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William Podmore (London United Kingdom)

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Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility
Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility
by Robert Kuttner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.71

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine study proving that 'austerity' policies make things worse, 8 Sept. 2015
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Between 1945 and 1972 economies grew because speculative finance was controlled and because welfare states existed. These were bad years for bond market investors; stock market returns were barely positive. Yet the economies grew more than they did later. What was good for investors was bad for the majority. The monetary chaos of 1972-93 led to the resurgence of market forces, springtime for speculators.

As Kuttner points out, “rising public deficits did not cause the financial collapse; the collapse caused the higher deficits.” “in the absence of vigorous government countermeasures both to prevent excessive speculation before the fact of a collapse and to halt the deflationary spiral afterward, the financial system is still, in modern economic parlance, ‘pro-cyclical’. In a boom, financial engineering underwrites euphoria. In a downturn, credit contracts. Harsh treatment of debt and debtors only exacerbates the general deflation.”

Kuttner observes that since 1993 the EU ‘has become an agent of speculation and austerity.’ “The European Union, now back in recession, provides a laboratory case of why austerity is the wrong cure for the aftermath of a financial collapse.” “The current austerity regime being inflicted on the European Union’s heavily indebted member nations ignores those lessons and deepens the Continent’s distress.”

He warns, “Europe is embracing austerity even more fervently than is the United States. Dangerously oblivious to the brutal lessons of the past century, the nation most fervently promoting belt tightening and a policy of no mercy for debtors is Germany.”

In 2010 Merkel’s Private Sector Initiative forced more austerity on Greece. Her scheme also spread the speculative mania from Greece to Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Ireland could no longer sell its bonds and became the second EU member to need a bailout. Unemployment rose to 15 per cent. The debt/GDP ratio, 25 per cent in 2008, soared to 108 per cent in 2012, due to the costs of bailing out the bankers.

Portugal became the third EU member to need a bailout. In 2012 the Portuguese government cut spending and raised taxes, cutting its deficit. The Commission exulted: “the fiscal adjustment in 2011-12 is remarkable by any standards.” Portugal’s economy shrank by 3.3 per cent that year and unemployment soared to 15 per cent.

We need public borrowing and investing to stimulate the real economy. We need to shield new funds for growth from the demands of old creditors, as in domestic bankruptcy law. Old debt should be written off. By contrast, the IMF and the ECB insist that new money pays the interest on old debts and that no new money goes into growth, on the false premise that debt repayment will reassure private investors so that they will pump in more speculative capital.

We need to put ceilings on the rates paid and charged by banks. India required its banks to deposit their reserves at the central bank to offset their exposure to derivatives. It banned hiding this exposure in off-balance-sheet affiliates.

Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made
Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made
by Richard Rhodes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine study of the war in Spain, 28 Aug. 2015
American author Richard Rhodes has written a fascinating study of the Spanish civil war. He presents it through the eyes of various poets, artists, doctors, nurses, reporters and writers who experienced it.

After the Spanish people voted for democracy in February 1936, rebel generals, led by General Francisco Franco, rallied Moroccan mercenaries and Spanish Foreign Legionaries to overthrow the legitimate elected government.

Hitler and Mussolini at once openly backed Franco’s coup attempt. The British ‘National’ government led by Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and the French social-democratic government led by Premier Leon Blum also backed Franco, but more covertly. As Rhodes writes, “Under pressure from the English, who favoured Franco, Blum decided that non-intervention was the better part of valor.”

Rhodes notes that the fascists brought innovations like the terror-bombing of civilians. Franco’s bombing of Madrid, the Basque country and Barcelona killed 54,000 men, women and children.

