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Unretirement: How Baby Boomers are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life
Unretirement: How Baby Boomers are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The positive and negative forces of "un-retirement", September 23, 2014
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Most Americans born between 1920 and 1950 lived rags-to-riches lives. They grew up poor during the Great Depression of the 1930s, then were called up to fight World War II. Those who survived the war came home to make their careers during the Great Prosperity of 1945-1999. They worked during a time when salaries, home prices, and stock markets were rising, and career-ending layoffs were rare.

Most of that generation retired with paid-off residences and vacation homes; company-paid pensions and health insurance; and often rental properties and million-dollar 401K plans. Their "golden years" were filled with affluence and leisure. Most didn't even have to PLAN for retirement. Having a steady, layoff-proof job during a period of affluence automatically took care of that for most.

Then things changed. Sometime around 1990, companies started busting their employees' careers by putting them out of work in their 50's with {early retirements, workforce reductions, offshoring, outsourcing, downsizing, rightsizing}. Career jobs and corporate-paid pensions were extinguished. Employees were told to put their own money in 401K plans. Then the Great Recession busted their stock portfolios and sunk their home equity. Many have cashed out their 401K plans to tide them over their current financial debacles because they can't find jobs that pay anywhere close to what they used to earn.

Things look pretty bleak for this generation's elder years, but are they really? Author Chris Farrell says they're actually fairly bright. He theorizes that the post-55 year-olds whose financial lives were derailed by layoffs and recessions are entering upon a social "revolution" that will enable them to get back in the work force and prosper into late old age.

Welcome to unretirement, a revolution in the making "Older workers are going to change the workforce as profoundly as women did," says Deborah E. Banda, senior adviser, AARP Education and Outreach. "The changes they are making in the work place will benefit all generations, not just older workers. "

I was dubious about this noble-sounding idea. It seems to me that not many people want to work any longer than they have to. My father, who retired at age 62, was an executive with post-retirement offers galore. He turned them all down until he passed away at age 79, even though he retired in modest circumstances. The incredible numbers of commercials advertising financial planning for people who still dream of affluent retirement leads me to believe that not many people cherish a career that requires working into late old age.

So it seems that the majority of people who work past 62 are on the job because they HAVE to work, not because they're enthralled with the job or because they're being paid such huge sums of money that working at an advanced age becomes more rewarding than retirement. Some are working heavy-labor jobs that are beyond the limits that their bodies can safely withstand. They are crippling themselves to make ends meet.

Farrell seeks to debunk those notions by showing that recent advances in healthcare enable people to remain physically younger than their chronological age. He postulates that most companies will reverse their current policies of refusing to hire people over the age of 50 and even start welcoming them, as it becomes more in vogue to recognize their experience, loyalty, and mature judgment than their gray hair.

Are Farrell's ideas are grounded in reality or merely wishful thinking?

He theorizes that people are going to be able to work at career jobs until their 70's, when the current reality is that many companies have a "30 and out" policy that boots their employees out the door in their 50's.

He believes that there will be large numbers of "elder entrepreneurs" when in fact entrepreneurship is rare even among the young. He assumes that self-employment earns a person a decent livelihood, when in reality self-employment is often a desperate means of eking out a marginal living when a person has exhausted all other avenues for employment.

If companies do hire elders, will it be because they value their experience, or because they`re a "just in time workforce" who can be herded into the office for the three hours a week that demand peaks, paid minimum wage, and then booted out the door as soon as the phones stop ringing?

On the other hand, he is surely right about there being nothing like economic calamity to shake people loose from their complacency. People who planned to make career nests in large companies are suddenly put out of their jobs and have to learn to get by on their own resources. People who were tied down by their jobs to a place they didn't much care for are suddenly free to move to someplace else that is better in tune with their individual desires. Human creativity that had been held in check by security is suddenly unleashed.

