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.

POLITICAL LEADERS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Christmas Carol

By: Charles Dickens

Narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Cranham, Roger Allam, Brendan Coyle, Miriam Margolyes, Time Mcinnerny, Jamie Glover, Emily Bruni, Jenna Coleman, Joshua James, Hugh Skinner

Charles Dickens, Author.

Dickens appeal in the 21st century is magnified by economic change.

The industrial revolution, like the tech revolution, put people out of work. In Dickens’ time, Great Britain’s and the world’s industrial growth demanded change. 

Today’s tech revolution demands the same.  The change required is different in one sense and the same in another.

The industrial revolution occurred in a time of scarcity while the tech revolution takes place in a time of abundance.  Both revolutions require training for new kinds of jobs.

Smog plagued Great Britain as it grew in the18th century. 

(This is smog in today’s Beijing.)

Dickens is born in 1812 and dies in 1870.  He witnesses and writes of the squalor that existed in London during his adult years.  “A Christmas Carol” is one of many stories he wrote that reflects on the human cost of economic change.

London fog 1952

In 1952, the streets of London were enveloped in a fog caused by coal used for domestic heat and industrial production. 

An incident of London fog in the 20th century is comparable, on a local scale, to the world’s pollution crises today.  An estimated 4,000 people were said to have died, with 100,000 made ill because of unusual windless conditions in that year. 

Today, air pollution is compounded by global warming. 

“A Christmas Carol” is a reminder of the damage world leaders can do by ignoring the plight of those who are most directly impacted by economic change.  Too many American leaders are acting like Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley by ignoring the Bob Cratchit s and Tiny Tim s of the world. 

For those who may not remember, Scrooge and Marley were capitalists who believe all that matters in life is personal wealth.  Marley comes back as a ghost to offer Scrooge a picture of past, present, and future Christmases, based on how he lives the remainder of his life.

Todays’ political leaders are in Jacob Marley’s ghostly presence with a chance to change the future for the Crachits, Tiny Tims, and wage earners of the world.  The world needs leaders who are not blinded by the allure of money, power, and prestige at the expense of the jobless, homeless, and disenfranchised.

TESTING DEMOCRACY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Price of Peace

By: Zachary D. Carter

                                                  Narrated by : Robert Petkoff

Zachary D. Carter (Author, journalist.)

Zachary Carter has written an interesting biography of John Maynard Keynes.

Carter details Keynes’ personal life with an interpretation of Keynesian economics. This is a a history of a man of many parts that explains Keynes economic beliefs and their evolution and interpretation by later economists.

Though Carter is not an economist, his characterization of Keynesian economics has meaning for the world’s recovery from Covid19.  Government action in this century would be highly benefited by Keynes’ post WWI and WWII economic policy recommendations.

Carter notes Keynesian economics, though more widely adopted by liberals, springs from the conservative and moral philosophical beliefs of Edmund Burke, an Irish Statesman who lived from 1729-1797.

Burke’s conservative credentials reject the rights of American colonies to claim independence from Britain.  Burke abhors the French revolution and French citizens belief that they have a moral right to overthrow a monarchy.  In contrast to this conservative view of the world, Burke plays a leading role in arguments against executive authority of a King and rejects support of the slave trade when it is a lucrative source of income for Britain.  Though clearly a conservative thinker, Burke joins a liberal group of leading intellectuals and artists in the 18th century, led by Samuel Johnson.

Carter notes Keynes identifies with Burke’s conservative belief in a government that serves the best interest of the people, whether authoritarian or democratic.  Keynes never abandons Burke’s conservative belief in national government’s right to rule within the confines of human morality, a morality that relies on betterment of all economic classes of the state.

Interestingly, Carter notes Keynes, like Burke, joins leading intellectuals and artists known as the Bloomsbury Group that formed in the early 1900s. 

The 10 core members were Clive and Venessa Bell, E.M. Forster, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, John Maynard Keynes, Desmond MacCarthy, Lytton Strachey, and Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

The first half of Carter’s book addresses Keynes’ rise to fame.  Keynes is called upon by the British government during WWI for advice on how to finance the war against Germany.  Keynes role becomes more pronounced with war reparations negotiation after the Kaiser’s defeat in WWI.

Keynes works with J. P. Morgan and the banking industry in the United States to finance much of the Allies needs during and after WWI. 

