Politics4

Rogue State                           William Blum       July 2006
Freeing the World to Death   William Blum       July 2006
The Plan                                Rahm Emanual and Bruce Reed     Sept 2006
Cobra II                                 Michael L. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor
Fanatics & Fools                   Arianna Huffington
A Deeper Shade of Green     Bill McKibben      Aug 2006
American Theocracy             Kevin Phillips       Aug 2006
The Jesus Dynasty                 James D. Tabor



Rogue State and Freeing the World to Death   William Blum       July 2006

Since I read both of these books at about the same time and they say about the same things I will cover them together.  Both books are about politicians and other such scum baits doing bad things.  They are mostly organized by topic but it is a fuzzy organization.  There are a lot of charges made and a lot of citations supporting these charges.  He is coming from a very idealistic and liberal viewpoint so most of his charges are made against Republican politicians but he tosses in enough Democratic examples to "prove" that he is non-biased.

Blum in making a lot of very serious charges against many politicians.  I happen to agree with many of these charges but I didn't like how the book was presented.  He makes so many charges that their impact is diluted by the numbers.  One way he could have improved his message would be to use the model presented in Cobra II by Gordon and Trainor.  They covered a very specific and limited subject and covered it in depth so that one gains a good understanding of the subject.  Blum covers many topics in minimal depth.  He gives references but without more information we cannot evaluate these references.  Another way Blum could have improved his coverage of his topic would be to just prepare a database of all the charges.  It would have to be a large and extensive database but if it were accessible on line it could be used by others to put together specific evaluations.  He should have made available much more information on his citations.  Many of these are difficult to access and just because columnist X said something about politician Y doesn't make it true.  Did Blum cite the reference accurately or did he read into it what he believed was there.  There are too many occurances of less than accurate citations to simply assume that what an author says is true actually is.

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The Plan                                Rahm Emanual and Bruce Reed     Sept 2006

Prologue: Lost and Found  "Who am I?  Why am I here?", Admiral Stockdale in 1992, VP candidate for the Ross Perot campaign.  We laughed at the time but it has been an accurate representation of politics in the 1990's and 2000's.  Neither party seems to know what it is doing and has no idea of how to get there.  Republicans latched onto religious conservatism as a campaign tactic but forgot what they were campaigning for, Democrats became so desperate to beat Republicans that they forgot where they wanted to do when they actually won an election.  Politics today is more consumed with solving political problems than with solving the countries problems.

Part One:  WHAT WENT WRONG
C1  Hacks and Wonks  
A hack is a person who knows everybody and everything and is convinced that he has all of the solutions, he can usually get things working - he just can't seem to get them working right.  A wonk (wikipedia) is 1) An overly studious or hard-working person or 2) A persnickety person, overly focuses on details.  A policy wonk is only interested how something works in theory, commonly clueless when it comes to implementation.  The describe many problems caused by hacks and wonks in recent politics, main focus is on Republicans because the authors are Democrats.  A pretty weak chapter, sounds like a dissolutioned hack wrote it.

C2  The Frame Game  The authors complain that Democrats haven't been winning may elections recently.  They spend most of the chapter complaining about analysts, primarily George Lakoff and his concept of framing.  Evidently they either failed to read his books or just didn't understand what were reading.  This is not all bad, some of his stuff is a little complex.  They seem to think that he believes that the only problems with Democrats is that they don't talk right.  What he actually said is that Republicans have discovered a way of "framing" their proposals in a way that makes them more appealing to many people, and that Democrats have failed to make their ideas understandable.  I don't recall his ever saying that policies are unimportant and that all you have to do to win is to talk nice.  Lakoff is pointing out an area where Republicans have been successful and trying to show how Democrats can use the same principles to make their points.  

C3  Ozzie and Harriet Don't Live Here Anymore  America grew up with a fairly stable political and economic reality.  There were of course problems, we solved most of the issue of slavery, our economy and labor got a little out of whack in the late portion of the 1800's and we had a major problem in the late 1920's and 1930's but we got past that.  For most of the 1950's, 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's we did just fine, becoming the envy of the world.  During the last decade a few minor cracks developed, the 1990's were pretty good but there were obviously some major problems coming up.  Now as 2000 is well started the problems are increasing and more and more people are becoming fearful of the future.


PART TWO:  THE PLAN
C4  What's the Plan?
 The authors present a 5 part plan for Americas future, in brief it is:
  1. A new social contract with the citizens of America
    1. Universal citizen service
    2. Universal college access
    3. Universal retirement savings
    4. Universal children's health care
  2. A return to fiscal responsibility and an end to corporate welfare
  3. Tax reform to help those who aren't wealthy build wealth
  4. A new strategy to win the war on terror
  5. A hybrid economy that cuts America's gasoline use in half
C5  Asked Not:  Universal Citizen Service  John Kennedy, "A nation is defined not by what it does for its citizens, but by what it asks of them."  Recently both parties have been arguing over which one can give the citizens the most and ask the least.  Great presidents ask a lot of the country and we can be justifiably proud when we accomplish important tasks.  The essence of the American bargain is that each citizen has to do his or her part.  Our rights are spelled out in the Constitution but our responsibilities are what keeps the country running.  An example is the Patriot Act.  All it asks is that Americans wave flags from the sidelines.  The authors want a mandatory universal service for three months.  During this period they would be trained in basic civil defense.  They would learn how to respond to the most likely emergencies in their state or region (wildfires, floods, evacuations, toxic releases, etc.) and thus become a resource to be called upon when needed.  They could also be introduced to more extensive training or service if they wished to continue (military or civilian).

