Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Crisis Of Conscience

Crisis of Conscience –

Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud

By Tom Muellert

Atlantic Books – £25.00

A time comes when silence is betrayal.

(Martin Luther King Jr – ‘Beyond Vietnam’)

Resolved, that it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds of misdemeanours committed by officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.

                                    (US Congress, 1777)

This book fundamentally forces us to embrace and confront fundamental questions about the balance between free speech and state secrecy, along with that between individual morality and corporate power.

Really big stuff in other words, which, when one considers we currently have two of the worst leaders ever known to humankind at the helm of the English speaking world (the overtly terrible Donald Trump in the US and the equally ghastly Boris Johnson in UK), would rightly suggest Crisis of Conscience – Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud could not be more timely.

Not to mention appropriate, as nigh most of its 537 pages (excluding Notes and Index) traverse a-number-of repercussions for which said two may not be solely responsible, but most certainly did/do not help.

For instance, in chapter Three’s ‘The Money Dance,’ the gospel according to one Arvin Lewis, vice-president of Patient Business and Financial Services at Halifax Hospital in Daytona Beach, Florida, openly subscribes to the following:

The only thing better than cash is lots of it.

The system is a beast and it is always hungry (for cash)

We do not have any problems that cash can’t fix.

Regardless of what the bank commercial says, I did want to grow up to be a money man.

Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get, and I just want some cash.

Clearly, a despicable disciple of the most-ghastly belief and persuasion; each of the seven chapters herein contain an abundance of just such ideological imbalance and greed induced rhetoric. In and of itself, this goes some way in substantiating what David Hume professed in The Natural History of Religion in 1757: ”The corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst.

This is something, which if you really care to think about it is where great swathes of today’s US finds itself, as touched upon in the book’s final chapter (‘The Banana Republic Wasn’t Built in A Day’): ‘’Yet in Trump’s America – in our America over the last quarter century […] behaviour has routinely been justified with pragmatic talk of free markets, deregulation, costs and benefits, and of running government like a business. We’ve dubbed our homegrown oligarchs billionaires, and now name buildings and libraries after them, let them secrete their wealth in offshore tax havens, allow them to pay politicians unlimited funds to buy access and push through the fiscal ‘reforms’ and government downsizing they cherish, to buy sports teams for which they build new stadiums with tax payer money, complete with sky boxes from which they can look down upon the taxpaying multitudes. And many of us revere these homegrown oligarchs as paragons of the American Dream.’’

Throughout Crisis of Conscience, Tom Mueller fully investigates the rise of whistleblowing amid a series of controversial cases, as drawn from the many worlds of healthcare and other businesses throughout both Wall Street and Washington. By drawing on in-depth interviews with more than two-hundred so-called whistle-blowers and the trailblazing lawyers who prepared them for battle (along with government watchdogs and politicians, cognitive scientists and intelligence analysts); Mueller essentially determines what inspires some to speak out and others to remain complicit in their silence.

In fact, we come to realize that whistle-blowers per se ‘’are the freethinking, outspoken citizens whom we must emulate if democracy is to survive.’’

So, to describe Crisis of Conscience as very tough and as such, very brave (and American), would not be too far off the mark. It is indeed as written in Kirkus Reviews: ‘’Engrossingly examines the ethics, mechanics, and reverberations of whistleblowing of all kinds, emphasizing how bitterly controversial the practice remains, posing a clash between group loyalty and individual conscience… Superb reporting on brave people who decided, ‘’It would have been criminal for me not to act.’’’’

David Marx

The Extreme Gone Mainstream

extreme

The Extreme Gone Mainstream –
Commercialization & The Far Right Youth Culture In Germany
By Cynthia Miller-Idriss
Princeton University Press – £24.00

          Nazis don’t look like Nazis anymore.

               Justin, seventeen year-old carpentry apprentice
               (‘Branding Identity’)

          Mi Casa is not your fucking Casa.

