MY QUEST FOR BILL RAFTERY’S “ONIONS”

By Dave Barend

I should clarify that Bill Raftery does not have onions. Well, he does, but not real ones. Actually he does have real onions, I think. How am I doing with the clarification?

I should clarify that Bill Raftery does not have onions. Well, he does, but not real ones. Actually he does have real onions, I think. How am I doing with the clarification?

Let me try it this way: Bill Raftery is definitely known for onions. But he’s not the onion version of Orville Reddenbacher. Nor is he some Onion King like Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago. And also unlike Abe, he’s never been famously impersonated by Ferris Bueller.

But he has been impersonated by pretty much every single college basketball fan. You see, after playing for La Salle, he coached at Seton Hall which is of no relevance at all. He, however, went on to become CBS’ number one college basketball color commentator. That was due in large part to his multiple memorable and hilarious catch phrases such as “Get those puppies organized!” and “A little lingerie on the deck.”

The man’s more quotable than the movie “Airplane.”

Surely you can’t be serious?

I am serious, and please don’t call me Shirley.

It should be mentioned that he is beloved by America’s youth. It should also be mentioned that he’s pushing 77 years old. With that combination of popularity and age, he might consider a new catch phrase: “I’m running for President.”

Bill Raftery is truly a cross between Bernie Sanders and another aged star the kids adore – Betty White. Come to think of it, he also sort of looks like a cross between Bernie Sanders and Betty White.

So what the hell does this have to do with onions? Nothing. But it has a lot to do with “Onions!” – yet another Raftery-ism. And by “Onions!” he’s referring to a part of the male anatomy, well, two idential parts that are, shall we say private and . . . Oh hell, he means testicles. Especially the ones needed to make a pressure packed shot, you know, large ones.

This requires further immediate clarification. I am not on a quest for Bill Raftery’s “Onions.”

But StreakerSports.com sells a line Bill Raftery shirts including his “Onions!” t-shirt that I do very much want. Again, just to be clear, I have no desire for a shirt depicting Bill Raftery’s testicles. No offense, Bill. I do want the one on Streaker Sports that has a basketball hoop and onions – the non-testicle vegetable style. 

Unfortunately, I did not make this sufficiently clear to my wife. She got me one that has nothing on it other than the word onions. Seriously, I own a shirt emblazoned with O-N-I-O-N-S. Apparently she thought I’d like to be a walking billboard for Bird’s Eye. I mean, every time I wear the thing I feel like I should get a commission from the Jolly Green Giant.

This does not happen when I wear my Bill Raftery’s “Send It In Jerome” t-shirt. This, of course, is his quote of a call he made after a slam by Jerome Lane – in 1988. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone with “of course.”

But what makes the shirt special are the rare occasions when a person recognizes it. Every once in a while someone will see my shirt, point, and chuckle. I’ll then nod, and explain to my wife that this guy’s reaction had nothing to do with the remnants of cheese doodles on my face.

“You should introduce yourself to him. You could become friends.”

I don’t want a friend; I want a t-shirt. He could have kids and then I’ll have to go to birthday parties, and graduations, and First Communions, and Bar Mitzvahs and, all right probably not both . . . And he could get divorced and I’ll have to help him move and talk about feelings, and be his wingman and . . . No! No! No! He and I currently have the perfect relationship – the three second head nod bond.

And I got to walk away with an enjoyable air of coolness. You know, that same coolness I had when I was the fist kid in school with a Han Solo action figure. Yeah, I might need a better understanding of cool.

My point is this great experience I get from my “Send It In Jerome” shirt never ever happens when I wear my shirt that just has the word onions on it. Heck, my wife might as well have bought me a shirt that says P-O-T-A-T-O-E-S!

And as opposed to Bill Raftery’s t-shirts, the t-shirt my wife got is way too thick and heavy. Then again, there is something to be said for a t-shirt that is, oh how should I say it, absorbent. So you might want to avoid the color grey if you are one who gets, you know, a bit drippy.

