Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Wall Street as the co-government of the U.S.

June 23, 2015

I’ve written many posts about the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington, and how the U.S. government puts the interests of the financial oligarchy above the interests of the American public.

I’ve just finished reading a book that shows how far back in American history this goes.

 ALL THE PRESIDENT’S BANKERS: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power by Nomi Prins (2014) is a narrative history showing the interdependence of the Presidents and the Wall Street banking and financial community from the early 20th century to the present day.

Nomi Prins showed how American Presidents from 1910 to 1970 had to take the interests of Wall Street banks into account in implementing their policies, and then how, from 1980 on, the banks freed themselves from governmental restrictions to engage in ever-bigger speculations, from which they had to be bailed out.

Her story begins with the Panic of 1907 with President Theodore Roosevelt standing by helplessly while J. Pierpont Morgan summons bankers to his mansion and arranges a bailout to prevent financial collapse.

The Federal Reserve System was created in 1913 in order to prevent such a situation from recurring.

This was a major turning point in American history.  It gave the United States a financial stability and financial resources without which it could not have been a world power.  It made possible U.S. participation in the world wars, the projection of American global power and the great expansion of federal government activity—none of which could have been paid for on a pay-as-you-go basis or with foreign loans.

At the same time, it formalized the position of the great American banks as a kind of fourth branch of government.

(more…)

Why I am not a population bomber

May 11, 2015

In 1968 I read a book entitled The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich which began as follows:

The_Population_BombThe battle to feed all of humanity is over.  In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…

via Wikipedia.

Ehrlich argued that the world’s fundamental problem was that there were too many people in the world, and that the only solution was by means of birth control if possible, but not by relief of poverty or increase of food supply.

At the time he wrote, there were 3.5 billion people in the world.  Now there are 7.2 billion, but there is less hunger and starvation in the world than there is today.

Nowadays Ehrlich admits he exaggerated for dramatic effect, but he says it was for a good purpose, which was to alert people to the danger of overpopulation.

I don’t agree it served a good purpose.  I think Ehrlich put obstacles in the way of people such as Norman Borlaug who sought to increase food production and relieve famine.  What good was it, people asked, if it results in more people being born who eventually would starve to death anyway?

Mathusianism has long been used as an excuse to let people starve.  The British government used this excuse for failing to relieve famine in Ireland in the 1840s and in India in the 1940s.   It is still used as an excuse for failing to relieve famine in Africa.

The great economist, Amartya Sen, has pointed out that there never has been a famine in a democracy, because in a democracy, public opinion will not permit allowing a large percentage of the population to starve.

In modern times, the problem has never been that there was not enough food to go around, he wrote.  The problem was people who were too poor to buy the food that was available.

Yet Ehrlich’s ideas still have wider circulation than Sen’s, at least among people I hang out with.  I still hear people say, when we’re talking about some social problem, that the basic underlying problem is that there are too many people in the world.

And sometimes this is followed—and this makes my blood run cold—by the remark, “We’ve got to thin the herd.”

The best thing I can say for people who talk like this is that they don’t realize the genocidal implications of what they’re saying.

(more…)

George Orwell is the writer I most admire

April 30, 2015

George Orwell is the writer whom I most admire.

George Orwell

George Orwell

He is not the writer with the greatest insight into things, he is not the most brilliant literary stylist, and he is not the writer who gives me the greatest pleasure.

He is the writer I would have most liked to resemble—in his honesty, in his fearlessness, in his clear writing (which is partly a product of his honesty and fearlessness) and in his affirmation of common life and ordinary people.

He is remembered for Animal Farm and 1984, but his essays and journalism are just as interesting.

He was a radical, but not the kind of radical who, like George Bernard Shaw, wanted to re-engineer human life into something unrecognizable, while leaving existing concentrations of wealth and power undisturbed.

Here is a passage from The Road to Wigan Pier, which is about the lives of unemployed coal miners in the north of England in the 1930s.  He wrote about what he saw from the window of his train as he returned to his home in the south.

(more…)

Poor nations and the new world order

April 28, 2015

One of the things I’ve come to realize in recent years is that institutions exist that constitute a kind of world government.

I always thought that for a world government to exist, it would have to have its own army.  But the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the investor-state dispute settlement judges in international trade agreements don’t need armies to enforce their—unless you consider the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to be their army.

