Category Archives: Current Affairs

Debating Europe In National Parliaments

europe

Debating Europe In National Parliaments –
Public Justification and Political Polarization
By Frank Wendler
Palgrave Macmillan – £92.00

What with the ghastly likes of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and of course Jacob Rees Mogg – not to mention the entire Tory government – Britain’s future with(in) the rest of Europe hangs precariously in the balance of (knowingly) machine gunning itself in the foot.
Totally and utterly.
Thus resulting in a broken body that no longer works.
Thus resulting in having become one of the world’s prime laughing stocks – due to orchestrated self-infliction might one add – beyond repair.

Wasn’t Broken Britain enough?
Did/Does ever more irreparable damage need to be done?

Clearly it does, which is why Debating Europe In National Parliaments – Public Justification and Political Polarization and such other books of a similar political design, also hang somewhat precariously in the balance.

Simply because, among other things, no two days are ever the same in Great (great?) Britain.

Moreover, what is without any shadow of a right-wing induced doubt, is the degree to which Britain is no longer taken remotely seriously amid the world’s the corridors of power. Especially when said corridors are in Paris, Berlin and Moscow; which to be fair, this book’s eight chapters simply bypass.
As if an open cesspit of a wound!

There again, as Frank Wendler states in the Introduction: ”The main task of this book is to uncover how public political contention evolves in parliamentary debates, and what forms of political polarization between parliamentary parties can be observed in a comparison of four European legislatures. Against this background, the purpose of this book is to link two debates that currently play a central role for research about European integration: first, the investigation of the effects of EU decision-making on the politics of its Member States, as commonly addressed through the term ”Europeanization” […] and second, research dealing with the perception that the process of European integration is going through a transformative change through the increased public visibility, political salience, and contestation of its policies and decisions, as expressed through the term ”politicization” […]. Through this connection, the book positions itself both in the study of European integration and in the comparative study of parliaments and party systems.”

The aforementioned wheeler-dealer, cum lying toad numero uno, Nigel Farage, would no doubt have (an open) field day deflecting such adult dogma as: ”European integration[…] in the comparative study of parliaments and party systems.”

So well done Frank Wendler for having compiled this rather weighty dissertation on such a wide and varied (complicated) subject matter; upon which Professor Vivien A.Schmidt of Boston University has since written:”Wendler’s groundbreaking study documents the increasing salience of the European Union in national parliamentary debates over the past decade. Using an innovative mix of quantitative and qualitative discourse analysis of four highly differentiated legislatures(the UK, France, Germany and Austria), the book connects different EU-related discursive frames to very different patterns of party polarization, to show how and why this matters for the bottom-up democratization of the EU.”

Excluding two lists of Figures and Tables, an Annex (Plenary Debates of National Parliaments Coded for the Present Study) and Index, these 238 pages make for dry, albeit – given the subject matter – very informative reading.

David Marx

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White Trash

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White Trash –
The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
By Nancy Isenberg
Atlantic Books – £20.00

The circumstances of superior beauty is thought worthy of attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man?

                                       Thomas Jefferson,
                                       Notes on the State of Virginia (1787)

Disturbing in an overtly non-surprising sort of way, this fascinating read sets the record straight concerning a variant of wholly misconceived issues regarding the rather derogatory term, ‘White Trash;’ namely that of it’s umbilical, yet highly tenuous relationship concerning eugenics within the United States.

And yes, you read right: eugenics within the United States.
To say nothing of its appalling, underplayed class system.

To be sure, it might appear morosely myopic to think that Nazi Germany was the only relatively modern state to introduce eugenics as a form of socio-politico policy. A policy which promoted the biological improvement of the Ayran race (or Germanic Übermenschen) unto the everyday manifestation of Nazi political ideology.

Although make no mistake – the land of the free and the so-called home of the brave got there first: ”The British colonial imprint was never really erased […]. For their part, nineteenth-century Americans did everything possible to replicate the class station through marriage, kinship, pedigree, and lineage. While the Confederacy was the high mark – the most overt manifestation – of rural aristocratic pretence (and an open embrace of society’s need to have an elite ruling over the lower classes), the next century ushered in the disturbing imperative of eugenics, availing itself of science to justify breeding a master class. Thus not only did Americans not abandon their desire for class distinctions, they repeatedly reinvented class distinctions” (‘America’s Strange Breed – The Long Legacy of White Trash’).

