Mark Steyn (Canadian conservative author and commentator. Occasional guest host on the Rush Limbaugh Show and Tucker Carlson Tonight.)
Listening to Brian Emerson’s narration of Steyn’s book makes one smile and cringe. In one section Steyn intelligently reflects on the demographics of world population, and in the next, he whips out a Limbaugh/Carlson-like’ riff on the name “Muhammad”.
Steyn uses “guilt by association” as proof of something when it is nothing. Someone named Muhammad can be an American patriot or a domestic terrorist; not because of a name but because of belief and volition.
To suggest ex-Senator Wiener’s wife, Huma Abedin, is a member or agent of the Muslim Brotherhood is ridiculous.
Abedin grew up in Saudi Arabia and worked for an academic journal called “The Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs”. (Ms. Abedin was born in Kalamazoo, Mich.) To state the obvious–meeting with someone or writing about minority affairs does not mean you changed religions or beliefs .
Steyn, like President Trump, incriminates the entire Muslim world by inferring there is a fascist conspiracy to take over the world.
On the one hand, Steyn reasonably notes the average age of many Muslim countries is 15 and youth is often a source of discontent and aberrant cultural behavior; on the other, he infers Muslims hold a monolithic belief system that is bent on converting or destroying the world “…as We Know It”.
Steyn flits from reason to nonsense at the turn of a page.
Those who have the privilege of living in America, or visiting other countries, recognize many of the ridiculous comments made by pundits. Conspiracies, and monolithic beliefs in other countries are more myth than truth.
As inferred by Ben Zimmer in his 11/7/20 article in the WSJ, “punditocracy” is a joke played on the public by the media. “Punditocracy” predicts little and enlightens few, if any. “Punditocracy” is a game to predict unknowable results that fit personal prejudices.
In a recent visit my wife and I made to India, a young Muslim woman explains her disgust with Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 terrorist event. This young Muslim is appalled and embarrassed by the belief that bin Laden is considered a representative of her or her family’s religion.
In traveling to Egypt, a Muslim farmer is appalled by terrorists who use the cloak of religion to justify their murderous actions.
The many mosques visited in other countries reinforce history’s record of acceptance and tolerance of other faiths by Muslim leaders.
One appreciates an argument that is made by Steyn that socialist government policy has the potential for demotivating entrepreneurs and subsidizing economic freeloaders.
But, Steyn fails to criticize or comment on unregulated capitalism that increases the gap between rich and poor and presumes that “free enterprise” equates equal opportunity.
The world economy is in a state of transition like that which was experienced in the industrial revolution. Jobs are being lost because they are being replaced by technological advances.
Truly free enterprise does not exist in the world.
Today’s technocratic revolution is as tragic to an automobile assembler or coal miner in 21st century as it was to a loom operator in the 19th.
The United States, like other nations in the world, adopt unfair tax codes that subsidize big oil, big banks, and dying industries.
Who does the major bread winner in a family turn to when they lose their job because of changes beyond their control?
It is the job of private and public organizations to educate and train workers displaced by technological change. This re-education creates jobs while ameliorating unemployment.
Limbaugh rails against Trump by suggesting he is waffling on a political commitment to build a wall between Mexico and the United States. Trump responds with an equal level of irrationality by closing vital functions of the government to force Congress to fund the wall.
Trump’s wall between Mexico and the U.S. is a joke. It does nothing to serve the truth of what immigrants have contributed to America.
Steyn is obviously well read and informed but one feels like he plays the publicity game of talking heads. Some (not all) Fox newscasters, CNN contributors, and other pundits are darlings of an ideological group that get paid for what their constituency wants to hear. It has little to do with truth.
Steyn, like many talking heads (liberal and conservative), wastes his intelligence; pandering to an ideological constituency, rather than serving the general public by searching for the truth.
Demography and economic conditions change. They are a part of the human condition that can be managed by recognizing human nature’s fundamentals, and conscientiously creating nations that are governed by rule-of-law. There is a truth but it lies in freedom and social responsibility.
STEPHEN KOTKIN (AMERICAN AUTHOR, HISTORIAN, ACADEMIC)
Stephen Kotkin offers a remarkable and comprehensive view of Russia’s 1917 Revolution in “Stalin, Volume I”. Kotkin succinctly describes how power in the hands of one may advance a nation’s wealth, but at a cost that exceeds its benefit.
Kotkin’s first volume about Stalin’s rise to power offers lessons to modern American and Chinese governments. China seems on one path; America another.
The formation of “checks and balances” sustains America’s economic growth; even in the face of leadership change. In contrast, a “rule of one” has moved China’s economic wealth to new heights, but “rule of one” threatens its future success; particularly if it follows Stalin’s mistaken path.
In historical context, Kotkin profiles the three most important characters of the Russian revolution; e.g. Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky. Kotkin documents the personalities and circumstances of the pre-U.S.S.R.’ economy; i.e. an economy based on the disparity between wealth and poverty, federalization and centralization, political idealism and pragmatism.
MAO ZEDONG (1893-1976, FOUNDING FATHER OF PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA.)
Three leaders in the Chinese revolution were Mao Zedong , Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping. Zhou Enlai is the moderate of the three in trying to preserve traditional Chinese customs. Mao is by some measures an idealist who attempts to expand the theory of communism. His idealism creates a bureaucracy that nearly derails China’s economy. “The Gang of Four” radicalized Mao’s idealism into a more Stalinist view of communism. “The Gang of Four”s radicalization of Chinese communism is eventually reversed with the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, but not until after the Tiananmen Square massacre.
DENG XIAOPING (CHINA’S CHAIRMAN OF THE CENTRAL ADVISORY COMMISSION 1982-1987)
After Tiananmen Square, Deng recognizes the power of public dissent. Rather than increasing suppression, Deng opens the Chinese economy to a degree of self-determination. Deng does not abandon communist ideology. However, he recognizes the importance of economic growth and how less doctrinal communist policy would unleash the power of people as demonstrated at Tienanmen Square.
Deng dies in 1987 and the government of China is reshuffled. Deng’s eventual successor, President Xi, emphasizes the idealism of communism that threatens return to a Stalinist-like terror in China; i.e. a terror enhanced by technological invasion of privacy, and “big brother” control.
XI JINPING (GENERAL SECRETARY OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CHINA AND PRESIDENT OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA)
President Xi returns to Mao’s authoritarian belief in enforced collectivism with the idea of expanding China’s new-found wealth through government subsidization of industry. Xi renews emphasis on rule by the Communist party, headed by himself.
The growing disparity between rich and poor in both China and America is widely seen in the internet, and with increased international travel. China’s rapid rise in economic wealth is unevenly spread, just as it is in the United States. The difference is in how that economic disparity is addressed.
In America, private dissent is an inherent part of its history which lauds individualism, self-determination, and freedom (within the boundary of “rule of law”). But, these characteristics denigrate American citizens who are unable or unwilling to reap the rewards of individualism, self-determination, and freedom. These are the Americans sleeping on America’s streets and living in their cars.
America’s system of governance allows a rift between the rich and poor because it is based on a system of “checks and balances”. America’s system demands debate, and more broadly considered human consequence, before government action is taken.
LIVING ON THE STREET IN AMERICA
In China, the homeless are compelled to work at jobs created by the government. China’s system of governance is driven from the top, with limited debate, and more singularly determined public consequence. Government action is autocratically determined.
BEIJING-In China, dissent is discouraged and freedom is highly restricted, but homelessness is addressed with housing for the poor at subsidized prices.