In other words, we're living through a period of experimentation. Far too much of the conversation about aging ignores how much grassroots innovation is directed at the challenge. In cities, suburbs, and towns around the country, stories are accumulating about the experiences of older workers, the good, the bad, and the gray area in-between. We're witnessing the birth of a new business, the unretirement industry.

"When there are no set rules-- you make them up. The future of old age and retirement will be improvised." The history of innovation suggests that many large-scale transformations often start small.

Farrell sums it up objectively:

Taken altogether, a mix of positive and negative forces are pushing and pulling older workers away from traditional notions of retirement.

"The big question therefore is not simply whether there will be enough jobs for older workers but whether the work will be rewarding enough, both economically and socially, to keep them in the labor force." That's the right concern. Management hasn't exactly gone out of its way to nurture a supportive work climate in recent years.

This book didn't convince me that life is going to be a paradise for many in that generation whose careers and financial assets have been busted by recessions and layoffs. I'm not convinced that people will work until their 80's because they enjoy it, or that many will morph into "elder entrepreneurs." Most will work, if they can find anybody who'll hire them, because the alternative is spending their last days eating porkinbeans in a rancid "eldercare facility."

But most of what we do in life is done because we HAVE to do it. If work was fun at any age we'd be paying employers to let us do it, not seeking compensation from them. And some elders WILL succeed in mastering life on their own terms as entrepreneurs or highly valued, well-paid employees. The more who EXPECT to succeed on those terms, the more there will be who do succeed. At a minimum, If Farrell can convince the 50+ readers that they still have a fighting chance to obtain some measure of late life financial security and dignity, then this book has well served its purpose

The great Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis said, "You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream." Read this book and you might be inclined to agree with him.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 24, 2014 9:54 AM PDT

Jesus on Trial: A Lawyer Affirms the Truth of the Gospel
Jesus on Trial: A Lawyer Affirms the Truth of the Gospel
Price: $9.80

85 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jesus is on trial and YOU are the judge, September 15, 2014
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I wasn't sure what to make of this book until I understood the audience that David Limbaugh was writing it for.

He's NOT writing it for people who have already made their minds up:

If you're into middle age or beyond and are a confirmed agnostic you're very likely going to say, "David Limbaugh is a deep-thinking author who masters his points and writes them with clarity. But he didn't convince me that there is a God."

If you're already deep into your life's walk through the Christian Faith you're likely going to say: "David Limbaugh reaffirmed my faith. He educated me to details that will help me to understand my faith more deeply, but on a fundamental plane he didn't tell me anything that I wasn't already convinced of."

Thus, if your mind is already made up, this book won't change it. Those who will find this book revealing are most likely be in their late teens through their late 20's --- young people who are trying to judge for themselves whether the Bible is fact or fiction.

This would be a person who has grown up in a church-going family. Then he or she comes of age and sees the world, with all its blemishes, for the first time through adult eyes. He/she asks: "If God did make the world then He must be incompetent or crazy. He made a world where the people who are most likely to prosper are the evil-doers who step on everybody else, while the most innocent people are the ones who get their throats cut. What kind of god does THAT? I'd rather believe in an honest Devil than a deceiving God!"

David Limbaugh talks to people who have Jesus on Trial in their minds by making these points:

1. The Bible has a self-reinforcing tapestry that is unlikely to have been invented by Man. When considered as a whole it is perceived to be God's blueprint for Creation and Man's role in it. If one reads the Bible carefully, the answers are all there. Mr. Limbaugh demonstrates some specific Bible passages that make this point clear.

2. That our lives are a tapestry of self-reinforcing faith. Believers perceive that when our lives are aligned with faith-based principles then Divine guidance will help us see the optimal path. We're always free to make our own choices of where we're going and what we're going to do, but lives aligned with Christian principles will glean deeper insights into making the right choices.