Indeed, by way of overt class filtration, it’s hardly a well-kept secret that the United States had already partaken in the hideous execution of eugenics a couple of hundred years ago.

An understandably inflammatory issue, which the authoress, Nancy Isenberg, makes clear on a number of occasions throughout the thoroughly well-researched and highly analytical, White Trash – The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America.

In three distinct parts (‘To Begin the World Anew,’ ‘Degeneration of the American Breed’ and ‘The White Trash Makeover’), this occasionally inflammatory read, substantiates the degree to which pond-life voters – those who voted the heinous Donald Trump into the White House for instance – have nigh always been a permanent part of the American fabric.

The ideological and totally non-surprising background of which is already brought to bear in the book’s very first chapter, ‘Taking Out The Trash – Waste People In The New World,’ wherein Isenberg writes: ”The leaders of Jamestown had borrowed directly from the Roman model of slavery: abandoned children and debtors were made slaves. When indentured adults sold their anticipated labour in return for passage to America, they instantly became debtors, which made their orphaned children a collateral asset. It was a world not unlike the one Shakespeare depicted in The Merchant of Venice, when Shylock demanded his pound of flesh. Virginia planters felt entitled to their flesh and blood in the forms of the innocent spouses and offspring of dead servants.”

So much for a new way of thinking in a brave new world!

These 321 pages (excluding a List of Illustrations, Preface, Notes and Index) do much to show how poor (uneducated) whites, have always been central to America’s Republican Party.

To be sure, the country’s terrible Civil War itself was fought just as much over class issues, as it was slavery. And from there on, reconstruction pitted white trash against newly-freed slaves, which again, proved a mighty big factor in the inevitable rise of eugenics – a widely popular movement embraced by none other than Theodore Roosevelt, which targeted poor whites for sterilisation.

Said vicious circle of societal deprivation is majestically deciphered and explained throughout White Trash, right up to the present day; at the helm of which stands America’s current president and ultimate depiction of white trash, Trump himself.

He who lauds over a vast congregation of implausible ignorance and stupidity, which does much to suggest that the lunatics – or in this instance, white trash – have now taken over the asylum.

David Marx

Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism

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Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism 
U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security, 1920-2015
By Melvyn P. Leffler
Princeton University Press – £32.95

Living under a cloud of fear like this robs a child of his spirit. It’s one thing to be afraid when someone’s holding a shotgun on you, but it’s another thing to be afraid of something that’s just not quite real. There were a lot of folks around who took this threat seriously, though, and it rubbed off on you. It was easy to become a victim of their strange fantasy… When the drill sirens went off, you had to lay under your desk facedown, not a muscle quivering and not make any noise. As if this could save you from the bombs dropping. The threat of annihilation was a scary thing.”

                                                                   Bob Dylan
                                                                   Chronicles, 2004

That the above was written by Bob Dylan in his book, Chronicles (on pages 29/30), should go some way in both dismantling and deciphering the American psyche throughout much of the last century as well as the beginning of the twenty-first. That Dylan is of unquestionably severe intellect, and is rather renowned for his seething honesty, ought further highlight the very substantial link that lies at the heart betwixt American paranoia and its own self-induced perplexity.

After all, the very first part of this book’s title alone (Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism) immediately conveys a troubled, underlying essence of its own design.

The mere fact that U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security has to ”safeguard” it’s very own ”democratic capitalism,” is surely something of a political blight that has burdened North America for many years. Much of the manifestation of which has invariably been ingrained within the very fibre of American thinking. The above opening quote of which is a prime example.

One does need to remember however, that what Dylan professed to, absolutely wasn’t, and still isn’t something to be taken lightly.

It still isn’t something to be merely brushed aside, as if mere words; even if said words, were spoken by one of the most utmost of intellects in the world today. But where Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism – U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security, 1920-2015 comes into its own, is its quintessential acknowledgement that what Dylan was saying, still remains at the very core of American psychosis.

