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Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization
Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization
by Parag Khanna
Edition: Hardcover
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Connectivity, Devolution, and Aggregation?, April 19, 2016
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Many of us who came of age in the late 20th Century see the world reaching a pivot point. The old 20th Century world of nation-states organized in camps of “Free World, Socialist, and Third World Non-aligned” now seems a quaint and archaic relic of a bygone era.

But what will replace it? It the 1990’s and early 2000’s the vision of a globalized world based on free trade prosperity took root in the USA, Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Standards of living in every country were supposed to soar when barriers to free trade between nations were removed. Then the free trade agreements were signed, and the global economy promptly collapsed into the Great Recession. Growth rates in most countries have stagnated since then, and living standards may actually be falling in many developed countries.

So, what does the future hold? What will the world look like at mid-21st Century? Will the stagnation continue, or will the promised global prosperity finally emerge?

Author Parag Khanna argues the case for global prosperity based on the “connectivity” of human migration, communication, and infrastructure:

The road map of this book follows several interconnected thrusts. First, connectivity has replaced division as the new paradigm of global organization. Human society is undergoing a fundamental transformation by which functional infrastructure tells us more about how the world works than political borders.

Countries run by supply chains, cities that run themselves, communities that know no borders, and companies with more power than governments— all are evidence of the shift toward a new kind of pluralistic world system.

He envisions a coming world of economically vibrant urban areas that forge trading ties with each other, while the national governments that sit on top of them atrophy by “devolution” of their political authority to the city-states. San Francisco and Beijing might find themselves to be more connected economically than either city finds itself connected with other cities in its own country. After all, San Francisco’s real estate is being scooped up by Chinese investors, but San Francisco has about as much in common with Detroit as the Man in the Moon.

The true map of the world should feature not just states but megacities, highways, railways, pipelines, Internet cables, and other symbols of our emerging global network civilization. Second, devolution is the most powerful political force of our age: Everywhere empires are splintering and authority is dissipating away from central capitals toward provinces and cities that seek autonomy in their financial and diplomatic affairs.

But how far will that trend be allowed to continue? After all, it is NATIONAL governments that raise the taxes and issue the debt that pays for mega projects like globe-girdling bullet trains, continent-wide water management, airports, traditional highways, and internet connections. In fact, the debt generated by spending on infrastructure is a NATION-BUILDING event. George Washington got the ball rolling on America’s Constitutional Convention by calling upon the states of Virginia and Maryland to join together in building a Potomac Canal to link the Eastern Seaboard with the Ohio Valley Country. Canada exists because Britain’s North American colonies bankrupted themselves trying to build a transcontinental railroad as independent entities. So it would seem that infrastructure is more the friend of consolidation of national authority than of its devolution.

Khanna speaks of the role of supply chains in connecting the world:

Supply chains and connectivity, not sovereignty and borders, are the organizing principles of humanity in the 21st century.

In reality, the governments of many countries rigorously control the supply chains coming into their countries in order to protect their domestic manufacturing.There is growing skepticism, especially in the USA, that free trade with these countries is mutually beneficial. The more the tariffs have been reduced, the more these countries have exported to the USA, without buying commensurate value of our products. The USA ran trade surpluses with Mexico until NAFTA was signed. The very next year the surplus turned into a soaring deficit as thousands of U.S. companies closed their USA factories and moved production to low-wage Mexico.

Trade with Asia has also fallen far short of the promise that it would "turn the USA into an export powerhouse, thereby creating millions of high-wage jobs for American workers." The reality is that the USA imports more than four times as much from China as we export to them, and import more than twice as much from Japan as we export. U.S. exports to South Korea actually DECLINED after the USA / South Korea free trade was signed, while imports from South Korea soared.

It seems that free trade with low-wage countries not only discourages them from producing in the USA, but also encourages American companies to relocate THEIR production out of the USA. If a certain candidate is elected President of the USA in a few months, the “global supply chain” may take a beating.

Another passage links the building of global infrastructure to political devolution of power from nation states to local governments:

We are in only an early phase of re-engineering the planet to facilitate surging flows of people, commodities, goods, data, and capital.

But has the devolution away from central governments (occurring mainly in ancient European Kingdoms like Britain and Spain) really been spawned by desire to “facilitate surging flows of people?" Or, has it been instigated by desire to protect the ethnicity and economic prospects of small, localized homogeneous populations from excessive foreign immigration coming across the open borders of large multi-ethnic nations?

Thus, as appealing as Khanna’s vision of a mid-century prosperity network among international mega-cities is, it is also possible that we may be seeing a backlash return to the nation-state model of commerce --- including customs posts, tariffs, capital controls, and intensive national regulation of multinational business. Perhaps we will not know until a few more decades have passed whether the reality will live up to the optimistic vision that Khanna lays out here.

Crisis Point: Why We Must - and How We Can - Overcome Our Broken Politics in Washington and Across America
Crisis Point: Why We Must - and How We Can - Overcome Our Broken Politics in Washington and Across America
by Trent Lott
Edition: Hardcover
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17 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Whose crisis is it?, January 21, 2016
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This is the first of what promises to be many books written by both parties' “old guard” leaders who lament the rising generation of vociferous political outsiders who are replacing them in Washington.

Times have certainly changed since Daschle left the Senate in 2005 and Lott left in 2007. The Great Recession and its tepid recovery have put the voters under extreme economic stress. They're said to be in an “angry Populist” mood that leads them to prefer activist candidates from the “Teaparty” wing of the Republicans, and the Liberal / Progressive wing of the Democrats. In early 2016, the Republican Establishment of career politicians, lobbyists, and wealthy corporate investors is confounded by their rank-and-file’s preference for outsiders like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. On the Democrat side, sanctioned candidate Hillary Clinton is being challenged by Socialist Bernie Sanders.

