Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality

By: Jacob S. Hacker, Paul Pierson

Narrated by: Peter Berkrot

One doubts this book will be read or listened to by most Americans based on its clear allusion to the 18th century phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (“let them eat bread”–allegedly said by Marie Antoinette during the French revolution).

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793, Louis XVI’s Queen Consort of France.)

Just as Marie Antoinette is unlikely to have said “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”, it is an allusion unworthy of Hacker’s and Pierson’s ivory-tower educations.

The co-authors detail a current crisis in America that is well detailed by others in this century.

There is an appalling and growing gap between rich and poor in America. However, though the gap is real, most rational Americans have no interest in beggaring their neighbor.

In the 17th century, Hobbes clearly recognized the pitfall of democracy when not constrained by rule of law. Freedom is a harsh master and has been recognized as such from American Democracy’s beginnings.

Human beings are driven by the desire for money, power, and prestige. Hacker and Pierson note many actions taken by American politicians, appointees, government bureaucrats, and corporate moguls have had the unintended consequence of beggaring their neighbors.

Rule of law has simply not kept up with the fundamental tenant of American freedom.

Four relevant issues raised by Hacker and Pierson are

  1. Taxation,

Congressional leaders focus on re-election as a part of their right to freely choose a profession. To be re-elected requires a campaign funding. That funding largely comes from wealthy Americans and corporations interested in reducing their taxes. Corporate taxes have been legislatively reduced with the rationalization that reinvestment by private industry and the wealthy will create more income for wage-dependent Americans. This is “trickle down” economics that is a fiction. History shows the effect has been to reduce American wages and increase income for the wealthy.

2. Rule-of-Law,

Corporations in the Supreme Court’s decision in “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” expanded rights of Corporations as individuals to finance candidates of their choice that compounds elected official bias for reduced corporate taxes.

3. Extremism,

Frustration by the rising gap between rich and poor in America increases extremism because wage-earners see cost-of-living exceeding their ability to accumulate wealth.

4. Institutionalization of Tyranny

Elective office is not serving the public because congressional self-interest is based on a cycle of re-election dependent on wealthy donors who are equally self-interested.

Unless or until a more equitable relationship between the rich and poor is achieved, extremism will continue to roil American Democracy. Freedom is an essential ingredient in America’s economic history, but freedom has always been limited. Only with rebalance between the rich and poor will extremism and institutional tyranny be ameliorated.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


God’s Shadow (Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World)

By: Alan Mikhail

Narrated by: James Cameron Stewart

Alan Mikhail (Author, Chace Family Professor of History, Chair Dept. of History at Yale.)

Alan Mikhails’s “God’s Shadow” speculates on the historic impact of the Ottoman Empire on the rise of the Islamic religion and its conflict with Christianity. His book is well received by the public but panned by some who believe Mikhail’s scholarship is more speculative than factual. That criticism seems well earned when the last chapter of Mikahail’s book summarizes his opinion about Islam’s past and future.

What is surprising to this reviewer is not Mikhails’s speculation about Islam’s future but his failure to explore Ottoman history’s success in diminishing Shite Muslim growth while hugely increasing Sunni Muslim Islamic influence.

When Muhammed, the founder of Islam, dies, he leaves no heir to Allah’s teaching. In not leaving an heir, a split occurs between those who argue only a direct descendant of Muhammed, not a mere follower, can be a leader of the faith.

Shite Muslims believe an heir to Muhammed’s leadership can only be to a male descendant of the Muhammed’ family. Sunni’s argue Islamic leadership is based on any man who demonstrates success and ability to spread the faith.

It is estimated that 85% to 90% of religious believers in the Islamic faith are Sunni. Only Iran and Iraq have a Shite majority while other nation-states are principally Sunni.

Sultan Bayezid II (1447-1512, reign 1481-1512.)

The spread of the Muslim religion is laid at the feet of Sultan Selim I. He is one of the sons of Sultan Bayezid II who gains control of what is known as the Ottoman Empire.

“God’s Shadow” recounts the rise of the Ottoman Empire which is the primary cause of Sunni growth in the Middle East. A major part of Mikhail’s book is about Selim I because he is the leader that conquers and combines most of the Muslim world into the Ottoman Empire.

