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review 2016-10-21 18:21
Review: Corporate America is crazy
B.S. Incorporated - Jennifer Rock,Michael Voss

Real talk, this book stressed me out. It took me a few extra days to read it because I just couldn't deal with the too real stresses of a job I basically lived through. For a moment I wanted to rate this book lower because of the stress, but I realized that the authors did a superb job bringing you into the story and characters and it's not really their fault that I worked for a similar company that went through a similar situation and ended up having to leave the company because of it. Call it corporate PTSD if you will, but I think the authors did a good job capturing the corporate world in this humorous book.

 

Will is my favorite type of character, sarcastic and pragmatic. He is navigating the system and chaos of things he basically has no control over, while simultaneously trying to keep his job. If you've ever worked in a corporate environment, or known someone who has, the banter and insight Will shares with his trusted friends/coworkers will make you laugh. Every office needs a Will.

 

Anna was a less likable character, but she grows on you as the story progresses. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to say I liked her character until the very end of the story, which can be a good thing. You're never quite sure where her loyalties lie and that brings about an interesting turn of events. I really enjoyed her "real" moments when she wasn't projecting Corporate Anna and actually acted like a normal human being.

 

All in all I would say this book is a funny read. If you've been through a corporate transition, there may be some stressful "too real" moments for you but hopefully the humorous take on everything will bring you through the story with a smile.

 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.

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review 2016-03-13 11:32
Howard Zinn and the American State
Original Zinn: Conversations on History and Politics - Howard Zinn,David Barsamian,Arundhati Roy

This is similar to the Noam Chomskey book that I read which was a transcript of a radio interview. This book is a collection of interviews with Alternate Radio where Zinn discusses American History and where the United States was at that point in time. While the book was released in 2006, it contains a number of interviews post September 11 and the main theme of the book is that really nothing has changed with the American system of government since its inception. He believes that it is a militant government bent on war of the sake of war, and that the many wars that the United States has been involved in drains funds from the public purse to support what Eisenhower termed as the 'Military Industrial Complex'.

 

I have spoken about war elsewhere, and will do so again, however I will try keep my comments brief here. One of the things that I tend to disagree with the pacifists is that there is the idea of a just war, and that there are times when to is necessarily to go to war, obviously to defend the interests of yourself and your allies. However, sometimes it is necessary to go to war to attempt to prevent the aggressive tenancies of another power or idea, sometimes it is necessary to go to war to remove a tyrant. However it is not the question of war that I am raising, but how one goes about it. It is quite clear that while there was probably a very good reason to send troops to Vietnam, however the way the war was carried out was not. The same goes with Iraq, and it is with Iraq that I will now come to.

 

It is accepted that Sadam was a tyrant, and it is accepted that he murdered many innocent people during his reign. What made Sadam such a threat though was that he has industrialised his nation, and then geared his nation to war. It is true that there is a lot of oil wealth in Iraq, and during the cold war he would play the Russians against the Americans to get the best price for his oil. With the proceeds he then set about industrialising his country and his military, and proceeded to go to war with Iran. The Americans even provided him with weaponry to fight this war. However, it was after the war was over, and that his ally, the Soviet Union, had collapsed, that the United States discovered that he could not be trusted. The US has no problem with propping up brutal dictators, as long as the dictator plays by their rules, which usually involves opening the country up to corporate exploitation. Further, as long as the country does not embark on projects involving poverty relief, then that is fine as well. There have been a number of South American countries who have elected socialist governments in an attempt to address the poverty of the region, only to discover that the US government has not only allied with their political opponents, but armed them as well (the Sandanistas in Nicuragua and Salvadore Allande on Chile both ring a bell).

 

While it was a noble and just idea to go into Iraq to remove Sadam, this was not the reason that they wanted to do it. There are numerous other dictators (as mentioned) that are just as brutal and dangerous as Sadam, but they are on the US' side. Sadam clearly was not, so he had to be removed. Further, the reason to allow the Iraqis to determine their own destiny but to rather install their own corporate friendly government in the country and open up the population to the free market. It was also intended that the oil wealth of Iraq not go to the Iraqi's, but straight into the coffers of the oil barons. However, things did not turn out the way they expected. They expected that the country would be in such as shock that they could move in, change everything, install a Pizza Hut and McDonalds on every corner, and then move out just as fast. However, it did not turn out like that. Immediately after the government collapsed the people went on a looting soree, and six months after the invasion Iraq was on the brink of civil war.

