American Governor

The Book of the Week is “American Governor, Chris Christie’s Bridge to Redemption” by Matt Katz, published in 2016. Christie was a two-term New Jersey governor known for skillful fund-raising, telling cute stories, and verbally attacking the media, hecklers and political opponents.

In September 1962 in Newark, New Jersey, Christie was born to be a politician. He was elected to leadership roles beginning in high school. He argued for civil rights as a student-officeholder in college. But his stands on most major issues prompted him to become a Republican.

Christie entered politics after practicing law as a commercial litigator with the help of his law partner’s contacts. He started to work in politics in the early 1990’s. After 9/11, he was appointed by George W. Bush to the patronage position of U.S. Attorney (chief prosecutor) for the state of New Jersey. He lacked the criminal-law experience for it, but learned on the job.

He drained the swamp of dirty New Jersey politicians of both parties. At the same time, he was collecting goodwill by doling out multi-million dollar legal contracts to big-money political donors.

After his election to the New Jersey governorship in 2009, out of necessity, Christie was forced to work with a Democrat-controlled legislature. Otherwise, he would have gotten nothing done.

To his credit, Christie “… was a big guy who knew how to get people to sit down and shut up and compromise– just what Washington needed.” He was so good at fundraising because his staffers identified community influencers at the most local levels, and invited them to town hall meetings.

However, “The reformers, led by [Newark mayor Cory] Booker and Christie, were shockingly naive about how closing schools with little public input would upend the daily lives of Newarkers.” Christie argued or voted in favor of a series of anti-liberal policies which hurt the poor in housing, wages, heating and cooling of homes, and food stamps.

Additionally, due to the purported reason of a fiscal crisis, he “… froze almost all construction funding for the state’s poorest school districts.” (It would have killed him to raise taxes; then he wouldn’t get reelected.) This led to the cancellation of the building of a new school in the neighborhood of Lanning Square in the city of Camden. Instead of a new school, Christie’s crony would get the opportunity to construct a building for his medical school on the site, plus five privately funded schools in Camden.

Christie gave tax breaks of tens of or millions of dollars to a diverse bunch of businesses to get them to stay in his state so that they “created jobs” (and bragging rights for politicians). Over the years, those tax breaks resulted in: the creation of tens of jobs, a net dollar value of hundreds of thousands in benefits’ going to the state, and incalculable billions of dollars in lost tax revenue; showing yet again that cronyism thrived in Christie’s New Jersey.

And now, as an aside, an interesting factoid: “Christie had met Bill and Hillary Clinton in January 2005 at Donald Trump’s wedding.” And another: In January 2014, he signed the Dream Act, which (conditionally) allows children of illegal immigrants to qualify for (greatly discounted) in-state college tuition.

However, the major incident for which former Governor Christie will be remembered is “Bridgegate.” His political enemies turned out to be sufficiently aggressive to turn it into a humungous scandal.

Deliberately-created traffic congestion by a handful of people in Christie’s organization caused hours-long delays in September 2013 for five days in a row during the morning rush hour on the George Washington Bridge (GWB)– that links New Jersey and New York City. This was done for the purpose of petty, political retaliation against the mayor of a New Jersey suburb in GWB territory. That mayor had declined to endorse Christie for gubernatorial reelection.

It is a shame that Christie’s political record of unethical behavior in so many areas that ended his political career negated the one good thing he did that had long-term positive results– eliminated a significant amount of corruption in New Jersey.

The same seems to be happening with New York City mayor Bill de Blasio: the one good thing he did was institute free pre-kindergarten across the city. There is ample evidence that this is a game-changer– it helps “even the playing field” for kids of all economic and social levels. The earlier the intervention in the lives of at-risk kids, the better. Preschool is not too soon.

Research has shown that the kids who have home environments with severe deprivations, are significantly less likely become career criminals when, in very early childhood, they are provided with a safe place that provides resources to assist them in learning, and learning how to interact with other children.

However, de Blasio’s alleged wrongs in recent years in fund-raising activities and housing, both steeped in patronage (like Chris Christie’s administration) — just to name two of many issues– have earned him numerous political enemies.