Lott and Daschle begin by arguing that the rising generation of insurgent candidates have created a crisis of political leadership:

The United States government is at a crisis point that requires significant changes: in leadership, in action, and most importantly in mind-set. The New York Times reported that the most recent Congress was “one of the least productive, most divided in history … By traditional measurements, the 113th Congress is now in a race to the bottom with the 112th for the ‘do nothing’ crown.” The dysfunction has created not just antipathy but anger among the public, with a CNN poll finding an 83 percent disapproval rating of Congress.

Today’s leaders don’t practice bipartisanship and the environment of the nation’s capital doesn’t allow for it. The common ground has been stripped and scorched, allowing no community to grow.

They express their dissatisfaction with the newcomers:

After a speech recently, during the Q& A, an audience member asked Trent, “Shouldn’t we just throw these bums out and get completely different people?” It’s a common sentiment, one we’ve both heard before. “Not at all,” Trent replied. “It’s actually the opposite. We’ve got a lot more people in Congress now that have never been there. The ones really causing problems are the newer members.”

They portray themselves as following a historical tradition of compromising statesmen:

The parties naturally began to form on opposing sides of the original argument, but they didn’t take center stage until the Adams presidency. President Washington’s reputation put him above any faction; his very presence was like a rock that kept the dam from breaking. Once he left office, the fight for the nation’s future began in earnest.

But does that tradition of supposed bipartisan congeniality ring true? Near the end of his term Washington wrote: “...I had no conception that parties would or even could go to the lengths I have been witness to, nor did I believe that …while I was using my utmost exertions to establish a national character of our own, to preserve this country from the horrors of a desolating war, that…every act of my administration should be tortured and the grossest and most insidious misrepresentations of them be made, and that in such exaggerated and indecent terms as could scarcely be applied to a Nero, a notorious defaulter, or even to a common pickpocket.”

Washington left office exhausted by the unrelenting partisan attacks. After he left, the ferocious partisan conflict between the North and South intensified over the division between federal and state authority; the imposition of tariffs; and slavery. President Adams and the Federalist Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts empowering them to imprison opposition party newspaper editors who criticized the government. Thomas Jefferson, leading the opposition, urged the states to nullify Federal authority. Then, when he was elected President, he ordered the U.S. Navy to blockade the Federalist-dominated New England States.

Congress was a rambunctious place in those days. Historical accounts show it to have been more like a saloon, where partisans insulted each other in the vilest terms, sometimes getting to the point of brawls of fisticuffs and flying chairs on the House floor. The compromises that were made were poor ones that made the Civil War inevitable.

Nor has hyper-partisanship abated in modern times. Anybody who lived through the 60’s and 70’s remembers the hateful era of political rancor that started during Lyndon Johnson’s term and escalated when Nixon replaced him and confronted by the Democratic-majority in Congress. Hyper-partisan controversies were common in the 40’s and 50’s, as documented by the McCarthy and Alger Hiss controversies. There were the bitter political controversies of Reagan’s era, such as Iran-Contra. And, of course, Bill Clinton’s administration ginned up its fair share of partisanship, culminating in his attempted impeachment.

Perhaps looking back in retrospect, politics seemed more bipartisan for Lott and Daschle because they were in Congress during one of those rare periods of full prosperity when voters were relatively complacent. Jobs were abundant. The stock markets and housing prices went up most of the time. People who worked competently and diligently could obtain the steady incomes that allowed them to accumulate wealth-building assets. Tax receipts from paychecks and capital gains soared.

Having such a strong domestic economy led politicians to believe that cutting taxes while increasing government spending could be accomplished simultaneously. They orchestrated compromises that gave the Republicans the tax cuts they wanted, while increasing spending on government programs favored by Democrats. The strong economy encouraged a tolerance by both parties of illegal immigration and the optimistic hope that free trade with developing countries would prosper the USA by turning us into an export powerhouse. The estimation was that jobs lost due to the migration of U.S. industry overseas would quickly be replaced in a strong economy of booming tech, service, and financial industries.

Oh, how times have changed! The manufacturing-based economy has largely been offshored and replaced by a financial economy of paper derivative assets of indefinite value prone to sudden devaluation. Economics forces of globalization, consolidation, and technology have brought pressure on many corporations to reduce employment. We've discovered that jobs lost by free trade with low wage countries are difficult to replace.

The Great Recession and its disappointing post-crash recovery have made it difficult to negotiate "bipartisan compromise" in the old way of simultaneously cutting taxes and expanding government spending, while trusting to future economic growth to bail out the escalating government debt. Many voters believe that both parties “kicked the can down the road” by failing to adequately address the negative aspects of globalization, illegal immigration, rising debt, an irrational tax code, and diminishing employment.

Lott and Daschle say we have reached a crisis point. But whose crisis is it? Was it really created by the current crop of "outsider" candidates? Or are the new candidates merely RESPONDING to the crisis that the old guard led by Lott and Daschle failed to confront when THEY held the reins of power?
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 28, 2016 6:40 AM PST

The Game's Not Over: In Defense of Football
The Game's Not Over: In Defense of Football
by Gregg Easterbrook
Edition: Hardcover
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Football as a microcosm of America, December 12, 2015
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In this book Author Gregg Easterbrook tells us why football is a microcosm of America.