3. That God's influence is constantly at work in this world to influence men towards doing good over evil. Even the best-intentioned people of faith allow pride and greed to influence us into making dreadful decisions. Divine Power is constantly at work to mitigate those mistakes and draw as much good as possible from them.

4. That the Universe, life, and human consciousness are unlikely to have evolved without intelligent design by God. The human mind has the ability to comprehend every structure of the universe, from the smallest subatomic particles, to mega-galactic structures. Consciousness allows us to understand the full depth of the universe and to frame our moral decisions of doing good or evil within the full depth of understanding right from wrong. Human beings possess consciousness because God created us in His image.

5. David Limbaugh is candid throughout the book about "not having all the answers." I don't have them all either, but I do understand WHY all the answers CAN'T be known during our life on earth. If all the answers WERE known, then we could not be living lives of self-determination. And the ability to freely choose our life's journey according with our own judgment is precisely the point that makes us human beings.

I'm confirmed in my faith, so the book didn't change my mind about anything. However, I was educated to Bible passages that I didn't understand nearly as well as I thought I did. So, even after 50 years of Bible Study I had things to learn. David Limbaugh is a remarkable scholar to dig so deeply into the Bible, and he writes with perfect clarity.

A person already deep into the Christian Walk will find this book to be a confirmation of their faith. The most value will be gleaned by a young adult who doesn't know what to believe. You were taught an idealized faith as a child. Now as an adult you've seen reality, which has its share of incomprehensible brutality and injustice. Now Jesus is on trial in your mind. Read this book as the brief for Jesus, then judge for yourself whether the Bible expresses His truths.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 4, 2014 7:22 AM PDT

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life
Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life
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Price: $11.89

131 of 140 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Super People, Excellent Sheeple?, August 21, 2014
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This book piqued my interest because my son just graduated high school and is entering college. His classmates range from the "Super People" (author William Deresiewicz's phrase for the highest achievers) who are on their way to elite universities, to the more typical students who are starting their higher educations at community colleges.

In each book review I try to include a few well-written sentences that concisely illustrate an author's point of view. This book is so well written that I could have chosen just about every sentence. Here are some of the best:

The compulsive overachievement of today's elite college students-- the sense that they need to keep running as fast as they can-- is not the only thing that keeps them from forming the deeper relationships that might relieve their anguish.

Isolated from their peers, these kids are also cut off from themselves. The endless hoop-jumping... that got them into an elite college in the first place--the clubs, bands, projects, teams, APs, SATs, evenings, weekends, summers, coaches , tutors, leadership, service -- left them no time to figure out what they want out of life.

Too many students, perhaps after a year or two spent using college as a treadmill to nowhere, wake up in crisis, not knowing why they have worked so hard.

"I hate all my activities, I hate all my classes, I hated everything I did in high school, expect to hate my job, and this is just how it's going to be for the rest of my life."

The result is what we might refer to as credentialism. The purpose of life becomes the accumulation of gold stars. Hence the relentless extracurricular busyness, the neglect of learning as an end in itself, the inability to imagine doing something that you can't put on your resume...the constant sense of be played out within the same narrow conception of what constitutes a valid life: affluence, credentials, and prestige.

If those of us who went to college in the 1970s and '80s no longer recognize the admissions process, if today's elite students appear to be an alien species --Super People, perhaps, or a race of bionic hamsters

That's a pretty dreadful assessment, but Deresiewicz is a former Professor of English at Yale and member of its admissions committee, so he must have seen plenty of it first-hand.

He is surely right about those of us who went to college in the 1970s no longer recognizing the admissions process. I graduated Georgia Tech in 1979. He praises students of our era as "passionate weirdos." That certainly fit my class, although I'd prefer to call us "competent eccentrics." We were engineering nerds. I was recruited because my ACT/SAT put me in the top 2%. I had zero extracurricular activities.