Anyway, read the book to learn more about the above GWB scandal, and Christie’s fights with New Jersey’s civil service unions – especially the teachers’; how he sold out environmentally; why his approval rating soared immediately following Hurricane Sandy; his actions on a range of other issues such as drugs, abortion and gun control, and much more.

True Blue – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “True Blue, Police Stories By Those Who Have Lived Them” by Sgt. Randy Sutton, published in 2004.  This was a bunch of first-person anecdotes told by police officers– who recounted the most memorable moments of their careers; several of them NYPD members who survived 9/11.

Robert Brager’s 9/11 story was of confusion. He wrote, “At different times throughout the day, I was told that the Empire State Building, the United Nations Complex, the White House, the Pentagon, and many other places might have been hit. You can’t imagine the distorted information during a time like that: Here we were in the greatest city in the world in the middle of the news capital of the country and we couldn’t find out anything because all cell phone sites were down.”

Read the book to be reminded how dangerous and traumatic, or emotionally fulfilling, police work can be.

As is well known, traumatic is a word that describes the past week in the United States. Pursuant to Wikipedia (which is probably not comprehensive), below is a chronological rundown (month, year and state) from the year 2000 and later, of shooting sprees, in each of which there was at least one death of an innocent person. These do not include: road rage, robberies, burglaries, home invasions or workplaces or any situations of solely targeted murders in which the shooter knew the victims. What they all have in common (besides a temper tantrum with a firearm) is that the shooters were all male (except for one couple– a male and female).

More than half were white males. It’s okay to say “white males” now without sparking outrage among the tabloid set who would associate the speaker or writer with “The Squad” because that news cycle is finished. Luckily, the unwashed masses have short memories.

  • January 2001, CA
  • September 2001, TX
  • October 2002, Washington D.C. area
  • June 2003, MT
  • August 2003, WV
  • May 2004, CA
  • March 2005, MN
  • October 2006, PA
  • February 2007, UT
  • April 2007, VA
  • October 2007, OH
  • December 2007, CO
  • February 2008, IL
  • September 2008, WA
  • April 2009, NY
  • August 2011, OH
  • September 2011, NV
  • October 2011, CA
  • April 2012, CA
  • December 2012, CT
  • June 2013, CA
  • April 2014, KS
  • June 2014, NV
  • October 2014, WA
  • July 2015, TN
  • October 2015, OR
  • February 2016, MI
  • September 2016, SC
  • April 2017, CA
  • May 2017, OH
  • November 2017, CA
  • December 2018, CA
  • December 2018, NM
  • February 2018, FL
  • July 2019, TX
  • July 2019, OH

Kingdom of Lies – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Kingdom of Lies, Unnerving Adventures in the World of Cybercrime” by Kate Fazzini, published in 2019. This slim volume contained a few anecdotes of people who recently participated in schemes to defraud others or manipulate data on the World Wide Web.

The computer hackers who keep a low profile are better coders and have better technological knowledge than the ones who are attention whores. The latter who are employed in cybersecurity attend conferences and are more talk than action. Some of them think they’re the hero of a movie– do-gooders who are trying to save the world, in a power struggle with evil, arrogant rebels.

Over the decades, individuals and governments from lots of different countries have continually attempted to gain access to certain data through the Internet, usually for intelligence or money. For instance, “Chinese nationals have been stealing proprietary data on [mergers and acquisitions] deals [in America] for years in order to inside trade… The Department of Justice is investigating. The SEC is investigating. But the law firms are clueless. Then the SEC was hacked too, by the same people. The cycle continues.”

A trend that started in the 2000’s that has largely run its course is ransomware. That is, software that steals valuable data that forces the victim to pay a ransom– hundreds of dollars or more to the cybercriminal– to get that data back. In the last seven years or so, information-technology departments of businesses, especially in the financial sector, have thrown a vast quantity of money at specialists in cybersecurity to prevent further attacks in that area.

