The Last Idealist

WARNING: This is a long post.

“They watched him bang away at Berkeley and other campuses, a man nearing eighty-one commanding the attention of student crowds usually scornful of anyone over thirty.”

NOT Bernie Sanders. Norman Thomas.

The Book of the Week is “Norman Thomas, The Last Idealist” by W.A. Swanberg, published in 1976.

Born in November 1884 in Marion, Ohio, Thomas began attending divinity school in 1908, pursuant to his parents’ wish for him to become a Presbyterian reverend, like his father. He espoused the political ideology of a socialist, believing that antisocial behavior could be eliminated if people the world over were provided with a decent standard of living, as there would be no class resentment.

However, Thomas’ marriage to an heiress allowed him to live better than those he aided financially. Initially, the couple lived on an ethnically mixed, high-crime block in East Harlem, among Irish, Jews, Italians and Hungarians. He ministered to parishioners and established social programs at various churches.

Thomas was a charismatic public speaker and a pacifist, keeping busy “eight days a week” with all kinds of political, social and religious groups. He rubbed shoulders with the political influencers of the day, including president Woodrow Wilson. During WWI, he asked the president to refrain from conscripting conscientious objectors– both the devout and those who held sketchy religious beliefs like atheists (and agnostics like himself).

Thomas got in trouble and was forced to resign from his various groups for pacifist speechifying and distribution of pacifist publications (which were censored)– a clear and present danger once America entered WWI. Conscientious objectors and pacifists like himself were getting arrested and jailed. He railed that all Americans had a right to free speech (and later helped found the ACLU); hypocritically, the country was fighting the war in order to combat the fascist Prussians.

Although in 1917 Thomas endorsed the Socialist Party candidate Morris Hillquit for mayor of New York City, Thomas actually delayed joining the Party until the end of the war. Hillquit thought Thomas could be instrumental in getting more Gentiles to join, as the New York City chapter was overwhelmingly Jewish.

Both the Socialist and Communist parties ran candidates for mayor even though they knew they would lose. Each hoped to convert the members of the other’s Party to join their own. The socialists’ enemies smeared them all as Bolshevists (though only a few were on the far left fringe), as the Russian Revolution heated up.

In the 1920’s, the ruling class committed a lot of violence against the working class when there occurred labor unrest. The Palmer raids resulted in beatings, arrests and jailings. The government reasoned that violence was a necessary (temporary!) evil in restoring democracy. That was the same thinking of the Communists in America who felt the Soviets were creating the right kind of political system, but that the oppression would eventually cease.

Thomas wisely stayed Socialist through the decades, as he saw that Communists were totalitarian. Nevertheless, he was conflicted, as he took heart in the fact that the Russians fought against Fascism: by aiding the Loyalists in Spain during its civil war, and during WWII. Some American Communists were thrown for a loop after Stalin made a pact with Hitler in 1939; others, when Khrushchev revealed Stalin’s human rights abuses and atrocities in 1956.

In 1920, New York State Assembly speaker Thaddeus Sweet, a Republican, took the undemocratic action of suspending five New York State Assembly members just for being in the Socialist Party. Their constituents included sixty thousand voters in New York City. The Assembly voted 145-2 to expel them altogether. They were accused of seeking to break up traditional families, being anti-religious, and opposing capitalism.

In 1933, membership in the Socialist Party reached its peak, numbering about nineteen thousand. But those who had been spellbound by the shrewd, entertaining Thomas, began to back FDR instead; the latter began to offer similar social programs and was already president. Many voters thought the evils of capitalism had caused the Great Depression. Others turned to hatred spouted by rabble rousers like Father Coughlin, Hitler and Mussolini.

In the 1930’s, there were heated discussions, debates and decisions that never pleased everyone, between and among all the different factions (Communists, Trotskyites, Old Guard, Militant-Centrist, etc.) in election years and at political conventions. Up until 1936, they used various communications outlets to spread their gospel: the Rand School, the Jewish Daily Forward, a radio station, publications like the New Leader, and a summer camp.

In 1940, the American Labor Party favored FDR, who supported capitalism and war. Thomas acted as a spoiler, as he was still an anti-capitalist and pacifist. He bristled at Britain’s colonialism in India. Jews in New York City felt the need to fight Hitler, so their allegiance lay with FDR, especially after December 1941.