PrashadPoorerNations97818I just finished reading  THE POORER NATIONS: A Possible History of the Global South (2012) by Vijay Prashad, which is about how international institutions came into being to fight nationalistic governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America—the Third World.

These international institutions are greatly from the world government envisioned by the idealists who created the United Nations.

I’m worried about how the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement and other proposed trade agreements would create rules to protect international corporations and investors against national laws to protect labor, public health and the environment.  But for Third World nations, as Prashad showed, this is nothing new.

(more…)

What could a new kind of labor movement be?

April 10, 2015

Sam Seder’s interview of Thomas Geoghegan is about 45 minutes long. 

The rest of the running time is a repeat.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

Thomas Geoghegan says American labor needs a new strategy, which would include the following.

  • The right to join a labor union or engage in labor action should be a civil right.
  • Workers should have the right to form unions that represent only their members, instead of a government-determined bargaining unit.
  • On the other hand, unions should strive for works councils in big organizations, which would represent all the employees and not just the union members.

American labor unions have been unable to stop “right to work” laws from being enacted in state after state—even in Michigan.

only_one_thing_can_save_us_finalThese laws forbid labor-management contracts in which an employer hires only labor union members, or requires new employees to pay dues to a union.  Yet, by law, the union contract must cover all the employees in the bargaining unit, regardless of whether they join or pay dues.

Thomas Geoghegan wrote in Only One Thing Can Save Us that it may not be possible to stop right-to-work from becoming national law.  To the average person, it doesn’t seem right that they should be forced to join an organization or make payments to it against their will.  And as fewer and fewer people have any experience with unions, the counter-argument becomes harder to make.

But if unions lose that battle, as well they might, all is not lost.  It is much easier to make the case for the right to join a labor union if there never are any circumstances in which union membership is compulsory.

(more…)

College for all is an economic red herring

April 9, 2015

wages-productivity-educationSource: The Atlantic.

SDT-higher-education-02-11-2014-0-06Senator Rick Santorum was right, or at least partly right.  Only a snob would think that you have to be a college graduate to be a success in life.

Now President Obama didn’t exactly say that in the 2012 campaign, not in so many words, but the focus of his policy is that high schools should make their graduates “college-ready” and that a college diploma is a key to economic success.

This is a red herring.  It is a diversion from the real economic problems, especially the erosion of the wage-earning middle class.

Thomas Geoghegan pointed out in his new book, Only One Thing Can Save Us, that when the President says lack of higher education is the cause of economic inequality, he is writing off the 68 percent of Americans age 24 to 64 who don’t have college diplomas and never will.

Suppose, he asked, that Obama and the Democrats succeed in pushing the college graduation rate up to 35 percent or even 40 percent, which would be hard to do.   Obama is still writing off the majority of working-age Americans.

The President is in effect telling high school graduates that the reason it is so hard for them to find decent-paying jobs is that they didn’t go to college.  And as for the the one in five male college graduates and one in seven women graduates whose income is less than that of the average high school graduate, it is because they attended the wrong college or majored in the wrong subject.

(more…)

Germany as a good example for the USA

April 8, 2015

I grew up with a stereotype of the Germans as prisoners of hierarchy, bureaucracy and rules, who would never be a match for us democratic, freedom-loving practical Americans.

But if that ever was true, our two countries have since traded places.

Were-You-Born-on-the-Wrong-Continent1Thomas Geoghegan, a Chicago labor lawyer whose writings I admire, wrote a book in 2010 entitled WERE YOU BORN ON THE WRONG CONTINENT? How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life about how Germany is an economic role model for the United States.

He still says so in his newest book, ONLY ONE THING CAN SAVE US: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement.

In Germany, Geoghegan wrote, the laws, strong labor unions, worker representatives in management make it difficult to fire anybody.  So layoffs are a last resort, not a first resort.

German management is forced to concentrate on figuring out how to get the most out of the work force, not on making workers powerless and replaceable.   The result is that German corporations invest in lifelong learning for their workers, on the justified assumption that they’re going to remain with the same employer and become permanent assets to the firm.

(more…)

Replaceable workers or productive workers?

April 7, 2015

CEOs of American companies complain of a lack of skilled workers and the lack of job training.

But if you look at what most of them do, and not what they say, they don’t really want productive workers.  They want replaceable workers.

only_one_thing_can_save_us_finalSo argues Thomas Geoghegan, a Chicago labor lawyer, in his outstanding new book, ONLY ONE THING CAN SAVE US: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement.