Probably the country that can crank out the best cybersecurity experts is Israel. Middle schoolers begin learning technology there. That nation’s population is small, enterprising, flexible, militarily trained, and is always thinking defensively.

Voting in United States elections is becoming more and more computerized, and so elections have become vulnerable to interference by hackers. It is not necessary to tamper with the presidential election results of all fifty states in order to significantly affect the outcome. A hacker need only change the data of battleground states (five to ten states) for a specific candidate.

Read the book to learn additional details about the world of cybercrime.

Dummy – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Dummy” by Ernest Tidyman, published in 1974.

This story describes the unusual situation of a murder suspect whose deafness and muteness raised questions about his ability to stand trial in mid-1960’s Chicago.

Donald Lang, the suspect, had been unable to communicate verbally since birth. He dropped out of school around kindergarten with no legal consequences. With his family’s help, he got along in life sufficiently well to get a job and live relatively happily. There were no witnesses to the murder of which the deaf Lang was accused. However, witnesses saw Lang and the victim prior to finding the victim’s dead body in a stairwell in a bad neighborhood in Chicago.

Fortunately, the attorney assigned to the indigent Lang had been deafened as a child, but read lips and knew sign language. He was the best lawyer in Illinois, that Lang could have gotten.

Read the book to learn how the letter of the law allowed Lang to be indefinitely detained– treated as though he was guilty– because he had no clue about what was happening in the courtroom, and about the arguments his attorney made in determining his fate.

Bitter Scent – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Bitter Scent, The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis and the Arab Boycott” by Michael Bar-Zohar, published in 1996.

The complicated history that led up to the situation which monster-sized international health-and-beauty-aids company L’Oreal faced in 1989 was most ironic. It dated back to the start of WWII, when two future executives of L’Oreal and Francois Mitterand (future president of France) became good friends, Nazi collaborators– pro-Vichy propagandists and sabotage-plotters, and then, when the tide of the war changed in 1943, allies of the Allies.

In March 1989, Jean Frydman (Israeli and French citizen, Jew, and former member of the WWII French Resistance,) was vice president of Paravision, his film distribution company. Unbeknownst to him, he resigned from the board of directors of Paravision in a fait-accompli by L’Oreal executives. He was ousted in absentia because he had business dealings in Israel.

Various business entities had significant financial interests in others, among them, Paravision, L’Oreal (based in a Paris suburb) and its international subsidiaries, Columbia Pictures, Nestle and Coca-Cola. L’Oreal executives felt the need to comply with a troublesome policy called the “Arab boycott” — considered ethically repugnant by non-Arab industrialized nations. L’Oreal executives were willing to go through a tremendous amount of trouble (most of which they didn’t anticipate) to comply with the boycott to enhance their business interests, but also arguably, because they were anti-Semitic.

The boycott imposed by the Arab League began in 1948 to financially strangle Israel by banning companies that did business with Israel, from doing business with any Arab countries. L’Oreal needed to get Frydman out of the way so it could say it did no business with Israel. But besides, there was a big-name cosmetics company called Helena Rubinstein located in Israel, with which L’Oreal was affiliated. The Arabs were pressuring L’Oreal to dispose of that asset as well, before it allowed lucrative trade with their side.

When Frydman was gobsmacked by his fellow executives and learned that top people at L’Oreal (including its founder) had been Nazi collaborators, hilarity did not ensue. Instead, an orgy of litigation, fishing expeditions, political machinations, palace intrigue, and of course, a propaganda war did.

Read the book to learn the details of this suspenseful, sordid story.

Blood & Ivy – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Blood & Ivy, The 1849 Murder That Scandalized Harvard” by Paul Collins, published in 2018. This true-crime story described the nature of homicide among elitists in American culture, as well as the Ivy League university Harvard, in the mid-1850’s.

The students to be accepted to Harvard’s undergraduate school, to start in autumn of 1849, were required to report for oral examinations in July. Initially, the applicants were ordered to declare basic information on themselves, including their fathers’ professions. The lucky incoming class numbered 87 students, the largest to date.

