“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” ― Mary Harris (Mother) Jones

Posts tagged ‘book review’

Book Review: The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

ShockDoctrineIf you’re part of the 1%, you’ll hate this book. If, on the other hand, you’re wondering how it is that the rich are getting richer while the middle class gets poorer, this is the place to start.

The Shock Doctrine is an historical review of how the brand of no-holds-barred free-market capitalism advocated by economist Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics, with the able assistance of the CIA, the IMF and the World Bank, have systematically destroyed budding democracies worldwide, brutally murdering and torturing those who would challenge them, in the name of profit.

“Some of the most infamous human rights violations of this era, which have tended to be viewed as sadistic acts carried out by anti-democratic regimes, were in fact either committed with the deliberate intent of terrorizing the public or actively harnessed to prepare the ground for the introduction of radical free-market reforms.” (Page 11)

From the 1950s, when the CIA overthrew the democratically elected president of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 on false pretenses, the steady erosion of democracy both in the US and worldwide has brought us to the present situation where 1% of the world’s population controls half of its wealth. To aid in this imperialist campaign, the CIA has trained hundreds of well-paid “revolutionaries” in the methods of torture the world got a firsthand look at with the exposure of Abu Ghraib. The official story was this was a case of over-zealousness. It wasn’t. It’s standard procedure. It’s happening right now at Guantanamo and likely in any number of “black sites” in distant and not so distant places.

As we speak, a group of billionaires, including Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and the Waltons, are spending millions to destroy free public education. The GOP and neoliberal Democrats have been trying to privatize Social Security for decades. This isn’t just ideology. It’s a well-planned agenda for eliminating all government-supported programs.

“The ultimate goal for the corporations at the center of the complex is to bring the model of for-profit government, which advances so rapidly in extraordinary circumstances, into the ordinary and day-to-day functioning of the state – in effect, to privatize the government.” (Page 15)

That agenda is moving forward using “… The policy Trinity – the elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending…” (Page 18)

With each incursion into eliminating the possibility that people who have suffered under one form of colonialism or another for centuries will manage to take ownership of their own countries, the Friedmanites who ousted the Keynesians responsible for the New Deal and the development of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have replaced popularly elected governments with well-financed thugs willing to sell their countries’ assets to the highest bidder. If a few thousand peasants die or are murdered in the process, that’s of no concern to anyone involved. As long as the corporate shills follow the rules, they can live in sybaritic luxury as long as there are wire transfers and suitcases full of cash to be had.

“First, governments must remove all rules and regulations standing in the way of the accumulation of profits. Second, they should sell off any assets they own the corporations could be running at a profit. And third, they should dramatically cut back funding of social programs…. Taxes when they must exist, should be low, and rich and poor should be taxed at the same flat rate. Corporation should be free to sell their products anywhere in the world, and government should make no effort to protect local industries or local ownership. All prices, including the price of labor, should be determined by the market. There should be no minimum wage. For privatization, Friedman offered up healthcare, the post office, education, retirement pensions, even national parks.” (Page 69)

This book came highly recommended by several people, and if the current disaster that US democracy is becoming matters, it’s essential one read this book to understand the mindset of those seeking to destroy it. Where the neoliberal agenda has been imposed, the only ones to benefit are the corporations, the wealthy, and the thugs they recruit to carry out their plans. Most frightening, much of the logistical functions of the US military have been handed over to private corporations like Halliburton and Blackwater, which are training enough mercenaries to create private armies with the full cooperation of Congress and, apparently, the judicial and executive branches of the US government.

I never studied economics, and while I’ve broadened my knowledge base in that area a fair amount recently, I still appreciate when an author can present important and necessary information in a way that’s accessible to the amateur. Ms. Klein does that very well, and having finished her book, I can only hope it’s not too late to save ourselves from the plutocrats who want to turn the world into a corporate oligarchy.

Review: The Pirate Hunter by Richard Zacks

Pirate HunterIn the annals of piratical history, the name of William Kidd is prominent next to those of Edward Teach and Anne Bonney. In this excellent piece of investigative history, Richard Zacks makes it clear that, for all his faults, Captain Kidd got a bad rap, whereas a contemporary who was an unrepentant gangster of the high seas thrived.

Hired by four British noblemen at the instigation of a hustler named Robert Livingston to sail to the Indian Ocean to hunt pirates, Kidd wasn’t even out of the Atlantic before he ran afoul of one of the worst examples of a British naval officer, who promptly (and with the eager support of the East India Company) declared him a pirate. When, months later, Kidd’s crew mutinied and joined the aforementioned unrepentant gangster for a real campaign of piracy, Kidd’s subsequent actions to survive were interpreted by everyone in authority as further evidence of his crimes.

Mr. Zacks has a thorough grasp of both the history and the cultures in which his vindication of William Kidd takes place, referring to it in one instance as “a time of much religion and little charity.” He describes the world in which social position and money were as great an advantage as they are today with detail that is at once excruciating and as fascinating as the proverbial train wreck.

That Kidd’s story could be said to parallel that of any number of possibly innocent men currently held in our own prison at Guantanamo is telling. Held incommunicado, the proof of his innocence “misfiled” and not found until two hundred years later, his very hanging botched, Kidd still managed to cling to his honor and his dignity (with one or two lapses) in the face of political machinations and royal ass-covering. If you love history, and especially if you’re fascinated by the world of pirates, this is a book that belongs on your shelf.

Review: The Incidental Spy by Libby Fischer Hellmann

First, I must apologize to Ms. Hellmann for the lateness of this review. I can only plead work and conventions. And laundry.

When it comes to the plight of Jewish refugees during the Second World War, the focus tends to be on their escape or attempts to do so. In Ms. Hellmann’s new novella from The Red Herring Press, Lena Bentheim has reached safety in Chicago, but at the cost of the rest of her family and her beloved Josef. Through a combination of luck and determination, she lands a job as a secretary in the U. of Chicago physics department, falls in love and has a son.

The department has taken on a new top-secret project, and Lena’s husband is in the front row of scientists working on it. Then, Karl dies in a traffic accident, and Lena must return to work. The department welcomes her back. Life is a struggle, but she’ll do what she must for her son, Max.

Until the night Max goes missing. Suddenly, Lena is forced to spy on her coworkers, supplying the Nazi regime with information on the experiments in atomic fission that will become known as the Manhattan Project.

It’s impossible not to want to jump in and help Lena. A stranger in a country where her religion and her country of origin are suspect, where she has no one she can trust or turn to, and where the life of her child hangs on choices she must make against her will and her conscience, she is a character one can embrace without a qualm. Ms. Hellmann places her in a seemingly impossible situation where she must either find the courage to battle her blackmailers or accept the treason they demand she perform for them. The suspense in this superb novella is more truly in that internal struggle than in the outer one of spies and traitors.

The Incidental Spy is available in print and, shortly, in ebook on Amazon. I received an advance review copy from Ms. Hellmann for review purposes. I’m delighted I did.