              2016 T-shirt from the Erik and Sons collection
              (‘Global Symbols, Local Bans’)

It really is disconcerting to ascertain, let alone fully comprehend that this book is so uncomfortably and uncontrollably pertinent to what is currently going on within certain sections of western society.
The US for instance, which is referenced throughout.
Although, as its secondary title confirms, these 214 pages (excluding List of Organizational Acronyms, Archival Sources, Preface and Acknowledgements and Index) essentially focus on current day German society.

What with recent deplorable events which took place in the former East German city of Chemnitz, and with more predicted, this book couldn’t be more jaggedly acute, even if its authoress, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, tried her utmost.

Each of the six chapters (the latter three with such pernicious titles as ‘Dying For A Cause, Causing Death,’ ‘Global Symbols, Local Bans’ and Soldier, Sailor, Rebel, Rule Breaker’) wholly tackle and elaborate upon the degree to which many young Germans openly embrace Nazi ideology.

Indeed, as evidenced at Chemnitz just under a fortnight ago – where mobs of young German youths were openly filmed and photographed sieg heiling the police (an act which has throughout Germany, been outlawed and strenuously banned for years) – The Extreme Gone Mainstream – Commercialization & The Far Right Youth Culture In Germany, powerfully addresses that which could be construed as being the fervent kernel of hatred.

As such is wholeheartedly substantiated by the mere fact that Miller-Idriss immediately underlines as much, very early on, when she writes: ”Some of the images and comments I discuss in the following book are disturbing and offensive. It wasn’t always easy to look at them, nor to hear the anger and vitriol that some youth communicated when they talked about Muslims, migrants, and others […]. More importantly, the hardest words to listen to are, I believe, the most important ones. It is my strongest belief that we need to understand as much as possible how young people are thinking in order to develop effective strategies to address this kind of hatred.”

The final word, ‘hatred,’ is of course, fundamental here.
Hatred is after all, very powerful.
And very negative.
Although one really does need to ascertain where it comes from; which, in the utmost cold light of day, is either our parents, our politicians, or the media. Or, as is quite often the case, a combination of all three.

One need look no further than Donald Trump – who is the unquestionable, absolute pristine epitome of all three.

As the singer/songwriter Billy Bragg once said: ”So join the struggle while you may/The revolution is just a T-shirt away.” which, to all intents and unfortunate purposes, The Extreme Gone Mainstream surely clarifies. Unfortunate, not because of what Bragg happened to state, but because, as is often the case, so much of today’s youth are fully embracing that which they are (sometimes subliminally) force fed via populist, tyrannical, scapegoatism.
By the harrowing likes of the aforementioned Trump for instance.

One need only dip into a mere few pages of this overtly enlightening, and rather excellent book, to ascertain as much.

David Marx

Us Vs Them: The Failure of Globalisation

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707

Us Vs Them: The Failure of Globalisation
By Ian Bremmer
Portfolio Penguin – £14.99

Add the migrant crisis that brought the largest influx of homeless people since World War II, many of them Muslims fleeing violence in the Middle East and North Africa, and Europeans begin to feel much less secure about the future of their nations. Recent terrorist attacks, many like those in Paris (2015), Brussels (2016), and Manchester (2017) carried out by Muslims born inside Europe, have added accelerant to the political fire.

                                                                       (‘Winners and Losers’)

For as long as there are the likes of Venezuela’s Chavez, Turkey’s Erdogan and America’s Trump shouting that their utterly vile, nonsensical rhetoric from the rooftops of so-called protectionist populism, there will always be an abundance of uninformed people, readily prepared to believe them.

As we have clearly seen in the case of Venezuela, Chavez triggered disastrous economic effects, while so far as Turkey is concerned, Erdogan hasn’t so much as inaugurated an economic disaster, but more of a highly contentious and inflammatory, nationalistic one.
Whereas the US; well what more is there to say?
The country appears to be in the grip of spinning out of control – so well done Donald.

In all three instances, globalisation has played an ever increasing part, which is what accounts for this recent book by Ian Bremmer (whose previous publications include The J Curve, Every Nation for Itself, The End of the Free Market and Superpower) being so pertinent – and as a slight reason thereof: totally readable and totally convincing.