In ancient China, singular autocratic rule offered a mixed blessing. Some of the world’s wealthiest and most cultured governments were created in China. These ancient dynasties successfully expanded their economies to make China a world leader in science and industry. At the same time, with few checks and balances, the history of China’s “rule of one” resulted in periodic social and economic collapse.
In some ways, China’s ancient civilization’s rise and fall is reminiscent of the rise and fall of the U.S.S.R. after 1917. Kotkin describes the turmoil surrounding Russia in 1917. The beginning of WWI and Germany’s invasion exaggerate the paradox of power in Russia. Modern European, Asian, North American, Middle Eastern, and African countries are experiencing some of the same economic, and political disruption.
On the one hand, the peasant is a proud Russian; on the other hand, he is a slave of the landed gentry; indentured to preserve the wealth of others at the cost of his/her life.
In 1917, the Czar and wealthy aristocracy depend on a population of the poor to defend the government. Russian peasants are faced with defending a government system that recognizes them as serfs, agricultural laborers indentured to wealthy landowners. (A similar system existed in China prior to 1949.)
In 1949, Mao recognizes the same inequity and judiciously separates landlords from their vast estates and re-distributes it to tenant farmers who worked for them. Ownership restructuring improved agricultural production until Mao tried to make small collectives into large collectives with Communist party oversight. Formation of a Chinese Communist Party bureaucracy distorted actual production and de-motivated farmers that did the real work of farming. The result of production over-estimation caused a nation-wide famine.
KARL MARX (BORN TRIER, GERMANY 1818-DIED LONDON, ENGLAND 1883)
Kotkin notes Russian social and economic inequity is a breeding ground for a Leninist/Marxist revolution. Marx’s dialectic view of the wealth of nations suggests that governments will change based on the growing recognition of the value of labor; i.e. beginning with agrarian feudalism, growing through industrialized capitalism, and socialism; reaching to a state of equilibrium in communism (a needs-based and communal sharing of wealth). Marx suggests all nations will go through this dialectic process.
Lenin bastardizes Marx’s dialectic idealization. Lenin believes the process can be accelerated through revolution and centralized control of the means of production. This idea is adopted by Mao Zedong in China in 1949 with early success. However, Mao expands the collectivist policy with “The Great Leap Forward” in 1958. Mao’s broader collectivist policy collapses the Chinese economy in 1962. Thousands of Chinese die from starvation as communist overseers exaggerate food production quotas.
Collectivist expansion is an oversimplification of Kotkin’s explanation of Vladimir Lenin’s form of communism but it shows the risk of “rule of one” governance. Even Lenin is conflicted about how Russia will grow into a communist society.
Lenin recognizes the social and economic distance that Russian peasants must travel to gain an appreciation of a new form of government.
Much of the Russian population, like the Chinese in 1949, were illiterate and living at a subsistence level; bounded by a non-mechanized agrarian economy. Lenin vacillates between growth through education and growth through autocratic command. Kotkin suggests that Lenin gravitates toward centralized command because of the need to consolidate power within the revolution.
What Lenin needed in 1917 were followers that could get things done. Before being felled by brain disease and stroke, Lenin relies on the abilities of men like Joseph Stalin. Mao relies on his revolutionary Red Guard. Kotkin argues that Stalin became close to Lenin as a result of his organizational skill and his penchant for getting things done without regard to societal norms. For Mao, close associates like Deng Xiaoping, were his enforcers. Stalin becomes the most powerful enforcer in Lenin’s revolution. Deng eventually becomes the leader of Communist China.
Though Stalin wields great enforcement powers, Kotkin infers Trotsky is the intellectual successor to Lenin. Stalin and Trotsky are shown to be at odds on the fundamental direction of the Bolshevik party, the successor party of Russian communism. However, the exigency of getting things done, as opposed to understanding the goals of creating a Leninist/Marxist government, were paramount goals for consolidating power after the revolution. Kotkin explains how Stalin became a defender of Leninist doctrine while Trotsky became an antagonist and eventual apostate because of Stalin’s manipulation of events.
MAO AND STALIN IN 1949
China waits and observes Stalin’s method for rapid industrialization of Russia. Kotkin explains that Stalin gains an intimate understanding of Lenin’s doctrines while Trotsky chooses to compete with Lenin’s philosophical positions. The threat of factionalism accompanies Trotsky’s doctrinal departures.
The irony of the differences between Stalin and Trotsky are crystallized by Kotkin. Stalin’s intelligence is underestimated by both Lenin and Trotsky. Stalin carefully catalogs and memorizes Lenin’s communist beliefs. In contrast, Trotsky chooses his own communist doctrinal path based, in part, on Lenin’s writing. Here, another similarity is drawn with the near religious following of Mao’s Red Book with aphorisms about governing oneself and China.
Kotkin suggests Lenin views Trotsky as a more likely successor than Stalin as leader of the country. Lenin appreciates Stalin’s organizational ability but views Stalin’s temperament as too volatile for long-term government control. In 1922, Lenin is said to have dictated a “testament” saying that Stalin should be removed from his position as General Secretary. Lenin’s “testament” critiqued the ruling triumvirate of the party (Stalin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev) and others like Bukharin, Trotsky and Pyatakov but the pointed suggestion of removal for Stalin is subverted.
After Lenin dies, the triumvirate chooses to ignore Lenin’s “testament” for Stalin’s removal. After all, Stalin is a doer; i.e. he gets things done. Just as Stalin suppresses opposition to his interpretation of Lenin, China suppresses opposition to the Communist Party’s doctrines. Doctrinal differences are successfully suppressed in China until the the failure of “The Great Leap Forward” in the 1950’s. The consequence of “The Great Leap Forward”s failure is the cultural revolution in the 1960’s.
In America’s history the economy slugs along with setbacks and successes. Though 1929 sees the collapse of the American economy, it recovers with government intervention, the advent of WWII, and the push and pull of a decision-making process designed by the framers of the Constitution. That push and pull is from leadership that is influenced by the checks and balances of three branches of government. That same process saves the American economy in 2008. The power and economy of America has grown to become the strongest in the world.
Kotkin’s research suggests young Stalin is something different from what is portrayed in earlier histories. Stalin grows close to Lenin because he is the acting arm of Lenin’s centralized command. Lenin relies on Stalin to get things done. He is Lenin’s executor. At the same time, Lenin turns to Trotsky as an economic adviser to ensure a more comprehensive understanding of what needs to be done to stabilize the revolution. Trotsky believes in the importance of centralized control of the economy.
Both Lenin and Stalin believed in communism but the first acts on a vision of the future; the second acts on the “now”.
China’s Deng and Xi seem to reverse Lenin’s and Stalin’s reasoning. Rather than Deng being like Lenin, he acts on China in the “now”.
Xi seems more like Lenin and looks at China’s future based on the ideals of communism. However, from an American perspective, all autocrats common failing is belief in “rule of one”.
Glasnost and perestroika fail to overcome that belief.
Kotkin puts an end to any speculation about Lenin being poisoned by Stalin. Kotkin argues that Lenin died of natural causes, strokes from a brain disease. What Kotkin reveals is the internecine war that is waged between Stalin and Trotsky while Lenin is dying. The strokes steadily debilitate Lenin and suspicious written pronouncements are made that may or may not have originated with Lenin. Lenin’s secretary is his wife. Some evidence suggests a missive from Lenin saying Stalin should not be his successor, noting Trotsky as a better choice. Kotkin suggests such a missive is unlikely. Lenin seems to have had his doubts about both men.
Succession in modern China seems less filled with intrigue than communist Russia but the opaqueness of China’s politics makes the rise of Xi a mystery to most political pundits. What seems clear is that China’s rise and fall has always been in the hands of the “…one”.
