LABELING

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America

By: Nancy MacLean

Narrated by Bernadette Dunne

Nancy MacLean (American author, historian, professor at Duke University)

Labeling people is mind numbing.  Labeling of political and economic interests is a crime against reason.  Democrat, Republican, conservative, liberal, libertarian, Tea Partier, right-wing, and left-wing are some of the most common political labels. In the light of reason, none of these labels make consistent sense. 

In politics, labels attach themselves to people like Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Sarah Palin, and the Koch Brothers. 

In economic theory, political labels attach themselves to Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, James Buchanan, Milton Friedman, and others.

The only common characteristic of these representatives is that they are human’.  Their labels only speak of partial truths about what they believe and what economic policies they support.  Nancy MacLean uses most of these labels to make her case for “Democracy in Chains”. 

Depending on one’s point of view, MacLean enlightens one side of her argument that, indeed, democracy is in chains.  The chains of which she writes are manufactured, distributed, and applied by corporate America. MacLean identifies Noble Prize winner in Economics, James Buchanan, as the theorist that gave momentum to the Koch brothers’ political drive for unfettered free-enterprise.

Humans, even historians, are not omniscient.  They are burdened with personal experiences that shape their beliefs and often compound their biases. 

Beliefs are not objective.  They are right and wrong within the boundaries of facts and societal norms.  Facts are facts, but norms are accepted behaviors that conform to a group, community, or culture. 

Societal norms change with time and human experience.  Facts do not change but their interpretation is changed by new societal norms.

A prime example of facts that change, based on social norms, is the fact of world misogyny. “Me Too” has changed the meaning of the fact. Harvey Weinstein is now in prison and Jeffrey Epstein killed himself.

Slavery, misogyny, discrimination based on race, color, or creed, religious intolerance, and murder in war have been societal norms at different times in world history.  MacLean suggests “Democracy in Chains” comes from a conspiracy of libertarians hiding among Republicans to reinterpret the Constitution of the United States.

That part of the American Constitution’s preamble that says the purpose of government is to provide for “general welfare” of all, is at issue with political and economic labels. 

MacLean creates an argument that sounds like a conspiracy theory, a cabal of rich benefactors and political zealots who collude to reinterpret the American Constitution. 

The principals of this conspiracy are the Koch brothers based on a theory grounded on an interpretation of von Mises’ economics. 

Ludwig von Mise’s economic theory is artfully resurrected by the economist James Buchanan, modified by Friedrich Hayek, and reinforced by Milton Friedman.

Buchanan’s fundamental argument is that free enterprise should be free. He argues that the profit motive outweighs the negative consequence of social inequity by offering equal opportunity.

In Buchanan’s opinion, the only purpose of government is to provide for the common defense of the country. Education should be financed by private ownership of schools. Buchanan argues government financing of social service interferes with the benefits of a free market.

Buchanan reinforces a Spencerian belief in a “survival of the fittest”, a beggar thy neighbor distortion of Darwinian evolution. MacLean suggests the Koch brothers adopt Buchanan’s economic theory and implement it through clandestine proselytizing of others, and financial support for candidates who will vote for maximal unregulated free enterprise.

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) conflates Darwinian evolution with free enterprise.

MacLean points to the folly of Buchanan’s economic policy in his consultation with President Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Buchanan recommends creation of a constitution that establishes and enforces Buchanan’s free-enterprise theories that forbade trade unions and encourage privatized social security. Unlike America, Pinochet’s free-enterprise government had no checks and balances.

Augusto Pinochet (Junta leader, military Commander and Chief, and then President of Chile from 1974-1990, died in 2006.)

With military oversight and control, Pinochet’s government victimized its citizens in the guise of a government that supposedly embraced libertarian free-enterprise. In fact, Pinochet’s constitutional government enriched a small minority and victimized (both economically and physically) the majority of the Chilean population.

Ludwig von Mises, an economics professor of the Austrian school, is the teacher of Friedrich Hayek.  MacLean reviews papers written by James Buchanan who endorses von Mises economic theory; without any acknowledgement of Hayek’s tempering of von Mises’ “no quarter” for the poor or disabled.  Buchanan becomes a theorist who motivates the Koch brothers to spend millions of dollars to undermine Government regulation of free enterprise.

MacLean explains how the Koch brothers create a non-profit foundation to elect Senators and Representatives to undermine unionization, government support of public health, public education, social security, and other public services supported by government tax dollars.  This cabal is formed in the 1960s, particularly after Johnson’s “Great Society” movement.  The cabal is built on belief that health, education, and welfare are best served by free enterprise, not government programs.

MacLean notes how this cabal fights increased taxes on the rich to pay for public services that subsidized public health, education, and welfare.  Buchanan identifies federal taxes as a form of confiscatory government action, tantamount to a tyranny of the majority over a rich minority.

The cabals’ argument is that private enterprise is the real engine of improved public health, education, and welfare for all Americans. Their supporting evidence is the rising wealth of the economy, and the general health of the American population. 

The “libertarian” Koch followers imply the gap between rich and poor is a motivation for climbing the ladder of American opportunity.

Though MacLean labels this cabal as Libertarian in motive, it hides behind a cloak of Republicanism. MacLean argues that Republicans who fight this secret organization either change their tune or lose their public office.  Her evidence is Republicans who have lost their seat in Congress, like John Boehner, or switched their tune, like Orrin Hatch, who retired after 42 years as a Republican Senator from Utah.

Putting aside labels, “Democracy in Chains” is simply about self-interest.  Human nature is to seek one’s own interest whatever one’s political or economic label.  Until self-interest becomes care for all Americans, there will be opposition to government tax dollars for public health, education, and welfare.

MacLean implies American Democracy is chained by the self-interest of the rich and industry lobbyists who feed the electoral process. The issue of government competence is deeply affected by dollars spent by corporations and the rich to elect sycophants.

The election process in America needs reform.    Government competence in providing public welfare is distorted by lobbyists pursuing their own agenda. 

Only competent government can deal with the complex causes of homelessness, a failing public education system, international conflict, pandemics, and environmental disasters.

When homelessness, poor education, crime, a pandemic, or physical disaster directly affects the self-interest of the many, even the …Radical Right…will turn to government for help. 

An irony of MacLean’s labeling of the Koch cabal is Donald Trump’s election as the President of the United States. Trump is his own label, neither Republican, conservative, libertarian, or liberal.

Trump is a carnival barker trying to attract patrons to an entertainment venue. He has no particular philosophical underpinning. That may explain why he became the President of the United States. America has lost its way.

Toward the end of MacLean’s book, the libertarian attack on social security is shown as a penultimate example of the threat of ideas in the United States. The irony of that statement is that the U.S. is a monumental beneficiary of ideas in its Constitution.

MacLean explains how Buchanan recognizes how social security in the United States is an election killer for anyone who argues it should be privatized. Buchanan, and presumably the Kochs and their followers, devise a scheme to split the electorate that supports social security.

