Category Archives: Book Review

The Gatekeepers

Since the creation of the position of “White House Chief of Staff” in 1946, thirty-three men have had the ear of the President.  In the years since there has only been one extended period where a President did not have a ‘Chief’,  for 909 days President Carter chose to not name a Chief of Staff (Cos), or rather HE acted as his own chief.  For over 60% of his presidency, because of his decision, Jimmy Carter could not focus 100% on his job as he was doing a job that should have gone to someone else. Pundits feel he didn’t get it right until the last 7 months of his term, too late to avoid defeat  to Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The Gatekeepers:  How the White House Chiefs of Staff define every Presidency written by Chris Whipple, is not only about the Chiefs of Staff but the Presidents themselves and the decsions made by them.  With all the information the Presidents had about previous CoS’s, there was a pattern of errors, or mis-decisions in filling that role. 

Gatekeepers covers the American Presidencies from Nixon to Obama and closes with a few words about the 45th President and how Trump might handle the slection process for the position.  Of all the Chiefs’, the consencus is that James Baker III is the cream of the crop and was able to ensure that Ronald Reagan won his re-election bid.  

The best advise that all Presidents are given is not to hire a friend, unless you want to lose that friendship.  A friend will not be able to say what needs to be said to the President, that is “No”. Honesty is the best advice that a chief of staff can give – if it can’t be offered, why have a chief.  The proof of Baker’s success is in his longevity working in the West Wing of the Whitehouse.  Baker, a registered Democrat in the 50’s when he met George H. W. Bush, served as Chief for two Presidents, Reagan and the recently deceased Bush. Baker’s connection to Bush 41 and his work as the Bush’s campaign for President against Reagan in the Republican primaries in 1980 brought him to the unlikely selection by Reagan to be his Chief of Staff.  His close relationship with Bush 41 must have played a huge role for Reagan.  As the architect of Reagan’s main opponent in the 1980 campaign Baker could be challenged as the best choice. Baker staying in as CoS through Reagan’s entire first term as President shows the loyalty that both Baker and Reagan had for each other and the roles they held.

As far as Chiefs for Democratic Presidents go, Bill Clinton can claim he had possibly the worst and best.  Clinton broke rule #1 and brought in a close friend, Mack McLarty as his first Chief.  McLarty , a member of the Arkansas Mafia, brought choas and unorganization to the the White House.  McLarty’s run as Chief can be best described as letting others run the administration with no control and what seemed like unlimited access to the President.  As chaotic as McLarty was, blame also goes to the Clinton.  His decision to appointment McLarty came the day after the election in.

As bad as Clinton’s decision was to hire McLarty, bringing in Leon Panetta in ’93 was a genius move and provided a smooth last few years in the White House while Hillary ran for a Senate seat and Al Gore was running for President.  Panetta was the steady hand needed to finish a presidency that was chaotic and challenged by a President that not always took the advice he needed.

The brilliance of Gatekeepers is not only the story of the CoS’s, but the issues, scandals and challenges brought on by a President but stickhandled by the Chief. Gatekeepersbegins with the Nixon Presidency, and if there is any administration that demostrates the loyalty of a chief, it’s Bob Haldeman’s running the the ship through the Watergate scandal of the 37thPresident, and he ran it right into the ground.  The most intriguing aspect of Gatekeepersis the insider perspective of major events that President’s had to deal with.  

The attack on the World Trade Centre September 9th2001 and the Bush 43 administration revealed the actions of an administration that could be scene as having two Chiefs.  Former Chief for Gerald Ford, Dick Cheney was now the Vice President and in agreeing to be the VP he negotiated responsibilities that normally go to the the CoS.  Andrew Card, who served as Deputy Chief under Bush 41, was now Chief for Bush 43.  The dynamic was “unique”  as Cheney says in the book as he, as VP, took on issues under National Security which under previous administrations would have gone to Andrew Card.

