Category Archives: Current Affairs

The End Of British Politics

9783319499642

The End Of British Politics
By Michael Moran
Palgrave Macmillan/Pivot – £37.99

The film director Alfred Hitchcock once summarised his aim in film making as ‘to scare the wits out of the audience.’ This is a fine formula for a great film director but not a credible strategy of statecraft.

                                                                                                      (‘The End Of State’)

Can’t argue with that.
Indeed, who would even want to?
Especially given the fact that what’s left of Westminster’s ‘strategy of statecraft,’ is itself, being flushed down the toilet (of all misbegotten hope), faster that a jack-booted-skinhead can decide whether or not to Sieg Heil outside a mosque or a synagogue.

That Britain’s politics are no longer a joke, but rather, an international cataclysm of the most profound disdain, ought come as no surprise.

Doesn’t the mere (succinct) title of this rather tough and gritty book, wholeheartedly illustrate as much?

What accounts for The End Of British Politics being such a resolute and rather spot-on read, is it’s no nonsense account of current day Britain, by way of a vituperative, yet well analysed consideration of condemnation.

Take the military for instance, upon which Michael Moran (who is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of Manchester and Professor of Government in the Alliance Business School, University of Manchester) writes: ”In perhaps no European country bar Russia is militarism so powerfully ingrained as in Britain. Britain is the only member of the European Union which allows the military to enter schools for the purpose of recruiting schoolchildren. Military spending, and the economy’s military production, is uniquely high for a state the size of the United Kingdom […]. There has only been one year (1968) since the Second World War when a British Service person has not been killed on active service. Some of the greatest military engagements, such as the defiance of Hitler in 1940, have fed into the belief in providence: that the British are a chosen people with global military responsibilities.”

That just one recent aspect of said ‘responsibility’ manifested in the terrible Iraq War – upon which Moran also writes: ”In Chilcot we see this pragmatic face of the special relationship: no sooner was the invasion over than the two parties began, like gangsters dividing the loot, to argue over the division of the spoils, notably Iraq oil and the lucrative market in defence services” – is, like Brexit and the ever widening cleavage between the country’s haves and have nots, just one example (of many), of where the country is going so horribly, horribly wrong.

But at the end of the day, who really (really) cares?
The government? Nigel Farage? Theresa May?

This blunt and altogether forthright publication is one book the Prime Minister won’t be wanting to read; which is why everyone else in their right mind at least, absolutely should.

David Marx

One Nation Undecided

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One Nation Undecided – Clear Thinking about Five Hard Issues That Divide Us
By Peter H. Schuck
Princeton University Press – £24. 95

     ”As the family is the essential core of any society, the steady decline of two-parent family households in the United States is probably the single most important social trend of the last half-century. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously predicted that this decline would be most precipitous in black families, but even he under-estimated the trend: 72 percent of black babies are now born out of wedlock, triple the 1965 rate. Regardless of race, children with no father at home are now four to five times more likely to be poor than children of married parents. (Many of their unmarried mothers do have live-in partners for certain periods.) Children in female-headed households account for well over half of all poor children. Indeed, Harvard’s Equality of Opportunity Project finds that the single best predictor of low upward mobility in an area is the fraction of children with single parents.”

                                                      (Family and Community Breakdown – Poverty)

As stated on the front, dust-cover of this most thought provoking of books: ”One Nation Undecided takes on some of today’s thorniest issues and walks you through each one step-by-step, explaining what makes it so difficult to grapple with and enabling you to think smartly about it.”

Naturally, what one deciphers as ‘thinking smartly,’ depends on which side of the socio-economic/political fence one invariably finds oneself. Especially in the United States, where disparity reigns supreme amid numerous controversies of idiosyncratic ignorance; a facet of societal behaviour, more oft than not financially, if not profit driven.

The NRA (National Rifle Association) being the most perfect and pristine of examples. But what accounts for One Nation Undecided – Clear Thinking about Five Hard Issues That Divide Us being the sort of hard hitting book that it (perhaps controversially) is, is the overt, simple fact that it smokes-screens nothing.

And tells it as it really does need to be told.

