Review of ‘Not Normal’

Posted on Updated on

I am a frequent participant in Internet polls, especially those on political issues, which in the past year seem to be more frequent than usual. One of the questions, ‘Do you think things in this country are on the wrong or right track?’, I always answer ‘The wrong track,’ because, despite lower unemployment figures and the occasional uptick in the stock market, I am convinced that things in the United States are heading in the wrong direction. Call me a pessimist, but now I have at least one intellectual who has publicly agreed with me.

In Not Normal: A Progressives Diary of the Year After Trump’s Election, progressive writer Stuart Shapiro has gifted us his Facebook postings beginning the night of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 presidential election. Shapiro reacts in real-time to the many gaffes and missteps of candidate, and then President Trump, as he’s tweeted and lied his way from one crisis to another, all actions taking the country down a dangerous path of being isolated in an increasingly dangerous world.

Shapiro takes on Republicans in congress, voters who vote their anger rather than a careful analysis of t heir true self-interest, and mainly, a man who occupies the nation’s highest office, but who lacks even the most basic intellectual and emotional qualifications for that office. His conclusion that the situation in the US is clearly not normal, and regardless of the eventual disposition of the current administration, will be a long time (if ever) getting back to normal is chilling, and regardless of your political inclination or persuasion, should give you pause.

I received a complimentary copy of this book, and I recommend it highly. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Why the Right Went Wrong’

Posted on Updated on

Donald Trump’s amazing surge in the 2016 GOP primaries had many people scratching their heads, and then, wonder of wonders, he went on to win the election. While there’s a tendency to see Trump’s win as a tectonic shift in American politics, in Why the Right Went Wrong, columnist and author, E.J. Dionne, Jr., posits that the changes in conservatism and GOP politics really dates as far back as the Republican Party and southern whites’ reaction to FDR’s New Deal. But it was Barry Goldwater’s sharp tilt toward this demographic (as well as certain of the wealthy who resented government controls that threatened their profits), and a shift away from urban populations, including immigrants and African-Americans, that has so changed the way the GOP approaches campaigning.

Dionne traces the actions of GOP luminaries such as Goldwater, who in the 1964 election campaign (which, by the way, was coincidentally the 45th presidential election in the country’s history) espoused extremism, which he described as ‘no vice,’ and eschewed moderation, which for his was ‘no virtue.’ He looks at the birth of the Tea Party Movement, which was hijacked by right-wing politicians, conservative media, and a segment of the 1%.

This extreme rightward shift has changed the tenor of politics in this country. No longer is it acceptable to the GOP base or GOP extremists to make peace with the ‘other side.’ Republicans who do often find themselves targeted by their own party for retribution.

While having opposing viewpoints in politics ordinarily helps keep the country on an even keel, preventing rash change that can be destabilizing, while preserving worthwhile traditions, the current situation is an example of the dysfunction that can result when one side decides to adopt a scorched-earth approach to politics. A prime example of this has been the GOP reaction to the Affordable Care Act, which is, in fact, almost identical to the health plan they themselves had previously proposed and supported. Now, because it is the product of the’ ‘enemy,’ they want nothing more than to completely dismantle it. They would rather see the government shut down, or in default, rather than compromise.

Until this situation changes, American politics will continue to be dysfunctional, and we will see a continuation of chaotic and aimless leadership such as we have in #45.

I received this book as a gift.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Last of the President’s Men’

Posted on Updated on

In 1968, Air Force Colonel Alexander P. Butterfield was assigned to a duty station in Australia. His shot at making general required that he either get an assignment to Vietnam or go to where the ‘power’ resides—an assignment to Washington, DC. Through a college classmate, H.R. Haldeman, Butterfield was assigned as an aide in the Nixon White House, with duties described as ‘internal security.’ In his job, Butterfield had an office right next to Nixon’s, and was often the first to see him in the morning, and the last to see him at night. Most significantly, though, it was Butterfield who was responsible for installing Nixon’s secret taping system, the very thing that led to his resignation from the presidency after Butterfield publicly revealed its existence.

The Last of the President’s Men by Bob Woodward, the journalist who first exposed Watergate to the world, is an in depth tale of the Nixon that few people knew, told by a man who probably knew him better than anyone, including his own wife. Haldeman interviewed Butterfield extensively some 41 years after the events that led to Nixon’s downfall, and had access to hundreds of pages of documents that Butterfield took with him when he left the White House. Together, this book gives us a never-before-seen look at the man known as Tricky Dick, and puts a new perspective on his misdeeds while in office, and his abrasive, paranoid, ego-driven personality.

Given the political events of 2016, this book is required reading for anyone who wants to understand what motivates some American politicians and the dangers associated with the politics of personality that characterized the 2016 elections. Regardless of your political views or party affiliation, this book will make you think about politics in a different way.

I received this book as a gift.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘America’s Destruction of Iraq’

Posted on Updated on

I received a free .pdf copy of America’s Destruction of Iraq by Michael M. O’Brien in exchange for my review.

While I find the author’s views on presidential powers a bit naïve, and some of his history of the Vietnam War is a bit off the mark (I served in that war, so I have first-hand knowledge), his assessment of the politicization of the military’s senior officer corps and the cluelessness of civilian politicians of both political parties is pretty insightful.

I don’t agree with his comparison of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq—again, I participated in the first, and served as a senior Pentagon official during the second—but, he does get it right on Iraq. For that matter, his judgement of the mistakes made in Vietnam is pretty good, despite what I view as a mistake in equating the two wars. For instance, there wasn’t nearly as much reliance on or use of contractors (especially security forces) in Vietnam as in the second Iraq war. The arrogance of civilians with limited or no military experience, and the timidity and dereliction of duty of senior military leaders is a problem the country has had since Vietnam.