Gatekeeperspulls back the curtains on the West Wing.  As the reader you decide if you agree with how decisions were made and rate the effectiveness of the relationship between the Chief and the President.  What is clear is that the golden rule of not hiring a friend to be the CoS isthe cardinal rule and as the reader we all can sit back and see how a presidency falls apart because the Chief can’t say no and the President doesn’t want to hear it.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress.  I can be found on Twitter @robertdekker&  @rdmediaottawaand on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97.  If you prefer email, please contact me at rdmedia@bell.net

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Temporary Disappearing Act

poofIt’s unsettling to me that I have not posted for a while, but I have a good reason – a REALLY good reason.  I have given up the title of Candidate of Record for the Ontario PC’s in Ottawa Centre with the selection of Colleen McCleery to carry the PC banner in the Ontario election.

I’ll be occupied for another 4 weeks on the campaign for Colleen McCleery.  This is not where I thought I would be, but I am very happy to be there with a great team of people working to elect Ms. McCleery, who is a great candidate, as the MPP for Ottawa Centre.

In my temporary disappearing act I have other posts that are related to the Ontario election you can click and read.  Here are suggestions:

I wrote this piece about the Green Party of Ontario, is this election the break though the party is hoping for as they are Looking for their first seat?  Ontario Greens: Out looking for number 1

Last month I wrote about the election and what each party should be doing for a favourable outcome, I called it How (not) to Lose an Election. How to win (not lose) an election 

Something a little different for me, this was a non-political book, but was a fascinating read.  I hope the post gets you interested in reading the book. Ancient Wisdom and Knowledge, is it forever lost?

And one more for good luck, a quick three book review post,  3 Books 3 Reviews

I hope you enjoy the posts, I’ll be back in June with thoughts on the Ontario election and what the future of Ontario could be after the votes are counted.

 

Ancient Wisdom and Knowledge, is it forever lost?

The Wayfinders

 

There is a saying, ‘a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing’, it is derived from English poet Alexander Pope’s poem “A Little Learning”.  The earliest known printing of the poem is 1709. For the full poem click here: https://www.poetsgraves.co.uk/Classic%20Poems/Pope/a_little_learning.htm.  I think of this after reading the CBC Massey Lectures, a collection of five lectures entitled “The Wayfinders” by Canadian Anthropologist and explorer-in-residence of National Geographic Wade Davis.

I am reminded of this while reading the Wayfinder lectures because Davis seems to acknowledge that the knowledge of the “new world” is at the heart of the demise of many of the earths longest known peoples. The Africans – where the migration of people started and spread across the earth, Australian Aboriginals, the tribes of the rain forests, the Polynesian sea navigators and the First Nations of the Sacred Headwaters of BC and others have been walking this earth ten’s of thousands of years before the Europeans of the new world spread their ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’ across lands and waters.

Does, as Davis alludes to, learned knowledge undermine intuitive knowledge?  The knowledge of our souls is like a family history, it can only be learned through the telling of stories and family experiences.  The terms of an oral history and generational transmission of knowledge is used to describe how generations of the earth’s first inhabitants shared knowledge.  Davis provides a great example of learned through intuitive knowledge describing the different experiences of Spanish sailors compared to the navigation of the Polynesians. The Polynesians, told through the life training of a modern day sea navigator, learned about tides, the sea movements under the boats, winds and using the stars without the tools that the new world explorers had at their disposal.  It is a fascinating experience of learning of an old world craft in a modern time.

As much we marvel at the tools and innovation that new knowledge bring, we must acknowledge that there is prejudice that learned knowledge is greater than that which is transmitted generationally.  In the fourth lecture “Sacred Geography” Davis not only talks about the lands of British Columbia, but also how 50,000 years of living by Australian Aboriginals is almost wiped out within a generation because of their only way of living a ‘savage lifestyle’ was noticed by the civil people that arrived in Australia hundreds of generations after some of the Africans walked to Australia.  The newbies in the land considered themselves better.  Through laws and actions of the newcomers, about only 500 Australian Aboriginals now speak in 18 languages; Before the invasion, there were over 270 languages and more than 500 dialects spoken.  Today one language is lost each year.  It is a theme that is visited in greater detail in the book – the newcomers impose new world values over generations of native inhabitants.

