AMERICAN CAPITALISM

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?

By Robert Kuttner

     Narrated by: Mike Chamberlain

Robert Kuttner (Author, journalist, professor of social policy at Brandeis University)

Robert Kuttner personalizes the history of capitalism as an historian and journalist, not an economist. This book is a tedious fact-filled tour of capitalist experimentation. Kuttner illustrates how government economic policy is like a roulette game. Government leaders spin the wheel. The ball drops on a numbered slot that is either black or red. A player chooses Kuttner’s fundamental point and the answer to the question “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?” seems a matter of luck.

Choice for survival of global capitalism seems dependent on reducing the gap between billionaire/millionaire capitalists and the wage-earning public. However, what Kuttner’s rambling history shows is that there is no definitive answer. There are some clues but the balance between democratic freedom and equality of opportunity teeter on the metallic edge of a black and red slot of a roulette wheel. He asks the question whether America is going to become more like China or China more like America?

Kuttner offers some examples of economic policy in Scandinavian countries, Africa, the Baltics, Great Britain, France, Germany, Greece, China, and the European Union. Kuttner implies, if there is a common denominator for survival of global capitalism, it is government policy that benefits wage earners.

A rising tide (economic prosperity) must benefit more than a simple minority or small majority of citizens within a country.

Kuttner’s history shows achievements in democratic capitalism have been hit and miss with luck as much a factor of success as policy. Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes theories offer hints about what can be done to grow and sustain capitalist economic stability. What gets in the way of their theories is interpretation, policy, action, and results.

Kuttner offers many good and bad examples democratic capitalism’ interpretation. Denmark denies Ryan Air’s employment model in their country because it is unfair to employees of the Airline. Public benefit services like mail in the United States assure delivery of the mail in a timely manner, regardless of profitability.

Unions are formed in various countries to give wage earners a seat at the table in determining fair compensation and benefits in privately held companies.

On the other hand, privatizing prison management only reduces cost to the public by reducing pay and training of prison guards. The prisons are not better managed, but costs are less because quality of service and overhead is reduced while prisoners are poorly managed. Immigrant labor is farmed out by private companies to reduce corporate costs but at the expense of laborers that work for less than a livable wage. Private companies higher “independent contractors” like Uber drivers for which the company does not pay medical premiums or employment taxes. Corporate raiders buy faltering high cash-flow companies with borrowed money. These corporate raiders reduce wages of employees, drives formally marginally profitable companies into bankruptcy, and walk away with millions paid by loans used to buy the company in the first place.

Kuttner caps these negative global capital maneuvers by revealing how American corporate owners and leaders move manufacturing to foreign competitors because of cheaper labor. That movement benefits corporations at the expense of American manufacturing.

Kuttner explains corporate outsourcing unfairly diminishes American workers and decimates American manufacturing. He notes Germany chose to improve the quality of their manufactured products to remain viable manufacturing global competitors even though their workers are paid more than comparable American workers.

This is a frustrating book to use as evidence for the survival of global capitalism because there are many examples of government policies meant to do good that fail.

This history reinforces the analogy of the roulette wheel. Either red or black may be the best result one can expect but the consequence seems as much luck as foresight.

Hope lies in reducing the gap between haves and have-nots by insuring equality of opportunity through public education and job opportunities. This is not to suggest homelessness and poverty will disappear in democratic capitalist societies, but it becomes a manageable societal responsibility.

Having lived in different areas of the United States shows homelessness and poverty are presently out of control.

Today, in the United States, homelessness and poverty are not being well managed because public education and job opportunities are not being adequately addressed. As one of the richest countries in the world, American democratic capitalism can do better than just survive.

Education and employment are key to turning these crises into something that can be managed.

One cannot dismiss Kuttner’s observations as liberal ranting. Wage earner respect and treatment, whether in manufacturing, technology, or service industries, are the key to survival of world capitalist democracies. America can choose to become more like China and support authoritarian miscreants like Donald Trump or elect leaders that experiment with political ideas that have made America great.

C.I.A.

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Great Place to Have a War (America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA

By: Joshua Kurlantzick

           Narrated by: Tim Campbell

Joshua Kurlantzick (Author, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations)

“A Great Place to Have a War” reflects a turning point in the operations of the CIA in the 1950s. Joshua Kurlantzick’s story implies the CIA’ role became something more than originally intended.

The CIA is founded in 1947. Its primary duty was to collect, evaluate, and disseminate intelligence affecting national security.

Richard Helms (Former Director of the CIA from 1966-1973.)

The former director of the CIA, Richard Helms is quoted as saying Laos“… was a major operation for the Agency….It took manpower; it took specially qualified manpower; it was dangerous; it was difficult.” He contends the CIA did “a superb job”. Helms is referring to the CIA’s covert activity in Laos during the early days of the Vietnam war. Joshua Kurlantzick’s book, “A Great Place to Have a War” suggests Helm’s view of “a superb job” is a self-serving lie that is far from the truth.

The center of this story is about the Hmong people who live in Laos. One of the great leaders of the Hmong in the 1950s is Vang Pao.

