Mike Kueber's Blog

April 6, 2015

Saturday Night at the Movies #146 – Beyond the Lights and Imitation Game and Sunday Book Review #156 – 41 by George W. Bush

Filed under: Book reviews,Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:32 am
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Beyond the Lights (2014) is a low-budget romantic drama about two young adults who are being pushed toward achievement by their ultra-ambitious single parents. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker are the kids – a successful singer and an aspiring politician, respectively – and Minnie Driver and Danny Glover are the single parents with big dreams.

I previously saw Mbatha-Raw in Belle, a period drama in which she played a mulatto, and she is even more attractive here.  She starts Beyond the Lights by attempting to commit suicide, and flashbacks never fully reveal what precipitated her action. Parker does minimal acting, but the former college wrestler likes to take his shirt off.

Like Belle, the Rotten Tomato critics (81%) and audience (80%) enjoyed the movie. Me, not so much. I give it only two and a half stars out of four.

Imitation Game (2014) is another of this year’s Oscar nominees, and I found it much more satisfying than some of the other artsy films that were nominated – e.g., Whiplash, Birdman, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as a math genius who helps Great Britain break a German code during World War II, but this idiosyncratic war hero is also afflicted by his then-illegal homosexuality in flashbacks and going-forward scenes.   His co-stars are a bit jarring to me because Keira Knightley is not convincing as a math genius and his two other co-stars, Allen Leech and Matthew Goode, play characters nearly identical to the roles they played in Downton Abbey Season Five. The Rotten Tomato critics score the movie at 89% and the audience is a bit more favorable at 92%. That’s about right. Based on Cumberbatch and the fascinating story, I give it three and a half stars out of four.

41 (2014) is George W. Bush’s paean to his dad, George H.W. Bush. Although I admire Bush-41, I still expect a book to include provide me, if not with any great insights, at least with some interesting information. In that regard, this book fails. There is virtually nothing in the book that I hadn’t already read somewhere else.

November 16, 2014

Bush-43 on Bush-41

Filed under: Biography,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:04 pm
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George W. Bush has been making the rounds in the media this week to promote his new book, 41: A Portrait of My Father. “41” of course is a reference to his father, George H.W. Bush, being the 41st president of the United States. W. is known as Bush-43.

As part of the media promotion, Parade magazine this week published an excerpt from the first chapter of the book, dealing with Bush-41 parachuting on his 90th birthday.

But in addition to the excerpt, Parade published a brief interview of Bush-43 that, although directed at Bush-41, says a lot about Bush-43.

Two of the Q&As were as follows:

  • Your book proves that your father is different from the stiff, blue-blooded image that many have of him.
    • He is a blue blood in the sense that he was raised up in the East. But what people don’t realize is that his parents were from the Midwest, so there was inculcated in him some midwestern values. This is a man who worked incredibly hard in anything he did. In this case, he was selling oilfield supplies. As I put in the book, there were no trust funds; there were no guarantees. [I love how Bush-43 accepts the premise that Northeastern bluebloods are a unique breed, but then ameliorates that trait in his father due to some Midwestern roots.]
  • Your father has been a tremendous risk taker. Where do you think that came from?
    • I think it came from the early experiences. This is a man who at age 17 decides to join the navy and not go to college, against the advice of his father and [Secretary of War] Henry Stimson, for example. He wanted to serve. Then he gets shot down—and by the way, flying off of carriers was very risky—and survives. To me, the rest of the risks that he took in his life were minor compared to that. [I love how Bush-43 placed in proper context the difference between business and political risks as compared to life-or-death risks.]

November 13, 2012

George P.G. Bush

Filed under: Biography,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 12:57 am
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A Facebook friend of mine (Randy Bear) recently blogged about Texas rising star George P. Bush.  Actually it is more accurate to say George P.G. Bush because his full legal name is George Prescott Garnica Bush.  (While Prescott comes from his dad’s family, Garnica comes from his mom’s.)  Bush is in the news because he recently filed a Treasurer-naming document that is required in Texas before potential state or local candidates can start raising or spending money. 

For those not familiar with P.G., he is the oldest child of Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who was recently listed by Time magazine as a Republican presidential frontrunner for 2016.  Jeb’s claim to fame, other than his family name, is his moderation on the immigration issue (he is married to a naturalized citizen from Mexico) and his heavy involvement in education reform. 

P.G.’s claim to fame, other than being Jeb’s eldest, is being a poster child for bringing Mexican-Americans under the Republican tent.  This poster-child role started in 1988, at the age of 12, when he spoke at the Republican convention that nominated his grandfather – Bush-41 – and he reprised the role in 1992.  Then in 2000 and 2004, P.G. campaigned for Bush-43, who unsuccessfully pushed much harder than President Obama for illegal immigrants to have a path to citizenship.  That probably explains why Bush-43 was able to garner up to 40% of the Hispanic vote.