By contrast, the Republicans brought medical progress. As Rhodes points out, “Spanish and foreign volunteer doctors made medical advances in blood collection, preservation, and storage; in field surgery; in the efficient sorting of casualties. Fortuitously, these innovations came just in time to save lives not only in Spain but worldwide, among combatants and civilians alike, in the larger war that followed. The Catalan physician Josep Trueta’s method of cleaning, packing, and then protectively casting large wounds in plaster was recently independently rediscovered; in its new incarnation, as vacuum-assisted wound therapy, it is preserving limbs that organisms resistant to antibiotics might otherwise destroy.”

“Sealing open wounds such as compound fractures (the kind with exposed bone) under plaster was a major and lifesaving innovation of the Spanish Civil War. Earlier, during the Great War, a shocking 46 percent of American soldiers who suffered fractures were permanently disabled; 12 percent died. In contrast, in a series of 1,073 cases of infected fractures treated and tracked by the innovative Catalan surgeon Josep Trueta during the Spanish war, 91 percent healed satisfactorily, with a rate of 8.5 percent disabled and only six (0.5 percent) deaths.” Another Catalan doctor, Frederic Duran Jordà, developed the world’s first frontline blood transfusion service.

Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World
Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World
by David Brion Davis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine study of the dire effects of slavery, 27 July 2015
David Brion Davis, the Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University, has written a splendid summary of the history of slavery in the New World.

He sums up, “the peoples of West Africa, as well as those of every maritime nation in western Europe and every colony in the New World, played a part in the creation of the world’s first system of multinational production for what emerged as a mass market – a market for slave-produced sugar, tobacco, coffee, chocolate, dye-stuffs, rice, hemp, and cotton. For four centuries, beginning in the 1400s with Iberian plantation agriculture in the Atlantic sugar island off the African coast, the African slave trade was an integral and indispensable part of European expansion and the settlement of the Americas.”

“the entire New World enterprise depended on the enormous and expandable flow of slave labor from Africa. … By 1820 nearly 10.1 million slaves had departed from Africa for the New World, as opposed to only 2.6 million whites, many of them convicts or indentured servants, who had left Europe. … From 1820 to 1880 the African slave trade, most of it now illegal, continued to ship off from Africa over 2.3 million more slaves, mainly to Brazil and Cuba.”

He points out, “In Paris, on April 4, 1792, the new Legislative Assembly decreed full equal rights for all free blacks and mulattoes in the French colonies. This act, granting full racial equality as a matter of law, was one of the truly great achievements of the French Revolution, but it has seldom been noticed in history textbooks.” And, “on February 4, 1794, the French National Convention outlawed slavery in all the French colonies and guaranteed the rights of citizenship to all men regardless of color.”

Napoleon III and the Liberal leaders William Gladstone and Lord John Russell wanted Britain to join the American civil war on the side of the slaveholding South. Gladstone was the son of the rich absentee owner of thousands of West Indian slaves. Huge mass meetings in Britain forced Lord Palmerston’s Liberal government to turn down the French proposal for joint intervention.

The Afghan Solution: The Inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and How Western Hubris Lost Afghanistan
The Afghan Solution: The Inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and How Western Hubris Lost Afghanistan
by Lucy Morgan Edwards
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Over-optimistic view of the war in Afghanistan, 27 July 2015
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Lucy Edwards worked in Afghanistan from 2000 to 2006 as a journalist, aid worker and EU diplomat. She was a guest of the Haq family for much of this time, and has written an account of Abdul Haq’s career.

Haq was an anti-Soviet tribal landlord and warlord. He was a leader in the war of the 1980s against the only progressive government Afghanistan has ever had. In 1986 he led a delegation of Afghans to meet a very supportive Margaret Thatcher.

In the 1990s, Haq aspired to lead Afghanistan. He was backed by two US Republican brothers, who were Chicago options traders, by the former head of Britain’s Special Boat Service, by Lord Ashdown and by elements in the CIA and MI6. The Taliban killed Haq in October 2001. Edwards laments his loss and claims that his death ended any chance of peace in Afghanistan.

Blair backed the US-led war against Afghanistan, despite Haq’s warning that an attack would only halt the ousting of the Taliban. Haq was wrong on that.

