Monday, March 28, 2011

Booknote: Aftershock

Actually, I finished this book about a week ago, but between work and life, I did not get around to writing up a review about it until now. I am sharing what I wrote on my GoodReads page here in the blog because I think this is a book that more people should read. I jotted down some brief passages as well that made me think, which readers can see under the updates if they visit the linked review. As is often the case, what I worry about is that people who should actually be reading this book will probably not read it.

AftershockAftershock by Robert B. Reich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Readers can tell that Robert Reich is a college teacher; it shows in this book. He is very good at explaining exactly what happened to the economy in this current climate and why it happened. More importantly, he outlines very well what will happen unless this nation and its people decide on some serious, substantial, meaningful changes. And yet, this is a short book, which makes it pretty easy to read. What I found fascinating is that what is happening is not really new for one. We faced a lot of this during the Great Depression. In some ways, the situation is the same, but the names and players have changed, so to speak.

The problem is not one of Americans simply having spent past their means, which they did. This is not to be denied. The real problem is their wages have not kept up with the times, and employers and the wealthy have broken the social contract where we all pay fairly and gain benefit from shared prosperity. When you have billionaires like Warren Buffet actually saying that he should be taxed a lot more, that is a hint of Professor Reich's argument. I found myself making a lot of little notes, which you can see in my reading updates for this book for the book offers some good points and a lot to think about. The potential scenario of an "Independence Party" candidate winning the White House along with Congress should scare the daylights out of people not matter what side of the political spectrum you are in. And yet, we get a very good explanation of how it will happen if things keep going at the same pace as well as how to avoid, which is the option that will take work. Many passages in this book caught my eye, but I think the one I want to share with readers right away is this one:

On page 145: "If nothing is done to counter present trends, the major fault line in American politics will no longer be between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. It will be between the 'establishment'--political insiders, power brokers, the heads of American business, Wall Street, and the mainstream media--and an increasingly mad-as-hell populace determined to 'take back America' from them."

Now, take a guess who is going to "win" if the current crop of greedy, hate-and-fear mongering powers manage to keep on manipulating the angry and willfully ignorant. It does not look good, and maybe that is why I did not give this book five stars. I don't necessarily share Dr. Reich's optimism at the end of the book. However, overall, this is one book worth reading.

View all my reviews

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rolling Stone on Army's Use of Psy-Ops. Why am I reading about it in the music magazine?

Once again I get to ask why am I reading about this in Rolling Stone. I am not saying there is anything wrong with Rolling Stone. On the contrary, as of late, they are picking up some very interesting and important stories that the rest of the mainstream media seem to be ignoring.For example on the tea party and the BP oil spill.

Back in January (I know, I am a bit late writing about it, but I had to take time to read it), they had a piece on the Army using their psy-ops units (they call them MISO's now, which stands for "Military Information Support Operations) in Afghanistan to influence American senators, representatives, and other VIPs to hold favorable views of the operation in Afghanistan. Basically, they were using their psy-ops to influence American citizens, which is something forbidden by law.

"According to experts on intelligence policy, asking a psy-ops team to direct its expertise against visiting dignitaries would be like the president asking the CIA to put together background dossiers on congressional opponents." 

If you have not read it, it is worth a look. Now that I found the time to read it, I did find it timely as we think on Sunshine Week and things like open government and our right to know what it is our government does in order to hold it accountable. This does include holding the military accountable as well.

A hat tip to Americablog.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Are the best days of the USA gone? Maybe

This article out of Time, "Are America's Best Days Behind Us?," caught my eye because it made some pretty good points that I think people often fail to think about. They either fail to think about such points, or more likely they simply refuse to think about such things because in their eyes the good old US of A will be #1 no matter what. Those are the people who simply refuse to learn from the past because heaven forbid they learn from some other source that is not whatever jingoistic misinformation they prefer to consume.

Some of the points that made me think a bit:

"Yes, the U.S. remains the world's largest economy, and we have the largest military by far, the most dynamic technology companies and a highly entrepreneurial climate. But these are snapshots of where we are right now. The decisions that created today's growth — decisions about education, infrastructure and the like — were made decades ago. What we see today is an American economy that has boomed because of policies and developments of the 1950s and '60s: the interstate-highway system, massive funding for science and technology, a public-education system that was the envy of the world and generous immigration policies."

Notice that the good things we have now are due to long term decisions that were made decades ago. Basically, the U.S. is not making those kind of decisions now. It is easy to see why. Such decisions take work, take vision, and often require sacrifice for something that will pay off down the road. Those things are not politically expedient; they will not yield votes for the politicians now. And heaven forbid we ask the current generation to make a sacrifice here and there for the sake of our children. Funny, since many folks in this generation do like to pander with the phrase "think of the children." Just as long as there is no cost involved it seems.

"But reducing funds for things like education, scientific research, air-traffic control, NASA, infrastructure and alternative energy will not produce much in savings, and it will hurt the economy's long-term growth. It would happen at the very moment that countries from Germany to South Korea to China are making large investments in education, science, technology and infrastructure."

The things we should be investing on, the things that will truly help our economy in the future, not to mention our long term viability as a nation, are the very things the U.S. is failing to invest on. These things do require funding and commitment, and deity forbid, maybe even some tax increases. But since the right wing in this country has pretty much demonized any tax increase, even when such an increase would actually be good for the nation, there will not be any serious investments in basics like education and infrastructure while the rest of the world basically moves forward and passes by the U.S. 
Hell, even the Corleones, well some of them, knew the importance of looking ahead and planning accordingly. As Tom Hagen said, "If we don't get a piece of that action we risk everything we have. Not now, but ten years from now." Why can't our politicians think in similar terms? I suggest my two readers go read the rest of the article to find out why. Some of the reasons are very much related to what I mentioned already: political expediency, but you will also find selfishness, a refusal to learn from others, a lack of reflection and honest assessment, and overall complacency.