Fast forward 40 years and it seems that colleges cater to "credentialed conformists." Applicants have to show that they are not only academic stars, but social butterflies involved in numerous group activities. Even the "party schools" require students to write an essay explaining why they want to be admitted. The only requirement to be admitted to the party schools of the 1970s was that you had to have tuition money and a pulse.

What caused this change from universities prizing "passionate weirdos" to "credentialed conformists?" Perhaps it has to do with these factors:

1. We have become more litigation-conscious. Companies can't afford to hire "loose cannons" who create potential legal liabilities. Nowadays people are easily offended by many words and deeds that were ignored in the past, and they are quick to hire lawyers who will seek to recover damages on their behalf. So companies value conformists who follow the book more than they used to.

2. Flattening of management. A company that had 20 branch managers 40 years ago, now has only 1 regional manager, thanks to advances in computers and Internet communication. So, if 95% of the management jobs are gone, then companies have to find discrimination-neutral ways to winnow down the pool of candidates applying for that one job. Inflating the job requirements with credentials, no matter how bogus, is one way to do it without running the risk of discrimination lawsuits.

3. Maturing of industries. A century or so ago people were allowed to practice Law even if they had no formal education. It used to be that way in fields like auto repair and computer systems development. Now that these industries have matured and there is no longer a shortage of applicants, credentialization is the most efficient way to cull the herd.

The important question is whether all this credentialing and hoop-jumping is counterproductive to success in college and in life. I don't think it necessarily is. Corporations operate on these principles. So it is not unreasonable that colleges should give the highest priority in admissions to those who are likely to perform well in corporate employment.

Credentialing and hoop-jumping only becomes counterproductive when it is forced upon people whose natures are NOT motivated by peer-group competition. This may include most nonconformist, creative-minded people who prefer to blaze their own trail through life rather than walk on someone else's.

And we must remember that credentials are not the primary currency of success. Most of the worthwhile things we obtain in life come from our souls. We prosper mostly from the goodwill we create by doing things for others without thinking "how am I going to get paid."

Layering credentials on top of that principle strengthens your credibility and amplifies your reach. But if you have a defective character then credentials will only lengthen the height from which you fall. A lot of hotshots on Wall Street who were long on credentials and short on integrity are costing their companies tens of billions of dollars in fines for defrauding the public. Those who exchanged their souls for tickets to a rat race will die neither wealthy or respected.

I recommend that students and parents should read this book as an "alarm bell" to warn themselves when they may be pushing the hoops-and-credentials envelope a bit too far. William Deresiewicz makes fundamental points that are too often perceived only at the end of life's journey:

Keep your priorities straight. Perfect your own soul first, then jump through the hoops if you feel you have to. But, really, your objective should be to induce life to jump through the hoops YOU build. Never be afraid to take the risks that success requires. Never be afraid of failure. And always do what is right. If your soul is deep and rich, your life will be deep and rich. But if you seek to cover a shallow soul with credentials, then your life won't be worth the paper those credentials are printed on.
Comment Comments (20) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 26, 2014 10:23 PM PDT

Blessed Are The Peacemakers: A Shattered Nation Novella
Blessed Are The Peacemakers: A Shattered Nation Novella
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blessed are the makers of a difficult peace, August 20, 2014
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One of the primary reasons why President Lincoln fought the Civil War so relentlessly was that he was convinced that achieving a durable peace between the USA and CSA would be well-nigh impossible. Enormous differences over slavery, the final disposition of the Border States, and trade and navigation would become impossibly complicated between two rival governments. Mr. Lincoln felt that any “peace” short of the restoration of the Union would be merely an armistice while both sides raced to prepare themselves for a renewal of hostilities.

In this follow-up to SHATTERED NATION, author Jeffrey Brooks takes us through the tortuous peace negotiations between the USA and the CSA following a more successful althist war by the Confederacy than actually transpired. The peace negotiations are held in Toronto, Canada, then a part of the British Empire.