And if psychosis – as characterised by an impaired relationship with reality; in other words: a symptom of serious mental disorder – isn’t at the helm of the current American presidency, then I really, really don’t know what is. Neither for that matter, may Melvyn P. Leffler (who, apart from having written For the Soul of Mankind and A Preponderance of Power and is also the Edward Stettinius Professor of American History at the University of Virginia), because these eleven chapters rather frustratingly conclude in 2015.

That said, in Chapter Two’s ‘Herbert Hoover, the ”New Era,” and American Foreign Policy, 1921-1929,’ Leffler does have the clarity of literary mind to regale readers with an excerpt from 1921 no less, made by the then Secretary of Commerce, Robert H. van Meter:

”There is nothing that would give such hope of recovery in life and living as to have this terrible burden and menace [arms expenditures] taken from the minds and backs of men. As Secretary of Commerce, if I were to review in order of importance those things of the world that would best restore commerce, I would inevitably arrive at the removal of this, the first and primary obstruction.”

Again, it does need to be remembered that van Mater wrote this (to President Warren G. Harding) in 1921. So is it any wonder that thirty years later, a young Dylan was perpetually being ingrained with the preposterous notion that cowering beneath his school-desk would save him from nuclear annihilation?

The notion of Dylan wanting to ”die in his own footsteps,” as aided and worryingly abetted by American Foreign Policy ever since God knows when, is herein brought to bear amid perhaps some of the finest essays written on the subject in a long time.

As such, these 335 pages (excluding Preface and Index) are, as the author of The World America Made, Robert Kagan, has since said: ”Always provocative, never doctrinaire, and often surprising in its lessons.”

David Marx

The Lies of the Land

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The Lies of the Land –
A Brief History of Political Dishonesty
By Adam Macqueen
Atlantic Books – £14.99

When truth is not spoken to power, the powerful do not always speak the truth.

         (‘Where Power Lies’)

They are the lies uttered by those in charge, told because they felt it was their duty to lie: that by doing so, they were serving what is often called the ‘greater good’ and that the end justified the means. They are the lies told because the people in power convinced themselves that they knew best. That they had a superior ability to see ‘the bigger picture’ and discern the ‘moral truth’ of a situation (as opposed to the boring, black-and-white details bogging down the folks closer to ground level). The lies told because it was the ‘right’ thing to do.

         (‘Where Power Lies’)

Talk about a literary nail in the coffin of politically induced fabrication.

The Lies of the Land – A Brief History of Political Dishonesty, calls it, tells it, and shares a menagerie of despicable lies that have been told over the years; either by, or on behalf of those who supposedly have the people’s best interests at heart.

Namely the leaders and politicians that are not only at the vanguard of Westminster, but many of the world’s capitals. As Adam Macqueen has so prophetically written in the book’s Introduction: ”As sure as night follows day, the louder you shout about your opponent’s lies, the less obliged you feel to tell the truth yourself.”
Indeed.

As these hardly surprising, yet highly accurate and well written nine chapters make exceptionally clear, those in whom we are asked put our trust, are the most least likely people whom we would trust were we to bump into them on the tube or at some risible cocktail party along Whitehall.

Riddled with complete and utter contempt for that which we oft refer to as the truth, so many of those at the helm of the political persuasion, are themselves, no better than blatant criminals. In fact, many are worse, as again, The Lies of the Land remind us throughout.

For instance, on page 200 of chapter seven’s afore-quoted ‘Where Power Lies,’ the author, writing in reference to Margaret Thatcher and the sinking of the Belgrano during the horribly pointless Falklands War, quotes Labour MP, Tam Dalyell: ”He was a veteran conspiracy theorist, in many cases not without good cause, and in this particular case he and many others were convinced that the Belgrano had been sunk in order to scupper a peace plan which the US and Argentina’s neighbour Peru had been attempting to broker, so that Mrs Thatcher could pursue a war she had decided she had to win at all costs. In a 1987 polemic against the prime minister, Dalyell thundered: ‘I say she is guilty of gross deception. I say…she is guilty of calculated murder, not for the national interests of our country, not for the protection of our servicemen, but for her own political ends.”’