I must give my wife credit for getting me a blue colored Bill Raftery’s “With A Kiss” shirt. It has lips on a backboard signifying where a ball “kisses” before going in. There only two problems with it:

(1) It’s not the Bill Raftery’s “Onions!” shirt, and

(2) Every time my wife sees it she exclaims “With a kiss” and attempts to smooch my cheek. Yet she refuses to say, “Send it in Jerome”, during moments of intimacy.

But then I got mustard on it and a hole in the arm pit – which made it even better.

My wife says it’s the most disgusting thing she’s ever seen, but she knows that’s not true. She’s seen me try to eat spaghetti.

This all begs the question: Why don’t I just go to StreakerSports.com and buy the Bill Raftery’s “Onions!” shirt myself? Because married guys don’t buy things for themselves. So we try to get our wives to buy the stuff for us. It does come with some risks though. Like getting a shirt that just says onions.

Then there’s the little issue that my wife does not want to be told what gifts to get.

She says it wipes out the surprise. Whereas I say it wipes out the disappointment.

Actually, I don’t say that, out loud. Despite years of marriage I have not yet learned how to tell my wife that a gift stinks. But I learned that the wrong way is saying, “This gift stinks.”

My wife, however, is open to hints. Which means she’s fine with me being possibly happy, not definitely happy.

As for my hinting plan, I decided that before every meal I’d make multiple requests of “More Onions.” There is some irony here – I hate the taste of onions.

Again, just to be clear . . .

Yet I do very much enjoy onion rings. Well, I like the ring, not the onion. But it’s kind of awkward placing an order of: “onion rings, hold the onions.”

I still needed to be sure she got the hint. So I enlisted the services of my youngest daughter. She agreed to say “Onions!” at dinner every time I successfully put food in my mouth. Successfully? Well, sometimes I miss.

Turns out this plan had a fault as well. After about the ninth time her little girl yelled “Onions!”, my wife turned to me and asked, “Do you want to explain to her what that means?” No, no I do not.

But apparently this was going to be the first time that a t-shirt quest led to a birds and bees discussion. Then my daughter said, “I know what it means.” Oh dear God. “It’s when you hit a shot that’s so good it makes the other person cry.” I looked at my wife who was clearly reveling in my discomfort.

But like a good parent, I stepped up and said, “Exactly.”

Shortly thereafter, Christmas arrived. I had less than high expectations given my arguably sub-par anatomy lesson. Once all the gifts had seemingly been opened my wife said, “Hey what’s that over there behind the desk against the wall?” And there sat a box just big enough for a t-shirt. I felt like Ralphie when he got his Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun. As I opened it up, my wife smiled and said, “Onions!” She then added, “I hope you like the color. I noticed you didn’t have any in grey.” Perfect.

ARE SUPER-TEAMS COMING TO THE NCAA?

By Jeff Morrone

We are going to be witness to a new era even with the new NCAA rules in place.

by Jeff Morrone

It is a legit question. Is this trend trickling down from the NBA? Possibly… think about it, kids are watching their childhood heroes team up in the NBA like they are the damn Avengers. Not to mention the growth of AAU and all the best players from the state, city or county are teaming up.

I know in the past we have had possibilities of this happening. A few times honestly, first prime example the FAB Four for Michigan, Kentucky with John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe and then several other Kentucky teams.  But from there it never caught on because other teams are trying for the super freshmen who are one and done’s.

Who’s To Blame For the Super Teams?

5.Kansas

Kansas is known for bringing a couple a good recruits this year they are bringing together a mix of two five star recruits and two four star recruits:

  • 10 (Quentin Grimes)
  • 21 (Devon Dotson)
  • 36 (David McCormack)
  • 133 (Ochai Agbaji)

. The combo of the four should bring a punch to the Big 12 along with their great Head Coach Bill Self. They will make some noise in the NCAA and could make an elite eight run.