He starts with the positive aspects by explaining that the essence of every great American value has been distilled into the game: the pageantry of affluence, the spirit of teamwork, the quest for excellence on and off the field, the elegance of the game in strategy and athletics, the application of brute physical power, and even the politics of the game.

Later on he delves into the game’s controversies: the danger of invisible brain injury to young players under age 14; the irresponsible off-field antics of some players; and the alleged financial chicanery of NFL owners.

He criticizes NFL owners for asking the public taxpayers to pay for their stadiums, then charging the public top dollar to see the games. He says that NFL owners exaggerate the economic value that their teams add to cities when they lobby municipal governments to take on debt to subsidize NFL stadiums and operations, thereby shortchanging citizens of adequate schools and police and fire protection. He derides NFL owners for asking the Army, Navy, and Air Force not only to bear the expense, but also to pay promotional fees, for providing the color guards and flyovers that open NFL games.

Then he addresses is the overriding question of the sport's safety, especially regarding brain trauma, from Pop Warner to NFL.

In between these serious discussions, he gives his many interesting and often sarcastically amusing takes on the trivia of the game that makes for such passionate discussions. He says that even with its defects, football is so much a mirror of American society that it is destined to hold its grip on us. He includes some worthwhile gleanings on how to maximize our enjoyment of the game as spectators. And he’s not shy about making some interesting speculations about where NFL will go in the future --- everything from rule changes to anticipated new expansion teams. He leavens his prose with lighthearted “Football Haiku’s” tersely stating the essence of NFL teams and their strategies.

Having watched football since the late 60’s, I remember most of the great football anecdotes he mentions. My first football memory was the “ice bowl” of 1967. Since we coincidentally lived a few blocks from Bart Starr’s parents’ house in Alabama, my Dad was a big fan of the Packers. The first football words I remember him saying were “Jethro Pugh (rest in peace) just got knocked on his ---.”

Most every autumn Saturday afternoon and evening our house hosted a riotous party dedicated to watching those great SEC games with Alabama (during Bear Bryant’s era) and Auburn. Later on I lived in Chicago during the Super Bowl year of Mike Ditka’s team with Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, and Jim McMahon. I’ve lived in other cities with NCAAF and NFL championship teams, and have enjoyed many happy years as a fan. The book recalls memories of most every great game I’ve seen from that ’67 “Ice Bowl” to the Internet broadcast of the Jacksonville Jags (my current home town team) and the Tennessee Titans from London a few weeks ago.

The most provocative part of the book is “Chapter 7. Is Football Bad for Boys and Good for Girls?”

Easterbrook dares to ask the question of whether playing football is detrimental to school boys by damaging their brains with concussions, while diverting them from academics with the pipe-dream (for most) of having college and NFL careers. He theorizes this might be "good" for girls in a relative sense by opening up more college admission slots for the female gender, as boys whose brains have been deformed by playing football would no longer have the mental capacity for higher education.

Should parents even allow their school boys, especially those younger than 14, to play tackle football? I played tackle football when young, and now as a parent have dealt with the issue of whether to allow my son to play. This is a very tough decision for many parents, as it certainly was for me. Football teaches invaluable life-lessons to young boys, and makes them into men, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

But Easterbrook points out the hidden costs. Parents and their sons (and nowadays occasional daughters) who want to play tackle football should consider the entire spectrum of pros and cons, then decide wisely.

There are also some great “Bonus” Chapters at the end of the book that are sure to strike a nerve with football fans.

One bonus chapter explains something I’ve often wondered about, which is the rationale behind the irrational decisions by coaches to punt the ball instead of “going for it” on 4th and short. Easterbrook says that coaches punt, even when they're behind a few points near the end of a game and must keep possession of the ball to win, because punting makes them look like prudent strategists who should not be fired when they lose. “If the coach is more concerned with his own job tenure than with seeking a win, then fraidy-cat punting is quite rational.” This is reminiscent of many counter-productive strategies you see employed in the business world to protect people’s positions, while causing the company to lose business opportunities. Here again, football mirrors life!

Another bonus chapter explains Easterbrook’s “sure-fire” simple formula that yields the highest probability --- 72% --- of predicting the winning team. Easterbrook explains how this simple formula is right more often than the estimates of coaches and professional gamblers who supposedly bet on “inside” information.

The last two bonus chapters "Iron Laws of the Gridiron" and "Football Maxims to Live by" are cookbook recipes of tactics and strategies that coaches at any level should find useful.

I came away with the conviction that collegiate and pro football is going strong, despite controversies, and is going to be improved and made even more exciting, with more games and more expansion teams coming down the pike. This book captures the essence of the game --- glories and controversies --- past, present, and possibly future.

The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters
The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters
by Karl Rove
Edition: Hardcover
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars William McKinley and the election of 1896: a prequel to 2016?, December 5, 2015
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The election of 1896 was the pivot point of a cataclysm that was soon forgotten. The economy had failed in 1894 for the same reasons it failed in 1929 and 2008 --- overexpansion of the business cycle, reckless speculation with borrowed money, and maldistribution of income that left the working class with too little purchasing power to sustain the demand side of the economy.

By the end of 1894 the United States was paralyzed by depression. Millions were unemployed, and the wages of those who still held jobs were slashed. As wages were cut and layoffs mounted, violent strikes erupted in the industrial cities. Railroads in twenty-seven states were shut down by the strike of the American Railway Union. Chicago, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh were under military occupation by state militias and federal troops. Armed clashes broke out between soldiers and rioters, and newspaper accounts described a “reign of terror” created by mob rule.