Right from the very outset of the Introduction to Us Vs Them: The Failure of Globalisation, Bremmer’s language and example(s) nigh immediately entice the draw reader to continue reading:

”Why do Palestinians throw rocks? To attract attention? To improve their lives? To make progress toward creation of a Palestinian state? They throw rocks because they want others to see that they’ve had enough, that they can’t be ignored, and that they can break things. Voting isn’t helping them. Outsiders don’t care. Where are the opportunities to bring about change? There is nothing left but to throw rocks.

In that sense, there will soon be Palestinians all over the world. Workers everywhere fear lost jobs and wages as a shifting global economy and technological change leave them behind. Citizens fear surging waves of strangers who alter the face and voice of the country they know. They fear terrorists and criminals who kill for reasons no one can understand. They fear that government cannot or will not protect them. Gripped by anxiety, they get angry. To make themselves seen, heard, and felt, they start to throw rocks.”

The recent upsurge in (predominantly European) fear and anxiety, is herein put into context immediately. There’s no beating about the bush, no diversionary explanation; nor, as Malcolm X oft used to say: no flim-flam. Which all in all, accounts for Us Vs Them: The Failure of Globalisation being a most absorbing read.

David Marx

The Right Amount of Panic

panic

The Right Amount of Panic –
How Women TradeFreedom for Safety
By F.Vera-Gray – £11.99

The silence of women has been a cumulative process. Conceptually and materially excluded from the production of knowledge, their meanings and explanations have been systematically blocked and their invisibility has been compounded.

                                                   Dale Spencer on ‘man-made language’
                                                   ‘It’s all part of growing up.’

I would have to say: a lot of what has been written herein, as well as a lot of the examples used, both confirm and conform to that of the everyday obvious.

Endless examples of clothing – that should or shouldn’t be – worn for example, do after a while, become a tad predictable. Everyone knows that if a women dresses somewhat provocatively, she may (or may not) incur the wrath of wolf-whistles from bone-head-men. Or perhaps worse.

It’s not right, but it’s also not new, which is where The Right Amount of Panic – How Women Trade Freedom for Safety kind of lets itself down.

The book regurgitates so much of what we, as a society, already/instinctively know: ”I do augment my everyday life […] I always check men and watch their behaviour. If I’m on the bus or whatever. It doesn’t happen so much in the daytime, though my minor assault happened in the day so now I’m quite suspicious in the daytime anyway because I realise if it can happen in a fucking takeaway at one in the afternoon on a Sunday in bright daylight and that was just completely, nothing of what you expect I guess, what you expect it’s going to be. But yeah, the things that I do, if I think about my experience of the day, I’m wary of most men. Really, until proven otherwise, if I’m really honest” (‘The right amount of panic’)

As claustrophobic and unpleasant as this example undoubtedly is, it is again, nothing new. Just like the behaviour of certain (ghastly) men is nothing new.

The mere fact that the President of the United States has molested a long trail of women for instance, is, in and of itself, sickening beyond redemption. But, so far as (the ghastly) Donald Trump is concerned, one really does have to consider the degree to which the parameters within the media has nigh extenuated the complicity of American male voters. AND, female voters.

Suffice to say, this may be a somewhat different scenario to that which F.Vera-Gray has addressed within these 156 pages (excluding Participant List, Notes, References and Index), but it is something I believe to be highly pertinent to the subject at hand – as well as an issue that may have made The Right Amount of Panic a little more viable.

If not a little more readable.

David Marx

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

 

Stalin: Waiting For Hitler

stalin

Stalin: Waiting For Hitler – 1928-1941
By Stephen Kotkin
Allen Lane – £35.00

It cannot be called virtue to kill one’s fellow citizens, betray one’s friends, be without faith, without pity, without religion; by these methods one may indeed gain power, but not glory.

          Niccolo Machiavelli (The Prince, 1513)

Here he is, the greatest and most important of our contemporaries… In his full size he towers over Europe and Asia, over the past and the present. He is the most famous and yet almost the least known man in the world.

          Henri Barbusse (Stalin, 1935)

Can any self be fixed on the page for more than a few moments – or is the truest sense of character caught only on the move?