The opening quote of which underlines such thinking. Yet, were one to espouse such rhetoric in an everyday publication of say safe, mediocre reportage, certain quarters would no doubt holler from that of a most pronounced premise of racial discrimination. There again, these 372 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Notes and Index) do go in for much clarification and substantiation; which, given the fraught and occasionally bleak subject matter, is just as well (if not absolutely vital).

For instance, to get the mind thinking both honestly and academically, it should come as no surprise that Family and Community Breakdown is preceded by a piece entitled Bad Luck; which again, finds the author, Peter H. Schuck (whose previous books include Why Government Fails So Often, Meditations of a Militant Moderate, Diversity in America and Agent Orange on Trial) placing all the political cards on the table.

A table from which one can either ravenously feast. Or ignore it is entirety: ”Some people are much luckier than others. It is not simply that some of us are born with better parents, greater intelligence, happier dispositions, stronger constitutions, and in a favourable birth order. It is also what happens to us later on may have little or nothing to do with those initial endowments or with the kinds of bad choices […]. Impoverishing misfortunes can come in many forms – debilitating illness, depression, job loss, uninsured disaster – and can overtake anyone at almost any moment, rendering them poor for a considerable period of time. Divorce often impoverishes women. A 1996 study of such women found that in the first year after divorce, the average wife’s standard of living decreased by 27 percent; the husband’s improved by 10 percent! Even if these differences have narrowed since then, poverty can still be just a bad divorce (or divorce lawyer) away, especially for women.”

Hmm, makes you think…

From poverty to immigration, religiosity to affirmative action, gay marriage to transgender rights, One Nation Undecided pinpoints all the angularity of today’s increasingly complex and ever convoluted society.

As such, you’d be hard pressed to find a better book on such a wide gambit of politically controversial dissertation.

David Marx

Governance and Politics Of The Netherlands

9781137289933

Governance and Politics Of The Netherlands
By Rudy B. Andeweg & Galen A. Irwin
Palgrave Macmillan – £32.99

Tomorrow, March 15th, The Netherlands will go to the polls and decide upon the election of all 150 members of it’s House of Representatives. And given recent events, it looks set to be an all out, feisty affair.

With the incumbent Prime Minister, Mark Rutte (of the VDD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) having formed a coalition government with the PvdA (the Labour Party) back in 2012, tomorrow’s election will obviously be marred, if not fundamentally influenced by two people: Geert Wilders – the country’s answer to Donald Trump of the PVV (Party for Freedom), and Turkey’s rather misguided, utterly vile President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who really ought to know better than to equate Holland with Nazism.

That said, Erdogan’s vitriolic rhetoric is not only a sad sign of the (inflammatory) times, it will undoubtedly do much to influence the outcome of the election – probably/unfortunately in Wilders favour. All of which is an exceedingly far cry from almost all of what is both coherently and concisely written throughout the eleven chapters of Governance and Politics Of The Netherlands by By Rudy B. Andeweg & Galen A. Irwin.

For instance, one need only read as far as page twelve to ascertain that The Netherlands is no longer the country it once was: ”[…] the golden age established traditions of openness and tolerance in the Netherlands. In 1661, the Leiden manufacturer and political scientist Pieter de la Court wrote ‘that our manufactures, fisheries, commerce and navigation, with those who live from them, cannot be preserved here without a continual immigration of foreign inhabitants – much less increased or improved’ (quoted in Israel, 1995, p.624).”

Hmm, absolutely no longer is such the case any more, which, given the altogether disturbing events which recently took place in Rotterdam, is surely understandable. This is especially so when one considers Turkey also has further referendum rallies planned in both Germany and Austria (again, neither of which are particularly welcome).
So far as an intrinsically crystal-clear understanding of Dutch governance and politics is concerned, this book sheds more than cohesive light on a nation, normally associated with that of political calm; particularly when aligned with an ethos of cooperation and compromise on the part of citizens and politicians on the key issues for parliamentary debate.

With immigration on the rise, these 287 pages (excluding Preface, Further Reading, Bibliography and Index) do much to substantiate how and why the Dutch electorate has become ever more unpredictable.