Arguably, Thomas engaged in hypocrisy in his choosing to ally with the Nazi-friendly Charles Lindbergh, but only because the latter wanted America to stay out of the war. Lindbergh, and Joseph P. Kennedy were the kinds of individuals who attached themselves to Hitler because they thought Germany would win the war. That way, in the end, they’d be on the winning side. They would get the spoils. Fortunately, on WWII, they guessed wrong.

Fast forward to spring 1960. After the U-2 incident, Thomas wrote, “… in the widely played game of peacetime espionage, we lie and cheat like the rest of them– only better, we now boast, because of our technical skill. In the anarchy of sovereign nations there are no morals, there is no crime, except to be caught.”

In summer 1963, Thomas, a Princeton University graduate, got his article published in the alumni magazine. He expressed his dismay that the school received a bit more than half (!) of its total budget from federal grants. He wanted to know what proportion of those were made on behalf of the Pentagon. No word on whether anyone answered him. Later, Thomas was bothered that the younger generation was rooting for the NLF and the Vietcong rather than trying to lobby LBJ to stop the Vietnam War. He advised them to wash, instead of burn, the American flag.

In the mid to late 1960’s, Thomas was able to push his causes because his articles were printed in the national, high-circulation Life and Playboy and Esquire magazines; he also did TV interviews with highly rated shows. Unfortunately, publicity is only a small ingredient that is part of the planning process in getting people to adopt causes. Thomas, even with all his popularity, lacked the other ingredients on and off during the entire course of his career: funding and executing (actually getting elected to office).

Read the book to learn of the numerous elective offices for which Thomas ran as a Socialist and his adventures in connection therewith globally: speaking, publishing and socializing with diplomats; of the details of decades-long Socialist Party infighting; the shocking revelation that came to light about the CIA in 1967; and much, much more.

ENDNOTE: This blogger would like to clarify once and for all, what characterizes a few different economic and political systems.

First:

With SOCIALISM, the people collectively own entities, and share and share alike. These can be profit-seeking businesses. The government can own entities that provide essential services, that should not be profit-seeking (but some of their subcontractors are, anyway), such as libraries, welfare, healthcare, early childhood education, infrastructure, and social programs.

With COMMUNISM, the government owns profit-seeking entities (businesses) in whole or in part (as in the former Soviet Union and China). So yes, these
include public-private partnerships in which there are clearly outrageous conflicts of interest that result in patronage and profiteering. So, arguably, the former Soviet Union and China have both Socialism and Communism to a large degree.

Also, see a bunch of this blog’s posts: Wikinomics, Here At the New Yorker (beginning with the 9th paragraph), Street Without A Name, Against the Grain, Crossing the River, and Patriot Number One. Lastly, see a bunch of excerpts from this blog’s posts:

  • Klima got a job with a construction crew [in Czechoslovakia in the 1950’s], where he got his first taste of socialism in action. “No one could earn more than was necessary for daily subsistence.” The government was stealing the economic surplus from the people. That was why corruption came into play. He was pressured into joining, surprise, surprise, the Communist Party. He said, “I was stunned by how the environment bubbled over with rancor, continual suspicion, malicious gossip, and personnel screening.”
  • Fast forward to 2007. Dubai’s small population of about a million citizens (mostly royal family members) allowed the government to adopt a socialist policy of generous entitlements, including an average annual $55,000 in stimulus money, and low-cost or no-cost: cooling of their lavish homes, car-fuel, food, education, healthcare, and water.
  • In late 1993, mayor Chirac [in Paris, France]– a socialist at heart– agreed to start a (no-charge) ambulance service for the homeless in Paris. By 1995, via the city council, against the wishes of the socialist (federal) government, he provided free medical care to 150,000 homeless people.
  • In the early 1920’s, “After 2 decades of debate and agitation, the rise and fall of Populist, Progressive and Socialist parties…” and lots of labor unrest, there was general consensus between government and American business “… that the role of government was not to supersede or control the corporation, but to legalize and legitimize it by regulating its excesses.” [As is well known, capitalism flourished until the late 1920’s.]
  • Because East Germany was a police state with a socialist mentality, the people availed themselves of a free university education. Merkel got hers, as well as a doctorate in nuclear physics. In exchange, she was required to work for the government for a specific period.
  • They examined democratic, autocratic and socialistic models of leadership. The most mature group was found in the first model. The second spawned a form of Nazism. The third model’s group members displayed resentment of lazy and non-cooperative individuals.
  • Although Communism preaches godlessness, the supervising Soviet government [in East Germany] allowed some religious activity among the local citizens. Merkel’s family was spied on by the Stasi- the secret police. It was cost-effective and efficient. For, all the socially dangerous elements (potential subversives) were in one place.
  • 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.
  • Blakely thought that bringing capitalism to them [Siberian people] would be a good thing. However, they soon developed an insatiable appetite for consumer goods. Once they were made of aware of their severe deprivation by the media and increased their connections with the rest of the world, they became depressed. Previously, they had been happy due to their ignorance of how materially poor they were.
  • After the Korean War, the Communist Party of North Korea oppressed business owners– who were considered evil capitalists, but praised farmers and peasants– who were considered virtuous; they served the Party. Adults were forced to attend self-criticism meetings every Saturday morning. The meeting leaders punished them by making them stand up against the wall while others stared at them. Around the time she started school, Jang and her mother went to a theater for the first time. They saw a movie written by their fearless leader, Kim il-sung. Of course, it ended happily because the peasants conquered the landlords.
  • Once in power [in 2000, Communist] Putin actually kick-started the Russian economy by nationalizing oil companies, and taking control of the gas industry and television.
  • In order for any native (Chinese) to prevail at a journalism career, joining the Communist Party was mandatory. This involved attending Party conferences on some weekends.
  • Under Vladimir Lenin in 1918 Russia, “The very notion of pleasure from flavorful food was reviled as capitalist degeneracy.” Millions died of starvation under [Communist] Stalin in 1927 when he took over the means of grain production.
  • It examines the issue of whether Berlusconi practiced Fascism, not necessarily through creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, but through monopolistically broadcasting propaganda in the guise of education, to the masses. He combined his business dealings with politics to amass a staggering amount of power, with the usual conflicts of interest that come with the territory.
  • He [Charles Koch] became a convert to it [Libertarianism] in its most extreme form. It espouses the belief that a purely capitalist society is the best economic system. This means total deregulation, no entitlements such as government-administered retirement or medical plans, no unions, no socialism of any kind, no income tax, and a government whose role is only to protect citizens and property from each other and outsiders, and from fraud. As a result of their political mentality, Charles and David could have cared less about the environmental destruction and wrongful deaths their company caused due to poorly maintained oil and gas pipelines. Perhaps to salve his conscience, David made huge donations to cultural institutions, especially in New York City. The liberals (hypocritically) gratefully accepted the money, notwithstanding David’s political activities that led to rack and ruin.
  • In the early 1990’s, [Soviet] leader Boris Yeltsin became a convert of [Jeffrey] Sachs. The result was mass corruption. On the other hand, this has helped the United States and other nations with already evolved [mostly] capitalist systems to maintain their economic dominance in the world. This blogger is not saying such a goal is right or wrong, but merely suggesting that this might have been Sachs’ goal.

***

Quiet Strength – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Quiet Strength, The Principles, Practices, & Priorities of A Winning Life” by Tony Dungy with Nathan Whitaker, published in 2007.

Born in 1954, Dungy grew up to become a professional football coach. In 1999, at an after-game press conference, he expressed his displeasure with the referees’ rulings and instant replays. He was fined by the then-NFL commissioner ten thousand dollars.

About four years later, and again, about six years later– an instant replay helped Dungy’s team win in the last play of the game. The way the former win occurred was unprecedented in that the team scored three touchdowns in the last four minutes of an away game on Monday night, against the latest Super Bowl winners, in his original hometown. On his birthday.

Dungy thought God had something to do with that. Read the book to learn much more about his religious bent, philosophy, and the different roles he played in his life, in addition to that of coach.

Strom Thurmond’s America

The Book of the Week is “Strom Thurmond’s America” by Joseph Crespino, published in 2012.

Born in December 1902 in South Carolina, Thurmond grew up in the small-town farming community of Edgefield. His father was an attorney and his family was wealthy and aristocratic.

