Tag Archives: Politics

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Summary
  1. The life and work of Alexander Hamilton told in a way that only the masterful Chernow can do. An incredible, multidimensional view on the influential and controversial Founding Father
Key Takeaways
  1. Hamilton’s influence is hard to understate. He took over a bankrupt country and turned it into a country with a credit rating as high as any European nation, turned the presidential role into an active policy maker instead of a passive one, wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers, helped set the foundation for a liberal democracy, founded the central bank, rolled the state’s debt after the war into the federal government and much more. He was given a blank slate and can be considered the father of the American government. Hamilton, although the most influential policy maker in American history, never gained even a single presidential vote. He was a moral absolutist, bad at compromise, had little sympathy for the every day voter – overall, not a great politician
  2. Hamilton was shot by VP Adam Burr in a duel when he was only 49 years old
  3. Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler, was from a powerful and wealthy NY/Dutch family. She outlived him by more than 50 years and was devoted to preserving his image from opponents such as Jefferson, Adams, Madison and others and from the country’s first major political sex scandal
  4. Few figures illicit more love or hate than Hamilton. He was demonized as a monarchist by opponents because of his desire to make states subordinate to a strong central government. He believed that the state’s sovereignty made the nation inherently weaker. He was extremely hard working, self motivated, intelligent, confident, insecure about his humble and immigrant beginnings and a visionary on many fronts
  5. Hamilton is perhaps the most influential political figure who never was president and he had yet a deeper impact than many who did. No other politician had such a grand yet accurate vision of America’s future and the mechanisms necessary to bind the nation together
  6. Hamilton came from a very modest background and rose up to the zenith of politics in the late 1700s, only behind George Washington himself. He was often the center or catalyst of uproars around race, class, geography and more. Hamilton was very ashamed of his childhood and upbringing (in the West Indies) and refused to discuss it. His mother had to flee the island in order to escape from a difficult and abusive marriage. His mother later met his father but were never married and this tinged Hamilton’s life in many ways. Hamilton was born in 1755 (debated)
  7. From a young age Hamilton was a prodigious poet and essayist and it brought him fame and an eventual scholarship to America after one of his poems received great acclaim
  8. Hamilton quickly progressed up the social and educational ladder when he reached America due to his self confidence, incredible work ethic and newly found connections (William Livingston, Lord Sterling and Elias Boudinot especially). These mentors influenced Hamilton’s political stances, notably his desire for social change but not revolution. And, at least for a time, leaned toward monarchism
  9. Hamilton ended up at King’s College (later Columbia) which provided an ideal education and environment for the future Treasury Secretary
  10. Hamilton was influenced as a youth by Hume’s dark take on human nature. Government must not try to stop man’s selfish actions but harness them for the common good
  11. Hamilton was a stickler for meritocracy and when he was a leader in the army, he treated all men fairly and was known as a tough but just leader who commanded one of the best trained units in the whole army. He quickly gained a reputation as a boy genius and would eventually become Washington’s aide de camp. The relationship between these two men was so important America’s early history that it’s hard to imagine the country without them. They were an excellent team and far more than the sum of their parts. There are rumors that Hamilton was Washington’s surrogate son but the author does not believe this is the case. Hamilton used and developed his excellent writing skills and over time became Washington’s alter ego to the point that he could not be replaced. However, one of the Revolution’s most important and influential partnerships ended towards the end of the war due to conflicts in personality and Washington not allowing Hamilton to move on, get field action or get promoted. They eventually reconciled and worked again very closely
  12. Hamilton was born without a family name or honor and therefore went to drastic measures to protect his reputation and engaged in many duels
  13. Hamilton was a financial savant and quickly grasped many financial intricacies. He realized that military and financial strength are deeply intertwined and this influenced him his whole life (American Revolution was causing severe inflation and he constantly thought about how to remedy it)
  14. Hamilton developed nearly all his political, economic, financial and other beliefs by his mid 20s. He was one of the first to realize they could beat Britain more by reducing their creditors belief in them than an outright win on the battlefield
  15. Hamilton eventually got field action and performed very bravely at Yorktown and gained legendary status which would help him a lot politically post war
  16. After the war, amongst other things, Hamilton practiced law and was very successful. Him and Aaron Burr had a friendly but competitive relationship at their law firm
  17. Hamilton had incredible vision for what America could be as a country and understood the big picture. He knew that how they acted at that time and the laws passed would reverberate through history. He opted to take a lenient stance against Tories and Loyalists as this would show the new country’s mercy and desire for a lawful and just system of government. All mankind had its eyes on this republic experiment
  18. Hamilton established the Bank of New York and wrote up its charter which was used as a model for most new banks and served as the rudiments for the American banking system. One of the main goals was the stabilize and normalize the currency