There are peoples and ways of life that have existed since the beginning of time that never reach our consciousness unless we purposely put it there.   I’ll end with something from the initial lecture that really left an impression on me that demonstrates the loss of the richness of our world; today there are 7000 languages spoken today around the world.  Half of them are not being taught to children, the effect is that every two weeks a tribal elder dies and takes with them an ancient language.  Since the expansion of the new world over a recent few hundred years, the English language has become the major language spoken. The science and tools of a new world has erased the practice of intuition and a connectedness the earth for movement and sustainable living.

Have we reached an impasse? Is there a hope we can regain some of that connection to the earth? Can we utilize modern innovation and technology to record, save and revive lost and soon to be lost languages? Can we better marry the use of technology and intuition to live on this earth and live more sustainably both personally and commercially?

For tens of thousands of years people migrated, navigated and lived in a natural harmony with each other, animals, vegetation on the earth and its spirits. While we have learned many things and been able to innovate at a speed that in a hundred years can erase what took thousands of years to understand why can’t we look back and connect to each other and the past and become a modern Wayfinder?

Thank you for reading #RedHeartBlueSign, to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawaand on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. If you prefer email, please contact me at rdmedia@bell.net

3 Books 3 Reviews

I recently took a week to relax and catch up on some books that had been awaiting my attention.  In this edition of #RedHeartBlueSign I present three short reviews of those books.  The books reviewed are Saving Capitalism by Robert B. Reich; The Darkest Hour written by Anthony McCarten and The Wayfinders by Wade Davis.

Saving Capitalism (for the many, not the few) by Robert B. Reich

Saving Capitalism is a follow up to several books that Reich has written about the economy and how government deals with it, most notably Aftershock.  Reich has divided the book into three sections, The Free Market, Money and Worth and The Countervailing Power.  This book took a while to read, economics and the economy is something I can get a gripe in at the surface – but diving deep into the topic is what I would leave to others. But being relentless I delved into this book on the advice of a friend.  I am glad I did because there are several topics that struck me as being prevalent to economic success of the country and individual economic security.

Reich brings to the discussion ideas we talk about to today including a basic minimum income, but reveals 18thcentury publications that support 21stcentury ideas.  In the Countervailing Power Reich brings a 1797 essay by Thomas Paine that introduces the idea of a basic minimum income at 15 pounds a month to American men and women at the age of 21.

To read Reich is to understand world economic cycles and government responses both good and bad.  The three segments could be subjected as how our economy works, why we’re in the state we’re in and lastly how to share economic wealth of the top 10% with the 90% who don’t hold it.  While directed straight at America, there are lessons for Canadians.

The Darkest Hour by Anthony McCarten

McCarten not only wrote this book but also wrote the screenplay for the movie of the same name.  If you loved the movie, read the book as it provides the political background to the actions shown in the movie.  To film the background the book provides would’ve meant that the movie would have been much longer.

The Darkest Hour revolves around the ascension of Winston Churchill to the seat of Prime Minister and his actions during May 1940, the period known as England’s darkest moment of WW2 when Europe was falling to the Germans and everyone thought it would only be a matter of time before the UK would be next.

If you have not seen the movie yet, read the book first then see the movie.  If you’ve seen the movie, read the book and then see the move again, that’s what I’m going to do.

The Wayfinders by Wade Davis

I was reluctant to write about this book in this post as the ideas the Wade Davis presents deserve a full individual post. Here I will present a bit of what this book represents.  The Wayfinders is not so much a book, but five essays presented in 2009 in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio series entitled the Massey Lectures. It’s a format I have read before, more specifically the Massey Lectures by Stephen Lewis (humanitarian and AIDS activist) and Margaret MacMillan (Canadian Historian, Author of the excellent WW1 books ‘Paris 1919’ and ‘The War that ended Peace’)

I have written previously about Davis in my post “The Best of 2017:Books”, I wrote that his book “Into the Silence” was one of the best I read last year.  That book chronicled the race to climb to the top of Everest after WW1.

