The Shadow President

The Book of the Week is “The Shadow President, The Truth about Mike Pence” by Michael D’Antonio and Peter Eisner, published in 2018.

Born in 1959 in Columbus, Indiana (yes), Pence was the third oldest of six children. He was a champion debater in high school. He lost two Congressional races starting in 1990. After his second loss, he wrote a public statement admitting to his negative campaigning but neither repented nor apologized. He hosted a radio show, then a TV show.

Pence served twelve years in Congress beginning in 2001 and four years as Indiana’s governor before getting elected vice president of the United States in 2016.

The first thing Pence did as governor was pass a tax cut for “Hoosiers” (as he calls people from his state), but he exaggerated its benefits. He had epic fails in connection with forming public/private partnerships and refusing to: fund healthcare initiatives in Indiana and to pardon a man who was wrongly imprisoned for ten years. “At worst, he [Pence] was a powerful official willing to inflict pain on an innocent man in order to show he was tough on crime.”

People who worked with Pence said he wasn’t intellectual and didn’t take the work seriously. He did travel abroad extensively, however, suggesting he was hankering for higher office.

He is a radical conservative Christian right-winger; others of his ilk include President Donald Trump’s appointees– the heads of various federal agencies. They attend Bible study sessions.

Pence believes in predestination, and his hero is the late convicted Watergate criminal Charles Colson. His views are as follows: virulently anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-big government, anti-national healthcare, pro-charter schools, pro-privatization of government entitlements, pro-tax cuts, pro-reducing the deficit, pro-financial aid for Israel, pro-NRA, and pro-trade agreements like NAFTA.

According to the book, Pence is involved with a secretive Christian Right group called the Family (aka the Fellowship), which is anti-union, anti-Communist, and pals around with anti-gay business leaders and even dictatorial world leaders in order to grow its social network of wealth and power.

It might be recalled that President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and and Control Act of 1986. It was for an economic (not a humanitarian) reason: the workforces of various industries (agriculture, construction, etc.) depended on and consisted of, a significant number of immigrants.

At that time, Pence favored that legislation (which conditionally gave citizenship to: specific illegal immigrants who did seasonal farmwork, and illegal immigrants who were in America before the start of 1982). Not anymore.

Incidentally, when politicians and employers tacitly turn a blind eye to illegal immigrants in the workforce, they are not only favoring money over people, but also money (and political expedience) over American citizens. There is real conflict among greed, xenophobia and helping their constituents.

In January 2017, Pence was present at a Trump Tower meeting at which the directors of the top four U.S. intelligence agencies “… presented classified and categorical evidence that Russia had hacked into the U.S. election and that Vladimir Putin was personally responsible for authorizing this activity.”

At that time, the director of national intelligence told Trump that he and his colleagues lacked the authority and capability to determine whether Russia’s intrusion significantly affected the outcome of the election. But then he wrote that such activity did in his 2018 memoir. Nonetheless, Pence declared it didn’t.

Lastly, Pence fell under the spell of the Koch brothers, and is Trump’s sycophant. He therefore will argue against all things environmentally friendly, and will always waffle at press conferences and in interviews. Read the book to learn of additional details.

The Netanyahu Years – BONUS POST

This political biography, “The Netanyahu Years” by Ben Caspit, translated by Ora Cummings, published in 2017, described a speech-making, megalomaniacal Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who made a miraculous comeback, given his situation and mediocre, if not disgraceful record.

This book committed an egregious factual error in two different places: “During Bill Clinton’s first term in office in 1997…” and “His [Netanyahu’s] first meeting with Bill Clinton took place on July 9, 1996. Clinton had already been in office for six months, Netanyahu, barely one month.”

The reader is also left wondering about the following: “On November 21, 2005, Ariel Sharon announced he was leaving the Likud Party…” but in later text, “On December 18, 2004, Prime Minister Sharon suffered a minor stroke… Two weeks later… a second stroke… pushed Sharon into a coma from which he never awoke.”

Besides, this book was sloppily proofread, presented confusing timelines, was redundant and disorganized; perhaps the author believed he was building suspense. Nevertheless, the overall themes of the book’s subject’s career and personality came across as credible.