  19. Hamilton had accomplished so much in so little time that by age 30 he was already part of America’s pontifical and financial elite
  20. Hamilton was staunchly anti-slavery and had the enlightened view for the time that blacks and whites were equal in all respects
  21. Hamilton was always very optimistic on the future of America but was pessimistic on the ability of typical Americans
  22. Nobody did more than Hamilton to bring life into the constitution and make it the working mandate of the country. The new Constitution created great uproar and divided most people between the Federalist and the anti-Federalist
  23. Hamilton organized and did a vast majority of the work and writing of the Federalist papers along with James Madison. The Federalist Papers are the best defense of the constitution ever written
  24. The constitution was ratified by an extremely narrow vote. Having Washington as the first president was absolutely crucial to tie the nation together at this difficult time. He would embody the ideals of this new country and system of government
  25. Washington named Hamilton as Treasury Secretary and Hamilton happily accepted, believing this was the role where he could do the most good. He had been reading up on economic policy for years before he was selected to the post. Hamilton used England, France and several other countries to help design and build out the American financial system and its policies. Hamilton recognized and implemented things like public credit and bonds to help bolster the government and its ability to build and grow. He wanted to use British techniques to beat Britain economically and reduce their reliance on foreign countries. Hamilton believed a well funded debt would help promote and secure a prosperous America. Washington and Hamilton made an incredible team and that they had very different personalities, strengths and weaknesses
  26. In every obstacle Hamilton tackled he is one of histories most incredible combinations of a thinker and a doer
  27. Hamilton appointed Dewer as assistant Secretary of the Treasury and this alliance severely hurt Hamilton as Dewer was corrupt, unethical and a gambler / market speculator
  28. Hamilton made the controversial decision to allow people to fully profit or lose on their securities trading although this would hurt people who had supported the US by buying bonds and later sold them to speculators at a loss. This set the precedent for securities trading in America and the fact that the people buying/selling took the risk and the loss/gain that comes with that
  29. Decided to roll up the national and state debt after the war into one like, Federal debt. This had pervasive repercussions as it made things more efficient, would shift allegiance to central government, states would not want to compete with central government for major revenue sources
  30. Due to Hamilton’s modest upbringing and the fact that he had to fight for everything he got led him to be extremely touchy and protective of his reputation. His volatile emotions plus this need to protect his reputation nearly lead to a duel of honor with a southern judge who accused him of being a liar. This was a telling and prescient event that would unfold later with Aaron Burr
  31. Jefferson was reluctant but eventually joined and supported the new government. Jefferson was extremely talented and hard-working in numerous different fields and became the populist’s spokesperson. Jefferson, like most people, had contradictory characteristics. He believed in the good of the common man but himself was a hedonist who loved the finer things in life. This dichotomy would help lead to the eventual rift which occurred between Hamilton and Jefferson
  32. The temporary and permanent sites of the capital were hotly contested issues but eventually the delayed agreed that Philadelphia would be the temporary site for 10 years and then an area on the Potomac (later to be known as Washington DC) would be the permanent site
  33. The concept of the federal government assuming state debts was a matter of huge contention and this along with the passing of Hamilton’s other reforms created an opposition party known as the Democratic-Republicans which would be center of American political struggles for decades. Hamilton created a strong central government by taking away a lot of the states’ powers but was spot on in advocating for a government which would embrace and foster the self-improvement and entrepreneurial spirit which America would become known for
  34. Hamilton spent an incredible amount of time focusing on customs as more than 90% of government revenue came from imports during this time. Good trade relations with Britain was absolutely vital to the financial and economic success of America at this point. To shore up public credit the country needed a second stream of income. Due to the population’s ingrained anathema to taxes, Hamilton decided to take the unpopular but necessary decision to tax liquor (eventually leading to the Whiskey Rebellion)
  35. Of all his reforms and programs, his advocation for a central bank raised the most constitutional questions. Jefferson, Madison and Adams were staunchly against Hamilton’s reforms but luckily they were not successful in stopping him as their fiscal beliefs were outdated and would have stifled America’s economy
  36. Hamilton took and fought for a liberal view of the constitution where the federal government could take appropriate action and not only vital action (strong central government, Federalist). This gave the government far reaching powers and has been influential since that day
  37. Hamilton had an affair with Maria Reynolds which became public knowledge and tarnished his reputation. Maria’s husband extorted Hamilton for money often. Hamilton’s indiscretion may not have been found out of Reynolds he not been arrested and tried to use his connection to Hamilton to be let free.
  38. Hamilton was aggressive in trying to replicate British manufacturing technology in order to help catapult the American economy from relying on agriculture to manufacturing