“I am not a pessimist,” declared Secretary of State Walter Gresham, “but what is transpiring in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and in regions west of there may fairly be viewed as symptoms of revolution.”

The country seemed to be on the knife-edge of class warfare of the kind that had roiled Europe with revolutions and repression for generations.

Then in 1896 William McKinley, an affable small-town businessman backed by industrial conglomerates, was elected President. Almost instantly the cataclysm ended. Prosperity was restored across the land. The rioting Communist-inspired workers who had been burning down their corporate employers’ railroad yards and throwing brickbats at soldiers and police were happily back at work, earning bigger paychecks than ever. And they were voting Republican. The early Progressive Movement, which had sought to restore order by socializing the economy, had been derailed.

McKinley’s success was so complete that the memory of the Depression of the 1890s has been erased from public memory, like a frightening dream. To this day the depression and McKinley’s election victory remain little-studied events. How did McKinley succeed in defeating the Progressive Moment during a time of economic upheaval? How did he wrench the country away from Communist-inspired riot and revolution and set it back on the path of tranquil prosperity? How did he convert those rioting unemployed workers from revolutionaries to prosperous Republican-voting junior league capitalists?

Those are the questions Karl Rove seeks to answer from his Conservative Republican perspective. The election of 1896 has obvious parallels to the upcoming election of 2016. In turbulent times then, as now, the two main parties had fragmented in several competing factions:

1. Establishment Republicans
2. Establishment Democrats
3. Progressive Democrats
4. Populists

McKinley’s Establishment Republicans prevailed in 1896 by forming an alliance with Establishment Democrats, thereby nailing together a coalition of big business owners, small business people, farmers, and urban workers that defeated the Progressive Democrats and Populists. The implicit idea of this book is to explain how McKinley put together his winning coalition. Rove hopes to duplicate McKinley’s strategy in the 2016 campaign, thereby winning a victory for the Republican Party Establishment and nipping the Progressivism hatched by Barack Obama's Democrats in the bud.

The book may be even more appropriate than Rove intended, because books are written about two years before being published. When Rove started writing this book shortly after the 2012 election, he probably couldn’t have anticipated the rise of left wing Populism by Bernie Sanders or right-of-center Populism by Donald Trump. The fragmentation of the main parties and the possibility of Progressives and Populists to the left and right forming their own coalitions to compete with the main parties’ establishments is very reminiscent of what happened in 1896.

Rove portrays McKinley as the mastermind of the Republicans’ 1896 campaign. This is a different view than taken by many prior historians who have regarded McKinley as an affable, capable, moral man of sound judgment, but with little political sophistication. McKinley's campaign was managed by his canny friend Mark Hanna, an intensely practical businessman known for the cynical advice he dispensed to the politicians he financed: “You have been in politics long enough to know that no man in public life owes the public anything.”

Rove argues that McKinley was the Republican Party's true leader, and not merely Mark Hanna’s mouthpiece. Perhaps the truth is that McKinley and Hanna together possessed a powerful combination of political and business instincts. The result of their partnership was McKinley’s victory and the “great realignment” that made the Republicans the majority party until the next Great Depression starting in 1929 did them in.

Rove leaves a few things out of his narrative, though:

First, it was McKinley's popularity as President, more that the election itself, that cemented the realignment that made the Republicans the majority party for many years to come.

McKinley’s success as President owed at least as much to a convergence of fortuitous events as to anything he did. He took office at a time when the massive construction of a seagoing navy, began by his predecessor Grover Cleveland, was getting underway. The naval buildup enabled the USA to confront the Spanish Empire and take possession of its colonies in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Americans volunteered for service in the Army and Navy during the Spanish-American War, thereby finding employment in a victorious patriotic cause. The government’s shipbuilding program and other war material purchases restored full employment to the farms, factories, and ports.

On top of all that, the Klondike gold fields were coincidentally discovered, bringing floods of newly mined gold into circulation. Since we were on the Gold Standard in those days, this was literally a license to print money. McKinley, being a champion of the Gold Standard, saw his popularity soar as rapidly as the gold supply.

And Rove fails to mention that the Progressives were not entirely defeated by McKinley’s “Republican realignment.” It is more accurate to say that the Republicans became the majority party in part because they adopted some Progressive agendas. McKinley was assassinated in 1901. His Vice President Teddy Roosevelt moved up to the White House and was soon busting the monopolizing trusts and regulating interstate commerce, as the Progressives wanted. The Progressive’s more “radical” ideas (imposing a minimum wage, establishing Social Security, and having the government become the employer of last resort during economic downturns) became the basis for FDR's New Deal enacted during the next Great Depression that came in the 1930s. So, in the final result, President McKinley’s victory delayed, but did not defeat the Progressive Movement.

Rove, being a Conservative Republican, doesn't tell that part of the story. But the part he does tell, about the political life and times surrounding William McKinley, and his epic election victory of 1896, is a worthwhile education on a pivotal time in a our history. Rove’s lessons on how the parties aligned in 1896 might be useful in formulating campaign strategy for 2016.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 25, 2015 7:12 AM PST

A Summer Place
A Summer Place
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3.0 out of 5 stars Stick with the movie, August 23, 2015
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This review is from: A Summer Place (Kindle Edition)
The movie is a favorite. The music, scenery, and characters make for a story with a magical romanticism. The books starts off with the same wonderful story, but soon degrades into boredom. The script writers managed to produce a perfect movie from a mediocre book. The magic of the movie is that they ran with 20% of the book and put the rest on the cutting floor.