An interesting opinion of Mikhail is the role of harems in the Islamic world. He argues male heirs are a primary function of the harem. Once a male is born to a concubine of a Sultan, Mikhail suggests further conjugal relations cease. Every born male is a potential Sultan.

This naturally leads to a competition and often death of male heirs who are chosen by the acting Sultan to be his replacement. “God’s Shadow” tells the history of a younger son who disagrees with Sultan Bayezid II’s choice and successfully replaces that choice by force. Selim I ascends the throne of Sultan despite his father’s choice of heir. Selim’s road to hegemonic Sultan is through the conquering of nations beyond Istanbul and the Balkans, to Hungary on the north, Egypt on the south, Algeria on the west, and Iraq on the East.

Selim I (1470-1520, 9th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire-reigned from April 1512-September 1520.)

An apocryphal story told by Mikhail is that, in the earlier years of Selim I’s conquests, he is presented a colored map of the then-known world that shows nations beyond the Ottoman Empire. Selim I  tears the map in half because he is satisfied with what he has done. Mikhail notes that incident occurs in Selim’s earlier years because when a later map shows the Americas, Selim suggests more is to be done. A fundamental argument made by Mikhail is that the growth of the Ottoman Empire is the precursor of modern governance.

In the final chapter of Mikhail’s book, a step beyond reason or history is taken. Mikhail posits Selim’s reign and the rise of the Islamic religion presages future dominance of Islam in the world. He argues by 2070 Islam will be the dominant religion of the world. That seems hyperbolic when the role of religion in the world is arguably in decline. Mikhail compounds hyperbola by suggesting the world’s reaction to Islam has been a foil to create Christian and democratic nations. The growth of Christianity and democracy are patently more than a reaction to the religion of Islam.

This is an unfortunate digression for Mikhail because he makes a good historical case for the Islamic religion’s tolerance of other faiths in the face of historically murderous Catholic Crusades. On the other hand, many atrocities accompany Selim I’s expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Mikhail notes Selim’s soldiers are compensated by plunder and rape when ordered to invade new territories. And of course, there is the faction of the Muslim faith that carried out the death of over 2,000 people on 9/11/21 in America.

Interestingly, Mikhail offers an encomium to President Erdogan in Turkey by praising him for resurrecting the legend of Selim I in a bridge dedication.

Erdogan is revivifying the Islamic religion in Turkey even though its history was dramatically changed by Ataturk who turned Turkey into a secular rather than Islamic state.

Erdogan seems an odd choice for comparison to Selim I’s Islamic reign based on a personal perception of this critic’s visit to Turkey. Erdogan seems much less a revered leader by the public than Ataturk, let alone Selim I depicted in “God’s Shadow”.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Arabs (A 3,000-Year History of Peoples, Tribes, and Empires)

By: Tim Mackintosh-Smith

Narrated by: Ralph Lister

Tim Mackintosh-Smith (Author, British historian living in Yemen.)

Tim Mackintosh-Smith attempts to unravel a complicated political, and ethnic history of a society broadly identified as Arab. One begins Mackintosh-Smith’s book with a hope to understand the complex socio-economic ambition of the Middle East. In the end, the author shows there is an unresolvable contradiction that historically guarantees Arab disunity.  

To be Arab, Mackintosh-Smith explains it is necessary to understand the intricacies of Arab language because language is what maintains and sustains Arab’ culture. He notes language holds Arabic culture together, but its use reveals an unresolvable contradiction, a desire for unity without human leadership.

The faults of human nature, the drive for money, power, and prestige generate Arab distrust of leaders. Of course, that distrust is evident in every ethnic culture, but Mackintosh-Smith suggests that distrust demands supernatural intervention for any chance of Arab unity.

Supernatural intervention came in the form of Muhammad as the messenger of Allah in the seventh century.

Muhammad ibn Abdullah (570 AD-632 AD, Arab religious, social, and political leader, founder of the Islamic religion.)

Jesus, in contrast to Muhammed, separates religion from politics. The devil allegedly offered earth’s rulership to Jesus, but Jesus refused. In Mark 10:42-45, Jesus speaks to his followers, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

One might believe that is true for believers of other faiths, but the difference is that Muhammad ibn Abdullah chose to take Allah’s words as a political as well as religious mandate.