          Boyd Maunsell (Portraits From Life, 2018)

To perhaps consider this book a testament to analytical thoroughness, would be an understatement. To perhaps consider it as a biography of someone who was forever on the move – having wrought both undeniable (social) change and suffering to the largest landmass on the planet – might just as equally evolve unto colossal understatement.

Having not long read Boyd Maunsell’s Portraits From Life, I cannot help but feel that it is increasingly and idiosyncratically clear that ”there is far too much of life to be contained in any narrative.” Wherein many ”biographers cherish the illusive essences which define characters […]. A character can be caught in a sentence or phrase, or it can be endlessly redrawn over hundreds of pages” (Oxford University Press).

At 909 pages – excluding the most extensive Notes and Bibliography I have ever come across (not to mention a Preface, List of Maps, Credits and Index) – Stalin: Waiting For Hitler – 1928-1941 is surely to be read with an underlying knowledge that its author, Stephen Kotkin, has approached his subject with all the adroit acumen one would normally associate with a propulsive quest for the truth. A quest, which, given the most complex of ideological barbarity to which its subject wholeheartedly subscribed, really, really is no mean feat.

Kotkin himself concludes the end of the first chapter (‘Equal to the Myth’) with the words: Stalin was a myth, but he proved equal to the myth.”

Just as the unspeakably unpleasant, if not grotesque excuse for a president, Donald Trump, currently proves equal to that of his own egocentric, inflammatory folly; Stalin most definitely proved equal to the myth of his own (nigh impeccable) design. As if some sort of perplexing providence were enjoying a field day of reflexive history. A deadly, tempestuous hybrid of history at that: ”Like the twisted spine of Shakespeare’s Richard III, it is tempting to find in such deformities the wellsprings of bloody tyranny: torment, self-loathing, inner rage, bluster, a mania for adulation.”

‘A mania for adulation,’ which, much like today’s Trump, was in and of itself, a self-perpetuating myth; wholeheartedly stepped within the colossal realm of far too much considered violence and vendetta. Although the prime difference betwixt Stalin and Trump is that the former ”radiated charisma” (albeit ”the charisma of dictatorial power”).

As much partially explains why one cannot help but agree with The Times‘ George Walden, when he writes: ”one of the tragedies of Kotkin’s book is its eerie and troubling relevance today.” Indeed.

With immense authority and terrific aplomb, Stephen Kotkin has herein written and compiled perhaps the benchmark of a work, by which all other works on the subject will surely be compared – for many years to come.

Compartmentalized into three distinct parts (‘Equal To The Myth,’ ‘Terror As Statecraft’ and ‘Three-Card Monte’), along with a Coda (‘Little Corner, Saturday, June 21, 1941’) each of these fourteen chapters bequeath the reader with yet another saga over which Stalin fundamentally presided.

Akin to a literary monster with yet countless more heads to essentially come to historical terms with, this book enables the reader to refer to almost any part – with fleeting random – and still become both enlightened and entranced at the degree to which Stalin unashamedly moved. Not to mention of course, the undeniable effervescence with which Kotkin is able to keep unbelievable, political pace.

Yet believable it is.
Even when addressing many of Stalin’s opposing cohorts – be they Russian, American, British or indeed German.

For instance. Chapter eleven – simply entitled ‘Pact’ – opens with the following two quotes:

In his present mood, the PM [Neville Chamberlain] says he will resign rather than sign alliance with Soviet.

          Sir Alexander Cadogan
          (British permanent undersecretary for foreign affairs,
          private diary entry, May 20, 1939)

Hitler: The scum of the earth, I believe?
Stalin: The bloody assassin of the workers, I presume?

          David Low
          ‘Rendevous,’ Evening Standard, September 20, 1939)

If said quotes (alone) weren’t enough to trigger a veritable tsunami of discussion, already on the second page int the chapter, Kotkin addresses the thorny issue of Germany’s Foreign Minister, Joachim Von Ribbentrop (whom unsurprisingly, Hermann Goring had already dubbed ”Germany’s No. 1 parrot”).

