Friday, February 3, 2012

Review of Vietnam: A History

Vietnam: A HistoryVietnam: A History by Stanley Karnow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An in-depth look at Vietnam's embattled history, lost opportunities by the United States, and the in-fighting that crippled South Vietnam's ability to fight the Viet Cong and increasingly North Vietnam soldiers. Karnow highlights the debates among Washington policymakers and the decision making about combat and diplomacy in great detail. Karnow's background as Time's Southeast Asian Correspondent gives him a great deal of authority to engage a wide range of sources about how the war was fought and the negotiations behind the scenes until the fall of Saigon.
The book is a companion to the PBS series that aired during the early 1980s, which is also required viewing for anyone wanting to learn about the Vietnam War.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review of Michael Lewis' "Boomerang"

Michael Lewis captured many of the elements of the financial crisis and now looming threats to sovereign debt, since nations have decided to socialize the risks taken by reckless banks. His book examines the financial crisis from the viewpoints of Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Germany and the United States. The compelling question he raises is: Left alone in a dark room with a pile of money, what did these people do with it?
While there is a great depth to the reporting and witty writing, there appears to be a lot of missing parts. He didn't look at Asia with Japan's lingering malaise after its bubble burst in the early 1990s or China, the world's second largest economy with an abundance of poor people. However, a lot of eyes are on China to subsidize the folly of relatively affluent Westerners. He also hasn't looked at other emerging markets. In a topsy turvy world, emerging markets are now deemed less risky than many euro-zone nations. His coverage of the U.S. was centered on California, which is a financial basket case. But there is so much more of the story to tell about the financial crisis in the U.S. None of the people who were victims of subprime loan fraud were interviewed. The incomplete feel of the book led to a one star deduction.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Review of "Exile on Wall Street" by Mike Mayo

Securities analyst Mike Mayo recaps his career on Wall Street, where he covered the banking industry. Mayo outlines where the banks went wrong during the course of his career and what his independence and honesty cost him. As someone who was a financial reporter, I found myself nodding along with many of the points he raised in Exile on Wall Street. Executives and corporations will freeze you out if you don't "play along." Analysts who are on the team get rewarded with access and their banks are the ones who get deals. The financial stakes are much higher in that regard compared with the "media relations people" who will freeze out reporters who are too critical.
the book also included a concise history of Citigroup, a company that represents much of what's wrong with banking. It's too powerful, takes a careless approach to risk and it expects the Fed and government to step in when it runs into trouble. TARP is only one of several bailouts it has received over the years.
It is definitely a worthwhile read if you are interested in a behind the scenes look at finance and corporate management. Some of his recommendations and conclusions shouldn't surprise anyone though, since they are sound calls for smarter regulation, more accountability in management and greater transparency among banks.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Robert Kennedy announces death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King represented what the United States could have become if they were not cut down by bullets. In their place, we got Nixon, Watergate, the Carter years, and a callousness toward our less fortunate over the past 30 years. RFK and Dr. King battled for what is right to make America realize its potential -- a land of not only the free and the home of the brave -- but also a land that recognizes the dignity of every human being. I would like to say RIP, but I don't think either will until America's dream is realized.