In 1929, Thurmond became schools superintendent in his hometown. He favored giving a teachers a raise and extending the academic year, funded by the state through a beer tax. He entered into a legal apprenticeship under his father, and in 1933, as a Democrat, was elected to South Carolina’s state senate. Three years later, he became a circuit-court judge, traveling around the state to preside over county-court cases.

During the Depression, the way Thurmond and his fellow southern Democrats defined themselves as “liberal” allowed them to support FDR’s New Deal in order to provide financial aid for white farmers and low-skilled industrial workers in their districts.

After fighting in WWII, Thurmond ran for governor as a Democrat. He was a white-supremacist, mudslinging, drama-queen, populist demagogue while campaigning. Although he did some good things, his actions were always politically expedient. In 1947, he actually delivered on a promise to have South Carolina law enforcement and FBI agents round up 31 (white) men who were suspects in the lynching of a black man. However, a jury of twelve white men acquitted the suspects.

At the time, the United States was helping to establish the United Nations– an international body that concerned itself with respecting human rights. There was pressure on the state of South Carolina to help America maintain a good reputation in that regard, so Thurmond spoke in favor of a federal anti-lynching law. Thurmond and his fellow Dixiecrats wanted to continue to prevent intermingling of blacks and whites so as to not contaminate the genes of the latter. He therefore denigrated every one of president Truman’s civil rights proposals.

And Thurmond was always arguing for state-level laws. To that end, in 1948, he ran for president on the States’ Rights ticket (a third party) in order to play the spoiler against Truman to kill civil rights legislation. But postwar, he returned to a lucrative law practice.

Thurmond then sided with corporate America and the kings of industry in oil, cattle, sugar planters, mercantile and shipping entities, steel, coal, and textiles, etc. He became rabidly anti-Communist and anti-union. Up until 1950 in South Carolina, voting for the Republican Party was NOT anonymous. If one wanted to do so, one had to request a ballot at the polls when he or she voted.

Thurmond ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 1954 as a write-in candidate (due to the previous officeholder’s death) even though his fellow Democrats were less than thrilled that he had disloyally run as a third-party candidate in 1948.

A litany of events and groups influenced voters in the South: the Korean War, the Democratic National Committee, the federal goings-on, the CIO, the NAACP, the national labor movement, the upward mobility of urbanites, and backlash (by whites) against southern blacks consequent to Truman’s civil rights legislation.

In the early 1960’s, Thurmond executed a series of far-right-wing campaigns that failed. For one, he pushed for the Nike-Zeus missile program that would help America respond to an attack by the U.S.S.R.; another had him holding hearings to stop JFK from scotching a military education initiative that would spew anti-Communist rhetoric. Finally, in September 1964, Thurmond announced he was a (Barry) Goldwater Republican.

Two prominent legal minds (William Rehnquist and Robert Bork) expressed their opinions that the 1964 Civil Rights Act would lead to a tattletale culture when it came to civil rights violations. Another indicator of the mentality of then-conservatives was that of blaming the Supreme Court for its pro-desegregation stance in a 1969 ruling in a major case, instead of blaming president Nixon.

Two years later, however, in 1971, Thurmond hired a black staffer (!) He needed to repair his reputation after he backed conservative Democrat congressman Albert Watson, who agreed with him on civil rights issues but ran a dirty campaign in 1970. Thurmond needed to woo moderate Republican voters to get reelected in 1972. Nevertheless, he stuck with Nixon until the end.

In sum, the current COVID face-covering issue in American schools is as controversial as desegregation-busing was from the mid-1960’s into the mid-1970’s. Shortly before he was reelected in 1972, Thurmond actually said, “If it [busing] improves the quality of education, then busing is good. If it doesn’t, then I think it’s bad.” According to their respective memoirs, busing was good for Vernon Jordan, but was socially traumatic and a hardship for Donna Brazile.

So letting local officials decide, pursuant to the majority of their constituents’ preferences, might have been a better policy. And if local officials acted against those preferences, then community organizing and political activism in neighborhoods that believed in education, would likely lead to some changes in the next election year. Dissatisfaction would reach critical mass eventually, in those districts.

Incidentally, in 1975, Senator Joe Biden listened to his constituents in his state of Delaware. He wrote a bill making race irrelevant to assignment of students and teachers to schools.