PRESIDENT XI’S ONE BELT, ONE ROAD PLAN FOR CHINA’S FUTURE
History will be the arbiter for President Xi’s success or failure with a road and belt plan for China’s economic future. The same may be said for President Trump’s focus on the virtue of selfishness for America’s economic future. The fundamental difference is Xi has no “checks and balances”; Trump has the Supreme Court, Congress, and a 4-year-election-cycle to assuage arbitrary government action.
AYN RAND (1905-1982, AUTHOR WHO FIRMLY BELIEVED IN THE VIRTUE OF SELF-INTEREST AND UNREGULATED CAPITALISM.)
In Russia, Trotsky is characterized as an intellectual while Stalin is a pragmatist. In China, Deng is characterized as a pragmatist while Xi seems a doctrinal theorist.
In history, Trotsky is highly opinionated and arrogant. Stalin is street smart and highly Machiavellian. Trotsky thinks right and wrong while Stalin thinks in terms of what works. In China, Deng is Stalin and Xi is Trotsky. In America, Trump is Stalin and his opposition is Trotsky-like do-nothings.
Trump lost the election in 2020 because–from an American perspective, all autocrats common failing is belief in “rule of one”.
Stalin is reputed to be temperamental while Trotsky is aloof. Though Trotsky insists on centralized control, Stalin argues for federalization. Stalin paradoxically argues for federalization because he knows Russian satellite countries want independence but he will act in the short-term for centralization to get things done. And of course, Stalin clearly adopts centralized economic planning for the U.S.S.R.; i.e. another of Kotkin’s paradoxes of power.
There is much more in Kotkin’s powerful first volume about Stalin and the Russian revolution. Germany’s role in the revolution is a case in point. The writing is crisp and informative. The narration is excellent. After listening to “…Volume I”, one looks forward to Kokin’s next which is published this year.
The past is present in Kotkin’s excellent biography of Joseph Stalin.
Having just returned from China (more about the trip in a future blog), it seems apropos to revisit Jonathan Sperber’s biography of Karl Marx. In many respects, China’s resurgence as a major economic power suggests Marx may have outlined an economic system with some strengths, but communism and China’s form of communism have catastrophic weaknesses.
Johnathan Sperber has gathered an impressive amount of data in his history of Karl Marx’s life. Sadly, his presentation is not equal to his collection. Unlike biographies done by Robert Caro (who wrote “The Power Broker” about Robert Moses, the land planner of New York, and former President, Lyndon Johnson) or William Manchester (a Winston Churchill Biographer), Sperber fails to bring his subject to life.
KARL MARX (BORN TRIER, GERMANY 1818-DIED LONDON, ENGLAND 1883)
Marx is considered by some to be one of the three most influential economists that ever lived (Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes being the other two.) That high praise is not forcefully presented in Sperber’s biography. Sperber offers facts but leaves coherence to the reader.
Marx means something to the 21st century. Some might argue America is reaching a point in the history of capitalism that is foretold by Marx’s theory of socialist economics. As Sperber notes, Marx believed capitalism was a step in the economic evolution of the world, leading to a governmental revolution. Marx believed capitalism would reach a nadir of conflict between haves and have-nots because of social inequity inherent in capitalist economies.
As Sperber notes, Marx lived through and wrote about social conflict created by feudalism and capitalism in the mid-nineteenth century. Marx is raised in Prussia, ruled by a Czar in a feudal economic system. He witnesses growing discontent of feudalistic working-class Russia.
Marx created a theory of economic evolution showing feudalism, capitalism, socialism, and communism as progressive improvements in the lives of all people.
Feudalism grew out of the rule of Kings and Czars with a small aristocracy receiving privileges of wealth and property with the bulk of human civilization indentured to the privileged class.
As the indentured, under-privileged population grew, discontent led to revolution.
In 1776, America broke with English aristocracy to form a “checks and balances” democracy; in 1789, the French population broke with absolute monarchy to form a populist democracy; in 1848, German states rebelled against the aristocratic Prussian confederation of thirty-nine states ruled by an aristocracy and chose various forms of government to establish their own nationalist identities.
DENG XIAOPING (CHINA’S CHAIRMAN OF THE CENTRAL ADVISORY COMMISSION 1982-1987,) In 1980 Deng Xioping, though maybe not in a revolutionary sense, changed the direction of communism in China.
Each Chinese change in governance led to more liberal, slightly more democratic, and capitalist economies.
Hong Kong is presently in the throes of resistance to China’s encroachment on their semi-autonomous existence. Hong Kongers’ discontent could be seen in traveling to Hong Kong months before today’s demonstrations.
As nations prospered during the industrial revolution, more mercantile economies formed. Aristocracy became broadly defined by wealth rather than inheritance. Parliaments and congresses were created to represent wider population interests.
However, Sperber explains Marx believed that the greatest part of nation-state citizens remained in poor economic condition; even when based on mercantilism. Marx, looked at the economic condition of the world, and noted that transition from feudalism to mercantilism only marginally improved living conditions for the majority of state citizens and, in fact, actually worsened the condition of the young and impoverished who worked long hours for little pay. To Marx, capitalism just exacerbates the mercantile economic condition of the poor.
CHINA IS MOVING 250 MILLION PEOPLE INTO CITIES ACCORDING TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (Housing is un-affordable for a large percentage of new city dwellers. The government of China subsidizes housing for many Chinese that come from rural areas.)
In 2018, it seems China may be reaching a capitalist tipping point where low wages do not cover the cost of living. Though many Chinese have moved from rural areas, wages remain low in comparison to the cost of living. Housing and health coverage is un-affordable for a large percentage of new city dwellers. The government of China subsidizes housing for many Chinese that come from rural areas to mitigate the plight of the poor.
ADAM SMITH (1723-1790, AUTHOR OF -THE WEALTH OF NATIONS) Marx developed the labor theory of value to suggest that classical economic theory suggested by Adam Smith leaves too many people in the gutter.
Marx felt Smith did not properly quantify the value of labor. Marx argued that capital was created to benefit owners at an unfair expense to labor.
Marx believed capitalist aristocracy continued to victimize the working class, trading one form of indenture for another. Marx suggested democracy was an evolution for economies that widened the benefited population but still left most workers underpaid, undernourished, and disadvantaged.
Sperber clearly points out that Marx did not believe that communal ownership of property redressed the inequities of state’ economies; i.e. Marx argued that inequity is caused by capital creation that only benefited ownership and undervalued labor that created capital.
China’s current experience seems to show Marx may have been right to believe communal ownership has little to do with state’ economics because communal ownership remains a dominant factor in China’s extraordinary economic resurgence. Property is not owned by individuals in China. Land is either owned by a collective or by the State.
Though land cannot be owned by Chinese citizens, distribution of capital has been widely increased through rising prices of high-rise condominiums. Many high-rise condominiums are owned by individual Chinese. Some citizens inherited or bought condominiums at such low prices–appreciation made them rich.
The fly in the ointment of their newfound wealth is the price of sale must be agreed upon by the government which creates an artificial bubble that may burst into hyper-inflation, with the potential for a nation-wide economic collapse.
China moves to address a potential economic collapse in an inventive and creative way. What China is doing--is trying to widen their market for goods with an economic growth plan called "Belt and Road". China invests billions of dollars in other countries infrastructure. China is betting that these improvements will create consumers for Chinese manufactured products. A side benefit is that these infrastructure improvements offer employment to Chinese citizens and businesses. (As can be read in news magazines like the Economist and papers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, some nations resent China's investments in their countries for various nationalist and economic reasons.)