  • Co-opt those nearing retirement by making them exempt from any changes in the social security benefit.
  • Offer IRA’s as an attractive alternative to government subsidized social security.
  • Enlist the finance industry into a campaign for privatization of social security as a benefit to them for more private investment through their investment houses.
  • Emphasize the frail financial viability of social security for the younger generation by suggesting it will go bankrupt before they are eligible.
  • Explain the potential for increase in taxes on the rich to maintain social security when now their contribution is limited to the same payroll contribution as the poor and middle class.

If this divide and conquer scheme works, opposition to privatization of social security becomes less of a problem for “libertarians” who wish to be elected. The principle of divide and conquer exemplifies a nation founded on self-interest. To true believers-everyone needs to fend for themselves. Only the strong (the relatively rich, and/or clever) will survive in Buchanan’s world.

As Supreme Court’ Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.”  That may be liberal jargon, but private enterprise would have foundered, and society would have been less civil without checks and balances written into the Constitution.  MacLean makes a strong case for reducing corporate influence in the American electoral process.

RUSSIAN ESPIONAGE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

In the Enemy’s House (The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies

By: Howard Blum

Narrated by David Colacci

Howard Blum (American author and former reporter for NYT and The Village Voice)

Howard Blum offers some clarity and historical perspective on the infamous Rosenberg spy case.  One might argue it is as much a revision of history as a clarification.  Blum accesses historical files not available in the past to write this book. 

These files explain how a Russian spy network was set up, who the agents were, why and how American collaborators were recruited, and the way information was transmitted.

Though the Rosenberg’s may be guilty of espionage, their motive appeared ideological, not economic.  Blum raised the question whether the Rosenberg’s betrayal of America warranted execution.

“In the Enemy’s House” reveals some facts about the halcyon days of the FBI.  A listener finds how FBI agents are chosen, the internecine conflicts that occur when investigations go awry, and how difficult it is to live an agent’s life.

FBI agents are chosen from the general public.  Some may be highly educated, others less so, but all are patriotic, loyal, and committed to American ideals and pursuit of truth.  They are subject to judgement errors in their personal lives, their suspect’s lives, and in their understanding of the truth. They, like all human beings, make mistakes. 

Expertise in the field for FBI agents varies.  The example is in the way suspects are followed, how long suspects are tracked, and how suspects are questioned.  As in all life’s endeavors, some are better than others in doing their jobs.

The isolation of agents and the long hours of suspect’ investigations have an impact on personal lives.  Like police work in general, stress is put on family relationships.  In the era the author covers, being married makes a wife a potential liability because of inadvertent disclosure of classified information.  Blum notes that Robert Lamphere, the principle agent in the story, is personally warned by Herbert Hoover about disclosure risks because of marriage’ intimacy.

Robert J. Lamphere (1918-2002, FBI Agent.)

Lamphere joined in 1941.  In 1945, he is assigned to the Washington, DC office to investigate Soviet atomic espionage, particularly regarding the Manhattan Project.  In 1947 he is assigned to supervise Soviet code breaking and is introduced to Meredith Gardner, who is considered by many to be a linguistic genius. 

Meredith Gardner (working among mostly women in the cryptographic Arlington bldg) provides leads to the FBI that reveal two of the most famous names in communist espionage history, the Rosenberg’s, and Karl Fuchs. Gardner dies in 2002.

A looming issue in Blum’s history is the decision to execute the Rosenberg’s for spying for the Russians.  Blum tells the story of an FBI investigation of Russian espionage, code name Venona.  Russia’s spy network recruited western scientists and ideological converts who believed communism is the future.

Blum describes “Operation Enormoz” as a Russian spy network that recruited Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and Karl Fuchs to pass information about the nuclear bomb to agents of the U.S.S.R.

The judge in the Rosenberg case warranted execution for both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The judge reasoned, with the advent of the Korean war and communist China’s invasion of the northern peninsula, the Rosenberg’s gave license to Americans who might betray their country.

Irving Robert Kaufman (1910-1992–Presiding judge in the Ethel and Julius Rosenberg case.)

Blum infers, even if that judgement is correct, the facts revealed in his book suggest Ethel Rosenberg was not an active participate in her husband’s betrayal of America.  Blum’s research shows deciphered encryption from Russian messages show Ethel Rosenberg did not participate in the spying activity of her husband. 

An FBI agent and a brilliant linguist expose the Russian spy network in America by deciphering coded messages. The agent and linguist could not provide evidence that might have exonerated Mrs. Rosenberg because the Russians did not know their coded messages had been cracked.  If the evidence the FBI agent had were revealed, America would have lost a critical source of intelligence.

One of the greatest surprises in Blum’s book is that the spy network that led to Stalin’s atomic bomb has little to do with financial bribery.  It had more to do with the success of communist propaganda. 

In the internet age, Russia’s success in the 1940s suggests how dangerous Russian interference in American elections is in the 21st century.

Blum touches on growing communist hysteria gripping America after the war.  As history books reveal, Stalin tries to thread a needle by entering an alliance with Germany to expand the Russian empire and avoid a ground war with Germany. 

Stalin realizes his mistake in 1941 when Germany invades the U.S.S.R. Stalin is compelled to join the Allied Powers against Germany.  Both Americans and Brits are suspicious of Stalin. However, Stalin’s change in sides becomes critical to the outcome of the war. 

The Russian army is the only effective fighting force on the eastern front.  Russia is estimated to have lost 16,825,000 civilians and soldiers in WWII.   The WWII’ casualty estimate (both Allied and Axis powers) is 60,000,000.  If these estimates are correct, over 20% of WWII casualties were U.S.S.R. soldiers and citizens. 

By any measure, the eastern front and Russia’s fight with the Germans was critical to Allied success in WWII.

Some Americans were sympathetic to the ideological goals of Russian communism.  The truth of Stalin’s Russian gulags and the KGB were generally unknown to many Americans before, during, and immediately after the war.

Some civilians were seduced by communist propaganda to become tools of a Russian spy network.  Blum recounts the two most notorious Russian spy’ incidents.  Blum tells the story of the discovery and prosecution of the Rosenberg’s and an British scientist named Karl Fuchs.

Klaus Fuchs (1911-1988, served nine years in prison for providing theoretical information on nuclear weapons to Russia in the 1940s.)

America’s realization of the Russian spy network’s existence became widely confirmed with Russia’s detonation of its first atomic bomb in 1949.  This is during the McCarthy era when Russian spies were alleged to be under every bed and in every government agency. 

Joseph McCarthy (Republican Wisconsin Senator who fanned the flames of communist infiltration in America).

President Truman initially did not believe the Russian’s had the scientific capability to create the bomb. 

But the facts prove otherwise.  In one sense Truman may have been right.  Russia’s atomic bomb success does not strictly come from Russian scientists. Stalin creates a world wide spy network to steal other countries’ scientific work. 

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003, NY State Senator)

Blum notes that Patrick Moynihan said Russian scientists, with German expatriate help, would have discovered the bomb anyway.  

The point is science is a universal pursuit.  (After all, America used Wernher Von Braun to accelerate experiments in rocketry that led to America’s moon landing in 1969. This is the Von Braun who created Nazi Germany’s V-2 rocket program that terrorized London.)  