  39. The rivalry and feud between Jefferson and Hamilton reached great heights in the 1790s and shaped much of American politics and government policies at that time. Hamilton and Madison also butted heads often but not as frequently or ruthlessly as Jefferson and Hamilton. At this time, political parties were not established and the Founding Fathers wanted to be rid of them. Therefore, most politicians hid their partisan beliefs and colluding was kept secret at this point
  40. Burr and Hamilton butted heads because Hamilton thought of Burr as not having any principles whatsoever. He would do whatever was popular in order to gain power
  41. The French Revolution was a much followed and important topic in American politics. Jeffersonians were for it and believed the violent means were necessary to protect the free world where Hamiltonians were against it
  42. An excise tax on liquor caused the Whiskey Rebellion in West Virginia which ultimately forced Hamilton, Washington and the government to respond with military force. The widespread unpopularity of this tax helped get Jefferson elected as president several years later
  43. Hamilton resigned from his Treasury Secretary post with very little money to his name.
  44. The Jay Treaty caused an uproar and many Jeffersonians called for war with Britain over it. Hamilton took up the debate but exposed himself to debates with violent crowds
  45. Washington set the precedent and stepped down as president after two terms. John Adams was elected president and Jefferson received the second most votes and became VP. Adams completely cut out Hamilton from all his dealings which was devastating to Hamilton and ultimately to Adams himself and the Federalist Party as a whole
  46. Adams was a vain, paranoid man who grew up with a modest background. He didn’t have the social ease of Franklin and constantly worried about his place in history. Adams was not the defacto party head and often fell between the Republicans and Federalists
  47. Hamilton’s adultery with Reynolds was eventually outed and he decided to confess with extreme detail and while he was suspected of having many more affairs and was the most controversial figure of his time, there is little proof of other affairs (i.e., sleeping with his wife’s sister Angelica). James Monroe took a very adversarial stance and Hamilton and his wife Eliza would never forgive him for it
  48. Tensions with France reached a fever pitch due to the Jay Treaty, rise of Napoleon and the spread of revolution in France. Jefferson went behind Adams’ back and urged France to delay talks with Americans. An unofficial war with France was soon underway after the XYZ Letters were released. Hamilton was given a high post in the army to prepare for a potential war with France and while he trained his men well and he an encyclopedic knowledge of military practices, he made many poor decisions without Washington’s guidance
  49. Burr, normally very anti-bank, passed a bill for the Manhattan Company, a water company which in fact had loopholes so that it was in all but name a bank which would compete with Hamilton’s Bank of NY and national bank branch. This very much hurt Burr’s and the Republican’s reputation
  50. The feud between Adams and Hamilton got so nasty that Hamilton said he’d prefer Jefferson as president because it is better to have an honest enemy than a dishonest friend. Hamilton published an essay trying to show Adam’s deficiencies and ruin his political career. It was one of Hamilton’s biggest mistakes and he ended up ruining his own political career and helping Jefferson, Burr and the Republicans win the presidential nomination and the ultimate demise of the Federalist party. The Federalists also struggled by not appealing to the average voter and being seen as elitist. However, America owes the federalists a debt of gratitude as they helped establish America’s foundation – tax system, coast guard, central bank, funded debt, high credit rating and more
  51. Burr almost gained the presidency over Jefferson but Hamilton fought hard against Burr though he still very much disliked Jefferson. Burr’s push for presidency put him in political limbo forever after
  52. Hamilton’s oldest son Philip died in a duel when he was only 20 which left Hamilton and his wife extremely distraught
  53. Jefferson exercised a great act of executive power with the Louisiana Purchase. This new western frontier was mainly republican and every state that joined up to 1845 was a slave state which helped keep the republicans in power
  54. Burr was a sneaky politician with few principles and was accused every sin imaginable. His dislike for Hamilton was bubbling to the surface after years of Hamilton denouncing Burr and his scruples
  55. Some have hypothesized that Hamilton entered the duel with intentions of suicide as he was very depressed at this point in his life but the author disagrees. He contemplated not shooting at all and let Burr contemplate taking a second shot but felt like he had to show up to protect his honor. The man who organized the nation’s finances left his own family in massive debt at his death. Burr was in heavy debt too. Hamilton missed widely as planned but Burr shot to kill and managed a mortal shot. NY had lost its greatest citizen and the city shut down to mourn one of the country’s most important founders. Burr was indicted for murder and flew south for a while but he was safe in DC and still presided over the senate. Once he was no longer VP, he was immediately a political and social pariah
  56. Eliza outlived Hamilton by 50 years and deeply mourned his loss. She established an orphanage in his honor and finally received some recognition for her husband’s greatness under president Fillmore
What I got out of it
  1. Amazing how much Hamilton was able to accomplish (central bank, funding of debt, high credit for US, Federalist papers, Secretary of the Treasury and much more in such a short life!). His youthful insecurity of coming from a modest background with little money or honor behind his name spurred his ambition and his deep need to protect his new honor at whatever cost – eventually leading to his dual and death with Aaron Burr

