BONUS POST

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“Inflation, profiteering, and corruption are rife, and the food situation and (closely connected therewith) the transportation situation are most serious, as is also the housing problem… The present regime does not at present command a sufficient majority, or perhaps sufficient constructive talent to initiate the drastic measures which alone could save the situation.”

The above happens to have been written in January 1946, by the British embassy in Rio de Janeiro, about Brazil.

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Brazil, The Fortunes of War, World War II and the Making of Modern Brazil” by Neill Lochery. This wordy and redundant volume described how a South American leader, Getulio Vargas– through cleverly navigating: relationships with war alliances and foes, and tricky political issues– was able to modernize his country by the Postwar Era, compliments of American taxpayers.

In late 1937, Brazil got a new Constitution. Vargas, duly elected leader since 1930, had gotten friendly with the United States in exchange for agreeing to fight Italy and Germany when war came. However, by May 1938, there occurred a failed coup against him; perhaps partly because he had banned all political parties except his own. His enemies included the Communists and the Fascist Green Shirts (Integralistas), and he wasn’t exactly buddy-buddy with two of Brazil’s top military leaders.

One conflict Vargas faced in September 1939, was that he couldn’t afford to make trouble because: Brazil’s military was weak, Brazil traded with both Germany and the United States, and it had immigrant communities from Germany, Italy and Japan. Vargas’ speech at the May Day parade in 1940 didn’t go over too well with the United States, as his language was that of a Fascist; he sounded like he was siding with Hitler and Mussolini. This was deliberately calculated to tease FDR, in order to secure financing for a steel mill in Brazil.

By the time of the infamous December 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, Brazil had still yet to receive the bulk of the weapons it was due from Germany and the United States. Brazil had a fuel shortage, and the U.S. supplied Brazil with most of its fuel. Other wartime hardships and plot twists abounded; 1942 was a year crowded with incidents, too numerous to mention here.

Suffice to say, in autumn 1945, when dissatisfaction with Vargas reached critical mass among military leaders and many ordinary Brazilians, there was distrust that he would actually hold free and fair elections. They were scheduled to be held in December 1945.

Read the book to learn what happened in August 1954, and about the cast of characters and propaganda that shaped the history of Brazil just before, during and after WWII (hint: public relations schemes included wartime visits to Brazil by Walt Disney and Orson Welles, thanks to Nelson Rockefeller.).

Steinbrenner

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The Book of the Week is “Steinbrenner, The Last Lion of Baseball” by Bill Madden, published in 2010.

George Steinbrenner was born in July 1930 in Ohio. At fourteen years old, he was sent by his father to military school. He was groomed to inherit his father’s Great Lakes shipping company.

In late 1972, he got investors together to buy the New York Yankees baseball team from the media network CBS. His financial interest was the largest, however, so he was the face of the team. After the 1974 baseball season, he was indicted for committing felonies by making illegal, individual and corporate political contributions to the former late president Nixon’s reelection campaign. He never spent a day in jail, but was fined. The then-commissioner of Major League Baseball (MLB) Bowie Kuhn was out to get him for other reasons, though.

Nevertheless, in 1977, after just five years of ownership, Steinbrenner’s Yankees won the World Series, “… in spite of clubhouse dissension, a crazy manager [Billy Martin] and an even crazier owner.” This was due to overwhelming hitting talent. That is the most crucial skill required for a winning baseball team. The reason is– there is limited opportunity to score, unlike with all other major professional American sports (football, basketball, hockey and soccer). In baseball, a team must get its players on the bases and run around those bases in order to win the game. In all the other games, when there is a turnover, any player from the team on defense, can score on the spot.

Aspects of Steinbrenner’s character rubbed people the wrong way. His frequent dishonesty, temper tantrums, impulsive decision-making, micro-management, and excessive spending to recruit players for the Yankees caused emotional burnout and sky-high turnover among his employees. Even so, starting in 1976, there was a major change in the legal rights of Major League players– called free agency– that prompted the average player’s 1975 salary of $44,676 to rise by 1980 to $143,756. Steinbrenner was willing to pay top dollar for the players perceived to be the absolute best prospects for his Yankees, and also for his top executive team.

In 2004, the Yankees’ payroll was $185 million. Beginning in 2005, Joe Torre became the then-highest paid MLB manager, with a $19.2 million, 3-year contract. The following year, Brian Cashman became the then-highest paid general manager with a $4.4 million, 3-year contract.