Carter explains Keynes tries to ameliorate the demands of the Allied powers for reparations from the defeated Central Powers. Keynes tries but is unable to gain the cooperation of America as the only country capable of backing such an unreasonable reparation from the war’s estimated cost.

Carter illustrates how the seeds for WWII are sown by Allied powers that unreasonably expect WWI’s defeated nations to pay for all financial costs of a war that Britain, France, and its allies had won.  That cost is many times the annual GDP of the Central Powers which were already bankrupted by war. 

Keynes is shown by Carter to be an astute economic and political theorist that understood the tenor of his time and the price needed to pay for peace.  However, Keynes’ prescient understanding of post WWI economies fails to persuade political leaders in Britain, France, and America to pay that price.  The stage is set for the rise of Nazi Germany by the economic intransigence of WWI’s Allied Powers.

The surprising perspective given by Carter’s biography is that Keynes’ economic theory is grounded in the conservatism of Edmund Burke.  Today’s view of Keynes is that faltering economies can spend their way out of depression by deficit spending, a highly liberal political and economic theory.  What Carter explains is that Keynes argues economic policy should be designed to benefit the general welfare of the public.  Keynes looked at economic policy impacts on all classes of citizens when developing his economic theory. If the private sector creates jobs and the general public’s economic health is improving, government that governs least is considered best by Keynes. 

However, Keynes argues-when the welfare of the public is harmed, the government must act to regulate unfair practices of the private sector that diminishes the economic health of the public, particularly the poor.

The world economy is in crises because of the effects of Covid19.  The private sector is not responding to the consequence of the Covid19′ crises just as it did not adequately respond to the depression in 1929. 

Johns Hopkins Resource Center reports that worldwide–there are 4,901,012 citizens dead from Covid19 as of October 2021.

The economic consequence of those deaths and fear of further death feed an economic storm that continues to wreck havoc on nation-state economies.

Carter’s history of Keynes illustrates why Biden’s plan for reinvestment in America is important. The government stepped in with employment programs like WPA that began a  recovery for America after the 1929 crash.  One may argue that is where America is today.  It is not just the aftereffects of Covid19.  The world’s recovery depends on a transition from an industrial to a technological economy.  The private sector is not investing enough in that transition.  Partly because of industries resistance to change, but also because of their inability to privately finance the transition.

Carter notes Keynes insists on free trade and suggests restraint of trade unduly raises prices for commodities for those least likely able to pay. 

Tariffs only weaken private sector innovation and reduce the general public’s welfare.

Keynes is channeling Adam Smith (1723-1790) in his belief about free trade.

Carter infers Keynesian theory would allow government to help private industry innovation when harmed by foreign producers that can produce product at a lower cost.  To Keynes, government help should not be in the form of tariffs but in investment in change by the industry that is affected.  An example is in government investment in transition to work on the environment or service industry at an employee level of investment and training. 

Carter notes that Keynes insists that government investment be limited to those areas that are not being addressed by the private sector.  The obvious example is public works investments by the government in roads, bridges, water, and sewer services. 

Carter explains Keynes argues that when the private sector is benefiting the public through their actions, no government programs should compete.  However, when the public is not being served by the private sector in areas of human need, Keynes argues government should intervene.  Homelessness is a case in point.  How can the richest nation in the world ignore the plight of homelessness?

When the public is not being served by the private sector in areas of human need, Keynes argues government should intervene.  Homelessness is a case in point.

The last chapters of Carter’s book reflect on Keynes efforts at Bretton Woods to create an economic system to insure world economic stability. Keynes is mostly unsuccessful in his idea of creating an international banking system that would be a safety valve for nation-state economic crises. With a brief evaluation of economists that distort Keynes ideas in the late twentieth century, Carter completes his history of the price of peace.

Carter concludes with the thought that this is a dark time for Democracy.

He offers a brief evaluation of modern Democratic and Republican Presidents that suggest neither clearly understood Keynesian economics. Carter decries the mismanagement of the economy by Kennedy, Clinton, the Bushes, and Obama because they fail to see the impact of their policies on human inequality.

Keynes fundamental belief is that all governments must evaluate the affect of their administrations on the poor and middle class because they are the engines of prosperity.

It is an investment that would lessen inequality and raise the standard of living for millions of Americans. It is a government policy grounded in Keynesian economics that addresses the fundamental purpose of lifting all boats in a storm driven economy.