The students received demerits for failing to attend morning prayers at dawn, in the chapel. The curriculum consisted of Latin, Greek, mathematics, and the history of Rome.

A handful of professors taught at Harvard Medical School, in semesters that lasted six or seven weeks. A Harvard geology professor was suspected of murdering a medical school professor. The former was arrested the day after Thanksgiving of 1849.

The feature of this criminal case that has endured for more than a century and half is the definition of “reasonable doubt”– explained for laypeople (the jury) by the judge.

Read this suspenseful book to learn the details of the case.

Halliburton’s Army – LONG BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Halliburton’s Army, How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War” by Pratap Chatterjee, published in 2009.

This slightly sloppily proofread volume was also slightly redundant and very disorganized. Nevertheless, it was extremely well-documented and detailed. The author personally visited various sites and personally interviewed various people– in addition to sourcing information from documents– about which and whom he wrote.

In the late 1930’s, president Franklin Roosevelt, Congressman Lyndon Johnson and the company Brown & Root (BR) formed a public-private partnership to build the Marshall Ford Dam in Texas. In the early 1940’s, the company built the naval air station Corpus Christi. Taxpayers way overpaid for those projects. The reason was partly because the sweetheart terms of its contract guaranteed it a profit.

BR also built warships for World War II. It allegedly financed Lyndon Johnson’s run for the U.S. Senate in 1948. It built military bases during the Vietnam War. In August 1966, U.S. Congressman Donald Rumsfeld contended that, due to conflicts of interest, the federal government had signed contracts with BR that were “illegal by statute.” Of course, Rumsfeld hated President Johnson.

In October 1966, Rumsfeld and Bob Dole reported that BR had refused to let any government officials see documents associated with a BR construction site. The company and its subcontractors had lost track of $120 million and had thefts of millions of dollars of equipment by the end of its ($1.9-billion-in-costs) ten-year contract.

After the First Gulf War, a company named Halliburton pioneered the user-friendly assembly of cheap, prefab structures on military bases that were comfortable for soldiers in global hotspots. In early 1998, Dick Cheney assisted with the creation of Kellogg, Brown & Root when M.W. Kellogg was added to BR. Then Halliburton took over the whole kit and caboodle.

Through the 1990’s, Halliburton finagled $167.7 million worth of contracts from the U.S. government in Rwanda, Haiti, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Italy. “But it’s hard to convince people that the company had no influence when your entire upper management once worked for the very agencies that awarded the contracts.”

Halliburton’s tentacles also reached into Somalian and Nigerian territory through bribery. It had fun in the Balkans with “… double-billing, inflating prices and providing of unsuitable products.” By the late 1990’s, thanks to Halliburton and Chevron, the previously unspoiled, tourist-filled beaches in Angola’s Cabinda province had turned black.

Donald Rumsfeld was named Secretary of Defense in the United States beginning in 2001. Just prior to 9/11, “Rumsfeld said that the Pentagon was wasting at least $3 billion a year.” In the next eight years, he proceeded to eliminate most of the military’s in-house operations, including payroll, warehousing and sanitation.

Rumsfeld was adding one more area of American life– the military– to the privatization trend of recent decades. It has already gained traction in education, prisons, government entitlements, student loans, spying and courier services. Curiously, healthcare is going in the opposite direction. Why is that?

Well, medicine has undergone a major cultural change in the last fifty years. The family doctor who made house calls used to be a trusted family friend who charged a reasonable rate for his services. Now depersonalized medicine whose costs are sky-high due to technology and specialization is the norm. Healthcare is a mature industry.

Some aspects of healthcare have become capitalism gone hog-wild, especially those that are a matter of life and death. They have become as out of control as Halliburton.

That is why Americans are welcoming the intervention of government regulation to stem the incompetence, fraud, abuse and waste that have inevitably resulted from too much capitalism. Yes, capitalism is good– up to a point.

Anyway, the George H.W. Bush administration initially signed a military-services contract of a few million dollars with Halliburton. Dick Cheney served as CEO of Halliburton from late summer 1995 through 2000.