He served as a military leader in Laos from 1940 to 1975. He became a Major general and is shown to be a great leader of the Hmong resistance to a communist takeover of Laos. The CIA aids Vang Pao in the creation of a “secret army” to resist North Vietnam’s incursion in Laos.

James William Lair (CIA Officer serving in Laos.)

William Lair aka Bill Lair, a paramilitary officer of the CIA is an Ambassador to Thailand and is moved to Laos to provide CIA support for Vang Pao’s effort to expel communist invaders from Laos.

Lair (to the right of the helmeted soldier) is a tool of the CIA to create a secret army of Hmong fighters to resist communist takeover of the country.

With the help of CIA covert paramilitary operatives like the infamous Tony Poe (aka Anthony Poshepny), the Hmong army is trained in military tactics.

Poe is infamous in that he instituted collection of Vietnamese ears to confirm kills of enemy combatants. He allegedly sent a bag of ears to his superior officers in the CIA. Poe is respected and feared by many Hmong soldiers for his training and brutal killings. Poe’s “take no prisoners” mentality is adopted by Hmong fighters.

The author offers a detailed history of CIA operatives that manage operational support of the Hmong in Laos.

The fundamental point made by Kurlantzick is that (after Laos) the CIA is no longer just a collector of intelligence but an active participant in American covert military actions in foreign countries.

What makes this story discomfiting is the belief that America’s creation of secret armies to change the course of events in foreign countries is an honorable act.

Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969 Communist leader of North Vietnam.)

The Hmong bravely served their country’s independence, but they fail to stop Ho Chi Minh’s army. Laos fell to the communists.

Adding to that failure, America turned its back on many Hmong defenders that were murdered by the communists after the defeat. As history shows, America repeats that ignominious evacuation of nationalist combatants in Vietnam and Afghanistan. Only Vang Pao, his immediate family and a few of his closest soldiers were evacuated.

Helms expressed pride about what the CIA accomplished in Laos. The author suggests Helms felt the CIA learned how to create a secret army in foreign territories that could accomplish American objectives. If that is true, one wonders how the murder of indigenous countrymen and failure to accomplish American objectives is something to be proud of.

In the last chapters of “A Great Place to Have a War”, the author recounts the lives of major players in the Laotian secret war. Vang Pao tells his fellow expatriates that he will return to Laos and take control of the government. Vang Pao offers positions in an imaginary Laotian government in return for money from Hmong that have settled in America.

Vang Pao was clearly a patriot in his years as a leader in Laos but in his American life, he becomes a con man that betrays his fellow countrymen. He acts like a gangster, a “Godfather”, by extorting contributions from Laotians that settled in America.

Vang Pao never intended to overthrow the Laotian government from his exile. He neither had the support or money needed to foment a new revolution. His objective seems simply to be able to maintain his lifestyle in the United States.

Bill Lair quits the CIA and becomes a cross country truck driver to make a living. He never advances in the CIA because he is not accepted by the changing leaders of the “Company”.

Anthony Poshepny (aka Tony Poe)

The infamous Tony Poe receives a second star from the CIA. His skill as a trainer of secret army soldiers of other countries is considered a useful tool to the CIA (despite his craziness) according to the author.  Tony Poe retires and receives a pension from the CIA and dies in obscurity.

This is a disheartening story. Its credibility is supported by information from investigative reporters and illegally acquired information from informants like Edward Snowden. Kurlantzick notes Snowden found the secret CIA budget ballooned to be more than the State Department’s budget.

A CIA officer disputes this book in a formal rebuttal. The rebuttal is revealed in a December 2014 Senate hearing. One can look it up, but the rebuttal is less convincing than the book.

The lesson one may draw from this story is that America’s State Department needs to be recognized as more important than the CIA in improving international relations. The State Department needs to have Ambassadors that know the language of the countries they are assigned. Ambassadors should have an intimate understanding of their assigned country’s cultures.

The CIA is not a path for peace. Its role should be restricted to collection of data. The CIA should not interfere with other nation’s policies and politics. Its role should be to inform the American government of foreign government information not available from public media or normal diplomatic channels.

This is not to say the CIA is not an important organization. It should be adequately funded to gather intelligence information. Its role should not be to create secret armies, murder foreign nationals, or foment rebellion. Actions taken by the American government should only be taken with review by elected officials, particularly for any clandestine actions against foreign nationals or governments.

It should be clear that any foreign actions taken are the fault of elected officials, not secret organizations. All Americans are responsible for what their elected officials decide. Transparency of government policy and action is required in any country that professes belief in freedom.

ALBANIAN FREEDOM

       Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Free (A Child and a Country at the End of History)

By: Lea Ypi

Narrated by: Rachel Babbage, Lea Ypi

Lea Ypi (Author, Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics.)

Eleven months after the Berlin Wall came down, the historian Francis Fukuyama called it a symbol of the “end of history”.

As a citizen of Albania, the fall of the Berlin Wall shows Lea Ypi what the “end of history” meant to her.

Albania became an independent country in 1912, after the defeat of the Ottomans in the Balkan Wars. Lea Ypi is a descendant of royalty in what was known in the 19th century as the Ypi dynasty.

Ypi Dynasty (Ruled Egypt for 150 Years.)