Written by two professors at the country’s respected Leiden University, Governance and Politics Of The Netherlands makes for a most informative, interesting and altogether timely read. That said, following the outcome of tomorrow’s Dutch election, it remains to be seen if it’ll need updating – almost immediately.

David Marx

Tallinn Manual 2.0

9781316630372

Tallinn Manual 2.0 –
On The International Law Applicable to Cyber Operations
By the NATO Cooperative Cyber Centre of Excellence
Cambridge University Press – £49.99

Given the high-octane shenanigans currently taking place amid the Washington corridors of prime narcissistic persuasion – at the vanguard of which stands the vile, most bigoted and unpleasant leader the supposed Free World has ever known – surely it can only be considered a good thing that we have an open book such as this.

A publication which delves into the cyber operati of disingenuous fakedom.

Vladimir Putin’s laire if you will; aided and wholeheartedly abetted by such unsavoury characters as Donald of the Trump, Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions and dare one come totally clean, the UK’s very own elderly Hitler Youth in disguise, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove.

That’s right folks, the cryptic consortium of Lies Are Us.

Not there so much for the choosing, but rather, the total perversion of (their own miscalculated) justice. All the more reason that Tallinn Manual 2.0 – On The International Law Applicable to Cyber Operations needs to be roundly and justifiably applauded. As not only does it expand upon the highly influential first edition by extending its coverage of the international law governing cyber warfare to peacetime legal regimes, it is also the product of a four-year follow-on project by a new group of 19 renowned international law experts.

In addressing such topics as sovereignty, State responsibility, human rights, and the law of air, space, and the sea. Tallinn Manual 2.0 identifies 154 ‘black letter’ rules governing cyber operations and provides extensive commentary on each rule. In so doing, it further represent the views of experts in their personal capacity by way of benefiting from the unofficial input of many States and over 50 peer reviewers.

Part I, ‘General International law and cyberspace,’ Part II, ‘Specialised regimes of international law and cyberspace,’ Part III, ‘International peace and security and cyber activities’ and Part IV, ‘The law of cyber armed conflict,’ these 562 pages (excluding International Group of Experts and Participants, a Foreword by the President of the Republic of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a further Foreword by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, Bert Koenders, Short Form Citations, Table of Concordance and a Glossary) are, if nothing else, an eye opener of epic, cyber-global proportion(s).

A mere tip of the iceberg of which is conveyed by Professor Michael N. Schmitt in the Introduction: ”The Tallinn Manual’s focus was on cyber operations involving the use of force and those that occur in the context of armed conflict. Although such cyber operations will typically be more worrisome from a national security perspective than those that occur in peacetime, States have to deal with cyber issues that lie below the use of force threshold on a daily basis. There,in 2013, the NATO CCD COE launched a follow-on initiative t expand the Manual’s scope to include the public international law governing cyber operations during peacetime. To do so, it convened a new International Group of Experts consisting of scholars and practitioners with expertise in the legal regimes implicated by peace-time cyber activities.”

From such chapters as ‘Sovereignty,’ ‘Due diligence,”Jurisdiction,’ ‘Obligations of States for internationally wrongful acts,’ ‘Diplomatic and consular law,’ ‘International telecommunications law,’ ‘The law of armed conflict generally,’ ‘Conduct of hostilities,’ ‘Perfidy and improper use,’ ‘Certain persons, objects, and activities,’ ‘Occupation’ and ‘Neutrality,’ these nineteen chapters diligently deliver on some sort of unspoken promise: ”The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs generously convened States in the Hague Process and has agreed to further support dissemination of the Tallinn Manual 2.0 following its publication. This contribution by the Dutch government helped ensure the Manual is grounded in State understandings of the law and that it addresses the practical challenges States face on a daily basis.”

Undeniably grotesque as the sad thing is, especially in this day and age of the Trump, scholarly thought and consideration by experts would appear to account for nada. That’s not to say this book is without value or without merit (nothing could be further from the truth), but it’s most certainly something worth bearing in mind as we witness humanity slowly self-implode.