China is also investing in the world's natural resources to expand their manufacturing capability. The question is whether these long-term investments will pay off in time to stabilize China's construction market. The construction market is where individual Chinese citizens carry their wealth. Condominium prices will reach a limit. In 2018, a 300 square foot condominium sells for over $500,000 in China's larger mainland cities. That is nearing $2,000 per square foot (and Chinese buyers do not own the land). In the United States, most housing is less than $200 per square foot; including the land. Continued wealth distribution in China depends on the success of the "Belt and Road" program.
Marx supported worker unionization’s effort to equalize benefit through a more equitable distribution of capital. He was deeply involved in the “International Workingmen’s Association” (aka First International). Herein lays the evolution of capitalism to socialism and Marx’s belief (and maybe Xi’s belief) in the fairness of economic communism. Modern China seems to be addressing the idea of a more equitable distribution of capital on paper, but the paper is based on what appears to be an unsustainable real estate market.
Piketty argues that the income gap widens once again, after World War II. He estimates 60% of 2010’s wealth is held by less than 1% of the population; with a lean toward the historical 90% threshold. Moneyed interests have become the new aristocracy, as repressive and privileged as the Kings and Czars of the mid-19th century.
One can disagree with Marxian theory but the widening gap between haves and have-nots (the 1% and 99%,) is a real-world concern in the 21st century.
Marx’s solution for economic inequity is flawed but the condition he describes in the evolution of economies seems prescient. To most Americans, Marx’s communism is not the answer.
When CEOs of companies are making over 200 times average laborers’ income, there is a glaring problem in the current condition of capitalist economies. Instead of income differences, it is housing value in China. China is on a razor’s edge that may as easily cut their throat as shave their face.
This is a disappointing book because it garners too little interest in the power and influence of Marx’s economic theories. However, it offers insight to what Marx may have had right (the importance of distribution of wealth) and what he had wrong (communal productivity). China is using a different vehicle than America for distribution of wealth but the principle of wealth-distribution addresses what ails all forms of government.
DANIEL SCHULMAN (AUTHOR, AND SENIOR EDITOR OF MOTHER JONES-MAGAZINE NOMINATED FOR 27 NATIONAL AWARDS WITH 6 WINS)
When organizations became people, American elections became less democratic. The wide gap in fund raising between Trump and Biden is disturbing. The story is the same–corporations are currying favor with the next President. This is not “one person, one vote”. It’s corporate influence peddling. The shoe is simply on a Democrat’s rather than Republican’s foot.
Corporate contributions to the election process distort the meaning of “one person – one vote”. Daniel Schulman’s story of the Koch brothers is an example of what is wrong with the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision that gave corporations person-hood.
The Koch brothers are tough-minded, intelligent, well-educated engineers; driven by the arithmetic of life. Business leaders often see the profit of a transaction without considering the cost to the general public. Life is not a transaction. Life is multi-dimensional puzzle of genetic pre-disposition, learned behavior, and interpreted experience.
CHARLES (LEFT) AND DAVID KOCH
Like Donald Trump, the Koch brothers make decisions based on profits without care for either the environment or the politics of the common good.
Daniel Schulman recounts details of the Koch brothers’ lives that make one admire the Koch brother’s strengths and fear their weaknesses. This became particularly clear in the last few days when Charles Koch admits that injecting partisanship in their political drive for a libertarians’ economy was a mistake.
One doubts that Charles Koch is abandoning libertarianism but he implies partisanship is destructive to the cause of less government as good government. As was inferred in the November 13, 2020 WSJ Koch interview, “…Republican partisanship over the years blew up a lot of bridges.”
JOSEPH KENNEDY (1888-1969) As a listener is titillated by Schulman’s characterization of each of the brothers, one is reminded of Joseph Kennedy Senior’s biography (“The Patriarch”) and Kennedy’s determination that no circumstance justifies America’s entry into WWII. Kennedy’s underlying belief was that German atrocity is a matter of arithmetic not politics. Joseph Kennedy, like the Kochs, believed “living life” is transactional.
Kennedy believed Hitler could be contained like any unfair business conglomerate that fails to follow the rules of society. To a business mogul, everything is negotiable whether dealing with a mad-man or saint. Charles Koch, like Joseph Kennedy, is the patriarch of the Koch family. He. like Kennedy, believes life is merely a matter of arithmetic.
AYN RAND (1905-1982, AUTHOR WHO FIRMLY BELIEVED IN THE VIRTUE OF SELF-INTEREST AND UNREGULATED CAPITALISM.)
Charles is a devotee of Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek. Rand was an author and founder of a philosophical system called “Objectivism” while Hayek was an academic economist-author, and follower of a philosophical system that reduces economics to the arithmetic of free markets.
FRIEDRICH AUGUST von HAYEK (1899-1992)
Charles Koch, and his brothers David and William, grew a multi-million dollar company into a multi-billion dollar conglomerate based on Rand’s, and Hayek’s philosophy. (In fairness, this is an oversimplification and distortion of Hayek in the sense that he did believe government has a responsibility for a safety net for the poor, unemployed, and disabled.)
Growing millions into billions of dollars is unquestionably a great accomplishment, born of hard work, dedication, and tenacity. (Of course, it helps to start out, like Donald Trump, with a million dollars or more.)
The Koch brothers were born rich and raised in a safe and competitive family environment. Schulman explains actions of Charles, David, and William that show how intelligent, driven Americans can adopt Rand and Hayek’s philosophy to become enormous job creators, philanthropists, and benefactors for American society.
On the other hand, the Koch brother’s story shows how their philosophical beliefs ignore the reality of human nature that relegates many to a cycle of poverty; i.e. a cycle engendered by poor education, unsafe neighborhoods, a lack of health care, and un-employ-ability.
Charles, David, and William Koch offer great opportunities for workers of the world through the arithmetic of profit, growth, and self-interest. However, if a worker is not smart or healthy enough to join the Kochs’ group of workers, they have no value; they are the bums one sees sleeping on the sidewalk, gang members selling drugs and sex, or beggars asking for lose change.
The Koch brother’s success lies in their alloyed belief in self-interest, their inherited wealth, genetics, environment, and luck. The Koch’s success is a matter of the arithmetic of wealth, power, and privilege; therein lies the flaw in the use of dark money in American elections. To presume equal opportunity exists in America because of self-interest is ridiculously simplistic.
The Supreme Court gifted an advantage to wealthy corporate owners. Dark money from corporations distorts “one person, one vote” democracy.
Schulman infers the Koch brother’s arithmetic view of the world is skewed. The Koch’s imply only market driven, free choice of employees is what makes companies and America grow stronger. Charles argument is compelling except it is based on theories of two academics (Rand’s self-interest and a distortion Hayek’s economic beliefs). When 21st century Americans cannot get a decent education, they are on a treadmill of malnutrition and genetic disadvantage. They often live in unsafe and unhealthy environments, and are destined to become part of an underclass society.
Charles’ arithmetic works within a corporate culture that gives no value to government’s responsibility for health, education, and welfare. Even Hayek, as an academic, suggests that the disadvantaged of society should be protected from the extremes of disablement, poverty, and starvation. In contrast, Ayn Rand’s belief is that people are poor because they are lazy, unproductive, and dependent on the charity of others; i.e. being poor, to Rand, is a personal fault; not a societal concern.
Life is not arithmetic. A human life is not just a matter of dollars and cents. Covid 19 continues to be grossly misrepresented by America’s President.
Many inner city poor cannot get a job so they sell drugs or their bodies to put bread on the table. Who is going to hire a person arrested for peddling drugs or serving time for prostitution. The cycle of poverty is perpetuated by the belief that America is a free enterprise market. Everything from agricultural products, to drug manufacturers, to the energy industry, to cars we drive, and planes we fly are subsidized by the American tax dollar.
