1930’s, he began to realize that he was attending the medical school that had the right environment for him– the friendly and cooperative Cornell, rather than the arrogant and competitive Columbia.

Koop’s medical training was abbreviated due to a shortage of personnel during WWII, so that he was performing advanced procedures before he was truly ready to do so. Nevertheless, he had a tough, take-charge personality which stood him in good stead in the face of medical generalists who resented being crowded out when medicine underwent more and more specialization.

For decades, Koop was a pediatric surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In 1980, newly-elected President Reagan tapped him to be Surgeon General of the United States. The nomination and confirmation processes were rigorous, as Koop’s personal life-and-death beliefs were clearly favored by conservative Republicans but opposed by liberal Democrats.

Nevertheless, Koop became famous for his anti-smoking crusade. As might be recalled, he educated the American public on the dangers of, and influenced legislation on, smoking. He explicitly wrote: “Smoking is not only dangerous for the smoker, but also dangerous for the nonsmoker who inhales environmental tobacco smoke… [Such] passive smoking causes many diseases, including cancer.” He reported that more than 50% of adults in the United States smoked in 1964; in 1981, 33%. When he resigned as Surgeon General in 1989, that figure was just over 26%.

Read the book to learn of Koop’s adventures in college, in medicine, and as a political appointee.

Havel, A Life

The  Book of the Week is “Havel, A Life” by Michael Zantovsky, published in 2014. This is a biographical tome of the late president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel.

Born in 1936, Havel’s family was wealthy prior to the Soviet Communist takeover of 1948. Fortunately, Havel parlayed his talent for writing plays, essays and articles into a lucrative career. His literary works were performed and read internationally, affording him compensation in stable, valuable foreign currencies.

The Soviets could not summarily execute him for his seditious activities, fearing an angry outcry from the international community. So instead, they arrested and jailed him a few times, and had the secret service on his tail, 24/7.

In the early 1970’s, Havel wrote a play in which he commented on the unsurprising but inevitable result of “Prague Spring” of 1968; the Soviets weren’t ready to concede their power to the Czechoslovakians, “In the finale, all the conspirators, after crossing and double-crossing each other, execute the piece de resistance, bringing in the only person who can effectively suppress all the threats, prevent chaos and restore stability: the dictator himself.”

In 1977, Havel and his fellow activists wrote a Charter detailing a democratic system they hoped would be implemented in the future. However, the then-government crushed the opposition with “…harassment, bullying, beatings, blackmail intended to make them leave the country, kidnappings, illegal house raids and searches along with other forms of abuse.”

In 1989, dissatisfaction with Soviet Communist oppression was reaching critical mass. The methods by which thousands of street demonstrators were quelled, was through head-bashing and water cannons. Havel was pushed into becoming a leader for the dissidents because he was one himself and was a talented peacemaker who could bridge the gap between his own artistic crowd and other persecuted citizens of his homeland.

For four decades, Czechoslovakians forced to live under Communism had been told everything was great. In January 1990, Havel truthfully told his countrymen that the nation was in an economically, infrastructurally, environmentally and ethically horrible state. The younger generation who had been born into the Soviet mentality– unless they were dissidents– were obedient robots. So converting people to a capitalist, liberated, honest way of thinking was very difficult.

Sidenote: The author spent an entire chapter on the newly elected Czech president Havel’s visit to the United States (via invitation by President George H.W. Bush) but failed to specify even once, the year in which that occurred, and described events and incidents topically rather than chronologically, making the storyline difficult to follow.

Numerous political parties jockeying for power during Havel’s reelection campaign in 1991(?) included:  the Civic Democratic Alliance, People’s Party, Christian Democratic Party, Social Democrats, and Liberal Democrats.

It took approximately six years to build, from the ground up– a legal system, economy and “…countless institutions that make a free society work and flourish”– the new (democratic) nation of Czech Republic (after its split from Slovakia).

Read the book to learn more about the hardships suffered by the Czechoslovakians including Havel, his and his wife’s marital infidelities, and how he was instrumental in helping build a new nation.