“Free” is partly a story Lea Ypi’s realization of her family’s history. More fundamentally, her story is of the inner conflict of Albanian experience with monarchy, socialism, communism, and democracy. Ypi artfully reflects that conflict in the history of her immediate family. She grows up in a well-educated, multilingual family that extolls the virtue of the French revolution, socialism, and democracy while expressing ambivalence about each. None are fans of communism but waiver between authoritarianism and democracy. Both parents, a grandmother, and their daughter (the author) critique capitalism as a form of exploitation, particularly of the poor.

Ypi explores the history of Albania that transitions from monarchy to socialism to communism to democracy. Each transition shows a country in search of itself. As a monarchy, its self-identified King fails to sustain independence. Albania falls under the control of Mussolini’s fascism. As a socialist, and later communist, country–long waits-in-line for consumer goods belies much of Albanian citizen’s belief in “common good”. As socialism evolves into communism, discontent leads to revolution in 1989/1990.

The insight Ypi offers to Albanian history is that democracy is no panacea. Having political representation in governance does not eliminate human nature’s failings.

Citizens popularly elected as representatives of the people is no guarantee of peace or prosperity. The lure of money, power, and prestige can corrupt democracy just as it does any form of government, whether autocratic or democratic.

In 2009 Albania joined NATO. In June of 2014 it became a candidate for the European Union. In a brief visit to Albania in 2017, we met local Albanians, had lunch on a private farm, and traveled through the country on a private tour. What came as a surprise is the industriousness and growing modernization of the country. To an outsider, Albania is prospering as a democracy. Ypi offers a guarded appreciation of democracy but implies concern over excesses of capitalism in democracy.

One presumes that skepticism comes from her memories of a socialist desire for common good. Democratic capitalism is no guarantee of common good as evidenced by the growing gap between rich and poor. Her story of her father’s rise as an industrial manager exemplifies her concern. Ownership orders her father to cut overhead by eliminating workers. Her father resists because he knows those workers have families to feed and lives to live. In contrast, her mother suggests people who are lazy or who do not work hard at their jobs, deserve their lot in life.

Ypi’s book should be read/listened to before traveling to Albania. Ypi offers insight to how children of her generation feel about government. The author is an entertaining writer worth one’s time whether planning a visit to Albania or not.

MEDIA TRANSPARENCY

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Lie Machines (How to Save Democracy from Troll Armies, Deceitful Robots, Junk News Operations, and Political Operatives.)

By: Philip N. Howard

Narrated by: Mike Chamberlain

Phillip N. Howard (Author, professor at University of Oxford.)

The subtitle of Phillip Howard’s book is hyperbolic. Howard offers a glimmer of hope to the public on “How to Save Democracy from Troll Armies…”  He does define the problem, but the solution is elusive.

Howard identifies interest-group’ tools used by lie machines to mislead the public. Howard shows how “Junk News”, some of which are outright lies, have consequences.

Freedom is an essential tenant of Democracy. One does not doubt Howard’s exposé on Democracy’s threat from “…Troll Armies, Deceitful Robots, Junk News Operations, and Political Operatives.”  

There is the Brexit campaign that lied about thousands of pounds saved per month which Great Britain could use for healthcare. That lie is debunked by most English economists.  There is the Pizza company child pornography hoax during Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President. It is clearly identified as a hoax that had no basis in fact.  Howard’s point is that lies have consequences. However, the exact consequence is often not precisely quantifiable. Did voters change the course of history by believing these lies?  Was the Brexit decision and Hillary Clinton’s loss of the presidency caused by lie machines?  Those are fair questions, but they have no definitive answer.

Is it criminal to advertise Prevagen as a memory improvement product when there is little science to prove the claim?  Is that different than an interest groups’ lie about how many pounds Great Britain will save with Brexit? Consumers decide for themselves whether a lie is a lie or just an interest groups’ bias. 

Balancing democratic freedom of speech against what Howard fairly identifies as “junk news” is impractical in the internet age.

As Howard notes, more private information is available to interest groups in the 21st century than ever before.  Government, commercial, and private interest groups are willing to pay privately held companies to gather and collate that personal information. Their ability to distort truth is enhanced by algorithms that accumulate that private information to tell others more about what we believe than what most know or understand about ourselves.   

Media moguls, like product advertisers, are selling belief with detailed information about who we are, what we buy, who we buy from, and intimate details of our lives freely given on public platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. 

On 4/25/22 we are advised that twitter is being purchased by Elon Musk. Musk idealistically presumes all should have a right to express their opinion. There is truth and lie in that idealism. Truth is the selective statement of facts by major news feeds like the NYT and WSJ. Lie is the statements of muckrakers like Alex Jones.

As Supreme Court Justice Stewart’s once said about pornography, “I know it When I see it”. Freedom of speech can only be regulated by the same yard stick.  A lie is a lie and those who believe in democracy can only rely on themselves for knowing a lie when they see it.

Alex Jones and conspiracy on the Sandy Hook School killings.

Howard’s examination of “Lie Machines” reveals a great deal about how lies become the basis for conspiracy theories that mislead the public.

