Tag Archives: Politics

Book Review: The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan

I must say to you that the state of our Union is not good — President Gerald Ford

The Invisible Bridge by Rick Perlstein

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein is a political history of the United States from the late 1960s to the Republican Convention in 1976.  Perlstein holds a BA in history for the University of Chicago and did graduate work at the University of Michigan in American Studies.  His previous books include Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus and  Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America.


This is a book that covered most of my childhood and brought back a flood of memories.  It not only covered the politics but the culture too.  Vietnam, Patty Hearst, POWs, Legionnaires disease, horse meat, Dirty tricks, Berkeley student protests, changing sexual ideas, ERA, bicentennial, The Exorcist, Henry Aaron, The Freedom Train, streaking, Evel Knievel, textbook wars, WIN, Born Again, Weather Underground, and Saturday Night Live are all included in this troubled period.  From Nixon’s disgrace, to Ford’s healing America, to a Georgia peanut farmer all give rise to a man from California, Ronald Reagan.  “People wanted to believe.  Ronald Reagan was able to make them believe.” Perlstein captures not only the history but also the spirit of the times.  


Perlstein gives detailed biographies of Reagan and Betty Ford.  Betty Ford was quite progressive for her time and made quite a stir with her opinions.  That was part of the history I did not remember.  President Ford, I remembered mostly for his pardoning of Nixon and Chevy Chase’s impersonations on Saturday Night Live.  Ford, not Carter, was the “nice guy” president.  Ford wanted to heal the nation and return the nation to prosperity.  His efforts at times almost seem comical, WIN -Whip Inflation Now was one of the better known programs.  My take is, that more than anything, Ford was the bridge that allowed the healing.


In the background are the other players.  Kissinger maintains a large role and smaller roles by still familiar names like Pat Buchanan, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld.  Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson start the beginnings of the Moral Majority and the Christian Right.   With Jimmy Carter, Billy Carter is also brought forward and rival Scoop Jackson.  


Another revelation for me  just how contested the the Republican primary of 1976 turned out to be.  Ford nearly became the first sitting president not to win his party’s nomination since Cester A. Arthur. The Republican party was deeply divided between Ford and Reagan.  It took the floor vote to nominate Ford before the result was known for sure.  Ford came very close to losing and may have loss if it wasn’t for Reagans choice of running mate — Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania.  

What makes The Invisible Bridge a great book is the writing.  I knew the history before reading the book.  History records that it was Ford and Dole in 1976 and not Reagan and Schweiker, but reading the book creates a sense of suspense.  There are several situations where history may have been very different, and I just never realized how close things came to being very different.  Perlstein writes a history book that wants to be read and keeps the reader’s interest through to the end.  An outstanding modern history.  

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Book Review: When Soldiers Fall:How Americans Have Confronted Combat Losses from World War I to Afghanistan

“As casualties mount, support decreases.”
– John Mueller

When Soldiers Fall by Steven Casey

When Soldiers Fall:How Americans Have Confronted Combat Losses from World War I to Afghanistan by Steven Casey is a study of the actions and behavior of the US government and its people to its own war dead. Casey earned his undergraduate degree from the University of East Anglia. Both his masters and doctorate were earned from Oxford. He was a junior Research Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Trinity College. For over the last decade he has been at the London School of Economics. Casey has published articles and books on the Korean War, Cold War, and casualty reporting. 

This is certainly a book where a great education helps produce a great book. What also separates and elevates this book above most is that Casey is on the outside looking into American politics and foreign policy. Although, not advanced, as Casey’s I do share his education background and was anxious to read his insight into this sensitive and current issue in America. 

A few key points were made in the book. Casualty reporting, by the government, was a 20th century creation. For example during the Civil War, commanders kept track of causalities, not for reporting, but rather to keep track of empty spots in their ranks. World War I brought in the first casualty reporting, but with it came a problem. With the massive scale of offensives, the casualty counts were prime intelligence material. If the enemy knew the number of dead caused by their offensive action, they could first judge the effectiveness of the attack and secondly, with other casualty reports determine weak spots in allied defenses. Delays in transatlantic communications also contributed to problems in reporting. It could be weeks after a major offensive before any casualties were reported. 