Scorpions for Breakfast

The Book of the Week is “Scorpions for Breakfast” by Jan Brewer, published in 2011.  This book– which cited no sources when stating facts and statistics– is about an anti-ILLEGAL-immigration bill proposed and signed by then-governor (Republican) of Arizona, Jan Brewer, in April 2010.

Even though the book cited no sources whatsoever, it seems these days, that the answer to every question about hard numbers and factual data is, “It depends on whom you ask” anyway. The burden of proof is now on the reader, viewer or listener to look up “the facts” because he or she has the entirety of human knowledge at his or fingertips, so why should information and opinion providers do more work than they absolutely have to?

It is impossible to speak with comprehensive knowledge, but the late New York State governor Al Smith and the late TV journalist Peter Jennings– to name just two voracious researchers– were truly passionate about their subjects, did their homework, so that they would be able to speak with knowledge in convincing their audiences that they knew what they were talking about.

According to the book (which appears to be credible), in 1994, a fence was built in the San Diego area to keep out illegal immigrants. Violent crimes decreased significantly. There were fewer accusations of civil rights violations against Border Patrol as well. El Paso, Texas was another area that took steps to curb illegal immigration. People-smuggling was then shifted to Arizona, as it had the next-best geographic location along the Mexican border.

Illegals trespassed on Arizona ranches near the border, littering, setting fires, breaking water lines, scaring cattle, and committing other acts of mischief. By 2003, the sociopathic ruthless Mexican drug cartels were getting violent about protecting their smuggling routes. In Phoenix, they committed home invasions of, and extorted from, their competitors, and had gunfights on the I-10 freeway.

Gangs were getting more efficient at trafficking illegals– guiding tens of people all at once, at thousands of dollars per head a few times a week, and forcing them to lug backpacks of marijuana across the border to boot. Meth, cocaine and heroin were other lucrative products that made the trip.

The people willing to risk their lives for a better life, were deposited at a “drop house” where heavily armed guards would demand additional money from their payers or relatives, torturing or killing the captives when the mood struck them.

Due to illegal immigration to Arizona, not only did crime rise, but there was overcrowding at education, health care and correctional facilities. As of the book’s writing, according to the author, more than three quarters of illegal immigrants in California and New York State were on public assistance. Elsewhere in the book, the author had one brief sentence of elaboration on how this was possible, as one would think that identification documents are required for people to collect money from the government. The answer is that illegals have babies in the United States. The babies are automatically American citizens. Many people theorize that the Democrats do nothing to stop illegal immigration because those babies grow up to become Democratic voters.

After the death of a rancher in March 2010 and previous years of lack of interest from the federal government, Brewer decided to take action by proposing a bill to curb illegal immigration.

Unfortunately for Arizona, members of Congress and the president take steps to protect the borders of the United States only insofar as it is politically advantageous to do so.

The author wrote, not unreasonably, “…with limited funds available to provide social services, those services should go first and foremost to citizens.” That point was also part of the reason for Senate Bill 1070. Before she signed the bill, Brewer’s office was bombarded with hate mail, including death threats.

As it usually does, the liberal mainstream media spread inflammatory, defamatory, misleading propaganda saying that the Arizona governor was going to unleash a racist witchhunt against Hispanics. President Obama didn’t disagree. At least two spokespersons from his office bad-mouthed the ten-page bill something awful, but admitted that they hadn’t read it— as though they had been playing a game of telephone. Unsurprisingly, the unwashed masses chimed in with a vast quantity of unfortunate remarks and inane comments.

Yet another campaign of misinformation was launched by a childish (aren’t they all?) hidden-camera reality show that portrayed Arizona’s proposed anti-illegal-immigration law in a bad light, to put it mildly.

In January 2011, there was a shooting spree in Tucson. The press blamed Arizonans, gun owners, the Tea Party (remember them?) and supporters of Senate Bill 1070 for the mass murder.

Read the book to learn of the law’s fate, the author’s career history, of an episode in her life that might indicate that she’s not a racist, and other (uncited but credible) claims she made about the trials and tribulations she suffered to put forth her immigration policy.