The books does have its good points. It was very provocative for its time (written in the late 1950s) in providing a realistic look at American culture from the 1930's to the 1950's. Actually not all that much has changed. Teenage sex and drinking were rampant then as now, often with a wink-and-a-nod from wealthy parents. This book gives a realistic snapshot of the wild side of life among the well-to-do of that era. It seems that even in the Great Depression opens, there was a fair share of hanky-panky.

The first 20% of the book is a hearts-afire thriller that takes you into the story as a participant. However, it then bogs down into a long-winded saga of 1950's divorce law and the half-baked antics of the in-laws from hell. Probably worth the read just to get a living feel for the generation that came of age in the 1930s and matured in the '50s. But you'll have to do a lot of skimming to get through the back 80%.

Putinism: Russia and Its Future with the West
Putinism: Russia and Its Future with the West
by Walter Laqueur
Edition: Hardcover
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Explaining Putin’s “peculiar civilization”, August 23, 2015
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This book seeks to explain how “Putinism” (the present governing of Russia) was derived from the historical development of the Russian psyche.

Author Walter Laqueur demonstrates that Russians are highly intelligent and intensely intellectual. Their achievements in literature, science, and engineering have astonished the world. Being an immense country bordering on the most populated and commercially active countries of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, Russians understand their geographic destiny as a great power. According to Laqueur and others, the Russian psyche includes a “messianic mission” to enlighten the world in some undefined intellectual sense short of physical conquest.

The United States shares many of these characteristics, but Laqueur brings out the profound differences that make it so difficult for Americans and Russians to find common ground. The United States is a New World country taking its cue from the European Enlightenment of democracy and human rights. Russia is an ancient country, taking its cue from the authoritarian tradition it inherited from European Monarchs, Middle Eastern despots, and Asian Emperors.

Laqueur describes Russia’s national character as containing a heavy dose paranoia. Conspiracy theories of ethnic Russians being perpetually threatened by Jews, Western Europeans, Asian, and especially now by Americans (whom Russians see as employing democracy as a cover for global military conquests), is central to Russia’s psyche. Of course, some degree of paranoia is entirely justified, considering how often Russia HAS been victimized by aggressive neighbors who covet its territory.

But if Russia is paranoid, it seems not to be vindictive. Even while being invaded by Napoleon, Russians continued to cherish French culture. All has been forgiven of the Germans ravishing Russia in WWII. Germany is now seen as an ally. Attitudes even toward the current perceived villain, the USA, are complex. Laqueur describes how Russia’s most popular anti-American novelist recently moved to the USA because “business opportunities are better there.”

Russia suffered the historical misfortune of being taken over by Communists who inherited and then intensified the most brutal aspects of authoritarianism. But Communism was always ridiculed by much of the military and KGB, including Putin, who are Russian patriots, not Communist ideologues. Now the Communists are gone, and Russia has resumed its former quest for its identity. Given the astounding contradictions in the Russian character, that is a tough nut even for the most ardent Russian patriots to crack. As a Russian philosopher wrote in 1836:

It is one of the most deplorable facts of our peculiar civilization that we are still discovering truths that other peoples, even some much less advanced than we, have taken for granted. The reason is that we have never marched with the other peoples. We don’t belong to any of the great families of the human race, we are neither of the West nor of the East and we have not the tradition of either. Placed as we are outside of time, we have not been taught by the universal education of the human race.

So, what IS Russia and what is its future? Laqueur lets the Russians answer this in their own words, starting with what Russia is NOT. He demonstrates that “Putinism” is not neo-communism, neo-fascism, or neo-imperialism. Communism is incompatible with Russia’s innate individualism. Fascism is out of character for a people who are nationalistic, but not imperialistic. Perhaps this explains why Putin has re-annexed Russified areas in the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, but has been indifferent to reincorporating the ethnically different Belarusians, who otherwise adore Putin’s authoritarian system.

“Putinism” is simply a strong authority figure governing an immense and diverse country that has no tradition of democracy. It is a non-ideological movement, based on Russian nationalism. In many ways it is a traditionalist conservative society. The Russian Orthodox Church is cherished by Putin’s government both as a uniquely Russian institution and as a pillar of morality.

My takeaway is that the United States should not read more into “Putinism” than what is there. We should not misinterpret Russia’s resumed search for self-identity the wrong way. We should not mistake Putin’s opportunistic agenda of reincorporating some nearby areas of purely Russian ethnicity on its borders for a scheme to reassert hegemony over Europe. We shouldn’t mistake Putin’s limited authoritarianism for Stalin’s blood-drenched totalitarianism.

And we should not misinterpret Russia’s suspicion of America as implacable hostility. Despite the seemingly anti-American rhetoric, Americans and Russians get along as individuals. Nikita “We will bury you” Khrushchev’s son, an engineer renowned in many fields, is a naturalized American citizen. Stalin’s daughter passed away in Wisconsin a few years ago. America’s psyche of openness is attractive to Russians for being complementary to their psyche of suspicion.

As Laqueur points out, Russia is intensely engaged in trying to understanding where it fits into the modern post-Communist world. It doesn’t desire to reincarnate itself as an aggressive imperialist power promoting crackpot economic systems. My conclusion is that we Americans should seek to understand Russia on its own terms and make an effort to meet it half way when possible.

Whatever conclusion you reach, you are bound to come away with a profound understanding of where Russia is today, based on its history and the psyche that developed in its people. By understanding that you will have a window into Putin’s thinking, and why he is revered by so many Russians.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 28, 2015 3:07 PM PST

The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America
The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America
by Arthur C. Brooks
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5.0 out of 5 stars The invisible ink written on the Conservative Heart, July 18, 2015
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I wondered if this book might be another dull diatribe by an academic Conservative advocating for capitalism as a way to riches for even the most down-at-heels people --- if they will only get off their lazy rear ends, stop shooting themselves up with booze and dope, and get to work.