President Biden’s 3.5 trillion dollar investment in American Democracies’ future offers some hope.

Carter reminds listener/readers of the history of the 20th century in this excellent biography of Keynes.  Carter’s biography reminds one of Keynes’ contributions to economics in the way of Newton’s contributions to physics.  Both were geniuses.  Both were ahead of their time and laid the groundwork for fundamental understanding of their disciplines.

AMERICAN SPIES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War-A Tragedy in Three Acts

By: Scott Anderson

                                  Narrated by : Robertson Dean, Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson (Author)

“The Quiet Americans” is an investigative reporter’s view of the American spy service.  It is written by a veteran war correspondent and son of a former foreign aid officer.  The author, Scott Anderson, is raised in East Asia.  He reviews America’s spy network during and after WWII. 

The American independent spy agency is formed after WWII to provide intelligence on growing clandestine activities of the U.S.S.R.  The author notes there were intelligence operations during WWII, but they were not independent.  During the war, Intelligence services were defined and executed by the military.  It is only after WWII that an independent branch is formed along the lines of British intelligence.

In Anderson’s opinion, President Harry Truman is an inept manager of the nascent American intelligence service. 

 There are several surprising facts and interpretations of history compiled by Anderson.    Kennan is characterized as a great diplomatic analyst, but capable of lying to protect his reputation. 

George Kennan is viewed as an influential diplomat in the creation of what becomes known as the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Dulles brothers solidify the role of the CIA in American clandestine operations in the world.  Their modus vivendi for CIA operations prevails today.  Their intent is to have an agreement allowing conflicting parties to coexist peacefully.  However, Anderson shows their action belies their intent.

Dulles Brothers (John Foster on the right, Allen on the left.)

Parenthetically, as an example of Stalinist ideology, Anderson notes Adolph Hitler’s remains were not found in a burned bunker in which Hitler is alleged to have committed suicide.  His burned remains were secreted by Joseph Stalin and placed in an archive in the U.S.S.R.  Stalin’s motive for secrecy is unknown.

 

An independent spy agency is initially opposed by Truman, and perennially opposed by FBI Director Hoover. 

J. Edgar Hoover–Director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972. (Died in May of 1972 at the age of 77)

Anderson notes Ambassador Kennan’s prescient analysis (the long memorandum) reflects the duplicitous nature of Joseph Stalin.  Kennan recommends a surreptitious and aggressive American containment policy enacted through the practice of espionage.  Kennan plays an important role in the formation of the American Intelligence service.  The first director of this operation is a close friend of Kennan’s, a man named Frank Wisner.

“The Quiet Americans” Anderson profiles are Edmund Michael Burke, Frank Wisner, Peter Sichel, and Edward Lansdale.  In their stories, Anderson reveals the beginnings of the CIA and a history of minor espionage successes and significant failures.  In the back of a listener’s mind is the consequence of American espionage—their cost in human lives and dollars, and American truths about what measures are taken to presumably secure freedom and equality in other countries.

             

This is not a pretty picture.  American efforts to change the world for the better through covert action is shown to be, at best, questionable, and at worst horribly misguided.  As an American, it seems clear that most covert activity is meant to do good but the definition of good is distorted by human nature.

America’s role in Albania, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan raises the hopes of many but at a cost of too many lives and dollars.  Hope of many of these country’s citizens becomes despair. How many lives and dollars could have been saved and repurposed for freedom and equality, rather than destruction of cultural difference.  What Anderson makes clear is that national purpose (American or other) is distorted when it is undisclosed because human beings are seduced by self-interest, whether that interest is money, power, and/or prestige. 

Government disclosure offers visibility to the public.  Disclosure offers opportunity for public  influence on government policy.  America prides itself on being a government of, and by the people–through popularly elected representatives.  Covert government action that is undisclosed to elected representatives gives no opportunity for citizens to influence government policy. 

The idea of full disclosure discounts poor intelligence like that given about “weapons of mass destruction” that compelled America to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein.  False disclosure by American intelligence misled both citizens and elected officials about what America should do in Iraq.

Dulles Brothers (John Foster on the right, Allen on the left.)

Anderson’s exposure of John Foster Dulles’s tenure as Secretary of State and his brother Allen, as the fifth CIA Director, exemplifies the worst characteristics of covert activities without oversight by elected representatives. 

Anderson’s view is America’s opportunity to change the course of history after Stalin’s death is lost because of Dwight Eisenhower’s actions based on the Dulles brother’s political influence. 