In The Wayfinders lecture series, Davis, an anthropologist, the examines how worlds of the past navigated the seas, land, newcomers and language before the Europeans brought their tools and knowledge. The series describes how knowledge of the skies and knowledge on the movement of the sun and how the tides of the water predict sea travel.

The book, as mentioned earlier, are the five lectures presented in a five-day span.  You might be tempted to read the 200 pages in a one or two sittings – but take in the lectures as they were presented over a five-day period on the radio, let the message of each lecture sink in before moving onto the next day and the next lecture.

Thank you for reading #RedHeartBlueSign, to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawaand on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97.  If you prefer email, please contact me at rdmedia@bell.net

Naomi Klein: The Leap Manifesto and ‘De-Trumping’

No is not enoughThe Leap Manifesto brought down a federal NDP leader and left the same party with a void in its leadership until late 2017. Following the 2015 Canadian election at the post election leadership review convention of the New Democratic Party (NDP) the membership passed a motion to adopt the Leap Manifesto as policy. The same party, now under the leadership of Jagmeet Singh will have its policy convention in Ottawa in February 2018. Will the party faithful tie their new leader with the manifesto as party policy for the next election?

I need to take a step back. In Naomi Klein’s book “When NO in not enough (resisting the shock politics and winning the world we know)” she provides the history of the Leap Manifesto, which was drawn up in Toronto in 2015. It would be as Klein calls it a ‘platform without a party’. Rather, for 2015 it was a guide for supporters of the “Leap” to challenge candidates and parties to adopt some of the manifesto properties as it had not been adopted as policy by any political party, large or small at that time.

In what would be a good read on the development of the Leap Manifesto on its own, Klein decides that for 75% of “NO is not enough…” She would rather focus on Trump, Pence and the billionaires that have seats around his cabinet table.

Reading this book, the process she describes as leaders from across Canada to think about a way forward was interesting and in my view would have been a better focus for her and book. I mean could not ignore Trump if she tried – but how she spent so much time on him was just inconceivable to me. How each of these leaders came with their own ideas, how the ideas developed and how their questions would be taken and later developed into the Leap Manifesto was interesting, very interesting. I do not profess to agree with a lot of what they would say, it’s the process and how everyone ‘bought in’ into it. The Leap Manifesto is an effort of collaboration, cooperation and patience of likeminded people willing to let smaller gains be forgotten for a larger purpose.

The difficult part of this book is Klein’s extreme dislike of Donald Trump. Her tone towards the election and subsequent policy declaration of Trump remains on the verge of hatred. She goes to great lengths to ‘almost’ single out Trump for the demise of the earth and the effects policy by previous Presidents have had on the speeding up of climate change. Supporters of the President will blast it all as a figment of her imagination, but she does back up her statements and it is there where the reader needs to cut through the fog that is her distaste of Trump.

Klein’s tone softens a bit when discussing the Obama years, saying that Obama had the opportunity (and didn’t take advantage of it) to pass significant legislation to advance American actions to slow climate change. She praises Obama for signing the Paris Accord, stopping the Keystone XL pipeline extension – only to rage back on Trump for reversing those decisions. Klein expresses disappointment that Obama didn’t do more in the first two years of his first term when he had the benefit of a Democratic majority in the Congress. It is difficult to comprehend just how challenging or easy it could have been for Obama (to do what Klein suggests) without any significant understanding of how the Obama White House operated at that time.