4. LSU

LSU hasn’t really been known to bring in several top recruits at once they had Ben Simmons a couple years ago and we all know how that went for them. This year they are making a splash with their recruiting.  With two five star, two four stars and two three star JUCO. Here is their super team outlook:

  • 18 (Nazreon Reid)
  • 26 (Emimitt Williams)
  • 35 (Ja’Vonte Smart)
  • 62 (Darius Days)
  • 7 (Marion Taylor) (JUCO)
  • 16 (Danya Knight) (JUCO)

They will make the SEC interesting for sure especially going against Kentucky and competing with them. If Coach Wade can pull this team together they will be very tough to beat and will make a deep run in the NCAA.

3. Oregon

Oregon has had some decent teams and hell made a Final Four run a couple years ago. This year they are looking to repeat that effort with the team they are looking putting to put on the floor this year:

  • 4 (Bol Bol)
  • 20 (Louis King)
  • 46 (Will Richardson)
  • 56 (Francis Okoto)
  • 74 (Miles Norris)

With this team on the floor they will have a great chance to make final four run and they are pretty stacked especially in the front court Bol Bol is going to give some teams a hard time in the paint along with Louis King at the small forward position.

2. Kentucky

Kentucky is back at it again with one of this year’s college super teams to watch out for they have:

  • 9 (EJ Montgomery),
  • 12 (Ashton Hagans),
  • 13 Keldon Johnson,
  • 22( Immanuel Quickly)

These are all nationally ranked players. This team is going to be tough to beat and they will most likely run the table in SEC. Coach Cal always brings it with his recruiting and has been doing the one and done teams for a while now. Lately he has been overshadowed by the Coach K.

1.     Duke

This leads me to this year’s other super team, the Duke Blue Devils. This team is stacked:

  • 1 (RJ Barrett),
  • 2 (Cam Reddish),
  • 5 (Zion Williamson)
  • 15 (Tre Jones)

Top players ranked nationally teaming up in what could be one of the best historic teams in the NCAA to play.  I know what you guys are thinking, can they jell together in a 20+ game season? Yes, yes they can! Great basketball players know how to play with each other and great basketball players know how to share the basketball. Followed by they have a great coach in Coach K who coached team USA full of talent.

Here’s My Take

So do I think Super-teams are going to be a trend? Yes! If Duke and Kentucky can be successful this year,  I think we are going to be witness to a new era even with the new NCAA rules in place. I still think the kids who highly rank will end up teaming up with each other. For those of us who love competition and don’t like where the NBA is now I am afraid we will be witness to this in the NCAA.  You watch what your heroes do and you want to be like your heroes and that is teaming up.

Winners take all

By Rich Tucker

In his book, “Winners Take All,” Anand Giridharadas tries — but fails — to explain what’s going wrong in the United States.

A Book Review

Welfare capitalism built towns across America. Including my home town, which grew up in large part around Endicott-Johnson shoe factories.

Could it work again? Perhaps. Perhaps not. However, if companies cared a bit more about their workers, perhaps the government wouldn’t need to. That’s a worthy goal, but unfortunately a goal that isn’t really explored in “Winners Take All,” by Anand Giridharadas.

If you’re like me, you probably saw this book as you walked through an airport. Then again, that assumes you’re among the minority of Americans who find themselves strolling through airports. The people Giridharadas needs to help don’t get off the ground, much. And that’s a problem for the author.

Giridharadas tries to explain what’s going on. He points the finger at the financialization of America. As anthropologist David Graeber defines that concept: “Increasingly, corporate profits are not derived from commerce or industry at all, but from finance—which means, ultimately, from other people’s debts.”

Giridharadas adds that, “The financial sector has extracted more and more value from the American economy, at the expense not only of consumers and workers but also of industry itself.” There are no E-Js today, because, “more and more of the nation’s financial resources were swilled around Wall Street without taking the form of new investment by companies or higher wages for workers.”