Read the book to learn of: the skeleton in Thurmond’s closet, his presidential-run results, his one-man filibuster, the historical events (Supreme Court cases and election campaigns) that compelled him to change with the times (or else he would see the end of his political career), the differences between his style of campaigning and that of Jesse Helms, and much more.

The Most Dangerous Man In Detroit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tough Love – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Tough Love, My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For” by Susan Rice, published in 2019.

Rice– of Jamaican ancestry on her mother’s side, and African American on her father’s side– spent her childhood in Washington, D.C. She was a key player in foreign policy during the presidential administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

In economics and foreign policy, president Ronald Reagan truly led a “Revolution” that has lasted forty years. American political, economic, and even cultural hegemony began to be taken for granted. The way his administration papered over the downsides of the United States’ military intervention in the world’s hotspots (except for Lebanon), made “might makes right” acceptable again, less than a decade (!) after Vietnam.

Rice (post-Obama) had an awakening similar to that of Jeanne Kirkpatrick (post-Reagan) when she naively wrote, “At the time, the notion we could send U.S. forces to a faraway land to save innocent lives only to have our lives taken away was infuriating and bewildering.”

Yet Rice sometimes favored sending in troops (through the UN) during the many instances of bloody unrest (some genocidal) that reared their ugly heads on various continents in the 1990’s into the 2000’s. She put in her two cents in heated, emotionally stressful debates over civil wars in Somalia, Rwanda, Libya (which eventually became a quagmire– unsurprisingly), Syria, etc.

Often, the alleged initial mission of NATO was to stem the proliferation of deaths of civilians. But in the long run– even with all kinds of assistance (military, political, humanitarian) from democratic countries– civilians in the Third World cannot break their homeland’s vicious dictatorship cycle (See this blog’s entire category “Third-World-Country-Victims of War and/or Dictator”).

Another set of repeated epic fails through the decades (as recently as the 2010’s) has been the United States’ attempts at “Vietnamization.” During 2012, Rice and other high-level officials wrung their hands regarding Syria. Rice wrote, “President Obama decided in 2013 to join our Sunni Arab and Turkish partners in arming and later training vetted Syrian rebels who were fighting Assad [Syria’s leader]. Some were terrorists.”

A simple reason for the failure of “Vietnamization” is that the people are being given fish (short-term handouts) with too much emphasis on military operations. This quick fix is provided by short-sighted politicians who have their eye on reelection or political expedience. The alternative is teaching the people how to fish (a system of democracy that jives with their culture), which is expensive, and takes years or decades, and might not be worth doing, pursuant to the strategic interests of the “liberators.” Installing democracy is like installing new software– it’s initially problematic, and it will require frequent patches and updates, and occasionally third-level tech support, indefinitely.

Read the book to learn of the smear campaigns launched against Rice (including that led by Lindsey Graham after Benghazi), how she built her career and what she did, the different mentalities of the UN and U.S. government agencies that handled foreign policy, the different personalities of all kinds of people whom Rice encountered in her lifetime, and almost everything you ever wanted to know about her life.

Let the Glory Out

“Yet because of his gargantuan inheritance from one of America’s richest fortunes, permissible by our faulty tax laws, there he sat as chairman… a frequent guest at the White House… Many politicians, too equated money with brains and esteem.”

-written about early 1960’s economic royalist Henry Ford II

The Book of the Week is “Let the Glory Out, My South and Its Politics” by Albert Gore, Sr., first published in 2000 [but written in 1972]. The author (father of former vice president Al Gore), a U.S. senator from Tennessee, described his experiences in politics. Sadly, the nature of some politicians’ behavior has changed little since the 1950’s and 1960’s.

As is well known, the 1950’s saw several landmark U.S. Supreme Court Civil-Rights Movement cases. [As an aside, charter schools are the modern-day version of “separate but equal” situation in American education– when compared to the private schools attended by children of wealthy parents (See the second-to-last paragraph of this blog’s post “Vernon Can Read”)].

Anyway, Congressman E.C. Gathings of Arkansas thought that the move toward racial integration was a Communist plot (!) Other American politicians weren’t so zealous in spreading anti-Communist propaganda, but they did fight integration tooth and nail. These included among others, Strom Thurmond, Harry Byrd and Richard Russell. They wanted to maintain the then-status quo of white supremacy and States’ rights.