The best one can say about Howard’s great reveal is that every citizen in any society needs to be skeptical. Ironically, Howard implies skepticism compounds the problem of “Lie Machines” by making one believe nothing.  One must ask oneself—are there special interests promoting this “fact”, is this fact a lie, should I act based on a lie. 

Howard’s solution is to require transparency from the “internet of things”.

He argues any public internet platform should be legally required to reveal the source of their information and that no information should be collected unless authorized by the provider. There is some merit in Howard’s solution. The concern is that there must be supervision of that requirement.  Who is the supervisor?  If it is government, what are the rules of enforcement?  Democracy requires checks and balances. 

Whether one is part of the government, a business, or a private citizen, all are subject to the faults of human nature.  Can a bureaucracy be created with the required checks and balances that mitigate human nature’s desire for money, power, and prestige?

America is a government of laws and has prospered in part because of checks and balances that ameliorate the worst consequences of human nature. Is regulation of the internet by government better than self-regulation?  Who regulates government?

Some argue, the voter regulates government by elections.  This is the same voter that elected Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump, one of which deserves high praise; the other something much less.

Revealing “Lie Machines” is the best of what Howard has to offer.  The solution revolves around transparency but the mechanism for enforcement beyond individual skepticism and “buyer beware” attitude seem invasively dangerous.

WORLD PEACE

           Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Empires of the Weak (The Real Story of European Expansion and the Creation of the World)

By: J. C. Sharman

Narrated by: John Lee

Jason Sharman (Author, Professor of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge, PhD from University of Illinois.)

Professor J. C. Sharman offers an interesting interpretation of history.  He argues one country’s domination of another in “Empires of the Weak” is widely misrepresented by historians.

Sharman argues domination of other nation-states is incorrectly believed to be the result of technical and military superiority.  Sharman suggests force of arms and technology were only a part of their success.  Their failures often came from not understanding the cultures of the countries they tried to colonize. 

Sharman notes many historians argue early European nations had better weapons and superior military training than countries which they invaded and colonized.  

Sharman argues socio-cultural and economic interests were more determinate factors than either technical or military superiority.  He notes Aztec domination by Spain as an example.  He explains a minor military force manages to erase Aztec governance by co-opting indigenous discontented natives and rewarding those who would fight to destroy current leadership and support their colonizers and ultimate benefactors.

The resonating truth of Sharman’s observation in modern times is shown by America’s experience in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

Battles can be won but wars lost. Most battles were won with American technology and force of arms but, with the qualified exception of a negotiated compromise at the 38th parallel in Korea, America’s singular wars were lost.  France’s Indochina and Russia’s Afghanistan prove the same.

Vladmir Putin is on the verge of affirming Sharman’s argument.  Putin invades Ukraine with an experienced and well-equipped army, with superior weapons of mass destruction.  However, Russia is losing the war. 

Socio-cultural difference make domination by one country of another difficult, if not impossible.  Putin presumes Ukraine has a Russian culture when in fact it shows itself to be its own cultural nation.  Putin will fail because he ignores cultural difference and fails to co-opt discontented indigenous leaders.

One might wonder how Stalin managed to create the U.S.S.R. from disparate cultures and countries.  One suspects it is not entirely because of Stalinist repression.  Stalin eliminated leaders within Russia’s satellite countries while co-opting existing discontented natives. 

New indigenous leaders of these countries understood their citizens but were beholding to Stalin for having supported their ascension.  Putin may have been able to do the same with more patience and understanding of Ukrainian culture.  His misstep will have future consequence, both for himself, Russia, and the world.

The idea of their always being a clear cause for every effect is false. 

Precise “cause and effect” is proven untrue in quantum physics and seems equally untrue in world leadership.  Leadership success is always a matter of probability, but it must be probability based on cultural understanding.

Sharman’s limited analysis holds great promise for historians and leaders of the world.  Historians can offer more focus on socio-economic conditions of respective countries when determining causes of regime change. Leaders of acquisitive countries might think twice about military intervention or invasion. Leaders may become more selective in choosing ambassadors for other countries.

The threat of the future is that cultural understanding might be achieved in Orwell’s “1984” which implies China is an odds-on favorite as a world hegemon. 

This is a warning to Hong Kong and a threat to Taiwan.  Cultural understanding is a key to world peace.

A point made in this week’s “Economist” is that rising economic Hedgemons like China suggest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is nothing new because there are no universal rights. President Xi recounts the atrocities of the world that shows man’s inhumanity to man is based on perceived national self-interests, not universal rights.

AMERICAN MALAISE

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Retreat of Western Liberalism

By: Edward Luce

Narrated by: Julian Eifer

Edward Luce (Author, English journalist, Financial Times columnist and US commentator.)

Edward Luce offers a troubling picture of 21s century America.    His argument depends on one’s definition of “…Western Liberalism”.  If the definition is belief in human individuality and a relaxation of public custom, law, and authority, there is evidence to support Luce’s argument. 

Luce notes the election of Donald Trump is not an American aberration but a symptom of “The Retreat of Western Liberalism”.

The advent of the internet has reinforced a group think driven by belief in alternative facts that create conspiracy theories.  It is a discontent coming from many Americans ignored by rising wealth of a nation controlled by special interests.  Trump taps into that discontent.   