This book is quite different from its predecessor. Although Shattered Nation had some lighthearted moments, it was by nature a long and dark story filled with the mud and blood of hand-to-hand combat in and around Atlanta. This novella is a much shorter, lighter, and happier story of the transition from malicious warfare toward a difficult, but honorable peace.

But it’s more than a story about peace negotiations. It wraps an immense amount of background information about the Confederacy around the characters, much of which is not from the traditional “moonlight and magnolias” Lost Cause legend. We find that the Confederacy is riven by its own factions that may be even more threatening to its continued existence than were Mr. Lincoln’s armies
One can see a larger story emerging --- the exiting from the stage of history of the Confederacy’s elder statesmen like Lee and Davis, and their replacement by the new generation of youthful Southern leading lights like John Breckinridge. Mr. Brooks says that the challenges of this new generation will be told in a forthcoming book HOUSE OF THE PROUD to be published around the end of 2015.

It seems that there is still quite a story to be told. Despite winning its glorious war for independence, all is not yet sweetness and light for the Confederate States of America. As Pogo might have said, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 21, 2014 9:26 AM PDT

In Another America: Views and Reviews of Alternate Histories for the USA in the 17th-20th Centuries
In Another America: Views and Reviews of Alternate Histories for the USA in the 17th-20th Centuries
Price: $4.50

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An encyclopedia of Alternate Americas, June 7, 2014
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I discovered this book by a random search of Alternate History titles. I decided to buy it after previewing it in Kindle and seeing a couple of althist scenarios I had not heard of before.

The most startling scenario was the one about the U.S. opening Alaska as a refuge for settlement by Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi oppression in the 1930s. I always wondered if we were not remiss in welcoming these European Jews into the USA before Hitler killed them. So I read this chapter and discovered that there actually WAS a proposal at the high levels of FDR's Administration and in Congress to bring Europe's Jewish refugees to Alaska. Author Rooksmoor dug deep into American history to discover this and a few other little-known scenarios that might have changed the history of the USA and the world.

I also liked the objective portrayal of the War of 1812 and its possible alternate outcomes. Rooksmoor, an Englishman, gives a historically accurate account of the war being fomented by an obnoxious British government that still regarded the USA as its colony. It requires objectivity for a Brit to see it that way. Most British authors portray the war as a "stab in the back" by an insolent USA trying to make a land grab for Canada while our "Mother Country" was busy fighting to save the world from conquest by Napoleon.

There's also good 20th Century scenario of a Sino-Soviet war in the 1960s and 1970s. Few people ever knew that the Soviets and Chinese engaged in heavy border skirmishes during that time and were on the verge of all-out war. I've seen diplomatic papers from that era and know that the avoidance of war was a close-run thing. It owed a lot to our President Richard Nixon who urged both sides to settle their differences by negotiation.

The chapter on "Counterfactual Nixon" (i.e. Nixon without Watergate) was fascinating for that and other reasons. I about fell out of my chair laughing at one of scenarios, presuming that Nixon stayed around as our president until 1985, presumably ignoring the Constitutional prohibition on serving more than two terms!

I found only a couple of historical interpretations in the book to dispute. In the section on the Cold War, Rooksmoor states that, "Castro was not a Communist in 1959." Castro was actually an agent of the Soviet Union as a university student at the time of WWII in the early 1940s, and was a provocateur of the Communist disturbances in Cuba and Colombia during the late 1940s. I've read Castro's writings and know from his own words that he was a committed Communist from early on. On the other hand, Rooksmoor is right that the USA could have more constructively engaged him. The USA ignored him as long as possible then told him in effect to "bug off" --- a terrible way to handle foreign relations with the leader of ANY country.

Rooksmoor's take on the Vietnam War also portrays the North Vietnamese Communists as being more benign than perhaps they actually were. Not that he's an apologist for Communists --- far from it --- but he seems not to be aware of the brutality and genocidal nature of Indochinese Communists. However, the USA also fought a heavy-handed war, so the Communists were able to convince a number of people that they were the lesser evil in that very complicated war.