Behind the Times

The Book of the Week is “Behind the Times, Inside the New York Times” by Edwin Diamond, published in 1993. This book tells the history of the newspaper and the people who, through generations, to help it stay in business, changed its contents, its target readers (and therefore its sales territory) and its personnel.

In the 1950’s, the Times consisted of four realms: the weekday paper, the Sunday edition, the foreign correspondents, and the Washington bureau. Each had its own hierarchy, but all employees encountered an arrogant corporate culture because their difficulty in getting hired helped project an image of an exclusive club from which they derived prestige.

In the 1980’s, the paper was forced to look to the suburbs for readers, and acquire various west-coast newspapers, a magazine group and broadcast properties. Advertisers were able to glean significantly more marketing data and more predictable circulation numbers on readers with expanded home delivery.

The Times was a family-owned enterprise whose eventual patriarch, Punch Sulzberger served as the top leader for three decades, into the early 1990’s.  Unfortunately, he was resistant to change, so finalizing a decision to make a major revision to the paper, say, to add a section or column, took months or even years.

A task force did not always help speed up the process because the business and news departments had different goals. Finally, in 1982, the business side sold out in the name of staying in business. The managing editor began to allow “product placement” in news stories. In the 1980’s, a financial turnaround was enjoyed by the paper, in large part thanks to fashion reporting.

Around the same time, the Times’ hegemony reached its peak when competing print news sources had gone out of business. Many readers used the paper as their bible as to which performing arts shows to attend, which movies and videos to view, and which books to read. The paper was eventually taken to task– for its conflicts of interest in its exertion of extreme undue influence of such entertainment for decades– by someone who had a point. However, that someone also had an ulterior motive aside from exposing greed and abuse of power.

Sadly, the 1990’s gave way to more and more opinion writing rather than conveyance of new information. Read the book to learn much more about the reasons for the changing Times.

Man of the House

The Book of the Week is “Man of the House” by Tip O’Neill with William Novak, published in 1987.  This is the career memoir of Tip O’Neill, politician from Massachusetts.

O’Neill had a leg up in politics because his father controlled thousands of civil service jobs as a member of the Cambridge City Council and superintendent of sewers in the very early 1900’s.  Born in December 1912, O’Neill himself was elected to the Massachusetts legislature at just 24 years old. In 1977, he was named Speaker of the House.

In the 1940’s, members of the federal government made numerous, important deals behind closed doors. Secrecy prevailed with regard to the federal budget. When the author protested that a pork-barrel project for his state had been omitted after approval in 1949, a colleague reassured him, “We’ll just put it back in… After all, nobody knows what the figures were.”

Conflicts of interest also abounded, but were considered business as usual in the early to mid-twentieth century.  For example, all Congressmen’s expenses of a 1950’s annual leisure event at the Cleveland Indians’ spring training camp in Daytona Beach, Florida were paid for by local merchants: every Easter break, the two major political parties played a baseball game against each other. The purpose was to promote the area as a vacation destination. According to the author, the Democrats always won. However, he remarked that one Congressman alone usually cannot push through legislation and that is why bribery of one House member doesn’t work.

Another memorable, one-time, traumatic event for the author was when a shooting spree took place on the House floor in March 1954. The five gunmen from Puerto Rico injured several people but no one was killed. Fatefully, just prior to the incident, O’Neill had been called outside by a Boston Globe reporter.

In September 1967, O’Neill informed his constituents that he was changing from hawk to dove on the Vietnam War. This was a politically unpopular action, as the press and most of the Democrats still favored the war. Various members of the CIA and the military had secretly agreed with him. His reasoning was that, because President Lyndon Johnson was refraining from using aggressive firepower, the Americans could never win militarily. Johnson feared that mining harbors, disabling bridges and power plants in Vietnam would spark involvement by the Russians and/or Chinese. So, inefficient guerrilla warfare continued for years, taking many lives needlessly.