Born in 1949 in Israel, Netanyahu grew up in a political family. His father’s side believed in Jabotinsky’s brand of Zionism– at one time proposing that the Jewish homeland be located in Uganda. In the early 1940’s, his father got no action from Franklin Roosevelt on saving Europe’s Jews, so he and his Zionist political group allied with Republicans to get some.

In September 1947, the elder Netanyahu put forth a Revisionist proposal at the United Nations opposing the Jewish/Arab partition. He ruled his family by fear and force, with regular beatings. Starting when the younger Netanyahu was eight, the family moved to New York City and two or three years later, Philadelphia. But the youngster’s heart was still in Israel. He returned there every summer during his teen years.

In the late 1960’s, for five years, Netanyahu served in an elite, top secret group in the Israeli military. He was almost killed in a secret Suez Canal mission. Despite serving in the Israeli military, he was apparently able to keep his American citizenship. For, he returned to America to major in physics and chemistry first at Cornell and then graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Netanyahu became a businessman but Moshe Arens convinced him to become a politician (or diplomat/propagandist, to be more specific) on behalf of Israel beginning in the early 1980’s. He was already divorced with a daughter, whom he later very nearly disowned, not through any apparent fault of hers. He then went through a second wife. Not because he was a media whore, although he was also that.

By May 1988, Netanyahu was a high Likud (Conservative) Party official in Israel. Yet he did American-style campaigning. He paid a fortune for voter and polling data, and was a super fundraiser. Like Donald Trump, he had his claques, flacks and sycophants. He started dating another female. They broke up. However, she got pregnant during election season. For the sake of his image, he felt he needed to marry her.

During the next election, Netanyahu still felt he had to prove his sexual prowess by having an affair. His political enemies blackmailed him on this score, but he outwitted them. He went on television to honestly admit it but refused to withdraw from the race. In spring 1993, he reconciled with his wife, with the condition that she was free to behave like a “bridezilla”– not with regard to a wedding ceremony, but with regard to his political career. She owned him and his career ever after.

In 1994 and 1995, again, mimicking an American politico who practices hate-mongering, Netanyahu incited young Likud voters to whip up a frenzy of outrage to protest the peace talks among then-Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, the PLO, Jordan and Syria; such talks were moderated by American president Bill Clinton. Netanyahu tacitly supported the protestors when they gathered “… in Jerusalem’s Zion Square where huge simulated photographs of Rabin in an SS Nazi uniform were raised high. Crazed demonstrators set fire to Rabin’s picture.” Luckily for Netanyahu, the perpetrator of Rabin’s November 1995 assassination was unaffiliated with the Likud party.

In 1996, Netanyahu won his election for prime minister by a nose, partly due to election legislation he helped to enact. Like John F. Kennedy, he underwent an epic fail early in his administration, due to his youth and inexperience. Like with the Bay of Pigs incident, the prime minister authorized a sneak attack on an enemy of his– the terrorist group Hamas.

Netanyahu’s administration was a revolving door of personnel, thanks to his wife’s interference. Together, especially when campaigning, they were like other dictatorial couples– the Ceausescus, the Perons, the Marcoses… with their outsize egos, department of dirty tricks, and broken campaign promises, especially after their election victory in 2009. At his reelection, Netanyahu hogged the jobs of five ministers, plus that of prime minister.

Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu launched a hate campaign against American president Barack Obama when he realized he couldn’t get along with him. This book rambled on in a few chapters on the conversations between the Americans and the Israelis regarding the “Iran nuclear deal” but never did explain what it was. Netanyahu made Obama a scapegoat for all his troubles and derived a huge amount of political capital from doing so. The same way Trump has done.

Read the book to learn more Israeli history, and additional ways Netanyahu was bigger than Israel, given his rumored psychological problems.


The Pioneering Odyssey of Freeman Dyson

The Book of the Week is “The Pioneering Odyssey of Freeman Dyson, Maverick Genius” by Phillip F. Schewe, published in 2013. This is a biography of the multi-disciplinary mathematician / scientist, theorist, professor, author and lecturer.