Read the book to learn many more ways in which the same political issues keep rearing their ugly heads again and again and again, because some people (such as those in the CDC [Centers for Disease Control]) under political pressure, will say anything in order to secure funding for, and/or keep their jobs at, their organizations. Along these lines, here’s a lamentation on the CDC of late:

CDC

sung to the tune of “Maybelline” with apologies to the estate of Chuck Berry.

CDC, is what you say true?
Oh CDC, is what you say true?
You flip-flop on all you advise us to do.

As the pandemic lockdown was a go
I saw CDC contradictions grow.

When deciding on a mask mandate for all,
you made a really confusing call.

On closing schools you went against the grain.
Partly why the country went insane.

CDC, is what you say true?
Oh CDC, is what you say true?
You flip-flop on all you advise us to do.

Well with orders, guidelines and mandates,
you influenced govs ruling our states.

You got cloudy on immigration.
You crossed boundaries, causing irritation.

The stress from your waffling affected neighborhoods.
We knew you were doing propagandists good.

CDC, is what you say true?
Oh CDC, is what you say true?
You flip-flop on all you advise us to do.

CDC, is what you say true?
Oh CDC, is what you say true?
You flip-flop on all you advise us to do.

Well, the country calmed down, deaths went down.
We heard more of your untrustworthy sound.

Your messaging looked like politics again.
Who knows what your real motive was then?

We’re not listening, not sittin’ still.
We’re living our lives. You are a pill.

CDC, is what you say true?
Oh CDC, is what you say true?
You flip-flop on all you advise us to do.

The Life and Times of Little Richard

The Book of the Week is “The Life and Times of Little Richard, The Quasar of Rock” by Charles White, published in 1984. This story included quotes from people who knew the subject, and quotes from the subject himself. WARNING: As is well known, Little Richard was a rock star; this volume described graphic sex scenes.

Born in Macon, Georgia, Richard Penniman was the third child of thirteen born to a teenage mother in December 1932. He was a problem child and class clown, having a crying need for constant attention. Fortunately, he was supervised and disciplined by a tight-knit African-American community that encouraged his talent, so although he was always getting into trouble, he avoided doing serious harm to people or damaging property, or becoming a career-criminal. Throughout his life, he vacillated between singing religious music, and singing music he perceived as banned by his religion.

At a young age, Richard began singing gospel music with a group of other kids organized by an adult from the local church. His mother was raised as a Baptist; his father, a Methodist. He himself preferred to attend a Pentecostal church. In high school, he learned to play the saxophone in a marching band. In the 1950’s he saw traveling musicians at the local concert hall, and even got to meet a few of the greats of that era, such as Cab Calloway.

At fourteen years old, Richard left home to become a singer in the floor-show of a literal traveling snake-oil-salesman. He soon transferred his talents to singing and developing his own style of attention-grabbing choreography, with a band that played the standards, that traveled all over the state of Georgia. Over the next few years, he performed with a series of bands, met lots of people in the community, and attended numerous shows of the period– minstrel, vaudeville and night-club.

In October 1951, Richard got his first recording-contract with RCA. He was to deal with various music companies in the years to come. At that time, he was singing rhythm and blues, and wore a pompadour. He sang other people’s songs. He soon switched to rock and roll.

Later, Richard’s signature song got lots of laughs from night-club audiences for its initial obscene lyrics– “Tutti Frutti, good booty – if it don’t fit, don’t force it, you can grease it, make it easy…” Of course, the song had to be rewritten to be played on the radio. Richard resented the fact that Pat Boone (a white singer) sang a cover version that was made number one in the radio countdown. Richard’s own concert audiences were about 90% white.

In the 1950’s, the back room of a furniture store served as a recording studio. The space was large enough to accommodate a full orchestra and grand piano. But someone had to make adjustments for the acoustics of the room via careful placement of microphones and locating the drummer outside the door.

After a while, Richard realized he had been repeatedly cheated of reasonable compensation, given his talent and how hard he worked. In the mid-1950’s, pursuant to his contract, he made half a cent for each record sold.

The powers-that-be obviously knew how to maximize profits– the early rhythm and blues holding-companies had music-publishing companies, which owned the record companies. One way Richard and his concert-entourage wised up, was to demand half their pay when they signed a contract, and collect their remaining pay just before they went onstage. Or else they wouldn’t go onstage.