Read the book to learn much more about Steinbrenner’s career as a professional baseball-team owner, and the constantly changing cast of characters who helped him navigate the Yankees’ ups and downs.

You Can’t Trust Them – BONUS POST

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YOU CAN’T TRUST THEM

This is the song Steve Bannon is singing now.

sung to the tune of “You Can’t Touch This” with apologies to (M.C.) Hammer.

You can’t trust them.
You can’t trust them.
You can’t trust them.
You can’t trust them.
No. No. No. No.
You can’t trust them.
Again, you made America GREAT,
makes me say, just you WAIT.
Thank you, for voting TRUMP
with a Wall to build
and a fist to BUMP.
We feel good, even NOW
we won again in this cheating TOWN.
We’re innoCENT.
So they can’t charge me with conTEMPT.
We beat the radical left.
You can’t trust them.
Yeah, that’s how we roll,
and you know, uh,
you can’t trust them.
Don’t look in my files, man.
You can’t trust them.
I ignore the subpoenas.
You can’t trust them.
We deflect their licks,
we keep it REAL.
We’re strong like that.
We say stop the STEAL.
So get out on the STREET
and get a big sign
and use your free SPEECH
while we’re polling.
On TOP.
Update a little bit.
Keep on fighting. Don’t STOP.
Like me, like me.
They’re hot on my trail,
so back me up.
They accuse us of trying a PUTSCH,
but we’re the winners, uh, they can’t TOUCH.
Yo, don’t even.
You can’t trust them.
Why they harassing me, man?
You can’t trust them.
Yo, let freedom ring,
election’s still on, sucker.
You can’t trust them.
Give me a rally and a MIC,
they’re so dull.
See we’re all PSYCHED.
Now they JUMP,
you mess with the Bannon
you’re messing with TRUMP.
That’s risky, and NAIVE.
Accusers are hatin’,
we’re not gonna LEAVE,
won’t CAVE IN.
We know, how to catch the next WAVE IN.
We’re LEGIT.
We’ll take over, so they might as well QUIT.
Sure thing.
They’re so not.
You can’t trust them.
You can’t trust them.
We’re on a roll.
Stop. Bannon time!
I’m not guilty, this I KNOW.
If you can’t groove to my podcasts,
you’re too SLOW.
So wave, your arms in the AIR.
Take back the country.
The ballot-counting was so UNFAIR.
We can’t stand this any LONGER.
Stick with me and you’ll get STRONGER.
Now listen, Biden’s going down,
let’s open our eyes and look AROUND (around, around, around).
No. You can’t trust them.
Get with it.
You can’t trust them.
You’ve got lots of problems, ’cause
you know, uh, you can’t trust them.
Let freedom ring, election’s still on.
We keep it real.
Stop. Bannon time!
You can’t trust them.
You can’t trust them.
You can’t trust them.
We’re on a roll.
Stop. Bannon time!
No bones about it,
that Bannon’s just so DEFT.
I’m always on your phone
and I shame the radical LEFT.
Now they won’t ever, stop with their PLOTS.
To end this outrage, we can do LOTS.
I visited the world,
from China to D.C.
It’s Bannon GO
Bannon, Steve Bannon YO
Keep calm and follow ME.
You can’t trust them.
You can’t trust them.
You can’t trust them.
No. You can’t trust them.
I’m bad. You can’t trust them.
So deft. You can’t trust them.
Yo, we’re on it. You can’t trust them.

Revolution 2.0 – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Revolution 2.0, The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power, a Memoir” by Wael Ghonim, published in 2012.

Born in 1980, the author attended high school in Egypt. The country had a rote education system, and cheating was rampant. The underpaid teachers derived the bulk of their income from private tutoring.

The 1980’s had seen the government of Egypt start to change for the worse. There was increasing poverty, brain drain, and oppression of religious groups. In 1987, Hosni Mubarak first came to power. He initially promised to serve only the two-term limit as president. But as he acquired more power, he acquired more ownership. And more power. And broke his promise. Every presidential “election” every six years thereafter, was rigged to allow Mubarak’s reelection three more times. There was only one political party. His.

While attending university in 1998, the author launched an Islamic website that featured audio tracks of the Qur’an. He was a technology geek, and became especially well-versed in Web communications. In 2004, a group of dissidents formed a group called Kefaya, meaning “enough” in Arabic. In 2006, ordinary Egyptians began protesting against the corruption of the regime.