Additionally, the author showed that there’s nothing new under the sun. In the 1970’s, Evans and Novak, a well-known pair of political journalists, were nicknamed “Errors and Nonfacts” around D.C. “They’re also known for publishing negative stories about members of Congress, stories often leaked to them by people who don’t have much knowledge and aren’t much respected on Capitol Hill.” Besides, O’Neill wrote that a power-hungry Chief of Staff working for a president who likes to delegate is a “formula for disaster.”

On another topic, the author commented that President Jimmy Carter was the one who actually implemented deregulation in various industries and drew attention to the ballooning federal deficit. Nevertheless, in 1977, Carter’s energy bill would need to be reviewed by as many as seventeen different committees and subcommittees in the House, and each group would object to portions of the document. Read the book to learn how O’Neill was instrumental in getting the package passed; the evils that Presidents Nixon and Reagan perpetrated; what Lee Iacocca did; how the attitude of Americans has become mean-spirited starting under Reagan, and much more.

Against the Grain

The Book of the Week is “Against the Grain” by Boris Yeltsin, published in 1990. This is the career memoir of the Soviet politician.

Born in 1931, Yeltsin always had a keen sense of justice that got him into trouble.  For, his country’s leadership ruled by fear, force and deferment to the head of state for ultimate authority on all matters, rather than (like in the U.S.) open discussion, checks and balances, and consensus more or less.

After graduating from university, he learned all twelve building trades– carpenter, plasterer, glazier, painter, etc. He then decided to put his management skills to work for the Soviet government in the 1970’s.

Yeltsin was First Party Secretary in Sverdlovsk for nineteen years. He started a chess club after Anatoly Karpov complained that there was none in his district. He also organized a local volleyball team, as that was his favorite sport. He built a road and improved the housing of the worst-off citizens there.

By the early 1980’s, the government of the U.S.S.R. had fallen into stagnation under a lack of strong leadership from Leonid Brezhnev.

Crooked backroom deals were the norm, as top government officials were resistant to sacrifice their lavish perks in order to serve their nation’s citizens. Such perks included use of a luxury dacha, a car and driver available 24/7, the highest level of medical expertise the country had to offer, and a variety of expensive foods that were unavailable to the general population. Even so, because all of these were actually State-owned, the top government official (Gorbachev) could confiscate any of them on a whim. Furthermore, Yeltsin wrote, “It had been drummed into everyone from kindergarten onward that we were supposed to thank the Party [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] for all our achievements.”

Gorbachev’s attempts to reform his nation’s government resulted in two linguistic terms that were tossed around for a decade or so:  glasnost and perestroika. Yeltsin had a strong desire to implement the policies they were supposed to represent. A sign that the former was working, was the unprecedented Moscow newspaper coverage of stories on vice and corruption among local politicians. However, it took some years for the author and others to engender the power struggle required to get the country moving again.

In June of 1988, the author delivered a government-conference speech that contained the following: “Clearly, we all need to master the rules of political discussion, to tolerate dissenting opinions as Lenin did; not to hang labels on people and not to regard them as heretics.”

Read the book to learn how the author came to hold different Moscow political positions while numerous government officials and organizations tried to discredit him and ruin his reputation; and of his proposals to improve the governance of the then-Soviet Union.

Living History

The Book of the Week is “Living History” by Chaim Herzog, published in 1996. This autobiography describes the life of a Jew who participated in Palestine’s military and political life before, during and after its birth as the state of Israel.

Herzog’s father was named chief rabbi of Ireland in mid-1919.  As a teenager, the author chose to leave Ireland to attend school in Palestine. At that time, there were three competing, underground intelligence services in Palestine: the Haganah, Irgun and the Stern Group.  The author joined the Haganah. His father was named chief rabbi of Palestine in 1937.

In 1938, the author started his undergraduate years in London, then studied law at Cambridge University. Upon graduating in 1941, he immediately volunteered for the British Army. As an intelligence officer, he interrogated German prisoners of war.

After the war, Herzog’s father helped orphaned children who had previously had a Jewish identity to move to Palestine, fighting against their conversions by the Catholic Church, which had hidden and taken care of them during the war. Herzog himself helped promote the settling of Jews in Palestine.