 

One of the other important things that Zinn discusses in this book is history and education. This goes in hand with the idea of media manipulation. With the media concentrated in the hands of (I believe) seven megacorporations, and the expense involved in attempting to establish an alternate source, our understanding of the past and the present is presented to us in a sanitised package promoting the ideas that the complex wants us to accept, and to rewrite history in a way that we can never know the truth of what really happened. Take Vietnam for instance: it was an embarrassment for the US government, and they had to get out of there as soon as possible. What was more of an embarrassment was that the media was not controlled. We saw a similar incident in Somalia (which is ironically forgotten, and has been sanitised so that only the heroic actions of a small few are all that is remembered by what turned out to be another embarrassing loss). Now information from the warzone is much more tightly controlled. In Vietnam the journalists wrote about and filmed what we saw, and for the first time, on our television screens, we saw the true horror of war. However, come Iraq, journalists are embedded with American troops, and those that go out on their own are told that their life is in their own hands. There are even allegations that journalists who would not follow the official line and remain where they were told to ended up dead. The same went for human rights activists and other NGOs that went into Iraq. The powers that be do not want us to know the truth, and as such limit what we can find out. They will even resort to murder to keep the truth out of our ears (if we even are able to remember it).

 

Education is another thing that is under attack. Education is dangerous because it teaches people to think for themselves. With funding being withdrawn from public schools, and these schools becoming little more than daycare centres, the bulk of the population is being denied a right to education. It is only the wealthy that are able to afford a good education, and even then I suspect that what is taught in the prep-schools is a sanitised, official version, that is not questioned. I suspect that people in those schools are not taught to think but rather taught the official line, and are expected to follow it. There are numerous works on this issue of education, but one film that springs to mind is Dead Poet's Society. In brief it is about a maverick teacher that comes to a prep-school and begins to teach students literature. However, this backfires when the parents find out that their prized possessions (their children) have decided to become actors rather than doctors, and as a result one of the students commits suicide, and the teacher is blamed. It is interesting that none of the parents actually acknowledge that maybe they are in the wrong, it is much easier to externalise blame, and to tarnish another's name just to give one a sense of self-justification.

 

I have probably written enough on this book and on Zinn's ideas for now. There are other books in my collection that also deal with the issues that are raised here, and no doubt I will return to them soon.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/258819467
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review 2016-01-31 09:14
The Rise of the Corporatocracy
No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs - Naomi Klein

As I mentioned under The Shock Doctrine, this book is about the internal problems with the American Empire as opposed to the external concerns to the rest of the world. In a sense it is the idea that our culture is being destroyed by a culture of consumerism and that idea of profits before people is the main motivator of the modern corporatocracy. We do need to put this book in context though, being written at the end of the 90s, just after the anti-globalisation protests in Seattle, an event referred to by many as the Battle of Seattle. I guess the events really brought to the forefront how the American Government was willing to go to war with its own people to protect the interests of the corporatocracy. However, remember that between 1989 and 2001 there was no real external threat to the United States, and as such there was no way of distracting the population to an external threat, so another means of distracting them was required. The concept of the brand is not new, however it is during this period that we begin to see a rise against the corporatocracy which resulted in a rejection of the militaristic foreign policy of the early 21st Century.

 

I am going to be honest though, there is nothing different now than there was during the rest of US history, though I will point to the writings of Howard Zinn to direct you to the discrimination and oppression that has been a mainstay of American, and in fact world, history. Things have changed though, and one of the major things was the rise of the middle class. The appearance of the middle class did bring about massive changes in modern society, and one had resulted in the French Revolution. However, industrialisation also brought about the rise of the working class. With the appearance of the working class, the middle class was allowed to develop whereas the working class were then oppressed. However, with the rise of communism, and the fear of a world wide revolution, the working class was appealed to, and universal healthcare (at least in the British Empire) as well as minimum wages and benefits, were introduced. The problem with this was that hiring labour became much more expensive.