Blame globalization. As companies lost a sense of place, they lost connection to their (often former) workers in that place. But the solution Giridharadas offers is less than satisfying. He seems to think that if the wealthy just paid more in taxes, the government-run welfare state could take care of people.

But the federal government doesn’t have the answer to unemployment, either. It tends to push for retraining programs that don’t work. As Amy Goldstein wrote in her book “Janesville,” after the 2008 GM plant shutdown in Wisconsin, “Job retraining, it turned out, was not a path to more work or better pay in and around Janesville, at least not during this time when jobs were so scarce.” Instead, former GMers did better by simply striking off on their own.

But Giridharadas seems to trust the government.

In one completely unfair parenthetical, he asserts: “It goes without saying, for example, that if hedge funders hadn’t been enormously creative in dodging taxes, the income available for foreign aid would have been much greater.” Well, sure. But the U.S. spends about 0.7 percent of its budget on foreign aid. If there was more money available, that’s not where Congress would spend it.

Such big spending is a non-starter, anyway. “A key principle of rainbow liberalism is that the solution to working-class woes is hiking taxes on the rich to finance a generous suite of wage subsidies, social services, and, for the truly ambitious, basic-income grants,” Reihan Salam writes in The Atlantic. “But will white liberals be as enthusiastic about sharp increases in their taxes if those increases become something other than theoretical?” To ask the question is to answer it.

Giridharadas also floats, approvingly, the idea that Hillary Clinton’s proposals would have been better for the middle class than Donald Trump’s. But he then spends most of a chapter (rightly) blasting the Clinton Global Initiative, which embodied globalization. CGI also greatly enriched the Clinton family, to the point that Chelsea Clinton was free to say: “I was curious if I could care about [money] on some fundamental level, and I couldn’t.” Well, of course not; because she has it. As for those middle class Americans, it’s fair to say CGI was less profitable.

A key problem for Giridharadas is that he spent too much time marinating in the very system he now seems to hate. “He is an Aspen Institute fellow, an on-air political analyst for MSNBC and a former McKinsey analyst,” the book’s jacket proclaims. Those Americans grounded by job losses might say he’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Yet he spends most of the book blasting big globalist organizations such as the Aspen Institute and the Atlantic magazine, also an airport staple and a place where Giridharadas has been published.

Amid the self-loathing, he really offers only one potential solution: Make being good easy by creating B Corps, companies that do good while doing well (financially).

That would replace Milton Friedman’s idea that companies should only exist to serve their shareholders. To be fair, Friedman’s concept made sense in 1970, but it has, perhaps, been taken too far (a point to explore when we review “The Economists’ Hour,” by New York Times correspondent Binyamin Appelbaum.

B Corps may be part of the solution. However, commentators such as Giridharadas will need to come down out of the clouds if they want to offer effective solutions to today’s economic problems.

Lies that bind

By Rich Tucker

In “The Lies that Bind,” Kwame Anthony Appiah encourages us to “rethink identity.” The current American approach seems sensible.

A Book Review

American politics are again splintering over race. Donald Trump uses racist code. Lawmakers snipe at each other over identity groupings. Democratic presidential candidates support discredited 1970s-era busing policies.

Things seem to be flying apart.

But perhaps it’s the opposite. Maybe this is a final gasp of identity politics. Instead of being pushed to the poles, perhaps we’re moving to the center, where our differences can become less important.

In “The Lies that Bind,” Kwame Anthony Appiah encourages us to “rethink identity.” For example, he says it’s impossible for an individual to speak for an entire group. “Our identities are multiple and can interact in complicated ways,” he notes.

Modern genetics backs that up. Go back just a few thousand years, and we’re all related to each other. We share more than we’re divided by.

Of course, it’s human nature to want to belong to larger groups. An experiment showed boys at camp dividing themselves into competing groups. “The boys didn’t develop opposing identities because they had different norms; they developed different norms because they had opposing identities,” Appiah writes.