Richard eventually accumulated sufficient wealth to buy a house for his mother and siblings in the Sugar Hill district of West Los Angeles, next door to Joe Louis. Other famous singers such as Elvis, Bill Haley and Buddy Holly began covering Richard’s songs. When Richard gave concerts with his band, the Upsetters, he wore crazy clothes, makeup and had long hair. The band members got their hair done at a beauty salon. At one performance in El Paso, Texas, Richard was arrested for having that long hair.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on Richard’s life, including what transpired when: Richard found God again, stopped his drug addiction, alcoholism and promiscuity, had to deal with racial issues, and much more.

Barbara Jordan

The Book of the Week is “Barbara Jordan, American Hero” by Mary Beth Rogers, published in 1998.

Born in Houston, Texas in 1936, Jordan was the youngest of three daughters. She was inspired to become an attorney after hearing Edith Spurlock Sampson speak at her high school. In 1962, when Jordan was running for a seat in the Texas legislature, the Democrat party was split between liberals and conservatives. The liberals were smeared as “radicals, integrationists, labor goons and nigger-lovers.”

The biggest tragedy of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency was that he wasted untold amounts of taxpayer money on the Vietnam War that could have been better spent on fighting poverty. As is well known, Nixon followed his lead, and in addition, had his own evil agenda. Fortunately, Jordan played well politically with others. So when she explained Nixon’s crimes in laypeople’s language, everyone listened.

Jordan said, “One should regret that it happened– then try to find out why. What is it about the American political system which allowed this kind of event to occur… then maybe we can prevent it in the future.” Sadly, human nature gets in the way, every time. It’s a vicious cycle. In 1990, after Ann Richards was elected governor of Texas, Jordan became chief ethics officer in the statehouse. Richards ordered ethics training (for the first time ever (!)) for her state-board and commission appointees, numbering about a thousand, during the course of her four-year term. As is well known, that’s a bygone era.

Speaking of ethics, here’s a parody on the latest tabloid punching-bag, Rudy Giuliani:

STEP UP, OLD RUDY

sung to the tune of “Wake Up, Little Susie” with apologies to the Everly Brothers.

Step up, old Rudy, step up.
Step up, old Rudy, step up.

Attorney-client privilege won’t fly.
Step up, old Rudy, don’t lie. It’s been two years, the jig is up.
Your own legal bills are high.
Step up, old Rudy, step up, old Rudy.

Well, what weren’t you gonna tell the State?
What dirt on Biden couldn’t wait?
What’d you tell your political friends to seal-that-ambassador’s fate?
Step up, old Rudy, step up, old Rudy.

Well, you told us that you were lobbying for Trump.
Well Rudy baby, your loyalty made you a chump.
Step up, old Rudy, step up, old Rudy.
You’re on your own.

Step up, old Rudy, step up.
Step up, old Rudy, step up.

Ukraine-trip put you on the spot.
Plus the Dominion-voting-machine plot.
You’re sell-ing the Brooklyn Bridge.
Your goose is cooked, your reputation is shot.
Step up, old Rudy, step up, old Rudy.

Well, what weren’t you gonna tell the State?
What dirt on Biden couldn’t wait?
What’d you tell your political friends to seal-that-ambassador’s fate?
Step up, old Rudy, step up, old Rudy.
Step up, old Rudy…

Anyway, read the book to learn much more about Jordan’s life.

L.A. Justice – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “L.A. Justice, Lessons from the Firestorm” by Robert Vernon, published in 1993.

In 1954, the author joined the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Through the decades of his career, he watched the LAPD become corrupted by the worst aspects of human nature. By the early 1990’s, the department had scrapped the civil service system in favor of using patronage in awarding promotions. This necessitated pleasing local politicians. Always a bad idea.

So at the tail end of April 1992, when the verdict was announced in the Rodney King legal case, law enforcement was unprepared for the rioting that broke out in South-Central Los Angeles.

The author, lately named assistant chief of police of Los Angeles, bragged about helping start a community program in 1990– successful at the book’s writing. It was called “Operation Cul-de-Sac” and involved transforming a high-crime neighborhood into a gated community. It was implemented in about seven hundred households in South Central Los Angeles. The author wrote, “… changing behavior must begin by influencing a belief system.”

