Thursday, 22 January 2015

Thom Hartmann, "Crash of 2016" (2013)

Subtitle: "The Plot to Destroy America and What We Can Do About It".

What most surprised me about this book, and I'm not sure why, is that Hartmann seems to be left-leaning. Concern with financial crashes and plotting out one's financial survival generally seems to be associated with libertarian, conservative ideology.

Essentially, Hartmann tracks out a series of political decisions over the last several decades that indicate a potentially fatal loosening of controls over corporations that have allowed wealth to accumulate in fewer and fewer hands, and gutted the kinds of social policies that kept economic/class disparity under control within the United States. He suggests that this problem comes about cyclically, about every 80 years or so, based on the passing of the people who experienced the horrible outcomes of similar decisions within their own lifetime.

Frugal Musings has a very good, if lengthy, discussion of the book.

Gregory Klages -
Quotations from, and notes on:
Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America and What We Can Do About It

CHAPTER 3: The Crisis Capitalists
"In 1947, two years after the war ended, Friedrich Hayek gathered a large group of economists, historians, journalists, and businessmen to a meeting in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland.

"...what Hayek was unable to do, mainly because he was operating with the catastrophic consequences of his free-market philosophy still fresh in everyone’s mind, Friedman would do—and that’s lead a global counterrevolution against controlled capitalism

"These so-called free-market reforms promoted by the members of the Mont Pelerin Society and later the Chicago Boys do not constitute a legitimate economic theory, as they’ve never worked anywhere they’ve been tried, anywhere in the world. They constitute a religion.

"...two years into Pinochet and the Chicago Boys’ rule, inflation had reached 341 percent—higher than anywhere else in the world. The price of goods increased by 375 percent. GDP decreased by 15 percent. Agriculture production sputtered to a grinding halt. Export values dropped 28 percent and Chile acquired a $280 million trade deficit. And to top everything off, Chile’s unemployment rate skyrocketed from 3 percent—among the lowest in that hemisphere—before Friedman stepped foot in the country to more than 10 percent and, in some parts of the country, as high as 22 percent

CHAPTER 4: A Middle-Class Primer
"The United States has had two great periods of what we today call a middle class. The first was from the 1700s to the mid-1800s, and was fueled by virtually free land for settlers (stolen from the Indians) and free labor (slavery in the South and indentured immigrants in the North). The result was (as de Tocqueville pointed out) the most well-educated, politically active, middle-class “nonaristocrats” in the world.

"...the period between 1947 and 1979 saw unparalleled equitable growth. During these thirty-plus years, the poorest fifth of Americans saw a 116 percent increase in their incomes. The middle fifth, a 111 percent increase. And the top 5 percent saw an 85 percent increase. All income classes shared in the prosperity of the times when the top marginal income tax rate was above 70 percent.

" taxation, which gave workers more to spend and gave the rich an incentive to pay their workers better to maintain a stable workplace (since if they took the money themselves, it would just mostly go to taxes), thus stimulating demand for more goods and services.

"Whenever top marginal tax rates were relatively high—above 60 percent usually—the economy was at its most stable.

" 1944, FDR...proposed a Second Bill of Rights.

These rights included:
"The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation; The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living; The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad; The right of every family to a decent home; The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment; The right to a good education

"An early instruction manual for the game of Monopoly in 1925 reads, “At the start of the game every player is provided with the same amount of capital and presumably has exactly the same chance of success as every other player. The game ends with one person in possession of all the money. What accounts for the failure of the rest, and what one factor can be singled out to explain the obviously ill-adjusted distributions of the community’s wealth which this situation represents?”

"...not only is the accumulation of vast amounts of wealth in the hands of an elite aristocracy not good for working people, it’s also not good for economies as a whole, which is exactly what the game Monopoly teaches us.