To the Koch brothers, free markets and the arithmetic of life will correct unemployment and the disadvantage of the poor. The idea of a free market is a joke. Markets are not free. Many industries in the United States are subsidized in one way or another by federal tax dollars.
Schulman’s biography infers that Charles, David, and William believe less government interference will correct the maladies of society. Public health, education, and welfare are private sector responsibilities, particularly in Charles’ idealistic world. This view ignores the reality of human nature. There is good and evil in all human beings. Power, money, and self-interest are swords with two edges that build and destroy societies. Without government, there is no protection from the evil side of human nature.
THOMAS HOBBES (1588-1679) Without government, there is no protection from the evil side of human nature.
Schulman explains a rift that occurs between William and Charles and the future management of the Koch conglomerate. William Koch’s legal battles with Charles and David (William is the twin brother of David) reflect the frailty of unfettered human nature.
Human nature is good and evil for all; including the Koch brothers. Government, as noted by Thomas Hobbes, is to protect people from the evil that is inherent in humankind.
President Trump is a deluded antiquarian leader with no moral center. “America first” is code for making the rich richer.
This is not to argue that every time government legislates or acts, it is in the best interest of the public. However, murder, rape, and theft are unfettered human choices without government. Murder comes in many forms, including gas leaks, environmental contamination, and scientifically proven causes for global warming.
Great industrialists, like the Koch brothers, are a boon to the American economy and to millions of American citizens but to believe their success is based on limited government is self-delusion. American government created a safe environment for “free” enterprise with relative freedom of choice; not absolute freedom of choice.
INDUSTRIAL POLLUTION ON A BAD DAY IN BEJING,, CHINA
Schulman suggests Charles Koch believes a plutocracy of industrialists, managed by the principles of market driven self-interest, will cure the maladies of American society.
The arithmetic of business fails to address the nature of human beings. Creating jobs and wealth does not raise all boats; i.e. jobs and wealth are quantifiable variables in a sea of un-quantifiable needs.
Human nature may change over time but only when, or if, humans reach a level of belief, and action “to do others as you would have them do to you”. Until human nature is rid of evil, something more than market driven self-interest is required to advance society.
In the end, one concludes from Schulman’s fascinating book, the Koch brothers are neither devils nor angels; just humans with wealth, extraordinary abilities, tenacity, and luck.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
Written by: Naomi Klein
Narration by: Ellen Archer
A change of book titles comes to mind in reviewing Naomi Klein’s book, “This Changes Everything”. A first thought is a title like “Beat the Drum.” On second thought, it is the question “Who Gets to Decide?” Ninety seven percent of “…actively publishing climate scientists” say climate warming trends are likely due to human activity.
Deniers think current weather phenomena are a natural aberration that will be corrected by time. Others are apathetically fatalistic and call global warming a myth. But almost universally, science is saying climate warming is real.
A “Beat the Drum” title is meant to convey appreciation of Naomi Klein’s studied effort to awaken the general public to the truth of global warming. (She is not a scientist but a writer, researcher, and social activist.) However, the title “Who Gets to Decide?” is meant to convey a monumental weakness in Klein’s spun presentation on solutions for the problems of global warming.
Klein’s argument that global warming is a consequence of capitalism is false. Global warming is a consequence of human nature. To date, democratic capitalism is the only economic form of government that offers a degree of freedom for all Peoples subject to rule of law. Democratic capitalism unleashes the power of human nature, both good and bad. Until some better form of governance is created, the best chance for a global warming solution is captialism. History shows freedom, subject to rule of law, is essential to a deliberative process that will provide best-case solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.
Global warming solutions lie in politics and science; not one or the other, but both.
Einstein and fellow scientists prove that energy and mass are always equal. That scientific proof leads to Nagasaki and Hiroshima’s atom bombs just as 97% of the scientific community’s proof leads to earth’s climate bomb.
Great Britain, France, Russia, and Germany were worn down by WWII. American democratic capitalism makes the decision to end the war by using the atomic bomb. One may argue that this decision is morally reprehensible but it ended a war that would have continued without definitive action based on the deliberative process of a democratic capitalist country. The same may be said for a pragmatic solution for global warming.
The world is suffering from a global warming war. Eventually, that suffering will create a political consensus for something to be done to combat its consequence. Evidence of something being done is everywhere. By beating the drum Klein is creating sense of urgency about global warming. What is misleading and spun by Klein is discounting of rich entrepreneurs, like Gates, Bloomberg, Branson, and Buffett, who are taking self-interested steps to curb global warming. Yes, they are self-interested steps but self-interest is not inherently bad. Self-interest is in the fight to abate global warming.
Klein suggests Branson expands his airline to make more money at the cost of further pollution. (In truth Branson did sell his airline in 2016.) Branson is a pariah to Klein because of his self-interest in vertically integrating research for alternative fuels for plane travel.
Klein explains Branson is only spending two to four hundred million dollars for research on alternate fuels while having pledged three billion dollars over ten years. One wonders, how many rich have spent one million dollars, let alone two to four hundred, on alternate fuels. Klein infers Branson is all show and no go by reaping publicity benefit while raping the global environment. Whatever Branson’s motive may be, two to four hundred million dollars for a less polluting fuel is better than doing nothing.
Klein vilifies Buffett for buying railroads because they are transporting coal. Klein offers no suggestion that railroads are a more energy-efficient than some other forms of material transportation. Klein infers Buffett made the railroad investment out of self-interest. He probably did but that is not proof of a lack of concern about global warming. Klein infers Buffett’s investment decisions should be dictated by whom? Who gets to decide?
Because people like Klein are beating the drum, the largest coal producer in the world has lost 95 percent of its stock value. The investing public finds that the industry misleads investors on its liability as a climate polluter. This is democratic capitalism in action.
Self-interest, good and bad, is the nature of human beings. Klein and others need to continue to “Beat the Drum” but decisions on what is to be done will be from a political consensus and action from leaders of the world and the scientific community. It is not what Klein says so much as how she says it. Money, power, and prestige are human nature’s motivations. It will be a matter of competing self-interests that reach a consensus on the preservation of life.
Klein and others should continue to raise awareness and sense of urgency but it is self-delusion to think human nature will change within the time frame of this world’s declining envionment.
In a free society, all realize they have “skin in the game”. Those governments that validate individual freedom offer the best hope for a global warming solution. The answer to the question of “Who gets to decide?” is best left in the hands of nation-states that validate individual freedom. America is one that holds the hope for a solution to global warming, in spite of its democratic capitalist leaning and today’s inept Executive and Legislative branch leadership.
Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life
Written by: Professor Rufus J. Fears
Lecture by: Professor Rufus J. Fears
J. RUFUS FEARS (1945-2012–AMERICAN HISTORIAN, LECTURER FOR THE GREAT COURSES)
Rufus Fears is an excellent story-teller. “Books That Have Made History” is a series of lectures given by Fears that dwells too much on God but delightfully entertains all who are interested in living life well. (Professor Fears died in October of 2012.)
An irony of Fears lecture series about “Books that can Change Your Life” is his most revered historical figures, Confucius, Socrates, and Jesus–never wrote a book. He thematically presents a story that argues these three figures are witnesses to the truth.
Fears believes Confucius’s, Socrates’, and Jesus’s truths have been played out and proven over centuries of writings and doings. Those writings and doings are recorded in secular and religious texts that range from Homer, to Plato, to the “Bible”, to the “Koran”, to “The Prince”, to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Winston Churchill, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Bonhoeffer is Fears first example of one who practices what he writes about and believes.