Perhaps one of the greatest problems with America is politics and political perception. In the opening of the book, Casey compares Bush and Obama. Bush prevented the media from photographing the returning caskets from Iraq and Afghanistan. He was criticized for hiding the war dead from the public to prevent a popular backlash against the war. Obama allowed the press and was present for the return of the dead at Dover Air Force Base. He was criticized for using the dead for a photo op and his own personal gain. America politicizes everything and the vast majority of politics falls into only two camps. The American public treats politics like a major sporting event. No matter how alike the two teams are, people expand on the minor points until they believe victory by the other side would be a catastrophe. 

Accuracy of reporting even in the most recent times can be called in question. The Jessica Lynch story is a prime example. Ambushed by the Iraqis, Lynch returned fire, and was shot/stabbed/raped in the conflict before taken prisoner and tortured. In reality, her convoy had gotten lost and her vehicle was hit by a rocket propelled grenade, her rifle jammed, and she fell unconscious. She was taken prisoner and hospitalized, by her own testimony, she was treated well. Arizona Cardinal Pat Tillman was reported to be killed in a firefight and awarded the Silver Star in a nationally televised memorial service. Later, it was found Tillman died from friendly fire and it was covered up. Another problem remains the difference in definitions causality. Causality means different things to different government agencies: Killed, wounded and evacuated, wounded and not evacuated, minor wounds, missing in action. Accuracy of information is a problem even today. The media is competing for the breaking story. The military is competing for need for security. The politicians are competing for their popularity. The mission of the three rarely intersect. 

War is a complex issue for America. We like the idea of fighting for what is (or we are lead to believe is) right, but quickly become weary of war when we learn that American’s are dying. Support for the second war in Iraq was high at the start when we believed the that there were weapons of mass destruction or Saddam Hussein played a part in 9/11. As the we lost faith in the reason and the body count rose, opinion changed. After WWI, it took Pearl Harbor to persuade America to pick up arms and fight on foreign shores again. Even then as the war went on, it was not popular, but seen as necessary. Korea became a war where soldiers “die for a tie.” Even as the war was being fought, it earned the nickname of the “Forgotten War.” Vietnam brought a major change America both politically and socially. No matter how many people supported going to war with the Japanese or more recently the Taliban or Iraq, the casualty count changed people’s minds.

Technology plays an increasing role in America’s war planning. Technology saves lives and makes great press. America loved the smart bomb footage from the First Gulf War; it made great television. So much so Roger Waters even commented on in the song “The Bravery of Being Out of Range”

Hey bartender over here
Two more shots
And two more beers
Sir turn up the TV sound
The war has started on the ground
Just love those laser guided bombs
They’re really great
For righting wrongs
You hit the target
And win the game
From bars 3,000 miles away

Obama likes drone strikes. Clinton liked cruise missile attacks. Under Obama some 2,000 to 2,500 people have been killed with drone attacks while sparing any threat to American military. Clinton’s motives were the same. Maximum damage with minimal risk to American lives. 

America likes its wars short, high tech, and low casualty. Perhaps the only president in the 20th century to become more popular by a war in his own presidency was G.H.W. Bush. He had a 89% approval rating at the end of the war, but failed to win re-election. Casey does an outstanding job of dissecting what would seem like the process of reporting war casualties. He puts each war in its historical and domestic political perspective. The work is well documented and very well written. As controversial as the subject can be, I can find little fault in his work. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the politics and reporting in war time and the complexities of the reporting America’s war dead.

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Book Review: The Pinata Pages: Commentary on Our Times

The Pinata Pages by Rachel Gladstone-Gelman

The Pinata Pages: Commentary on Our Times by Rachel Gladstone-Gelman is a collection of articles from the author’s former blog. Gladstone-Gelman earned an MA in Teaching ESOL and has previously published a poetry collection and two chapbooks. She is described as being fiercely political and a strong advocate of voter’s rights, the environment, animal rights, gun control, and other social concerns. She now lives with her family in Canada and can be found at pinatapoet.com

Many of us have a politician or political event that makes us examine our own lives or sets our path. My parents raved over JFK and for my grandmother it was FDR. For me, it was Ronald Reagan. My enchantment with politics didn’t last. By the time I earned my MA in International Relations, I was completely fed up with mainstream American politics. Glastone-Gelman’s moment came with the election of Stephan Harper as Canadian Prime Minister and she deleted her blog. From what I have gathered ,from the few Canadians I have talked to, Harper is an evil super-villain created by right wing American Republicans from the collective DNA of the George W. Bush Administration; I exaggerate, but, well, politics is hyperbole.