To Anderson, the course of the U.S.S.R. and American relationship may have been entirely different if the Dulles’s had not run Eisenhower down the wrong diplomatic road.  It is impossible to judge what may have happened if a different course had been taken, but Anderson infers the Dulles’ Road led to years of lost opportunity.  On the other hand, hindsight is always more perfect than foresight.

Though Burke, Wisner, Sichel, and Lansdale are great patriots, Anderson implies their patriotism and actions often failed to serve American ideals.

Burke’s extraordinary life led him to Italy, Albania, and Germany. He served his country by trying to save Albania from communism, and Germany from further encroachment by the U.S.S.R. At best, his success is limited to non-existent. Albania remained in the fold of communism and success in Germany is the split of Berlin from the eastern block at the expense of food deliveries by air and an agreed upon East and West Berlin.

Wisner kept the light on for covert operations of what became the CIA but failed to get the top job or temper the excesses of secret operations.

Sichel survives them all but appears to compromise a principle of not using bad actors who participated in the holocaust that murdered over 6,000,000 Jews and Nazi resistors.

And finally Wisner, who manages to gain the trust of Philippine and Vietnamese leaders, many of which America abandons by leaving them to fend for themselves.

Trapped, as all humans are, by the times in which they live, they were the instruments of many wasted lives.  How many people must die because of undisclosed covert Intelligence operations? 

Listening to “The Quiet Americans” makes one understand how important freedom of the press is to America.  

Americans must lead by example, not by covert action. More recent episodes in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan show America continues to ignore history’s lessons.

TIBET

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Eat the Buddha

By: Barbara Demick

                                       Narrated by : Cassandra Campbell

Barbara Demick gives listeners a picture of Tibet with a darkness that rivals the narrative she creates for North Korea in “Nothing to Envy”. 

“Eat the Buddha” is a reminder of China’s insistence on Tibet’s acceptance of Communist authority in the face of Buddhist and Tibetan ethnic and religious identity.  Like the Uyghurs in mainland China, Tibetans practice a religion that conflicts with Communist atheism.  Unlike Islamist Uyghurs, Buddhists eschew violence against oppressors.

Demick addresses self-immolation as an example of Tibetan protest which does not harm others but only one self. Well over 100 men and 28 women have set themselves aflame.

Self-immolation remains a form of protest that reaches the youth of Tibet in the suicide of Tsewang Norbu, a Tibetan pop star, who sets himself on fire in front of the Potala Palace on February 25th, 2022.

Tsewang Norbu (Tibetan pop star–self-immolation in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa.)

Demick bases “Eat the Buddha” on living seven years in Beijing, with personal visits to Tibet. She interviews Tibetans and Chinese, including the Dalia Lama who is exiled in India. 

Demick interviews many who consider Buddhist teaching a positive and integral part of their lives and culture. 

Demick’s history of the treatment of Tibetan citizens under Maoist communism reminds one of America’s treatment of Indian tribes in America.  Mao tries to erase Tibet’s nomadic culture by murdering Tibetan leaders and excommunicating the Dali Llama. Mao’s object is to thwart the influence of Buddhist religious belief and indoctrinate Tibetan citizens into the ways of Communism.

Mao era attack of Buddhism during the Cultural Revolution.

Demick tells the story of Maoist cadre’s eviction and eventual murder of a regional Tibetan King and his wife during the cultural revolution.  The daughter of the former King is one of Demick’s many interviews.  The irony of this daughter’s experience with Chinese culture offers both positive and negative memories of her early life in Tibet.  She adapts to Chinese doctrine but eventually becomes an assistant to the exiled Dali Lama in India.  She cannot abandon her Tibetan cultural beliefs.

Tibetan demonstration in 2020.

Mao, and today’s Chinese leaders, believe any ethnic self-identification, other than Communist party doctrine, conflicts with the State. 

Like America’s treatment of Indians, China’s leaders use carrots and sticks to integrate Tibetans into Communist doctrine and Chinese culture. 

Rather than accepting culture difference, both America and China suppress their ethnic minorities.  However, the suppression is qualitatively different. The significant difference is that China sees minority ethnicity and religion as a direct threat to Communist ideals.  In contrast, American history implies ethnicity and religious difference are an evolutionary characteristic, bending toward freedom and equality.  That does not make American history less violent, but it suggests hope for something better than China’s expectation of ethnic and religious absorption by Communism.