C6  Toga Party:  Universal College Access  The GI Bill of Rights following WWII was one of the biggest reasons America progressed so rapidly during the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's.  Now college grads earn an average of $51,000 per year where high school grads earn $28,000 per year.  In a 2006 study by the Federal Reserve the average net worth of a high school dropout is $20,000 and the net worth of a college grad is $226,000.  America was once first in the world in college enrollment, now we are ninth.  India produces twice as many college grads a year as the US and China produces three times as many.  We need to simplify the tax requirements for education funds, require that colleges specify and guarantee the student costs for a four year degree, stop subsidizing banks and give the money directly to states to use for tuition grants and reduction of student expenses. There must be a major effort to retain students who would otherwise drop out of college before graduation.  We need to increase out support for high schools and demand that they produce students that are no longer inferior to students in other countries.  Our current school year was designed for farming communities, they need to be redesigned bypassing the industrial era and focusing on the information age.

C7  Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?:  Universal Retirement Savings For many years American families prosperity has been increasing.  Ownership of homes and stock has been going up.  Unfortunately there are some clouds on the horizon.  The price of new homes has been increasing exponentially, some large companies have had foolish accounting practices and have collapsed erasing many savings accounts.  Clinton proposed a Universal Savings Account on top of Social Security, it got caught in partisan politics, Bush proposed private Social Security accounts but he failed to carry his own party.  Wealth is moving into the very richest people with the middle class seeing rapidly shrinking retirement accounts.  With all of the investment options available, and many fraudulent or very high risk, stocks demand too much money and attention to become a viable option for many people.

The authors suggest a broad based retirement program based on requiring all employers offering 401 (k) accounts to all employees which automatically take effect unless the employee explicitly opts out.  They recommend that all employers offer some sort of matching contribution.  They also suggest that all homeowners be allowed the mortgage deduction instead of just those who itemize their taxes.  They would eliminate the capital gains on the middle class and restore it for the wealthy, they would raise the minimum wage and encourage companies to offer employee stock plans.  We need to insure that the same type of stock options that go to high executives also go to all employees.  They also want tighter government regulation of corporate accounting with simpler rules and guarantees with teeth on retirement plans.

C8  House Call:  Universal Children's Health Care  Health insurance premiums are increasing four times as fast as inflation, they have gone up 73% since Bush took office.  The greatest barrier to universal health care coverage is simple, cost.  A recently study found that health care costs $5,267 per person, twice the median for the industrialized world and $1,812 more than the next most expensive, Switzerland.  Currently health care adds $1,500 to the price of every GM auto.  The Bush Medicare prescription drug bill produced more bureaucracy and confusion than it saved in benefits and cost containment.  The motivation for the bill was political success and not health care.  

Five recommendations to cut costs and improve quality of health care.
  1. Require much more information technology be used in health care.
  2. Structure the health care system to reward results and not procedures.  The model should be fee-for-results.
  3. Help people stay healthy instead of waiting for an illness.  Health providers and employers need to be rewarded for steering recipients into serious fitness and wellness plans.
  4. Provide effective care.  Government and major employers need to research the comparative effectiveness of drugs and treatments.  Presumably the most effective treatments would get the most benefits.
  5. Do a better job where the costs are the greatest, chronic care.  Through proper treatment and good management the patients get better care and it costs less.
Since universal health care is probably not achievable in the near future they make three suggestions which will help those with the most serious problems.
  1. Cover every child in America.  Clinton sponsored the State Children's Heal Insurance Program (SCHIP) which has worked very well, Illinois and Massachusetts have recently instituted programs that go beyond the SCHIP program.
  2. Set up a National Cure Center that will examine the most expensive of our health problems and research methods of reducing costs and finding cures for them.
  3. Make sure that every American can have health insurance equal to that our Congress gets.  Require that insurance companies offer employers and uncovered individuals access to large population pools in calculating insurance bills.  Offer employers assistance in reducing and paying for health care costs.
C9  The Era of Hack Government is over:  Fiscal Responsibility and an End to Corporate Welfare  The federal government must become responsible.  We cannot reduce taxes, increase spending, and fight multifront wars all over the world and not mortgage our children's future.  No American president before Bush had cut taxes in wartime.  In World War II, FDR took drastic measures not simply to finance the war, but also to show the country that our soldiers shouldn't be the only ones to sacrifice.  They have a number of specific suggestions:
C10  The Ides of April:  Tax Reform to Help Those Who Aren't Wealthy to Build Wealth For the last 30 years the tax debate in Washington  has only been about one thing on the Republican side.  They want to reduce taxes on the wealthy.  If taxes were being discussed as a part of the economy sometimes they should be raised and sometimes they should be lowered.  The Republicans are treating taxes for the rich as a religious belief.  Republicans want a tax code that puts the whole burden of taxes on work, not wealth.  Democrats want a progressive tax code that rewards work and asks the most of those who have been blessed with the most.  Payroll taxes make up the bulk of taxes paid by middle-class and poor Americans.  Corporate taxes, which accounted for 30% of federal revenue 50 years ago now make up just 10%.  Under Republican government the rich are getting richer and the middle-class and poor are getting poorer.