DIETRICH BONHOEFFER (1906-1945, Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943 and transferred to a Nazi concentration camp and executed in April 1945. Bonhoeffer is a symbol of moral and physical courage in the face of injustice.)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer insists on returning to Germany to protest Hitler’s totalitarian dictatorship. As a Lutheran pastor and theological scholar, Bonhoeffer publicly denounced Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. This is Fears jumping off point in arguing that theism as professed by secular and religious texts are “Books That Can Change Your Life”.
Justice, courage, moderation and belief that “wisdom comes from suffering” come from Homeric literature, the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Plato’s “Republic”, the King James Version of the bible, and the holy Koran. Fears emphasizes the transcendent impact of “Book of Exodus”, “Gospel of Mark”, and “Book of Job” as they become memes for moral belief.
In the “Book of Exodus” Fears notes the story of Moses and how Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery, a story repeated throughout history by the courage of moral leaders.
The “Gospel of Mark” tells the story of Jesus, the sins of man, and the redemptive powers of forgiveness, and justice.
The “Book of Job” symbolizes life as a struggle but, in struggle, one gains wisdom through faith in something greater than oneself.
FREE WILL VS. DETERMINISM
Fears draws from many cultures to explore “Books That Have Made History. He explains how the “Bhagavad Gita” identifies truth as a divine power and how stories like Gilgamesh and Beowulf suggest life is destiny, fated when one is born, while Aeschylus believes life is a matter of free will.
Plato posits duality of being with a mortal body and immortal soul. Religious and secular writings reinforce Plato’s concept of human duality.
PLATO’S BELIEF IN DUALITY-SEPARATE ENTITIES-BODY AND SOUL
The immortal soul is terribly and beautifully rendered in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. Dante describes torments souls endure if mortal life is lived in sin, but offers belief in redemption.
DANTE’S INFERNO Dante describes torments souls endure if mortal life is lived in sin, but offers belief in redemption.
Buddhist belief in reincarnation offers a road to peace or continued struggle based on mortal life’s actions.
A Buddhist soul’s reincarnation may be as a beast if one’s former life is filled with sin. But as each new life approaches enlightenment, it is offered opportunity for peace without struggle in a spiritual life that requires no further incarnations.
Fears moves back and forth in history to identify some of the “Books That Can Change Your Life”. He jumps to the twentieth century to tell the story of Winston, the defeated hero in Orwell’s “1984”.
Fears explains how totalitarianism sucks struggle out of life but leaves dead bodies or soulless automatons in its wake. Fears notes how Stalin murders twenty million in a totalitarian system similar to what Orwell wrote about in the late 1940s.
Fears reinforces his argument by jumping back in history to tell the story of “The Prince”, Machiavelli’s masterpiece about totalitarian rule. Just as predicted in “The Prince”, Stalin lives to old age (lived to be 74, died in 1953) by following the rules set down in Machiavelli’s 16th century book. Stalin murders or imprisons any opposition to his rule. Stalin’s single minded objective is acquisition and retention of power. Stalin’s objectives are achieved through a police state that controls media, arbitrarily arrests citizens, and acts without moral conscience.
ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN (1918-2008, RUSSIAN NOVELIST AND ESSAYIST)
Ironically, Fears notes that Solzhenitsyn returns to Russia and vilifies capitalist America for ignoring the plight of the poor by losing sight of its own values.
Fundamentally, one takes from Fears’ lectures that one must internalize morality and have the courage to follow truth regardless of its cost. This is a lesson for today in the face of an American President who cares little about truth and has no moral compass.
Stalin’s terror is revealed in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago”, published in 1973. Solzhenitsyn dies in 2008, near Moscow, at the age of 89.
This is only a smattering of the many books Fears talks about in his lectures.
Privacy, Property, and Free Speech: Law and the Constitution in the 21st Century
The Great Courses Series
Lectures by: Professor Jeffrey Rosen
Are Americans more or less free in the 21st Century? Professor Jeffrey Rosen in “Privacy, Property and Free Speech” leaves the question unanswered. However, he clearly frames the question for listeners to draw their own conclusion. It is difficult to give a definitive answer for three reasons. One, new technology redefines freedom. Two, September 11, 2001 redefines security. Three, globalization redefines nationalism.
Technology encroaches on privacy with internet access by the public and private sectors. The public sector continually revises laws regarding the internet. Laws passed by government attempt to regulate internet use, ownership, and censorship by redefining freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of religion, and the freedom from want and fear. Government classifies organizations and decides which can legally access the internet. Government is in the process of defining who can own the internet and how access can be regulated. Government has the power to censor information that it views detrimental to the freedoms historically held by Americans. Control of internet use, ownership, and censorship by the government encroaches on freedom.
Professor Rosen addresses the issue of property by lecturing on women’s rights and the right of government to claim eminent domain on property owned privately that can be taken for the public good. In addressing women’s rights, Rosen reviews the history of Roe v. Wade and implies that the judicial system may have acted too quickly by not allowing the States and the general public to fully address the issue. Rosen is equally conflicted by the government’s right to claim eminent domain. He notes how confiscation of private property at fair market value has a spotted history of success when claimed by the government for the public good. In some cases, the taking has resulted in failed projects; in others, like Baltimore’s revitalized harbor, the taking revitalized a neglected and deteriorated landmark. The American judicial system encroaches on the freedom of women to choose and the fifth amendment’s clause that says private property shall not be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The private sector uses the internet to define consumers. What an internet user purchases becomes a profile factoid used to pander to consumer desires. The detailed profile can affect the price advertised and the personalized pitch made by a retailer. Private sector search engines use consumer profiles to pitch private sector businesses for advertising. Consumer manipulation by the private sector encroaches on freedom. Web-based profiling steers the public by profiling individuals and algorithmically congregating personal information.
The Trade Center tragedy redefines security for America and the world. September 11th convinces the world that there are no un-breachable terrorist constraints. Terrorism is like lighting in a storm; i.e. it is a force of nature that can strike anyone at any time. Governments have changed the world of travel by invading the privacy of minds and bodies to reduce the chance of a terrorist act. Rosen suggests governments cross the line when citizens are detained or incarcerated for what they think rather than what they do. The fear one has is that thought becomes grounds for prosecution. To the extent that terrorism is like lightning in a storm, one can only wait for the storm to pass. Invading one’s privacy and arresting citizens for what they think is a slippery slope to totalitarianism.
Despite Brexit and nationalist sentiment of aspirants to the American Presidency, Congress, and Supreme Court, all human beings are citizens of one world. There is less and less room for nation-state nationalism. Encroachment on privacy, property, and free speech are inevitable in the 21st century (and beyond). In reality, freedom’s encroachment is an inherent part of civilization. When the first man and woman joined together as a couple; when the first tribe became a hunting and gathering troop, and when the first hunter-gatherers became part of a farming community, freedom diminished.
The last lecture in Rosen’s series is about the right to be forgotten. Now, we are citizens of nation-states; tomorrow we will be citizens of the world. With each regrouping, there is a diminishing of freedom. The last bastion of freedom will be “the right to be forgotten”. It will be a programming code designed to volitionally erase one’s identity. This volitional reboot will be with less rather than more freedom because of the nature of becoming part of a larger human congregation.
Professor Rosen offers an excellent and informative outline of America’s history of privacy, property, and free speech. A listener will draw their own conclusions about present and future freedoms from Rosen’s lectures.
As reprehensible as conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones may be, we have to ask ourselves where the line should be drawn between idiocy and doing harm to others.
My view is that freedom has always been thankfully limited.