So the current American approach seems sensible: We accept the unchangeable and allow people to group themselves (First Amendment), yet we legally ban discrimination. This seems to be working.

Appiah concludes that identity can be defined as an activity (verb), not as a thing (noun). And activities can change. Not quickly enough for some. But things are moving in a positive direction.

Let’s meet in the middle.

Janesville

By Rich Tucker

This should be one of the first books anyone who wants to understand the 2008 financial meltdown reads. It’s not about finance, it’s about people. And people are what’s really important.

A Book Review

People in the nation’s capital don’t read books the way they claim to. Many political tomes are simply statements (long statements) penned to give ghostwriters something to do.

Decades ago, Washington journalist Michael Kinsley noted that many of these sort of “books don’t exist to be read,” Instead, Kinsley wrote, “They exist to be gazed at, browsed through, talked about.”

Such works also exist to allow publishers to hand a bunch of money to politicians who might matter again someday. For example, former and future candidates named Obama and Clinton (Bill and Hillary, in their turn) massively benefitted from putting their names on books few, if any, actually read.

However, if we’re going to draw political conclusions from a book, it’s probably best to begin by reading it. And so, a year after it became the book that everyone in Washington had supposedly read, I finally picked up a copy of Amy Goldstein’s book “Janesville.”

It wasn’t clear to me exactly why the author, a reporter for the Washington Post, happened to be in Janesville, Wisconsin in 2008 when General Motors announced it would close its plant there. But she was.

In fact, on the day GM made its announcement, Goldstein spoke with Rep. Paul Ryan. Before he ran for vice president or became speaker of the House of Representatives, Ryan (always, annoyingly, called “Paul” throghout Goldstein’s book) was a congressman from Janesville and a rising star in the Republican party.

Goldstein does great reporting. She follows several people from the time of the announcement through the fruitless attempts to keep the plant open, and even for years after the plant shut down. But in some ways, she seems to miss the main message of her work, which can be summed up in one sentence: “Job retraining, it turned out, was not a path to more work or better pay in and around Janesville, at least not during this time when jobs were so scarce.”

Yet “job retraining” is what the federal government pushed for. Federal policies encouraged laid off workers to go to Blackhawk Community College, even though many of the plant’s workers hadn’t taken any classes since finishing high school years (or decades) earlier.

Many were not ready for the classroom. Further, the profession many trained for, stringing electric wire, never panned out. The federal government was inept at predicting the sort of jobs workers should move into. Too many of these students washed out with no degree and more debt.

In fact, the workers who did best are those who simply struck out on their own or followed their passions. They tended to find work more quickly and make more in hourly wages.

One thing that jumps out from the book is that there are things the federal government could do to give more help to blue collar workers in places like Janesville. Instead of schooling, the government could offer to guarantee people can keep their healthcare benefits for a period of time, maybe two years. Benefits were a big part of GM’s compensation package. If people could have kept those benefits, they might have been able to take another job right away, even if it didn’t offer benefits immediately.

Likewise, the government could guarantee that that laid-off workers could keep their homes for a similar two-year time period, no questions asked. This would, of course, be difficult to work out in practice. But remember that during this time, the federal government poured billions into bailing out big banks, and all we got were bigger banks. That money could, in theory at least, have gone to actual people and allowed them to keep their homes.

“Janesville” is a good read, well-researched and informative. It should be one of the first books anyone who wants to understand the 2008 financial meltdown reads. It’s not about finance, it’s about people. And people are what’s really important.

Us Versus Them

By Rich Tucker

Apparently somebody told Ian Bremmer he ought to write a book. But “Us vs. Them” is more of a preface to a book than a primer on today’s geopolitical situation.

A Book Review

If you can’t solve a problem you can at least make money writing a book about it.

Ian Bremmer is, his Web site explains, “president and founder of Eurasia Group, the leading global political risk research and consulting firm.” That means he does what the rest of us do: He looks at the world and tries to figure out what the Hell is happening. He’s just better paid for his efforts.