I have two problems with George P.G. Bush – (1) he has minimal experience in the private economy (i.e., he wants to be a career politician), and (2) he is a part of the political aristocracy.  America is better served by politicians who can relate to the middle class. 

Someone who apparently agrees with me on this matter is none other than Barbara Bush.  According to Wikipedia, she provided P.G. with the following advice a few years ago:

  • Anyone thinking about entering politics should distinguish himself in some other field first: “Make a name for yourself, have a family, marry someone great, have some kids, buy a house, pay taxes, and do the things everyone also does instead of just running out and saying, ‘Hey, I’m the nephew of or the son of or the grandson of…‘.”

I couldn’t have said it better.  Although P.G. seems like a fine person with a strong education and commendable military service in his background, I don’t think his brief work in corporate law followed by a partnership in an Austin real estate investment company and a Fort Worth business consultancy (none of which has experienced any significant success) satisfies Barbara’s criteria.  But you can’t blame him for being impatient; Obama was, too, and look what happened to him.

August 12, 2011

The Iowa debate

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:35 pm
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The big story out of last night’s Republican debate in Iowa was the unified response from all eight candidates that they would reject a budget deal consisting of $1 in increased revenues for every $10 of decreased expenses.  Ezra Klein of the Washington Post blogged about the debate, and suggested that gridlock in Washington will be get worse, not better, under a new administration.    As a practical matter, Klein is probably correct in asserting that entitlement reform is not possible without revenue increases.

Of course, one could argue, as Ezra Klein does in his blog, that the candidates are merely posturing –

  • Mitt Romney knows perfectly well that a deal with $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases is a great deal for conservatives. What he probably doesn’t know is how he’s going to explain why he pretended otherwise when he was vying for the nomination.”

As someone who believes in “good government,” I am troubled by primary posturing.  I remember Bush-41 saying, “Read my lips.  No new taxes.”  Although I agreed with his eventual decision to raise taxes, I disagreed with his decision to pledge “no new taxes.”

Romney is now placing himself in the same position.  As a matter of honor, he is saying that he will veto any budget that includes tax increases.  No president candidates should be talking in a way that their honor will limit their ability to govern effectively.  Worse, presidential candidates should not quit making promises that they don’t plan to keep.

August 5, 2011

Aphorism of the Week #6 – “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 4:13 am
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They say that Google has enabled us to locate any information that we desire.  But my Google research skills must be lacking because I have been unable find three of my favorite aphorisms.  Therefore, I will have to paraphrase them:

  1. Some famous Texas historian (Dobie? Webb? Bedichek?) said about a cowboy, “He who has struggled on the trail to preserve his water is unlikely at the end of the trail to waste it away.”
  2. President Lyndon Johnson conducted a large meeting in his western White House and later
    complained about participants on the fringe of the meeting who didn’t dare speak up, but were not hesitant later to second-guess.  (Sort of a Texas version of Roosevelt’s “In the Arena.”)
  3. President Bush-41 told about being a small kid coming home from school and having his mother ask him if he had imposed on his teacher’s time, to the detriment of other kids.

I find the Bush-41 story especially fascinating because it reminds me of this week’s aphorism – “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  I am fascinated by that aphorism because it has multiple levels.

On the simplest level, it is the admonition to quit whining and acting like a spoiled kid.  That is what I was told as a kid.  But the Bush-41 story takes it to another, more altruistic level.  His mother was teaching him to be empathetic and consider how his demands affect others.

I think, however, there is even a third level to the aphorism.  Last year, I read a book by Malcolm Gladwell titled, Outliers, and in my blog review of the book, I noted the following:

  • In my opinion, Chapter Four is the most significant.  It describes practical intelligence, as distinguished from IQ.  “Practical intelligence includes things like ‘knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect.’  It is procedural….  It’s practical in nature: that is, it’s not knowledge for its own sake.”  Where does practical intelligence come from – unlike analytical intelligence, which comes at least in part from your genes, practical intelligence seems to come from your families.  “When we talk of the advantages of class,” we are not talking only of money and schooling, “but also because – and perhaps this is even more critical, the sense of entitlement that he has been taught is an attitude perfectly suiting to succeeding in the modern world.”  The term that I have used in the past, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  In contrast, individuals from lower classes offer little resistance to 2nd-class treatment and are typically easily discouraged.