The program must have done so, as it created support networks of families and friends, significantly reduced crime, and significantly increased school attendance.

Unfortunately, despite its success, the program was not to last much longer. The reason? It was funded by the LAPD– not special-interest political groups in the community. So local politicians were left out of the loop– unable to hand out patronage jobs.

Read the book to learn of all kinds of other frustrations suffered by the author in his experiences with the LAPD.

Vigilance

The Book of the Week is “Vigilance, My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City” by Ray Kelly, published in 2015.

Born in Manhattan in September 1941, the author grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Long Island City in Queens county, the youngest of five children. He was a cadet for the New York City police department (NYPD) while attending college, where he majored in business.

In 1964, he was a U.S. Marine and “… getting sent to the Southeast Asian nation [Vietnam] was still seen as a perfectly fine posting… an exotic place where you could go and be an adviser, play at some guerrilla warfare, obtain command and experience, and learn about a different culture…” He went there and actually enjoyed the life-threatening aspects of soldiering.

In the early 1970’s, the author was assigned to the vice squad, whose subdivisions kept pimps, prostitutes, numbers-racketeers, and drug dealers in line. That last category changed their products through the years, from opium, pot and acid, to heroin and pills. In the mid-1980’s, the crime rate soared with the introduction of crack-cocaine.But rather than blame an increase in crime on social ills such as drugs, family breakups and poverty– the mayor of New York City in the early 1990’s, David Dinkins– appointed the author as police commissioner, who changed the NYPD, starting in October 1992.

The author engaged in operations management to determine the number of cops (of a total of about 25,000) required for specific types of calls, to deploy the city’s resources wisely. He thought Dinkins deserved more credit than he got for lowering the crime rate.Beginning in the mid-1990’s, the author earned a law degree, and worked in a few different capacities in white-collar law enforcement on behalf of the federal government. He bragged about helping with big drug busts involving Mexican marijuana, Federal Express, cocaine cartels and Mexican banks in the late 1990’s. He also bragged about foiling a terrorist plot involving a car bomb at Los Angeles airport at the end of 1999. After 9/11, he felt there was a crying need to dispel inter-agency rivalry in United States law enforcement. He favored consolidating agencies to form one, that would be responsible for homeland security.

Incidentally, the personal accounts of senators Tom Daschle and Robert Byrd contained starkly different recollections as to how the Department of Homeland Security was formed. The reason was that: Daschle and his staff were subjected to lots of trauma and massive disruption as victims of an anthrax attack in 2001 so they personally witnessed the problems with American law enforcement and saw the need for one department, whereas Byrd’s office experienced no such ordeal, so Byrd zeroed in on George W. Bush’s political exploitation of the situation.

BUT– not only did the Bush administration chaotically rush into consolidating departments, it also failed to provide job security and benefits for newer employees. In law enforcement especially, that is an invitation for trouble– that means higher turnover than otherwise among employees who have access to weaponry and sensitive data. Enough said.

Anyway, the author became NYPD police commissioner again with mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002. He created counter-terrorism and intelligence departments. His idea of policing involved the “three C’s” of Counter-terrorism, Crime-fighting and Community relations. He took credit for technologically modernizing the NYPD. For, in the single-digit 2000’s, “… We had twenty different databases that didn’t speak to each other and were almost impossible to search. Each division, bureau, and unit had its own hardware and software and its own unique way of maintaining the files.”

Beginning in 2003, the NYPD stationed (anti-terrorism) detectives in major cities around the world, starting with Israel, of course. The author felt that international cooperation was an important element of countering threats from abroad. He wrote that geopolitical pressure between or among allies brought to bear on rogue states, could deter attacks. He boasted that in 2006, his team foiled a plot to blow up the Hudson River tunnels in Manhattan.

In 2013, he launched a social-media operation whose goal was to detect online activity that would result in gang activity on the streets. The author expressed his views on a few other topics; he believed:

  • body-cameras should be used by law enforcement officers, as they protect both officers and the public;
  • there should be diversity in hiring of officers, as their jobs are a community-oriented service, and should be a reflection of the community; and
  • military equipment should be used by local law enforcement only as a last resort.

Read the book to learn additional details of the author’s life and career.