One obvious example of this is Boeing’s decision to have its new Dreamliner made by inexperienced, low-paid workers in South Carolina rather than members of the International Association of Machinists in Seattle.   They had production and quality problems in South Carolina, but their priority evidently was to get away from the union.

Now the same management philosophy is being applied to public schools, universities and hospitals.   Well-trained, well-paid professionals are harassed, laid off and replaced with inexperienced newcomers.

If you define efficiency as that which is most convenient for managers, there is something to be said for this.  An ignorant subordinate is less likely to give you an argument than an experienced and skilled subordinate.  It is easier to treat people as replaceable parts if they lack knowledge and opinions.

(more…)

Hiroshima’s Shadow: crossing a moral line

March 24, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

Source: Professor Olsen@large

Seventy years after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we live under the possibility that nuclear weapons will be used again—possibly but not necessarily by us Americans or on us Americans.

I’m trying to understand the reasons for Hiroshima and Nagasaki by reading Hiroshima’s Shadow:Writing on the Denial of History and the Smithsonian Controversy, edited by Kai Bird and Lawrence Lifschultz, which was recommended by my e-mail pen pal Tanweer Akram of the Bertrand Russell Society.

The book was published after the Smithsonian Institution in 1995 canceled an exhibit about the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, after the American Legion and the Air Force Association objected to inclusion of material questioning the necessity of the bombing.

It is plain to me as I read this book that  the decision to use the atomic bomb mainly reflected the momentum of two earlier decisions:

  • The decision to wage war against civilians by bombing enemy cities from the air.
  • The decision to develop atomic weapons for that purpose.

Hiroshima's Shadow 0_After these choices were made, I think the decision to bomb was, if not inevitable, the path of least resistance.   Once the original bright moral line was crossed, the only issue was whether to do the same thing by means of a new and more horrible method.

I think the consequences of these decisions would still be with us even if the tragedy of Hiroshima could have been avoided.

Americans and Britons once were shocked by the German Zeppelin raids on London during World War Two, the destruction of the village of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, the bombing of Shanghai by the Japanese and of the bombing of Rotterdam and Warsaw by the Germans.

But we soon came to accept the fire-bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, first as regrettable necessities and then as the new normal.

That new normal is still with us.  Bombing is still the basic American military tactic, even when it doesn’t work.  When your only tool is air power, everything looks like a target.

(more…)

Illustrating Alice in Wonderland: a gallery

March 21, 2015
alicedali2

Salvador Dali (1969)

My e-mail pen pal Jack Clontz sent me a link to a wonderful gallery of illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  The pictures capture the basic strangeness of the book.  I have copied samples of the pictures, which you can look at below.  For the full gallery, click on The Best Illustrations from 150 Years of Alice in Wonderland by Maria Popova for Brain Pickings.

(more…)

Books for 10,000 years from now

February 21, 2015

The Long Now Foundation was created to engage in very long-term thinking.  One of its projects is a 10,000-year clock, which will tick one a year, bong once a century and strike the “hour” once every 1,000 years.

Another is to collect and store a library of essential reading, including a Manual of Civilization wing consisting of 3,500 books with information most needed to “sustain or restore” civilization.   The books are still in the process of being selected.

∞∞∞

Here is a preliminary list of some of them.

(more…)

Some of the world’s most ancient trees

February 7, 2015

ancient-trees-beth-moon-1.

ancient-trees-beth-moon-8

Beth Moon, a photographer based in San Francisco, has spent 14 years photographing the world’s most ancient trees.  These photos are from her new book, Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time.

(more…)

Could the Cold War have been averted?

February 2, 2015

The Cold War was a real war.  I have read that by some estimates 30 million people died in wars and conflicts between 1945 and 1991, and most of these were linked to the global duel between the USA and the USSR.

The casualties included those in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam Conflict, the anti-Communist uprisings in East Germany in 1953 and Hungary in 1956, the Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot, the U.S.-backed death squads in Latin America, the Indonesians massacred in the overthrow of Sukarno, the wars in Africa between US-backed and Soviet-backed proxies, the Afghan war between a Soviet-backed regime and US-backed rebels, and countless other struggles now forgotten by the world.

UntoldHistoryStoneKuznick00379519Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, in their book and TV documentary, The Untold History of the United States, said this tragedy for have been avoided but for one thing.

It was that the President of the United States in the years following World War Two happened to be Harry Truman, a warmonger, rather than Henry Wallace, a lover of peace.

