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Street Player: My Chicago Story
Street Player: My Chicago Story
Price: $16.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most brutally honest autobiography I've ever read, January 6, 2014
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Having been a die-hard Chicago fan since my college days in the mid-70s, I immersed myself in this book. Mr. Seraphine is as objective about himself as he is the group. He praises the phenomenal talent and work ethic of himself and his fellow bandmates but also describes the corrupting influences of groupies, booze, drugs, and personal feuds that laid them low at one time or another.

The most impressive aspect of the book is the astounding amount of grueling work that musicians of Chicago's caliber must put them through. These guys weren't born at the top of the charts, they had to work at it every day. For Seraphine that meant "woodshedding" himself away in a basement for weeks at a time, doing nothing except honing his drumming chops.

The degree to which record company management controlled the band is also chilling. Despite all of Chicago's record and ticket sales, Seraphine never seems to have become securely wealthy. For many years he didn't write songs and didn't receive songwriters' royalties. That left only the money the band made made from ticket sales while touring, which, according to Seraphine, was mostly siphoned off by the record company.

Seraphine answered a primary question that old-time Chicago fans have always wanted to know, which is why the group shifted away from its grounding in jazz/rock fusion became a "power ballads" band. Seraphine abhorred that shift away from the group's original mission too. But, it all came down to money. After Peter Cetera's smash hit "If You Leave me now" (which according to Serephine everybody, including Peter Cetera himself, didn't expect to amount to much) their record company insisted on repeats. Because Chicago's popularity was fading during the smarmy disco era of the late 1970s the band had no other choice expect to reincarnate itself as a "power ballad" band. They have been enormously successful in winning new generations of young fans with this formula, even if us old-timers think of it as simplistic music that is below their original creativity. (I do admit that their ballads have "grown" on me over the years).

Seraphine tells the story of how the band grew beyond the original Robert Lamm / Jimmy Pankow / Terry Kath songwriting core. Seraphine, Lee Loughnane, and Walt Parazaider came into their own during those jazzy albums between Chicago 7 and 11. After Chicago 11 Peter Cetera became the driving force of the band until he left to go solo. It's amazing how much diverse talent manifested itself in that band at difference times during its revolution. I remember Walt Parazaider saying, "We've had hits in the 70's, the 80's, the 90's, and the 2000's." What other band has produced hits in FOUR DECADES!

Of course Seraphine's sore spot is getting fired from the band for reasons that are still obscure to him. According to him, he ORGANIZED the band and later on brought in the new members like Jason Scheff to keep it going. But Seraphine feels that he was fired by majority vote of the band (including votes by the new members that Seraphine INTRODUCED to the band!) without ever receiving a reasoned explanation. The other band members went into the "circle the wagons" mode of treating him like a sick animal whom they wanted nothing further to do with. That is a common group psychology in any organization when one of the members are removed. The belligerency by former trusted and friends and colleagues is devastating to the person being expelled. His expulsion from the group he spent his whole professional life with from the time he was 16 naturally undermined his sense of self-worth. But he did get over it and is now succeeding in his own multifaceted pursuits.

The story centers mainly on Danny Seraphine but wraps the stories of other band members around it. The true story of Terry Kath's demise is told because Danny Seraphine arrived on the scene even before the police got there. Kath did not commit suicide as was rumored, but accidentally shot himself while playing with loaded guns while stoned out of his gourd.

Another back story is Seraphine's early life in the Mafioso-controlled Italian neighborhoods of Chicago. Seraphine never sought out Mafia connections, but the circumstances of growing up with people who became notorious Mafia dons added color to his life. The movie CASINO highlights the people Seraphine grew up with. That story is interesting because it opens a window into the old-time 1950's and 1960's time when ethnic White gangs ruled the streets of Chicago as young punks, then got inducted into the adult Mafia when they came of age. The most remarkable story of all is how Danny escaped the life of a budding street thug to become one of the greatest drummers in the world.

This is the most honest autobiography I've ever read. Seraphine lays his own life out with brutal honesty. Whenever he had a spat with other band members he always says "it was partly my own fault." He is sometimes critical, but never over-critical of other band members. He makes it clear that when you put the most talented musicians on earth together in a band that operates in an insecure music industry where people fall from stardom to has-beens at any moment --- that in that kind of pressure-cooker environment, personality clashes and differences of vision are inevitable.

The most inspiring parts of the book are how Seraphine escaped from a thuggish youth to become the drummer for the most enduring group of our generation --- and then after they put him out, how he escaped the legacy of having being tethered to that group and became his own person. Not a dull page from the first to the last!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 6, 2014 10:03 PM PST

Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country
Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should Dudley Do-Right hook up with Uncle Sam?, December 9, 2013
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I'm a U.S. citizen who first encountered Ms. Francis' books while working in Canada back in the 1990s. Because my work involved Canadian tax law, I read her 1994 book UNDERGROUND NATION that theorized that Canada was becoming an "underground economy" because too many Canadians were squirreling away their assets in the business-friendly USA rather than surrendering them to over-taxed Canada.

Ms. Francis felt then that the capital drain was so great that Canada would be unable to maintain its independence unless it adopted the USA's pro-business policies that would keep Canadians and their money in Canada. She thought it preferable for Canada to remain independent of the U.S. because it had a more advanced healthcare system and fewer social problems that those caused by the historical discrimination against a sizeable Black minority in the U.S.

Fast-forward 18 years, and she is advocating that Canada and the USA should MERGE. I wanted to know what changed her thinking. It turns out that a lot of it has to do with the rise of China and Russia. The triumph of state-sponsored capitalism over communism has made China and Russia powerful ECONOMIC competitors even while defanging their nuclear arsenals.

She says that today China is using its low-wage, state-protected economy to suck the wealth out of the USA and Canada. She also sees a threat from Russia staking claims to the resource-rich Arctic waters, some of which are also claimed by Canada. She thinks that merging the USA and Canada would improve our competitive position against the Chinese while protecting Canadian claims to the Arctic.

Aside from fending off unwelcome advances from China and Russia, she says that a merger would improve the economies in both countries. She points out the complementary strengths of each nation:

The United States remains the greatest wealth-creation machine in history. Others, such as China, are gaining ground by gaming the system, keeping currencies artificially low, counterfeiting, maintaining slave wages, running a dictatorship and instituting protectionism. But these methods are not sustainable.
Canada's best assets include its resources, stability and banking system, its strong relationship with the United States and an educated, law-abiding people.

She also points out each country's weaknesses. The USA, she says, is an over-militarized imperialistic power that is going bankrupt spending 20% of its national budget on military systems that are no longer cost-effective (many Americans, including many in the DEFENSE establishment, agree). She also recognizes that Canada inherited an inbred, risk-averse economy from its days as a British Crown colony:

Canada is like a gigantic trust fund run by risk-averse bureaucrats, generating no income-- only losses-- on behalf of 34.4 million people who have no idea they indirectly own the place. Put another way, Canada is the world's biggest real estate and resource opportunity.