It turned out to be totally opposite of that. Author Arthur Brooks has lived a life like the “most interesting man in the world.” He’s toured the world with a small band of renowned classical musicians. He’s chatted with Indian spiritualists and Tibet’s Dalai Lama. He says he was liberal in those days, as most young people pursuing the arts are. Then he decided, in his late 20’s to become a free market economist. Now he heads the American Enterprise Institute.

He’s developed a philosophy centered on our right to pursue happiness as the Declaration of Independence says we should. His view is that capitalism enables us to live life the right way on a “happiness portfolio” by having faith in yourself, your colleagues, and your community; and by elevating yourself with earned success.

First, we should concentrate each day on the happiness portfolio: faith, family, community, and earned success through work. Teach it to those around you, and fight against the barriers to these things. To pursue these things is to pursue happiness.

President Franklin Roosevelt had it right: “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” The secret to happiness is earned success through honest work.

Brooks says that Conservatives need to get beyond defending capitalism merely as an economic system. They must also make sure that people understand that it is the path to moral and spiritual excellence --- the ultimate foundations of happiness.

Brooks isn’t just talking theory here. He’s been to the world’s most overpopulated slums. He’s seen India elevate itself above the poverty quagmire left by the pro-Soviet Socialist regime of Indira Gandhi to become an economy of thriving cottage industry capitalism. He’s worked in community improvement projects in America’s ghettoes. Not the kind that dole out government money, but community volunteer efforts that teach people how to act professionally on a job, get hired, and attain the self-respect of the self-supporting.

He contrasts the spirit of progress he saw among India’s slum dwellers with the indolence and despair of ghetto dwellers in the USA and Europe who are hooked on perpetual welfare. He says the poor of India are spiritually rich with values of family, education, and work. They say “We are moving up.”

He says the poor of the USA and Europe are relatively well off in material comforts. Governments render them enough assistance to live in well-built apartments with electricity, plumbing, and appliances. Yet they have become spiritually bankrupt, with no ambition for gainful employment. He points out that government welfare programs perpetuate poverty because they only address the ECONOMIC necessities of people to obtain food and shelter, but do nothing to develop their spiritual instinct to better themselves with earned success.

Mr. Brooks wonders why more people don’t understand that. Why aren’t economic conservatives shoe-ins to be elected to public office? Why did we elect Barack Obama (whom Brooks characterizes as a far-left Liberal) in 2008 and 2012? I will presume to answer, since it is the primary question Brooks asks. If we HAVE been backsliding away from our faith in conservative free market economics, then perhaps that is because they no longer prosper as many people as they used to. Many of our large corporate employers have forgotten Mr. Brooks' first lesson:


In these days of fast paced corporate cost-cutting, we often hear American workers described as "cost centers" that should be reduced or eliminated. Brooks says that employees should be viewed as "human capital" assets that contribute to the company's growth and profitability


Much of this book details the social costs of not working. When removed from work, people degenerate into anti-social pathologies of indolence, depression, substance abuse, and crimes against their family and the public. Brooks duly berates Liberals for failing to understand that paying people not to work destroys their spirit to better themselves through earned success. But perhaps we should also be reminding some of our business leaders about the social costs of excessive "cost-cutting" that dis-employs much of our labor force, and undermines capitalism by denying Arthur Brooks’ powerful argument that capitalism has a spiritual dimension as well as an economic function.

My takeaway is that Arthur Brooks is a person of excellence who lives life to the fullest by maintaining values of faith in himself and his moral principles. He has earned his financial success and the larger goal of pursuit of happiness. Nobody handed him anything. He grew up in a poor urban household and achieved the fullest success in every walk of life in many parts of the world. Brooks is right that ANYBODY can achieve happiness and earned success from work in this system, including the world’s slum dwellers.

My life has been wonderfully enriched, in the same ways that Brooks describes happened for him, by working as an employee and consultant for many superbly managed and ethically operated businesses.

Regardless of whether you agree with everything Mr. Brooks says, this book will likely inspire you to follow his life lessons for success. It is worthwhile on that count alone. Mr. Brooks is the living incarnation of the success of free market capitalism. It is what he has DONE, even more than what he says, that makes this book such a compelling endorsement of the good heart of capitalism.

Until now his conservative heart’s message has been written in invisible ink. Now Mr. Brooks has written it for all to see. I hope we might see him working in the highest ranks of the next administration so he will be able to put his principles to work on a national scale. He might well become the person who can win the “war on poverty” with a Conservative heart fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson promised, and failed, to win it with a Liberal welfare state.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 28, 2015 6:13 PM PDT

Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order
Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order
by James Piereson
Edition: Hardcover
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Conservative's view of the Cycles of History, July 15, 2015
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This book starts off with a wonderful introduction to the “cycles of history” theory --- the theory that history advances as a series of quantum leaps whereby momentous changes are effected in very short time frames, followed by long periods of consolidation under one political party’s dominance:

In each period, an old order collapsed and a new one emerged out of an unprecedented crisis; and in each case, the resolution of the crisis opened up new possibilities for growth and reform.

Author James Piereson identifies three crisis periods that yanked us off the familiar paths of politics and economics and set us on new, even revolutionary courses:

1. The Jeffersonian Revolution of 1800 that overthrew the Federalist idea that the USA should be governed as a very indirect “democracy” elected by the 5% of property owners. As president, Thomas Jefferson and the acolytes he brought with him to the national Congress and state legislatures, expanded democracy by mandating that every adult white male, including those without property, should vote.