CHAPTER 5: Reagan Kidnapped the Jetsons
"In a 1966 article, TIME magazine looked ahead toward the future and what the rise of automation would mean for average working Americans. It concluded, “By 2000, the machines will be producing so much that everyone in the U.S. will, in effect, be independently wealthy. With Government benefits, even nonworking families will have, by one estimate, an annual income of $30,000–$40,000. How to use leisure meaningfully will be a major problem.” And that was $30,000–$40,000 in 1966 dollars, which would be roughly $199,000 to $260,000 in 2010 dollars.

CHAPTER 6: “Madness”
"That’s exactly what speculators were doing—buying up huge amounts of wheat contracts and holding on to them until they could be sold at a higher price. This had catastrophic effects on the global food supply.

"The force of Globalism,” [John Ralston] Saul writes, “through trade agreements, deregulation and privatization, would seriously weaken the ability of nation-states to act with any political independence.”

“Richer than a majority of nation-states on the planet, free of the geographical and social obligations of these old states, beyond the embarrassing demands of nationalism, freed in fact from the emotional, immeasurable demands of the citizenry, the transnational would be able to organize world affairs in a more rational, efficient manner.”

"Columnist Chrystia Freeland nailed this mind-set perfectly in her 2011 article “The Rise of the New Global Elite,” which ran in The Atlantic magazine. She reported that one influential American hedge fund manager argued that it didn’t matter if the US economy was in peril, because “if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade.”

"By 2008, actual commodity sellers and buyers were completely marginalized in the market by speculator banksters, who accounted for 80 percent of all futures purchases. And with their price manipulations, these derivative bombs cratered our economy with high gas prices.

Economist Steve Keen, author of Debunking Economics
"They will always want to lend more money… the banking sector profits by creating debt”...

CHAPTER 7: A Revolution Denied
"The Iroquois Confederation’s “Great Law,” which was a major inspiration for the American Constitution, famously called for all governmental decisions to be made in the context of their impact on “the Seventh Generation” down the line into the future.

CHAPTER 9: Betrayal on the High Court
"...with this decision in place and the law of the land, the First Amendment now protects the “free speech” rights of the presidents of Russia and China and Iran to form corporations in the United States and pour millions of dollars toward supporting or defeating the politicians of their choice. It protects the “right” of the largest polluting corporations on earth to politically destroy any politician who wants to give any more authority to the Environmental Protection Agency. It protects their “right” to elevate to elected status any politician who is willing to dismantle the EPA—or any other government agency that protects or defends the people of America from Royalist predation

"...the bible of legal scholars—the book that the framers of our Constitution had frequently cited and referenced in their deliberations in 1787 in Philadelphia—Sir William Blackstone’s 1765 Commentaries on the Laws of England...

"Stevens recounted the history of the evolution of corporations in America, noting, “Corporations were created, supervised, and conceptualized as quasi-public entities, ‘designed to serve a social function for the state.’

"As a result of Citizens United, outside political spending skyrocketed from just $68 million in the 2006 midterms, to over $304 million in the 2010 midterms. That’s a 400 percent increase in corporate cash influencing elections and buying politicians, just ten months after the Citizens United decision.

CHAPTER 10: Masters of the Universe
"On average, a member of the House of Representatives must raise $5,000 a week for his or her campaign. That means that every morning, Monday through Friday, they must wake up not thinking about governing but about fund-raising—how to scrounge up a thousand bucks that day. In the Senate it’s even worse, at an average of $14,000 a week.152 And those numbers were compiled by PBS before the Citizens United decision—today’s numbers are significantly higher.

American Legislative Exchange Council = ALEC

"’s a dating service setting up corporate lobbyists and state legislators,” he told me. “The culmination is the passing of special-interest legislation.”

"I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

"It’s no wonder that the American people have played into the hands of the Royalists and, as a result, have very little trust in government. After all, there is no reason why they should, because democratic government, as we once knew it, no longer exists

CHAPTER 11: This Is the End
" 1977, Harold E. Davis wrote a brilliant monograph for the Georgia Historical Society titled The Scissors Thesis, or Frustrated Expectations as the Cause of the Revolution in Georgia...