Klein always brings it back to Trump, his brand, his rich corporate friends that now hold cabinet positions. She spills a lot of ink on Trump, and how she foresees the Trump brand taking hold of a government response to extreme climate weather clean up with ‘for-profit’ ethics and less than satisfactory results that will not meet the needs of Americans. She cites the clean up of Hurricane Katrina and the Bush era republicans profiting while providing less than stellar security and clean up. I have no doubt that had Klein waited and published this book to include the US government response to Hurricane Maria and the contracts awarded for clean up and restoration of power, she would have the first indication of how a Trump White House reverted to an establishment White House. As I write this, Puerto Rico has been ‘dark’ for 117days – something that Klein would have a heyday over especially being under the watch of Trump.

With “NO is not enough…” Klein calls for the ‘de-trumping’ of America and her tool for doing this is the Leap Manifesto. While the manifesto is not active with a political party (yet) others are embracing it. There is a movement in Thunder Bay Ontario to have a slate of candidates run under a municipal “Leap”. Mid-term elections in the US are coming; will any candidate take up the Leap Manifesto? Will the US Green Party take the “Leap”?

Under the friendlier name of the People’s Platform, Klein and company continue to pursue a worldly ‘Leap’.   In this exercise of living politically, Klein provides a view that needs should be heard. It is unknown if it’s a reasonable solution or if portions of the manifesto are to be lifted – but it was an illuminating read, a read that has opened a door for further investigation.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net

“On the House” by Rob Walsh

In a year of living politically, it challenges me to read more so I know and understand more. The first challenge was to learn about what my political reality really is. As a ‘staffer’ on Parliament Hill I had knowledge of the happening of the activities of how Parliament Hill “works. What I needed was an understanding of why it works the way it does and the historical and constitutional contexts that Canada is governed by.

It could be a book for dreamers, those that dream of becoming an elected Member ofOn the House Parliament. At least by reading the book before making the decision to run, it could weed out a few who might be considering a ‘run’ when the weight of the position is understood.

On the House is written by Rob Walsh, who had a 20-year career as a Law Clerk working with Members of Parliament and their staff on Parliamentary procedure and regulations. On the House introduces the players that support MP’s and staff and also reveals a few secrets that take the mystery out of the daily procedures that rule all that are allowed to be in the House of Commons.

The book arrived at a time when there were ethical questions raised by members on the activities of the government. On the House covers the everyday activities of from the moment a newly elected MP arrives in Ottawa to set up an office, attending Member “school” and to be sworn in, all this to be done before setting one foot into the House of Commons.

Beyond the first steps following an election, On the House, takes the reader (and the new MP) through an exercise of understanding how our constitution was developed going back to before the Magna Carta and the development of the separation of the Crown and Parliament in the United Kingdom.   What follows through in the pages is an evolution of ‘privilege’, ‘ethics’, tradition where much of the work of governing take place. Walsh takes us into committee rooms, into the law clerks office and of course into the House of Commons as he explains how the procedures, with even the smallest alteration would have an large impact.

In light of what has been making recent headlines, the sections on ethics and parliamentary privilege are of particular interest. I should note here that skipping ahead to read these chapters should not be encouraged; having the constitutional context of privilege is needed to know that Canada is governed by history as much as it is by a changing political and social landscape.

The idea of Parliamentary privilege might seem unlawful to Canadians, protecting our elected officials from what is said in ‘the House’ and on Committee? Walsh does a good job to explain why the privilege exists and where it comes from. While privilege exists in the House and in Committee, it does not outside of these, hence the reason you’ll hear requests to have something said in privilege repeated outside the doors of the house (which are used as the cover of On the House).

Through case histories, parliamentary debates and parliamentary procedures outside of the House of Commons Walsh give the reader the experience that even though there are flaws, our form of government that was first set out in the British North America Act of 1867 works. Walsh also uses cases of law that defend the privilege that MP’s enjoy. While Walsh worked to defend many of Parliaments privileges – he does disagree with a few and puts his case forward – but history more than often not wins out and unwritten laws or traditions of privilege remain in place.

It might seem that On the House is a book for the Ottawa bubble, but the reality is that Walsh has provided Canadians with a “how to book” for comprehending how our government and the opposition how each play their roles.  There is legalese to navigate, but would you expect anything else considering the topic? Walsh’s view as Parliamentary Council on our Parliament is unique and one that should be read and shared.