The tax code is so complicated that most people need help filling out their forms.  It is so riddled with loopholes that the IRS spends about $115 billion per year and they estimate that $345 billion per year is uncollected and avoided.  That is almost enough to balance the federal budget.

There recommendations for tax reform include:
C11 Who Sunk my Battleship?:  A New Strategy to Win the War on Terror  It has been more than 5 years since 9/11.  It took less time to win WW II.  The primary purpose of the War on Iraq (according to Bush policies) has to advance the political and economic advantages of the Republicans and their corporate friends.

How do we win the war on terror.  They have several general principles:
C12  Meet the Jetsons:  The Hybrid Economy From the railroad to the automobile to the moon mission, America has always been where the future is made.  We have the chance - and the obligation to do it again.  We have the opportunity to lead the world out of dependence on oil.
Epilogue:  A Politics of National Purpose  Citizenship is not an entitlement program.  Responsibility must start at the top, we have seen what lack of responsibility does in Katrina, Enron, and elsewhere.  Leadership is not making a program for every problem, but establishing the tools and conditions that will enable citizens to make the most of their own lives.  Clinton made a good start on answering the neglect of the previous Republican presidents in the 1990's, but Bush had done everything in his power to undo these programs.  We need partisan politics and different ideas because no one party has a monopoly on all of the good ideas.  But our disagreements should be over the best ways of solving our problems, not how to create problems for the other person.

They include 8 pages of notes and 7 pages of (fine print) index.

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Cobra II     Michael L. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor

The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq

In July1944 General George Patton lead the Third Army breakout from Normandy to liberate France.  It was called Operation Cobra.  Almost sixty years later, another Third Army Commander, Lieutenant General David McKiernan, sought to evoke the illustrious episode.  He named the drive to Baghdad, Cobra II.

In late 2001 Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld had a meeting with the senior military leadership, 3 star general Newbold was to present a plan for the invasion of Iraq.  When asked he estimated that approximately 500,000 troops would be needed.  Rumsfeld was irritated, he said that no more than 125,000 or perhaps less would be needed.  Later Newbold said that he made a mistake because he was the junior military officer in the room, he should have said that the military should have been given the task and let them plan the mission and come up with the number required to accomplish the task.

The book covers the Iraq war from the early policy statements made by Bush in his campaign for president in 1999 as to how he would remake the US military through the resignations of Secretary of State Colin Powell (and his top deputy a month later).  Since the book is over 600 pages long I will not attempt to summarize each chapter, just cover the high points presented in the Epilogue.