 

Now I seem to have diverged a bit, though in many cases I tend to like to try to put a few things in context. Now, I do very much agree with Klein's assessment here, however I do feel that there are a few misleading ideas, such as the idea of cheap labour in poorer countries. Now, don't get me wrong, I am opposed to the mistreatment of any human being, and am opposed to unsafe and discriminatory work practices. This was something that was thrown out of the western world over 100 years ago, however it has simply moved to the developing world. Low wages are not necessarily the problem though, since if you do travel to these places you will discover that the low prices of goods there more than makes up for the low wages. For instance, it costs around $100 a night to stay in a hotel in Melbourne, while it costs $30 a night in Hong Kong, and in Bangkok I found a hotel for $14 (though my friend's comment was that it was probably a pretty shitty hotel). However, low wages are still a problem, but what makes things worse is cost cutting as a means to increase profits. If, for instance, the manufacturer cuts costs so that the worker is working long hours, has no breaks, is not allowed to go to the toilet, and the workplace is so unsafe that accidents regularly happen, then that is not good. However, the price of the shoes, or the shirt, in Australia does not change, despite the factory in Australia closing down and the one in Asia opening up. This is not a means to make the goods cheaper, but a means to increase the profits of the corporation, and in turn the shareholders. No only are the workers being exploited, but so are the consumers in Australia.

 

One thing she talks about is the concept of space. Basically space is being taken over by the corporatocracy. Once one would go shopping on the main street and spend some time in the town park. That is no longer the case: main street has closed down and much of the activity has moved to the shopping centre. There is a big difference between the town centre and the shopping centre and that is that the town centre is a public space while the shopping centre is not. What that means is that the owner of the shopping centre has complete control over what goes on there, thus creating an ordered and sheltered place where people can go and spend money and not be disturbed. However I have noted that at times The Body Shop have plastered their shop with anti-corporate logos, even in the middle of a Westfield Shopping Centre.

 

The further idea of no space is that all of our space is being taken up with advertising, and that the main thought forms of today is the brand logo. However branding once again in not new. Christianity has been using the brand logo for centuries, and in many was it has brought about the development of the brand as a means of advertising. The brand has also been used in the past to mark possession, such as slaves or cattle. However, you could say that the modern brand also marks possession. We see the swoosh on a shirt or my shoes and we know that they are Nikes. Nothing more needs to be said, but then I raise the question of whether those of us who wear the brand are in fact possessions of the company. I would say not, however to me it is a means of cheap advertising, though the cheapest form of advertising is always word of mouth. Personally, I must admit, I like Coopers Pale Ale, and as such I will wear a T-shirt with the brand on it (though I should also point out that the T-shirt was given to me as a gift). I guess, if the brand was a brand that I didn't like, then I wouldn't be wearing it (unless of course I was paid to do so, then I wouldn't have a problem, unless of course it was something that I was violently opposed to).

 

Some have suggested that the modern corporatocracy is launching a war against the middle class. To be honest I am going to dispute that namely because the corporatocracy needs the middle class, and even a cash flushed working class, to survive. Things have changed dramatically since this book was published, as the corporatocracy attempted to increase profits by increasing availability of credit. However, the more people got into debt, the less of an ability they have to pay it back, and when they cannot pay it back the debt must be written off. Come 2008, the entire economy reaches the brink of collapse, and the banks have not yet recovered. The economy survived, barely, and some still say it is on life support. However, many of the masters of the economy have fallen from grace, but this was not through the actions of demonstrators and protesters, but through their own greed. In the end it is much like a Shakespearian tragedy.

 

As mentioned, the corporatocracy need the people to survive, to create and grow their profits, but they have effectively reached critical mass. All of the jobs that filled the pockets of American workers have gone overseas, and as such these workers have been left without anything. Further, their savings accounts have also been drained and their credit has been maxed out, therefore they no longer have any money left to partake in the consumer society. Sure, the staples such as Walmart and McDonalds can survive because everybody needs food, but the others can't. Instead, with no money left to suck out of the working class, they need to look elsewhere for support, and unfortunately that does not exist in the developing world. The workers there are still underpaid and cannot afford the luxuries of the west. Therefore, in the end, the corporatocracy is its own worst enemy, and its endless pursuit of power and profits is going to be its own undoing.

 

Though I still love the free market capitalist who hated short sellers. I know this has nothing to do with this book, but I have to mention it. It is typical of the hippocracy of the extreme capitalist. They love the free market right up to the point that the market spins around and smacks them in the face, then they will jump in with regulations in an attempt to protect their profits. All I can say is if you want a free market, then you have to accept all of the free market, both good and bad. Personally, I see nothing wrong with short sellers, and in fact I actually quite like them because they piss off the capitalist to no end.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/323594123
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review 2015-11-28 07:38
The Story of Consumer Debt
Maxed Out - James Scurlock

Maxed out is a story of cheap credit and how the banking system has enslaved a middle class who cannot afford to pay it back. The author journeys across the United States speaking to people who have fallen into the debt trap and exposes how the banks do not necessarily make money from interest but rather from the fees (particularly overdraft fees). In fact the banks make more money lending money than by having it paid back simply because they either package up the debt into securities which they then sell to investors, or they sell the debt to debt collection agencies which then use many tricks to get the money back. What this book demonstrates is that the banks want you to be in debt, and want you to be addicted to debt because they make more money from minimum payments than they do by having the debt paid back. Even then, the money that they lend out is not necessarily theirs anyway - it is yours, if you have enough money to save in the first place.