CHAPTER 12: Organized People v. Organized Money
"Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law. The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable

"On December 6, 2011, Los Angeles became the first major city in the United States to call for a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood.

"There have been similar resolutions passed in Boulder, Colorado, and Missoula, Montana, that say corporations are not people and money is not speech.

"I particularly recommend the model put forth by David Cobb at

"...the headnote to the Santa Clara County 1886 decision that asserted corporations are the same as natural persons in terms of constitutional protections.

"The [U.S.] Supreme Court was beyond their constitutional power when they handed George W. Bush the victory in 2000...

"...the [U.S.] Supreme Court was way beyond their constitutional authority every single time they created out of whole cloth new legal doctrines, such as “separate but equal” in Plessy v. Ferguson, “privacy” in Roe v. Wade, or “corporations are people” in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Matt Bai, "All the Truth is Out" (2014)

Subtitle: "The Week Politics Went Tabloid."

Bai offers a compelling and informative view into the media treatment of two-time US Presidential candidate Gary Hart, concentrating on 1987 accusations of marital infidelity.

I found Bai's work a fascinating profile of a political leader. It's investigation of a 'tipping point' in mass media coverage of America politics is even more intriguing.

Bai's work benefitted from surprising access to Hart and his spouse, as well as conversations with most of the key actors involved in the scandal, from the 'blonde' it was speculated he had caroused with, to newspaper and television news reporters and editors who made decisions about what to cover, when, and how.

Bai offers a convincing portrayal of a fundamental 'sea change' in how the media perceived and talked about political leaders within the United States. This change, likely begun during the 1970s with Watergate's shock to the system, came to its height with the decisions to discuss Hart's personal life (read: infidelity), which seemed to be common knowledge within political circles. The scandal, Bai argues, moved politician's personal lives into the forefront of political discussion, and suggested that aspiring politicians (and those already in the system) could no longer expect that anything was beyond the interest of media outlets.

Bai's access allowed him to not only investigate how the scandal was covered by the media, but to also consider how the scandal played out for Hart. Of course, the scandal effectively sank Hart's presidential campaign (I was surprised that he had actually tried to re-start his campaign later in the election cycle). The scandal, of course, also raised some fundamental personal questions for Hart about what being in politics meant, what values were important, etc.

In some respects, the considerations Bai raises in this regard remind me, ever so slightly, of Michael Ignatieff's reflection on his rather short stint as leader of Canada's Liberal Party. His fate (and eventually his failure), provided grist for much media speculation (as did his predecessor's). You can read my comments on Ignatieff's book, Fire and Ashes, on this site.

Some observations I found worthy of note:
(Pagination corresponds to my digital version.)

245: “E. J. Dionne’s second interview, in the New Hampshire hotel restaurant, when Dionne was pressing Hart on the rumors of affairs, and Hart was growing exasperated. Finally, he told Dionne: “Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’d be very bored.” Hart said this in an annoyed and sarcastic sort of way, in an obvious attempt to make a point. He was “serious” about the sentiment, all right, but only to the extent that a man who had been twice separated from his wife and conducted numerous liaisons over the years, with the full knowledge of his friends in the press corps, could have been serious about such a thing.”

248: “In those days before the Internet, however, the Times circulated hard copies of its magazine to other media a few days early, so editors and producers could pick out anything that might be newsworthy and publicize it in their own weekend editions or Sunday shows.”

250: “Fiedler’s fear was that, given twenty-four hours to strategize, Hart and his team would figure a way to get out in front of the story before the Herald could publish. Probably they would do this by going on the attack against the Herald, accusing the paper of stalking the candidate at his home—an allegation that would quickly turn the story into an argument over the Herald’s tactics, instead of an exposé about Hart’s infidelity.”