Although there is no explicit evidence to suggest that the Iraq war was explicitly planned before 9/11, it is clear that many of the ideas and goals that went into the war were created much earlier.  Reference Bush's speech at the Citadel in 1998.  The aim of the war was to reduce terrorism by removing Saddam, eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, install a pro-American government in Iraq, and serve as an object lesson for other would be dictators and terrorists.  By going into the war with a plan based on their preconceived beliefs and not listening to the military the President and his advisers set themselves up for a disaster.  The authors cite 5 grievous errors that the presidential team made.
  1. They underestimated their opponent and failed to understand the political and ethnic situation in Iraq.  The Iraq War was was seen as a continuation of the Persian Gulf War.  The Army easily defeated the Republican Guards but they were not prepared for the Fedayeen that immediately began a guerrilla war.  There was poor intelligence from the CIA, WMD's did not exist, weapons and explosive caches were not looked for, and they thought that once Baghdad was captured the war would be over, they did not realize that the Fedayeen would not stop fighting until the entire Sunni Triangle was occupied.
  2. They did not use the right tools:  Too much unproven technology, not the right mix and numbers of soldiers on the ground.  The advance to Baghdad went very well.  But the Army blew past the entrenched Fedayeen leaving them untouched with all of their arms still available in caches.  The Army needed many more civil affairs units, military police, and interpreters.  Since there weren't enough troops they kept getting re-assigned to new areas, often just as they were establishing a rappor with locals.
  3. They stuck with a fairly rigid battle plan even after it should have become obvious that it wasn't working as had been expected.  In the first days of the war, the troops on the ground realized that their fight was not going as expected and they quickly modified their tactics.  The commanders, primarily General Franks, never changed their tactics.  The commanders on the ground assisted their troops in capturing Baghdad but Franks never changed his orders and the situation rapidly deteriorated.  The White House and the Defense Department started removing troops within a week of the fall of Baghdad before the Fedayeen and other terrorists were captured.
  4. They set up a system in which differing military and political perspectives were discouraged.  During the Persian Gulf War there were heated discussions between the Defense Department (Cheney) and the Joint Chiefs (Powell).  This resulted in all aspects being considered.  In the Iraq war, Rumsfeld chose General Myers to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs because he was a "team" player and he would go along.  Cheney never questioned Rumsfeld and Powell was ignored when he objected.  There were a large number or turnovers in the higher ranks of the military in Iraq and poor relationships with civilian authorities (Paul Bremer).
  5. They ignored the lessons learned from the Balkans and other crisis zones in nation building.  Bush did not like how Clinton handled the Balkans.  He wanted to spend no money on post-war law enforcement.  Bush wanted to get in and then get out as his father had done, however he wanted to capture Saddam and create a new government.  He failed to plan for the last two and with the disbanding of the Iraqi military there was no force for law and order.  The original plan for rebuilding Iraq after the war was to spend only $3 billion.
Saddam's plans to repel the Americans were very poor because of his fear of a coup.  Immediately after Baghdad fell, many Iraqi's were happy to see the Americans but when the country was not pacified, when the Iraqi army was disbanded, putting 300,000 armed men on the streets, when elections were canceled because a candidate whom Bremer did not like appeared to be winning, and when order and essential services were not restored, much of the population became disenchanted with the Americans.

There are over 100 pages of maps, notes, appendices, and index.  This is an extremely well documented book.  A very good source of information about the Iraq war.

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Fanatics & Fools       Arianna Huffington

This is a very broken up book.  It is broken into 4 sections but sections 1 and 2 say just about the same thing, these are the Fanatics, the Republicans who are the leaders in Washington DC and Sacramento CA, President Bush and Governor Schwarzenegger.  These are all about the bad things that these two men and their friends have done.  Section 3 is about the Fools, the Democrats who waffle and sort of disagree with what the Republicans are doing but not really, sort of Republican-light.  Section 4 is her vision of what Democrats should do to take back control of America and remove the Radical from the Radcons (see Robert Reich  - Reason).

Sections 1 and 2 use much of the same material that many of the authors works reviewed here have said.  She adds a lot more detail regarding Schwarzenegger than the others, she ran as a candidate for the Governor of California, loosing in the primary, she has a major interest in California politics, just as Molly Ivins has an interest in Texas politics.  In section 3 Huffington comments on many errors and failures of courage from current Democratic politicians.  She finds that one of their main problems is that are trailing after the same money sources as the Republicans and they feel that to pursue their goals aggressively would seriously compromise their ability to raise campaign funds.  

Huffington believes that Democrats should should preach and act on a doctrine of social responsibility similar to that shown by Kennedy, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln, and the Founding Fathers.  She states that the center of her interest in politics is the application of the biblical admonition that "to whom much is given, from him that much more shall be expected."  This idea was at the core of the founding philosophy of America.  She quotes from the ideas of George Lakoff.  She wants a presidential candidate who can exhort voters to imagine that all children sent to school will be safe and that they will learn, she wants them to imagine a nation where comprehensive health care is a basic right, where the environment is an asset to be treasured not as something to be exploited, where elected officials work for the voters and not special interests, and where economic productivity doesn't come at the cost of quality of life and where work is structured to allow parents to take care of their children.  She wants the presidential candidate to display a concern for the poor and for the middle class, to recapture the language of morality from the fundamentalists who have reduced it to sexual morality and use it to spotlight the immorality of many in the corporate sector, to forge an alliance that includes minorities and the dispossessed along with the influential, the affluent, and the powerful, to provide an outlet for idealistic young people, and to appeal to what is best in us instead of the usual politicians who appeal to what is most selfish in us.

Huffington offers a "New Contract for a Better America"
  1. Achieve Energy Independence
  2. Prescribe a Cure for the Health Care Epidemic
  3. Treat Lost Jobs as a Social Calamity, not a Lagging Economic Indicator
  4. Truly Leave No Child Behind (spend more money on educating children than on incarcerating them)
  5. Break Down Barriers and Create New Opportunities in Education (properly fund schools at all levels)
  6. Call a Truce in the Drug War (more for treatment, equal prosecution for all, go after major suppliers)
  7. Secure the Homeland First
  8. Be a (world) Leader, Not a Bully
  9. Restore Integrity to the Political Process (take the money out of politics)
  10. Put People Above Corporate Profits
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A Deeper Shade of Green    Bill McKibben      Aug 2006
            Writing in Voices - a Department in National Geographic  Aug 2006, v210#2

The article starts with a repetition of the usual ecology and global warning facts.  He then makes the statement, "Humans have never faced a civilization-scale challenge before."  Actually we have, check out Jared Diamond and his book - Collapse.  I first heard about this problem from an agronomist-soil scientist in the 1980's who had just gotten back from an Aid tour in the Middle East; Iran, Iraq, Jordan, etc. area.  He described the cycles of irrigation, salt buildup, infectious worms from snails leading to disease, starvation, and abandonment for years and finally to re-population, agriculture, irrigation, ...  These disasters were not world wide but certainly death for their civilizations.