2. The Civil War. The outcome of that war yanked us away from the notion that the USA was a Union of States. The victorious North amended the Constitution to reflect its idea that the USA is a Union of Individuals who elect a national government that is supreme over the states in guaranteeing civil rights for all.

3. The Great Depression of the 1930’s. FDR’s New Deal established the national government as the arbiter of economic growth by expanding its scope in regulating labor and business relations and managing a social welfare state.

Some historical-cycle historians recognize two more pivot points: the economic crisis in the 1890’s that spurred the USA to become a World Power on the basis of using our military to enforce open markets for our exports around the world; and Reagan’s Conservative “Revolution” of 1980 as being a pivot point that rolled back the New Deal by making us understand that individuals, operating in a laissez faire economy, are the economic engines of growth.

Piereson views the upheavals of the 1890s and 1980s as counter-trends, not true revolutionary breaks with the past. According to him, we’re still following in the footsteps of FDR’s New Deal, despite the massive shift of the country to the right by Reagan, Gingrich, and George “W’ Bush. He sees the election and re-election of Barack Obama as confirmation that the wave of Liberalism spawned by FDR in 1933 is still dominant.

He then points out what most of us have perceived: that we’re on the cusp of a new “revolution” in which Conservatives and Liberals are locking horns in a “Shattered Consensus” to determine which ideology will dominate the remainder of the 21st Century. Being a Conservative, he naturally takes the view that:

Obama came to power near the end of an era, at a time when America’s postwar system was beginning to come apart under the weight of slowing economic growth, mounting debt, the rising costs of entitlement programs, and a widening polarization between the two main political parties.

Unfortunately, that is the early highpoint of the book. The rest is disjointed and not tightly edited. It turns out that most of the book is a series of magazine articles published at different times in different magazines. The articles have only a very loose connection with each other. Piereson is sufficiently skilled to make these vignettes interesting, and I am sure Conservatives will enjoy reading them as stand-alone pieces. But they don’t do much to inspire confidence that we’re about to lurch away from the book-ends of the FDR---Obama Liberal era.

For those interested in the cycles of history theory, but in a more coherent form without as heavy a layering of Conservative ideology, I would also recommend GENERATIONS and THE FOURTH TURNING by Neil Howe and William Strauss. These books are much more coherent, because they were written AS books, not collections of magazine snippets. They make the case that the country is reaching the crux of a pivot point, and hint that it may emerge in a new Conservative direction. They are more subtle in making that point as objective futurists instead of Conservative partisans.

But Piereson’s book is a great place to get started on understanding the cycles of history theory. And Conservative partisans will surely enjoy it. I rate it three stars because of its disjointed magazine-snipped chapters and because it doesn’t make a convincing case that we will end the FDR---Obama Liberal Era and embark on a new Conservative Era. Perhaps Piereson will have a better handle on writing THAT book after the 2016 election, especially if Conservatives win a resounding victory!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 2, 2015 5:29 AM PST

Being Nixon: A Man Divided
Being Nixon: A Man Divided
by Evan Thomas
Edition: Hardcover
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thunderous Objectivity, June 29, 2015
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This book is thunderous in its objectivity on Richard Nixon and his legions of enemies. Nixon was certainly an easy man to despise. His enemies hated him so intensively because he seemed a square old fogey in a hip new era and because his prosecution of the Vietnam War toward a hoped for “peace with honor” was repugnant to antiwar activists who sought an immediate end to what they saw as an unjust war.

On the other hand, Nixon was an outrageously abrasive personality who inflamed animosities in the press and in Congress when he could easily have soothed them. So, a fair portion of the animosity was his own doing.

Author Evan Thomas makes plain that Nixon set the table for his Watergate downfall both by callous stupidity and malignant contempt for those he perceived were persecuting him in the press, academia, and Congress. But Thomas gets beyond the war between Nixon and his enemies that climaxed in Watergate. He fairly portrays Nixon the Statesman who very possibly saved the world from a three-way nuclear confrontation between the USA, USSR, and China.

He shows the Nixon who saved Israel from destruction when it was on the knife-edge of defeat in the October 1973 Yom Kippur War. He shows the Nixon who was cheered by six million Egyptians a few months later for "brokering an honest peace” between Israel and Egypt. The world today, which competes economically instead of militarily, is largely the world that Nixon envisioned in his inaugural speech of 1969. His grandeur as a peacemaker is brought to life.

I’ve studied Nixon for much of my life. My father campaigned for him in 1960, so I grew up in a family friendly towards him. I’ve read every book he has written, plus the books by his detractors. I came of age during his term. One of the first televised news stories I remember was his announcement of his presidential campaign in 1968. I lived through the trauma of Vietnam and the domestic riots, and the escalating investigation of Watergate. This book portrays Nixon’s most important years as president exactly the way I remember them --- with objectivity neither apologizing or denigrating Nixon or his opponents.

The book succeeds in making the reader “a fly on the wall” who lives every day of Nixon’s life, from his birth to his death. It is packed with both meaningful history and interesting gossip about the power struggle shenanigans between Nixon and his staff. Many of Nixon's staffers --- Kissinger Haldeman, Erlichman, Mitchell, and Rosemary Woods --- were almost as fascinating as Nixon himself. I would normally take only about 48 hours to read a book like this, but I savored it so much that I stretched out the reading to three weeks.