With my background in the corporate world, I commonly observed this third level of entitlement.  Employees of mediocre ability, but aristocratic background, often acted like they were entitled to advance, and too often their expectations were met.  Of course, many of the supervisors were like them – i.e., mediocre aristocrats.

It’s too bad that management courses don’t describe this tendency.  If managers were aware of it, perhaps they would be able minimize it.

June 28, 2011

Great presidents and continuing legal education

During the annual meeting of the State Bar of Texas, I had the good fortune of hearing presidential historian Douglas Brinkley give a talk on great presidents in America’s history.  I’m not sure how his talk qualified as continuing legal education for lawyers, but the state bar has almost unlimited power on that issue and it is very unlikely that anyone will complain.

Brinkley is a famous historian who is often interviewed on national news programs because he has the ability to present information in an interesting way, and his talk to at the annual meeting didn’t disappoint.  The talk was informal, and I suspect Brinkley could give it in his sleep.  His principal insights were:

  1. Although the talk was about presidents, Brinkley started with a non-president – Charles Thompson – who was a relatively unknown politician who did yeomen’s work in forming our union, but then was shut-out of a role in the newly-formed United States because he was too progressive for his time – i.e., he favored the emancipation of slaves and the liberation of women.
  2. George Washington’s signal achievement was to give up power after two terms.
  3. Thomas Jefferson saw that the Mississippi River was the spine of America and that religion has no place in a democracy.
  4. James Polk was successful because he established clear objectives (resolving the border issues with Mexico and Canada) and knew that wars of choice must be ended quickly.
  5. Lincoln’s challenges make the challenges faced by any other president seem highly manageable.
  6. Teddy Roosevelt created and led the conservation movement even though the public wasn’t demanding it.
  7. Franklin Roosevelt created the feeling that the federal government could solve all our problems.
  8. Harry Truman was horribly unpopular because he was too direct in trying to achieve his objectives, but his stock in history has skyrocketed.
  9. Dwight Eisenhower was an under-rated president who showed that America could be fiscally conservative and still do great things – e.g., NASA, interstate highways, and St. Lawrence Seaway.
  10. John Kennedy implemented things that worked (Peace Corp and SEALS/Green Beret), whereas his successor Lyndon Johnson spent too much money on things that didn’t work.
  11. Gerald Ford did a great job of extricating America from two problems – Nixon and Vietnam.
  12. Jimmy Carter brought morality to Washington.
  13. Ronald Reagan went with his gut and told Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
  14. Bill Clinton was relatively successful, but never did anything big and will always be remembered for the sex scandal.
  15. George H.W. Bush will be upgraded by historians because of his brilliant handling of foreign policy.
  16. Barack Obama is disposed to placate, not lead.  He acts like the only adult in the room, but doesn’t lead.  His greatest accomplishment will be getting elected.

Brinkley skipped over Bush-43, but someone during the Q&A asked if it was likely that Bush-43 would be upgraded by historians.  Brinkley did not think so because Bush-43 would be forever stained by the economic collapse at the end of his second term.  It’s ironic that Bush’s economic collapse not only resulted in the historic election of Barack Obama, but also may have fated Obama to the ignominy of a one-term presidency.

In my opinion, Brinkley skipping Bush-43 was bad enough, but skipping Richard Nixon, too, is unforgivable, especially when he found time to mention Jimmy Carter.  I will keep that in mind when reading Brinkley in the future.

April 25, 2011

Hawks

Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent posted an interesting entry today about “deficit hawks.”  According to Sargent, the term has been unfairly appropriated by the Republican Right, even though the Right is often more interested in drying up all streams of government revenue than it is in eliminating the deficit. 

This deficit-hawking started with Ronald Reagan in the late 70s, when he argued for lowering taxes, balancing the budget, and rebuilding America’s defenses.  When pressed to prioritize these conflicting values, Reagan said there was no conflict.  This prompted a moderate Republican opponent (Bush-41) to coin the term “voodoo economics.”

I think blogger Sargent makes a good point.  If you claim to be a deficit hawk, that should mean that reducing or eliminating the deficit is so important to you that you are willing to sacrifice other values – such as your opposition to raising taxes – in order to address the deficit problem.  If you aren’t willing to raise taxes to reduce the deficit, then you are more accurately described as a believer in smaller government or an adversary of big government.  Paul Ryan is a believer in smaller government, not a deficit hawk.  By contrast, the Gang of Six senators are deficit hawks.

