Monthly Archives: September 2021

Book Review: Kroeger, Brooke, “Nellie Bly, Daredevil. Reporter. Feminist” Times Books, New York, 1994

These are 510 astonishing pages from the life of a person of excess. Whether or not one likes and appreciates everything about Nellie Bly, they would have to agree that she did more and went further than any woman of her time. From around 1890 until her death in 1922, the nation and much of the world followed her from one incredible adventure into another one even more drastic.

Elizabeth Jane “Pink” Cochrane was re-named Nellie Bly when editors were assigning her to find out about scandalous treatment of patients in a mental institution. To investigate, she went crazy and let everybody know about it. While she was undergoing “treatment,” she interviewed and observed patients and staff, then lowered the boom on the entire operation. That was just a beginning.

Before she was through, she had been filthy rich and desperately poor, despised and applauded, deceived and honored. When she began, hardly any women had regular jobs in the news industry. The few women employed at all were assigned gossip columns and society news only. When she passed, one of her eulogists called her simply “the best reporter in America.”

Bly served a time as an industrialist with 1,500 employees in her factory. She invented, and held the patent, for steel barrels. To her credit, she took a utopian attitude toward the treatment of her employees. At another time, she championed the Seamen’s Union. Toward the end of her life, she was especially well known for helping poor widows and orphans.

On the negative side, she supported the aristocracy of Austria all through World War I and afterward. She greatly admired Kaiser Wilhelm. She went out of her way to oppose the Russian Revolution and encouraged President Wilson to help combat “Bolshevists.” Her no-holds-barred approach to business, and everything else, must have made many enemies. In this book, though, any rough edges that Bly may have had could be excused by the anti-woman kind of world she lived in. She would never have succeeded at anything without being tough!

The book is good for explaining the historical setting that Bly had to contend with. It especially clarifies the early days of women’s battle for a place in the world of news. A few other newswomen succeeded during Bly’s life, but no one smashed the glass ceiling as thoroughly as Nellie Bly.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM. KNON podcasts it and my “Workers Bet Extra” on on Wednesdays. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

Book Review: Marion Merriman and Warren Lerude, “American Commander in Spain. Robert Hale Merriman and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” University of Nevada Press, 1986

Major Merriman went missing in Spain in early 1938, but his young widow could not bring herself to write about him until she reached the age of 70. Then she sought out a prize-winning co-writer to help her.

Generalissimo Franco and his German & Italian fascists prevailed

The book is extremely personal and could double as a love story as well as a history. I read it for the history. Here’s the best line in it on page 195. She was speaking about her husband’s and hers experiences in defending Spain. In this speech, she was talking to the Rotary Club in Reno, Nevada.

“I’m sorry to tell you this, but if you don’t help the Spanish people and take your stand against fascism in Spain, your sons will die in Germany. I promise you that! There will be nothing you can do to stop a world war from starting if you do not help the Spanish Republic now.”

I don’t think that many Americans today know much about the overthrow of the Spanish Republic by fascists. Even those with some inkling probably think it was freedom versus communism, because that’s how things have been distorted worldwide. In fact, the people of Spain were hardly communists. The Communist Party of Spain was a very small group. The nation just wanted to keep the government that they had elected.

The fascists wanted to take over. Generalissimo Franco organized his foreign legionairres from Africa to invade Spain. He received a lot of help from the Catholic Church and his fascist friends Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler. For the Germans and Italians, this was a great opportunity to test out their new weaponry. The so-called “great powers,” including the United States, put their hands in their pockets and looked the other way. If they hadn’t, there would have been no World War II! It would profit everyone to muse on why the “great powers” allowed World War II to develop and take place the way they did, but that would be another blog for another time.

In Spain in the mid 1930s, thousands of good young men from all over the world, including from the United States, volunteered to save democracy by going to battle. The Merrimans were among them.

This is a first hand and personal account. Mrs Merriman doesn’t dissect the political forces of the place and time. Her commitment was to follow and to support her husband. Her passions for the cause came later. Neither she nor her husband were communists, she says, but many of the International Brigadistas were, because communist parties across the world organized support for the Spanish Republic. The Republic wasn’t communist, either. It was just a republic.

One gets to know a lot of the people. Many of them, like Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemmingway, were far more famous than Robert Hale Merriman. Everybody admire Merriman. He was an intellectual economist originally from Nevada, but he went to school in Berkeley and studied for his doctorate in the USSR before deciding, on a personal level, that he had to go and fight in Spain.

In a way, he lives on, because he was one of the models for Hemmingway’s hero in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” One can read a lot about the American brigadistas in ALBA magazine. I get it monthly. There are a few history books with widely varying points of view, like this one. One fact is consistent in all the coverage: the international volunteers were incredibly brave!

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. They podcast it on Wednesdays along with my special “Workers Beat Extra” commentary. If you want to know what I really think, you might look at my personal web site.

Book Review: Krugman, Paul, “Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future.” Kindle Edition, 2020

Nobel economist Paul Krugman writes columns for the NY Times. He collected a bunch of them from around 2004 to 2020 and ordered them, more or less, by topic, then published it as a book. It’s a chance to learn something about contemporary economics while examining political developments.

As I have written before, the separation of political economy into two separate “disciplines” was a terrible blow to knowledge in general. Consequently, while Krugman does not deliberately try to overcome the gaps of separation, he tends to ameliorate the problem by examining political developments from an economics perspective. The “zombies” in the title are economic theories that have already been discounted, but just won’t go away. Principal among them are the monetary theories popularized by Republican zealots such as drip-down prosperity.

In the introduction, Krugman writes, “The administration of George W Bush was dishonest to a degree never before seen in U.S. politics (though now surpassed by the Trumpists), and it was obviously, it seemed t ome, taking us to war o false pretenseses. Yet nobody else with a columnin a major newspaper seemed willing to point this out. As  result, I felt I had to do the job.”

Krugman’s treatments are candid and clear. He doesn’t mind exposing and naming some of the partisan sellouts who pretend that economic theory underlines outright class warfare. Krugman declares himself a modern Keynesian and argues for government spending throughout the period 2004-2020. Krugman’s co-thinkers can be pretty smug about his recommendations, both those that were applied and those that weren’t, because history is the best proof.

In my opinion, Krugman doesn’t go far enough in his analysis of modern economics. He doesn’t say outright that the liars with zombie theories are really puppets of the ruling class. He isn’t as absolute and clear as Thomas Piketty. When Krugman talks about Piketty, he seems to try to fit him in with all capitalist economists who are trying to make the system work, like Krugman himself. I don’t believe that Piketty is trying to make capitalism work.

On July 21, I wrote that I had just read Paul Krugman’s review of Piketty’s new book “Capital and Ideology.” Krugman thinks that Piketty’s work is epic, but that his conclusions are suspect. Here’s where I disagree with Krugman: “And his [Picketty’s] clear implication is that social democracy can be revived by refocusing on populist economic policies, and winning back the working class.” I don’t think that Piketty has any intention of reviving social democracy.

I haven’t read the new book, but the Piketty tome I read did not mention, anywhere, about reviving social democracy. Like any good Marxist, Picketty does not expect social democracy to be revived. Even if it was, Picketty and I would say that it was only temporary. Capitalism, all Marxists agree, is doomed. For decades now, economists have helped a ruthless and wealthy gang maintain their stranglehold to the detriment of the rest of us. In that sense, all their theories are zombies.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio show every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. The talk show and “Workers Beat Extra” podcast are put on every Wednesday. I don’t mind saying what I think and I even made a personal web site that may interest you.