Sunday, February 10, 2008

Books You Have To Read To Understand What's Really Going On With US Now

1. Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets: Surviving the Public Spectacle in Finance and Politics

In Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets, Bonner and freelance journalist Lila Rajiva use literary economics to offer broader insights into mass behavior and its devastating effects on society. Why is it, they ask, that perfectly sane and responsible individuals can get together, and by some bizarre alchemy turn into an irrational mob? What makes them trust charlatans and demagogues who manipulate their worst instincts? Why do they abandon good sense, good behavior and good taste when an empty slogan is waved in front of them. Why is the road to hell paved with so many sterling intentions? Why is there a fool on every corner and a knave in every public office?

2. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

The author's thesis is simply stated: that neoliberal economic programs have repeatedly been implemented without the consent of the governed by creating and/or taking advantage of various forms of national shock therapy. Ms. Klein asserts that in country after country, Friedman and his Chicago School followers have foisted their tripartite economic prescription - privatization, deregulation, and cutbacks in social welfare spending - on an unsuspecting populace through decidedly non-democratic means. In the early years, the primary vehicle was dictatorial military force and accompanying fear of arrest, torture, disappearance, or death. Over time, new organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank were employed instead, using or creating impossible debt burdens to force governments to accept privatization of state-owned industries and services, complete removal of trade barriers and tariffs, forced acceptance of private foreign investment, and widespread layoffs.

3. The Other America

Few works of contemporary non-fiction have had more lasting impact on the social consciousness of the overall society from which it arose than "The Other America", Michael Harrington's now classic tome on the egregious conditions under which what we would now call the "underclass" lived in mid-20th century American society. With an uncommon verve and uncanny precision, Harrington painstakingly detailed the disgusting and shocking realities of life for those many millions of Americans of both color and ethnicity living lives of desperate poverty in the midst of the affluent society. Millions of readers, myself included, were shocked to discover the extent to which this world coexisted with our own, and many of the social action programs that arose in the 1960s and thereafter used this book as a kind of reference guide to the realities of poverty in contemporary society.

4. Hegemony or Survival : America's Quest for Global Dominance (The American Empire Project)

In this highly readable, heavily footnoted critique of American foreign policy from the late 1950s to the present, Chomsky (whose 9-11 was a bestseller last year) argues that current U.S. policies in Afghanistan and Iraq are not a specific response to September 11, but simply the continuation of a consistent half-century of foreign policy-an "imperial grand strategy"-in which the United States has attempted to "maintain its hegemony through the threat or use of military force." Such an analysis is bound to be met with skepticism or antagonism in post-September 11 America, but Chomsky builds his arguments carefully, substantiates claims with appropriate documentation and answers expected counterclaims. Chomsky is also deeply critical of inconsistency in making the charge of "terrorism." Using the official U.S. legal code definition of terrorism, he argues that it is an exact description of U.S. foreign policy (especially regarding Cuba, Central America, Vietnam and much of the Middle East), although the term is rarely used in this way in the U.S. media, he notes, even when the World Court in 1986 condemned Washington for "unlawful use of force" ("international terrorism, in lay terms" Chomsky argues) in Nicaragua. Claiming that the U.S. is a rogue nation in its foreign policies and its "contempt for international law," Chomsky brings together many themes he has mined in the past, making this cogent and provocative book an important addition to an ongoing public discussion about U.S. policy.

5. Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis

Many Americans have resisted the notion that their country is an imperial power. The idea seems to contradict the values of the Republic and its Founding Fathers. But in Empire of Debt, prominent financial analysts Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin argue passionately that not only is the United States an empire, but it is also one whose end is coming soon. Bonner and Wiggin are the brains behind, an iconoclastic and irreverent market advisory service that has long raised concerns about American indebtedness and warned of a looming dollar crisis. In Empire of Debt, a sequel to their earlier doom-and-gloom book Financial Reckoning Day, they elaborate on their argument that the U.S. economy is about to implode.

6. Superpatriotism

Superpatriots, writes Michael Parenti, are those people who place national pride and American supremacy above every other public consideration, those who follow leaders uncritically, especially in their war policies abroad. Superpatriotism is the nationalistic hype propagated by officialdom, the media, and various flag-waving groups. Parenti demonstrates how superpatriotism attaches itself to religion, sports, the military, the schools and big business. He questions whether its top politico-economic propagators are themselves really patriotic, given how they evade taxes, export our jobs, pollute our land and plunder the public treasury. With incisive probing and a humorous touch, Parenti addresses such urgent questions as: What does it mean to love one's country? Why is it so important to be Number One? What determines America's "greatness?" He examines how US leaders and the corporate media fan the flames of fear to win support for huge arms budgets, global aggrandizement, and the suppression of political dissent at home and abroad.

7. A Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds, and the Perils of Financial Innovation

Why do markets keep crashing and why are financial crises greater than ever before? As the risk manager to some of the leading firms on Wall Street–from Morgan Stanley to Salomon and Citigroup–and a member of some of the world’s largest hedge funds, from Moore Capital to Ziff Brothers and FrontPoint Partners, Rick Bookstaber has seen the ghost inside the machine and vividly shows us a world that is even riskier than we think. The very things done to make markets safer, have, in fact, created a world that is far more dangerous. From the 1987 crash to Citigroup closing the Salomon Arb unit, from staggering losses at UBS to the demise of Long-Term Capital Management, Bookstaber gives readers a front row seat to the management decisions made by some of the most powerful financial figures in the world that led to catastrophe, and describes the impact of his own activities on markets and market crashes. Much of the innovation of the last 30 years has wreaked havoc on the markets and cost trillions of dollars. A Demon of Our Own Design tells the story of man’s attempt to manage market risk and what it has wrought. In the process of showing what we have done, Bookstaber shines a light on what the future holds for a world where capital and power have moved from Wall Street institutions to elite and highly leveraged hedge funds.

8. How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative

This book confirms everything you suspected was true about how politicians get elected in the country. It has the tone of a P.J. O'Rourke novel, hilarious and all too real at the same time because it happened. I laughed all the way through it, and then watched Hardball with Chris Matthews in a whole new light once I was done. One reviewer asked "who has ever heard of this guy?" and that is exactly the point! These nameless, faceless operatives and consultants are legion in both political parties and they are the ones who actually decide what candidates say, do, wear, etc. Raymond was a very high level player at the Republican National Committee, chief of staff to a republican congressman and ran numerous campaigns at the national level, he saw it all from the inside and it's not pretty. A great read, I highly recommend.

9. Peddling Prosperity: Economic Sense and Nonsense in the Age of Diminished Expectations

In "Peddling Prosperity", P. Krugman describes with clear and simple words what America's economic problems have been in the last 25 years. He presents theory, ideas, Government policies (or lack of) and individual stories - history, in fact - with such penetrating views that, while reading, one wishes the book could go on forever. We can only hope that he will repeat this achievement in the next book.

10. Battle For The Soul Of Capitalism

Jack Bogle, often called the "concience of the industry," has written a powerful book on a subject that concerns every American--"capitalism." As founder and retired CEO of the second largest mutual fund company in the world, Mr. Bogle understands capitalism. He has the unusual ability (for a businessman) to write beautifully, logically and understandably for the average reader. "The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism" is the result. The thrust of Mr. Bogle's message (documented over and over) is that corporations are now controlled by their managers--not by their owners (shareholders). (The average CEO compensation has soared to 280 times that of the average worker.) Mr. Bogle deftly lays out the problem, but more importantly, he gives us the solution that will return capitalism to its owners and value creation. I could not put the book down.



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