The author named nearly all of the most famous twentieth-century nuclear physicists (and provided historical backdrop that led to scientific advances in physics, war and astronomy), and briefly described their contributions– even a few of whom Dyson hardly knew; that is, except for two scientists, who happened to be female:  Marie Cure and Lise Meitner. This oversight might be due to the fact that the author encountered little or no literature on them (due to their gender) when researching this book. Ironically, the author did admit, however, that Dyson’s marital troubles were due to his sexist hypocrisy.

Anyway, born in Great Britain in 1923, Dyson grew up in a wealthy family in the London suburb of Winchester. His mother was already 43 at his birth. Pursuant to family tradition, he was sent to boarding school at eight years old. Due to WWII, in two years rather than four, he earned a degree in mathematics at Cambridge University.

Dyson was then tapped to use his newly acquired knowledge as a tactical aviation consultant of sorts for the war effort, staying stateside. Postwar, as a graduate, he resumed his education, studying physics at Cambridge and Cornell universities. He never did finish his PhD.

Nevertheless, of all his lifetime’s workplaces, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton was where he spent the longest total time. In the late 1940’s, he was supervised by J. Robert Oppenheimer. He explained the missing link between Richard Feynman’s, Julian Schwinger’s and Shin’ichiro Tomonaga’s ideas about field theory in nuclear physics; more specifically, quantum electrodynamics.

Yes, Dyson did rocket science, too, at the dawn of the 1960’s. However, it was all theoretical. He actually wanted to go on a mission to Mars or Saturn or Jupiter. Dyson’s fluency in Russian allowed him to understand the Soviet mentality on the space and arms races.

Paradoxically, during the Cold War, an adverse consequence of the testing of nuclear weapons included cancer deaths due to radiation exposure; about a thousand of them annually. This was an acceptable sacrifice (in the name of saving the world)– as highway deaths numbered about fifty thousand annually. That changed of course, with nuclear accidents and seat belts in later decades.

In 1976, Dyson supervised a graduate student who wrote a term paper that generated much controversy.  “From non-classified government documents, freely available to anyone, Phillips [the student] proceeded to gather a primer of frightening specificity showing step by step how to build a nuclear bomb.” The student got an “A.”

Read the book to learn of Dyson’s views on extraterrestrials and extrasensory perception, on how religion and science can coexist; his fantasies about what humans could do in outer space in the future; his participation in a think tank named Jason, his take on global warming, the reversal of his beliefs on nuclear matters, and much more.

Golda – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Golda, the Uncrowned Queen of Israel” by Robert Slater, published in 1981. This pictorial biography described the life of a revered politician and passionate Zionist.

Born in May 1898 in Kiev in Russia’s Pale of Settlement, Golda Meir was one of only two children in her Yiddish-speaking family to survive infancy. In 1906, the family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. However, as a teenager, Meir absconded to her twenty-something sister’s home in Denver, Colorado. Her parents convinced her to come back, where she was permitted to finish her schooling instead of looking for a husband. Like her parents, she believed in the Zionist cause.

After working for a Zionist nonprofit organization in Chicago for a short stint, in December, 1917, Meir eventually found a husband anyway. In May 1921, they moved to Palestine along with her sister’s family and her parents. She started a teaching job. Eventually, they jumped through all the hoops required to get accepted to the kibbutz of Merhavia.

Meir was assigned to do poultry farming. Her husband didn’t like the fact that parents and children had separate living quarters in the kibbutzim. So three years later, when she was ready to bear children, they moved to Tel Aviv, then Jerusalem. She went to work for another Zionist organization, Histradut, traveling and making speeches. As she was a workaholic, she hardly ever saw her family. It was rumored that she had affairs to advance her career.

For a few years after WWII, Meir became an executive member of the Yishuv– trying to save refugees’ lives through smuggling of people and arms via the Jewish intelligence services, and negotiating with the British. In November 1947, the newly formed United Nations voted in favor of a partition consisting of a Jewish state, and an Arab state, in the territory of Palestine.