Having said that, the book loses steam through the author’s apparent insistence that war is an all or nothing affair, which demonstrates a lack of understanding of the current age. Nor does he seem to believe or understand that there is a place for diplomacy and compromise even after the shooting starts.

Now, at this point, a reader will probably have concluded that I didn’t like this book. On the contrary—I found it an interesting read, even the parts with which I disagree. The author is at his best when he’s describing events in which he was a direct participant, making this an essential read for anyone who wants to understand the quagmire our politicians have dragged us into. That he does not spare his ire for either party is also refreshing, as so many books about this war tend to take one side or another.

The key take-away from O’Brien’s book, and one that should be engraved on a plaque and presented to every American politician: pay attention to history and learn from it. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘My Secret Barack: Crowning the King’

Posted on


Not since the time of John F. Kennedy’s Camelot has a presidential election so electrified the American public—especially the young—as did the 2008 election when Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois made history by becoming the first African-American President of the United States. You have to have been inside a hermetically sealed chamber not to know that his direct appeal to young voters through personal contact and social media, almost as much as dissatisfaction with the direction the previous administration had taken the country, were the keys to his historic victory.

In My Secret Barack: Crowning the King, a memoir by Krista Nelson, an elected Obama delegate for the 2008 election, we see behind the media reports, and get a look at what this election meant from a distinctly human perspective. Nelson, who worked in advertising and marketing before becoming an Obama devotee, takes us through her involvement in this event, up to the inauguration, giving a rare insight into the emotions behind her political choice.

I received a free copy of My Secret Barack in exchange for my review. It’s a short book, easy to read in one sitting, but one that will have a profound effect on anyone who cares about the country and its politics, and who believes that we still have a ways to go in order to truly live up to our dream of a country where ‘all men (and women) are created equal,’ and where we can say after every election that ‘goodness won, goodness had triumphed.’ I give this book five stars.


Posted on


Red and Blue: The Colors of American Politics

Posted on

Colors have meaning.

The color red is the color of fire and blood; it is associated with energy, danger, war, strength, power, passion, and determination.  A very emotional color, red increases respiration rate and raises blood pressure.  It is used as an accent color to stimulate quick decisions, and is widely associated with danger.  The color blue, on the other hand, is the sky and sea, and is strongly associated with tranquility and calmness.  In heraldry, blue is used to symbolize piety and sincerity, and is linked to consciousness and intellect. Its association with depth, expertise, and stability makes it the preferred color for corporations in America.

Now, none of this has any real connection with what I’m writing, except for the fact that political pundits have chosen to use the colors red and blue to symbolize America’s political divide; with red representing the conservative, right-leaning regions of the country, and blue for the liberal areas.

Everyone in America by now has had enough political commentary, and, if you’re like me, just looking forward to the holidays so they can stuff themselves to the hairline with turkey and all the trimmings and vegetate on the couch watching the football games.  So, I promise that this is the last political screed you will see from me until the next mid-term elections two years from now.

If you haven’t seen the maps showing the results of the just-completed election, though, you might find it interesting to see how the color spectrum came out.  The red states, all 24 of them, sit squarely astride the middle of the country for the most part, like a big scarlet gash, splitting the country roughly in half.  This means that the president will have an uphill battle getting any kind of consensus during his second administration. President Obama’s support among religious groups varied, with white evangelicals and weekly churchgoers opting for his opponent in large numbers.

What I found interesting about the election results was the identity of those states that, despite being in America’s heartland, swung so far to the right.  Some were not too surprising, but a couple defied what I would have predicted.  This list shows the percentages who voted for each candidate, with the spread shown in parentheses.  They are presented here for readers to draw their own conclusions.

Utah   Romney-72.9  Obama-24.9 (47.7)

Wyoming  Romney-69.3  Obama-28.0 (41.3)

Idaho  Romney-66.5  Obama-32.6 (33.9)

Oklahoma  Romney-66.8  Obama-33.2 (33.6)

West Virginia  Romney-62.3  Obama-33.5 (26.8)

Arkansas  Romney-60.5  Obama-36.9 (23.6)

Nebraska  Romney-60.5  Obama-37.8 (22.7)

Kentucky  Romney-60.5  Obama-37.8 (22.7)

Alabama  Romney-60.7  Obama-38.4 (22.3)

Kansas  Romney-60  Obama-37.8 (22.2)

Tennessee  Romney-59.5  Obama-39 (20.5)

North Dakota  Romney-58.7  Obama-38.9 (19.8)

Louisiana  Romney-57.8  Obama-40.6 (17.2)

South Dakota  Romney-57.9  Obama-39.9 (16)

Texas  Romney-57.2  Obama-41.4 (15.8)

Montana  Romney-53.3  Obama-41.8 (13.5)

Alaska  Romney-55  Obama-41.6 (13.4)

Mississippi  Romney-55.4  Obama-43.6 (11.8)

Arizona  Romney-54.8  Obama-43.6 (11.2)

South Carolina  Romney-54.6  Obama-44 (10.6)

Missouri  Romney-53.9  Obama-44.3 (8.6)

Georgia  Romney-53.4  Obama-45.4 (8)

North Carolina  Romney-50.6  Obama-48.4 (2.2)

At this writing, the outcome in Florida has yet to be determined, but President Obama has a 6% lead so far.