Brazil by Michael Reid

Summary

  1. A rally good overview of Brazil’s history and founding, it’s political background, agricultural prowess, social life, economy and more. A great start to any research project on Brazil
Key Takeaways
  1. Lula did a great job of publicizing the amazing growth happening in Brazil in the mid 2000s and how effectively it was able to shake off the global financial crisis in 2008
  2. Brazil is the fourth largest democracy, occupies almost half the landmass of South America, is one of the world’s most resource rich countries (oil, agriculture, fresh water), a manufacturing power house, has no border disputes or hotly contested religious factions and finally seemed to be taking off economically. Brazil has always seemed to be on the verge of aligning all these advantages and finally was experiencing real growth and advancement. However, amid the mania, many glossed over Brazil’s still significant flaws and it faced economic slowdown starting in mid 2011 under Roussef’s leadership
  3. Brazil’s history as a Portuguese colony which later attempted a rapid modernization and urbanization lead to many of the issues the government faces today. Also, it’s history of bringing in millions of slaves continues to plague it today in the form of severe social and economic inequality
  4. Brazil is an immense and incredible country with massive variations in geography, industry, climate, social norms, etc. It’s citizens realize its potential and have been continually frustrated that the country hasn’t been more prosperous or powerful
  5. The country is divided into 5 areas – SE being the economic and population powerhouse, NE being poorer and consisting mostly of agriculture, South is very rich and has many European immigrants, central west has massive ranches, North has a lot of the Amazon and the majority of the country’s land mass
  6. Brazil’s culture revolves around soccer, deep and loyal family ties, carnivale, sex (spend more of their discretionary income on beauty products than any other nation in the world!), religion (though it is a cocktail of faith with many African and Catholic offshoots), Telenovelas (TV soap operas), horror of social distance but also deep mistrust, a sense of “joie de vivre”
  7. Brazil first became a Portuguese colony in the 1500s but was unique in that the settlers often integrated with the natives instead of living apart
  8. Portugal actually moved the capital of the kingdom to Brazil when Napoleon threatened to overrun them in the late 1700s
  9. The “new state” established in the 1930s under Vargas established corporatism and, while restrictive, wasn’t overly so relative to other South American countries. It also embraced racial mixing and its cultural offshoots as part of Brazil’s national culture
  10. Brasilia was built completely anew in order to house government officials. It was an amazing achievement and spurred economic growth but was way over budget and lead to massive inflation
  11. There was much political turmoil and inflation from the 1930s – 1980s but the economy grew rapidly. Communism was a threat to the country and worried the US for some time but eventually a democracy emerged (was actually closer to a totalitarian regime in reality)
  12. Dilma Roussef joined a political gorilla group when she was young, was caught and tortured over many years
  13. Cardoso successfully implemented a new currency, the real, which finally helped alleviate Brazil’s inflation woes. This success helped him fend off Lula in the presidential elections
  14. Lula, after losing 3 consecutive times to Cardoso, finally won and kept up Cardoso’s policies and implemented certain of his own reforms which helped spur a credit boom and exceptional economic growth in Brazil
  15. To help combat Brazil’s severe economic inequality, the government set up Bolsa Familia – a program which supplemented the poorest people’s income if they enrolled their kids in school, got them doctors checkups, etc and more. This was a very successful government program and was adopted in many other countries
  16. Brazil is an exporting powerhouse, especially in agriculture where it is one of the largest exporters of coffee, sugar, beef, poultry, soybeans, orange juice and more.
  17. Brazil has the most fragmented political system in the world with over 11 parties and they are not balanced in the sense that Sao Paolo is underrepresented and other states more so because of the constitutional minimum of 8 representatives
  18. Brazil hosted the 1950 World Cup and them losing to Uruguay was a national tragedy that is still somewhat felt today
  19. Will the 21st century be Brazil’s time to shine? It is hard to say but the author is optimistic. Brazil will need to raise its savings rate, continue innovating and keep their spot as an agricultural powerhouse, improve political stability, reallocate more public spending to investment rather than current spending, a capitalist shock which has risks, lower taxes, spend more on healthcare and infrastructure, labor reforms (last chapter does an amazing job summarizing everything)
  20. The Petrobras scandal severely hurt the government’s credibility, put Dilma and many others under suspicion, hurt government revenues and more which is still being played out today (as of 2016). Recently, riots with hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the corruption and for possible impeachment of Roussef
Why I got out of it
  1. Great history of Brazil which gives insight into its culture, politics, economy, social structure and more. For anybody visiting Brazil or just learning more about this fascinating country, it is an excellent place to start