What is surprising to America is a nuclear detonation by Russia, only four years after Hiroshima.  Blum suggests Russia could not have done it in such a short time without stealing American and British scientist’s work.  On the other hand, Blum infers Russia would eventually succeed in creating a nuclear bomb, without stolen scientific documents. 

As most will recall, trade secrets have always been an issue in international trade.  In the past, Japanese, South Koreans, and now Chinese are accused of stealing American trade secrets.  Of course, weapons of mass destruction are a more serious threat, but the principle is the same.  

All nations seek economic and social advantage, with science as a universal pursuit.

“In the Enemy’s House”, there is a nagging feeling that execution of the Rosenberg’s was wrong. The inference is that if all the facts were known, the Rosenberg’s execution would have been commuted to a term in prison. Blum’s argument is not particularly compelling when taken out of the context of its time. However, considering no one else was executed for treason in the Venona investigation, the Rosenberg execution seems unjust.

AMERICAN TRIBALISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Red and the Blue (The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism)

By: Steve Kornacki

Narrated by Steve Kornacki, Ron Butler

Steve Kornacki (American political journalist and correspondent for NBC News.)

Steve Kornacki identifies the source of 21st century political tribalism in his book, “The Red and the Blue”.  

Political tribalism is not new.  Political tribalism shows itself many times in history. Tribalism is shown in the early days of political party formation, in the American Civil War, in the South’s reconstruction after the Civil War, and in the 1929 depression’s aftermath.

In the late 18th century, it was the Federalist Party versus the Democratic-Republican Party.  Alexander Hamilton’s tribe is the Federalist’ party.  Thomas Jefferson’s tribe is the Democratic-Republican’ party.  Hamilton’s tribe insists on a strong central government.  Jefferson’s tribe insists on State’s rights. 

In the Civil War, the stage is set for the northern state’s political tribe (largely Republican) versus the southern state’s political tribe (largely Democrat).  In some sense it is a continuation of the two tribes represented by Hamilton and Jefferson.  The respective leaders of the northern and southern tribes are Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.

During the Franklin Roosevelt years, the followers of Herbert Hoover headed the Republican tribe, rallying against Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act.

The vituperative relationship between earlier political tribes was as vicious then as it is now. What Kornacki tells us in “The Red and the Blue” tribalism is revivified, if not reborn, in the 1980 s and is playing out in today’s America. 

Of course, tribalism in America goes beyond political parties.  Tribalism exists in the long history of American discrimination. Kornack touches on that reality with his recollection of Jessie Jackson’s 1984 and ’88 presidential campaigns.

Discrimination is a tribal conflict.  It is not exclusively held by any political party but by a cultural divide. 

Murder and isolation of Indians, and slavery are the most egregious examples of cultural tribalism in American history.  That conflict is seen when a tribe with political power discriminates against another.  Indians, blacks, Italians, Japanese, Hispanics, and Indians (not to mention various religions) have experienced tribal discrimination because of their weaker political power.

In America, the tradition of slavery began in mid-17th century.  Indian discrimination dates to the American revolution and reaches a peak with President Andrew Jackson’s enforced “Trail of Tears”.

Donald Trump and Andrew Jackson are polarizing political figures that drink from the same trough. They reflect the tribalism of both Red and Blue political power brokers against minorities. 

Andrew Jackson is the Father of the spoils system in which the president uses his power and position to appoint civil servants. 

Trump is a “spoils to the victor” and “loyalty above all else” President. Jackson, like Trump, appoints civil servants based on loyalty to the President, without necessary qualification.  To Trump and Jackson, the goal is to win, and when they win, they expect all who report to them to be loyal to their President. Trump and Jackson consider themselves Kings in their roles as Presidents. Neither defer to Congress, or the Judiciary.  They use their power and position to prove their “royalty”. 

Sexual discrimination is the oldest tribal conflict of all.  It is shown in the beginning of recorded history, and undoubtedly began with humanities’ dawn. 

The 20th and 21st century exemplars of sexual tribalism are the behaviors of Clinton and Trump.  Kornaki’s book reminds listeners of Paula Jones. Her story is no less reprehensible than Trump’s dalliance with Stormy Daniels when his wife is pregnant. Many men use power and position to disrespect women. Men’s reasons are many but the consequence reinforces the world’s history of gender inequality.

What is striking about “The Red and the Blue” is its political spin.  Living through the years of which Kornaki writes, one is struck by how much one forgets.  From Kornaki’s reminder of Clinton’s caricature as “Slick Willie”–to his conclusion that Newt Gingrich is the source of 21st century tribalism–to Patrick Buchanan’s “make America Great Again” campaign—to Ross Perot’s “Bloomberg like” pitch for the presidency, Kornacki’s reminders are revelatory.

Clinton seems heir to Franklin Roosevelt, while Trump seems heir to Andrew Jackson.  (This is a personal observation; not Kornaki’s suggestion.)  Clinton is a dissembler, like Roosevelt.  Clinton and Roosevelt knew what they wanted and pursued it through manipulation of legislators, either by the clever use of words or through the power of office. 

Bill Clinton (42nd President of the Untied States.)

Clinton understands politics and how to translate the will of Washington’s Red and Blue tribal leaders. 

In contrast, Trump bulls his way through the Presidency. Trump bypasses, intimidates, or co-opts Washington’s Red and Blue leaders. 

One realizes after listening to Kornaki’s book, Clinton is twin to Trump in respect to moral turpitude.  However. Clinton is a cleverer and more effective President.  Trump, like Perot, finds politics is not for sissies. History shows politics cannot be separated from governance. Neither Trump or Perot understand politics.

Kornaki reflects on Clinton’s rise to the presidency.  Kornaki shows how politically astute Clinton is in dealing with the scrutiny of candidates for public office.  Kornaki artfully illustrates the era by recalling the details of Reagan’s appeal and defeat of Mondale, the weakness of the Dukakis’s campaign, Jesse Jackson’s misreading of Clinton, Patrick Buchanan’s tribal speech at George H.W. Bushes second nomination, the Clinton “White Water” and Lewinski scandals, and other stories. Kornacki shows how the table is set for deep Red and Blue conflicts in the 21st century.  Kornacki explains how and why Bill Clinton defeats George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole despite Clinton’s disingenuous dodge of military service, extramarital affairs, budget crises, and ultimate impeachment. 

Clinton is considered by some to be the greatest politician of the 20th century.  His intelligence, charisma, and ambition overcome personal sexual scandals, draft dodging accusations, Red and Blue tribal conflicts, and the tumultuous effects of minority discrimination. Despite all of his personal challenges, Clinton manages to become a two term President.

The national debt grew to over 1.4 trillion dollars during the Reagan years. After the election of George H.W. Bush, the deficit remained high which led Bush to raise taxes when he has said “read my lips-no new taxes”. That and Clinton’s political skill derailed Bush’s election for a second term. Some would argue America prospered under Clinton.

“The Red and the Blue” is not about the birth of tribalism.  Trump shows himself to be an inept politician. The emperor has no clothes. To overcome tribalism, American leaders must have political skill. In the foreseeable future, tribes will exist.