Meir became a sufficiently prominent figure in the founding of Israel to sign its Declaration of Independence. Ben-Gurion was its first leader; he appointed her minister to Russia. The Soviet bureaucracy under Stalin ignored foreign diplomats. Israel and the USRR weren’t enemies but they weren’t friends, except for when it came to proposing toasts at social gatherings. Then they were friends.

In spring 1949, Meir became labor minister in Ben-Gurion’s cabinet. She argued for open immigration and housing and jobs. She almost bankrupted the government with her social programs. But living standards of Israelis rose dramatically.

Read the book to learn about the rest of Meir’s political career, health, family and her other crosses to bear.

Summing Up – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Summing Up, An Autobiography” by Yitzhak Shamir, published in 1994.

Born in 1915 in a very small town that was alternately Soviet and Polish territory, future Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was fluent in Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish. Although they were Zionists, his parents were active in the Bund, the recently founded non-religious, anti-Zionist Socialist party that attracted Eastern European Jews to its ranks.

At twenty years old, Shamir moved to Palestine. Over the next three decades, he served in three of the different militant underground groups/intelligence services fighting for the independence, and later, the continued existence, of a Jewish state in the world.

Shamir believed in practicing frontier justice– unlike Menachem Begin, who thought disputes should be settled through law courts. In March 1981, Shamir favored the preemptive Israeli bombing mission that took out the Iraq nuclear arms factory that Saddam Hussein built with the help of the French.

In June 1982, violence in Lebanon was already the status quo when Israel sought to eliminate the PLO once and for all in that bloodied nation. The civil war in Lebanon was a complicated affair with conflicts among Shiites, Sunnis, Maronites, Druze, Palestinians, Syrian troops and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

Amid the fighting, Lebanese terrorists massacred hundreds or thousands of people in two Palestinian refugee camps that were supposed to be guarded by the Israeli military. Even though Shamir was then-foreign minister of Israel, the way he was informed of the incident by his subordinates didn’t convince him that such violence was out of the ordinary.

Nevertheless, the media of various countries blamed  Israel for the deaths, and created an atmosphere ranging from “… outright lies to elaborate carelessness, from staged photographs of atrocities all the way to phoney (sic) interviews– just as long as the Jewish state and the IDF were besmirched.” Excuse the cliche, but there’s nothing new under the sun. A refugee crisis is not a new propaganda tool.

In August 1983, Prime Minister Begin resigned/retired. Perhaps the job was no longer fun for him. Due to a hotly contested election, Shamir was pushed into an arrangement with Shimon Peres whereby they each would serve about a three-year term as prime minister, leading their respective parties; the former, the Likud (conservative) party, and the latter, the Alignment party, whose collective name was the National Unity Government, between 1984 and 1990.

Shamir contended that the Arab nations had a double standard when it came to helping their allies– the Palestinians. Beginning in 1948, the Arab states wouldn’t take in Palestinian refugees, but instead, kept them in squalid camps for almost half a century “… solely for the anti-Israel propaganda benefits… thousands of children, who could have been rescued from their dreadful lives a hundred times over by the investment of a fraction of the Arab oil revenues and helped by the Arab rulers to relocate somewhere in the Arab world.”

On the other hand, through the decades, Israel has welcomed with open arms– as many as it could afford to accommodate– anyone who self-identified as Jewish and wanted to live there.

Anyway, read the book to learn of the ways that American Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton were actually anti-Israel, and of the actions of Israeli government officials (Shamir’s own countrymen!) that so distressed him in later years, and much more.

Mistaken Identity – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Mistaken Identity” by Don & Susie Van Ryn and Newell, Colleen & Whitney Cerak, with Mark Tabb, published in 2008. This is a long, true story of a cluster-screw-up of honest ineptitude whose negative consequences were mitigated by the virtuous nature of the people involved.

The families of the victims described in this book weren’t vengeful and didn’t look for someone to blame or sue, pursuant to the tragedy. They were forgiving, and saw the positive consequences of it– they widened their social circle and became a good example for others of civil and mature behavior.

In late April 2006, two female Taylor College students from Michigan who shared an employer happened to be riding home in the same van in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They didn’t know each other. However, their appearance, build and facial features happened to be largely similar. The van was involved in a tragic accident. Along with other passengers, one of them died, and the other lived but had serious injuries.