“However, those who will not be swayed are liable to kill a law that can save lives. When you wake up under hybrid governance, you don’t see Stalin or Mao, only fearful Americans bent on invoking those ghosts.”
The Pinata Pages covers a wide range of social issues and at times the hypocrisy that accompanies them. No one likes high taxes but complaining about taxes, and at the same time taking full advantage of all the tax payer funded services is a bit ‘hypocritical. Taking care of our planet is covered: “Fracking is goading Earth to crack and shake more often, and only the ethically challenged would see it as no big deal.” Airport security: Gladstone-Gelman gives America’s own TSA a working over when she compares it to Ben Gurion Airport or even Greyhound. Most importantly, it all seems to be money and how it is used.

Many political blogs make their stand with axes and torches slashing and burning not only what stands against their cause but anything in the area. Gladstone-Gelman takes on the issues with a laser. No matter the issue, she addresses in a straight forward manner and genuinely believes in what she is writing. She takes a strong stand and shows no hypocrisy.

Books (and blogs) like The Pinata Pages are important and necessary. Many Americans think of Canada as a liberal paradise (or hell, depending on your political posture). Canada is neither extreme leftist nor a product of conservative America evil doers. However, Gladstone-Gelman, along with many others, do not like to see middle or lower middle class electing governments that work against their interests. The word needs to get out, and The Pinata Pages does this in a very educated, level headed, way:

“When I look back at the ’70s and then at what civilization has accomplished/done until now, all I can say is that civilization took some really cool ideas and has been using them, mostly, the wrong way.”

I couldn’t agree more. Excellent read for both Americans and Canadians. As political commentary, it rates four and a half stars.

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Book Review: Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism

Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism by Michael Schmidt is a study in the world history of Anarchism. Michael Schmidt is Executive Director of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism and Administrative Secretary of the Professional Journalists’ Association of South Africa. An active participant in the international anarchist milieu, he is an investigative journalist, a researcher, an amateur song-writer and a tireless advocate for journalistic freedom. With Prof Lucien van der Walt, he is the author of Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, published in 2009 by AK Press. He lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. 1

Cartography is published by AK Press a collectively owned and operated publisher. It specializes in radical left and anarchist literature and accessories. I usually do not include publisher information in reviews, but AK Press practices what they publish. They are organized as a worker’s co-operative; there are no bosses, all members are paid the same and have equal say in the company.

Schmidt has a rather straight forward mission: Provide a global history of Anarchism. He does a through job of writing a detailed history divided into five waves:

First Wave 1868-1894
Second Wave 1895-1923
Third Wave 1924-1949
Fourth Wave 1950-1989
Fifth Wave 1989 to the Present

Each Wave has major events that anchor in place. The Fifth Wave, for example, starts with the fall of the Soviet Union. The introduction is detailed and provides background information and defines anarchism and syndicalists as well as making comparisons to Marxism. The history is very detailed, but the writing style is extremely dry. At times I felt like I was reading a list. Schmidt does an excellent job documenting his work and the notes give plenty of additional source material. This is a rather difficult book to review because the history is presented without embellishment, but the reading is dry. Cartography is an excellent reference book, but probably something you would want to read cover to cover. 4 stars for the information. 2 Stars for the writing. 3 Stars overall.

1 Michael Schmidt’s biography is pulled directly from the AK Press www.akpress.org

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Book Review: The Myth of a Christian Nation


I was waiting on Boyd to back track on his position, but he never did. He uses the Bible, quotes attributed to Jesus and the apostles, to make his points on nonviolence, silencing the “take America back” argument, Christians wanting political power, and what to do with the “evils” of homosexual marriage and other social issues.

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