Steve Kornacki shows America is a Red and Blue nation disrupted by political tribalism.  It is its strength and its weakness.  Politics is the art of getting things done despite tribal differences.  What is needed in America is a leader who can bridge tribal differences.

The only way forward is through politics (the activities associated with the governance of a country).

A PUNCH IN THE FACE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

American Carnage (On the front-line of the Republican Civil War and the rise of President Trump)

By: Tim Alberta

Narrated by Jason Culp

Tim Alberta (Author, Politico reporter, contributor to the National Review, National Journal, and Wall Street Journal.)

Alberta welcomes reader/listeners to a grudge match in American Carnage

Alberta details the rise of President Trump. 

Alberta has credential as a conservative considering the publications for which he writes.  In his analysis of the rise of Trump, he details Republican discontent with the idea of a Trump nomination.  Many Republicans object to Trump’s rise.  However, their objections are overcome by the truth of the public’s disgust with the direction of American government. 

In the best light, the rise of Trump punches American government in the face; in its worst light, it denigrates the institution of Democracy.

As one finishes Alberta’s analysis of Trump’s rise to the Presidency, both American views seem correct. 

Some Americans will be offended by Alberta’s book. 

Americans might argue Alberta impugns the reputation of the “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” President.  In their minds, government deserves a punch in the face.  Trump gives voice to many American workers. Particularly, Americans who have been marginalized by corporate America.

Some say American Democracy needs reform because Americans are being left behind by their political leaders. 

Others will laud Alberta’s exposure of what some say is the worst American President in history. 

Trump is characterized as a “showman” with no moral center who panders to the ugliest instincts of humankind. Democracy will be the judge of Trump’s performance in November 2020.

Government’s punch in the face is detailed by Alberta with inappropriate remarks Trump makes about immigrants, women, and minorities.  Trump manages to conflate loss of jobs with false accusations and self-serving actions.

  • President Donald Trump falsely claimed that the Obama administration was responsible for slowing diagnostics testing, CNN reported. 
  • However, an aide for a Republican senator said Trump’s claim is inaccurate.
  • The Trump administration however, has cut funding for several agencies responsible for battling the current corona-virus outbreak. 

Arguably, American government does deserve a punch in the face.  However, even if true, Democracy remains the best form of government in the world.

Alberta implies Trump’s punch to government fails to address the real causes of job loss. Creating a trade war has not, and will not, increase American manufacturing. 

Contrary to Trump’s belief that the balance of trade will improve with increased trade sanctions, America’s balance of trade has worsened. Other countries are exporting more while America is exporting less.

Reality suggests re-education of workers are what America needs; not trade-wars, and border walls. 

Trump’s ubiquitous tweets offer titillation and news coverage without providing solutions. Technology is displacing manufacturing which means job skills must be changed.  Alberta, in detailing Trump’s rise, shows Trump is more show than go.

In 2008, loss of homes from unscrupulous lenders hurt working Americans who could not fight back. They lost their jobs and could not pay their mortgages.  Countrywide Financial became the face of lenders accused of misleading marketing to sell mortgages to people who could not afford them.

Angelo Mozillo (Former Chairman of the Board and of Countrywide.)

One might argue Obama, Bush, and their administrations manage to keep American out of a deep depression but at the same time–banks and corporate America were bailed out at the expense of most Americans. 

Today, the Republican party is unquestionably standing behind Donald Trump.  He might even be re-elected.  But Alberta illustrates there are Republicans (like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Jeff Flake, John Boehner, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, John Kasich, Tim Scott, Bob Corker to name a few) who decry many of Trump’s racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic comments.  These Republicans will not disappear.  Their time may not be 2020 but they will carry water in future elections.

In the 2016 election, Trump capitalizes on worker discontent while Democrats ignore their grievances as something in the past that will be changed in the future.  To every person who lost their home or job, the future is now.

Hillary Clinton and most Democrats, in the previous election, failed to understand how working middle class and lower income Americans felt let down by their government.    One might argue many Trump votes were simply anti-Clinton votes.  Ironically, that will be the plan of some voters in the next election, but it will be anti-Trump.

Hillary Clinton (American politician, diplomat, lawyer, writer, and public speaker, former New York Senator and U.S. Secretary of State.)

Hillary Clinton may have been the most capable of the candidates for the Presidency in 2016, but her negatives outweighed her positives in the minds of the electorate.  Clinton, as with all the world’s women, had to deal with gender discrimination.

Whatever happens in 2020, Democracy will prevail.  Tim Alberta offers many facts that illustrate the resilience of American Democracy.  There are, and always will be, good people on both sides of the political aisle in America.  One hesitates to use that phrase in view of Trump’s ugly remark about the South Carolina conflict between white supremacists and the public.

History shows the Democrats will rise again; and so will Republicans. That is the strength and weakness of Democracy in America.

GARDEN OF EDEN

Yarbrough (Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

New Zealand in 2019

Written by: Chet Yarbrough

Having the wonderful experience of visiting New Zealand as an America tourist was like visiting a biblical Eden. However, no country is without political controversy.

On the one hand, New Zealand has the ambition of being an ecological Eden with no natural predators and a perfectly balanced environment.

Is that realistic? How can nature be nature without predation? From times untold, wild animals have eaten each other.

And then, there are humans. Humans are by nature predators. Environmental degradation is accelerated by economic prosperity.

American media gives positive marks to the current Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Adern. In part because of her immediate response to the Christ Church mass shooting but also because of her environmental effort to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution.

Adern is also lauded for her response to the Covid19 crises.

New Zealand is blessed with renewable energy sources from geothermal-power, hydro-power, and a burgeoning wind and solar power industry. Not that this is something only the Prime Minister has done in her short term, but it illustrates the environmental sensitivity of the country.

Prime Minister Adern is not universally applauded by fellow New Zealanders. Contrary to Adern’s press coverage in the U.S., many New Zealand farmers seem quite upset with Adern. We had the happy opportunity to spend a day and night with a farming family in New Zealand.

The farming family we spent time with explains there is a conflict between New Zealand’ farmers and the current administration. Over 45 percent of New Zealand is farm land. It is distributed among farmers that have an average size farm of over 350 acres. An important distinction between our countries is that American corporations may use farms as a tax shelter while New Zealanders use farm land to produce more product. There are few if any corporate farms in New Zealand. New Zealand farms are owned by real farmers.

However, farming is a major polluter of land in America; as well as New Zealand.

Over 50% of methane and nitrous oxide in the world comes from farm animals. Adern puts the burden of correction on private farms. Over 50% of methane and nitrous oxide in the world comes from farm animals. Cattle, sheep, goats, deer, alpaca, llamas, goats, and chickens are common farm animals raised on New Zealand farms. Land, water, and air quality issues being raised by the current administration are a big concern of the farming community.

New Zealand farmland regulation is creating a furor among some farmers that are being told to change their practices to reduce pollution. The cost of these changes are to be borne solely by the farmer according to the farm family we visited.