Americans created environmentalism because we could see the damage happening in real time.  They worked to set up small enclosures to protect specific species of animals.  Others have been better at recognizing the world problem - global warming.  Our question, "will this issue increase the economy?  If yes, we are for it, if not we are against it.  Better question, "Will it put more carbon into the atmosphere?"  Best question, "Will the issue benefit the earth and all its inhabitants?"  McKibbon's suggestion - we need more community, approach the problem locally.  A single calorie of lettuce from California costs 36 calories to move it to New York.  Old style (American) environmentalism must (and is) changing.  The practitioners must encompass preachers, sociologists, farmers, etc.


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American Theocracy            Kevin Phillips       Aug 2006

This is a very simple book.  There is only one topic: empires.  There are three themes: energy, religion, and debt.  And there are five actors: Rome, Spain, the Dutch, Britain, and the United States.

His overall thesis is likewise quite simple,  a relatively small area will gain a small advantage over other areas.  By hard work, internal cooperation, available resources, and lack of inhibitions against trying new things, they grow faster and spread their influence over their neighbor states.  After a period of rapid growth they discover that other areas have exploitable resources and they quickly move o take advantage of this.

More and more of their talent and resources are sent to these areas, their whole world as they know it.  Their culture changes from on of doing to one of managing.  Their leaders know, or at least that they know, how they got there and take steps to insure that they, and their sons, maintain their power.  Power is now defined as political, religious, and financial.  Actually doing things, production, is seen as demeaning and can be left to ignorant foreigners who need to be managed.

Somewhere around this period leaders discover that religion can be used to increase their power.  There are always those who see their calling as religious who are more than happy to ally themselves with political and economic leaders.  These groups tend to coalesce into a single leadership cabal that sees itself as being destined by God to rule the world and bring God's message to all the worlds people.  These projects take lots of money and lots of work.  The work is provided preferably by foreigners as they will do it cheaper and the money is provided by these same foreigners , either by outright theft, resource exploitation, taxation, or borrowing.  This is all right and proper because God is on our side and He intended His chosen people (us) to do this in His name.

Then the debts come due, the ungrateful foreigners foreclose on their loans and refuse to let their resources be plundered and a new group gains a small advantage.

PART 1:  OIL AND AMERICAN SUPREMACY
C1  Fuel and National Power
 The energy source for the first two empires, Rome and Spain, differed little from the rest of the world.  The power of wind pushed the Dutch to world economic domination.  After the Spanish Armada was destroyed in 1588, the Dutch became the worlds maritime power.  Wind power was of course widely used but the Dutch exploited it most effectively, both for sailing ships and for windmills.  The Dutch maintained their superiority until the 1750's.  They had become Europe's banker but their material production had been reduced dramatically.  They had lost their technology advantage as the knowledge spread across Europe.

During the final years of this period Britain was beginning to exploit coal as an energy resource and by 1763 they were clearly on their way.  Britain's small family owned businesses helped create the British rise in power and influence were by 1914 an obsolete drag on innovation.  Their students went to university to read Latin and Greek and to become military officers and managers, engineers were deemed barely better than craftsmen.  America was taking the lead based on their exploitation of oil.  Now, almost 100 years later American oil fields are nearing empty, our automotive industry is making more money lending money than making cars and much of our industry has been outsourced to Asia.

C2  The Politics of American Oil Dependence  In the early days of oil in the US, the Democrats were the Oil Party.  In the 1870's and 1880's the Standard Oil Company under Rockefeller started spending big money on Democrats.  Republicans tended to be more friendly to coal interests although some oil money was appreciated.  Oil remained primarily in the Democrat camp but by the 1940's some Texas oilmen were lamenting the "creeping socialism" of Roosevelt.  Nixon, an early enemy of Big Oil, made the first major efforts to spread Republicanism to the oil states, a task which was pretty well completed by Reagan.

Oil quickly became an international commodity.  By 1885, 70% of Standard Oil's business was overseas.  There was a continuous covert war between the US, Britain, France, Germany, and the Dutch for control of oil finds with the US usually winning.  After Kennedy, the US presidency has been under the control of Texas oil with the one minor blip for Carter.  Clinton certainly never tried to reverse the oil trend.