The irony of Trump’s rise is his personal wealth when the American gap between rich and poor is skyrocketing.  Putting that irony aside, Trump suggests America can be “Great Again” by returning to a past.

Trump creates a false hope of re-industrializing America with new jobs. The falseness of Trump’s pitch is that new jobs in America are not being created by industrialization but by technology and human services.  Trump’s appeal is loaded with false representations, amplified by media trolls.  Public custom, law, and authority are undermined by conspiracy theories that convince Americans they have been cheated out of their fair share of America’s wealth.  In truth, they have, and that is why Trump’s false pitch about “Making America Great Again” got him elected.

Trump’s anti-immigrant falsehoods feed conspiracy theories about jobs being taken from poor Americans.  Equal opportunity is a function of rising wealth in the hands of the few.  Public education and health care are unequally distributed in America.  The wealthy can afford higher education and the best health care, the poor cannot. 

Americans are poor because they are being denied equal opportunity, not because of immigration. 

Education and health care are critical for American labor’s adjustment to a changing world.  Private industry and the government have equal responsibility for assisting all Americans, not just those who have benefited from the technological revolution.

Job transition requires re-education and on-job training by employers that offer decent wages and health care. 

Luce’s point is a “rising tide has not lifted all boats”.  The technological revolution offers the same potential for western liberalism as the industrial revolution.  The election of Donald Trump was America’s “wake up” call. 

A large part of America’s population has been left out of the American Dream of western liberalism that came from opportunities provided by the industrial revolution. 

Western liberalism needs to be reinvented by investment in a technological revolution for all Americans, not just those who have benefited from the industrial revolution.  The question is whether private industry and the government are up to the task.  Will western liberalism be reinvented and promoted by ossified industrial leaders and elected representatives?  Most industry leaders and elected representatives are satisfied with the status quo while too many Americans struggle to make mortgage or rent payments.  Luce defines the problem but offers no solution.

CRISPR REVOLUTION

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Editing Humanity (The CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing)

By: Kevin Davies

Narrated by: Kevin Davies

Kevin Davies (Author, Ph.D in molecular genetics, Editor of Nature Genetics.)

The famous philosopher Søren Kierkegaard advised “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

He Jiankui (Chinese scientist who used CRSPR to modify genes of unborn twin girls.)

Kevin Davies reports the genie is out of the bottle with He Jiankui’s sloppy edit of genes in unborn twins.  Davies suggests science will move forward on gene modification to provide understanding Jiankui’s inept genetic experiment. With that forward movement, Davies implies human extinction will be delayed, extended, or ended by genome experimentation. Proof of Davies conclusion is in Britain’s plan to create a government owned company to investigate genetic diseases and cancer in adults. The pilot project is to sequence the genomes of 200,000 babies according to a May 14th article in “The Economist”.

What remains a danger is that evidence of genomic abnormality is a first step to experiments in changing genetic inheritance at birth. There is a great deal unknown about what some call “dark genetic matter”.

What becomes clear is the potential for great good and great harm in the CRISPR revolution.    

CRISPR-This is an acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It is a tech tool that reads DNA sequences that are fragmentary and not normal. In identifying what appears abnormal, the fragments can be manipulated to repeat what is believed to be the correct DNA sequence.                                                                                        

With the discovery of base pairing and the DNA double helix by Watson, Crick, and the (often-unrecognized) assistance of Rosaland Franklin, the basis for genome editing became possible. 

Beyond the syllabus: The discovery of the double helix. Erwin Chargaff (1951): Rule of Base pairing. Rosalind Franklin & Maurice Wilkins (1953): X-ray diffraction pattern of DNA. James Watson & Francis Crick (1953): Molecular structure of DNA.
Davies notes the key to editing genes are the replication errors between DNA strands.  Those spaces are indicative of disease risk that can be modified with CRISPR, a genome editing technique.

Davies offers a picture of Jiankui’s life.  He was educated at the University of Science and Technology of China and received a Ph.D. from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University in Texas.  From a humble life in China, Jiankui climbs a genetic mountain to arrive at a cliff of science.  One might characterize it as a cliff because a misstep in gene editing may injure or kill a patient and ruin a practitioner’s professional reputation.  Jiankui became a living example of a practitioner’s misstep. Jiankui is serving 3 years in prison and has been fined the equivalent of over $430,000 American dollars.  Davies notes the fate of the prenatal female twins is unknown.

Some would argue there are too many unknowns when genes are modified. As noted by Robert Plomin in “Blueprint”, the interconnection of DNA strands is complex.

Plomin notes the results of DNA modification are a matter of probability, not certainty.  Clearly identifying defective genes and modifying their code to eradicate disease or mental dysfunction is presently beyond current science understanding.

Adding to the uncertainty of results is the potential for creating a radical human cohort that defies societal norms, e.g., the creation of a destructive or superior race of humans.  An infrastructure would have to be formed to make decisions about the course of human civilization.  That infrastructure creates potential for radical authoritarian control of humanity by a select group of minders.