The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin
Written by: Steven Lee Myers
Narration by: Rene Ruiz
Steven Lee Myers, NYT’s reporter and author.
Steven Lee Myers has written a highly polished and informative biography but fails to convince one that Putin is a Tsar. Putin is more Richard Nixon than Catherine the Great. Putin, like Nixon, is smart and thin-skinned. Putin, like Nixon, makes personnel decisions based on loyalty, and views the world in real-politic terms.
Myers shows Putin comes from a family of Russian patriots with a grandfather and father that fought in Russian armies in different generations. Each lived during the Stalinist years of Gulags and terror but none rebelled against the power of Russia’s leadership.
Myers explains how Putin becomes interested in the KGB at the age of 16 and grooms himself for a life in the secret service. Putin’s KGB-influenced’ career-path is to become an attorney. He learns German and is assigned to East Germany in his first years as a KGB agent.
Myers explains how Putin’s steely disposition grows in East Germany, and later St Petersburg, Russia. Putin keeps a low profile but exhibits bravery, independence, and initiative when his country’s leaders are overwhelmed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain.
Putin becomes the “go-to” guy for the Mayor of Leningrad (aka St. Petersburg). Putin’s relationship to the Mayor of Leningrad, Anatoly A. Sobchak, is founded on loyalty.
Sobchak is initially recognized as a representative of new Russia but the power of his position is diminished by the ineptitude of his administration. In spite of Sobchak’s mistakes, Myers shows that Putin stands by him. Loyalty is a characteristic of Putin that is expected of all who work with him. Eventually Sobchak is electorally defeated and Putin is left out of a job.
Putin’s relationship with the mayor of Leningrad reminds one of his support for Lukashenco, the President of Belarus, who illegally diverted a commercial airline to capture a government political dissident (Roman Protasevich).
Roman Protasevich (Belarusian journalist and political dissident.)
Alexander Lukashenko (President of Belarus)
In a televised June 4th, 2021 confession by Protasevich, Lukashenco embarrasses himself and his country with coerced praise by the Belarus President. This reminds one of Stalin’s show trials.
Russia is unlikely to return to hegemonic control of adjacent countries. Ethnic nationalism and desire for greater freedom are unquenchable thirsts. Ukraine, Georgia, and even Belarus, seem unlikely to rejoin Russia in a new Socialist Republic.
Russia is equally unlikely to be ruled by a Tsar again because its population is better educated; aware of the value of qualified freedom, insured by relative social stability, and security.
Russia will remain a major international power and influence in the world. Nuclear capability and cybernetics (particularly as a weapon of political and economic disruption) guarantees Russia’s position in world affairs.
Forcing Ukraine or Georgia to return to the Russian block or quelling Chechen resistance is beyond the military strength of Russia’s Putin or his successors. Reassembly of a form of the U. S. S. R. is only conceivable based on political accommodation based on economic influence or volitional federation. Neighboring countries can only be seduced; i.e. either by economics, or cybernetic influence. A majority vote of neighboring countries; not military dominion, will be the “modus vivendi” for Russian expansion.
But what about the Crimea. It is a part of the Ukraine.
An argument can be made that territory of the Crimea is not an exception. Millions of dollars were spent by Russia to modernize Crimea for the Olympics. Undoubtedly, a great deal of time was spent influencing Crimea’s population (which is ethnically 65% Russian). It is conceivable that a majority of the Crimea residents voted to become part of Russia.
Of course, this sets aside the truth of Crimea’s territorial and nationalist connection with Ukraine. One might argue this is analogous to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. Hitler used the excuse that ethnic Germans were being abused in the Sudetenland. In this view, Putin is no Tsar; i.e. he is more Stalinist accolade.
(To make Crimea the equivalent of the Sudetenland one might ask oneself if the majority in the Sudetenland were ethnic Germans, and was there a vote by Sudetenland residents.)
Undoubtedly, a great deal of time was spent influencing Crimea’s population. 65% of the Crimea’s population is ethnically Russian. It is not inconceivable that a majority of Crimea residents voted to become part of Russia
Myers cogently reveals the strengths and weaknesses of modern Russian rule. In a limited sense (limited by Myers’ independent research and fact checking), Myers’ corroborates the experience noted in William Browder’s book, “Red Notice”. Putin is certainly capable of undermining the influence or action of any person who chooses to challenge his authoritarianism.
American-born British financier and political activist.
In spite of Putin’s great power, Myers shows there are chinks in his invincibility. Putin’s sly manipulation for re-election after Medvedev’s only term as President fails to quell the desire for freedom of Russian citizens. Just as Watergate exposed the hubris of Nixon, Putin will suffer from the sin of being a flawed human being. Putin, like Nixon, is a great patriot of his country but neither exhibit the inner moral compass that make good leaders great leaders. This is a reminder of the 45th American President who focused on the business of America; not its role as a beacon for freedom and equality of opportunity.
An odd article in the NYTs (4/6/22) notes America is perplexed by what Putin owns in order to punish him with confiscation or restriction of assets. Putin is a true believer in communism. His position and property are owned by the State. In one sense that makes Putin vulnerable because his money, power, and prestige is dependent on his government’ position. In another, his position insulates him from international economic sanction.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
Myers creates a convincing portrait of a man who is subject to the sins of most who rise to power. Putin believes he has become a god among men. He rationalizes his greed by thinking the fate of Russia’s re-ascendance lies in his hands. Even in the days of Stalinist governance, relationship to the leader was the sine ne quo of wealth and power. Putin carries on that tradition. Putin’s friends and associates from the KGB and his tenure in St. Petersburg are critical components of Putin’s control of the economy and government.
Putin is no Tsar but he could have been if education had not advanced society and freedom of expression had not entered the internet age.
Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy
Written by: Francis Fukuyama
Narrated by: Johnathan Davis
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA (AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENTIST, POLITICAL ECONOMIST, AND AUTHOR)
Francis Fukuyama offers a benediction and warning about democracy in “Political Order and Political Decay”. His book is difficult to absorb because of its wide view of politics and a listener’s sense that political theory is being justified as much as proven. However, Fukuyama impressively argues that democracy is the best form of government in the world and may evolve into a form of government that is best for all modern societies.
Fukuyama writes this with an examination of the current state (actually pre-Trump) of American democracy. He addresses other forms of democracy developed, or developing, in other countries.
Fukuyama explains there are three pillars of democracy.
First, a state must be formed to protect its citizens and its territory.
Second, rule of law must be established to constrain power held by the few over the many.
And three, accountability must be established for policies that serve the interest of all the people; not only factions or special interests. When any of these supports are weakened, democracy decays.
Many examples of good and bad democracies are given by Fukuyama. To narrow the territory, this review will focus on the United States but the author offers many more examples that reinforce his theory.
In the U. S., the founding fathers address forming a nation-state with rule of law and a balance of power formula intended to serve the interest of all of its citizens. For over two hundred years, America has adhered, in principle, to these three pillars of democracy.
However, America has failed, at different times, in different degrees, in ways that have shaken each of democracy’s pillars.
The iniquity of slavery is played out. The right of national governance of all states of the union is clarified and mandated by the victory of Union forces. Through the blood and treasure lost in the war, the nation became one.
The nation-state is nearly destroyed by the American civil war.
There have been numerous attacks on the rule of law when addressing equality of opportunity, the right to vote, and freedom of expression. Victories and losses are referred to in Fukuyama’s book with a trend toward betterment in America but still as a work in progress. Fukuyama notes that many nations are not ready for democracy because they have not adopted rule of law that requires human rights for all citizens.