David Marx

The Taming Of Free Speech

speech

The Taming Of Free Speech –
America’s Civil Liberties Compromise
By Laura Weinrib
Harvard University Press – £33.95

When civil liberty becomes wholly compartmentalised and chartered as if a cheap and convenient package holiday, one ought to intrinsically know that dark clouds will eventually emerge.
Not by chance.
Not as if deemed there were ever a choice.
Not unless one were to contend with the recent hurdy-gurdy drone of contemptuous, spurious, US inflicted denial thereof. In other words, the bonhomie of Washington’s brazen eradication from that of its own written constitution.

So roll over Thomas Jefferson and tell Donald Trump the news: read this book. Read it at your peril.

Indeed, embrace The Taming Of Free Speech – America’s Civil Liberties Compromise for all it’s worth; as within its eight chapters, authoress Laura Weinrib subliminally invites America’s current administration, to grapple with the gauntlet of its own, high-octane induced folly. The triggered trajectory of which, all but the most inflammatory assistance of the President’s (current) Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon; continues to openly condone America’s roller-coaster of ride of complicit division. The constitutionally decided upon mandate, or so we’re told, whereby nationalism – that all permissive illness inherited from only God knows where – is now allowed to run amok with all the unqualified persistence that only rabid blind faith entails.

Presumably, Kellyanne Conway, ye unleashed Rottweiler of America’s buzzing news networks, would wholeheartedly disagree; but then she probably hasn’t yet gotten round to reading: ”the story of how the radical vision of civil liberties was born and how, very quickly it transformed.” Of how ”at its centre is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which framed popular and judicial understandings of civil liberties during the interwar period and after.”

It’s hard to imagine Conway and her ilk even having heard of ACLU and that which it represents; all the more reason these 328 pages (excluding Abbreviations, Notes, Acknowledgements and Index) are to be nurtured as if a mode of historical, behavioural instruction: ”[…] historians have long recognized the central role of anti-Red repression in the early annals of free speech, and they have underscored the labour leanings of early civil liberties advocates. Yet most have treated such connections as incidental to, even incongruous with, the underlying civil liberties project. With the modern First Amendment as their benchmark, they have regarded the radicalism of the civil liberties leadership as an impetus for attacking sedition laws or a precursor to a principled speech-protective position: a galvanizing source of outrage over viewpoint discrimination and selective enforcement, but ultimately a bias to be expunged, not an independent motivating vision. Perhaps as a consequence, the dominant literature on the interwar ascendance of expressive freedom has not adequately explained why or how the modern understanding of civil liberties triumphed.”

The key word here being ‘triumphed,’ which partially explains why if nothing else, this book is capable of packing a mighty elongated punch, right into the face of Trump’s very own misconceived trump-card. Namely that of free speech itself – from whoever, from wherever – will not prevail.
Suffice to say, he’s wrong.
And in time, all those myopic, perhaps horribly misguided rust-belt voters with a penchant for the easy way out, will realise as much.

So too, hopefully, will the President’s prime Brexit compadres, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and to a lesser degree, Theresa May herself.
All of three of whom are at the moment, embarrassingly vying for the big man’s attention.
As if the current cull of Rule, Britannia, weren’t enough.
As if a menagerie of Britain’s lionised lambs ever had it in them to actually know any better.
As if unconditionally led into the epoch of the country’s own disparaging, pending slaughter – ever ”more dreadful from each foreign stroke.” A lullaby of sorts, which, unbeknown to all but the most wizened electorate of sanctified democracy minus free speech, has now been unduly lulled unto a vicious knee-jerk reaction of vainglorious, hateful countenance.

To which many have already pronounced: let the vengeance commence, despite the fact that in: ”in the early decades of the twentieth century, business leaders condemned civil liberties as masks for subversive activity, while labour sympathizers denounced the courts as shills for industrial interests […]. As self-proclaimed partisans in the class war, the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union promoted a bold vision of free speech that encompassed unrestricted picketing and boycotts. Over time, however, they subdued their rhetoric to attract adherents and prevail in court […]. Conversely, conservatives eager to insulate industry from government regulation pivoted to embrace civil liberties, despite their radical roots. The resulting transformation in constitutional jurisprudence – often understood as a triumph for the Left – was in fact a calculated bargain.”