In relation to being more than instrumental in devising and convincing Hitler to make a deal with Stalin, the author writes: […] Ribbentrop operated by intuition and strove to be ”radical,” rarely invoking limits (or consequences), which pleased Hitler no end. And what could be more radical, in its way, than a deal with Communist Moscow?”

So no matter from which angle one decides to address the vast trajectory of Stalin: Waiting For Hitler, Stephen Kotkin has a superlative, if not very substantial answer.

Thereby accounting for the second unquestionable instalment of a landmark achievement – the first being its predecessor Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, which, according to Lucy Hughes-Hallett of The New Statesman was ”exhilarating, compelling, terrifying and utterly gripping.”

Lest one forget, this book concludes in 1941- the year Germany invaded Russia – so there is clearly more to come. I for one, can’t wait.

David Marx

The Origins Of Happiness

happy

The Origins Of Happiness –
The Science of Well-Being over the Life Course
By Andrew E. Clark, Sarah Fleche, Richard Layard,
Nattavudh Powdthavee &George Ward
Princeton University Press – £27.95

What matters to people must be the guidelines for our policies.

          Angela Merkel.

Wealth is like seawater. The more we drink, the thirstier we become.

          Schopenhauer

Most people would contest to not really caring about the origins of happiness; but rather, just being happy in the right here, right now. And to a certain degree (or should that read, dilemma?), who can really blame them?

After all, happiness, whatever it may be or however it is perceived and considered – is surely a mere off-shoot of contentment? That altogether ethereal, rather effervescent something, which we all fundamentally strive for throughout our entire lives.

But doesn’t happiness per se, come at a price (and a fairly hefty one at that)?

So far as a multitude of cancerous advertising moguls are concerned, happiness can be both bought and devoured by way of delusional diversion. The so-called American Dream being the perfect example, which is where the above opening quote by Shopenhauer truly comes into play. For ’tis indeed true, that the more seawater we drink, the thirstier we become. This partially explains why so many Americans are burnt out at such a young age.

Not to mention why America just so happens to be one of the most stress induced nations on the planet.

The Origins Of Happiness – The Science of Well-Being over the Life Course, does as such, make for an almighty interesting and persuasive read: ”Our aim is ambitious – it is to revolutionize how we think about human priorities. Inevitably the findings at this stage are approximate. But it is better to be roughly right about what really matters than to be exactly right about what matters less. Our findings should therefore be judged not by comparison with a state of perfect knowledge but with the prevailing ignorance.”

‘The prevailing ignorance’ being the key three words here, as it is something which ought to be considered one of the great scourges of humanity. And ultimately happiness.

Reason being, ignorance – in all its vainglorious glory – has to be (one of) the most profound origins of unhappiness.
Responsible for a multitude of sins.
Whether the crucifixion of he we continue to refer to as having suffered for our sins, the rise of the Nazi Party, Donald Trump, or the heinous, continuing success of The X Factor.
Ignorance is indeed, responsible for so much unhappiness, a prime example being the belief that money will surely obliterate unhappiness.

This book’s second chapter ‘Income’ (its first being ‘Happiness over the Life-Course: What Matters Most?) addresses the dictum which many subscribe to as being the ultimate be all of all things.

To be sure, it opens with the following: ”Does more money buy more happiness? It does, but less than many people might think. There two extreme views, both equally fallacious. On the one hand there are careless studies claiming that money makes no difference. This is certainly wrong, if we are talking about life-satisfaction as the outcome. On the other hand, there are millions of individuals who think that more money would totally change their well being. For most people, this too is a delusion.”

Upon reading the above, many might consider that the five authors herein traipse the easy road by essentially sitting on the literary fence, but this really isn’t so. The rest of the chapter, in fact the book as a whole, delves into far more involved analyses, by way of numerous (statistical) comparisons between Britain, the United States, Germany and Australia; making for a book, which, as it’s secondary title suggests, is as equally scientific in approach as it is sociological.

To quote Princeton University’s Alan Krueger: ”Rooted in the best-available evidence for each stage in life, The Origins Of Happiness provides an ambitious and comprehensive analyses of what leads to a satisfying life, from childhood to old age.”

David Marx