On the other hand, DNA modification holds the potential for eradicating disease.  The idea of eliminating HIV, and other viral diseases holds great promise for the future of humanity.  The cost and benefit will only be realized through experiment.  In one sense, it is like the experiments that doctors have taken since the beginning of medical treatment.  Heart disease and cancer treatments have become better over years of trial and error.

DNA modification is extensively used in agriculture to increase field productivity by reducing disease in plants and hardening resistance to blight.

DNA modification opens doors to regeneration when threatened by species extinction.

The light at the end of this tunnel may be a train or a new day. 

Davies’s underlying point is that CRSPR is here and will not go away.  Experiment will continue whether condoned by government or not.  All species on earth have a finite life. 

DNA modification is a fact, not just an idea.  It is here and will be used.  Science is grappling with rules to mitigate its potential downside while trying to insure its upside.  In the end, human survival will be decided by nature and the politics of control.

AMERICA’S CHALLENGE

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Notes on a Foreign Country (An American Abroad in a Post-American World)

By: Suzy Hansen

Narrated by Kirsten Potter

Suzy Hansen (Author, journalist.)

In her thirties, Suzy Hansen chooses to relocate to Turkey, in part because of a writing assignment but also as a life changing experience. 

Hansen’s view of the world is disappointing in that it represents a population cohort positioned to inherit America’s future.  Hansen reports facts with a journalist’s interpretation of other’s perception of American foreign policy without history’s context.  

To an older generation, Hansen’s facts denigrate the realpolitik of life in the presence of its time. 

In many respects, Hansen’s view of America’s moral failure is spot on, but no country is without sin.  Without intending to deny the ugly consequence of President Truman’s decision to drop the bomb, or America’s intent to widen its sphere of influence, Hansen ignores some important facts.

America’s experience in WWII left little doubt to most Americans that the Japanese would fight to the end, even in defeat.  Over 41,000 Americans were killed and 145,000 injured in Pacific conflicts.  Japanese culture demanded fealty to an emperor to the point of suicide in the face of defeat.

As horrendous as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, it ended war with Japan in less than a week.  How many more would have died in a continuing battle? This does not diminish the horror of nuclear war, but its reality defied 20th century’s imagination.

After the war, Japan, Greece, and Turkey, let alone Europe, were in dire straits.  The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plans were created to rebuild much of what was destroyed in the war.  There is no question American capitalism profited by its investment in these countries.  However, no other country had the untapped wealth that capitalism created in America. What nation could take on reconstruction without American capitalist success?

America did take advantage of its wealth by imposing democratic ideals on foreign countries.  However, mistakes Hansen notes in her book are more a function of cultural ignorance and capitalist fervor than evil intent. 

Hansen fails to mention the power grab by Stalinist Russia as a major factor in creating an American counter force to Stalinist acquisitiveness. The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan created a shield against Stalinism.

Kennan’s Russian containment policy set the table for the eventual dismantling of the U.S.S.R.

America continues to make mistakes in other countries for many of the same capitalist reasons they did after the war.  America supports some of the most immoral autocrats of the world because they control their countries.  American support of despots is based on America’s perceived self-interest.  As with any foreign country’s foreign policy decisions, self-interest can be a mistake recognized only in history.  One must acknowledge “self-interest” pervades all human beings, let alone independent nations.

Only with more investment in understanding other cultures, in the way that George Kennan understood the U.S.S.R., can good foreign policies be formulated.

The reality is–many mistakes are based on cultural ignorance.

Hansen presumes America is in decline.  America is not in decline, but other countries are advancing, and America is becoming an equal, not a hegemon.  The lesson America must re-learn is the importance of sovereignty and culture difference.  There should be no more Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan invasions. This is not to argue isolationism which seems implied by Hansen’s stories.  America must use its financial strength to influence other nations to become better stewards of their citizens, whether through democratic ideals or their chosen form of governance.

America must stand on the side of sovereignty for all countries that choose their own identity.  When sovereignty is challenged, the world (not any singular nation) is challenged to respond.  America must lead by example, not by force, except in concert with all sovereign nations.  

Hansen ignores many facts to make her case for America’s failures.  It is difficult to listen to “Notes on a Foreign Country” because it only reports on mistakes, not America’s example as a free Republic.

FREEDOM’S HERO

Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Gorbachev (His Life and Times)

By: William Taubman

Narrated by Henry Strozier

William Taubman (Author, Political Science professor at Amherst College, received 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Biography of Krushchev.)

The length of William Taubman’s audiobook requires a Gorbachev II review.  The first review addresses Gorbachev’s personal life.  The second reflects on Gorbachev’s political life.  Gorbachev’s life is suffused with great accomplishment and tragic failure. 

Georgy Malenkov replaces Joseph Stalin after his death in 1953.  Malenkov is believed to be a reformist who plans to reduce military spending and Stalinist suppression.

However, within weeks, Malenkov is pushed aside by Nikita Khrushchev who takes supreme power within two years of Stalin’s death.  Surprisingly, Khrushchev becomes something of a reformist himself.

Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971, First Secy. of the Communist Party 1953-1964)

 

Stalin’s autocratic, paranoid leadership is semi-privately exposed by Khrushchev in a speech to the Central Committee of the Communist Party.  Khruschev’s vilification of Stalinist suppression, imprisonment, and murder eventually become known to the world.