Aside from those minor quibbles, I found all other scenarios to be either based on fact or plausible speculation.

Thus, I would characterize the book as being a good read because:

1. It contains some alternate scenarios (like establishing Alaska as a Jewish refuge) that are not well known.

2. Except for one or two very minor issues it is historically accurate. Rooksmoor knows his American History as well or better than what would be expected of a university professor.

3. It is nuanced in explaining that deviations into alternate history would not necessarily have turned out to be as extreme as most other althist authors portray them. For example, the Cuban Missile Crisis might have escalated into a MINOR nuclear exchange whereby the USA and USSR fired one or two missiles into remote areas of each other's countries as warnings instead of escalating to all-out nuclear Armageddon, the direction taken by other althist authors.

4. By exploring these alternatives the book does its job of educating the reader about the REAL history and making us appreciate how fortunate we are that the right thing was done most of the time.

5. Finally it's an excellent encyclopedia into althist scenarios that other authors have developed during the last few decades. Rooksmoor embeds these other authors' work in each of his chapters then gives his analysis on how plausible they are. I had no idea that althist was such a rich genre. A LOT of work has been done in this area over previous decades. It's convenient to have a book like IN ANOTHER AMERICA tying them all together.

Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State
Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State
Price: $9.36

49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Libertarians and Progressives against "Corporate Statism", April 29, 2014
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Mr. Nader has written this book to convince Libertarian Conservatives and Liberal Progressives that the time has come for them to unite in a party dedicated to replacing the two major parties that are bought and paid for by the corporations.

Being conservative, I've thought of Mr. Nader as being "over the top'" in portraying the malignancy of America's big business corporations. However, he's always seemed personable on TV appearances, so I believe that his yearning for reform is based on a sincere desire for justice and not on the negative trait of hating business people merely because they accumulate wealth.

It also can't be denied that things have changed in a big way since the economic crash of 2008. It now looks like Mr. Nader was not so much a fanatic as a man ahead of his time. We've learned that tax cuts for the 1% and depressed wages for the 99% by excessive job elimination via globalization and corporate cost-cutting mania do not prosper the country.

We've come to understand that the money-center bank executives violated their public trust in destroying their banks with reckless speculations that allowed them to loot their banks by paying themselves obscene bonuses. We now understand how big business operates: companies are taken over by Wall Street fatcats who bilk their assets, steer them into bankruptcy, then put the workers out of the jobs they have held for decades. When the fatcats desire longer-term plunder they close American factories and ship the jobs overseas. And they are always hectoring Congress to open the borders to flood the country with tens of millions more peons who will take Americans' jobs away from them by working at slave wages.

In times like these, when the corporate 1% own the political parties lock stock and barrel, people start thinking about founding new political parties that will return the government to the business of representing the people's interests. Building a new party requires bringing together unlikely coalitions o Libertarian Conservatives and Progressive Liberals; young people and the elderly; urban minorities and white suburbanites and country people. That is what Ralph Nader is proposing to do now: to build a new party that pulls together the coalitions of people who object to the corporate agenda of plundering the country.

Mr. Nader explains his points in a well-reasoned way. He tells his life story of growing up around a family-owned business, so it is clear that he respects the hard work and risk taking of small business owners who are more likely than not to be Conservatives. He then makes the case that when corporations become excessively powerful, they become detrimental to the people's interests:

Corporatism or "corporate statism," as Grover Norquist calls it, is first and foremost a doctrine of corporate supremacy.
Large corporations usually push, with whatever political, technological, economic, marketing, and cultural tools are required, the frontiers of domination in all directions...However you might describe them, it is hard to deny that their DNA commands them to control, undermine, or eliminate any force, tradition, or institution that impedes their expansion of sales, profits, and executive compensation.

That is what is meant by corporate statism. And as it gets stronger, it delivers a weaker economy for a majority of Americans, a weaker democratic society, and record riches for the few.