Muhammad did not refuse a political life and chose leadership to create a better world by using the word of Allah, as later revealed in the Koran. Arab experience and distrust of human leadership demands belief in a divinity. As an Arab, Muhammad recognizes the importance of the supernatural in being a leader and chose to take political leadership as an obligation to spread the word and practice of Allah on earth.

The course of Arab history is shown by Mackintosh-Smith to reinforce the importance of divinity in Arab unity. Most great leaders in Arab history led by the sword and the word of Allah, as revealed by interpretation of the Koran. The principle of “great” is not meant to be good or bad but only powerful enough to unite a community of Arabs. These leaders came from disparate backgrounds and nations. The first seven “great” leaders (with exception of Timur and Babur) of the Arabs came from different areas of the Middle East.

1 – Tariq Bin Ziyad (670? – 720) Persia 2 – Harun al-Rashid (763?-809) Iran 3 – Mahmud of Ghazni (971 – 1030) Afghanistan 4 – Saladin (1137/38 – 1193) Egypt 5 – Timur (1336 – 1405) Uzbekistan 6 – Mehmed II (1432 – 1481) Corner of Bulgaria, Turkey & Greece 7– Babur (1483 – 1530) Uzbekistan

Mackintosh-Smith’s history reveals how many Arab countries boundaries were determined after WWII with France and England intent on creating spheres of influence. These boundaries became solidified with the discovery of oil reserves.

The 19 Arab Countries are: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

These 19 Arab countries, some of which are thousands of years old, and others like Bahrain, Qatar, Yemen, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates did not become independent nations until the middle to late 1900s.

Mackintosh-Smith notes the Arabic language, despite its many 21st century dialects, remains the glue that holds the concept of Arab together. However, dialects and geographic boundaries reinforced by oil reserves recreate the tribalist instincts of the past.

With the brief rise and fall of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, Mackintosh-Smith suggests there have been no Arab leaders to rally nationalist feeling in the 20th or 21st centuries that could blunt Arab tribalism.

Gamal Abdel Nasser. (1918-1970, overthrows the Egyptian monarchy in 1952, President from 1954 until his death.)

The internecine conflicts between great powers like Shite Iran and predominantly Sunni Arab countries, like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, is missing from Mackintosh-Smith’s book.

Muqtada al Sadr withdrawal from politics even though he is a Shite is an ill omen.

Muqtada al Sadr makes it clear that religion is a motive force in Arab culture, but the history of the Muslim split becomes opaquer. On the other hand, the author’s detailed explanation of Arab tribalism and its resurgence is a valuable contribution to one’s understanding of Middle Eastern history.

There is a minor note of optimism in the future of Arab culture in Tunisia. But, overall, after wading through this long narration, it seems the Middle East is destined to remain a fragmented tribalist culture for centuries to come.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


   We the Corporations (How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights)

By Adam Winkler

         Narrated by: William Hughes

Adam Winkler (Author, Connell Professor of Law at UCLA.)

If only minorities could have kept pace with corporations’ pursuit of and success for civil rights, American society may have become more equal.

Liz Truss (Newly elected Prime Minister of the UK.)

It is announced this morning (9/5/22) that the new Prime Minister of the UK is to be Liz Truss. A primary issue in Ms. Truss’s campaign is to reduce taxes. America’s experience of reducing taxes seems a replay of the Reagan/Thatcher years. Many consider these two leaders as just what was needed at the time to advance their respective countries’ economies. As a result of their tax reduction policies, the gap between the rich and poor widened with corporations and their leaders being the primary beneficiaries. Hopefully Ms. Truss’s tax reductions do not benefit only corporations.

Experience of reducing taxes in the UK may be a replay of the Reagan/Thatcher years in America.

Corporations need to consider their responsibility for passing on those tax benefits to workers. If Ms. Truss’s tax reductions only increase the gap between rich and poor, democratic government is doomed.

It may be a surprise to many that corporate pursuit of civil rights dates to the early beginnings of American history. The first battle for corporate civil rights began with Alexander Hamilton’s drive to create the first American bank. His major political opponent is Thomas Jefferson. 

Jefferson opposes a national bank because he believes it diminishes State’s rights by ceding too much control to the national government. Winkler notes the irony of Jefferson’s objection in that Jefferson relies on national bank loans to subsidize his profligate lifestyle.