Real farmers in both America and New Zealand have a reputation for being independent. That independence is distorted by corporate ownership in America but not in New Zealand. The New Zealand farming community is made of farmers who work the land. One gets the impression they will not re-elect Ms. Adern unless she changes direction.

The irony of what we were hearing is that farmers like all people are concerned about the environment. The problem is in the cost of adjusting farming practices to accommodate environmental concern.

From an outsider’s perspective, the solution seems simple. Farmers in New Zealand are not constrained by corporate farming practices like America. New Zealanders do not farm to shelter income but to produce product. It would seem reasonable for the government to assist New Zealand’ farmers financially to adjust to less environmentally damaging practices. The perception we had from the family we spent the night with was that the current government wants all of that cost to be borne by the farmers.

When the word subsidization is mentioned, both husband and wife of the New Zealand farm family seem to wince. Without knowing the history of farming subsidization in New Zealand, one wonders what happened in its history.

As long as real farmers are producing groceries there seems every reason for tax dollars to be used to help farmers mitigate pollution. Farmers are as concerned about the environment as environmentalists. Where would the world be without food production and real farmers?

Visiting other countries is a guilty pleasure. It is an expensive undertaking that many cannot afford. We loved our time in New Zealand. One sees there is no perfect country. Every country has its discontents; America, not withstanding.

CHINA AND RUSSIA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

George F. Kennan: An American Life

By John Lewis Gaddis

Narrated by Malcolm Hilgartner

John Lewis Gaddis (Author, Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale.)

When Churchill gave his famous “iron curtain” speech in March 1946, George Kennan already understood the iron curtain’s implication and consequence. Kennan is known as “the father of containment” during the Cold War of 1947-1989.

The relevance of Kennan’s containment policy resonates with today’s American relationship with China. However, its relevance is one of contrast; not similarity. Today, there is no iron curtain that separates China from the rest of the world. The iron curtain has become a cloak. It is a cloak that obscures intent.

The age of the corona virus and China’s decision to delay world notification may or may not have changed America’s response. China’s cloaking of information will haunt the world’s corona virus survivors. Though there is no iron curtain today, secrecy and failure to disclose information fully replaces its physical barrier, and real world effect.

After the war, Kennan insisted on being relieved of duty in Russia and returned home to Wisconsin because President Truman was ignoring Kennan’s recommendations on a “sphere of influence” approach to the U.S.S.R. 

As a deputy head of the Moscow ambassadorship, Kennan sent the famous “long telegram” to the then Secretary of State, James Byrnes, explaining how the Soviet Union should be handled after the end of WWII.  The “long memorandum” makes Kennan famous because it capsulizes what became U.S./Russian foreign policy for the next 30 years.

Kennan recognizes Stalinist Russia’s pursuit of world domination as a Marxian belief of inevitability. With an eastern Russian’ ethos that endorsed persistence and patience (a quality we see in China today) Russia reveals its strength and weakness. 

Kennan recognizes the threat of Russian domination in the 50 s and 60 s. However, he believes it can be managed with patient and persistent opposition by America. Within the limitations of military and economic might, the United States could directly intervene in Russian encroachment when feasible.

When direct confrontation was not feasible, overt cooperation could be undermined based on Machiavellian’ assessment of Russian expansion.  In other words, Russian expansion could be contained and managed by a prudent use of force and guile by the United States. This approach worked with Russia. It is less likely to work with China.

China focuses on international domination through economic growth and influence.

Modern Russia has a similar ambition, but its domination is based on the threat of force and military intervention. Both countries expand their influence but Russia is constrained by a much weaker economy, and the limits of military threat and intervention.

China has little economic constraint on growth of the economy or military because of its growing prosperity, and broadening international influence.

China’s military strength is largely based on deterrent capability; backed by economic growth. Russia’s military growth is based on economic constraint, and the political limits of intervention and force.

Kennan argued Stalinist Russia’s ideology would fail because it is flawed.

Kennan believed that the role of the United States was to contain Russia until it collapsed from the weight of its’ mistaken ideological belief in the unerring truth of collectivism.

There is a strain of collectivist belief in Xi’s Chinese communism but it is tempered by economic freedoms that have improved millions of Chinese lives.

In spite of Xi’s emphasis on communist party rule, the genie of economic freedom has made China more pragmatic and less ideological.

Xi is presently restrained in use of force in Hong Kong demonstrations. That restraint is not unending but it is influenced by Chinese communism’s change; a change that began with Deng Xiaoping’s policy of expanding personal economic freedom.

The Stalinist ideology that the collective is more important than the individual evolves in Russia but its evolution retains belief in force and intervention as reliable tools for world domination. That belief is Putin’s Achilles heal.

In later years, Kennan’s containment argument for the U.S.S.R. is found to be correct but even he suggests the cost was too high. He believed Russia’s decline could have been accelerated. The flaw in today’s Russia is not in exclusive belief in the collective but in use of force as a first, rather than last, resort.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and intervention in Syria negatively influence world opinion.

In contrast, Xi’s “Road and Belt” initiative positively influences world opinion. (This is not to say all countries are enamored by Chinese largess because it increases their debt, but in many cases China is the financier of last resort.)

A duel, positive effect of Xi’s “Road and Belt” initiative is to create a wider market for Chinese goods. China chooses positive behavioral reinforcement while Russia chooses negative reinforcement (military action, limited energy resource distribution, cyber attacks on voting preferences in other countries) to achieve world influence.

Xi may be more ideologically driven than Putin but he is constrained by Deng’s cracked door which opens the economy to private Chinese entrepreneurs.

Xi’s “Road and Belt” initiative expands China’s influence in the world while Putin’s actions diminish Russia’s influence.

Kennan, born in Wisconsin, went to Princeton after attending Wisconsin’s St. John’s Military Academy.  After receiving his undergraduate degree, rather than going to law school, he joined the newly formed U.S. diplomatic “Foreign Service” and became a vice consul in Geneva, Switzerland.  However, on a chance visit back home, Kennan met William C. Bullitt, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, and was asked to accompany him to the U.S. Embassy in Russia in 1933.

Because of Kennan’s extraordinary foreign language ability, he became a fluent Russian language expert on Soviet affairs.  He was a student of pre and post-revolutionary Russian’ culture; he used that knowledge to forge an American foreign policy to deal with Russian expansion after WWII; i.e., his prescient grasp of Stalin’s mind, and the Russian culture, allowed the United States to contain the Russian empire within Eastern Europe by limiting American overt action and covert action through confrontation, black-ops, and diplomacy. 

To Trump, international relations should be conducted on a give and take basis; leaving only winners and losers.

America’s President has no Kennan in mind. Trump looks at international relations as a transaction. Trumps thinks diplomacy is like a business. Government is not a business and governance always suffers when dollars and cents are the only criteria for measurement of success.

President Trump’s nomination of Jon Huntsman Jr. as ambassador to Russia is a case in point. Huntsman spoke Mandarin Chinese which made him a highly credible candidate for a stint as Ambassador to China during the Obama administration. Trump appoints Huntsman to Russia because he is a wealthy Republican business man. One doubts the appointment had anything to do with Huntsman’ understanding of Russia or its language.