Demick suggests Tibet is currently in the carrot stage of influence by the Chinese government.  Having personally traveled to Tibet in 2019, much of what Demick describes about the modernization of Lhasa, the capitol of Tibet, is obvious. 

The restoration of the Potala Palace by the Chinese government is astonishingly beautiful.  It is the burial place of past Dalai Lamas.  Though it is no longer a practicing Buddhist temple, it is a tacit acknowledgement by China of Tibetan culture.

The last chapters of Demick’s book acknowledge her extensive research. She notes Tibetans are better off now than they were during the Mao years.  However, she explains Tibetans do not have the same economic opportunity as the ethnic Chinese.  It is important to be Chinese and even more important to be a member of the Communist party. (Our guide in a trip to China and Tibet reinforces the value of being enrolled in the Communist party. Though he abjures the tragedy of Tiananmen Square, he has a slender hope to join the Communist Party because of the opportunity if would afford him and his family.)

Demick infers Tibetans face the same discrimination as American minorities (these pics are not of Tibetans but American Asians attacked by non-Asian Americans in 2021), and presumably the same discrimination felt by many women in the world.

In Demick’s interviews of the Dalai Lama, she finds he is optimistic about Tibet’s future and survival as a Buddhist haven.  The Dalai Lama continues to negotiate with China’s leaders with hope of a return to Tibet.  (He was exiled in the 1950s by Mao’s government. That exile remains in place.)   His successor is to be chosen by the Gaden Phodrang Trust, an India-based group set up by the current Dalai Lama. However, the Chinese government says it will approve the Dalai Lama’s successor.  The Buddhist belief is that the Dalai Lama must be a reincarnation of former Dali Lamas.

GADEN PHODRANG FOUNDATION OF THE DALAI LAMA

Demick writes of a Padme Dalai Lama in Tibet with a marginal explanation of their importance in Buddhism. The Padme Dalai Lama plays an important role in selecting the next Dalai Lama. The Padme Dalai Lama is second in the hierarchy of primary Dalai Lamas. A Padme Dalai Lama is identified (chosen) by a current Dalai Lama. The 14th Dalai Lama chose a 6 year old boy but he was taken by the Chinese government after his selection. Demick explains the Chinese government chose to select the next Tibetan Padme Dalai Lama despite the 14th Dalai Lama’s choice. No one with certainty knows of the Padme Dalai’s fate.  Some suggest he is now a college graduate living an anonymous life. Theoretically, today there are two living Padme Dalai Lamas.

Today’s Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.  He is the 14th Dalai Lama. As of this writing, he is 86 years old.

Pictures of the 14th Dalai Lama are forbidden in China. Demick notes that a travel book in her carry on luggage is confiscated by a Chinese Airport inspector as she returns to the United States in 2o20. The confiscation is because the travel book had a picture of the Buddhist leader.

Demick draws an interesting picture of Tibet. It reveals both the truth and weakness of one historian’s view of China and Tibet. It is founded on the truth of what a number of Tibetans remember of the Mao’ years and the current relationship of China and Tibet. As is true of all books of history, China’s and Tibet’s past is not perfectly clear and the future, at best, becomes a cloudy past.

APPALLING SIMILARITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Vietnam (An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975)

By: Max Hastings

                          Narrated by : Max Hastings, Peter Noble

Max Hastings (British author, journalist, editor, military historian.)

The parallel tragedies of Vietnam and Afghanistan are appallingly similar. 

There is no perfect government, whether authoritarian or democratic. Anyone who has traveled outside the United States understands how great it is to be American. Though American wealth and freedom cannot be taken for granted, it is not an exportable commodity. Failures in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan do not suggest America should become an isolationist country.  However, America must let independent nation-states manage themselves. 

Thomas Jefferson’s slaves.

America’s human rights are far from perfect. More importantly, they are not an exportable commodity.  Only through a country’s cultural acceptance can human rights be achieved by indigenous populations.

There is a difference between America’s role in WWI, WWII, the first Gulf War, and modern 20th and 21st century American military interventions. 

Military intervention is folly when it is for any other purpose than preserving nation-state borders. Vietnam is a pre-historic nation and Afghanistan has been a nation since 1880. Their cultures have been formed over hundreds of years of experience.