The author married Aura Eban, daughter of Abba. Originally from Egypt, she completed a special program that enabled her to join the Israeli diplomatic corps, then in its infancy. Herzog and his wife worked in the most dangerous areas of Jerusalem. During Israel’s war for independence, the enemies’ (Arabs’) terrorist car bombs were all the rage.

In 1949, truces were signed with Israel and its neighbors– Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan and Syria. The rise of the Palestine Liberation Organization meant that “Any Arab politician who was visibly friendly toward Israel faced serious, often fatal, repercussions” from retaliatory terrorist attacks.

David Ben Gurion watched television in Oxford and “…decided it was the ruin of mankind.” That was why Israel’s people were unable to have a television in their homes until 1968.

In autumn 1984, after a new government was formed in the country, (according to the author) Prime Minister Shimon Peres performed an economic miracle.  He had reduced the inflation rate from 450% in July to 20% in October, via an agreement among the government, the trade unions and industrialists. The resulting 30% compensation decrease of the unions curbed unemployment and saved the economy. However, he still failed to achieve world peace. And cure cancer.

Read the book to learn of what transpired when the French were looking to withdraw troops from Algeria, of the Israeli government’s internal power struggles in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, of the political positions held by the author, and what he accomplished in each of them through the decades.

The Age of Turbulence

The Book of the Week is “The Age of Turbulence” by Alan Greenspan, published in 2007. This is a career memoir / global macroeconomics overview in one tome. Perhaps it should have been split into two books so as to be more comprehensive, as the author, in describing the recent economic affairs of India, Russia and China, failed to mention major factors in connection therewith; such as the caste system, Jeffrey Sachs’ advice to Boris Yeltsin, and a detailed description of China’s one-child policy.

Born in 1926, Greenspan studied business and finance at New York University after WWII. While there, he spent two months on freelance work doing economics research. It involved pencil, paper and a slide rule. These days, it would take minutes and involve software.

In August 1974, the author was appointed chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. He cited President Nixon’s price and wage controls as an example of government action that leads to resistance from the market. The first quarter of 1976 saw the U.S. economy grow at 9.3% and the second quarter, at less than 2%. Greenspan was not alarmed by this kind of extreme swing; however, the slowing economy caused voters to choose Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford for president in 1976. During Carter’s term, economists learned that the way for a country to achieve long-term prosperity is to control inflation. The reason Carter caused financial havoc was that his economic goals contradicted each other.

In summer 1987, Greenspan became chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. In 1993, Bill Clinton chose to reduce the federal deficit rather than keep his campaign promises that necessitated increasing spending on various items. He could not afford to do both. The result was a budget surplus by 1998.

In late 1994, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve had to take action to prevent Mexico’s financial collapse. Otherwise, the southwestern states would be adversely affected, and immigrants coming into the U.S. would double.

In 1996, more and more households were exposing themselves to equity risks. Even so, introduction of the World Wide Web appears to have been an innovation that temporarily increased the economy’s ability to expand on an unusually grand scale. Approximately during the Web’s first decade, the economy wasn’t in a normal business cycle. The Web’s ability to make information available instantaneously, thus reducing uncertainty, provided a major boost to corporate America. The Fed, therefore, raised interest rates to curb inflation only in autumn 1998, what with the dire financial straits of the Russians, and hedge fund Long Term Capital Management’s bailout.

In the autumn of 2002, the Republicans turned a deaf ear to the author when he tried to tell them why it was important to rein in spending and renew the Budget Enforcement Act. He already had a difficult job, as he explained, “But too often we have to deal with incomplete and faulty data, unreasoning human fear, and inadequate legal clarity.” Nevertheless, Greenspan is optimistic about the future because the level of worldwide commerce and living standards can continue to rise indefinitely. He believes the presence of wholly competitive free markets and ever-improving technology are what drive them.

Read the book to learn about the two major elements required for a market economy and two others that are essential for growth and prosperity; the factors involved in predicting the health of the U.S. economy in 2030; three important influences on global growth; about the nature of economic populism, and much more.