After the Taliban had been kicked out, Blair then insisted that the troops stay to rebuild the country. Edwards clearly shares Blair’s illusion that the West could rebuild countries that his wars had shattered. As a result of Blair’s policy, NATO was ‘committing itself to an unwinnable war in Afghanistan and assisting the wider region to become a crucible of fundamentalist chaos’.

The US-British war was indeed not winnable even when there were 200,000 coalition troops and 100,000 ‘military contractors’ – mercenaries - in Afghanistan. The US-British intervention relied on warlords and bombing. What is this if not terrorism?

NGOs and private security companies worked hand in glove with the NATO forces. This militarisation of aid identified development with foreign aggression.

The US-British intervention backed the warlords against the Taliban and therefore built up anti-democratic fundamentalist groups. But to take sides in another country’s civil war generally, to arm one faction against another, was no solution. Far from imposing democracy, the NATO aggression has imposed one armed faction, the corrupt Karzai regime, to rule over all. The EU’s Chief Election Observer Emma Bonino deemed the 2005 elections ‘free and fair’ despite all the evidence of intimidation of candidates, of vote rigging on the day and of fraud in the count.

Likewise, in Somalia, the US backed Somalia’s traditional enemy Ethiopia to attack Somalia to oust the ‘Union of Islamic Courts’. The result? A far more fundamentalist regime, al Shahab, which gives al Qaeda a safe haven.

Edwards claims that Western hubris lost Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is not ‘ours’ to win or lose. She is promoting the myth that there was a different solution that the West could and should have backed, that there is a viable way for NATO to interfere to build a state that would serve the West’s interests.

But in the real world, state-building by outside forces is illegal, immoral and futile. Imperial nation-building is a contradiction in terms. Empires destroy, not build, nations.

On Socialism: Selections from Writings of Karl Marx, Frederick Ngels, V.I. Lenin, J.V. Stalin, Mao Zedong
On Socialism: Selections from Writings of Karl Marx, Frederick Ngels, V.I. Lenin, J.V. Stalin, Mao Zedong
by Irfan Habib
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An extremely useful collection of classic Marxist works on building socialism, 17 July 2015
This is an invaluable collection of Marxist classics, a fine introduction to socialism. The editor, Irfan Habib, is Professor Emeritus of History at the Aligarh Muslim University.

He notes in his Preface that “full-fledged socialist economies were established in many countries, including the territorially largest (the Soviet Union) and the most populous (China) in the world. J. V. Stalin (1879-1953) and Mao Zedong (1893-1976) respectively presided over the building of socialism in the Soviet Union and China, and contributed much to the actual shaping of socialist society in real life. In that real world, socialism brought emancipation, land, livelihood, education to workers, peasants and women, in the most backward regions of the world containing almost a third of humanity. Surely, therefore, both as a historical phenomenon and a prescription for the future, the theory and practical application of socialism require close attention from us.”

The texts include extracts from the Communist Manifesto, Marx’s Capital, Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, Frederick Engels’ Socialism: utopian and scientific, Lenin’s State and revolution, Stalin’s The October revolution and the tactics of the Russian Communists and his Economic problems of socialism in the USSR, and Mao Zedong’s On the ten major relationships and his On the correct handling of contradictions among the people.

The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals
The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals
by Jane Mayer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revealing study of the Bush administration's use of torture, 17 July 2015
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Jane Mayer is a staff writer for The New Yorker who specialises in political and investigative reporting. In this exceptionally well-researched book she shows how President George W. Bush shredded the US Constitution.

His administration authorised the violation of the Geneva Conventions. It gave terror suspects the rights neither of criminal defendants nor of prisoners of war. The President authorised a new ad hoc system of detention and interrogation that operated outside all law.