In 2008, after eight months of numerous interviews, the author got a job with Google. In January 2010, in order to escape Mubarak’s oppressive regime, he and his wife and children moved to Dubai. It was around then that the author became politically vocal about Egypt’s rotten government. He wrote, “Out of hopelessness came anger.”

The author and a friend launched a Facebook page to promote an opposition candidate to Mubarak, as another “election” was coming up in 2011. The regime’s public relations machine was a master at smearing its political enemies; so it did, early and often.

In June 2010, the author created a Facebook page to tell the world about how the Egyptian government tortured and killed a dissident, and he posted a gruesome photo of the said dissident. Users commented on it in droves. In the coming months, the author and others used social media to plan peaceful protests to bring down the Mubarak government.

The author helped spark a movement that experienced growing-pains typical for such a movement. For a while, it became a victim of its own success: when a movement grows significantly in a short time– due to the increasing number of people in it– members begin to form factions and disagree, and go off and do their own thing. So some disgruntled members sabotage the original group’s goals.

Also, the political enemies of the movement see it growing, so they send infiltrators to divide and conquer it. That is why progress has been so slow for so many seemingly large political movements, such as civil rights and feminism.

In autumn 2010, the author was starting to get emotionally burnt out. He mistakenly used his personal account that revealed his true identity. Up to then, he had been super-careful to use false identities in his social media accounts, so as to avoid being arrested, jailed, interrogated, tortured and possibly murdered.

Egyptians were encouraged by Tunisia’s street protests, which were going on around the same time. But Egypt’s problems were worse. The author took the plunge to call Egypt’s movement “Revolution Against Torture, Poverty, Corruption and Unemployment.” He helped shape the protest messaging that convinced the public to peacefully take to the streets on Egyptian Police Day, January 25, 2011. He explained that he opposed only human rights abuses committed by law enforcement officials, not the respectful maintenance of order.

The author learned that: his contacts and access to communications were more important than plans, because best-laid plans always go awry– conditions on the ground change rapidly, and “People’s attachment to ideas is much stronger than their attachment to individuals, who can be doubted and defamed.”

Read the book to learn the details of the backstory, and what happened next.

Ingrid Bergman, My Story

The Book of the Week is “Ingrid Bergman, My Story” by Ingrid Bergman and Alan Burgess, published in 1972.

Born in 1915 in Sweden, Bergman lived with extended relatives after her mother and father passed away, when she was three and thirteen, respectively. The father’s successful painting and photography-supply businesses were taken over by the family. When she was fifteen, a couple of friends in high places– and of course, passion and hard work– allowed her to get accepted to the Royal Dramatic School. Nevertheless, she quit to become a movie actress in Sweden.

David Selznick in America heard about her talent, and his wife set her wise as to Hollywood’s ways. Her advisors therefore negotiated a one-film contract rather than a seven-year contract. Bergman was the opposite of a prima donna on the set. Selznick was impressed and had his public relations people hold her up as a paragon of virtue and modesty. However, she refused to be typecast, insisting on playing all different kinds of roles.

Bergman wrote, “Another Hollywood thing I hated was the power of those two women, Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnists. Their power shocked me, and I thought it very wrong that the film industry had allowed them to build up to such an extent that they could ruin people’s careers and lives.” Sadly, there is nothing new under the sun in that regard. Gossip in American society has been used more often for evil than for good, especially in politics.

Anyway, in autumn 1946, Bergman got slammed for saying she wasn’t going to return Washington, D.C. because the theater there in which she was performing, banned blacks. Perhaps she was not a racist, but her immaturity in her personal relationships caused her first husband and first-born daughter endless anguish.

Read the book to learn of Bergman’s dream role, whether she got to play it, other roles she played, and about her families.

Highly Confident

The Book of the Week is “Highly Confident, The Crime and Punishment of Michael Milken” by Jesse Kornbluth, published in 1992. This volume described a situation that lends itself to the hypothetical board game “Survival Roulette: Wall Street Edition” (See “Blind Ambition” post).

There have been countless ultimate winners of this game through the decades: all the people never caught for securities-industry crimes. A million lawbreakers a day go unpunished. That doesn’t mean the crimes didn’t happen.

However, the most famous hypothetical losers of the game in this book were Ivan Boesky (an independent bond trader in New York) and Michael Milken (bond-trading executive at Drexel Burnham Lambert in Los Angeles). Other losers could include Dennis Kozlowski, Bernie Ebbers, Kenneth Lay, Steve Jobs and Richard Scrushy.