Key to understanding corporate behavior is the recognition that, while its propagandists trumpet the irreconcilable differences between Right and Left, corporations are remarkably flexible in relation to these divisions. What is behind this plasticity is a laser-like focus on expansion, profits, and bonuses.

This is not anything new. American Progressives and Libertarians have been saying the same thing ever since Thomas Jefferson resisted Alexander Hamilton's design to turn the USA into a corporate-dominated state back in the 1790s. A century later, in 1892, President Grover Cleveland stated the danger as he saw it in his day:

The fortunes realized by our manufacturers are no longer solely the reward of sturdy industry and enlightened foresight, but they result from the discriminating favor of the Government and are largely built upon undue exactions from the masses of our people.

The gulf between employers and the employed is constantly widening, and classes are rapidly forming, one comprising the very rich and powerful, while in another are found the toiling poor.... the citizen is struggling far in the rear or is trampled to death beneath an iron heel.

Corporations, which should be carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people's masters.

The existing situation stifles all patriotic love of country, and substitutes in its place selfish greed and grasping avarice.
Government, instead of being the embodiment of equality, is but an instrumentality through which especial and individual advantages are to be gained.

Nader makes these points with a historical analysis of anti-corporatism that goes back to Conservative icons Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, Edward Burke, and Frederick Hayek. Nader manages to refute what he thinks are some common delusions among today's Conservatives without being mean-spirited or condescending. So this is NOT a Conservative-bashing book, but rather one that seeks to show Conservatives where they have common cause with Liberals.

Nor does he avoid criticizing Liberals. He excoriates the hypocrisies of those old-line Liberal Progressives who used to condemn fascists while making excuses for genocidal Communist dictators. He says Liberal Progressives are also lazy in administering their vast budgets for social welfare programs effectively. So, there is a component of intellectual honesty here. He praises the "minimum income" plan of none other than Richard Nixon, which, if passed, would have replaced the welfare state BUREACRACY, an idea that Conservative Republicans and Liberal Democrats should have endorsed, if they could have looked past their partisan rancor.

Most books of this type are strong in pointing out the symptoms of corporate and 1% excess, but are weak in providing specific remedies to restore a fair balance between 1% and the 99%. While this book is not as specific as some might want, Mr. Nader does propose 25 "actions." Many are platitudes such as "encourage patronage of community businesses." But there are a few somewhat specific things like raising the minimum wage and taxing income from wages, dividends, capital gains, and rents at the same rate. I would have liked for him to have been stronger in advocating the imposition of wage-equalization tariffs when American companies relocated overseas to use peon labor to produce product that is shipped back to the USA. But he does say that we have the right to opt out of our free-trade treaties with six months' notice.

Overall, I think this book is very readable by Conservatives, Liberals, and middle-of-the-roaders. It's written in a congenial spirit, and Mr. Nader does dig deep in making most of his points.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 8, 2014 7:28 PM PDT

By George, The Radicals Are Back!
By George, The Radicals Are Back!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A healthy dose of CONSERVATIVE Radicalism!, April 20, 2014
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I encountered CS Bennett by chance when I happened to be in a public library at the same time he was speaking. I listened out of the corner of my ear and became intrigued by this man's charisma and his message.

I was enthralled by his experiences during his decades of service as a U.S. Navy officer. He was stationed much of that time on the front lines of the Cold War and then went on to fight in Desert Storm/Shield. His real-life experiences rival the fictional stories by Tom Clancy. His personal/political views were just as intriguing. Mr. Bennett's charismatic speech personified excellence in all aspects of life, from university education to military service to family and community values.