So perhaps merging the countries would bring out the best qualities of each. The USA might place less emphasis on its military-industrial complex, but still keep enough of it around to dissuade the Russkies from trespassing in Canada's Arctic territories. (With Russia now running amok in Crimea and Ukraine, Russian disregard of Canadian rights in the Arctic has become more than just a theoretical concern.)

America would replace its moth-eaten banking system with Canada's sensible banks that are required to have sufficient assets to back their loans. American right-wingers might abandon the barbaric notion that national healthcare is "Communism" because it allows poor people to see a doctor when they're sick. Canada might become less like a national debating society were Canadians TALK about developing the country but in too many instances but won't ACT until Yankee (and more recently CHINESE) dollars come on the scene to fund the risk-taking.

Ms. Francis is surely right on those points. The USA COULD benefit from a healthy dose of Canadians' humanitarianism, while Canada could benefit from a reasoned dose of America's "get 'er done now!" approach, which believes that social progress should be accompanied by good old fashioned money-making!

Ms. Francis believes that a merger would spread the best qualities of each country around the combined whole. That is the very definition of SYNERGY.

She believes that a merger, by bringing more Americans into Canada, would multiply Canada's population and wealth. Alberta is equivalent to Texas in area and in agricultural and petroleum resources. But Texas has 26 million people while Alberta has 4 million. The difference is that Texas has the rest of the USA to draw immigrants from, while Alberta only has the rest of Canada. Ms. Francis talks at length about what I notice when I travel in Canada: that the country is not only empty in its north, but also in its west. There are maybe eleven million Canadians between Vancouver and North Bay, Ontario --- not many people to populate half a continent.

The sparse population imposes high costs of transportation and inefficient economies of scale. The economic vitality that comes from many people conducting business with each other would increase if Americans were free to immigrate to the Great White North to balance those Canadian Snowbirds migrating to the American Sunbelt.

Ms. Francis' case is so well stated that I had only minor qualms:

First, a merger probably WOULD better protect the USA and Canada from predatory Chinese state-capitalism than either could fare separately. But there other solutions like imposing import quotas and wage-equalization tariffs to keep products made by work-crazed Chinese peons laboring in Chinese work camps out of North America. After all, China can't FORCE an American or Canadian company to relocate production to China. Our North American companies do it because their managements are greedy to replace the American and Canadian workers and consumers who built their companies with Chinese peons.

North American companies seek to inflate their profit margins (aka executive bonuses) by PRODUCING at a CHINESE WAGE SCALE while SELLING at a NORTH AMERICAN PRICE LIST. Their antisocial, piggish managements couldn't care less about the impact of disemploying the American and Canadian workforce and thereby inflicting economic misery on North America. A merger of the USA and Canada would not be necessary to stop this economic rot; we could protect our people by harmonizing our external tariffs and import quotas.

Nor does Canada need to fear bullying by Russia. As a member of NATO, Canada can call upon the combined forces of the USA and Western Europe for backup. They'd be on the scene in a heartbeat if Russia tried to bully any NATO member.

Ms. Francis also bases most of her analysis on the economic benefits of merger, which is the way business analysis is done when a merger of two companies is proposed. It would be a bit different in merging NATIONS, where traditions of patriotism, history, and sentiment come into play. Italy, after all, has never merged with San Marino, which it surrounds. France and Belgium are still separate, as are Germany and Austria and Lichtenstein.

Those countries HAVE been able to shelter themselves under a common European Union umbrella, which allows them to maintain the SENTIMENTS OF SOVERIEGNTY, while dissolving their economic differences into a common whole. The European Union has a common passport that permits customs-free movement of people and businesses within the E.U.

I suspect that is what Ms. Francis is really proposing, and I believe it is an idea whose time has come. Canada and the USA would maintain their separate sovereignties, while allowing the people and businesses to comingle. Ms. Francis believes that would make Canada a wealthier NATION even if it is submerged into a supra-national North American ECONOMY.

And it would help businesses in both nations to prosper by making the political border economically transparent. If an American company wanted to set up a branch office in Canada, or vice-versa, the company could bring in whoever it wanted to staff it from either country without spending months filling out customs and immigration forms.

Ms. Francis felt that a merger would not work in 1994 because America's racial problems were intractable, and Canada's high-tax welfare state was FORCING Canada to merge on unequal terms. But things have changed. The USA has gone far toward easing its racial differences in 15 years, while Canada has gone far toward recognizing that it must become a less tax-happy and more business-friendly venue. A merger might make sense now because both countries have outgrown their adolescent immaturities.

Ms. Francis makes her case convincing precisely because each country is in pretty decent shape to begin with. Two strong partners make a stronger partnership.

The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left
The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left
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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Third Leg of the American Revolution: Edmund Burke vs. Thomas Paine, December 5, 2013
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Author Yuval Levin sets out a lofty goal of explaining the right / left, conservative / liberal, Red State / Blue State political paradigm in the USA and other democracies:

Why, then, is there a left and a right in our politics? This book hopes to offer the beginning of an answer to that question. That beginning is both historical and philosophical, and so this book is, too.

The starting point of the book is the American Revolution, which had a dual nature.

It was partly a CONSERVATIVE revolution designed to strengthen property rights. The American Colonists wanted King George out of their hair so that they could settle the Trans-Appalachian West (which King George had forbidden the American Colonists to enter) and to trade with all of Europe, not just the British empire. Thus, American Conservatives may fairly claim to have inspired the American Revolution on the basis of wanting to assert their title of ownership over their land and to assert their right to trade with whoever they wanted to. George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton were chief among this group.

Its other nature was as a Populist Revolt. Many of America's intellectuals saw the Revolution as a door to replacing the British Monarchy with representative, elected government. Thomas Jefferson, Sam Adams, and Patrick Henry took this view. Modern-day Liberals stake their claim to the Revolution on that basis.

From the time of our independence in 1783 until our first period of unification following the War of 1812, these Conservative and Liberal factions fought ferociously to assert their dominance, nearly wrecking the fledgling United States on the shoals of early civil war.

The Conservatives organized themselves as the Federalist Party, while the Liberals organized themselves first as the Anti-Federalists, which morphed into the Republican-Democratic Party. The Federalists' aim was to use the newfound power of the National Government to promote the interests of the northern commercial states. The Republican-Democrats' aim was to assert the rights of the agricultural Southern States to defy the numerically superior North. The Red State / Blue State war was on!

This was a turbulent time of Shay's Rebellion, the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, The Quasi War with France, the Embargo Act, the "XYZ Affair," Jefferson's attempted purge of the Supreme Court, Marbury vs. Madison, the 1812 War with Britain, and the Hartford Convention.

The traditional protagonists in these struggles are Conservative Federalists Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and George Washington vs. Liberal Democratic-Republicans led by Thomas Jefferson. Both factions eventually obtained most of what they wanted. The Conservatives got their strong national government dedicated to protecting property rights, while the Liberals got their democratic "power to the people" government that mattered to them. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson straddled enough of both sides to keep the United States from flying apart. This formative period ended in the 1820s when "The Era of Good Feeling" submerged the two original legs of our revolutionary stool into a love seat.