The board spaces could include Go To Jail (of course), and describe the financial crimes of: insider trading, Free Parking (or “stock parking”), disclosure failures, material misstatements, accounting irregularities, re-pricing stock options, and fraudulent conveyance, but also specific actions of conscience-salving philanthropy in which Milken engaged– such as throwing money at cancer research, and volunteering to teach math to nine and ten year-olds.

In August 1986, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York began an investigation into Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) violations in the bond industry. By October 1986, the head federal prosecutor there, Rudolph Giuliani, was taping phone calls between Boesky and Milken. This, because Boesky had immediately accepted a plea deal to turn state’s evidence in exchange for a slap-on-the-wrist, country-club jail sentence. Boesky was one of the game’s lesser losers, to be sure. He was the king of lying, cheating and stealing.

Milken was a creative workaholic math genius whose meteoric career-rise allowed him to head an entire bond-research department in his mid-twenties. But he had zero ability for honest introspection.

Milken was a master at controlling his environment and other people, but he deceived himself about his “breaking the rules of the game” in his industry. He thought he was helping people all the time, but didn’t see how others were indirectly hurt by his actions. This kind of hubris syndrome is not uncommon in alpha males.

In 1978, Milken initiated the push to have Drexel underwrite junk-bond deals that financed hostile corporate takeovers. This wasn’t illegal in itself, but Boesky persistently badgered Milken until, by the early 1980’s, the latter was eventually manipulated into breaking the law.

Milken had a history of selfless philanthropy, yet his business actions gave rise to obscenely high fees made by his employer, an obscenely high income for himself, and crushing debt load for his clients. This led to extremely adverse financial and social consequences for thousands upon thousands of laid-off American employees of merged companies, subjected to disrupted lives and untold stresses.

The mood of the securities industry could be described thusly: “… with the election of Ronald Reagan… All that mattered was an ability to make money — without concern for risk, without regard for regulation.”

The investigation and resulting plea deals had the law enforcement agencies patting themselves on the back for convincing the perpetrators (other than Milken and Boesky) to implicate others, but the immunity deals the perpetrators got were a joke, considering that they themselves had serious credibility problems, and serious violations. It was a kangaroo court.

Nonetheless, the following parties launched investigations: Drexel and its attorneys, Milken and his attorneys, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the SEC. Those last two, of course, engaged in fierce rivalry. By September 1991, there was an orgy of litigation against Milken. The roll call involved fifty-eight lawyers (!)

Around the same time, Wedtech was another 1980’s scandal borne of out-of-control greed. In that case, a personal injury attorney generated billing documents that purported to show charges for legal services, that were actually for lobbying. Wedtech’s executives bribed politicians for the purpose of influence peddling, and swindled shareholders. This kind of crime is not uncommon.

Along these lines, if, for instance, a real-estate mogul declared business bankruptcy repeatedly throughout his business career, why did investors trust him with their money again and again and again and again and again?? Perhaps there was influence peddling. The politicians were his puppets who eventually passed legislation favorable to them all. It was worth it to them to risk losing all their chump-change investment to get access to future (much more) profitable contacts and politicians who did their will.

Anyway, Milken hired a team of lawyers who were the cream of the crop of Northeastern elitists. Yet, unfortunately for him, the media and law enforcement made him the poster-boy / scapegoat for the greed of the 1980’s.

Ben Stein, a wannabe Hollywood writer, was, according to the author, an individual who fueled public outrage against Milken. He was unwisely hired to write articles for Barron’s (a major Wall Street publication) after Milken was indicted. The nature of his utterances in print were “Shocking, unsubstantiated, never-proven assertions made with absolute certainty.” Stein claimed his taking of the drug Halcion caused him to produce such libelous garbage.

Strangely enough, insider trading wasn’t what Milken was jailed for, but rather, a minor disclosure failure. The judge in his case was ridiculously misguided, considering that the court calculated the dollar value of damages Milken caused was a mere $318,000. But the court saw that the revenues generated by him and his firm were in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So the court fined him $600,000,000.

Read the book to learn of Milken’s prison sentence and numerous other details of the whole tabloid-crazy affair.

A Good American Family – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “A Good American Family, The Red Scare and My Father” by David Maraniss, published in 2019.

Born in 1918 in Boston, the author’s father grew up in Brooklyn. He was outed as a Communist by a female member of the FBI. She joined the Communist Party USA in order to spy on it, then for nine years, was paid big bucks to tattle on its members.

