Category Archives: Current Affairs

The Presidency of Barack Obama

obama

The Presidency of Barack Obama –
A First Historical Assessment
Edited by Julian E. Zelizer
Princeton University Press – £20.00

Obstructionism tended to hurt liberals more than the right.

     Julian E. Zelizer
     (‘Tea Partied – President Obama’s Encounters with the
     Conservative-Industrial Complex’)

America’s system of mass incarceration provides BLM (Black Lives Matter) activists with their most compelling evidence of contemporary racism in all of it’s tragically panoramic glory. The fact that this system continued to thrive under a two-term African American president is one of the great ironies of our time.

     Paniel E. Joseph
     (‘Barack Obama and the Movement for Black Lives – Race, Democracy, and Criminal           Justice in the Age of Ferguson’)

There might admittedly be something to be said for Joan Walsh’s comment: ”This book captures the paradox of Barack Obama’s presidency better than any so far: Conventional wisdom aside, Obama was a better policy maker than a politician.”

Equally, there might also be something to be said for she who penned What’s The Matter With White People? having surely missed one fundamental point: it was the very acute acumen within the sphere of Barack Obama’s policy making, that enabled the former President to become President to begin with. Not to mention having set, as well as left the presidential bar so morally high, that it will no doubt take a number of high-reaching, soul-searching, ethically astute induced politicians to come anywhere near as close.

And what with the current American President being so utterly and morally bankrupt, he doesn’t even warrant comparing, let alone mentioning – other than to perhaps mention that it’s surely only a matter of time before Donald Trump will be reprimanded and globally invited to attend the International Court of Human Rights and Justice at The Hague in The Netherlands.

Moreover, what accounts for these seventeen chapters being so invitingly readable – the second of the above opening quotes from chapter nine being a good example – is the degree to which the reader is so readily drawn into the clarity and the persuasion of The Presidency of Barack Obama – A First Historical Assessment.

Indeed, to refer to these knowingly engaging, 279 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Timeline, Notes, List of Contributors and Index) as thought provoking, might be construed as substantiating the obvious. As such, a continuation of the aforementioned quote from Paniel E. Joseph’s chapter nine (‘Barack Obama and the Movement for Black Lives – Race, Democracy, and Criminal Justice in the Age of Ferguson’), does go some way in honestly reflecting this book’s rather inflammatory anchor: ”Black Lives Matter activists, although no less inspired than the president, interpret the movement as exemplifying the destructive power of state-sanctioned violence, racial oppression, and economic injustice. The movement’s most radical edges were surveilled, harassed, imprisoned, even killed at the hands of white vigilantes working in concert with local, state, and federal authorities, with the FBI being the most well known offenders but far from the only ones. The continued persistence of racial segregation in neighbourhoods and public schools, high rates of black unemployment, and continued assaults on voting rights by no less than the Supreme Court of the United States underscores the rank hypocrisy of a nation that annually celebrates a King holiday and Black History Month.”

Likewise, the following from Julian E. Zelizer’s altogether brazen Introduction: ”Few Republicans were willing to buck the party line. When the president repeatedly reached out to Republicans to support him on pressing legislation such as the economic stimulus package and financial regulation, both of which seemed to command strong popular support in the middle of a severe economic meltdown that had depleted the nation’s wealth and left millions unemployed, most Republicans refused to go along with any deal. And even though much of his response to the financial crisis built on the policies of President Bush, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP, which Eric Rauchway calls the ”Bush-Obama financial rescue program”), many Republicans acted as if Obama were virtually a socialist.”

The Presidency of Barack Obama is a most stimulating and refreshing read. As The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb has so succinctly put it: ”The essays in this volume are among the most nuanced, thorough, and incisive perspectives we’ve yet seen regarding the complex, contradictory, and besieged tenure of the first black president.”

Besieged being the most unfortunate, yet operative word.

David Marx

 

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The Long Hangover

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The Long Hangover –
Putin’s New Russia and The Ghosts of The Past
By Shaun Walker
Oxford University Press – £20.00

Evgeny had been invited to Red Square for the parade and planned to attend; he liked the fact that 9 May was still celebrated. But although he enjoyed wearing his army jacket, festooned with medals, and he took understandable pride in being part of the victory, his bearing and tone were very different to the official propaganda. He spoke of the war as a terrible, not a glorious, experience: of loss and violence and unspeakable imagery. I doubt he would have wanted to dress his great-grandchildren up in Red Army uniforms, as if for a party.

We don’t need blind patriotism. We need the truth!

If you really want to know the truth about modern day, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, then read this overtly courageous and compelling book.

Written by Shaun Walker, The Guardian’s Correspondent in Moscow (and previous Correspondent for The Independent), The Long Hangover – Putin’s New Russia and The Ghosts of The Past, does, as its title might suggest, address both the past and the current. Or, to be a little more blatant, the good, the bad and the ugly; in which all three, the biggest and without any shadow of a doubt, one of the most captivating countries on the planet is deeply mired.

Thorough, to the point, occasionally melancholic, yet exceedingly readable, Walker has herein captured all the inflammatory essence of modern day Russia, by way of re-telling what ought to have been told many, many years ago.

Furthermore, a lot of the said telling is more than humanistic, if not quintessentially regal in its execution. This is directly due to The Long Hangover being wholeheartedly anchored within a sphere of real people. Ordinary people.

Quite often, extraordinary people, of which the following excerpt from the conclusion of chapter two’s ‘The Sacred War,’ is a most pertinent example: ”Evgeny’s lines were well rehearsed. He rattled off figures and dates with the precision of someone who had told his story a thousand times before. If I had returned a month later, I suspect he would have repeated the same sentences almost verbatim, in the way that distant memories coagulate into set monologues. And yet, despite that, the old man’s voice became rasping and he would gulp for air, as if he had surprised himself by the emotions the stories still raised, seventy years and hundreds of tellings later.”

Indeed, there are many occasions where one has to simply put this book down – and reflect upon what one has just read.

Be it Walker’s account of the entire Kamlyk people being deported en masse in 1943 (”People think only dogs can sense this kind of thing, but the livestock also knew something bad was happening. It was such chaos, such a terrible, terrible scene. The dogs ran after the trucks as we drove away, howling like mad. I’ll never forget that scene”), or recounting the words of former President Yeltsin – and now Putin’s – Chief of Staff: ‘I was delighted that the end of Communism had come about. But the Soviet Union was my homeland. That was different. How can you be happy about your homeland collapsing?”

In the words of Peter Pomerantsev (author of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible): ”in this skilful and vivid book, Shaun Walker allows us to understand the region’s current affairs through ordinary and extraordinary people’s experience of an un-dealt with past.”

As a further caveat, I’d also like to add that The Long Hangover may well be the best book I’ve read on modern-day Russia in years.

David Marx

Debating Europe In National Parliaments

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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

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

policy

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