This is not how it appeared to me at the time.   I came of age in the early 1950s, and I thought the United States and its allies were in peril, the same kind of peril as in the 1930s.

The Soviet Union was as much a totalitarian dictatorship as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.   By “totalitarian,” I mean that the government sought to subordinate all human activity, including science, art, literature, sport, education and civic life, to the control of the ruling party, and to demand not only passive acquiescence, but enthusiastic support.

Hitler and Stalin also were alike in that they killed millions of people, not for anything they had done, but for what they were.  While historians now think that Stalin murdered fewer people as Hitler, this is not how things seemed at the time, and, in any case, Stalin’s body count was large enough.

But the most terrifying thing about totalitarianism was the idea that the ruling party could somehow get into the minds of its subjects, and experience slavery as a kind of freedom.  George Orwell’s 1984 was an all-too-plausible vision of a future in which there was no individual liberty, no concept of objective truth aside from a party line and a Winston Smith could be brainwashed into loving Big Brother.  These things seemed all too plausible.

Stalin not only ruled one-sixth of the earth’s surface, but commanded the loyalty of Communists worldwide.  Millions of people, many of them idealistic, intelligent and courageous, believed it was their duty to subordinate their personal convictions and code of morality to a Communist Party line that put the interests of the Soviet Union above all else.

A revolutionary Communist movement is one thing.  A worldwide Communist movement that subordinated all other goals to being an instrument of Soviet power was a very different thing.

(more…)

Was the Hiroshima bomb necessary?

January 29, 2015

UntoldHistoryStoneKuznick00379519I’ve been reading Oliver Stone’s and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States, a companion to their TV series of the same name.  It is a compendium of the crimes and follies of the U.S. government in the 20th century.

One chapter is devoted to an indictment of the USA for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Stone and Kuznick contend that:

  • The dropping of the bomb was partly due to President Truman’s need to affirm his masculinity.
  • The dropping of the bombs was partly due to American racism against the Japanese.
  • The dropping of the bombs was intended mainly as a deterrent against the Soviet Union.
  • Japan’s surrender could have been negotiated without the bomb.
  • The Soviet invasion of Manchuria, not the atomic bombs, were the main reason why the Japanese eventually did surrender.

For me, it’s not so simple.

Hiroshima and Nakasaki were the culmination in the greatest mass slaughter of human beings in history.  An estimated 50 million to 60 million people, more than half of them civilians, were killed in the war, not counting those who died of war-related famine and disease.

World War Two was a war without mercy.  All sides lost their moral inhibitions.  I was a small boy during World War Two and I remember the wartime atmosphere.  Everyone wanted to win the war as quickly as possible and by any means necessary.

There was no bright line that separated the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings from what had gone before, including the systematic bombing of the German and Japanese cities.  I couldn’t have imagined the United States possessing such a powerful weapon and not using it.

(more…)

Courtney White on the age of consequences

January 28, 2015

Progress was good for my parents. They came to a strange land as poor pioneers and prospered along with Phoenix. They lived the American Dream—not the pursuit of material manifestations of success as much as their steady improvement over time.

Courtney White

Courtney White

Their lives were better than their parents’; they had more security, more opportunity, more comfort. They didn’t do without, go hungry, or stand in unemployment lines; they were well-educated, well-fed, and well-blessed with the fruits of a robust and expanding economy.

Best of all, especially for my mother, they could travel, and they saw parts of the globe that deeply impressed them. If they had second thoughts or misgivings about progress, I never heard a word. For them, the future was always bright.

I developed a different perspective. I came of age during the heyday of progress, witnessing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Impressed at first, I have now lived long enough to see that manifest destiny was not necessarily a positive force in our history.

I will likely live long enough to see evidence that America is not exceptional after all—that despite this nation’s many admirable qualities, it is subject to the same historical forces that have worn down all great nations and empires throughout the ages.

==Courtney White, The Age of Consequences

∞∞∞

Courtney White of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a former archeologist, Sierra Club activist and co-founder of the Quivera Coalition, which is dedicated to bringing together ranchers, conservationists, public land managers, scientists and others to improve land practices.

I’ve not read any of his books.  Probably I should.  Here are links to excerpts from The Age of Consequences, his latest.

The real path through history: An arrow of progress.

The Nervous Breakdown.

Manifest destiny was not necessarily a positive force in our history.

Thanks to Bill Elwell for the first link and for making me aware of Courtney White and his work.

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 706 other followers