Sometimes I think the anti-war liberals are still resentful of being labeled doves during the Vietnam War, as opposed to the pro-war conservatives being labeled hawks.  Most alpha Americans think doves are a little squishy.  NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd has tried for years to get back at the hawks by name-calling those who didn’t serve in Vietnam – she particularly enjoys calling VP Dick Cheney a chickenhawk.  (Although that term is considered an epithet, the NY Times is apparently OK with its usage by columnists.)  I wonder, however, if Dowd has taken this labeling to its logical conclusion – i.e., under his classification, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are chickendoves.  Don’t think they’d like that appellation.

April 14, 2011

Obama takes a whack at the deficit by raising taxes on the rich

Yesterday, President Obama announced his plan to gain control over America’s deficit.  Part of his plan is to raise the taxes of the rich.  Not surprisingly, the NY Times editorial board and columnist Nicholas Kristof commended Obama’s plan, but they both thought a truly courageous stand would have been to increase the taxes of the middle class, too, so as to avoid draconian spending cuts.

Of course, there are counter-opinions that any tax increase is political suicide.  If you doubt that, recall that the last person who campaigned on broadly raising taxes was presidential candidate Walter Mondale, who suffered one of the most lopsided electoral defeats ever in 1984.

Obama, of course, is constrained to raising taxes only on the rich because of his famous campaign pledge against raising taxes on anyone except those who make more than $250k.  Violating that pledge would expose him to the same ridicule that Bush-41 received after breaking his “Read My Lips” promise.

Personally, I agree with the NY Times that the taxes of the middle class should be raised, but I would also raise the taxes of the lower class.  Conservatives have always loved the idea of everyone paying something, and Obama seemed to accept that concept in his speech yesterday:

  • As a country that values fairness, wealthier individuals have traditionally borne a greater share of this burden than the middle class or those less fortunate. Everybody pays, but the wealthier have borne a little more. This is not because we begrudge those who’ve done well -– we rightly celebrate their success. Instead, it’s a basic reflection of our belief that those who’ve benefited most from our way of life can afford to give back a little bit more.” 

Obama’s rhetoric makes sense, but it doesn’t reflect the fact that nearly half of American taxpayers pay no income tax.  In fact, because of the earned income tax credit, millions of Americans are refunded tax money that they never paid. 

Because of demagoguing by liberals, you might not recall that the Bush tax cuts were not solely for the rich.  Instead, his tax cuts were designed to benefit all taxpayers, with the rich to benefit proportionately less.  That same approach should be used to increase taxes.  Shared sacrifice means everyone, including poor, middle class, and rich, as well as seniors, juniors, and tweeners.

Other carps

The following are some incidental carps that I have about the Obama address yesterday:

  • Obama paid lip service to America’s fundamental faith in the free market, but the bulk of his speech revealed that he placed a higher value on the role of government:

“From our first days as a nation, we have put our faith in free markets and free enterprise as the engine of America’s wealth and prosperity. More than citizens of any other country, we are rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.  But there’s always been another thread running through our history -– a belief that we’re all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of our first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.”

  • Obama acted like everything was rosy until Bush-43 screwed things up.  Personally, I have no recollection of those halcyon days in 2000 when America wasn’t obsessed with the actuarial time bombs associated with Social Security or more problematically, Medicare and Medicaid:

As a result of these bipartisan efforts, America’s finances were in great shape by the year 2000. We went from deficit to surplus. America was actually on track to becoming completely debt free, and we were prepared for the retirement of the Baby Boomers.”

  • After noting earlier in his speech that no one wants their taxes increased, Obama opined that the rich actually do want their taxes increased:      

“I say that at a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more. I don’t need another tax cut. Warren Buffett doesn’t need another tax cut. Not if we have to pay for it by making seniors pay more for Medicare. Or by cutting kids from Head Start. Or by taking away college scholarships that I wouldn’t be here without and that some of you would not be here without.  And here’s the thing: I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me. They want to give back to their country, a country that’s done so much for them. It’s just Washington hasn’t asked them to.”

I suppose I shouldn’t have expected Obama to stake out a reasonable budgetary position like the Bowles-Simpson plan to start with.  The Ryan budget proposal obviously was unacceptable to most Americans; rather it was designed to satisfy conservatives.  Similarly, Obama’s position probably appears reasonable to liberals.  I hope there are enough pragmatists in the middle, like the “gang of six” in the Senate, who want to end the posturing and actually do something to get a handle on our deficit.

January 23, 2011

Sunday book review #10 – The Next Big Story by Soledad O’Brien

Full disclosure – I read The Next Big Story with a disposition not to like Soledad O’Brien because I recently heard her interviewed on TV justifying her affirmative-action admission to Harvard.  In the interview, she cited her mother for saying that it was better to get into Harvard because you are black than to be excluded from Harvard because you are black.  I think that philosophy is wrong, even if it comes from a saintly mother.