A bargain, surely worth it’s weight within the fine parameters of free- speech-actuated gold?

With such chapter headings as ‘Freedom of Speech in Class War Time,’ ‘The Citadel of Civil Liberty,’ ‘The Right of Agitation,’ ‘Old Left, New Rights,’ ‘The Civil Liberties Consensus’ and ‘Free Speech of Fair Labour,’ The Taming Of Free Speech – America’s Civil Liberties Compromise is an overtly bold and authoritative account of the history of free speech in America. Its assimilation thereof, might in some quarters be considered a little too dense, perhaps a little too dry for its own good; but given Weinrib’s acute account of what is clearly a complex subject, this is by the by.

As Mark Tushnet of Harvard Law School substantiates: ”Weinrib’s important reconstruction of the history of our notions of free expression shows how an idea first offered on behalf of labour radicals became transformed into a general account of why all dissent from the conventional should be protected.”

All in all, a major contribution to civil liberties; especially right now – in 2017.

David Marx

From The War On Poverty to the War on Crime

poverty

From The War On Poverty to the War on Crime – The Making of Mass Incarceration in America
By Elizabeth Hinton
Harvard University Press – £22.95

One cannot help but wonder how America’s new president, Donald of Trump Towers, would react to this book. A thought, to which all intents and perpetual purposes of incarceration, is a mode of impossible and inexorable practice, set in place some fifty years ago by President Lyndon Johnson.

Known as the ”War on Crime,” lest it be said that prison cells, unlawful arrest and law enforcement agencies have, for said time period, functioned as the ”central engine of American inequality.” Inequality, being the key word here, as one need look no further than what is happening in the United States right now. In 2017.

A country where one in every thirty-one adults is under some form of penal control, including one in eleven African American men.

It does indeed make one wonder how the supposed land of the free can boast of being the world’s largest prison system; especially when one takes into account that it has more wealth, more oil, more cars, more food-stocks, indeed, more of everything than anywhere else in the world.

Including more guns. And THEREIN lies the fundamental answer to a problem that is clearly out of control.

Out of control, because many would also agree with regards the trajectorial caveat, that America has more than its fair share of stupid people – many of whom buy the guns. Yet, perhaps more importantly still: the country is inundated with greed.

More greed than anywhere you care to name. Not to mention division, whereby most white people automatically receive a far, far bigger share of the pie when compared to their African American compatriots. So it’s hardly surprising the country has more people locked up than any other nation; less surprising still that there are more African Americans in jail than any other racial group. A social breakdown upon which From The War On Poverty to the War on Crime – The Making of Mass Incarceration in America sheds an abundance of clear and refreshing light.

For instance, in the chapter ‘The War On Black Poverty,’ Elizabeth Hinton writes: ”Declining job prospects for African Americans during the second half of the twentieth century exacerbated segregation and poverty in the neighbourhoods where displaced southern agricultural workers congregated. As 2 million white residents left cities for suburban areas, 1.5 million black Americans migrated to industrial centres in the North and West, joined by Latinos and white Appalachians, and moved into the neighbourhoods previously occupied by European immigrants and their children. By the early 1960s, 31 percent of African Americans lived in twelve northern cities, their living conditions characterized by the isolation, marginalization, and exclusion that stemmed from segregation.”

Segregation: a social stasis that throughout these nine chapters, is comprehensively addressed time again as being the most fundamental problem in American society today.
As well as yesterday.
A problem it would seem, that has, and continues to be shamefully exacerbated by society at large and Washington’s domestic policy: ”Under Richard Nixon and his successors, welfare programmes fell by the wayside while investment in policing and punishment expanded. Anticipating future crime, policymakers urged states to build new prisons and introduced law enforcement measures into urban schools and public housing, turning neighbourhoods into targets of police surveillance.

By the 1980s, crime control and incarceration dominated national responses to poverty and inequality. The initiatives of that decade were less a sharp departure than the full realisation of the punitive transformation of urban policy implemented by Republicans and Democrats alike since the 1960s.”

