The authors are necessarily forceful, and they offer a well-written must-read for those ready to give up hope about politics...

NATION ON THE TAKE

HOW BIG MONEY CORRUPTS OUR DEMOCRACY AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT

An examination of how “the rapid proliferation of a system akin to oligarchy—within our own country—threatens to cripple our march forward.”

Center for Public Integrity senior analyst Potter (Obamacare? What’s in It for Me, 2013, etc.) and Issue One executive director Penniman cite historical and current incidents of America’s “coin-operated government” and its outsized influence on legislation. Money dominates the political system as it muzzles more Americans than it empowers. The authors especially point to the election of 1896, in which businessman Marcus Hanna bankrolled William McKinley’s campaign “almost entirely with his own money.” That election recorded, as a percentage of GDP, the largest spending levels ever, before or since. With a ray of hope, the authors point out that Theodore Roosevelt’s administration turned the tables on corporate spending. Later, the Tillman Act of 1907 and the Hatch Act of 1939 tried to limit campaign activity and contributions. The Taft Hartley Act of 1943 banned direct spending by unions and corporations, which led to the creation of the first PACs. The authors pull no punches regarding the “corrupting influence” of the Citizens United decision, and they succinctly and clearly expose the direct influence of lobbyists for such industries as banking, mortgages, oil and other fossil fuels, pharmaceuticals, coal, and even food and beverages. Lobbyists demand self-regulation, threaten job losses if they have too many rules, and encourage delaying tactics in Congress. Thankfully, Potter and Penniman offer practical answers and point out that reform beginning at the local level is most effective and that “sunlight is the baseline for all reform.” As they note, the underfunded and dysfunctional Federal Election Commission, the IRS, the president, and the Securities and Exchange Commission all have tools to help, but they have to use them.

The authors are necessarily forceful, and they offer a well-written must-read for those ready to give up hope about politics and government in the United States.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63286-109-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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