In those years and beyond, Cheney successfully spurred specific American foreign policy initiatives to win more lucrative contracts for Halliburton. By January 2002, in one of several nefarious policy changes, he got President George W. Bush to lift economic sanctions against the Muslim country of Azerbaijan, human rights and environmentalism be damned. On Halliburton’s behalf, Cheney engaged in friendly dealings with such oil producers as Iran, Libya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and prior to the war, Iraq.

Azerbaijan’s president, Azeri Aliyev came to the United States for prostate cancer surgery in February 2002. A year later, he ran for reelection and won. As a quid pro quo, in November 2003, President George W. Bush got him a World Bank loan for an oil pipeline.

Of course, in February 2003, the fix was in and Halliburton was automatically awarded the contract that spelled out the terms of the fait accompli restoration of Iraq’s oil fields after the fait accompli war, ethics be damned. To top it off, the contract guaranteed a hefty profit for Halliburton. The company argued that there was no time for a fair, sealed-bid process before the war.

The “… contract would effectively make Halliburton the biggest recipient of Iraq’s oil money, with no input from the Iraqi people.” More than half of the billings for Halliburton’s oil-related services that the U.S. government would presumably pay for, were actually paid with Iraq cash. In other words, the proceeds of Iraq oil sales were used to pay Halliburton.

An organization that studied the quality of Halliburton’s work in Iraq calculated that “… the potential revenue lost from reduced oil production and exports” was $14.8 billion. Gross incompetence, fraud, abuse and waste were not isolated incidents. The holding company’s entities had a few contracts whose epic failures were hushed up until their projects’ entire budgets were spent, at which time those contracts were cancelled.

For example, there were many inexcusable episodes of oil smuggling by corrupt Iraqi officials, right under the noses of U.S. contractors. Halliburton was supposed to be the party responsible for preventing those episodes until it was fired in mid-2005.

In early 2004, due to public outcry over the no-bid, rigged Halliburton contract, there was new bidding, which was still rigged. The military, politicians and top employees of Halliburton were all co-conspirators in the illegality.

Workers of Halliburton’s subsidiaries and its subcontractors have hailed from a range of nations, including but not limited to: Fiji, Uganda, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bosnia, India and America. Both non-American and American hirees are lured by the promise of high pay.

But often that promise comes with a price; the workers are subjected to mean living quarters, do hard manual labor for long hours, such as twelve hours a day, seven days a week in dangerous conditions, get no health insurance and no paid time off, and might go for months with no pay.

If they’re non-American, workers can’t complain because they’ll likely be threatened with dismissal. They likely borrowed money to travel to their expatriate work in the first place. If they quit their jobs, they would be greatly indebted, and their families back home would be made even more impoverished.

Just a few of the kinds of functions the worldwide network of cheap labor fulfills include: food delivery, preparation and catering, lodging, golf course maintenance, civil engineering, motor vehicle transport of the United States Air Force, United States customs inspection and security.

Read the book to learn the details of numerous Halliburton-related outrages in addition to the aforementioned, and how in 2003 and later, the voices of the handful of people who might have had the power to stop the corruption were eventually drowned out by political actions imposed by the powers that were.

The Defense Never Rests – BONUS POST

The  Bonus Book of the Week is “The Defense Never Rests” by F. Lee Bailey with Harvey Aronson, published in 1971. This is the career memoir of a criminal defense attorney best known for the Sam Sheppard and Boston Strangler cases.

Born in 1933, Bailey served in the Marines, and later started practicing law at a firm in Boston. He became a polygraph-test expert, and later argued that test results should have been admissible in all courts. When he started his career in 1961, Massachusetts law still required that in court, a murder suspect be confined to a wire cage.

Read the book to learn of various cases litigated by the author, including those of Sam Sheppard and the Boston Strangler and his own, when he found himself in trouble (not for murder, though). Perhaps that is why he provided no: Notes, Bibliography, Sources, References or Index in this book, although he did provide verbatim excerpts of court transcripts.

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.

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.