The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea by Paul Ryan

Summary
  1. Paul Ryan lays out his background, beliefs, motivations and goals and how he plans to achieve them
Key Takeaways
  1. Main goals – economic growth, saving Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, fixing the broken healthcare system, setting up a prosperous America for the next generation which is secure and debt-free, make government smaller, simpler and smarter
  2. Need honest debate and cooperation between all parties in order to progress and achieve goals
  3. Believes America is currently on the wrong path as Liberal Progressives are taking center stage and Republicans are straying away from core principles
  4. Really believed in Romney when ran as his VP in 2012. Romney chose Paul because of his ability to work with Congress and Washington. Difficult but life changing experience
  5. Paul’s ancestors immigrated from Ireland and arrived in Janesville, WI in 1851. Has a huge family and his grandfather started an earth moving company which his cousin still runs today
  6. Growing up Paul’s family was apolitical but Reagan had a big influence on him as he was a man of the people
  7. Enjoys anything outdoors, especially hiking, fishing, hunting.
  8. Huge Packers and Cubs fan
  9. Grew up hiking with his mom in Colorado and his dad was an avid coin collector
  10. Compares the fall of Detroit due to large government and debt to what can happen in the US if things don’t change. Specifically calls out retirement benefits, high taxes, crime, fire, broken families, abandoned buildings)
  11. Society should come first with the government playing a supporting role. Government should be an enabler of other institutions and provide security from risks of modern life
  12. Paul found his father in bed dead at age 55. He was a sophomore in high school at the time. Father was an alcoholic and his mother worked very hard afterward to get her interior designer license. Paul received Social Security benefits at this time which he saved to help pay for college
  13. Turned away from God after finding his father but St. Thomas Aquinas, CS Lewis and the Gospel helped him rediscover his faith
  14. Worked with Empower America and Jack Kemp who turned out to be a great influence and mentor
    1. Conservatism allows the government to empower people whereas progressivism takes that responsibility and gives it to the government
  15. Paul was the legislative director for Sam Brownback where he learned a lot about electoral politics and religion
  16. Ran for Congress at 27 in 1998. Was elected and became the second youngest member in the House. Goal was to limit government and taxes and foster economic growth
  17. Asked everyone he met, “What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started out?”
    1. Quickly learned not to be a generalist or spread himself too thin. Decided then to become an expert on the budget and fiscal policy
  18. Proposed “The Roadmap for America’s Future” in 2008 which got a lot of criticism but was important to him as he was voicing what he believed in
  19. Against Obamacare because believes people should be in charge of their own health and it fringes upon religious beliefs.
  20. “It is not enough to simply run against the other party. We must stand for something people can get excited about and rely upon.”
  21. The American Idea is our nation’s most unique and powerful contribution to the world. We must continue to foster the belief that if we work hard enough we can rise in the world. The American Idea is rooted in our commitment to freedom, equality and every person’s natural rights
  22. Progressives believe that our founding principles are only relevant in the moment and must be updated to deal with new circumstances
  23. “When any ideology deals in coercion instead of choice, in decrees to the collective instead of faith in a free people, the results are never good.”
  24. Republicans keep failing because have not been able to show how principles and ideas are relevant to people’s everyday lives. Also, Republicans tend to only go after populations which already agree with them instead of trying to convince detractors
  25. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid eat up 47% of today’s federal government’s budget
  26. Wants to reform healthcare by making it market based, patient-centered, repealing Obamacare, making prices/doctors/procedures more transparent
  27. In favor of lowering the corporate tax rate to 25% from 35% and exempt 95% of overseas profits
  28. Pro-immigration but must secure border and enforce current laws
  29. Wants to increase defense spending. The military budget should determine the defense strategy, not the other way around. National defense should be the federal government’s number 1 goal
  30. Our country’s tendency to volunteer and collaborate is an enduring strength and must be fostered. However, this trend is decreasing because government overreach undermines civil society and promotes individualism
  31. Should have a system which provides opportunity for work as work confers dignity. People can’t and don’t want to rely on charity
What I got out of it
  1. A clear understanding of Paul’s upbringing, background, beliefs, motivations and goals

Reagan by H.W. Brands

Summary
  1. Good biography on Reagan, his childhood, acting career, presidency and post-presidency. Impressive man who was in office during some of the most volatile times in America’s history