Winkler notes some level of civil rights for corporations is needed to protect the public from exploitation. If a corporation is not recognized as a singular public body, individual Americans could not sue for redress. Harm from unfair or harmful practices of corporations could not be tried in a court of law. However, Winkler explains an underlying concern is the gain of personhood for corporations. By being recognized as a person, corporations gain political influence beyond any individual person’s rights.

To many Americans, a 21st century Supreme Court decision on corporate civil rights is a step too far.

With the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court allows unlimited corporate donations to Americans running for political office.

Money is power, particularly in a capitalist economy. Elected officials become beholding to corporations rather than private citizens when running for office.

A prime example is the pharmaceutical and gun lobbies that have dominated both Democratic and Republican parties.

The rights of these corporate enterprises distort the benefits and dangers of both drugs and guns in American society. Over prescribed drugs and opiates advertised to the public by the pharmaceutical industry are more widely spread than ever before. If elected officials were not so beholding to gun lobbies, national background checks and red flag laws would not be so difficult for Congress to pass.

The opiate epidemic and the 5.25.22 Uvalde murder of 19 children and 2 adults is evidence of the harm done by granting too many civil rights to corporations.

Winkler’s book about corporate pursuit of personhood is burdened by legal explanations for non-lawyer listeners. However, his history gives one a deep appreciation of how civil rights can bring both good and harm to American society.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


   Separate (The Story of Plessy V. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation)

By Steve Luxenberg

         Narrated by: Donald Corren

Steve Luxenberg (Author, associate editor The Washington Post.)

“Separate” is a disheartening history of American social dysfunction. It is largely a biographic picture of two Americans, John Harlan and Albion Tourgée. Both play a pivotal role in the transition of American slavery to American segregation. Both are against the iniquity of segregation but fail as civil war veterans and public servants to eradicate America’s belief in a “separate but equal” doctrine.

Their social positions are quite different in that Harlan is from a relatively wealthy slave holding Kentucky family while Tourgée is from a small Ohio farming family.  Both become Republicans that serve in the union army during the civil war. Harlan’s family is politically connected in Kentucky while Tourgée has no interest in politics until he goes to college. Both men become lawyers, but Tourgée is a much less successful lawyer while becoming a noted writer. In contrast John Harlan gains reputation as an astute lawyer who evolves into a well-known dissenter on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Harlan serves as an officer in the Union army and recruits a Kentucky militia that fights for the union.  Interestingly, though Harlan becomes a Republican, he is opposed to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Tourgée initially enters the Union army as a volunteer in New York.

Tourgée is seriously wounded in the First Battle of Bull Run in an accident. After recovery, he reenlists as an officer in the 105th Ohio Volunteer infantry and is wounded again, captured, and imprisoned in Richmond, Virginia. He is freed in a prisoner exchange and rejoins the Union army, fights in two more battles, and resigns his commission in 1863.

Tourgée gains a reputation as a staunch defender of equal rights for what then were classified as colored Americans.

To this listener, the contrast between Harlan and Tourgée are the most interesting part of Luxenberg’s history. Harlan changes his view of slavery and segregation during his life. Tourgée never changes.

Harlan grows to recognize the inherent inequality of segregation. In Harlan’s changed beliefs, he becomes well regarded by famous black orators like Frederick Douglas.

Tourgée becomes a noted and self-proclaimed “carpet bagger” from the north. He is vilified throughout the south for his beliefs and writing about equality of all races. Tourgée settles in North Carolina with his wife, and they take in a young black girl who is raised and educated at the expense of the Tourgée’s.

An interesting note by the author that gives a listener an inkling of Tourgée’s failure as a lawyer is the defense used for a soldier who is accused of stealing money from the government. Tourgée loses the case. However, the soldier is later exonerated by testimony and affirmations from fellow soldiers. This is early in Tourgée’s career as a lawyer, but it presages his loss of the important Plessy vs. Ferguson decision that reaffirms “separate but equal” precedent. Tourgée’s legal augments get lost in a forest of trees with too many ideas that do not hold the attention of his judges.

The decision by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson is 7 to 1 which affirms the principle of separate as equal. The lone dissenter is John Marshall Harlan.