C3  Trumpets of Democracy, Drums of Gasoline
 Even though none of the above mentioned countries will admit it there has been an over 100 years war going on in the Middle East to gain access to the oil in the region.  The first military aspect of the war started in 1897 when Britain assumed a protectorate over Kuwait, then a minor outpost of Turkish Mesopotamia - what we now know as Iraq.  One Iraqi historian recorded thirty significant outbreaks between 1919 and 1958 when the British finally left Iraq.  The two world wars were just temporary escalations of this activity.  The US became involved in 1973 when James Schlesinger, Secretary of Defense for Nixon engaged in planning with British officials regarding the takeover of the oil fields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Abu Dhabi.  This plan, somewhat modified and updated, became the basis for the 2003 War on Iraq.  During this period there were numerous but lesser armed interventions, by hired thugs.  One of these was reportedly Saddam Hussein.  The remainder of the chapter discusses the oil politics of the Middle East in more detail.

PART II:  TOO MANY PREACHERS
C4  Radicalized Religion
 American Protestantism has always had an evangelical, missionary, and frequently a radical or combative streak.  Many attribute this in part to western European countries exporting their more radical groups to the US where they were able to grow and expand without much contact with more conservative church groups.  For many years the more radical religions were small, isolated, and were overlooked on the national and religious scene.  There has been an uneven but steady rise in the number of members and denominations until the hit a sort of critical mass during the last half of the 1900's.  A major defection occurred in the 1830's with the formation of the Christian Church which split into the Church of Christ, Christian Churches, and the Disciples of Christ.  The Mormon church was started in 1820.  The Seventh Day Adventists got their start around 1843 and 1844 and adopted their current name in 1860.  Jehovah's Witnesses began in the 1870's.  Generally the South led the way as many preachers there viewed their loss of the Civil War as a sacrifice leading to redemption.  He devotes a big section to detailed statistics on changing church memberships.  Phillips refers to his book, The Cousins' Wars, in stating that knowing the religion of the area is the best indicator of the side the people and towns supported in the three major civil wars of English speaking peoples.  He devotes the final section of the chapter to the "favorite people of God" feeling the is very prevalent in Protestant areas as soon as they have a few years of success.  This commonly leads to excesses and quite often retaliation or disappointment.

C5  Defeat and Resurrection  Beginning in 1865 southern ministers and editors started convincing themselves and their congregations that God had not deserted them.  They developed a framework within which they could accommodate the assurance of God's favor even with their army's defeat in the field.  A discussion of the evolution of the Southern Baptist Convention and of how the religion and the "southern" attitudes were carried throughout the nation.

C6  The United States in a Dixie Cup  For the first time in American history a religious movement has captured a major political party and their goal is to turn the nation into a theocracy.  It came close when Jackson swept the south in 1828 and the democrats controlled the presidency until 1860.  Jackson might have done so but he only ran for office twice and he died in 1845.  No other democratic presidents were charismatic enough or could be led to maintain a religious dominance.  The rest of this long chapter is devoted to a detailed history of religious influence of politics and many pages of statistics supporting his statements.

C7  Church, State, and National Decline  Conservative religious spokesmen see our national problems as primarily religious and moral.  Secular Americans see our problems as economics, society, and foreign policy.  Many of them are starting to see organized religion, especially the religious right as a major problem.

The four previous empires, Rome, Spain, the Netherlands, and Great Britain were each in their day the world leading economic power and the principal naval or military power.  Gibbon, in his 1776 book, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, points to the state religion of Christianity in the 4th century as being overconfident and intolerant.  The crippling and divisive combination of church and state caused the decline that caused the collapse.  Spain had been tightly linked to Catholic faith and expansionism and with the expulsion of the Muslims from Iberia in 1492 it started a major push to eliminate all Muslims and Jews and convert all other peoples.  After the easy gold from the new world ran out Spain was saddled with a huge religious establishment which contributed no economic goods and consumed a great deal.  Spain quickly faded as a world power.

During the latter part of this decline the Dutch had been growing in influence.  Seeds of their own destruction appeared very soon.  The Calvinist Dutch Reformed Church was a major power in their rise but in 1618 the Synod of Dordrecht was established it as an official state religion even though only about half of the population was of that faith.  The country thrived for a while but by the 1730's and 1740's decline had set in with Britain gaining power.  By 1747 religious wars broke out and by 1800 Dutch power was almost completely gone.  The innovation that marked Britain's rise to power before 1850 was followed by excessive religious formalism based on observable conduct and foreign missionary activity.  Their rate of progress greatly reduced and their vast wealth maintained them until World War I but after that they had lost their lead to the United States.

Phillips notes that one of the first acts of the newly powerful Christian church in Rome was to destroy libraries, limit the availabilities of books, and suppress all scientific inquiry.  Spain was very similar, calling on theologians to advise on civil engineering projects.  They imported needed technicians and produced no scientific information.  The Dutch were a scientific hotbed during their rise but when economic times got bad they cut spending on universities and after the revolution of 1747-1751 the Dutch Reformed Church had a say in the appointment of university faculty.  This signaled the end of their scientific leadership.  The British rise to power was largely due to backyard inventors.  The primary preoccupation of the British upper classes was with management, military, religion, and the classics.  They had many important scientists but they were mainly private individuals and scientific state supported education played a very small role.  After Darwin many British theologians were became critics of scientific inquiry.  In each of these, even just before the bitter end, church leaders kept extolling their followers that they were God's Chosen and we must save the heathen.  Unfortunately none of them seem to have been chosen yet.