Key Takeaways

  1. Reagan’s father was an alcoholic but his mother was a saint
  2. Reagan gave one speech on behalf of US Senator Barry Goldwater which propelled him into the political scene. This speech did more for his political career than any of his other speeches. It moved him from a moderately successful actor and spokesperson to a promising candidate
  3. Elected governor of California just a couple years later with little experience. Determined to reduce the role of government and taxes and give back more power to the states
  4. Reagan was a hesitant candidate but when elected as party representative for the republicans, he was all in
  5. Reagan was extremely charismatic and natural at connecting with people but one of the oldest running candidates in US history
  6. Reagan divorced his first wife and was not very close to his children. He later married Nancy whom he had two children with
  7. Reagan lost the 1976 presidential race to Richard Nixon who eventually resigned because of Watergate and Jimmy Carter took over. Although he was very old he ran again in 1979 and beat Carter after Carter had some all time low record ratings
  8. Nancy Reagan was very hands-on with her husband and persuasive when she needed to be
  9. Reagan beat out Bush for the Republican nomination and took him on as his VP To become the 40th president in 1980
  10. Reagan was incredibly innocent and self confident and his willingness to ask silly sounding questions reflected this
  11. Governors have to learn foreign policy on the fly when they are elected president. Reagan had his hands full with the USSR and Cuba (and Nicaragua to keep it from becoming another Cuba and Poland from getting run over by USSR)
  12. Reagan’s lowering of taxes didn’t work initially and business taxes had to be raised eventually but later personal taxes were lowered
  13. Reagan also had his hands full with Israel, the PLO, Lebanon
  14. Reagan was stuck between allies of Argentina and UK over the Faulkand islands
  15. Reagan had a dream of a nuclear free world but had to protect the US from the Russians with the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) which came to be known as Star Wars was the first step
  16. Mondale ran against Reagan in 1986 and although he made Reagan’s age an issue, Reagan overcame it and crushed him
  17. Reagan received a lot of flack for visiting holocaust sites
  18. The Reagans believed in astrology and coordinated their de idioms with horoscopes and a woman in SF’s opinion on good planetary timing
  19. Reagan spent a lot of time dealing with the Russians and Gorbachev given the strained relationship and fight for supremacy / nuclear control during his presidency
  20. One of Reagan’s great skills was knowing what the most important task was, focusing on it completely and delegating the rest 
  21. Reagan loved order and regularity, especially with his schedule. He never reported to bullying but rather laid down his opinion and reasons and convinced people that way
  22. SDI and the arms race were the main points of contention between Gorbachev and Reagan
  23. The sale of weapons to Iran to release hostages caused uproar in the media and even more so when it was discovered that some of that money went to Nicaragua to fund the Contras
  24. In Berlin, Reagan pleaded with Gorbachev to tear down the wall separating eastern and western Germany. It took some time but thanks to glasnost and perestroika, Gorbachev agreed and it was eventually torn down
  25. Peace from a position of force is weak regardless
  26. Reaganomics – called for widespread tax cuts, decreased social spending, increased military spending, and the deregulation of domestic markets.
  27. SDI was never resolved but towards the end of Reagan’s tenure the relationship between the US and Russia drastically improved
  28. HW Bush won the nomination in 1988 and ran with Dan Quayle. They beat Dukakis
  29. Just a couple years after leaving presidency, Reagan’s Alzheimer’s took away most of his memory
  30. Died June 5, 2004 at 93 and was the oldest president in history
  31. One of Reagan’s heroes was FDR and there are many parallels to draw between the two
  32. Reagan brought back confidence in America from its citizens by building up the defense and economy and the fall of the USSR helped as well
  33. Known as ‘The Great Communicator’
  34. Volcker was head of the Fed and his policies stunted the us economy and helped Reagan get elected
What I got out of it
  1. Father was a drunk, mother was lovely, had a moderately successful acting career, got into the political limelight after a very successful speech for Barry Goldwater, was a successful Governor for California, became President in 1980 and had HW Bush as his VP, worked extensively with Gorbachev on nuclear disarmament and SDI, two big goals in office were to lower government spending and defeat communism, known as The Great Communicator for his charisma while presenting, soon after leaving office came down with Alzheimer’s and lost much of his memory

