Honoring Small Business, Obamas Go Book Shopping

Having worked in various bookstores for over a decade in the past, I still always love the vibe and atmosphere in a place filled with books and people…


WASHINGTON — President Obama, joined by his daughters, went shopping Saturday at Politics and Prose, an independent bookstore in the capital, in what has become a Thanksgiving weekend tradition for the first family to honor Small Business Saturday — an outing that mixed policy and purchases.

The president and his daughters, Sasha and Malia, browsed the shelves and chatted with customers before buying two bags full of books at the store, where they also shopped at this time last year. According to a White House print pool report, Mr. Obama at one point held a patron’s baby.

At the checkout counter, a cashier asked the president, “You from out of town?” Mr. Obama replied, “I am. Do I get a discount for that?” Another cashier jokingly offered a “neighbor discount.”


Attacking the Soviet Union. | Books

Just a small announcement here on Talk & Politics – we’ve recently started a separate blog to write about books and history! Check it out here:

Our current reading is “Stalingrad” by Antony Beevor, from the Eastern Front in Europe in WWII. The numbers and scale of things involved are just staggering.


This whole attack on the Soviet Union is still boggling.. also as it seems so poorly thought through, as many German generals pointed out at the time.

The numbers are staggering too, with the Germans sending in over 4 million troops to the Union, divided in three parts. After some struggles in the south the middle part thrust towards Moscow is stalled/diverted for a while – with angry protests from the commanders – and when winter then arrives in November they are all slowly starting to freeze to death.

Taking On Adam Smith (and Karl Marx) – NYTimes.com

Having read the first part of the book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” – it seems well founded and thorough.. and in part pointing to some obvious dynamics of concentration of wealth and power..
But an important thing is how he connects economics to other fields like history and social sciences.. something economists often avoid to do..As they prefer numbers and equations and to avoid analyzing or commenting on the bigger forces in society and politics that heavily influence economic developments..
He addresses this dynamic in particular:

“It is long since past the time when we should have put the question of inequality back at the center of economic analysis and begun asking questions first raised in the nineteenth century. For far too long, economists have neglected the distribution of wealth, partly because of Kuznets’s optimistic conclusions and partly because of the profession’s undue enthusiasm for simplistic mathematical models based on so-called representative agents.”

And more directly:

“To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences.
Economists are all too often preoccupied with petty mathematical problems of interest only to themselves. This obsession with mathematics is an easy way of acquiring the appearance of scientificity without having to answer the far more complex questions posed by the world we live in. There is one great advantage to being an academic economist in France: here, economists are not highly respected in the academic and intellectual world or by political and financial elites. Hence they must set aside their contempt for other disciplines and their absurd claim to greater scientific legitimacy, despite the fact that they know almost nothing about anything.”

His thesis is also simple..
That fortunes tend to grow faster than the general economy.. thus grabbing an ever larger share..
e then underpins it with data..


PARIS — Thomas Piketty turned 18 in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, so he was spared the tortured, decades-long French intellectual debate about the virtues and vices of communism. Even more telling, he remembers, was a trip he took with a close friend to Romania in early 1990, after the collapse of the Soviet empire.

“This sort of vaccinated me for life against lazy, anticapitalist rhetoric, because when you see these empty shops, you see these people queuing for nothing in the street,” he said, “it became clear to me that we need private property and market institutions, not just for economic efficiency but for personal freedom.”

But his disenchantment with communism doesn’t mean that Mr. Piketty has turned his back on the intellectual heritage of Karl Marx, who sought to explain the “iron laws” of capitalism. Like Marx, he is fiercely critical of the economic and social inequalities that untrammeled capitalism produces — and, he concludes, will continue to worsen. “I belong to a generation that never had any temptation with the Communist Party; I was too young for that,” Mr. Piketty said, in a long interview in his small, airless office here at the Paris School of Economics. “So it’s easier in a way to reopen these big issues about capitalism and inequality with a fresh eye, because I was too young for that fight. I don’t have to justify myself as being pro-communist or pro-capitalist.”

In his new book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (Harvard University Press), Mr. Piketty, 42, has written a blockbuster, at least in the world of economics. His book punctures earlier assumptions about the benevolence of advanced capitalism and forecasts sharply increasing inequality of wealth in industrialized countries, with deep and deleterious impact on democratic values of justice and fairness.

Vladimir Putin Is Right Out Of A Russian Novel : The Protojournalist : NPR

Some Russian friends and acquaintances have tried earlier to explain the strength of certain Russian “ideas” that trump reality and rational thinking..

This piece expands on this concept and gives great food for thought on what might influence the thinking of President Putin..

It’s no excuse.. but it might be helpful to understand this in order to manage the relations best possible and avoid playing into the enemy role constructed in parts of Russian literature and culture..


Russia is a hypothetical culture. Ruled by despots for most of our history, we are used to living in fiction rather than reality,” writes Nina L. Khrushcheva, who teaches international affairs at The New School. She is also the great granddaughter of the late communist leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev.

(..) The political — and very real and serious — drama unfolding in Ukraine right now “isn’t merely geopolitical,” says Andrew D. Kaufman. “It’s a deep-seated drama of the Russian soul that’s been around for centuries. And Russian literature is the place we see it in full flower.” Andy is a Russian literature at the and author of the upcoming Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times.

The question Putin is grappling with, Andy says, “is one that recurs throughout the nineteenth-century Russian classics: What is the source of our national greatness?”

Nineteenth-century writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, for instance, believed that Russia’s mission was to establish a widespread Christian empire — with Russia at its epicenter, Andy says, pointing to The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov as exemplary novels. Dostoevsky’s contemporary, Leo Tolstoy, on the other hand, believed that every nation is unique and worthwhile — none better or worse than others.

(..) In certain works by Dostoevsky, says Laura Goering, professor of Russian at , “the West is depicted as something seductive, yet soulless, a temptation to be resisted at all costs.”

Double Down

double-downThis is a great book so far (first 50 pages), giving us a lot of insight into the Obama Administration and explaining what really happened at some important junctures in Obama’s first term. Details from his relationships with Bill Clinton and Joe Biden are also very interesting.

And a fun snippet in the book is this; right after the Democratic Party lost two important Congressional special elections in 2011, James Carville suggested that they should “Fire somebody. No – fire a lot of people”. Obama then gathered a big meeting and said among other things this:

Carville says that I should fire you all, but I’m not gonna fire you, Obama said. Everyone around this table is here because I want you here. This is the team I believe in. You’re my people, I trust you, we gotta trust each other. I have to be able to walk in here, say whatever I need to say, and know it’s gonna stay in this room.

As a reader it’s great to get to know this, but it’s also exactly what Obama NOT intended when he said it.

On the Bookshelves.

We’ve done a little batch of summer updates on the current political and economic books during the last couple of weeks – and here’s the message:

2012 – a bleak picture.

  • It’s the Middle Class, Stupid (Carville & Greenberg): We’ve failed. The Middle Class is broken.
  • Our Divided Political Heart (E. J. Dionne): Polarization, Extremism and drift from the founding principles and values.
  • Twilight of the Elites (MSNBC Chris Hayes): Meritocracy is lost.
  • End the Depression Now! (Paul Krugman): Unemployment ruins lives. We are actually in a Depression.
  • It’s Even Worse Than It Looks (Mann & Ornstein): Congress is defunct, politics is tribal, most of the blame lies with the GOP.
  • The Betrayal of the American Dream (Barlett & Steele): Social mobility is gone, the Dream is an Illusion, the Middle Class is systematically ravaged.

So now we’re reading this:

It’s been fixed before.

For some inspiration.