Suffice to say, to stumble upon such soaring home-truths again and again throughout these 337 pages, is what counters for this book being such a fascinating read. Or, as Matthew d’Ancona, author of Post-Truth and Guardian columnist has since said: ”An excellent guide through the thickets of political mendacity. Brilliantly-researched, intelligent, and lucid, this book is essential reading.”

There you go: essential reading.

David Marx

Surgery On The Shoulders of Giants

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Surgery On The Shoulders of Giants
Letters from a doctor abroad
By Saqib Noor
Kings X Press – £8.99

The term institutionalised corruption suggests that corruption has slowly crept into the psyche of the Pakistani people and into its government institutions like a plague of insects, thoroughly rotting the once noble foundations before taking over the system like money sucking leeches. However this term seems rather mild in describing the current affairs in the country.

                    ‘The Ministry Of Corruption (And Its Associated Buffoonery)’

That Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, recently resigned due to ‘dishonesty’ and corruption charges, would suggest said plague of insects have taken hold over the asylum. Or, in this instance, Pakistan, as if it were simply meant to happen.

I remember visiting the country on a couple of occasions (either side of 9/11) and in both instances, I was told by my host, that should we ever become separated, that under no circumstances was I to approach a policeman for help. Makes you think.

No wonder the country has an ”entire dedicated governmental Ministry of Corruption […] a specialised, well-formed institution with policymakers specifically producing disorganised and illogical thinking.”

Yey, now that’s what ye world needs: yet more policymakers specifically producing disorganised and illogical thinking.

But hey, wait; it’s already happening amid the epicentre of one of the most powerful countries on the planet. That’s right, Trump (who else?) and his co-conspirational cohorts from hell, subscribe to the very sort of illogical chutzpah – each and every one of us endeavour to avoid like cancer – on an almost daily basis. Hourly basis.

Makes the powers that be in Pakistan appear as if Noam Chomsky’s out on ethical manoeuvres, while this absolutely terrific book – the consummate template in what absolutely needs to be told. Right here. Right now.

Indeed, Surgery On The Shoulders of Giants – Letters from a doctor abroad, is, if nothing else, a mighty large humane inspiration.

Other than regaling the most varied and candid of ”human life lessons” from numerous front-line, health crisis constitutions in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Haiti, Cambodia, Pakistan, South Africa; its 197 pages (excluding many pages of black and white photographs) reveal sadness, truth, emotion, hypocrisy and of course, beauty.

Rather like that complex thing we oft refer to as life itself.
Powerful. Poignant. Persuasive.

David Marx

Polarized

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Polarized –
Making Sense Of A Divided America
By James E. Campbell
Princeton University Press – £22.95

You can compromise between good, better, and best, and you can compromise between bad and worse and terrible. But you can’t compromise between good and evil.

                    Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) – ‘One-Sided Party Polarization’

And so say all of us; well, most of us anyway.
At the moment however, there’s surely far more disparity within the realm of American politics, than, erm, well, perhaps anytime in it’s history.
At least within living memory, put it that way – which is where this stark and rather bold book ought to stand loud’n’roud within the current, quasi-blasphemous institution that both tellingly and rather laughingly, refers to the American Constitution, as if it were its own.

As if it were a standing joke – which clearly, Donald Trump, and his vile inner-circle are; although countless gullible innocents the (predominantly western) world over, will continue to believe the United States to be a nation of political moderates.

It absolutely isn’t.

The US is so utterly divided, it’s nigh impossible to distinguish between good, better and best, bad and worse; let alone good and evil. Although within the context of mainstream American ideology, it isn’t long before James E. Campbell writes: ”As rough as our political debates can be, and they can get quite vicious, happily we are not on the precipice of another civil war.”

Oh really?
Seems to me the US is most definitely on the precipice of something.
It might not be out and out civil war, but there’s absolutely no question that one of the most powerful countries one earth, is almost on the verge of self-imploding.
If not falling apart.
If not, along with (the former Great) Britain, very fast becoming the laughing stock of the world. A conundrum, which, in the big scheme of things – primarily that of Trump’s colossal ego – isn’t a particularly good thing.