505: “…beginning with Watergate and culminating in Gary Hart’s unraveling, the cardinal objective of all political journalism had shifted, from a focus on agendas to a focus on narrow notions of character, from illuminating worldviews to exposing falsehoods. Whatever sense of commonality between candidates and reporters that existed in McGovern’s day had, by the time my generation arrived on the scene, been replaced by a kind of entrenched cold war. We aspired chiefly to show politicians for the impossibly flawed human beings they were—a single-minded pursuit that reduced complex careers to isolated transgressions.”

506: “Predictably, politicians responded to all this with a determination to give us nothing that might aid in the hunt to expose them, even if it meant obscuring the convictions and contradictions that made them actual human beings. Both sides retreated to our respective camps, where we strategized about how to outwit and outflank the other, occasionally to our own benefit but rarely to the voters’.
Maybe this made our media a sharper guardian of the public interest against frauds and hypocrites. But it also made it hard for any thoughtful politician to offer arguments that might be considered nuanced or controversial. And, just as consequential, the post-Hart climate made it much easier for candidates who weren’t especially thoughtful—who didn’t have any complex understanding of governance, or even much affinity for it—to gain national prominence. When a politician could duck any real intellectual scrutiny simply by deriding the evident triviality of the media, when the status quo was to never say anything that required more than ten words’ worth of explanation, then pretty much anyone could rail against the system and glide through the process without having to establish more than a passing familiarity with the issues. As long as you weren’t delinquent on your taxes or having an affair with a stripper or engaged in some other form of rank duplicity, you could run as a “Tea Partier” or a “populist” without ever having to elaborate on what you actually believed or what you would do for the country.”

508: “…between 1997 and 2013, trust in the mass media fell almost ten points. Four decades after the legend of Woodward and Bernstein came into being, only 28 percent of Americans were willing to say that journalists contributed a lot to society’s well-being—a showing that lagged behind almost every other professional group.”

513: “McCain’s burgeoning reputation as a reformer in the Bull Moose tradition had little to do with any actual governing agenda, and almost everything to do with theatrics. As his consultants would later admit, McCain’s gambit was conscious and born of desperation; they knew they would never get the media to follow their candidate if they didn’t create some kind of spectacle and celebrity persona, and they succeeded. McCain earned sudden fame as a truth teller, despite the fact that none of it added up to any coherent idea of how he would actually govern.”

515: “McCain had once thought, perhaps, that his persona as a war hero and maverick Republican would protect him from intimations of scandal, but the reverse turned out to be true. The more compelling a cultural figure you became, the more inevitable your disgrace. The arc of tabloid journalism—now deeply ingrained in even the most elite reaches of the industry—demanded nothing less.”

515: “Whatever one thought of her politics, it’s fair to say nothing on the forty-four-year-old Palin’s résumé qualified her to serve as a president-in-waiting. A former pageant queen, she had cycled through five underwhelming colleges before managing to graduate, and she had been a controversial small-town mayor before her unlikely ascension to the governorship—a job she had held, at that point, for less than two years. Her few, tentative TV interviews as a member of the ticket, for which she was heavily prepped, did nothing to counteract the impression that Palin knew less about foreign policy, in particular, than most casual readers of the newspaper.”

516: “It was as if, rather than having chosen an actual running mate, McCain had tried to reinvigorate his flagging campaign by holding a televised contest for the role, and Palin had made it through all the challenges and battle rounds in which you were locked away in a room full of tarantulas or whatever it was, and here she was, learning her lines in front of us. What Postman called the “supra-ideology” of entertainment—that’s what Palin’s candidacy was all about, and McCain’s embarrassed aides would later admit as much. By then, of course, Palin was more of a superstar than McCain had ever been, and she embodied a new phenomenon in national politics—power as a path to celebrity, rather than the other way around.”