In March 1952, the elder Maraniss was subpoenaed to appear at a House Un-American Activities Committee hearing in Detroit. At that time, he was summarily fired from his job as a re-write man at the Detroit Times; ironically, a rabidly anti-Communist newspaper owned by Hearst.

A high-level federal judge in New York State, Learned Hand, provided the legal grounds on which the investigations into Communists rested in the 1950’s. Suppression of free speech was justified by the extent and probability of its leading to evil. “The worse the evil and the greater the probability, the more free speech could be curtailed.”

The ironies and consequences resulting from the above reasoning led to a dark period in American history. The take-away from the Red Scare was that the accusers led by Joe McCarthy, trampled on due process when confronting their prey– those who were allegedly associated with or were allegedly Communists.

One curious little experiment indicated just how effective fear-mongering propaganda can be. One irony is that fear-mongering propaganda is itself considered to be protected free speech!

In early July 1951, a reporter from the Capital Times newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin asked 112 random people in Henry Vilas Park to sign a petition, the text of which contained, “… the preamble to the Declaration of Independence… six of the ten amendments to the Bill of Rights, along with the Fifteenth Amendment granting black men the right to vote.” Only one person willingly signed. Almost one fifth of the people called the reporter a Communist.

Read the book to learn additional details of the tenor of the times in connection with the author’s father’s persuasion and generation, and the fates of his other immediate and extended family members and his accusers.

Indecent Exposure

The Book of the Week is “Indecent Exposure, A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street” by David McClintick, published in 1982. This volume with the provocative but misleading title had nothing to do with sex. It actually consisted of a suspenseful, albeit long story seen mostly through the eyes of Alan J. Hirschfield, the CEO and officer at Columbia, the movie company. It was about how a lack of honesty, the power of propaganda, and clashing egos basically resulted in the redistribution of wealth among the wealthy. This sort of thing happens all the time.

In February 1977, then-famous actor Cliff Robertson received a document saying he owed taxes in connection with a check he never received. He later found out that the check had been forged and cashed in his name, by David Begelman, a high-level executive at the aforesaid Columbia. Robertson became the victim of cancel culture, for NOT being a tax cheat in Hollywood.

It was common practice for Hollywood studios to send movie actors checks for thousands of dollars (usually unreported to the IRS) that defrayed a small portion of their promotion expenses for a new picture. The IRS had just then begun cracking down on that taxable income. Robertson’s reaction set in motion a series of consequences that affected thousands of people; mostly financially.

Columbia was a public company, and the bad publicity resulting from news of a serious crime committed by one of its executives was a serious public relations problem. Hirschfield, who was on the board of directors, was told by an attorney that he had a duty to inform the executive committee, corporate counsel and the SEC after an internal investigation had been conducted.

As has been the case since the discovery of journalism/tabloidism, (supposedly said by Mark Twain), “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Begelman’s friends in the Hollywood community (of which the check forger had many) rushed to his defense, having heard only vague rumors that described his transgressions in euphemisms. They really had no clue that he had actually committed several felonies, it turned out. They didn’t want to know.

The friends planted tabloidy messages in the media making the excuse “Everybody Does It” because they took unethical liberties with their own expense accounts, and made Hirschfield the villain, saying he was a power-hungry, vindictive executive, as he technically did compete for power with Begelman in the company hierarchy. Hollywood’s and the public’s gullibility in automatically believing in Begelman’s innocence and Hirschfield’s treachery is human nature.

At the board meeting that initiated the long, heated discussion that would determine whether Begelman was fired, Begelman acted like a prisoner on death row who had suddenly found religion. He implied he might kill himself if removed from his primary job. But actually, anyone who knows this kind of person knows that he would be too arrogant to kill himself.

A preliminary inquiry into Begelman’s history yielded more than one serious crime during his Columbia tenure, and previous lying and other worse misdeeds. Hirschfield argued for termination, saying Begelman was unlikely to change his spots, as dishonesty was a lifelong habit with him. Over the next few years, the Hollywood community and the public, however, still having heard only distorted soundbites that minimized Begelman’s sins, fooled itself into believing they weren’t that bad, and continued to defend him.

Interesting sidenote: In 1982, in a joking context, Hirschfield exclaimed to a female friend who was high on the corporate ladder, in front of some colleagues: “Female executives suck!” She laughed. Clearly, if that was uttered in 2018, hilarity would NOT ensue.

Read the book to learn of the consequences of the stupid actions taken by most of the main characters of this entertaining saga.