The first story described in the book supported my theory that Soledad was a life-long elitist with a feeling of entitlement.  The incident concerned an 11-year-old Soledad and her 14-year-old sister Estela visiting a local Long Island photographer to have their picture taken for a gift to their mother.  Although the 30-year-old white photographer was “exceeding polite,” he rocked the girls’ world by asking, “Forgive me for asking, but are you black?”  

While Soledad is speechless because the “nice-sounding words make her feel small and embarrassed, my sister is light-years ahead of me.  She starts to shred the guy.  ‘Offend us?  Offend us?  By asking if we are black?’ ….  Estela is totally on it.  I am very impressed that she can articulate her anger so well at fourteen.  She is already able to take apart a grown man.  She’s so much more on top of it than me.  ‘Forgive me if I’m offending you…’  We don’t have to take this crap.  And from a photographer?  Estella gives me the universal body language for ‘we’re taking a walk’ and off we go.”

I don’t know how Soledad defines “articulate,” but I fail to discern anything articulate in Estella’s speech.  Further, I don’t know what is impressive about a 14-year-old girl being able to take apart an exceedingly polite 30-year-old photographer.  And finally, I don’t know what being a photographer has to do with level of insult one should accept.

Only a few pages later in the book, Soledad irritated me even more in insulting her hometown of Smithtown on Long Island.  Although Soledad admits that Smithtown was a wonderful place to grow up, she gratuitously impugns Smithtown by describing recent litigation over the town’s resistance to accept Section 8 housing from non-residents from the NYC environs:

  • This is one of the reasons my town was split into two – a landing place for the American dream had slammed the door shut on anyone new.  That is not what being American is about.  Our communities thrive because they renew themselves with people who bring in new ideas and refresh out culture.  Smithtown could have only gotten better by welcoming people aspiring to make good.  The duality of my home town didn’t have to exist.  They had the choice to embrace new people and encourage change or reject newcomers and limit growth.  My parents had so much to contribute to Smithtown, including six children who appreciated the obvious benefits of where they lived and went on to succeed.  We are proof that a choice to welcome newcomers can help a community thrive.”

The preceding passage is incredible.  Is it disgraceful for a rural city to resist an influx of Section 8 people from the NYC metro area?  Why does Soledad think her parents chose to live in Smithtown instead of NYC?  Does Soledad seriously equate the value added to a city by her family (headed by a college professor and a high school teacher) with that of a family living in Section 8 housing? 

Soledad left Smithtown to enroll like her four older siblings at Harvard.  Instead of directly addressing the role of affirmative action in her matriculation, Soledad mentions it only indirectly – “I am here because I have strong grades.  They like strong grades.  I was a woman and they needed women, a person of color and they wanted people of color.”

After college, Soledad became a “minority writer trainee” for an NBC TV station WBZ in Boston, and the doubts about her qualifications began – “Once you’ve been tagged a minority, the strange process begins.  At times I feel like I have a question mark hovering over my head.  Why are you here?  It is your race?  Do you have any skills, anyway?…  I demand to know what I need to know to get to the next level.”  That sounds to me like a prototypical sense of entitlement.

In 1993, after five years in Boston as a field producer, Soledad moved to an NBC station KRON in San Francisco because her boyfriend lived there.  Although she made less money, she would finally be on the air. 

In 1996, after floundering for three years at KRON (“I feel stuck at KRON.  The news director is clear I’ll never have a chance to anchor.  I feel like I am one woman too many.  I am frustrated because I am not growing my skill sets.”), Soledad landed a local job with newly-created MSNBC anchoring a technology show.  Although the technology show was quickly cancelled, MSNBC offered Soledad a job in NYC anchoring its morning newscast, Morning Blend.

In 1999, Soledad moves to NBC to anchor Weekend Today with Jack Ford and later David Bloom (and a third anchor she never names).  The experience is not a good one because there is only one serious interview a day, and Ford/Bloom fight her for it.  The rest of the time is spent on cooking and fashion.

In 2003, Soledad left NBC to move to CNN, where she became an anchor on American Morning with Bill Hemmer.  She says she moved because she wanted to get back to serious reporting.  Her first big story on CNN was Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  From that experience, Soledad learned that people will do incredible things to take care of themselves and that this skill is essential because government is so incompetent at taking care of its citizens, especially if those citizens are minorities or disadvantaged:

  • The hurricane hit on Monday.  It’s Friday.  This all makes no sense to me.  By now this place should be abuzz with rescue services, with government relief from a storm.  I feel like I am in another country….  How can this be?  I see the fear, the panic.  Anger rises into a tight knot behind my forehead….  I join the clutch of exhausted CNN staffers.  No one says more than they have to.  I begin to report.”