Harlan’s dissent presages today’s consequence of the mistaken belief that separate can be equal. The nature of humankind makes separate but equal impossible.

The only enforced legal truth of separate is not equal is the decision of Brown v. Board of Education, but there are many who continue to disagree.

It has been social pressure, not legal standing, that has changed the lie of “separate but equal” in America. Plessy v. Ferguson has never been overturned except for education. Of course, the problem now is that education is not being adequately provided for reasons too numerous to detail. That problem is not the subject of Luxenberg’s history.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


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.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Anatomy of Terror (From the death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State.)

By Ali Soufan

           Narrated by: Aaron Abano

Ali Soufan (Author, former American FBI agent, Lebanese heritage from a Sunni Muslim family.)

This is Soufan’s characterization of the western world’s effort to quell the beast of middle eastern terrorism.

Ali Soufan paints a dark picture of America’s middle east relationship in “Anatomy of Terror. He envisions a hydra, the mythical monster that grows two heads when one is cut off.

The terrorist event that sets the tone for Abano’s history is, of course, America’s 9/11/01 disaster.

Osama bin Laden’s plan for the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York is hatched by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (aka KSM).

Abano offers a brief history of KSM’s addition to al Qaida. In KSM’s early introduction to bin Laden, the dramatic idea of using an airplane hijacking to create a terrorist event is skeptically dismissed. As KSM’s reputation in al Qaida grows, the idea gains support of bin Laden. The impact of a singular terrorist event changes the world.

Abano tirelessly assembles so many facts about this Hydra’s growth that one becomes numbed by terrorist events and names. Only a CIA or FBI agent is likely to be interested in Abano’s research. However, a listener who perseveres realizes Abano is not just a problem bringer but one who has an idea of how terrorism can be defeated.

The complexity of the middle east’s terrorist origins, persistence, and ubiquity seem as incurable as world poverty and hunger.

Abano’s solution, as is true for any complex problem, begins with understanding. As difficult as it is, one must try to understand another’s reasons for carrying out a terrorist act. With understanding, one can constructively rather than destructively respond to a terrorist act. Murder for murder simply leads to further senseless murder.

Only with understanding can the causes for terrorism be either exposed as hypocrisy or dealt with as a reason, though not justification, for a murderous act.

The causes of terrorism must be exposed. Stories need to be told and re-told in ways that explain causes. These stories must come from nation-state leaders who have influence in their countries and reputations in other countries. Abano suggests these nation-state messengers can cultivate community leaders to spread the word, whether of God or mammon, to address the true and false reasons for terrorist acts.

Exposure of true and false causes offer hope for a solution that eliminates or, at least, ameliorates conflicting terrorist ideas, beliefs, and acts.

Abano argues money should be invested in schools and teachers who educate children in their own countries.

Through education in reading, writing, and arithmetic, children will grow to understand reason, truth, and falsity.

The expense of incarceration should be supplemented by rehabilitation with the objective of re-introducing the captured to society.  

To Abano, captured terrorists should not be demeaned, tortured, or executed.

A listener may feel Abano is being altruistic. In truth, he is altruistic but the path presently being followed is not working.

As the saying goes—an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.

By putting oneself in the terrorist’s shoes, Abano implies one is taking a first step in attacking the fundamental causes of terrorism. Without understanding there is no solution.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


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.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Big Science (Ernest Lawrence and the Invention that Launched the Military-Industrial Complex)

By: Michael Hiltzik

Narrated by: Bob Saouer

Michael A. Hiltzik (Author, American Journalist.)

Interesting details are revealed about the discovery of fission and the advent of the nuclear age in Michael Hiltzik’s history of “Big Science”. Hiltzik shows “Big Science” is expensive and involves large teams of scientists led by people like Ernest Lawrence.

Ernest Lawrence (Scientist,1901-1958) Lawrence died at 57 years of age.

Lawrence was born and raised in Canton, South Dakota, a rural community of less than 3,000 residents.  Lawrence pioneered American nuclear science and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1939 for invention of the cyclotron.

Lawrence’s invention led to the creation of the atom bomb, and later the Large Hadron Collider.


Lawrence’s indefatigable energy, persuasiveness, personability, and equanimity gave him the ability to raise huge sums of money to assemble the largest group of physicists, engineers, and experimentalists of the twentieth century.