 

There are a number of issues that should be explored in this particular commentary, and I felt that a simple paragraph really just brushes over the issues in this book (and accompanying documentary, or is it the other way around). To me there are two types of debt, investment debt and consumer debt. In a way investment debt, while risky, is better than consumer debt because the debt is used to leverage one's ability to generate an income stream. This can be an overdraft with a bank that a business can draw upon to pay its outgoings, particularly when one has a slow period, or it can be a margin loan, which is used to purchase securities, whether in the form of shares, bonds, or managed funds. While this form of debt is risky, if used right it can raise one's ability to generate an income. However, this documentary is not about investment debts (or leverage) but consumer debt.

 

Now, as far as I am concerned, consumer debt is bad, very bad. The idea is to buy now and pay later. In one sense it can create an ability to purchase a house (though in my mind this is more an investment debt) or a car without the need to save up the money. It may be necessary to have a car sooner rather than later, particularly if the car is needed for work. However, people use consumer debt to live a lifestyle that they simply cannot afford. New television, couch, holidays. In a sense it gives one the ability to live like a king for a day, and the consequences can be kicked down the road to deal with another day. However there is a catch: once the money is spent, and the object consumed, there is still a hangover - the debt and the interest payments that accompanies it. Moreso, once one tastes that high life through debt, one wants more, and more, and more. As such it becomes a drug, and a very seductive and addictive drug at that.

 

Remembering that this book deals with debt in America, in some ways it can be applied to other countries as well. We here in Australia are protected by a consumer credit code that restricts the ability of lenders to ensare people into debt slavery, however it does happen. A friend at work suddenly decided she wanted to take her family on an overseas holiday, but did not want to save, so she and her husband borrowed the money, saying that they will worry about the consequences later. However, from experience (not through debt as I am debt free – with the exception of the student loan, but unlike America, that debt is held by the government and you pay it back in the same way you pay tax, that is it is automatically deducted from your pay once you hit a certain threshold), the thrill and exhilaration of an overseas holiday is so addictive that you simply cannot come back and resume your normal life – you want to go back again, and again, and again. While I may justify my desire by ditching the word holiday and replacing it with 'research excursion' in reality I have become addicted to the thrill and simply want to justify my desire to re-experience that thrill.

 

I guess one of the most shocking things that I discovered from this book is how the credit card companies prey upon young university students. The first thing they see when they arrive at the campus are the multitude of stalls where companies are flogging off credit cards. Remember, they do not actually want us to pay the debt back, but rather continue to gouge us with interest payments and fees and charges. The banks are not concerned either because they have already packaged the loan up as a security and onsold it so that they get all of their money back, and then these loans are merged and packaged up, with bad loans being tied together with good loans, and onsold as AAA securities. In the end these securities end up forming parts of our superfunds so that these companies are screwing us around both ways. Not only are they diverting our income streams to repaying interest, but they are also taking our savings and replacing them with worthless IOUs. To further protect them, they insure the loans so that if the person does go bankrupt, and they lose their capital, they call on the insurer, who then pays up. The belief was that the insurer would never have to pay up, however this all unravelled in 2008.

 

This book, though, was written prior to 2008 so the consequences of this debt binge had not come to light. However this corporate debt binge, which almost collapsed the world economy, was dealt with through government bailouts. Yet there was never any bailout for the millions of people reduced to debt slavery. George Bush, at the insistence of the credit card companies, even changed the bankruptcy laws so that the debtees could not even hide behind that either. One might suggest that these people are responsible for their own position, but when we consider that innocent people are caught by the actions of others cannot be ignored. There is no healthcare in America, nor is their any government funded tuition. As such if you get sick you have to borrow money, and if you want to go to college you have to borrow money. I borrowed money from the government for my tuition, and the government has said that I can play it back once I reach a certain income level. This is not the case in the United States. Once you borrow the money for university, interest begins to accrue, and it may be at least four years before you begin your first proper job, and you are already saddled with a huge debt, and this is before the wedding, the house, and the kids.