Don’t you get chills just reading how noble and selfless Soledad and CNN were?  She goes on to say:

  • “The places hit by Hurricane Katrina couldn’t rely on regular services; they required a massive national response, a cavalry of forces only a country can muster.  Yet the cavalry didn’t arrive.  To survive, you had to be ready to help yourself.  If that makes you angry, it should.  It makes me angry, too.  But anger doesn’t get you pulled off the roof of your house when the waters rise.”

A noteworthy incident with Jesse Jackson occurred while Soledad anchored American Morning.  During a lunch, he begins grousing to her about the absence of black anchors on CNN.  Soledad naturally cuts him off and reminds him that she anchors American Morning:

  • “He knows that.  He looks me in the eye and reaches his fingers over to tap a spot of skin on my right hand.  He shakes his head.  ‘You don’t count,’ he says.  I wasn’t sure what that means….  I was angry and embarrassed, which rarely happens at the same time for me.  Jesse Jackson managed to make me ashamed of my skin color….  I am immediately upset and annoyed and the more annoyed I am, the more upset and pissed off….  I am a product of my parents (black woman, white man), my town (mostly white), multiracial to be sure, but not black?…  After two weeks of stewing, I sit upright one day, angry at myself for not telling this man he is wrong….  So I should have called him up and said, ‘What the heck does that mean?’ But I didn’t.  I slunk away.”

Obviously, this was not one of Soledad’s finer moments.  After all these years, she still didn’t have the confrontational fire that he sister Estela displayed while a 14-year-old.  Or perhaps she was acted this way because she was dealing with Jesse Jackson instead of a photographer. 

Only recently, Soledad called Jackson and asked for an explanation.  He responded that he wasn’t aware that she was black.  He thought her brown skin tone came from somewhere other than Africa.  This was a simple misunderstanding that could have been corrected it Soledad had managed to speak up.

As the Katrina debacle wound down, so did the ratings of American Morning.  Bill Hemmer was replaced by Miles O’Brien (no relation), but the hemorrhaging of ratings did not stop.  With no hard news stories, the ratings for American Morning dropped 6% and it was “overshadowed by the personality-driven Fox & Friends.”  Even the ratings for MSNBC’s simulcast of Don Imus grew by 39% and passed American Morning.  Soledad and Miles were told that they were “great reporters but not magnetic anchors” and were fired in 2007.  Soledad was reassigned to long-form documentaries called CNN Presents.

Soledad’s first documentary was a two-night, four-hour special called Black in America.  Following the special, Jesse Jackson’s slight became more prevalent as bloggers openly challenged Soledad on whether she was black enough to report about blacks.  One said, “Can Soledad O’Brien embrace blackness while not looking black, not sounding black, and not being married to a black man?”  Soledad’s response was that, way back in Smithtown, her mom and dad had decided that their kids would identify themselves as black Latinos.  This was convenient because Soledad’s next big documentary was Latino in America

Following Latino in America, CNN created a new unit for Soledad called In America, which was to provide a voice to “voiceless communities” and “marginalized individuals.”  Although the unit was to focus on Americans, the next big story was Haiti, and Soledad refused to miss it:

  • I am dying to go.  The newsroom duties just vanish at moments like this.  I’m a journalist.  I have a perspective on how to tell the human story that is unique.  I won’t go and do what everyone else is doing.  I will add something more.  I need to be there.  But how am I going to get in?  At the moment no one is asking me to go…. I grab my producers and we go from office to office….  I go home that night and want to scream up at the sky.  How unimaginably awful it must be in Haiti.  I want to be there.  I want to help in the way reporters can help.  I want to spread the word of what the people need….  There is an emotional line you cross as a reporter from feeling an embarrassing thrill at the magnitude of the story you are telling to experiencing a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.”

Naturally, the SVPs from Newsgathering and Programming eventually gave Soledad the green light.  She was “to focus hard on something no one else is doing.  He wants us to come back with something special so the pressure is on.  We are bound for Haiti.”

 Upon arriving at Haiti, Soledad was reminded of the desperate people in New Orleans.  She expects nothing of Haiti, but is amazed at the relief efforts underway.  “This makes it all the more remarkable that our government allowed its people to languish in New Orleans.  I feel as if the Americans here are the same ones who materialized in Louisiana once they realized that the government wasn’t up to the task.”  Based on her comments, you might think Soledad believes people should be able to sit on their hands while goverment rescues them. 

Soledad finishes her book by taking a nostalgic return visit to her childhood friends in Smithtown.  Some have done well; others haven’t.  She doesn’t understand why everyone in America can’t be as successful as she has been. 