From his speech, it became clear that Mr. Bennett has written several interesting books. Being a Civil War buff, the first one I've read is BY GEORGE, THE RADICALS ARE BACK! The "radicals" he is talking about are Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans who advised him during the Civil War to liberate the slaves --- men like Frederick Douglass and Thaddeus Stevens. Mr. Bennett brings these little-understood men back to life and places them in our contemporary political scene. The mechanism for bringing them back to life is a device constructed by a group of Libertarians that allows them to bring individuals who lived into the past into our timeline. Although that may seem far-fetched, Mr. Bennett is an accomplished writer who makes it seem plausible. As a Civil War buff I was drawn into the stories of what these men might say if they were alive to advise us on politics today.

These men deliver a message that is particularly relevant to African-Americans, because the central point of their "radicalism" was that African-Americans should be liberated from slavery and then be regarded as AMERICAN CITIZENS, with the same rights and privileges as American citizens of any other race. They did not expect that the liberated slaves should be given special considerations to compensate for centuries of slavery, but only that they be LIBERATED to the OPPORTUNITY to better themselves as FREE AMERICANS --- in the country they believed that God had created for the betterment of all Mankind, including Africans who had been coerced here in bondage.

Mr. Bennett is getting to the point that this is what true "radicalism" is all about: providing people of all races and backgrounds the FREEDOM TO BETTER THEMSELVES BY PURSUING OPPORTUNITY. Let each man or woman raise his or her own standard of excellence in whatever calling they pursue. Don't depend upon government or anyone else to prosper you.

I interpret the meaning of the book to be: The mainstream leadership of both of our political parties today are corrupt. The mainstream Republicans (RINOS) are a tool of bankers and corporate interests who seek to fleece the American people for the benefit of the 1%. The mainstream Democrats are just as corrupt as the Republicans, except that they seek to disguise it by pretending to care about the poor and the minorities by loading them with Welfare State freebies extorted from the taxpayers.

Mr. Bennett's message (again my interpretation) is: America can only be saved by rejecting the self-interests of the entrenched interests of the two mainstream parties. We must return to our roots in REAL radicalism. "Give me Liberty or give me Death!" --- now THAT is radical. Or, as Frederick Douglass said (thanking the Creator AND America's Founders): "I thank God for making me a man born in America."

In other words, Americans of all races, backgrounds, origins, etc. need to get back to the RADICALISM of thanking our Founders for creating America as a free country and the RADICALS who made the country free for people of all races during the Civil War. We must use that freedom to better ourselves. Don't expect the government to give us anything more than FREEDOM. That's what the "radical" Republicans of the 1860s would tell us if they were alive today. Their "radicalism" is the eternal component of what makes us Americans. That was true in 1776, 1865, and today.

Besides the history and politics, there is plenty of cloak-and-dagger action to keep the story moving along. Mr. Bennett seems to have been involved in enough of this during his real-life work in our intelligence services to provide a realistic story.

btw. the final section of this book contains snapshot biographies, and notable quotations, of several dozen "Radicals" during the Civil War and Reconstruction era. This part of the book is a good portal for anyone doing in-depth research into these men who worked for emancipation, African-American citizenship, and civil rights.

Street Player: My Chicago Story
Street Player: My Chicago Story
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4 of 5 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. 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
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $10.67

18 of 22 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 superpower 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.

Ms. Francis believes that a merger would spread the best qualities of each country around the combined whole.

The USA might place less emphasis on its military-industrial complex, but 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 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 where Canadians talk about developing the country but wait until Yankee (and more recently Chinese) dollars are brought in 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!

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 who built their companies with Chinese peons. 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.

Ms. Francis also bases her analysis on the economic benefits of merger, the way business analysis is done when a merger of two companies is proposed. It would be 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 Luxemburg.

Those countries have been able to shelter themselves under a common European Union umbrella, allowing them to maintain the sentiments of sovereignty, 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.

I suspect that is what Ms. Francis is really proposing. 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 within a North American economy.

It would certainly 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 recognized that it must become a less tax-happy and more business-friendly venue. A merger of economies (trade and currency) 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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57 of 59 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.
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