Though containment was not entirely successful, Kennan’s assessment of its spread to Yugoslavia and China were recognized as independent power structures. Yugoslavia and China believed in the value of the collective but evolved into less doctrinaire belief in “the many being more important than the one”. Yugoslavia dissolved into different states with different economic principles, and China changed its economic philosophy by acknowledging the importance of one among many.

George Kennan’s biography reinforces a belief that understanding another culture requires emergence in that culture.  Ambassadors that are not fluent in a culture’s language and fail to spend years in that culture’s environment cannot understand what policies America should adopt to protect itself and promote world peace and freedom.  One wishes all American Presidents would recognize that need in Ambassadors representing the United States.

Kennan’s biography reveals the importance of self-interest in foreign policy and how a Machiavellian manipulation of events is essential for a reliable margin of success.  Of course, some American Presidents have taken self-interest and Machiavellian manipulation to an extreme.

Trump is not the first American President to cross the line of truth and morality but he seems one of the most prolific.

Kennan is revealed as a human being in this biography, not perfectly right or entirely wrong; subject to mistakes, personal biases, and prejudice; but grounded by life in a real, not purely theoretical, world.  Kennan lived through many great events in world history, from WWII to Vietnam. His active professional life gave the United States what it needed most; i.e., perspective and practical diplomatic advice.

AMERICAN TAXATION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Fine Mess (A Global Quest for A Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System

By: T. R. Reid

Narrated by T. R. Reid

T. R. Reid is a reporter for the “Washington Post”.  He is not an economist.  However, he suggests there are more equitable ways of taxing the American public than presently used by the government.

Reid’s travels around the world investigating other countries tax systems are the basis for his theory for cleaning up America’s “…Fine Mess”. Sadly, Reid has a futile unrealistic attitude that the British characterized as pissing in the wind.

Reid suggests a tax overhaul is due in America.  The last major revision was over 30 years ago.  He argues a mess has been created by incremental tax changes that have greatly exacerbated the wealth gap in America.  Reid illustrates the many ways in which the American tax system is a mess.  An often-quoted factoid is “Warren Buffet is taxed at a lower rate than his secretary”.

There are many economists that would agree with Mr. Reid.  The most famous is the French economist Thomas Piketty who wrote “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”. 

Reid argues the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the world but the lowest corporate taxes collected.  Having the high rate and collecting it are two different things. 

Reid notes corporations like Caterpillar, Apple, Microsoft and others spent millions of dollars to set up legal tax shelters that reduce corporate tax to single digits; to as low as zero for some. 

Reid goes on to explain how billions of dollars are kept in corporate accounts outside of America to avoid taxation, and how that money is not repatriated to the U.S. because of current tax law. 

(Ironically, during Trump’s administration, corporate rate was reduced from 35% to 21%; and continues to be a significantly uncollected tax.) 

DEFINITION BBLR

Reid persuasively argues that a tax overhaul should be made based on the principle of BBLR, a “Broad Based Low Rate” tax.  The purpose of a tax overhaul would be to eliminate loopholes, broaden and reduce tax rates while equalizing citizen’ tax burden.  Schemes for creating tax shelters would be eliminated.   

As is widely known, millions of dollars are spent by American citizens and corporations to file tax returns.

Preparing and paying taxes is laborious and confusing task for many Americans.  Even basic tax return filings are difficult for many American citizens to complete.  How many do not file because of that difficulty?  Some buy software to file taxes.  Add to software purchases and there is only growing tax-preparation costs to file for others. Those costs are borne by individual tax payers. The expense of our inefficient, and inequitable tax system multiplies geometrically when you add corporation efforts to avoid taxes.

America’s taxing inequity is glaring.  Millions of dollars are spent to avoid taxation through creation of tax shelters.  The formation of these shelters costs millions in lawyer, tax consultant, and auditing fees but save billions of dollars for corporations and the super-wealthy who legally (sometimes illegally) reduce taxable income.

Reid’s point is that America’s “…Fine Mess” can be made simpler, fairer, and more efficient by creating a completely new tax system.  He suggests the corporate tax might be eliminated and replaced by a flat rate with no loopholes.

Reid argues for a “Value Added Tax”.  A VAT would be a combination of local taxes and federal taxes on all consumable goods. 

After collection, this tax would be distributed between States, and cities, as well as the Federal Government.  The purpose of these taxes would be for maintenance of local services (like education, public safety, public works, and administration), and Federally mandated services (like national defense, health, education, and public welfare).

Reid’s argument is that VAT’ enforcement would require less supervision by the government because a VAT applies at each stage of the production of goods.  Each stage of production is rebated for taxes paid by the handler that adds value. The VAT is a combination of taxes at each stage of production which is reported to the government for reimbursement.  The reimbursements must add up to the final tax charged to the consumer.  If the numbers are not the same, the IRS will be able to tell which manufacturer failed to pay their tax.

A simple computer program would be able to monitor the collection of the tax because it must balance to all reimbursements of added value.  In theory, a VAT eliminates much of the need for a massive Internal Revenue Service which Reid suggests is unable to adequately monitor the present taxation system.  Reid notes that it is impossible for the IRS to closely monitor today’s taxing system because of the complicated nature of its Congressionally legislated structure.   

Another BBLR tax recommended by Reid is a financial transaction tax that would be low but capitalize on every financial transaction in the United States. 

This transaction tax would be less than a penny per dollar but capable of raising billions of dollars based on the many financial transactions that occur in the U.S. 

Reid offers the example of Hedge Funds that specialize in massive trades for short periods of time.  These Hedge Fund trades move the stock market by fractions that reap millions for traders.  With a tax on financial transactions revenue would be created for Federal Government programs that serve the health, education, and welfare of the nation.

What concerns a listener about Reid’s argument for a Value Added Tax is its potential for continued inequity.  The poor may have to pay the same price for food, energy, and shelter as the rich.  Reid does not adequately address that concern except to suggest a system would be established to offset that inequity.

Another concern, inadequately addressed by Reid, is the impact on Hedge Fund traders business if they lose the advantage of small changes in quick trades. Will Hedge Fund transactions disappear?

Political will is another issue not adequately addressed by Reid.  What majority of congress men and women will stand up to the many lobbyists who support them in their election?   Will most Republicans and Democrats co-opt or fight special interests that object to a massive change in the American tax system? 

Finally, how would America deal with the lost jobs for tax lawyers, tax preparers, software developers, and corporations that benefit from tax preparation and tax avoidance schemes?

One may agree with Reid’s assessment of America’s tax system.  It is a “A Fine Mess”.  The question is–Do our elected representatives have the political will to clean it up; or at least make it fairer? 

Incremental change of the tax code only makes it less intelligible. In Reid’s opinion, it is all or nothing.  Reid implies “go big” or “go home” because nothing will change if the entire tax code is not replaced.

CORPORATISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Price of Civilization

By Jeffrey Sachs

Narrated by Richard McGonagle

Jeffrey Sachs (Author, American economist, Columbia University Professor)

Jeffrey Sachs skewers modern Presidents and lionizes John Kennedy.  Written before 2016, one wonders what Sachs might have written about President Trump.