Soledad’s success is especially remarkable when you consider that she has been a weak or mediocre performer in virtually every job she has held.  Yet she has the audacity to walk away from that job and demand and receive a better job.  Where do you get chutzpah like that?  To borrow Ann Richard’s joke about Bush-41, Soledad was born on third base and thought she hit a triple.

December 11, 2010

Sunday book review #4 – Decision Points by George W. Bush

George W. Bush is my favorite contemporary politician.  When I was going door-to-door during my Congressional campaign, the 2nd-most common question was what I thought of Bush-43.  (The most common question was what I thought of Roe v. Wade.)  Although I realized I would be more successful in my door-to-door discussions if I distanced myself from Bush, or at least gave a more nuanced opinion, I responded truthfully that I admired the man.

With that disclosure, I begin this review of Decision Points.  Unlike most presidential books, Decision Points is not a chronological narrative of the Bush presidency.  Instead, it is a review of how Bush made the important decisions in his life.  Because there is so much interesting material in the book, I have decided to break the review into three parts – the pre-9/11 stuff, post-9/11 foreign policy, and post-9/11 domestic policy and conclusions.  I will review the first part this week and the other two parts, I hope, on succeeding Sundays. 

The pre-9/11 stuff

The pre-9/11 stuff comprises four chapters – Quitting (about drinking), Running (deciding to run for president), Personnel (hiring and firing), and Stem Cells (government research with stem cells).  In the course of explaining those decisions, Bush reveals a lot about his character and personality, which is the diametric opposite of my all-time favorite politician, Richard Nixon.  I supported Nixon because I related to a lot of his background, values, ambitions, and insecurities.  He was the perfect foil for John Kennedy.  My preference for Nixon seems inconsistent with my admiration of Bush-43, who background and personality is more Kennedy-esque and Nixonian.  What’s so special about Bush-43?

Sportsmanship

 Maybe it’s his love of sports.  Bush and I share the love of sports, and I think we share some of the fundamental values that sports teaches, the most important being sportsmanship.  Bush described with admiration the sportsmanship displayed by his dad in losing to Bill Clinton in 1992: 

  • Dad handled the defeat with characteristic grace.  He called early in the evening to congratulate Bill, laying the foundation for one of the more unlikely friendships in American political history.  Dad had been raised to be a good sport.  He blamed no one; he was not bitter.” 

Later in 2000, early in the evening, after the critical state of Florida had been called for Gore, Bush showed his own sportsmanship – “I was ready to accept the people’s verdict and repeat Mother’s words from 1992: ‘It’s time to move on.’” 

I love this attitude.  Defeat is not a failure or a personal rejection.  Politicians offer their services, but someone has to lose.  I disagree completely with those politicians who assert that their first obligation to their supporters is to win the election.  Their supporters have no right to insist that a candidate doing anything more than campaign hard and smart.  The voters will decide who can represent them best.

Parenting

 

There’s an old protest song from Vietnam days with the lyrics, “You can’t even run your own life; I’ll be damned if you run mine.”  (Sunshine by Jonathan Edwards.)  I thought of those when I read about Bush-43 deciding whether to leave Austin and the Texas governorship to run for president.  Surprisingly, Laura was quickly on board, but his daughters weren’t.  Finally, one night George sat down with Jenna (who was soon graduating from high school) on the patio of the Governor’s Mansion and said, “I know you think that I’m ruining your life by running for president.  But actually your mom and I are living our lives – just like we raised you and Barbara to do.”  

That is so refreshing and politically incorrect.  Yes, parents need to put their children first, but there needs to be consideration for the parents, too. 

Growing up

Bush has a reputation as a slacker, which he denies “My philosophy in college was the old cliché: work hard, play hard.  I upheld the former and excelled at the latter.”

Something I share with Bush is his dislike of campus politicians – “I had no interest in being a campus politician.”  When describing a young Karl Rove, “I assumed he would be another one of the campus politician types who had turned me off at Yale.  I soon recognized that Karl was different.  He wasn’t smug or self-righteous, and he sure wasn’t the typical suave campaign operator.”

Bush has a reputation as a young boozer, and he accepts that – “In reality, I was a boozy kid and [Dad] was an understandably irritated father.”  Even after marrying, this happened – “As we were eating, I turned to a beautiful friend of Mother and Father and asked a boozy question: ‘So, what is sex like after fifty?’….  Years later, when I turned fifty, the good-natured woman sent me a note to the Texas Governor’s Mansion: ‘Well, George, how is it?’  Laura saw a pattern developing, too.  What seemed hilarious or clever to my friends and me was repetitive and childish to her.” 