Lawrence touched the lives of M. Stanley Livingston, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Arthur Compton, James Conant, Niels Bohr, Marie Curie, Ernest Rutherford, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, Vannevar Bush, and many others.

Hiltzik notes Lawrence is much more than an experimental physicist. Picture shows early version of Lawrence’s early cyclotron.

Ernest’s ability to organize a team of scientists and engineers to create the first cyclotron coalesced with Lawrence’s personality.  The cyclotron paves the way to a more precise understanding of the atom. His ability to tap into the resources and ambitions of young scientists and engineers, to convince government agencies, and private donors to contribute money for experiment creates a framework for “Big Science”.

Lawrence’s early cyclotron experiments pave the way for splitting the atom which ultimately leads to atomic blasts at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Ernest’s younger brother, John Lawrence, became a physician. 

Ernest Lawrence worked on radioactivity with his brother as a treatment for cancer.

Impetus for the unimaginable expansion of “Big Science” is magnified by WWII.  Because of the atom bomb’s horrific consequence, the fame of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the infamous Edward Teller, become known to the world. Hiltzik explains the key role that Lawrence plays in getting Oppenheimer appointed as the science manager for the Manhattan Project (the project name for America’s rush to create the atom bomb).  Edward Teller is an early member of the team but is found to be a disruptive team player.  Teller is an outlying and brilliant theoretician with an acerbic personality, who breaks as often as he makes friendships with fellow physicists, including Ernest Lawrence.

Leslie Groves (1896-1970, General in charge of the Manhattan Project.)

The creation of the Manhattan Project required the appointment of a military supervisor.

An interesting note by Hiltzik is the relationship between General Leslie Groves and Lawrence. Lawrence, soon after meeting Groves, realizes who is in charge. Any roadblocks for funding or personnel disappear with the appointment of Groves. The two great managers complement each other and grow to respect each other’s roles in the Manhattan Project.

Hiltzik takes listeners into the aftermath of “Big Science” after the war.  Once Russia demonstrates their arrival in the nuclear bomb era, the danger of nuclear war and atomic bomb testing comes to the forefront of research. 

During the Eisenhower government years, a main concern is with the military/industrial complex and competition for nuclear superiority in the face of potential world cataclysm. 

Hiltzik addresses the dismantling of J. Oppenheimer’s reputation by Eisenhower’s appointment of Lewis Strauss as chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Strauss creates a government investigation of Oppenheimer and his early political life.  Strauss comes off as an unfair judge of Oppenheimer’s contribution to America in Hiltzik’s telling of the investigation.  One is reminded this is in the beginning years of McCarthyism.

Oppenheimer briefly joined the communist party but left it early in his career. Despite Oppenheimer’s great contribution to the creation of the atom bomb, Strauss manages to tarnish the brilliant scientist’s reputation.  Ernest Lawrence did not come to Oppenheimer’s defense.  The two scientists had different political beliefs.  Hiltzik implies Lawrence’s mid-western upbringing conflicted with Oppenheimer’s cosmopolitan life.  Both scientists respected their roles as scientists but differed in their politics.  

Lewis Strauss (Former U.S. Secy. of Commerce & Chair of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission)

Hiltzik’s driving theme is the importance of “Big Science” and America’s waning support after WWII. Hiltzik’s primary example is America’s failure to lead in creating a super cyclotron like that which was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).  America participated in the cost but chose not to be the lead in its creation. Of particular note today is the need for investment and leadership in environment and energy.

Though many American physicists work at CERN, research at the Large Hadron is managed by 23 member states with each state having a vote.  Members make capital contributions and pay operating expenses while making all operational decisions.  America has no vote.  Japan, Russia, and America are observers (Russia was suspended on March 8, 2022).

Since WWII, one might argue America has played catch-up in “Big Science”.  Sputnik was a wake-up call that led to America’s moon mission which arguably is the last American push for “Big Science.

After listening to Hiltzik’s book, one may ask oneself–where is the Ernest Lawrence of the 21st century that is leading a team of young scientists in “Big Science”?  Ideas are out there but America’s investment seems destined to be limited by capitalist incentives, not “Big Science” experimentation.


           Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


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.