One can easily agree with many of Sachs’ observations of what is wrong with America but his solutions are academic; not pragmatic.  Sachs is too much of an idealist. Corporatism is an out sized economic benefactor for the United States but, as Sachs infers, it is also American democracy’s greatest threat.

Government checks and balances are America’s only defense against corporatism.

“The Price of Civilization” is an unsatisfying audio book.  Not because it is irrelevant but because it’s saccharine idealism and disconnection from the real world.

Though much of Sach’s criticism of Obama, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan is deserved, his professorial economics is cloying because it ignores political reality and the truth of human nature.

The father of American economics, Adam Smith, is the first to have recognized the critical role of politics in economics.

Politics is a social science of give-and-take in both democratic and autocratic societies. The difference is–politics in democracy is practiced among the many; while in autocracy, politics is practiced among the few.

Just as Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” includes politics in economics, Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan”, introduces human nature to government. Thomas Hobbes notes Human nature is both good and bad. As logic dictates, politics in economics is both good and bad.

Sachs is spot-on as an academic economist. But he ignores political reality.  Public policy has always been a matter of “who’s ox is getting gored” whether democrats or despots are in control of government.

Sachs cleaves to Platonic and Aristotelian platitudes like “all things in moderation”. To suggest that a philosophical awakening of the millennial generation (those born between 1977 and 1992) will cure American lassitude and political apathy is naive.


Sachs optimistically believes the millennial generation will eschew the luxuries of American dreamers (owning hot cars, nice homes, and beautiful clothes) to become voters for change.  Obama represents those voter’ beliefs but fails politically for the same reason Sachs’ book is a mess.

Changing public policy is not going to occur with an American generation that magically begins believing less is more. Re-election of a new President, whether Democrat or Republican, will not fundamentally change America’s system of choosing corporate winners and losers.

One can agree with Sachs’ observation on 2010’s “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” decision. The Supreme Court erred in identifying corporations as individuals with the rights of unlimited corporate donation to electors.

Defeat of gun control legislation shows how entrenched lobbyist organizations can steer the course of public policy, regardless of a democratic majority’s support of policy change.

Sachs is right in his assessment of the wrong-headedness of what he calls “corporatocracy”; i.e. the institutionalization of an election process that is founded on money rather than public representation. 

Human nature gets in the way of doing the right thing.  Humankind naturally seeks freedom.  (Las Vegas demonstration to reopen the economy during the pandemic.)

When freedom of choice is impinged upon, human beings are reluctant to change.   Of course, this is an over simplification but Sachs minimizes mankind’s innate desire for freedom. 

Las Vegas mayor Goodman wants to re-open the economy in the face of Covid19. She believes freedom and survival of the fittest is a matter of human nature; not government fiat.

She infers–if its your time to die, so be it.

Regulation of human activity impinges on free choice whenever one person thinks they know what is best for another.

Human nature is not going to change; i.e. it will always contain good and evil intention. Bernard Madoff comes from the same culture as Warren Buffet. 

Trump and the Republican party’s approved tax law illustrates contempt for the middle-class, and ignores the poor.

Many Americans are disgusted with the political process in 21st century America.  Even the super rich and rich are not satisfied with the status quo.  The rising gap between rich and poor embarrasses the rich.

How can America justify a social security tax for a movie actor’s (or sports star’s) income of millions per year when a middle income family makes $40,000 to $132,900 per year and has to contribute the same amount as a multi-millionaire.

A person with a middle class income will pay 6.2 percent of their income for social security. There is a maximum cap of $8,239.80/year/person. One who makes millions of dollars per year will not have to pay more than that $8,239.80/year; i.e. the same maximum amount a middle income person pays. No wonder social security is going broke.

When one is elected to congress every two years, fund raising becomes the elector’s primary focus of attention.  When corporations speak, electors listen.  Lobbyists and corporate money are more important than the aggregate input of voters.  No wonder American voters are apathetic.

Sachs notes Oliver Wendell Holmes dictum about taxes.  Holmes wrote that he loved to pay taxes because taxes are the cost of civilization.  The weakness of that generalization is in the definition of civilization.  If civilization is that stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced, why does the richest country in the world:

  • 1)have citizens living on the street,
  • 2)have citizens imprisoned-to only isolate and punish, and
  • 3)have children dying because of poor medical care.

When an investor turns a portfolio over to a brokerage company, that investor has to “trust but verify” the actions of the brokerage company in regard to overall portfolio performance.  If the broker under performs the market, the investor knows it is time to change brokers. 

When a government under performs when public tax dollars are invested, voters cannot, without revolution, change governments. 

Sachs accurately notes there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans in the United States.  Both parties talk the talk but fail to walk the walk. Elected officials are too beholding to lobbyists and corporate America.

Americans are reluctant to pay higher taxes because they see no discernible improvement in their lives.  Why invest in a government (pay more taxes) that fails to produce improved results?

Sachs ideas for correcting America’s ills—

  1. Reduce the deficit by cutting military spending and increasing taxes.
  2. Reduce wealth disparity by investing in and retraining an obsolescent work force.
  3. Invest in and improve education with emphasis on primary and secondary graduation.
  4. Create jobs through infrastructure investment.  He argues that dependence on carbon-based energy is to be reduced by conservation with increased investment in alternative energy sources and more scientific research and development. 
  5. He argues that medical insurance should be provided to all Americans with a plan crafted by the medical community.

All of these goals are exemplary but to get there requires a massive (and unlikely) re-invention of human nature.   One could argue that many of these policies were promoted by the Obama administration, but little changed.

It is counterintuitive for a free society to choose moderate consumption.  Add mistrust of the American government and the likelihood of turning more money over to a government that does not work seems stupid to any rationale human being.

Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “Industry, technology, and commerce can thrive only as long as an idealistic national community offers the necessary preconditions.  And these do not lie in material egoism, but in a spirit of sacrifice and joyful renunciation.” 

Hitlerian characters are a threat to America when corporatism is the basis of public policy.

The Korean War

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Korean War

By Max Hastings

Narrated by Frederick Davidson

Max Hastings (Author, British Journalist)

Max Hastings’ book reports the tragedy of the Korean War (1950-1953) fought by United Nations forces against North Korea and China. The end of the Korean War is a return to its beginning with no winners and mostly losers at the 38th parallel.

Hastings begins by suggesting that South Korea ultimately benefited from the war but one wonders if the cost of human blood and treasure is worth today’s North and South Korean reality.

Karl Marx said that “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”.

Syngman Rhee (Last Head of State of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea)

Hastings characterizes Syngman Rhee, the Republic of Korea’s leader (1948-1960), as corrupt, though less corrupt and venal than his North Korean counterpart, Kim il sung (1945-1994).

What is of concern to some Americans is President Trump’s relationship with North Korea’s new leader, the son of Kim il sung. Is the stage set for history to repeat itself?

Koje-do POW Camp

Hastings reports overcrowding, abuse, and neglect of North Korean, and Chinese P.O.W.s on Koje-do Island during the Korean war. 