However, author Yuval Levin points out that there was a THIRD leg of this stool personified by Thomas Paine, who would be called a "Social Democrat" in today's politics. Paine believed that the Earth and everything on it belonged to Mankind in common, and that private property should therefore be taxed to provide relief to the landless poor. The modern-day Democratic Party follows his ideas of taxing private property to fund social welfare programs. The book ties in today's political parties with the three original factions of the American Revolution:

Federalist Party (Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton) + Democratic-Republicans (Thomas Jefferson) = Modern Republicans who are aligned with the capitalist interests of big-city industry and commerce and small-town farming.

Thomas Paine = Modern Democrats who are aligned with the interests of the less affluent laborers and farmers of marginal land.

The book brings Englishman Edmund Burke into the story as the establishment capitalist protagonist who knew Thomas Paine and debated him at length about the true nature of the American Revolution and the French Revolution that soon followed it. These are indeed the same sorts of debates that we have in the modern day Republican vs. Democratic parties.

The writing is lucid and brings Paine and Burke to life as human beings. It is laced with the immortal words of Thomas Paine:

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value."

My only complaint is that perhaps the book doesn't "set the table" in giving a lay reader enough historical background to fully understand the positions of Burke and Paine. If you're a lay reader you may profit by reading about Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, the leaders of the Federalists vs. Democratic-Republicans. It also helps to know about the French Revolution, which became the knife edge that split American Conservatives and Liberals into warring factions soon after our own revolution.

That minor criticism aside, Levin has accomplished what he said he'd do at the beginning of the book when he promised to show us the origins of the right / left divide.
Comment Comments (13) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 2, 2014 10:43 AM PST

Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter
Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter
Price: $9.39

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding the Life of Karen Carpenter, December 2, 2013
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I bought this book after seeing a video of Karen Carpenter's performance of the Hank Williams classic "On the Bayou / Jambalaya" performed in Japan in 1974. I've been playing Carpenters sheet music for 30 years, but had never seen a live performance. Never have I seen a performer so beautiful in body, spirit, and voice. She was 24 years old at the time of that video.

I then happened to see a picture of her just before she passed away at age 32. By that time she appeared old and haggard. I was brought to tears over how such a beautiful human being seemed to have used up an entire life so soon. What deprived Karen Carpenter of the rest of her life?

Randy Schmidt's interviews with dozens of people who knew Karen may shed some light on that question. The inference I drew from these insights into her life is that perhaps she may have inherited behaviors that nowadays might be characterized as "high functioning autism." (Her Brother Richard said after her death that he suspected that the origin of her self-destructive disorders were genetic, which made them impossible to understand and successfully treat during her lifetime).

High-functioning autism behaviors seem to afflict highly intelligent, creative people as she surely was. They include some positive traits like being able to focus high levels of energy and commitment to rewarding areas of life. The negatives include being so excessively focused on one narrow area that sufficient attention isn't paid to other aspects of life. Karen was definitely focused in on her musical career, to the exclusion of all other interests.

She and Richard worked a grueling schedule of 250 days on the road each year then came home to spend months of 12-hour days in the studio recording the next album. They worked themselves into states of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, apparently for little financial gain, because the book states that they didn't net much from touring after the supporting staff and promoters were paid their cuts.

The unrelieved stress from overwork may have compounded Karen's interpersonal difficulties such as dealing with a controlling mother and brother, and an inability to form intimate relations outside the family. Karen said that her "autobiographical" song was "I Need to be in Love." She seemed to have convinced herself that it would be impossible for her to find a love relationship.

When she finally did marry, on a fling, it was to a man described by many of her friends as a gold-digging psychopath. If friends' accounts are to be believed, he might as well have driven a stake through her heart. She blamed herself when the catastrophic marriage failed.

Although one of the most beautiful women on the planet, she considered herself fat and unattractive. Rather than putting a little distance between her well-meaning but domineering mother and brother, she remained psychologically and professional dependent on them. She poisoned her body with dreadful concoctions of laxatives, heart-destroying "emergency only" vomit-inducing drugs, and even (illegally obtained?) thyroid medications to speed her metabolism.

Nobody at that time appears to have understood that these self-destructive behaviors might be genetically-induced. Their advice was: "Karen, eat!" But she never stopped the eating disorder, or the heart-killing vomiting agents that ended her life. Indeed, Karen seemed to be unaware that there was anything abnormal about her behavior --- even while consuming astounding quantities of laxatives and toxic vomit-inducing compounds.

The combination of being on the road too much, of being too eager to please an assertive family to the exclusion of her own interests, of anchoring her self-esteem to a fickle artistic career, and marrying a monster (if he was as evil as Karen's friends say) was fatal. The story might have had a happy ending if she had taken some time off from her career and restored herself physically and mentally; or if she had happened to marry a loving husband. But, tragically, events weren't destined to work out that way for her.

Randy Schmidt has written a biography of loving respect for Karen. He portrays her as a sweet and loving person with a perfectionist work ethic. But he does not whitewash her weaknesses, which perhaps were genetically predisposed. Some people are born with these characteristics and encounter situations in life that help them work their way past them. This book makes clear that Karen didn't get the breaks she needed to restore mental and physical health at the point in life when she most needed them.

I remember her during those golden years of her early 20's as the angelic voice behind the songs, and the beautiful personality that radiated like a glowing ray of sunshine in that 1974 video. I hope her spirit is experiencing all of the joy that fate denied her by cutting her life short on Earth.

Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World
Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Libertarian Conscience of the Anglosphere, December 1, 2013
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Author Daniel Hannan is a person of English ancestry who was born and raised in Peru then relocated to the United Kingdom as an adult and made a career in politics, including becoming one of the U.K.'s representatives to the European Parliament. His global experience has shown him how unique is our "Anglosphere" heritage of representative democracy, protection of property rights, the sanctity of law, and the inalienable rights of the individual.

These values are imbedded so deeply in our culture that they have become part of our subconscious. Because we take them for granted, we often forget to value them as being the foundation of our liberty and prosperity.

I've also lived and worked around the world and have also come to a similar appreciation. English-derived culture and law IS unique in its protection of individual liberty and property rights. The Napoleonic-derived law that governs Continental Europe and its former Latin American Colonies assumes that in criminal matters the accused is guilty until proven innocent. It assumes that individuals have no natural rights to liberty, but are only licensed certain rights by the state. As a result, human rights and property rights are severely constrained.

For example, Latin America, which inherited Spanish and Portuguese law, does not permit individual ownership of subsurface mineral rights such as oil or gold. ALL subsurface wealth belongs to the state. These countries do not have independent judiciaries that are empowered to invalidate unconstitutional edicts of the government. Any judge in Latin America who rules against the wishes of the government risks being deposed and imprisoned. Most of these countries have not amounted to much either in terms of freedom or prosperity.

Hannan goes into interesting detail explaining the specifics of how the English developed their deeply ingrained respect for human rights and property rights and then transmitted that culture to its overseas colonies of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and (arguably) India. Here are a couple of excellent quotes among many:

The foundation of the British Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of ignorance and suspicion but in an epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any other former period. --GEORGE WASHINGTON, 1783

It is true that each people has a special character independent of its political interest. One might say that America gives the most perfect picture, for good or ill, of the special character of the English race. The American is the Englishman left to himself. --ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE, 1840

Like the British we Americans have had incessant conflicts over how best to balance the desire for individual liberty with the necessity to conform to national laws. How far should we go in decentralizing our government into small units of state and local governments, which are most responsive to the people, and how much authority should we retain in the national government?