One such effort is his book, “Us vs. Them.” As the title implies, the book attempts to explain how international geopolitics is changing in the 21st Century. Apparently, it’s not changing all that much.

Consider: Over the years, American political observers wrestled with the divide between the “First world” and “Third world.” The “Second world” was the former Soviet bloc, and many of its countries would now be demoted to the Third world, if we still used that terminology.

But we don’t. Since we keep finding ourselves unable to solve “Third world” problems, we renamed the system. It became the “Developed world” against the “Developing world.” That had a nice tinge of inevitability.

When finished “developing,” the rest of the planet would be “developed” and we’d all be happy. Except that didn’t seem to be happening, either. So we went forward by going back. Now it’s “North vs. South,” with the former First world north of the equator and the former Third world south of it. Much as in the United States before 1861, the North is industrial and successful, the South less so and less so.

In any event, somebody told Ian Bremmer he ought to write a book explaining his insights into the divide, which he breaks down in his title, “Us vs. Them.” He’s got a handful of interesting observations, particularly about American politics.

“American democracy itself is eroding,” he writes. “Donald Trump was elected president with votes from 26.3 percent of eligible voters.” That means that in 2016, “Nearly 45 percent of eligible American voters didn’t vote at all.” It’s a good warning; if people weren’t engaged in that year, with all the hype surrounding the vote, they’ll probably never be engaged.

But maybe that’s good. As columnist Jonah Goldberg writes, “millions of Americans just don’t care about politics, much the same way that I don’t care about cricket: They think it’s boring.”

Perhaps it’s better if people who don’t care to be informed don’t vote. We could force them to cast a ballot (as Australia does), but that’s just forcing them to make choices about things they’re not interested in. And it dilutes the votes of people who actually pay attention to what’s going on in the world.

Still, Bremmer has a good point — democracy may be in danger here. “Fewer than one in three young Americans say that it’s important to live in a democracy,” he writes. “In 1995, just one in sixteen Americans agreed that it would be ‘good’ or ‘very good’ to have military rule in the United States. In 2016, it was one in six.” It’s fair enough to consider that a dangerous trend, one worth keeping an eye on.

But the U.S. isn’t alone in facing challenges. Bremmer also points to problems elsewhere. “Failure to protect rising middle classes from crime, corruption, and contaminated food, air, and water, along with failure to care for the unemployed, sick, and elderly, creates a profoundly dangerous situation for China,” he writes.

That said, “[China’s] the one government that, at least for now, can afford to spend huge amounts of money to create unnecessary jobs to avoid political unrest.” Doesn’t sound like much of a long-term solution. But things better not change right away because, “the entire global economy is becoming more dependent on China’s continued stability and growth.” So China’s policy boils down to “fake it and hope to make it”? That doesn’t sound promising.

That’s a problem with Us vs. Them. It reads like an Atlantic article that got pumped up on steroids. It’s shaped like a book, but doesn’t have the heft of a book. It identifies soft spots in the global economy, but not solutions. In short, it’s a good start, but more of a preface to a book than a primer on today’s geopolitical situation.

Energy

By Rich Tucker

The story of humanity is a story of advancement. Ever-more efficient and effective energy sources are a key to that, as Richard Rhodes explains in his book, Energy.

A Book Review

A few years back, during a visit to a village in the north of England, a relative pointed out the difference in two adjoining brick buildings. One was dark, as though stained with soot. The other was brighter.

He noted that not long ago, all the buildings in England looked like the dirty one. It was only a few decades ago, after all, that most of the country burned coal. The famed “London fog” wasn’t fog, but smog, caused by the burning of coal. Now that the U.K. has switched to cleaner sources of power the fog is gone, and people can scrub their brick buildings, too.

The story of humanity is a story of advancement. Ever-more efficient and effective energy sources are a key to that, as Richard Rhodes explains in his book, Energy.