Hastings notes the use of the least competent military personnel as guards while the more competent soldiers were fighting the war.  Hastings tells of prisoners at Koje-do being hung by their testicles and drowned by water hoses secured to their mouths.  How different is that to a naked prisoner at Abu Ghraib or reported water boarding of enemy combatants?

Abu Ghraib prison treatment.

How similar is Koje-do Island’s P.O.W. camp in the Republic of Korea to Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison?

America repeats many of Korea’s mistakes in Vietnam and Iraq.  The question is–are military interventions new history or the second coming of a repeat tragedy?

How similar is America’s support of Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem (1955-1963), and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein (1979-2003)? 

Summary execution of a Vietcong in Saigon (Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan shoots Nguyen Van Lem)

Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem history is one of corruption as totalitarian and politically repressive as Rhee’s Republic of Korea’ government.   The wars in Korea and Vietnam are over.  Are Korea and Vietnam safer or better today than before outside military intervention?  Vietnam re-unified after the war; Korea did not.

America supported Hussein because he opposed Iran.  America’s relationship to Rhee is similar in that Vietnam historically opposed communist China.

Hussein gassed Kurds in northern Iraq and terrorized his country’s Shiite majority. Rhee declared martial law in the Republic of Korea and murdered an estimated 14 to 30,000 Koreans.

The question one may ask themselves, with Hussein dead, is Iraq safer or better today than before intervention?

Are South and North Korea safer or better as a result of the Korean war? From an economic standpoint South Korea is better and safer. That is not true in North Korea.

Francis Fukuyama, in a book titled “Political Order and Political Decay”, argues that violation of sovereign borders violates one of three pillars of a modern state. America’s invasion of Iraq destroyed the government’s ability to exercise power. The United Nations invasion of Korea results in a two state solution. That solution seems good for only some Korean citizens.

Whenever one thinks they know what is good for another there is a cognitive dissonance between what one wants and what one gets.

Hussein was a horrid ruler by American standards, but he was the head of a sovereign state. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un demonstrates the same qualities of leadership as Hussein.

Where will Trump lead America on the question of Kim’s reign? To paraphrase Samuel Clemens–history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

When did human beings become “Gooks”, “Charlies”, and “Towel Heads”?  War brings out the worst in human beings by demonizing and animalizing the enemy making killing more socially acceptable.

Hastings shines a bright light on the ugliness and heroism of war.  Hastings immortalizes the Irish 1st Battalion RUR (Royal Ulster Rifles’) battles in Imjin and Kapyong in 1951 with a heart rending and inspiring story of determination and bravery.  However, his stories of fighting in subzero weather, being captured by the enemy, suffering from dysentery, seeing friends mutilated and killed, and fighting to the death for meaningless plots of ground are stomach turning episodes of despair.

After the 65th Chinese Army had exhausted itself attempting to smash through the defensive positions on the River Imjin held by the British 29 Brigade, the Brigade withdrew to a new line south of the River Han where, on 26 and 27 April, it rested and refitted for future operations. The Brigade had sustained over one thousand casualties at Imjin.

The glaring hubris of General MacArthur and his replacement with General Ridgeway by President Truman reinforces belief in the importance of good leadership.

A recurring theme in Hastings’ Korean history is the importance of ground forces’ confidence and spirit in the success of individual battles.  (This is a theme portrayed in Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” which is equally well narrated by Frederick Davidson.)

Was the Korean War worth it?  Hastings fails to give a definitive answer but he provides an interesting historical background for one to consider its value.

FBI FALLIBILITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Enemies: A History of the FBI

By Tim Weiner

 Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki

Tim Weiner (American Author)

One does not come away from Tim Weiner’s book knowing where the line is drawn between value and scorn for government intrusion in the lives of Americans. This seems particularly relevant today when veracity, political bias, and honesty of the FBI is being seriously questioned

J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972. 1st Director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972).

“Enemies…” is about the rise of the F.B.I. and J. Edgar Hoover’s role in the growth of American domestic intelligence. 

Weiner reports on questionable FBI tactics employed by Hoover.  Hoover sets the table for violation of human rights with a power that defies the intent of the American Constitution. 

Even though overt American legislation denies the right of the government to arbitrarily investigate private citizens, Hoover throws “habeas corpus”
into the trash.

(Habeas corpus is a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court, especially to secure the person’s release unless lawful grounds are shown for his/her detention.)

Weiner shows Hoover to lie about wire-tapping and gathering information on private citizens without warrant or judicial review.  This is the head of the FBI orchestrating the violation of American law. Hoover creates files that give the F.B.I. secret information about the personal sex lives of elected and government appointed bureaucrats and uses that information to influence elected officials and the American public.

Wiener suggests Hoover’s perception is that communism infiltrates all anarchist’ and most American government-opposition’ movements. Hoover crosses the line between free society and tyranny. He gathers information on individual citizens, union movements, civil rights, and accused domestic terrorists with an unshakable belief in his own perception of reality.

The historical facts of Weiner’s presentation gives context to the American communist beliefs of the 40s, 50’s, and 60’s. Hoover feeds the hysteria of his time.

A reader/listener is intellectually and emotionally torn by recounted beliefs held by some American and British citizens of Marxian communism. Some were willing to foment a social revolution by any means necessary.

Others were simply expressing a personal opinion among friends of the same opinion; not to foment revolution, but to explain what they believe denies equal protection, and/or equal rights in America. 

Wiener shows that some actions by the FBI warranted investigation. He notes Klaus Fuchs  who gave the Soviet Union secrets of the atomic and hydrogen bombs in the 50s, and the British agent, Kim Philby, who betrays American and British agents of the F.B.I., C.I.A. and British MI-5.  (Agents were murdered because of Philby’s betrayal.) 

The unfortunate consequence of Hoover’s domination of the F.B.I. is that it evolves into a vehicle of suppression, subject to the whims of one human being’s prejudices. This is particularly apparent in the rise and fall of McCarthyism.

America is a government of checks and balances and when any American agency abandons those criteria of governance, it compromises public freedom. 

Every human being is flawed; every human being is subject to the good and bad qualities of human nature.  When the F.B.I. or any government agency is dominated by one person, it fails the test of good government. That seems a justifiable critique of Hoover’s career in the FBI.

The American Constitution’s checks and balances are being used to address the FBI’s role in America.

One comes away from Weiner’s book to believe it is unfair to conflate the era of Hoover with the current administration of the FBI.

Serious questions are raised about the veracity, political bias and honesty of today’s FBI. There is the Clinton email investigation, the Trump collusion investigation, the firing of James Comey, and the Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok dismissals.

“Enemies: A History of the FBI” is a relevant subject for the 21st century because of technology’s potential for exponentially invading personal privacy.  Checks and balances through rule of law are a free society’s only protection against human nature’s fallibility.

Michael Horowitz (American Attorney, DOJ Inspector General who is tasked with reporting FBI political bias.)

Though Horowitz’s investigative report is not to everyone’s satisfaction, there is little evidence of FBI’ political bias. There is ample evidence of human nature’s fallibility, but it only reminds us of ourselves. Individual FBI careers have been tarnished but there is no institutional political bias.