Although Bush graduated from Harvard Business School, he never bought into those people – “I knew what I did not want to do.  I had no desire to go to Wall Street.  While I knew decent and honorable people who had worked on Wall Street, including my grandfather Prescott Bush, I was suspicious of the financial industry.  I used to tell friends that Wall Street is the kind of place where they will buy you and sell you, but they don’t really give a hoot about you so long as they can make money off you.”

Nepotism?

Many believed that Bush was unqualified to run for governor, but he persuasively disagrees – “My experiences on Dad’s campaigns and running the Rangers had sharpened my political, management, and communication skills.  Marriage and family had broadened my perspective.”  That makes perfect sense. 

In the final days of the campaign, this so-called lightweight was ready for a broadside from Ann Richards – “She did her best to set me off.  She called me ‘some jerk’ and ‘shrub,’ but I refused to spark….  On debate night, Karen and I were in the elevator when Ann Richards entered.  I shook her hand and said, ‘Good luck, Governor.’  In her toughest growl, she said, ‘This is going to be rough on you, boy.’”

Personnel

An entire chapter in the book is devoted to Bush’s philosophy regarding personnel.  I think the following encapsulates that philosophy – “I was looking for integrity, competence, selflessness, and an ability to handle pressure.  I always liked people with a sense of humor, a sign of modesty and self-awareness.” 

I couldn’t agree more with those qualities, including the sense of humor. 

This chapter also contains a comment ostensibly on the selection of Cheney, but it seems more applicable to McClain’s selection of Palin – “The vice presidential selection provides voters with a window into a candidate’s decision-making style.  It reveals how careful and thorough he or she will be.” 

Stem-cell research

Another chapter in the book is devoted to Bush’s decision to deny federal spending for stem-cell research except for already existing stem-cell lines.  I have read other book reviewers commend Bush’s thorough and open-minded research prior to making this decision.  I disagree.  Bush may have conducted thorough research, but I’m not sure about it being open-minded.  To describe his pro-life position, Bush quoted from former PA governor Bob Casey, “When we look to the unborn child, the real issue is not when life begins, but when love begins.”  As a committed, staunch, pro-lifer, this was really a no-brainer for George Bush.  

Warts?

Any warts?  Yes, I noticed three – one substantive, one personal, and one trivial:

  1. Mental illness.  I’ve always resented that the federal government required employer-provided health insurance to cover treatment of mental illness as generously as it covered treatment of physical illness.  I think that one is more essential than the other.  Imagine my surprise at reading about Bush’s pride in signing the law that required this.  His pride was based on his relationship with a Texas Ranger partner Rusty Rose, who suffered from a chemical imbalance that caused anxiety.  My question (and probably Rick Perry’s) to George Bush would be, “Did you think about federalism and whether you and the federal government had any business telling businesses what to do regarding this?”
  2. 

  3. Silver spoon.  Bush was considered by many to be an aristocrat because of his family and connections.  Ann Richards famously commented about his dad being born on third-base and thinking he hit a triple.  One of the charges of aristocracy against Bush-43 was that he used connections to avoid Vietnam service by getting in the National Guard.  Bush’s description of this incident included a quote that sounded aristocratic to me:
    • I informed the Alabama National Guard commanders that I would have to miss several meetings during the campaign.  They told me I could make them up after the election, which I did.  I didn’t think much about it for another few decades.”

I don’t think most of us would “inform the commanders”; rather, we would humbly ask for permission.  Maybe it’s just me, but that quote was jarring.   

          3.   UT law school.  Before going to Harvard Business School, Bush tried unsuccessfully to get into the University of Texas Law School.  I think he should have mentioned that fact somewhere in this book because it makes the UT Law School look good and it makes me look good.  Only in America would I be able to go to a graduate-level school that George W. Bush could not get into.  Of course, it also reveals UT to be more of a meritocracy that admits a Kueber, whereas Harvard admits the Bushes, Obamas, and Castros of the world

Based on what I’ve read thus far, Bush has not disappointed me.  Despite the aristocratic trappings, Bush is more Texas than Connecticut.  His self-deprecation is frequent; his hubris is rare.  Of course, much of this is due to his mom and dad.  A perfect description of their parenting style occurred at Mile 19 of his first marathon.  He was running at an 8:33 pace as his parents cheered him on.  Dad – “That’s my boy.”  Mom – “Keep moving, George. There are some fat people ahead of you.”

A person’s most important quality, in my opinion, is that they be comfortable in their own skin.  They need to like and respect themselves.  The insecure and egoists do neither.  People who are comfortable in their own skin are better able to deal issues and challenges.  I look forward to reading about W. dealing with 9/11.

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