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

Summary
  1. This book is about why it is so hard for people to get along and Haidt’s aim is to remove the stigma and decisiveness of morality, religion and politics
Key Takeaways
  1. People are intrinsically moral and while this helped us create large groups that can cooperate, it also ensures moral strife
  2. 3 parts to the book –
    1. Intuitions come before reason and we therefore often have trouble changing our minds (separation of rider and elephant, reason and emotion)
    2. Moral intuitions can take on 6 “taste receptors” which change for every culture
    3. Morality binds and blinds
  3. Morality is about treating people well, more than simply not harming
  4. Society’s moral rules tend to put either the individual or the group at the center
  5. Moral reasons and moral emotions are separate processes
  6. Moral reasoning has evolutionary roots but is also learned through culture by understanding what hurts others
  7. To truly change someone’s mind you need to truly see things from their perspective
  8. The rider, reason, evolved after and in order to serve emotion. We feel an emotion and then rationalize it, not the other way around
  9. Appeal to emotion and intuition rather than people’s reason
  10. Reason developed to rationalize, not to find truth
  11. Evolution shaped people to care more about looking good than being good (reputation so important)
  12. Most people cheat if given the opportunity and plausible deniability. But only but to a certain point where they can rationalize it
  13. The difference in the mind between can and must are profound
  14. The 6 moral receptors –
    1. Care / harm
    2. Liberty / oppression
    3. Fairness / cheating
    4. Loyalty / betrayal
    5. Authority / subversion
    6. Sanctity / degradation
  15. More to morality than harm and fairness
  16. Sacredness and disgust are different sides of the same coin.
    1. Disgust helps protect us from overstepping physical and moral boundaries and sacredness helps us rationalize that we are more than thinking meat
  17. Republicans are better at aiming their campaigns at the elephant whereas democrats target the rider
  18. Group selection exists and leads to occasional altruistic actions and strategic cooperation (true team players)
  19. People obsessed with their reputation and this helped stimulate altruistic actions
What I got out of it
  1. An interesting addition to The Happiness Hypothesis. Interesting to hear about the difference between the average democratic and republican campaign and the different moral “taste receptors” and how people/cultures differ based on which of the receptors are most important to them