All nation-state cultures are flawed.  They are flawed in their own ways.  Enforcement of human rights is determined by the culture in which they exist.  Every country in the world violates human rights but human rights only change within existing cultures.  

Enforcement of human rights stops at geographic borders.  Political and financial influence are the only tools interventionists should use to influence a foreign nations’ adoption of human rights.

Despite Russia’s long history with Ukraine–military intervention in sovereign countries only leads to injury, death, destruction, and anarchy. Evidence for both Americans and Russians is in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Those who argue that a foreign country harbors terrorist leaders is true but irrelevant. That the Taliban in Afghanistan harbored Al Qaeda is true but military invasion of a sovereign country does not make America or the world any safer.  Al Qaeda operated in many countries, not just Afghanistan.  Historians have shown Osama bin Laden proselytized for revolution and terrorism in African nations, Pakistan, and other middle eastern countries. 

To cite Afghanistan as the country that harbors terrorist cells is a red herring to justify interventionist beliefs.   Any number of countries are potential havens for terrorist cells.  Some would argue military intervention only increases terrorist potential in the world.

Max Hastings’ history records intimate personal stories of participants in America’s failure in Vietnam.  America’s fundamental mistake is the same mistake made in Iran, Iraq, and now Afghanistan.  Military intervention by a foreign power does not give indigenous citizens true experience of the interventionist’s culture.  Without cultural understanding on both sides of a military intervention, there is no prospect for peace. Further, it is unrealistic to believe a combatant will truly understand or care about another nation’s culture.

Heart rending accounts of America’s military intervention in Vietnam make one wonder how forgiveness could be given by either Vietnamese or Americans that served in the war. 

Hastings explains Vietnamese and Afghanis have no choice to join or resist a culture they do not know. Neither could they become citizens of America. They did not have the interventionist’s cultural experience, or a foreign country’s willingness to allow unregulated immigration. Interventionist countries are always outsiders to the indigenous.

Hastings notes invaded countries’ citizens know the culture in which they live, and that culture is something they understand and can choose to join or resist. 

Hastings recounts the tragic mistakes made by France in Vietnam and then shows similar mistakes made by America.  Hastings shows how France and America have different cultures and motivations for military intervention, but they are equal failures.  Like France’s and America’s failures in Vietnam, America repeats Russia’s failure in Afghanistan. 

Hastings explains how North Vietnam soldiers were more committed to winning the war than South Vietnamese soldiers. 

The North clearly understood what they were fighting for, the South knew only the idealism of America, a concept clouded by Vietnamese culture.  Vietnamese could resist or join a North Vietnam culture because they were part of that culture. In contrast, they could not join American culture because it was not a part of their experience. They had no choice while North Vietnamese had communist indoctrination and an ideal that fit within their cultural inheritance. Those Vietnamese who fought communism had little understanding of American culture and were not likely to be offered citizenship.

Tragically, what is happening in Afghanistan threatens women’s human rights.

It is a threat that may be better understood with America’s intervention, but Afghan women’s alternative is only to resist or join the culture they know and understand.  They can either resist or join the Taliban way of life.  They cannot join the American way of life because it is not a part of Afghanistan, and they do not have America’s cultural experience. 

Misogyny is a python that swallows its prey whole, crushes it, and smothers it to death. 

This is a cruel irony. Misogyny exists in America but not in the same way as Afghanistan.  The Taliban have won but it is a pyrrhic victory because human rights are universal, and resistance will grow.  It is a resistance that an interventionist outsider cannot join for the same reason the resister is unable to join the outsider.

As Mark Twain said, if history does not repeat, it certainly rhymes.  Change can only come from within.  Military intervention only works when nation-state sovereignty is at stake.

George H. Bush, in the first Iraq war knew what is possible and correctly chose to stop America’s intervention in Iraq when Kuwaiti borders were secured.  His son ignored his father’s example and America failed in Iraq. 

Francis Fukuyama notes every society grows via its own cultural norms which suggests sovereignty should be inviolable. Only Iraqis, Iranians, and Afghanis can decide who they want to be.  America can only lead by example and offer political and financial support to resisters of tyranny in other nation-states. Hastings marks the limits of outsiders’ military intervention.  America can only lead by example and offer political and financial support to resisters of tyranny in other nation-states.  The sole exception is when nation-state borders are violated by foreign nations. Even then, other nations must come to agreement on the inviolability of borders for a military intervention to be justified.