The book is thunderous in what it DOESN’T say. Author Evan Thomas doesn’t have any axes to grind for Nixon or against him. He lets the facts of Nixon’s life speak for themselves. His objective focus on the man’s psychology as well as his deeds and misdeeds makes this book a unique work, more than 40 years after Nixon’s resignation. It is essential reading for those who want to understand who Nixon was a person as well as a president.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 7, 2015 7:49 AM PDT

Move: Putting America's Infrastructure Back in the Lead
Move: Putting America's Infrastructure Back in the Lead
by Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Edition: Hardcover
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4.0 out of 5 stars Reimagining cities and city streets, May 18, 2015
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This book starts out with the “crumbling infrastructure” meme that our roads, bridges, and airports are under-funded, then makes a case not just for repairing them, but for augmenting it with bullet trains, city-wide commuter trains, and bicycle and pedestrian paths. It’s really about re-engineering cities. Because cities are transportation hubs, it focusses on transportation as the means to redevelop them into densely packed but “green” areas with human-friendly transportation alternatives like ride-sharing, mass-transit, bicycle, and foot paths.

Author Rosabeth Moss Kanter explains how city managers in places like Portland, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, and even old industrial areas like Chicago and Miami (the book devotes many pages to redevelopment of transportation in those two cities) are taking a comprehensive view of using alternative transportation to redevelop themselves.

Ms. Kanter gives us an idea of how those trends might be harnessed to remake cities. Ideally, we’d like to have urban areas that offer many modes of transportation that move people comfortably from home to work, school, and recreation in the inner city or suburbs. People should be able to choose to get around by automobile, train, bicycle, or footpath. The compelling vision of having many clean, high-tech, and efficient transportation routes is the strength of this book.

If there is any weakness, it is the usual “bait and switch” propaganda about “crumbling infrastructure.” Ms. Kanter lays out the party line of the highway construction lobby (roadbuilding contractors, heavy equipment makers, and construction labor unions) of portraying our highways and bridges in the worst possible light. To hear them tell it, every highway and bridge is about to fall apart and needs immediate rebuilding. Their motive, of course, is to gin up maximum tax increases to fund the highway projects that are their livelihoods.

An even noisier “crumbling infrastructure” constituency is the advocacy group Ms. Kanter represents --- people who advocate for ALTERNATIVE transportation. This group incessantly agitates about “crumbling infrastructure” not because they care that highways and bridges might need to be repaired, but because they want to raise taxes on gasoline and then hijack the money to build bullet trains, commuter rails, and bicycle trails. They seek to plant the idea in the public mind that roads, highways, and airports are archaic modes of transportation. They use the “roads full of potholes” and “passengers hate air travel” memes to make roads and airports appear ridiculous. They want to replace them with trains and bicycles.

Thus, you’ll be reading nonstop propaganda about how awful is every highway, airport, and railroad in in the USA. Not saying that there’s anything wrong with propaganda. Good propaganda is based on a core of truth, which is then exaggerated. Interest groups like the highway lobby MUST make their case in the strongest terms to get funding from taxpayers who already feel overburdened. I was educated to the fact that we “only” spend around $50 billion a year to maintain our highways, which really is not all that much for a $3 TRILLION dollar federal budget. The book educated me to be more of an advocate for tollways, which are self-funding.

On the other hand, I don’t believe the nonsense about most every highway in the country crumbling away, or that air travel has become aggravating because airports are defective. Air travel has become aggravating because so many millions of passengers want to be flown around the country for $199. Airplanes have become busses with wings for the hoi polloi. Of course the airlines are going to pack them in like sardines to make a profit. That has nothing at all to do with “crumbling infrastructure”

Once you get past the “crumbling infrastructure” propaganda the book becomes much more positive and interesting.

There’s an interesting discussion about reviving long-distance passenger rail service. Ms. Kanter paints the usual picture of sleek bullet trains “whizzing by” but acknowledges the difficult economics of building and operating them. She makes a better case for expanding citywide commuter rails. There’s an interesting discussion of funding highway travel based on automated toll roads that increase their fees based on peak demand. There’s also a good overview of emerging ideas for making our highways and airports more “intelligent” by connecting autos and aircraft to a centralized traffic control system that uses computers to smooth traffic flow on the land and air. The book is even up-to-date on the current legal dispute between taxi drivers and “ride-sharing cooperatives” like Uber.

These are the transportation issues that will loom larger in public discussions as we move deeper into the 21st Century. We will see how these issues play out in cities like Chicago, which the book describes in detail as being extraordinarily progressive in reinventing its transportation to be greener and more human-friendly. On the other hand, Chicago’s city bonds were reduced to “junk” status the other day because the city is running short of money to pay its bills.

Will voters tolerate the tax increases that may be needed to fund these expanded transportation projects? Ms. Kanter makes the point that the funding will have to come from consortiums of public and profit financing, and shows how that has already happened in places like Chicago and Miami. Perhaps we’ll see much more public/private financing of the “reengineering” of cities as the economy regains its footing.

I must say the book is persuasive. In the beginning it was filled with cliché’s about “crumbling infrastructure.” But Ms. Kanter fills the rest of it with so many details about what is being accomplished with public/private partnerships for transportation alternatives that I found myself warming to the ideas. I’m much more open-minded on these proposals than I was before reading the book.

Ms. Kanter explains it thus: “Reimagining cities and city streets involves finding a balance between cars and other forms of mobility; cars, trucks, buses, and people must share the space in better ways.” We are given a glimpse into the future of how America’s cities might look by mid-century if the present trends of public/private cooperation on diversified transportation are continued.

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