On China by Henry Kissinger

Summary

  1. Kissinger’s vivid discussion of his experience dealing with the Chinese. He explains their multi-millenia culture, different mindset, different priorities, etc. and how they all play into miscommunication, tension between the Americans and the Chinese. This book helps provide a Chinese perspective on politics, life, family, religion, etc. Do not need to agree but important to understand. Another key element is the interaction between Chinese and American leaders
Key Takeaways
  1. Nixon sent Kissinger to China in 1971 to open doors for peace
  2. The U.S. and Chinese relationship has been very profitable although different. American exceptionalism is almost missionary in the sense that they feel they need to spread their values to the rest of the world whereas China’s exceptionalism is cultural. They do not proselytize 
  3. No other country has such a rich and continuous civilization. They draw upon this experience and traditions unlike anyone else. In 1962, in order to deal with the Indian border dispute, Mao looked back 1,300 years to see how the leaders of that time dealt with the Indians
  4. Chinese civilizations seems to have always existed – beginning not known and “founding” emperor, yellow emperor, had to organize a chaotic civilization, not create it
  5. Due to China’s isolationism and other factors, many Chinese elites consider themselves the essence of civilization, the center of the world and the creators of man. They never came up with a mystical creation story like other civilizations and religions 
  6. For the vast majority of recent history China has been the most populous, productive and wealthy state in the world – often by far
  7. Confucius’ teachings have been adopted as a combination of bible and constitution in one
  8. The Emperor was seen as both a ruler and a metaphysical embodiment, the son of heaven
  9. The Chinese viewed foreigners with a bit of contempt and pity – seeing them more as barbarians and when trade occurred it was almost considered tribute to Chinese superiority rather than trade. They had little interest in conquering other lands or spreading their culture
  10. Avoided war and confrontation when possible, relying more on diplomatic and economic negotiations
  11. When foreign conquerors made progress, Chinese elites convinced them that because of the vastness of the empire, only Chinese language, culture, etc could be used and over time the conquerors would be assimilated
  12. The writings of Sun Tzu have been popular for millennia – gives more focus to psychological factors in warfare than any other of his contemporaries. The successful conqueror does so without needing battle
  13. The British sent McCartney to China in order to open up relations and to better understand them. However, neither goal was achieved. They also wanted to set up a permanent British embassy but that was rebuffed as well. Britain simply had nothing China wanted and China considered Britain along with all other foreigners barbarians
  14. Britain was not happy about China’s closedness and would have to break down the walls if necessary – lead to the Opium Wars. Opium was allowed in Britain but illegal in China. It’s use was growing and was one of the few things Britain could supply (grown in India) which the Chinese wanted. China cracked down on opium use and began taking all foreigners goods, opium or not. Confrontations lead to a small war with the British winning and gaining concessions and several ports, opening China up to foreign trade
  15. In the 19th century China experienced a serious decline in power and sovereignty which lead to social unrest and internal wars – a century of humiliation which only ended with the reunification of the country through communism. Estimated that from 1850-1873 China’s population declined from 410-350M!
  16. China was amazing in pitting foreign powers against each other, especially Russia and Japan. “Use barbarians against barbarians”
  17. In order to catch up to the west technologically the Chinese started for the first time to start studying western languages and teachings
  18. Japan and China always clashed because of their world centric and divine ruler beliefs.
  19. Japan quicker adopted western technology and opened its doors which helped spur amazing technological and economic advancement
  20. Because of its location China and Japan often fought over Korea. Japan conquered Korea and also took Taiwan as part of the treaty
  21. Russia helped China reclaim some one from the Japanese but they ended up taking even more land and extending the Trans-Siberian railroad across it
  22. Mao tore apart Chinese traditions in order to rejuvenate China
  23. Russia and China had a strained but beneficial relationship. They disagree to this day over who truly decided to give the green light on invading Korea. Truman sent American troops to Taiwan which violated all international agreements and lead to 20 years of isolation and 2 years of war with China. China felt they had to defend Korea because they didn’t want America to become too confident and start gaining land and/or influence in Asia. China was able to confidently do all this because they had the support of the Soviet Union. However, Stalin soon changed his mind and now would only provide support once Chinese troops were actually dispatched, not before
  24. There was a lot of conflict over Taiwan as well between Russia and China and the US. It ended in a draw where the US. Kept the Chinese in check and China kept Taiwan from seceding.
  25. Mao was brilliant militarily and never believed the US.. would use nuclear weapons on them as the whole world would turn on them. Seemed like he was willing to stake tens of millions of lives on this belief
  26. Truman and China were irreconcilable after the Korean War and Eisenhower and China were deadlocked over Taiwan. China wanted the US out of Taiwan and the the US wanted China to not use force to take Taiwan over
  27. Stalin died in 1953 and Khrushchev took over. His aim over the next decade or so was a series of quick fixes – nuclear bombs, Berlin talks, Cuban missile crisis, etc. – all slowly eating away at the Soviet Union’s power
  28. Russia and China were eventually driven apart by ideology
  29. Khrushchev began distancing himself from China and taking a more conciliatory approach to the United States. He even denounced Stalin’s positions which China took very personally
  30. Khrushchev took a stance of peaceful coexistence with the United States which move them from ally to potential adversary for China
  31. China and Tibet get into physical altercations because each think the other has encroached on the others land
  32. The Cultural Revolution was a terrible catastrophe for China’s cultural heritage. The communist party destroyed thousands of cultural centers and burned millions of books and killed millions of people
  33. In the coming years, China had enemies on all borders including Russia, India the war with the US in Vietnam and issues in Taipei and Tibet. Luckily for China, Nixon took a more conciliatory approach and opened the doors to diplomatic negotiations for the first time in over 20 years
  34. Nixon and Kissinger open the doors to relations with China. In the event of a conflict with either Russia or China, the US would take a neutral stance but lean as much as possible towards China
  35. Ping-pong Diplomacy refers to when the Chinese invited the American ping-pong team to China to play against the Chinese ping-pong team
  36. Kissinger was sent to Beijing shortly after the ping-pong diplomacy in order to speak to Chinese delegates and see what future steps could be taken
  37. Nixon made it to China in 1972. Huge moment for both sides after s long and cold history. Mao wanted to be seen as a philosopher king, not the typical majesty associated with traditional Chinese emperors
  38. Mao died in 1976 and although he use brutal tactics he united China unlike it had been for centuries before
  39. Deng Xiaoping was exiled several times but always brought back because he was so effective. He was much more realistic and transparent about the difficulties China faced such as poverty. He also helped China become the economic superpower it is today by helping to modernize and industrialize many of China’s industries. Deng focused more on the importance of science and technology and its pragmatic implications than broader cultural reforms
  40. There were large leadership changes in the US and China in the 1970s. Reagan was much stronger and wanted to eradicate communism as opposed to just containing it.
  41. China’s increasing influence in Vietnam was one of the early factors of Soviet decline along with that a couple years later was the Soviet Union’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 1989 China developed a three worlds concept to their foreign-policy meaning that the Soviet Union and the US were the first world developing countries are the second world in Third World countries with a Third World
  42. Once Russia fell from power China had to decide if it wanted to fill its place and become the contending world super power with America or if they would take and more cooperative approach
  43. By the end of Reagan’s presidency, Asia was in a much more stable position due to defined borders and more stable sovereign governments
  44. China gradually open the door to foreign investors and allow the Chinese to finally let their entrepreneurial spirit soar. The Chinese government took the position that the state would still be involved in everything but would allow the managers the flexibility and freedom to manage
  45. The Chinese government harsh suppression of protesters which was televise worldwide put great pressure on Sino American relations and made everyone question how reformed it truly was
  46. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, China became very concerned about the stability of its communist government. They believed that the best way to stabilize the country was to increase the standard of living. They did this through bringing back smart and talented people which were before not widely accepted in the communist regime and by improving people’s economic well being at unprecedented rate in the 90s and 2000.
  47. It is important for the US and China to work in conjunction moving forward in order to avoid potential major conflicts
What I got out of it
  1. Fascinating and very informative overview of Sino-American relations and why the Chinese act, think the way they do