We have been fighting over those issues of centralization vs. states rights from the time the Constitution was ratified (the Constitution's strong national government was OPPOSED by many of the original Patriots) through the Civil War and on down to the present "Tea Party Revolt."

Hannan provides a thorough grounding of how these issues developed throughout British history, including that murky time before 1776 when the territory that later became the USA was governed from England and took part in its civil wars and political intrigues.

Hannan also discusses some important questions about how the nations within the "Anglosphere" should affiliate with each other:

1. Should the United Kingdom distance itself from the centralizing tendencies of the European Union, which it has little in common with in law or culture, and strengthen economic and political ties with its "Anglosphere partners" in the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand?

2. And what about India, the giant of the English-speaking world, that will soon be the most populous country in the world (at well over a billion people), and with a dynamic, fast-growing economy, that may become one of the world's largest. Should we embrace India as an "Anglosphere" country on a par with England, the USA, Canada, etc. and engage it with free trade and facilitated immigration of Indians who would like to relocate to the other countries?

These are timely issues that all of us in the "Anglosphere" should be carefully considering.

I do have to fault the book on a couple of lesser points. One is that Hannan seems to be extremely well educated about every part of the world EXCEPT the United States. In my opinion his lack of complete knowledge of American history leads him to innocently mischaracterize the motives of the American Revolution. He takes the revisionist tack that the American Revolution was a manifestation of an English Civil War between the King's opponents and supporters. He throws cold water on the view that our revolution had anything to do with a nationalist desire to form an independent country.

That is an over-simplified view because American nationalists, who wanted the Thirteen Colonies to become an independent sovereign Republic, were prolific writers on that very subject decades before the Revolution broke out in 1775. This view doesn't detract any from the main ideas that Hannan wants to get across, but my antennae went up when I read his take on the American Revolution.

Another issue is that Hannan frequently references the opinions of Canadian-American radio talk show host and Fox News analyst mark Steyn. Steyn is an affable, well-spoken, good natured Conservative, but his opinions are exclusively right-of-center.

There's a Steyn-influenced chapter about how President Obama allegedly hates the guts of Great Britain, which has nothing at all to do with the main themes of this book. The more likely explanation is that Obama never travelled to Britain before becoming President and doesn't know much about it. He's as ignorant of Britain as my Michigan neighbors are ignorant of Canada, which is just across the border. They think they have to pack winter clothes to visit Toronto in July! There's a difference between hating a country and being ignorant about it. Thus, be aware that Hannan was tutored on a hyper-partisan view of right-leaning American politics by Mark Steyn. That partisan attack, which in my view is uninformed speculation, is irrelevant to the book's main themes.

The book leaves us with the question: How do we of the Anglosphere maintain the precious heritage of human rights and property rights that the British instilled in our culture? The constantly improving means of communications and control seem to be centralizing power in national governments and leaving the state and county governments to wither on the vine. The American "Teaparty Movement" is confronting that issue at this very moment. They are particularly incensed by the federalization of healthcare and by the ever-rising taxes needed to pay for that and other exploding social welfare programs instigated by the national government.

If this is a question that interests you as a liberty-loving person, then you need to read this book in order to obtain a solid grounding on how our culture of human rights and property rights originated. Fish who live in the water don't miss it until they're taken out of it. This book will educate you on how to appreciate the ocean of liberty we swim in and what we would lose if it were ever taken away.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 4, 2014 7:28 AM PST

The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals
The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals
by Thomas Suddendorf
Edition: Hardcover
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The gap between the minds of men and critters, November 17, 2013
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This book seeks to answer the curious question of why human beings apparently have no close relatives on the evolutionary tree. After all, evolution is a painstaking slow process of incremental accumulation of genetic mutations that eventually differentiate the species. Most species have many close relations.

So WHY is there only one species of human beings extant, and no other species even comes close to what we’ve accomplished in the way of obtaining dominion over the Earth?

The traditional theoretical answers are:

1. (Religious) Man is a divine creation who was DESIGNED to be different from every other species.

2. There WERE until recently (a few tens of thousands of years ago) several species of hominids but homo sapiens eliminated them by:

A) Interbreeding with them.
B) Exterminating them
C) Gently outcompeting them so that over a period of hundreds of thousands of years we gradually became the dominant hominid
D) All of the above.

3. Perhaps we actually DO have closely related species (apes and orangutans) who look more different to us than they really are. An alien from another planet might consider them to be just another subspecies of hominid. Recent observations of apes in captivity and the wild have revealed cooperative behaviors all to similar to the “politicking” that goes on all the time in human societies.

These theories have been discussed so often in recent years that I was a bit reluctant to buy this book.

However after previewing it in Kindle, Author Thomas Suddendorf’s logic is so well stated and his writing is so entertainingly lucid that I could not resist purchasing the book and making time to read it at a leisurely pace so as to comprehend it fully. It turned out to be an enjoyable and informative read from cover to cover.

Suddendorf begins by pointing out the obvious --- that the “gap” between man and all other creatures is in the brain and the mind. He provides a good account of recent research that has identified the specific biological differences in the neuron structure of human brains vs. our mammalian cousins. He then explores the psychological differences between the way that human beings and the lower primates appear to think.

Suddendorf warns us not to jump to any quick conclusions about the “gap” between the thinking process in humans and animals. We barely understand how human beings cogitate (conscious vs. unconscious), so let’s not imagine that we can be certain how animals comprehend their world. With that caveat in mind he relates many experiments with the higher primates that APPEAR to show cognitive abilities in animals. He comes close to pinpointing the dimensions of the “gap” that exist between the more intelligent animals (horses, dogs, apes, and dolphins) and human beings.

The gap appears to be both smaller and larger than one may have suspected. In the social sense the gap appears small. Suddendorf points out that chimpanzees have developed highly politicized societies whereby individuals are preoccupied with their social standing. They appear able to "model the minds" of others in their group and thereby know how to advance their social standing by appeasing or deceiving them. Several individuals may cooperate together to advance their common interests, such as by conspiring to kill the dominant “alpha male" and replacing him with a new hierarchy.

Some societies of chimps act exactly like human gangs, terrorizing rivals with torture and murder who intrude on their turf. Other societies of chimps appear to be “hippies” who’d rather make love rather than war.

In their capacity to form social hierarchies the gap between these animals and us seems quite small. But in terms of abstract thinking --- the ability to theorize about how to improve on their environments through artificial constructs, the gap is large.

CONSIDER ONE OF THE MOST fundamental aspects of our human mind: we can imagine things other than what is available to the senses. We can picture past, future, and entirely fictional worlds and think about them. William James noted that it is the capacity to conceive of alternatives that allows us to question why things are the way they are. Humans ask big questions like: what are we, where do we come from, and where are we going? Most cultures have elaborate creation myths that children are told when they start raising these questions.