 

At the beginning we are told of a story of a man who has had to declare bankruptcy, but was it his fault? Not necessarily, namely because his wife had incurred huge debt, dumped it onto him, and then ran off debt free. Stories like this make me glad that I am not married. It also makes me raise the question of debt early on in a relationship, but once again, like many other things in life, relationships bring risk, and it is how we respond to risk and how we tackle it that can determine the course of our life. However, the otherside is that consumer debt is not risk, or if it is, it is much higher than other forms of ris, because the risk is that you will not be able to pay it back, and even if you can, in the end the money you pay in interest, and even in principle, is dead money because your consumable is not generating an income and the interest payments are simply paid so that you can live as a king for a day and then deal with the hangover later. Unfortunately, the hangover will always be there, and in many cases, it will never go away.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/187679918
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review 2015-08-04 06:47
A criticism of the Bush administration shortly after their election
Stupid White Men - Michael Moore

 

Okay, I may not actually be writing this review (as I had done so a while back) but I am going over it again to try and correct some of the glaring spelling and gramatical errors (as I have been doing for most of my reviews – and I am getting quite close to finishing them off). Anyway, I am currently sitting in a flying coffin at 30,000 above Malaysia, on my way to Phuket where I will be using the time to tidy up a few more of my reviews, as well as visiting Salamanga at James Bond island. However, that is beside the point because I probably should be spending more time relaxing and exploring than writing book reviews – but then again I guess that is one of things things I like doing. Anyway, on with the review.

 

This book is quite dated since the Bush cronies are now gone and the Democrats, lead by Barak Obama, are now well into a second term in the oval office (though they were recently smashed is the mid-terms). However, just because this ultra-right wing conservative government has been tossed out of the door does not necessarily mean that things have changed, or that change is going to be effected overnight. Many people are now criticising Obama on the fact that when he entered office on the platform of 'change you can believe in' that all of the problems that plague the United States would be solved overnight. As became obvious, the power brokers in this neo-fuedal system were not going to lie down without a fight. Even the Health Care Reform was little more than a cobbled together attempt to move the United States away from the two-tier system that had evolved that simply gives the health insurance industry more money (namely by forcing the insurers to accept applicants – then again, a government funded system would result in huge losses to the private insurers as it would mean that people would no longer see the need to take out private insurance).

 

However, the legacy of the Bush era is a multi-trillion dollar debt, a sluggish economy, more people under the poverty line, millions unemployed, a two wars in which many have lost loved ones or have had their lives drastically changed due to a roadside bomb. In fact one could point to these two wars as the reason that the United States is struggling with a debt burden that is going to be impossible to pay. However, despite all of this, the elite still live in the multi-million dollar mansions, sip their pina colladas, and watch their broadway plays, while the middle class is slowly being destroyed and the ranks of the poor are ever increasing.

 

We cannot say that we were not warned. It is interesting that it was well known that Bush was in fact a very bad manager of money. He ran two companies into the ground, ran the state of Texas into the ground, and a year before his term expired, the American economy was pushed to brink of collapse. However the companies that were responsible for this were bailed out, and then the government was further required to cut back on spending on essential services while the directors of these companies simply went on with life as normal. In the end, as in every similar situation, a fall guy was found (Mardoff) and all of the rage and anger was focused on him while the real criminals simply went off scott free.

 

As for Bush's Christianity, that is something that I am not at liberty to make comment, though it is interesting that his mentors turned out to be the usual suspects when it comes to the Christian right in the United States. This is an anti-abortion, and in fact, anti-fun coalition that is trying to impose a rigid morality on the United States, still believing that it is a country that has been blessed by God because of its Christian heritage. If economic success is a sign of blessing, and blessing only comes because a country remains true to its Christian heritage, then maybe the economic miracle in China is nothing more than a fraud (and people actually seem to think that this is a case). Or how about Ethiopia, or Kenya? These two countries have a very strong Christian heritage, but struggle with endemic poverty. This idea is once again a part of the so called prosperity heresy (as I like to call it), and now I understand why these pastors live such luxurious lifestyles - it is simply to convince the members of their church that the prosperity doctrine does indeed work because God has blessed them with riches (despite the fact that these riches have simply come through tithing and selling merchandise that peddles this false doctrine).

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/509303858
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