On the House is available through McGill Queens University Press.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net

My Best of 2017: Books

The end is coming, the end of 2017.   With it comes the best of what I have come across in 2017; the best of music; the best of my blog posts and today the best of the books I’ve read. What follows are the best books I’ve read in 2017, some I have reviewd and a couple that I haven’t. If you have not read these books, I recommend that you pick them up in 2018.

Into the Silence by Wade Davis

Into the SilenceInto the Silence is one of the more difficult books I have read. I probably read it twice while reading it once, going over passages multiple times absorbing the story and imagining the climate and terrain being scaled. Into the Silence is the story of not one, but two attempts to climb Mount Everest. Into the Silence chronicles the climbers before and after WW1. The attempts to climb Everest were meant to reclaim the greatness of Great Britain. Wade Davis has researched and delivers the epic story men trying creating history. The first attempt was in 1922 and was followed by another in 1924. We know from history the first successful climb was made in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary, 30 years after the first attempt. Reading this requires closing your eyes and putting Davis’s words into images. I was likely way off what the reality was in those two climbs, but even so imagining what took place has my put those explorers in a league of their own, as will you.

Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

Are you sleeping

I reviewed this book in November, it’s a first novel by Kathleen Barber and the story revolves around the lives of six women following the murder of a man many years earlier. One of the women is a blogger who is “re-opening” the case against the murderer who may have been wrongly convicted. There are well-crafted twists and turns and an ending that took me by surprise. The women include a mother, a daughter and sister and a one woman who has hidden who she is from the ones she doesn’t realize she needs the most. Are you Sleeping is a page-turner that should be part of your 2018 reads.  Read the full review here:   Are You Sleeping

Red Notice by Bill Browder
Red Notice 2Canada passed Bill S-226, the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act. S-226 is Canada’s Magnitsky Act, and act that avenges the death of Sergei Magnitsky a Russian Lawyer who was killed while investigating high stakes financial corruption. Bill Browder in Red Notice recounts the story of Sergei Magnitsky in detail. The Book is Browder’s real life adventure in winning and losing money and seeing friends and business associates see their lives threatened and in the case of Magnitsky, lost. It paints a picture of Russia many would have thought disappeared with Stalin. Browder continues to fight against Russian and other foreign corruption encouraging other countries to pass laws like Canada’s S-226. Red Notice is all you need to understand the importance of the Magnitsky Act, but you will think it is something out of the movies.

Testimony by Robbie Robertson

robbie-robertson-testimonyThe good news is that Robbie Robertson is working on Testimony: Volume II. Even better news is that if you haven’t you must read this unnumbered Volume I. Testimony takes you from Robbie Robertson’s earliest years right up the “The Last Waltz”.  His talents as a songwriter are only surpassed by his abilities as a storyteller, something his mother told him a young age he would be. Testimony is one of the best books that documents music coming out of the straight jacket and into the late sixties and into the early seventies when some of rocks best lost there lives. It documents two tales of music, Bob Dylan going electric and The Band going out on top.

While we wait for Volume II, we still have Volume I.  Read the full review here: Testimony

The Red Kelly Story by Red Kelly

red kellyIn a six team NHL, becoming a legend took a lot of hits, a lot of goals and not making lot of money. Team owners ‘owned’ players, there was no NHLPA and road trips meant long bus rides. I doubt today’s players and legends of tomorrow will have the same stories of Howe, Keon, Sawchuck, Plante, Beliveau and Red Kelly. The Red Kelly Story bridges the Original Six with the Second Six expansion in the 1967-68 season.  There is not much controversy in the Red Kelly Story, but lots of inspiration. In the 100th Season of the NHL and the 125th Anniversary of the Stanley Cup the Red Kelly is a good book to learn about the roots of the game while we see the future each Saturday night.  Read the full review The Red Kelly Story

Up next: My Best of 2017: Music

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net