Questioning and finding meaning are essential to the human mind. (Why else are you reading this?) But what about animals? Do they ponder past, future, or fictional events? Do they search for the meaning of life? Can they conjure up worlds beyond what they can perceive here and now? Do they have even the most basic imagination? How could we find out?

The book accomplishes its goal of defining what the gap is between human and animal intelligence. It also provides a “101” education about the evolution of human intelligence during the past 10 million years. And it has some fun with projecting where evolution might take our intelligence in the future.

The writing style is perfect to enable a layperson to obtain a good general understanding of what’s current in science of human evolution and the SPECIFIC brain structures and cognitive differences that gives Man the dominion of the earth.

Double Down: Game Change 2012
Double Down: Game Change 2012
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179 of 203 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Triple Down --- A Three-volume encyclopedia of the 2012 election, November 5, 2013
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This is a comprehensive and surprisingly unbiased account of the 2012 campaign and the backstories behind the candidates who took part in it. The book is in three parts, each of which is comprehensive enough to be a stand-alone book in its own right.

The first "book" (Part I) is the backstory of Obama's Presidency from 2008 to 2012. This was my least favorite part because it was clinically written without much emotion or new insights. Authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann describes Obama as a moderate, pragmatic sort of person who has as little use for the self-serving Black Civil Rights establishment as he does for the Conservative Tea Party activists. According to Halperin (a Conservative) and Heilemann, Obama may come across at times as a petulant professor, but he's hardly the extreme Liberal-verging-on-Marxist maniac that has taken root in popular Conservative folklore.

Halperin and Heilemann give a fair account of Obama's political battles with the Republican House of Representatives over healthcare reform, banking bailouts, and federal budgets. But a politically savvy reader will already be familiar with this material. I'd suggest skimming this part or skipping it altogether and getting started with the second part, which makes the book a worthwhile read.

The second part --- describing the Republican primary candidates' machinations to win the nomination --- has all the drama and excitement you'd expect in a political book

It starts out with a fair-minded account of Mitt Romney's career. Nothing new here, because Mitt has been around long enough for most of us to know his story. He's one of those incorruptible personalities whose scandal-free life seems dull by its very absence of misconduct. The only surprise is that the real money brokers in the Republican party seem to have viewed Mitt as a penny-ante operator:

Trump was publicly sniffy about Romney as a capitalist, denigrating him as a "small-business guy," and privately disdainful of Bain. "They'd buy a company and fire everyone," he told his associates.

Where my interest was really piqued was in Halperin and Heilemann bringing to life the second-tier challengers like Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Mitch Daniels, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, Tim Pawlenty, Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum.

Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee had spent years as low-paid governors of their states. They had belatedly achieved comfortable wealth in the private sector after retiring from public service. Going into 2012 they had to face the agonizing decision of whether to risk every penny of their personal wealth on the time-consuming and expensive campaign to be President. Little wonder that they declined to enter the contest.

I especially enjoyed the curious stories of tension between fellow Minnesotans Tim Pawlenty and Michelle Bachmann who appear to have detested each other as bitter home state rivals. The same close rivalry poisoned relations between fellow Utah Mormons Mitt Romney and John Huntsman. Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich also have their interesting personal and professional stories told, usually in good-natured ways.

And I LOVED the antics of Republican campaign consultants Karl Rove and the delightfully mischievous Ed Rollins. The candidates may have been courteous to each other in the television debates, but their professional campaign staffs dished the dirt behind the scenes. If the authors' sources are correct, minor candidate Jon Huntsman's impish staff sabotaged Mitt Romney's campaign by leaking information about his overseas tax havens and brought down Herman Cain by going public with the womanizing stories.

I came away disappointed with Donald Trump, whose three billion dollars would have enabled him to campaign. But Trump let his devotion to personal fame and fortune trump his desire to serve the American people by campaigning to be their President. He felt that running for public office would cost him money by taking him away from his business.

But the most meaningful insight is about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The book should be read for that reason alone. Halperin and Heilemann don't cheerlead for any candidate, but the stories of Governor Christie as told through the eyes of others is a powerful endorsement of him as a candidate for 2016.

The Third Part of the book, about the presidential race between Obama and Romney, is, like the first part, only so-so. That's probably because most of the stories are still fresh on our minds --- the Bain Capital controversies; Obama's dreadful first debate; Romney's "47% moochers and takers" gaffe; and Romney's search for a running mate that culminated the selection of Paul Ryan.

The strength of this book --- its completeness --- is also its weakness. Some may feel that it is TOO complete. For example, I was not at all interested in the pages devoted to minor non-candidate Haley Barbour who never got into the Republican primaries. There is also a "facts, just the facts" tone to the book. There is no opinionating by the author about WHY the nomination process and the election turned out the way it did. The dry facts are presented, and the readers are left to draw their own conclusions.

The book is more like an encyclopedia of pick-and-choose topics. I spent most of my time on Part II, which by itself justified the purchase. The entertaining dramas of the Republicans competing against each other made for some delightful stories, as well as getting to know these second-tier candidates (some of whom will be first-tier in 2016 or 2020) made this a worthwhile read. The best was the part devoted to understanding what makes Governor Chris Christie tick. I came away feeling even more comfortable with him as a Republican candidate for 2016 than I already was.

The book may be over-long and perhaps contains some material that is not of the highest interest. BUT it is THE encyclopedia of the 2012 political campaigns, the candidates who participated in them, and the backstories that went into making the candidates and their campaigns. It's the one "all you need to know" source for the life and times of every political personality of any relevance to the 2012 campaign.
Comment Comments (42) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 11, 2014 8:12 PM PDT

The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting
The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting
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221 of 282 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mr. Greenspan's inside-out view of the economy, October 22, 2013
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I read this book from the perspective of an investor who specializes in real estate investment trusts (REITS). I was a REIT investor in 2008 when the economy failed, as I am today. I was near the financial center of the financial collapse of 2008 and able to observe it closely as it unfolded. Earlier in my career I worked as an IT company owner who studied the progress of business in the USA and globally by observing my client companies' businesses through the computer systems I developed.

Thus, I have a close up view of the financial collapse AND a broad-based view of the real world economy that underpins it. This perspective has made me a successful investor. But I do confess to having been blindsided by the 2008 collapse, as Mr. Greenspan and most professional economists were. This book explains Mr. Greenspan's opinion of WHY so many professional economists were caught napping during the Great Recession that began in 2008 and casts its long shadow over the economy today and for years to come.

Mr. Greenspan gets right to the heart of the question:

On the face of it, the financial crisis also represented an existential crisis for economic forecasting. I began my postcrisis investigations, culminating in this book, in an effort to understand how we all got it so wrong, and what we can learn from the fact that we did..... What went wrong? Why was virtually every economist and policy maker of note so off about so large an issue?

Having phrased the question in precisely the right words, Mr. Greenspan then proceeds to obscure the answer by giving the literary equivalent of the verbal "mumble" he made famous in giving indecipherable testimony to Congress while Chairman of the Fed.

