Wednesday, July 2, 2008

FREE LUNCH-(book review)

By David Cay Johnston
(Pulitzer Prize- Winning Reporter)

First off I need to tell you how I came to read this book. Some of you reading this letter remember my good friend and neighbor, Charlie McCarty from Des Moines. He had found out about it and asked his wife Judy to purchase it for him last year. Typical Charlie, he never opened it before his death on St. Pat’s day this year. Judy called me a month ago stating that he had wanted to give it to me so she mailed it. I started reading as I prepared for my Alaska trip to visit my daughter and her family. I read it off and on during the visit and completed reading on the flight back to Tucson.
I have been reading and writing for a number of years now as I express my concern with the way our government muddles along seemingly helpless to affect positive steps to reverse the downward slide we are in. He includes the courts as well as all branches of government, Federal or State is his condemnation. Both political parties are to blame but the lion share after reading this book to confirm my own thoughts rests with the Republican Party of today which does not resemble the party I supported most of my adult life. I like most of my compatriots just wanted government out of the way so we could put our efforts towards our objective of making a quality product at a price the public would be willing to pay. We had plenty of competition with other companies doing the same and government only seemed interested in making it more difficult than it needed to be. In those years it was America vs. the world. We supported our employees, communities and did our patriotic duty for our country. That is all gone now. The only measure of success is the bottom line. The owners do all they can to find lower cost countries and ship jobs there without a second thought about the devastation left behind as a result of their decisions. Immediately some one of you will say that the owners are responsible to the stockholders and that their actions are not only justified but to do otherwise would be a dereliction of their responsibilities particularly now with international trade and internets making place of origin less important than before when America was king.
This is where this book opened my eyes to how our government particularly starting with Reagan gave a helping hand to the process by creating incentives to assist these new directions. He asked his famous question during the debate with Carter, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago”. With an overwhelming victory he started off to reconstruct the relationship between the government of the United States and its economic system. The solution was to get government out of the way- to let business operate largely free from oversight. As I write this I can still relate to the heady feeling we had during these years. I was na├»ve enough to think only how this could improve our ability to compete. Never did I think that everything we worked so hard to achieve would disintegrate without our even knowing it was happening.

Now let’s discuss the book.

This is an astounding book written with clarity. It was thoroughly researched. He gives names, dates and all relevant data to prove his contention that the rules have been skewed in favor of the rich to the detriment of the poor. The absolute greed is beyond comprehension. I am sure that most if not all of you who take my advice to read this book will have your eyes opened. Some of the issues like home alarm systems which cause law enforcement precious resources which should be put to better and more productive uses, or overly expensive title insurance which effects all home owners, I had never considered as issues.
He states,” For a nation whose leaders frequently invoke their belief in the Bible, curious indeed is how the political rhetoric ignores the overriding duty of the New Testament to care for the poor”.
There are 26 chapters in this book. While a number of issues are repeated, by and large each chapter covers a different aspect of the blatant give away programs and how the net affect has been so negative for most Americans. Major topics are the health care system, deregulation of utilities, unfair
“free” trade with China and other countries, huge giveaways to major league sports, also to large companies like Cabela and Wal-Mart, the fact that there are now over 35,000 lobbyists in the Washington area descending on Congress daily striving to get an advantage and paying tribute for receiving those handouts. Each chapter is short and concise. You can read one and put the book down while you absorb the information. The sum total is staggering in the cumulative affect of one abuse piled upon another.
The most dangerous of all is the unregulated Hedge Fund Industry where for as little as $i they can leverage $100. The large banks have bought into loaning them money in staggering amounts. A few years ago one fund failed. The Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan bailed them out to save the banks. A failure of larger magnitude will surely bring this house of cards tumbling down affecting all of us.
Do you still recall Enron led by Ken Lay, President Bush’s good buddy. Enron’s manipulation of energy costs nearly bankrupted California and nearby States while compiling vast wealth for the few executives at the top.
Chapter 26 “Not Since Hoover” compares incomes of Americans since 1980. While gross national product has grown dramatically the distribution is heavily slanted towards the rich and very rich. The vast majority dipped from 1980 to 2005 when adjusted for inflation while income for the super rich has soared to astronomical levels. He believes that government policies put in place has created this disproportion more than mere chance. It is plain to me that neither party has the stomach to start whittling away at these disastrous policies. In my pessimism I can only see the downward spiral continuing until that fateful day not so far in the future when the ship sinks. On that day everyone will wonder how this great Democracy could destroy itself. Reading this book will at least educate you.
Perhaps change is possible, who knows, but not unless the issues are debated and decisions made to rectify the damage already done.

Jack B. Walters
3961 N. Hillwood Circle
Tucson, AZ 85750
(520) 722-2958
July 2, 2008

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