He starts in Shakespearean times. Humankind relied on wood to provide housing, heat and energy. But we were quickly clearing the forests near major population centers. Would people hit a wall and run out of power? No, because humans discovered coal, which provided more power when burned.

“A shortage of wood had driven the English to take up burning coal,” Rhodes writes. “Digging ever deeper for coal, they found their mines flooding, driving them to invent engines to pump out the water.” As he notes, this process “changed almost everything, first in England, later in America and throughout the world.”

Necessity drove invention. The earliest steam-powered machines could be said to have been invented to feed themselves; the goal was often to remove water from mines so people could dig out coal. Soon enough the coal was powering locomotives to deliver itself from mine to city. But as they became more efficient, they did more with less, freeing people up to do more. Energy production drove a virtuous cycle.

Of course, humans didn’t stop with coal. Americans moved on to oil, often derived from nature, to light lamps and drive back the night. Entire fleets of ships went whaling to obtain burnable oil, to the point that the massive sea-going mammals were endangered. By the 1860s Americans had also developed methods to obtain oil from coal. Rhodes notes we produced between 7 and 9 million gallons a year by the time of the Civil War.

Of course, Rhodes devotes several chapters to the development of petroleum.

It was first refined into kerosene for lamps, but was soon found to be a highly effective fuel for driving an internal combustion engine. That, in turn, helped make today’s clean environment possible. Cars, you see, are much friendlier to the environment than horses were.

“The volume of water and feed that city horses consumed was matched by their daily output of urine and manure,” Rhodes writes. “A working horse produced about a gallon of urine daily and thirty to fifty pounds of manure. That volume filled the New York streets daily with about four million pounds and a hundred thousand gallons of redolent excreta that had to be cleared away.” Replacing horse power with horsepower made the streets cleaner, removed disease-carrying waste, and made it easier to clean our water and sewage systems.

Of course, reducing the output of manure reduced the availability of fertilizer, so Rhodes explains how humanity took advantage of bird guano from far-flung islands. I’d only add that we also learned how to use natural gas as a source of nitrogen, a breakthrough discovered when humans were trying to develop high explosives. Today, it’s allowed an explosive growth in the number of people the planet can feed.

Rhodes also devotes some time to discussing the benefits of nuclear power. It delivers an uninterrupted supply of energy (unlike solar or wind power, which vary depending on the weather) with zero carbon emissions. One holdup to the adoption of nuclear power has been what to do about the waste. Rhodes doubts that will be a problem in the future, though.

“The notion that such waste must be successfully protected from exposure for hundreds of thousands of years is counter to how humans handle every other kind of toxic material we produce,” he writes. Technologies improve over time, “and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have better ways of dealing with our detritus than we do.”

That’s a hopeful notion, and one is tempted to say, “they’d better,” since we are leaving almost all of it in storage near the plants where it is produced. But Rhodes’ confidence in the future is well-grounded in his research of the past. Humans keep finding better and cleaner sources of energy. Every time humans were presented with a problem, they solved it. They’ll probably solve the problems of nuclear waste and global warming, as well.

One thing seems certain: we’re not going to improve the environment by giving things up. For one thing, it’s unfair to people who are now living without dependable energy sources to simply tell them, “yea, live without air conditioning, light, indoor plumbing, etc.” For another it assumes people are willing to give things up. They aren’t. Even Al Gore travels first class.

Rhodes ends with a note of confidence. “Far from threatening civilization, science, technology, and the prosperity they create will sustain us as well in the centuries to come. They are the only institutions human beings have yet devised that consistently learn from their mistakes,” he concludes.

Our children will be smarter than we are. Thank goodness.

Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?

By Rich Tucker

The answer to “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?” is yes. But only if we understand what capitalism is, and then use it to increase freedom and grow the economy.

A Book Review

Prolific author Robert Kuttner sets out to blast “capitalism.” The problem is that if you define terms in particular ways, you can prove just about anything you want to.