The book begins with an essay on investor psychology, popularly known as "animal spirits" that delves into the psychological reasons why investors may commit or withhold their capital from the economy. That is followed by a chapter on banking regulation. Then there is a discussion on statistical analysis followed by a rambling chapter on THE ROOTS OF THE ECONOMIC CRISIS:

The toxic securitized U.S. subprime mortgages were the immediate trigger of the financial crisis, but the origins of the crisis reach back to the aftermath of the Cold War. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 exposed the economic ruin produced by the Soviet bloc's economic system.

I did not find Mr. Greenspan's insight to be meaningful. I earn my livelihood managing the capital I accumulated as a business owner, which is now allocated to REITs. I'm not unsophisticated about business, real estate, or the financial markets. I just did not find anything in this book that told me anything that a person with "101" experience in any of these fields would not already know. The macro-economics history lessons that Mr. Greenspan relates have been covered much more lucidly in Paul Samuelson's economics books of the last few decades.

Having avoided answering (at least to my satisfaction) the question of WHY the economy failed in 2008, Mr. Greenspan proceeds to explain his theory of why the recovery remains so tepid five years later. Economic Conservatives will find this chapter UNCERTAINTY UNDERMINDS INVESTMENT to be in synch with their economic philosophy:

That business had become markedly averse to investment in fixed long-term assets appears indisputable. The critical question is why? Although most in the business community attribute the massive rise in their fear and uncertainty to the collapse of economic activity, 16 many judge its continuance since the recovery took hold in early 2009 largely to be the result of widespread government activism in its all-embracing attempt to accelerate the path of economic recovery and regulate finance. The evidence tends to largely support the latter judgments.

And yet it's curious why the stock market crashed and the economy failed in 2008 during an era of business-friendly governments (i.e. the Clinton Administration and the Conservative Republican Congress followed by President Bush whom I voted for twice).

During the 11.5 years between August 5, 1997 (the date of the first tax cut) to January 1, 2009 --- while taxes were cut to 80-year lows and numerous free trade agreements were enacted --- the S&P500 fell from 952 to 825, losing 13% of its value in non-inflation adjusted terms and 34% when adjusted for inflation.

Yet as soon as the "anti-business" President Obama was inaugurated in January, 2009 the stock market began a sustained rise that has GAINED 112% to date as the S&P500 has risen from 825 to 1750. And the gain did not come just because "the Fed is printing money." It came because corporations ARE MAKING RECORD PROFITS.

I would postulate that the economy failed in 1998 through 2008 for reasons unknown to ivory tower economists like Mr. Greenspan who have never operated in the real world economy of factories, offices, stores, and property:

1. Beginning in the late 1980s companies began stunting the consumption side of the economy with massive dis-employment of the American workforce. Millions of American jobs were shipped to Mexico and China. Millions of Americans were put out of work by excessive importation of foreigners on H1-B visas. Millions were put out of work by mergers and acquisitions and by improvements in machine technology and automation. Millions were put out of work because management found out that inefficiencies had crept into corporate bureaucracies. Millions were let go because company executives discovered that profits increased when they replaced high-paid senior career people with cut-rate hourly contract workers.

2. These millions of Americans were involuntarily removed from the labor force for reasons that might be considered to be good or bad, necessary or unnecessary, depending on one's point of view. An entire vocabulary of euphemistic terms like "rightsizing, downsizing, offshoring, outsourcing, early retirement, work force reductions, reengineering" was invented to explain the dis-employment phenomenon. Labor force participation peaked in 1999. That was the last year when any American who wanted a job could find one.

3. In order to fight rising unemployment Alan Greenspan lowered interest rates, believing that lower rates would boost corporate cash flows by allowing corporations to refinance their debt. The increased cash flows were supposed to encourage American companies to invest in expanding their businesses and hiring more American workers. President Bush also asked Congress to cut income taxes on capital gains and dividends to further boost business cash flow under the theory that it would be reinvested in growing the business.

4. Lowering interest rates and cutting taxes FAILED to grow the economy (in contrast to the success of these policies in reviving the economy during Reagan's years) because:

----- A) By 2000 many American companies were moving overseas and hiring foreign labor to replace Americans. Lowering interest rates and cutting taxes ACCELERATED the process of dis-employing Americans.

----- B) The increased profits that resulted from replacing Americans with Third World labor went exclusively into the pockets of the business owners the bankers who lent them money. The incomes of the 1% soared while the 99% were afflicted with job losses and falling wages.

5. Consumer demand slackened due to the falling incomes of those put out of work or afflicted with falling wages.

6. With consumer demand falling, investors could not profit by investing in expanding production of goods and services. So, instead of creating real wealth by building factories that hire employees to produce goods and services, the 1% poured their money into real estate and leveraged real estate derivatives like collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and credit default swaps (CDS). For a few years these paper "investments" soared even while American corporations hollowed out the economy by moving production overseas.

7. By the summer of 2007 the accumulation of job losses from layoffs and involuntary retirements made it impossible for large numbers of people to pay the mortgages on their homes.

8. When homeowners defaulted on their mortgages due to job losses, the leveraged CDO and CDS derivatives became defunct. The CDO's and CDS's had puffed up the asset ledgers of the banks. When they became worthless the banks discovered that they had only liabilities on their ledgers and no assets to offset them. The banks became insolvent.

9. The banks became insolvent and the stock market crashed. Business stopped dead in its tracks. The injection of several trillion dollars of printed/borrowed paper money by the government resuscitated the economy. Without that infusion every bank and business in the country would have failed and unemployment would have reached 100%. It would have been back to the Stone Age barter economy.

10. Five years later the jobs-creating side of the economy remains sluggish even though corporate profits are soaring to all-time record highs as are their publicly traded stocks. Is employment sluggish because:

----- A) Business won't invest in creating jobs because it is afraid of the allegedly "anti-business" policies of President Obama.

----- B) Business isn't creating enough jobs for the same reasons it hasn't been creating enough jobs since 1998 --- offshoring of American jobs to Mexico and China, excessive immigration of low paid foreigners on H10-B visas, downsizing, rightsizing, work force reductions, redundancies created by mergers and acquisitions, and early retirements.

Conservatives believe A) because it jives with their belief that free market capitalism cannot fail unless it is debilitated by a "Liberal" Democrat President. I would suggest that Greenspan doesn't understand why the economy failed because he can't get past his political lens to understand that B) is the correct answer.

If B) is the correct answer then cutting interest rates will have no effect in boosting employment. And so far, they haven't.

By failing to recognize that B) is the correct answer, Mr. Greenspan has developed an inside-out-view of the economy. He thinks that people aren't working because "entitlements have become too generous." In truth, people aren't working because corporations have shipped their jobs to foreign shores, replaced Americans with foreigners on H1-B visas, replaced fulltime workers with part-time workers, and forced millions into involuntary retirement.

Mr. Greenspan thus advocates economic policies that are OPPOSITE to what is required to recover the economy. He wants MORE tax cuts even though the enormous tax cuts of 1998-2008 failed. He wants MORE foreigners imported on H1-B visas at a time when millions of American-born engineers can't find work. He wants MORE free trade agreements even though our economy has been debilitated by ever-rising trade deficits with low-wage countries that suck American jobs out of the economy.