The rest of the chapter documents the many ways in which Americans are repeating the lessons not learned in the decline of the four previous empires.

PART III:  BORROWED PROSPERITY
C8  Soaring Debt, Uncertain Politics, and the Financialization of the United States
 In 2005 the New York Times said that moving money around has surpassed making things as a share of the US gross domestic product.  Debt and associated financial industry has become the biggest factor in the financial welfare of the country.  Financialism has been defined as the increasing tendency of the financial sector to invent gratuitous work for itself that does nothing to address society's real needs but simply creates jobs for financial professionals.  Debt has long been a tool of new and growing economies.  The US borrowed greatly during the Revolution, the Civil War and World War I.  This was usually paid back quickly sometimes causing postwar economic contraction.  It wasn't until the Great Depression and World War II that debt was maintained.  Due to economic expansion these debts were mostly taken care of by economic expansion.  Then in the late 1960's Johnson greatly increased the debt to pay off the Vietnam War and his Great Society programs.  This spending habit continued until the 1980's with huge increases.  With Reagan and Supply-Side economics the lid came off.  Following shortly after this was consumer and business debt.  The final portion of the chapter describes this process in detail.

C9  Debt
 He starts with quotes from Spain, the Netherlands, and England explaining why they don't need to produce anything, others will do it for them, all from slightly before their debts crushed them.  The empires of Europe passed through four stages, agriculture or fishing, manufacturing, finance, and then collapse.  Spain was a special case, gold and silver from the Americas replaced the manufacturing stage.  He devotes a lot of space to describing in detail how this happened.  He begins raising the issue that the US has passed through the first two stages and is well into the third.  Is the fourth stage inevitable?

C10  Serial Bubbles and Foreign Debt Holders  In 1981 Americans saved at a rate of 8.5%, by 2003 the rate was just 1.2%.  Until 1972 America was a net exporter of capital, now it is the worlds largest importer.  This is a very complex chapter and I can find myself following one argument at a time but expanding this to three or four and I get confused.  I think that I will go back to his earlier argument, debt greatly aids in a new and expanding economy but in a mature economy it can be counter productive and in an old shrinking economy it can be a disaster.  The same can be true for individuals, to borrow money to attend medical school is probably a very good idea and you should easily pay of the debt, but to borrow a large sum to build a large mansion when you are 75 is probably not a good idea.  America has hundreds of thousands of bright people thinking of new ways to "consolidate loans" and make investments and very few of them have the consumer in mind.  Our purchases of foreign made things keep going up, our borrowing of foreign money keeps going up, and our exports keep going down.  How long can this continue.  I read the pages looking for optimism but didn't find any.  Previous empires had spent themselves into bankruptcy by pursuing foreign wars, we seem to be emulating them.  Our retirement plans are failing, Social Security has minor problems but there seems to be no moves to solve them before they become major problems.  Nobody is even talking about the financing of Medicare for the decades ahead.

C11  The Erring Republican Majority
 Our current problems: oil vulnerability, excessive indebtedness, and indulgence of radical religion.  It doesn't matter which is the current headline, they share well and they feed of off each other.  Right now the Republicans have embraced them all.  We have had problems before and our nation survived, will we this time?

American supplied the oil for World Wars I and II (and a lot of other stuff).  Following WWII there was a great deal of exploration and the US provided the money and expertise for much of this.  Through our proxies we controlled much of the marketing until the 1980's.  Even as our internal oil supply was running out our spending dramatically increased.  With the failure of the Iraq war to break the back of OPEC it decreased the total supply increasing prices.  In 2002 the US spent $100 billion for imported oil, in 2005 the price was over $230 billion.  The value of the dollar is going down as foreign banks begin to doubt the stability of the US economy.  The republicans in the White House and Congress continue to treat oil policy as though it were the 1920's or 1950's.  At the same time they continue to lower taxes and fail to encourage saving.

In about 1990 the US switched from a global lender to a global borrower, $360 billion in 1997, $1 trillion in 1999, $2.3 trillion in 2001, $2.7 trillion in 2003, $3.3 trillion in 2004, and $4 trillion in 2005.  American firms can show a greater return on their investment by going overseas and they pay less in taxes.  For all of these reasons the value of the dollar is decreasing.

Phillips describes the new financial games that have been developed to manipulate financial markets, collateralized debt obligations, credit-default swaps, hedge funds, a proliferation of mortgage products (some 200), credit cards tied to home equity lines of credit, and more.  While the financial house is burning the fiddle is playing for Far East development.  The Pacific Rim countries are expanding their markets and increasing their technical education.