The overriding concern of Russian leaders is to maintain suzerainty over Baltic nations and satellite territories in the face of ethnic and economic diversity.  Taubman notes older Russian leaders tend toward autocratic dictate to maintain political control.  The younger and more politically astute lean toward confederation of adjacent soviet republics and East Berlin with the U.S.S.R. as an umbrella organization.  Gorbachev is in the “politically astute” group.

Mikhail Gorbachev rises to chairman of the Communist Party and eventual President of the U.S.S.R., with the expressed intent of democratizing the Baltics, Russia, and East Berlin into a democratic socialist block.  However, ethnic, and cultural differences, accompanied by general economic failure, defeat Gorbachev’s unionist objective.

There is no question of Gorbachev’s success in democratizing U.S.S.R.’ citizens. 

However, in that democratization, the drive for independence becomes paramount to the satellite countries.  German reunification, and the breakaway of Baltic nations from the U.S.S.R. is inevitable.  Freedom, based on ethnic and cultural identity, surmount all efforts by Gorbachev to reinstate U.S.S.R. suzerainty.  Only by force could the U.S.S.R. prevail over state and territorial independence.  Taubman notes force is not within Gorbachev’s nature as a leader.

Once socialist democracy is dangled before the electorate, the die is cast.  Gorbachev’s governance could not provide enough economic stability to justify confederation.  That is his tragic failure.

Gorbachev’s immense success is liberating millions of former U.S.S.R. citizens.  With liberation, former citizens of the U.S.S.R. return to govern as citizens of their own countries.  This at a time of Reagan’s conservative government in the United States, and European distrust of U.S.S.R. militarization.  Taubman shows Gorbachev becomes an international hero based on his personality and persuasive power.  He is greeted as the great liberator of the twentieth century even though his primary objective is to retain those countries seeking freedom within the U.S.S.R.

Gorbachev raised the bar for nuclear disarmament by cultivating American and European participation in the reduction of nuclear weapons. 

Taubman explains Gorbachev is a tragic hero because momentum-of-change is halted by a cult of personality, compounded by economic insecurity.  Gorbachev is replaced by acting President, Alexander Rutskoy, after the 1993 constitutional crises. Rutskoy is replaced by a second acting President, Viktor Chernomyrdin. Boris Yeltsin succeeds Chernomyrdin as President in an overlapping term.

The Russian economy falters in its transition from communism to democratic socialism.  Russian history of “rule-of-one” reasserts itself with the rise of an incompetent President (Boris Yeltsin) and an autocratic but effective leader, Vladimir Putin.  However, Putin’s autocratic effectiveness is in question with the invasion of Ukraine.

Taubman suggests and infers Gorbachev’s success, and world history in general, are two steps forward with one step backward. Based on historical precedent of “one-man-rule” (dating back to czarist Russia) Taubman’s inference seems spot-on. 

Gorbachev flipped a switch that released the power of democracy but failed to provide adequate economic infrastructure to assure U.S.S.R. survival.  Taubman optimistically infers economic infrastructure of eastern bloc countries will improve overtime, even with autocratic leadership by people like Vladimir Putin. 

The growth of democracy has always been messy, but it moves forward in the face of temporary setbacks.  Spheres of influence will always be in play.   It seems a matter of time for another Gorbachev to make two more steps forward with a repeat of the next leader’s “one-step-backward”.  It appears in 2022, Putin makes that “one-step-backward” with the invasion of Ukraine. Taubman reminds readers of America’s trial in the civil war. Slavery is abolished but institutional racism remains a work in progress. The risk is that the world destroys itself before freedom and economic security become real for all.

SPHERES OF INFLUENCE

Audio-book Revie
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Destined for War (Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?

By: Graham Allison

Narrated by Richard Ferrone

Graham Allison (Author, American political scientist, Professor of Government at Harvard.)

Allison briefly reviews the history of war to reinforce an argument about its causes.  He suggests wars come from the rise of competing hegemonic powers. A quibble one may have with Allison’s argument is that it diminishes reasons beyond power that led to WWII. The rise of Hitler may not have occurred if reparations for WWI had not been excessive.  However, his main point is that cultural differences are seeds from which power and conflict grows.  Allison suggests, when nation-state’ cultures are different, countries competing for political and economic power incline toward war. He gives many relevant and convincing examples.

Graham Allison suggests the cause of war is defined by Thucydides (Greek Historian of the Pelopnnnesian War, Born 460-455 B.C., Died 400 B.C.) in the fifth century BC. 

The “Thucydides’s trap” is when one country achieves a competitive level of political power it challenges existing hegemonic powers, leading to conflict and probable war. 

Allison argues that war is not inevitable but that to avoid it requires acceptance of spheres of influence.  This is not a new concept.  The terms “sphere of influence” became legally significant in the 1880s when Africa was being colonized by European countries.  It was meant to explain a colonizer’s political claim for exclusive control of a particular area of the world.

Allison notes that China’s Chairman Xi is, in a singular respect, the same as America’s Ex-President, Donald Trump.  That “sameness” is Xi’s goal of making China “Great Again”.  In no other respect, does Xi seem comparable to the bombastic Trump. 