Kuttner does this masterfully, most importantly by mischaracterizing the very idea of capitalism. “Some have argued that capitalism promotes democracy, because of common norms of transparency, rule of law, and free competition—for markets, for ideas, for votes.” Well, yes, that’s exactly what we think of. Thank you!

Except Kuttner is only using that definition to explain that’s not what he means.

When he writes “capitalism,” he means “corporatism,” the process by which big companies coopt the power of government. Then he damns the capitalism he’s defined.

“Western capitalists have enriched and propped up third-world despots who crush local democracy,” he notes. “Hitler had a nice understanding with German corporations and bankers,” Kuttner writes, while “Communist China works hand in glove with its capitalist business partners to destroy free trade unions and to preserve the political monopoly of the Party.”

So, Nazi Germany and Communist China are united because both were/are “capitalist”? Well, in that case, I guess I oppose capitalism, too, whatever it is.

In the real world, dictators hate capitalism.

It tends to empower regular people at the expense of the government. If a country has a growing economy, driven by capitalism, it is far more likely to move toward democracy. Meanwhile, non-democratic governments are more likely to be autocratic than democratic. There may be examples to the contrary. But if China and Hitler are your examples of capitalism, then you oppose a capitalism that doesn’t really exist.

To bring the argument into the current moment, Kuttner notes that while some corporations are “standing up for immigrants and saluting the happy rainbow of identity politics,” they are also “lining up to back Trump’s program of gutting taxes and regulation.” Later he notes that all companies “have been happy with the dismantling of regulation.” And that may be true. But how is “regulation” an example of “democracy”?

At least in the U.S., regulators tend to be bureaucrats, hired by other bureaucrats to issue rulings the rest of us must obey. An important story of the 21st Century is that Congress (democratically elected) is giving its power away to bureaucratic regulators. That’s what happened in Dodd-Frank and under Obamacare. They aren’t laws in the democratic sense. They are frameworks that lawmakers use to set guidelines. The bureaucrats at HHS, Treasury and other departments fill in the important details. This sort of lawmaking is many things; it is not democratic.

Kuttner also expresses a very narrow view of where the country may go. “Anger against market excess can go right, toward fascism, or can energize a progressive left that anchors a decent economy,” he writes. Oh. Those are the sole choices? “Good” progressivism, or “bad” fascism. It would seem the real world presents a much greater continuum.

Also, let’s push back on the idea that conservatism is “fascist.” This is a common trope used by lazy people who assume “fascism” must be the opposite of “communism.” And since “communism” is on the left, “fascism” must be on the right.

More often, communism and fascism sit right next to each other. On a clock, they’d be 11:59 and 12:01, not 9:00 and 3:00. Communists and fascists both offer government control of the means of production. The fact that they’re so close is why they’re such bitter enemies. Capitalism, by giving regular people control, is a threat to both communism and fascism.

What Kuttner gets right is the collapse of the Democratic left. Democrats have plenty of money, because influential individuals including Eric Schmidt and Tom Steyer are willing to bankroll the party.

But the rich donors have nothing in common with the common man, and no common touch. “Any party that wants to vocally champion the rights of transgender people to choose their own bathrooms had better also redouble its efforts on behalf of wage-earning people generally,” Kuttner writes, “or it will be entrusted by the voters to do neither.” Trump’s victory, predicted.

Kuttner notes a big problem: “Just twenty counties, with only 2 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for half of all the new business growth in the economy” after 2010, he writes. But his proposals for spreading the wealth are less than inspiring: He wants more welfare.

Even here, he cheats by taking Bill Clinton to task for signing welfare reform. “When unemployment subsequently rose sharply in the great recession, the new, block-granted welfare substitute helped only about 10 percent of needy people.” Its predecessor had helped more than half. Well, okay. But welfare reform put more people to work. Aren’t those people who had jobs between 1996 and 2008 better off than if they’d been on welfare all that time?

In the end, the answer to “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?” is yes. But only if we understand what capitalism is, and then use it to increase freedom and grow the economy.