These 340 pages (excluding comprehensive Notes, Acknowledgements and Index), alert us to a problem that has been going on for far too long. So long in fact, it may well end up destroying America. Although it does seem as if Donald Trump is already doing quite well on that score – without any outside assistance whatsoever.

As author of The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South, Matthew Lassiter has said, this is: ”an outstanding book – clear, compelling, and essential. Hinton excavates the deep roots of police militarisation, surveillance of minority communities, and the punitive shift in urban policy. Her argument that liberals were key architects of the war on crime is a necessary and even urgent corrective to conventional thinking about mass incarceration.”

So take note Messrs. Trump and Pence, and add this very fine book to your ever increasing stack of necessary, bedtime reading.

David Marx

The Rise Of The Far Right

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The Rise Of The Far Right –
Populist Shifts and ‘Othering’
Edited by Gabriella Lazaridis, Giovanna Campani
& Annie Benveniste
Palgrave Macmillan – £53.99

”From the 1960s onwards, influences coming directly from the neo-Nazi world, like the Odal or the Celtic cross, the symbol of an SS division, started to fascinate the youngest component of Italian neo-fascism. Introducing these symbols signified a detachment from Italian fascism and a new interest in Nazis and Eastern European fascism. The Romanian Codreanu and the Belgian Degrelle became reference points, together with Julius Evola, whose vision of the ‘tradition’ as a timeless entity running through the history of ancient times led to the discovery of the Nordic sagas (and indirectly to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings).”

Does the above not highlight the preposterous depths to which the fanatical Far Right will stoop, in order to lend the tiniest thread of credence to their wildly shambolic and dangerous ideology?

Who, in their right mind of appropriated sanity, would even want to be associated with the symbol of an SS division? Let alone embrace it? And to what degree have these sad and utterly misguided people been drained of all self-worth, all sense of self-value; to feel obliged in commandeering Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings into their warped category of humanistic hate?

Will there be no let up?

Will they watch Denial – the new film release which centres on the legal battle for historical truth (between university professor Deborah E Lipstadt and the historian David Irving)?

Of course they won’t.

Just like they won’t read this excellent book.
Although if anyone should read it, it’s surely the likes of Beppe Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five-Star Movement), Marine Le Pen’s Front National, Geert Wilders’ PVV (Partij voor de Vrijheid) and every member of Nigel Farage’s vile UKIP.

The latter of whom are brazenly deciphered in the final chapter of The Rise Of The Far Right – Populist Shifts and ‘Othering,’ where Gabriella Lazaridis and Vasiliki Tsagkroni write: ”The UKIP logo is a pound sign (£), with many activists wearing a gold lapel badge, opposition to the Euro being obviously necessary to the party’s euro-scepticism. Another symbol used is the pint of beer and the fag (cigarette): a number of young activists we interviewed mentioned the pint as something that should be in one’s hand. Party leader Nigel Farage’s most obvious image is that of being in the pub with a pint of bitter or a cigarette in his hand, or both. With its references to elements of British culture, this plays into ideas of Britishness, the ordinary against the elite and freedom from bureaucracy (UKIP would repeal the smoking ban). On occasion UKIP have been described as the ‘BNP in blazers”’ (‘Majority Identitarian Populism in Britain’).

This measured and more than balanced description of UKIP, more or less sets the tonality of these 266 pages as a whole.

With such chapter headings as ‘Neo-Fascism from the Twentieth Century to the Third Millennium: The Case of Italy,’ ‘Far-Right Movements in France: The Principal Role of Front National and the Rise of Islamophobia,’ ‘Right-wing Populism in Denmark: People, Nation and Welfare in the Construction of the ‘Other’ and ‘Posing for Legitimacy? Identity and Praxis of Far-Right Populism in Greece’ (among others), this book traverses nigh every current political persuasion of ‘otherness.’ A mode of thinking, which, if you really think about, harks back to the medieval burning of innocent women who were deemed to be witches.

With the advent of the deplorable Donald Trump as President of the United States, this most enlightening and essential of books, really couldn’t be more timely.

David Marx