I would conclude that Greenspan's book misses the mark due to Mr. Greenspan's lack of acquaintance with real world economics. He has an inside-out view of the economy that is based on ivory tower political ideology. And even that viewpoint is not coherently expressed.
Comment Comments (40) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 23, 2014 9:51 PM PDT

Shattered Nation
Shattered Nation
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Vortex around Atlanta, October 8, 2013
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This review is from: Shattered Nation (Kindle Edition)
The Battle of Atlanta was the last Civil War pivot point that might plausibly have ginned up a war-winning Confederate victory. The Confederate armies, fighting from entrenched positions, inflicted barely-sustainable losses on the Federals trying to advance toward Richmond and Atlanta. The horrific casualty lists spread despair across the North. The depleted Federal ranks forced Lincoln to extend the hated Conscription Act to include men up to age 45. The Federal paper currency was depreciating. Inflation soared. The peace movement flourished. Lincoln did not think he would be re-elected in November.

The point of decision was reached on the outskirts of Atlanta. If the Confederate Army of Tennessee had been able to inflict one more defeat on the Federals, as it had at Chickamauga and recently at Kennesaw Mountain, Atlanta might have held. Northern voters, seeing no progress, would have voted Lincoln out. Negotiations to recognize the independence of the Confederate States might have ensued.

But at that instant Jefferson Davis replaced the Army of Tennessee's commanding General Joseph Johnston with John Bell Hood, an insubordinate corps commander. The change in command severely demoralized the Army of Tennessee. Hood proceeded to wreck the army with un-reconnoitered assaults, then he surrendered Atlanta. The fall of Atlanta encouraged the Northern people to give Lincoln a second term, and the war was prosecuted through to Northern victory.

What if Johnston had not been replaced? Could he have had the success at Atlanta that would have cost Lincoln his Presidency? Author Jeffrey Evans Brooks wraps that history of the late Civil War around the vortex of Atlanta. He starts us off at the center of the "storm" at the battle front around Atlanta and then spirals outward to include the political intrigues that ran through both armies and all the way to Richmond and Washington.

Here's some of what I liked about the book:

1. It is written professionally. Brooks says it's his first novel, but there's nothing amateurish in the story telling, character development, writing, or editing.

2. The author doesn't slant anything from a one-sided perspective or omit anything because of ignorance. He's familiar with every aspect of the Civil War from its inception to its conclusion. He hones that knowledge into a series of stories that converge at Atlanta.

3. It captures the essence of the characters --- from the privates and sergeants on the firing line to the commanding generals like Joseph Johnston, Pat Cleburne, John Bell Hood, Braxton Bragg, W.T. Sherman, George Thomas; and on up to the administrations of Presidents Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. The reader experiences the war through their eyes.

4. There aren't any "cardboard" characters. They're portrayed as in-depth human beings who have complex mixtures of high patriotic motives, low self-serving ones, and mixtures of virtues and vices.

5. In addition to the backdrop of war's death and destruction there are heart-warming subplots that bring cheer to the story.

6. It is accurate in the tactical, strategic, political, and personal aspects of the war. The characters' perspectives bring out the human interest behind the history.

7. The transition from actual history to alternate history is subtle. There's no sudden jolt that takes you into the alternate time line, but rather a plausible transition of incidents that build on each other. The Confederates are never presented as infallible supermen, or the Yankees as fools. Subtle changes in small details make the Battle of Atlanta develop more favorably for the Confederates under Joe Johnston's command than it actually did under Hood's.

My only criticism is that the book is so detailed in military, political, and personal interest that it requires 800 pages to tell the complete alternate history. It could have been presented as a two-volume series, the first focusing on the AH Battle of Atlanta, and the second on the AH events that followed in its train. If you're pressed for time, as I unfortunately was, you can read the first half of the book slowly through the events leading up to the AH divergence at Atlanta, then skim second half, whose outcome can be surmised.

This book is excellent as a historical novel up to the point of divergence into alternate history. After the divergence, it's a great AH novel.


Btw. This book and the comments of other reviewers prompted me, as good alternative history should, to dig deeper into understanding the actual history that transpired.

The controversial point is whether there was ANYTHING that Confederate General Joseph Johnston could have done at Atlanta that would have defeated Union General W.T. Sherman, or at least set him back, enough to discourage the Northern people into turning Lincoln out of office during the November 1864 election and then making peace on terms of Confederate Independence.

To explore the question, I re-read Thomas Lawrence Connelly's scholarly but popularly-styled book AUTUMN OF GLORY, published by LSU university press in 2001. Connelly had no axe to grind for or against Joe Johnston. He paints him as a plodding general, not particularly intelligent or politically savvy, who nevertheless inspired extraordinary efficiency and morale among his men.

My conclusion was that the first thing Johnston should have done is to have dismissed John Bell Hood --- a treacherous, insubordinate, mentally and physically troubled man who sabotaged Johnston's battles and undermined his authority with the Davis administration. Then Johnston should have written a respectful letter to President Davis explaining his strategy for fighting at Atlanta.

If Johnston had done those things he may well have retained his command and blunted Sherman's offensive sufficiently to persuade the Northern people to lose patience with Lincoln's administration. Even AFTER Sherman's real-life victory, Lincoln only carried New York State by one half of one percent, and other Northern States by a percent or two. It's not at all unreasonable to presume he would have lost the election and the North would have sued for peace if Johnston had stayed in command.

Johnston's strategy was the same one that Russian Czar Alexander I made famous in defeating Napoleon's invasion of Russia:

Don't forget that we are still opposed by superior numbers at every point and for this reason we need to be cautious and not deprive ourselves of the means to carry on an effective campaign by risking all on one day. Our entire goal must be directed towards gaining time and drawing out the war as long as possible. Only by this means can we have the chance of defeating so strong an enemy.

Because of the change of command that replaced Joe Johnston with John Bell Hood, we will never know whether Johnston's strategy would have yielded the same result as befell Napoleon's Grande Armee in Russia. This book WILL prompt Civil War buffs to consider more thoroughly the events of those critical days around Atlanta in the summer of 1864 when the fate of the nation hung on a thread.

The Growth Experiment Revisited: Why Lower, Simpler Taxes Really Are America's Best Hope for Recovery
The Growth Experiment Revisited: Why Lower, Simpler Taxes Really Are America's Best Hope for Recovery
by Lawrence Lindsey
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Replace all taxes with a uniform VAT!, September 10, 2013
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This book is in two parts. The first 90% covers the history of the tax cuts made by Congress at the behest of Presidents Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush. These are told from the perspective of a conservative, "supply side" economist. The remaining 10% is author Lawrence Lindsey's proposal to replace our current system with his version of The "KISS" (keep it simple, stupid) System.

I warmed to this book immediately upon reading Lindsey's opening sentence:

TAXES HAVE ALWAYS HELD A FASCINATION FOR ME, EVER SINCE my dad let me use his adding machine (the kind you find in museums today) when he did his taxes.