521: ““No Drama Obama” was a misnomer; the candidate was in fact the leading man in a very real drama, an international celebrity who could draw millions of Germans to the Brandenburg Gate just to catch a glimpse, and who would soon be awarded the Nobel Prize for no other reason than having offered himself up to the world. Obama was brilliant and upright, funny and likable, an adequate if unenthusiastic retail politician. More than any of this, though, he was a well-cast protagonist, conjured from familiar story lines and deliberately marketed to inspire us. What, exactly, did Obama believe? What vision of governance guided his thinking, and what new argument did he bring to the arena? This was maddeningly hard to know, then and later. His twin mantras were “hope” and “change,” the rhetorical equivalent of rainbows and unicorns.”

522: “The truth was that Obama had had neither the time nor the burning inclination to work out his ideas or master the intricacies of governing before ascending to the Oval Office, and we in the media hadn’t been very interested in that side of him, anyway. From the start, he was treated more as a pop culture persona than a thought leader. He was a projection on a screen, larger than life but lacking the necessary dimension to propose the kind of bold reassessments that Hart had championed a quarter century earlier.”

Monday, 5 January 2015

Thomas Paine, "Common Sense" (1776)

Notes will follow, eventually.

Full text available via

Friday, 2 January 2015

William Forstchen, "One Second After" (2009)

Forstchen essentially narrates, through the vision of a typical hero of a US conflict narrative, the struggle for the citizens of a small North Carolina town to survive the year following an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the continental United States (as well as two other parts of the world).

Characterization is not Forstchen's forté. The narrator is a university history professor, former military man, widower, and father of two teenage girls. The protagonist is a bit of a cutout: former smoker falling back into the habit to manage the awful stress, stepping into difficult situations to do things no one else is willing to do, making good strategic calls for the benefit of the community, etc., etc., etc. Forstchen makes some effort to give the character some more human dimensions; he indicates that although a military man, the narrator served primarily in an administrative/leadership role and had little combat experience, he quickly starts voraciously eyeballing an attractive woman who finds herself stuck in the community, and he loves his dogs.

Where this book is intriguing, however, is as a piece of post-apocalytic/dystopian political fiction. The primary concern of the novel is exploring how societies would choose to govern themselves in the absence of 'higher temporal authority'. In this regard, Forstchen offers intriguing scenarios, poses challenging problems, and considers how they might be most likely resolved. Substantial space is given to describing discussions of the 'town council', explaining the thinking processes underlying decisions, and narrating discussions as options are weighed.

I have two core criticisms with the text. Firstly, there is little consideration given to resistance, dissension, and madness. In a dystopian scenario based on a near-instantaneous collapse of society - even within a somewhat isolated, small population centre - I would expect that many situations would dissolve into shouting matches, pushing and shoving, screaming and hair-pulling, accompanied by acts of desperation and insanity. Although Forstchen addresses looting, pillaging, rape, and cannibalism, these all seem to be marginal acts perpetrated by marginal figures in the story, and are treated clinically. Within the community, self-control and cooperation seems to be the near universal response. Perhaps this strategy was intended to underline the heroic charisma of the leaders, but for a society oriented around a revolutionary, individual rights focus, seems rather idealistic or naive.

Similarly, the enemy - the outsiders - are caricatures. Drug addicts and gang members from a nearby larger population centre, they manage to cobble together a small army to raid and terrorize other communities. While it is entirely possible that these types of groups might exist, it is difficult to see how they would manage to survive for an extended period as travelling marauders, particularly as they would likely not have the technical skills to adapt to the available technology, to generate a food supply once the existing reserves are depleted, and to create a viable leadership that is not constantly battling for dominance against competitors. It is far more likely that most communities would simply not be able to manage floods of refugees, the ravages of disease, and internal squabbling.

Overall, I think Walking Dead offers a more reasonable account of the post-apocalypse than One Second After. Of course, absent the zombies.

You can visit the book website.