The nine chapters of Polarized – Making Sense Of A Divided America pretty much contends as much throughout.

Hence my earlier description of these 246 pages (excluding Acknowledgments, Appendix, Notes, References and Index) being somewhat stark and outwardly bold: ”Some contend that party polarization has grown particularly severe in recent years as political leaders and activists sought ideological purity within their parties, particularly within the Republican Party. The ultra-polarization of American politics, as the claim goes, has been largely a one-sided or asymmetric affair. Republicans became a far-right ideological party while Democrats remained a fairly moderate and pragmatic centre-left party. This claim of one-sided party polarization was made most strongly by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein in their provocatively titled It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. Mann boldly claimed that ”Republicans have become a radical insurgency – ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of their political opposition” (‘One-Sided Party Polarization – Republicans Gone Wild’).

You can say that again (and again).
One need only refer to the Trump’s out and out, inflammatory dismissal of The Paris Agreement, to wholeheartedly agree, if not endeavour to come to terms with the above.
And a whole lot more.

Polarized – Making Sense Of A Divided America goes some way in deciphering the current shambles that is American politics; but I’m sure even Campbell must be somewhat surprised at the dire depths to which American politics has unfortunately sunk.

David Marx

The Politics of English Nationhood

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The Politics of English Nationhood
By Michael Kenny
Oxford University Press – £18.99

What counts as culture in England now […] is the detritus left behind by the disappearance of the stolid independence and self-reliance of it’s working class. In its place has emerged a loud, rude, and self-interested individualism which occasionally erupts in the form of chauvinistic nationalism.

At the vanguard of Britain’s deplorable chauvinistic nationalism, stands the overtly vile, dangerous and detrimental excuse of a human being, Nigel Farage; for whom the words intelligence and understanding clearly count for very little.

If anything at all.

As one of the prime, fundamental architects of Brexit, he and his most myopic ilk have a hell of a lot to answer for. First and perhaps foremost, for having promoted Engerland unto the nigh high-octane stakes of it, along with the US, being the laughing stock of much of the western world. Not to mention the ever increasing upsurge in all round general nastiness and hate-crime – wholeheartedly substantiated by the above opening quote.

To be sure, The Politics of English Nationhood absolutely isn’t coy in what it says; and luckily, for those with a conscience at least, nor does it cower beneath the power of the right-wing media and (surely unsustainable) abundance of fake news. A social cancer of sorts, currently doing the elongated and inexorable rounds of ill-advised persuasion.

But herein, Michael Kenny, who is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University in London, offers more than a mere ”powerful challenge” to current day thinking.

These 243 pages (excluding a Preface to the paperback edition, Acknowledgements, Notes and Index) do much to traverse the staid, negative, political behaviour, that is by far, far too prevalent amid Britain’s current political ideology: ”Throughout the EU Referendum campaign, the dual focus of the ‘Leave’ campaign upon the elitist and metropolitan interests served by arguments for ‘Remain,’ and a continual focus upon immigration, were combined with the language of popular sovereignty and national recognition. This rhetoric spoke particularly to English voters for whom worries over migration have served as a proxy for fears about the perceived indifference of the political establishment to their economic position and cultural traditions. The ‘Leave’ slogan ‘Take back control’ proved highly effective in this context, and allowed figures like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to speak simultaneously to concerns about sovereignty, belonging, and nationhood.

Refreshingly and rightly so, Kenny brings in all the relative parties here, and tells it with all the fine nuance of how it really ought to be told.

He also addresses all the terrible, smokescreen bullshit head-on, as he continues: ” Its vernacular companion was the phrase ”I want my country back,” and was repeatedly used by UKIP leader Nigel Farage. This spoke to nativist fantasies of an England unmarked by ethno-cultural diversity and of a socio-economic order that had long disappeared. The Referendum afforded the opening for an outpouring of some of the nationally focused frustration, and the inchoate desire for greater self-determination, which had been building in many different parts of England for the last quarter of a century.”

Equally well researched and illuminating, The Politics of English Nationhood, will in future years, be undoubtedly held in high-regard; not to mention referred to as the book that divulged how, where and why, England got it so horribly and undeniably wrong.

David Marx