Allison explains China is culturally unique based on its history, reaching back to 1600 B.C.  Like Ancient Egypt (3400-3200 B.C.), China is as culturally different as any nation-state in the world.  Allison offers a highly intelligent and informative analysis of how different Chinese culture is from American culture.

To avoid war, Allison argues America, the current hegemon of the world, must couch its political behavior and power in ways that acknowledge cultural difference between itself and rising hegemons of the world.

Allison recalls the history of England’s dealings with America after the 1776 revolution.  England reluctantly accepted America’s eventual rise to hegemon of the world. (Some would argue, England’s decision to remove itself from the European Union accelerates that decline.)

The United Kingdom’s economic, military, and political power (its sphere of influence) diminishes as America’s flourishes.  England remains a power in the world, but its sphere of influence steadily declines.

Russia struggles with their sphere of influence because of the collapse of the U.S.S.R.  In 2021-22 Russia may invade Ukraine, just as they did Crimea in 2014, to re-expand its sphere of influence.  Russia maneuvers to politically enlist China as an ally to accomplish that end. Putin undoubtedly cultivates China’s objection to America’s attempt to expand its sphere of influence in the far east.

The issues of Ukraine and Georgia are more precarious for Russia than the rest of the world. Putin’s demand to expand Russia’s sphere of influence renews a cold war that will inevitably become hot. The only question is where the heat will lie.

Robert Kagan reveals the fundamental mistake made by Putin in a May-June 2022 “Foreign Affairs” article. History reveals mistakes of great nations like France, Great Britain, Germany and Japan in thinking they could remain or become world hegemons by force.

Kagan’s point is Great Britain adjusted to its changed role from hegemon to a nation among nations. England prospered and maintained its integrity as an independent nation, capable of improving the lives of its people without falling on the sword of its hegemonic past.

Ukraine and Georgia will become Putin’s Vietnam. It is a war that can only be resolved at the expense of many Russian’, Ukrainian’, and Georgian’ soldier’s lives. The most other countries can do is support Ukrainian and Georgian resistance while pursuing a diplomatic solution that respects sovereign independence.

The inference one draws from Allison’s book is that America must recognize the cultural difference between itself and China to avoid war.  Like the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and other hegemons of world history, America must gradually adjust its behavior as a hegemon of the world.  America, like all hegemonic powers, effectively operates within a sphere of influence. America’s sphere of influence is being challenged in the Far East by China.

Allison’s view of the world gives weight to Putin’s great concern about Ukraine’s independence and implied wish to join NATO. The fear Putin has is a reminder of even Gorbachev’s opposition to western encroachment on eastern bloc independence.

The sense one draws from Allison’s insight about culture is that no country in history has ever treated its citizens equitably.  In America, the stain of slavery and native Indian displacement remain festering wounds.  When and if those wounds heal, America’s sphere of influence will either grow or diminish.  In China, it may be the wounds of Uighur discrimination and Han superiority that wounds its future as a hegemon.  In Afghanistan, the unfair treatment of women may doom its sphere of influence.  In Russia, it will be the mistakes Putin makes in violating the sovereignty of Ukraine and Georgia.

Every nation’s sphere of influence is affected by internal cultural errors and external cultural influences.  Only a state that adjusts to the demands of its culture will survive.  Culture is not exportable, but it has weight.  Foreign cultures can only be an influencer to other countries.  A culture imposed by force will fail as both America and France proved in Vietnam.  Cultural change must come from its own citizens as it did with the U.S.S.R. in 1991. 

Spheres of influence evolve.  They are not static. 

America’s goal should be to understand other cultures.  In that understanding, there must be acceptance of a competitor’s sphere of influence. Allison is not suggesting America withdraw from the world stage, but that engagement be along the lines of a containment strategy like that proposed by the former ambassador to Russia, George Kennan, in the 1950s.  Kennan’s long memorandum is born of an intimate understanding of Russian culture.

Allison argues America should pursue a policy of minimizing conflict while promoting democracy to citizens who seek freedom and equality. 

Allison recommends engagement with rising hegemonic powers with an eye on their respective cultures.  Allison argues, only with understanding of cultural difference is there a way to avoid Thucydides’ trap.

One cannot deny the economic success of China.  At the same time, anyone who has visited China in recent years knows of dissidents who object to communist monitoring and control of citizen freedom.  Tiananmen Square remains a rallying point for mainland China resistors.  Hong Kong continues to demonstrate against Xi’s influence on the lives of local business owners. Taiwan objects to Xi’s intent to repatriate their island country. Tibetans are denied their rights as followers of Buddhist belief.

In sum, one comes away from Allison’s book with the hope of a future without war.  Hegemonic powers will rise, and fall based on the evolution of their respective cultures.  History suggests governments that rely on the “rule of one” in modern times will not last.  Adding population demographics and ecological threats, China’s “rule of one” suggests the best policy for American democracy is acceptance of spheres of influence with a policy of Kennan-like’ containment. 

Chairman Xi is mortal, and mortality is the penultimate harbinger of change. In the long run, freedom and equality will change the nature of even the oldest cultures.