In the aftermath, the one who lived remarked, “A lot of what was written in different magazines was wrong, and I think it gave me a different perspective on people and the media that I never had before.”

Read this book (not media stories) to get an accurate picture of what happened to the two families of the accident victims.

Angela Merkel

The Book of the Week is “Angela Merkel, Europe’s Most Influential Leader” by Matthew Qvortrup, published in 2016. This is a career biography of a recent Chancellor of Germany. It had a bit of sloppy editing, as politician Friedrich Merz was alternately called “Metz” in several places.

Born in July 1954, Merkel grew up in Hamburg and Templin in East Germany, where her father was a Lutheran theologian at a seminary. Although Communism preaches godlessness, the supervising Soviet government 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.

Merkel’s perfectionist nature meant that she graduated at the top of her school classes. 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. In September 1977, Merkel got married. She divorced in early 1981.

In the autumn of 1989, Merkel started her political career by joining an informal Democratic club. She used every political advantage at her disposal: trilingualism (German, Russian and English), networking skills, strong work ethic and her geographic origin, among other traits.

Upon the collapse of Communism, Merkel’s club converted to a political party. Upon the reunification of East and West Germany, free and fair elections were held for one new government. Merkel became a mouthpiece for her party. In the autumn of 1990, a Cabinet member took a liking to her, hiring her in the communications department. Besides, she was elected as a Member of Parliament, and a month later, a Cabinet minister with a women’s-issues-and families portfolio.

The author’s description of Germany’s government employees was confusing– it was unclear whether the government selected its employees via exams or by appointment. Besides, in November 1991, “Merkel replaced all the top civil servants.” However, the author later wrote, “Respect for civil servants [in Germany]… are well paid, and have life-long careers…”

Anyway, Merkel was tapped for progressively higher government positions– Deputy Chair of her  political party, then Minister of the Environment, then Secretary General. Some called her a back-stabber, as in 1999, she had no qualms about using a poison pen in a nationwide publication to excoriate the former Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and by connotation, his replacement, Wolfgang Schauble. Merkel’s divide and conquer plan worked– the two chancellors attacked each other. In April 2000, she was elected Christian Democratic Union party head.

The media in Germany behaved similarly to that in the U.S. by reporting on Merkel’s hairstyle. They even pressured her into getting married again, even though she was a conservative Christian, rather than a Catholic.

Read the book to learn how Merkel, through shrewd maneuvering, continued to claw her way to the top of the German government in the next six years and what she did when she got there, how she dealt with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and learn which issue prompted Donald Trump to comment on her in 2015: “She is destroying Germany.”

In Search of Memory – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “In Search of Memory” by Eric R. Kandel, published in 2006. This book was mostly about neurology and psychoanalysis. The autobiographical parts included descriptions of how and why the author’s family fled Austria for the United States in 1939, and his role in reconciling psychology and biology.

Kandel identified himself as Jewish. He explained that “racial anti-Semitism” is the idea perpetrated by the Catholic Church that the Jews killed Christ and therefore, they are members of “… a race so innately lacking in humanity that they must be genetically different, subhuman.” Such idea was used to justify genocide during the Spanish Inquisition and of course, the Holocaust. Gentiles in Germany, Poland and Austria especially, took up the cudgel of racial anti-Semitism during the Holocaust.

However, what is interesting is, that while the Catholic Church calls the Jews a “race” as a putdown, the Jews think of it as a point of pride.

When American Jews use the term”born Jewish” ironically, most are unaware of the belief that Jews as a group are thought by anti-Semites to have genes in common that bring out their stereotyped, negative traits. By born Jewish, they mean to say, they, like religious Jews, believe that Jews are automatically Jews regardless of their beliefs or observances, because their mothers were Jewish. Not in a derogatory way.

But wait. If people can convert to or from Judaism, it’s not genetic. Hindu people could actually call themselves a “race” because they allow no conversions. That’s the difference. The Hindus were a group of people who did all share the same genes up until the time they started marrying non-Hindus and having children.

By the way, read the book to learn about the progression of the fields of neurology and psychology in the twentieth century.