I feel the same way. I've spent decades programming computer systems to compute payroll taxes, VAT taxes in other countries, and customs duties on international trade, so I'm something of a tax geek. I don't mind FIGURING my taxes (maybe enjoying figuring taxes is a masochistic fetish like smelling old tennis shoes?) but I do mind PAYING them. The next sentence drew my interest even more:

But I really became hooked when I got to serve on the Council of Economic Advisers during the Reagan administration where I was Senior Staff Economist for Tax Policy.

I also started working in 1979, the year before Reagan was elected President. Taxes, with a top rate of 70% were a heavy burden. High taxes were cited by Reagan as the root cause of the "stagflation" that had sent unemployment to 10%, inflation to 12%, and mortgage interest rates to 18%. The inflation rate of 10% pushed people into higher tax brackets without boosting their real incomes. Businesses and their investors were paying taxes on phantom earnings derived by selling products in an inflating currency. And try buying a house or taking out a business loan at 18% interest!

Reagan drove a stake through the heart of our economic malaise by convincing Congress to:

1) Lower the top personal income tax rate from 70% to 28%
2) Index the tax brackets to inflation, ending bracket creep
3) End the "marriage penalty" that taxed combined incomes of spouses at a higher rate than each would earn as individuals.
4) Allow businesses to expense their purchases of capital equipment instead of depreciating them over a period of years.

Reagan's tax cuts were enacted and the economy recovered. We returned to full employment; wages rose; inflation and interest rates fell. Reagan's tax cuts worked so well in growing the economy that Presidents and Congresses continued cutting taxes for the next thirty years. By the mid 2000's we had:

1) Reduced the tax rates on dividends and capital gains from 28% to 15%.

2) Reduced the income tax for middle class families with children by giving an extra $1,000 tax credit for each child under 17 and by expanding tax-sheltered IRA's and college accounts.

3) Turned homes into tax shelters by allowing people to deduct the mortgage interest on their primary residences AND vacation homes and to deduct up to half a million dollars in home appreciation tax free.

Despite all those additional tax cuts, the economy collapsed in 2008 and remains mired in the Great Recession of slow economic growth and perennially high unemployment. We have now elected a President and Congress who believes in reversing some of the tax cuts.

My perspective is that I am no friend of taxes. I don't itemize my deductions and have no tax shelters. I pay tons of taxes to all levels of government. My former business partner used to say, "We have a THIRD partner I our business. Uncle Sam takes a third of our money off the top!"

On the other hand, I understand that our country has taken on important social commitments such as Social Security and Medicare. I take pride in our ability to defend ourselves with a strong military. I understand these things have to be paid for by taxes. The collapse of the economy in 2008 also changed my thinking. We cut taxes to the lowest levels since the 1920s and the economy froze. The tax cuts of that era were NOT used to build up the U.S. economy, but rather to relocate the productive parts of it overseas, while fueling a crazy speculative boom here at home. And I was annoyed by the spectacle of billionaires paying themselves with tax-sheltered income (dividends, capital gains, and carried interest) at 15%, while the rest of us get socked with tax rates going up to 40% on wages.

But I don't want to impose confiscatory taxes merely to "punish" the well-to-do. I just want tax rates to be consistent and fair with everybody and to be sufficient to pay for the commitments we've collectively asked our government to make on our behalf. I read this book to glean Lindsey's advice on reforming them to encourage future growth. His credentials are impressive:

I got to serve on the Council of Economic Advisers during the Reagan administration where I was Senior Staff Economist for Tax Policy... The first President Bush asked me to serve as Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Economic Policy, where I got to observe the tax changes in the 1990 budget deal. Bush then appointed me to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve....I was put in charge of Housing and Community Affairs and one of my assignments involved rebuilding America's inner-city neighborhoods.

Lindsey excels in explaining why the tax cuts enacted by Presidents Kennedy and Reagan boosted economic growth. People under the age of 45 probably won't remember how awfully bad things were when Reagan took office, and they will not remember how effective Reagan's tax cuts were in restoring non-inflationary economic growth.

However, I do think the book is lacking a perspective on why tax cuts were not effective in growing the economy during President Bush's 2001-2008 administration:

1. In Kennedy's and Reagan's time we did not have an offshored economy. When the wealthy received a tax cut they spent some of it on American-made products and invested some of it in expanding American-based businesses. In the current days of globalization America's wealthy buy mostly foreign-made goods and invest their money in foreign-based businesses that export back to the USA. Their purchases and investments don't add value to the economy for the 99% who work for wages.

2. In the 1960s through 1980s the 1% felt an economic responsibility to keep the 99% employed. All Americans of that generation had suffered mightily during the Great Depression. The 1% believed that their prosperity depended on keeping the 99% employed. In those days Vulture Capitalists did not use borrowed money and junk bonds to gain control of a company for the purpose of putting its employees out of work and then looting the cash flow. Until the 1980s business was about creating wealth through long-term sustainable growth. These days business is more about destroying wealth. Buy a company, fire half its people, and then pocket their paychecks and pensions. Thus, tax cuts for the 1% today have a less happy impact on the economy of the 99% than did those of the Kennedy and Reagan eras.

Final Chapter: Pro-Growth Tax Policy for the Twenty-First Century

The main reason you'll want to read this book is to glean Mr. Lindsey's proposal for tax reform, which he calls "The Kiss (keep it simple, stupid) System." It's a VAT (value added) tax of 20% imposed at all levels of business (manufacturing, wholesale, and retail).

If a company's cost inputs are $1,000,000 and its revenues are $1,500,000, then its tax is ($1,500,000 - $1,000,000) * 20% = $100,000.

That is an easy tax to administer. It gets business focused on the RIGHT objectives of growing its revenues and profits, instead of soaking up 1/3rd of its accounting staff in tax avoidance schemes. It would encourage companies to commit their capital to innovating new goods and services instead of wasting their money buying up failed businesses just to acquire their tax credits on loss carry forwards.

Employees would be taxed the same way. If an employee is paid $70,000 the company would withhold 20% of his/her pay. Anybody who receives non-wage income would presumably be taxed 20% on the income, regardless of source. All deductions, exemptions, and loopholes would be removed from the code.

The "KISS" advantage of course is simplicity and fairness. All business and personal income (value-added income in the case of business) is taxed at 20%. No more taxing of different kinds of incomes at different rates or of allowing some people to avoid paying taxes by sheltering their income in dodgy loopholes.

Mr. Lindsey isn't at his best in explaining this uniform VAT concept. I had to read the chapter five times to grasp it, but once I did, I liked the idea. He makes the case conclusively for replacing the current corporate income tax of 35% on profits (which are easy to manipulate for tax avoidance) with a VAT tax of 20%.

Replacing the personal income tax rate with a flat 20% (no deductions or exemptions) is going to be more controversial, but Mr. Lindsey has convinced me to support it in principle. My only questions is whether 20% across the board is sufficient to do away will ALL other taxes. I'm sure 20% would be sufficient to eliminate the personal income tax, but I'm dubious about it being sufficient to eliminate Social Security and Medicare, which in any case are supposed to be insurance programs, not taxes.

Again, Mr. Lindsey's writing isn't at its most lucid in this most important final chapter, but if you read it slowly a couple of times his arguments become convincing. He succeeds in making his case for replacing our current mish-mash of taxes with a uniform VAT at the personal and corporate levels.

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