Accountability has been distorted by political gerrymandering, special interest influences, patronage, and what Fukuyama calls “clientism” (selling one’s vote for reward).
Concern is expressed over the role of special interest money in its distortion of the political will of the many by the few.
Fukuyama decries the growing extremism in America because of political parties that rely on local political caucuses controlled by minorities, or special interests. These special interests nominate candidates who are not qualified to be leaders but are beholding to small interest groups. If elected, they become clients of special interests rather than representatives of their districts.
Fukuyama spends a good deal of time giving examples of Presidents like Jackson (a President which some compare to Trump) who strongly endorses patronage appointments based on relationship rather than merit. Fukuyama notes that patronage is significantly changed when a disgruntled acquaintance is denied a foreign post by President Garfield. The denied acquaintance assassinates the President.
The Pendleton Act is passed and a merit system of appointment is established for government positions. Fukuyama notes that the Pendleton Act did not eliminate patronage but it reduced its use–the Civil Service came into being.
Fukuyama makes the point that institutionalization of the ideals of the three pillars of democracy ensures government stability and longevity. The Civil Service is an example of another step taken by America to preserve democratic government.
Fukuyama implies vilification of civil service employees undermines democratic stability.
At a Summit, Trump discounts the CIA’s intelligence system.
Marie Yovanovitch (Former Ambassador to Ukraine is summarily fired by President Trump.)
The main points of “Political Order and Political Decay” revolve around the pillars of democracy. Fukuyama shows that there are many democracies in the world but those that violate any of the three pillars are likely to decay over time.
Fukuyama argues–when institutions fail to maintain the state as sovereign, defensible, and dependent on the good will of many, willing to guarantee individual rights by rule of law, and accountable for political leader’s actions, democracy decays.
Fukuyama infers countries that choose not to be democratic, based on the three pillars he describes, will not rival the success of modern nation-states that have achieved economic and political stability.
Fukuyama suggests the United States will not necessarily remain the super power it has become. Fukuyama argues that warning signals are flashing in America because of changes occurring in its political system. Recognition of corporations as individuals by the Supreme Court opens the door wider for special interest influence on public policy.
Corporations are able to contribute as much money as they want to super-pacs as clients for political representatives who are primarily influenced by corporate interests rather than public good. History has made it clear that what is good for General Motors is not necessarily good for the country.
The Supreme Court’s decision to recognize corporations as people opened the flood gate to corporate influence in government.
Another warning bell in America is the blurring lines for separation of powers. The Supreme Court is entering the realm of legislature. Veto power has disrupted compromise between the Legislature and Presidency. Rules in Congress are being used to block negotiation that results in “do-nothing” legislation.
Confidence in the American Federal Government is diminishing. Belief in the legislative process is at an all-time low. The public grows to believe government serves special interests more than the common good.
Fukuyama suggests every developing sovereign country should be treated with respect based on their road to nationhood. Governments will form based on acquiring their own state identity. America’s role should be support of nations trying to establish rule of law that serves the interests of their citizens. Finally, America’s role is to demonstrate, encourage, and supplement other nations’ efforts to create institutional organizations that promote the pillars of democracy.
Trump relationship with traditional democratic allies is considered by some to be more confrontational than friendly.
President Trump’s vilification of traditional democratic allies bodes ill for Fukyama’s theory of “Political Order and Political Decay”. Trump diminishes America’s example as a good democracy.
If Fukuyama’s theory is correct, it offers a road map for how America can recover and retain a leadership role in the world. The road map starts with America righting its own ship of state by being a good example of democracy. If one accepts Fukuyama’s theory, America should support outside countries efforts to become independent democracies.
Mo Yan chooses to use reincarnation to bind China’s twentieth century history together. The choice of reincarnation adds humor but suggests something more than laughs.
By Chet Yarbrough
Life and Death are Wearing Me Out
By Mo Yan (Translated by Howard Goldblatt)
Narrated by Feodor Chin
HOWARD GOLDBLATT (TRANSLATOR OF MO YAN CLASSIC)
Cultural understanding is missing from Howard Goldblatt’s translation of Mo Yan’s “Life and Death are Wearing Me Out”. Mo Yan chooses to use reincarnation to bind China’s twentieth century history together. The choice of reincarnation adds humor but suggests something more than laughs.
Author, Mo Yan
The story begins with a murdered man who comes back as a donkey, then as an ox, a pig, a dog, and finally as another man—funny, but is there rhyme or reason in the order?
China becomes communist in the 1940s under the leadership of Mao Zedong. Communism seeks re-distribution of private land into cooperatives to benefit the many at the expense of the few. Mo Yan’s story begins with China’s communist revolution and the unjust murder and confiscation of a landowner’s farm.
The murdered landowner is Ximen Nao. After death, Ximen Nao falls into an imagined purgatory to, presumably, be cleansed of his sins. Despite severe torture, Ximen Nao refuses purgatory’s judgment of his sin. In consequence, or happenstance, he is reincarnated as a donkey. The twist in his reincarnation is that he remembers his former life. Returning to life as a donkey, he meets former employees, a wife, two mistresses, and his children.
During the Communist revolution, Ximen Nao is murdered. After death, Ximen Nao falls into an imagined purgatory to, presumably, be cleansed of his sins. Despite severe torture, Ximen Nao refuses purgatory’s judgment of his sin. In consequence, or happenstance, he is reincarnated as a donkey.
Ximen Nao, as a donkey, returns to his homeland and finds that his former employee has married one of his mistresses and is farming 6 acres of his confiscated land. Ximen Nao, the reincarnated donkey, gains a grudging respect for his former employee because the employee steadfastly resists public ownership (being part of the communist co-op) of property and insists on being an independent farmer. (Communist China’s law allows a farmer to be independent of a cooperative if they choose to work the land themselves.)
The former employee and his new wife become emotionally attached to the donkey because they believe it is a reincarnation of an important person in their lives. (Later, Ximen Nao’s wife consciously acknowledges that the donkey is a reincarnation of her husband.) The independent farmer and his wife cherish the donkey’s existence and its aid in farming the land. Several incidents involving the donkey reflect on life in China during Mao Zedong’s reign.
Mo Yan straddles acceptance and rejection of communism and China’s current form of capitalism. His story skewers both political systems. In Mo Yan’s story, communism and its belief in public ownership are defeated by human nature’s drive for independence. The independent farmer lives through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and witnesses the return of a capitalist form of property ownership. Mo Yan denigrates communism’s intrusion in family affairs and how it turns son against father, brother against brother, and compels women to choose between family and a communist’ collective way of life.
Mo Yan straddles acceptance and rejection of communism and China’s current form of capitalism. His story skewers both political systems.
Capitalism and its belief in unfettered freedom are also ridiculed. Mo Yan characterizes capitalism in a story about the lives of spoiled youth. Youth that live off their family’s wealth; living for adventure; denigrating love, productive work, and respect for tradition and family.
Mo Yan shows how singular pursuit of wealth corrupts morality; how leisure becomes more important than caring for others or working for human improvement.
Is there some significance in the order of Ximen Nao’s reincarnations? Ximen Nao is first reincarnated as a donkey, then as an ox, then as a pig, then as a dog, and finally as another man. It is a clever way of observing history through the prism of different animal’s lives. It also makes one wonder about humankind’s ethnocentricity and failure to respect all living things.
Most importantly –It makes one wonder where these two Presidents are taking their countries.
Finding the right balance in life is an overriding theme in Mo Yan’s story. As the inscription on the temple of Apollo at Delphi suggests, “Nothing in excess”; Aristotle, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and many others have suggested moderation in all things. Mo Yan suggests that both Chinese communism and capitalism fail to offer the right balance in life.