Large numbers of fundamentalists and Radcon Republicans were looking for salvation from the rapture instead of working for the benefit ot the nation.  Recent fundamentalist and Republican politics were discussed.  Large numbers of white evangelical Protestants, i.e. Republicans, believe that foreign policy should be set by religious groups.  He documents many areas where the religious right either has or has tried to remake government policy.

A warning to the fundamentalists, when Spain, the Netherlands, and England lost their empires, their religious establishment suffered disastrous reversals and they currently have very little power in these countries.  He warns against the dynasties he sees forming, the Bush dynasty with Jeb waiting in the wings, Al Gore being the son of a Senator, the Kerry, Kennedy, Dukakis Massachusetts group, and even the Clintons.

Afterward:  The Changing Republican Presidential Coalition  He ends with a brief summary and statistics of Republican presidential voting patterns since 1956 with Eisenhower.

The book concludes with 33 pages of fine print notes and 31 pages of index.


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The Jesus Dynasty            James D. Tabor

The author is a biblical scholar, he has a Ph.D. in biblical studies from the University of Chicago and is the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  He is very knowledgeable concerning the history of the Middle East, Christian origins, Dead Sea Scrolls and other similar archaeological finds and has participated in several archaeological expeditions to the Middle East.  The purpose of this book is to examine the life of Jesus the man.  It includes with his parents and grandparents, what little is known about his childhood and young adult years, his religious beliefs and activities, his brothers and sisters, his disciples and followers, his relationship with John the Babtizer, his activities in the days before his crucification, the response of his family, disciples, and followers in the months following his death, and the events surrounding the Jews, followers of Christ in and around Jerusalem, and Christians in the Roman Empire over the next 400 years.

Modern biblical historical research may be said to have started with the discovery of 4th century texts in Egypt at Nag Hammadi in 1945.  These, the Dead Sea scrolls from Qumran, and many other less well known sources have sparked much recent biblical historical research.  Tabor is attempting to write a history from both a historical or physical and a theological standpoint.  This is difficult because our understanding of the historical Jesus changes as archaeologists uncover new physical evidence whereas the theological Jesus changes as the theology and needs of the church changes.  This conflict has caused a number of difficulties.  Tabor doesn't attempt to resolve these problems, he just points them out.  Instead of going over each chapter I will just summarize his findings from the concluding chapter.

Jesus had a human mother and father.  There is some evidence that his biological father was a Roman soldier named Pantera, possibly Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera or Jacob Panthera.  Abdes Pantera was about the same age as Mary and was born either in Sidon or Tyre.  The Roman troops from that area were sent to Germany and a gravestone with his name and age was recovered in Bad Kreuznach Germany in 1859.  Joseph was Mary's legal husband when Jesus was born and Jesus was accepted as his son.  Mary bore 6 other children, 4 boys and 2 girls.  Joseph probably died shortly and his brother, Clophas, married Mary as was appropriate under Jewish law.  The evidence suggests that Joseph was a stone mason or builder and not a carpenter.  John the Babtizer was Jesus' spiritual leader and they joined together, John as the Priest and descendant of Aaron and Jesus as the royal descendant of David.  They attempted to call the people, both Jews and non-Jews, to return to the Torah of Moses and the Hebrew Prophets.

When John was arrested, Jesus continued the work, choose an inner Council of Twelve, including his 4 brothers, whom he promised were to rule over the Twelve Tribes of Israel.  When John was killed, Jesus went to Jerusalem expecting that he would be tried and convicted but he expected that he would be saved by God and given rule over all the Jews.  When Jesus was killed his followers returned to Galilee.  His brother James took over and continued the leadership of the disciples.  The teachings of James, Peter, John, and the Twelve was a continuation of the message of John the Babtizer and Jesus.  Non-Jews were invited to join as long as they refrained from the worship of idols and adhered to the minimum ethics prescribed in the Torah for Gentiles.

Paul was never a part of this group and claimed that his authority came from his own visions of Christ.  His message became the foundation of Christian theological orthodoxy based in Rome.  The message of James and the original Jerusalem apostles was based directly on the teachings of John the Babtizer and Jesus.  James was sentenced and killed by the high priest Annas in the year 62 at Passover, just as Annas his father sentenced and killed Jesus in the year 30 at Passover.  The third brother, Simon (Simeon) became the leader at that time.  There is evidence that suggests that Judas, the fourth brother, became the leader at Simeon's death.  After this the records become almost non-existent.  In the year 70 Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, in 73 Masada fell with some reason to suspect that some local followers of Jesus were among the dead.  The final Jewish revolt in 132-135 resulted in the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the exclusion of Jews from the city.  There are records of some followers of Jesus, known as the Ebonites, in areas east of Jerusalem in the 4th century.  They believed that Jesus was a man born naturally from "Mary and her husband", they followed Jewish law or Torah, and they rejected Paul.

Extensive notes with references and index.

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