Mayer points out, “In the name of protecting national security, the executive branch sanctioned coerced confessions, extrajudicial detention, and other violations of individuals’ liberties that had been prohibited since the country’s founding.” These included “hooding, twenty-hour interrogation sessions, the use of military dogs to increase fear, the removal of clothing, and stress positions, all of which would become familiar features of military interrogations in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq.”

She notes, “Almost from the start of the administration’s war on terror the White House, the Justice Department, and the Department of Defense, intent upon having greater flexibility, ignored sustained and strenuous warnings from some of its own top lawyers that the government was embarking on a course that was both inhumane and unlawful.”

The Geneva Conventions “laid out civilized rules of treatment for all categories of people caught in international armed conflicts, not just regular soldiers – or, as they were called, ‘lawful combatants’. There were rules for the treatment of citizens and other rules for the treatment of spies and saboteurs – or ‘unlawful combatants’. Drafted after World War II with the French Resistance in mind, these nonuniformed ‘unlawful’ combatants could be interrogated. If found guilty in brief hearings, they could be executed. But they still could not be subjected to ‘physical or moral coercion’. Nor could they be tortured either physically or psychologically.
The distinction – between killing an enemy as the result of a legitimate legal process (including warfare) and torturing a defenceless enemy captive – was woven deeply into the fabric of America’s military history and sense of honor.” In particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention spells out the responsibilities of any occupying power: it forbids the forced transfer of prisoners out of the occupied country. This condemns the whole ‘extraordinary rendition’ programme as illegal.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in 2008, “The CIA’s program damages our national security by weakening our legal and moral authority, and by providing al Qaeda and other terrorist groups a recruiting and motivational tool.” Historian Niall Ferguson agreed, warning, “Any dilution of the Geneva Convention could end up having the very reverse effect of what the administration intends. Far from protecting Americans from terror, it could end up exposing them to it.”

In America’s revolutionary war to free itself from the British Empire, the British government saw George Washington and the Continental Army as treasonous ‘illegal combatants’. As a result, British forces tortured and killed their captives. By contrast, Washington ordered his troops to treat British war prisoners ‘with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of us copying the brutal manner of the British Army’.

Mayer notes, “Washington’s orders, which became the backbone of American military doctrine until 2001, were not simply gestures of kindness or even morality. They sprang also from a shrewd calculation that brutality undermines military discipline and strengthens the enemy’s resolve, while displays of humanity could be used to tactical advantage.”

Torture, as well as being immoral and illegal, does not even produce reliable information. In 2003 US Secretary of State Colin Powell told the UN Security Council that Saddam Hussein had trained Al Qaeda members to use chemical or biological weapons. This false claim was made by an Al Qaeda member, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under torture by Egypt’s secret police. His ‘fabrications under torture had helped sell the war in Iraq.” Due process, not torture, made detainees more compliant and yielded more useful information.

In 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Commission called on the US government to close down Guantanamo, where some practices ‘must be assessed as amounting to torture’. By 2008, Germany and Denmark had accused the US government of violating internationally accepted standards for humane treatment and due process. Canada placed the USA on its official list of rogue states that torture. The British government, by contrast, stood up for the torturer.

Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail
Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail
by Marcus Rediker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, fascinating studies of the importance of the sea and sailors, 14 July 2015
Marcus Rediker is Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh. This is a collection of his essays on maritime history, written and published over the last thirty years.

This book explores the Atlantic Ocean as the scene of human action and change during the rise of capitalism. In his Prologue Rediker notes of the Northern European deep-sea sailing ship, “During the ‘age of sail’, roughly 1500 to 1850, this was the world’s most sophisticated and important machine. … This global instrument of European power made possible extraordinary things – plunder, conquest, and finally a political and economic dominance that has lasted to this day.”

“The armed European deep-sea sailing ship was the means by which a vast oceanic commons was made safe for private property. It projected European imperial sovereignty onto the seas around the world. It made possible the circulation of commodities and the resulting global accumulation of capital from the late fifteenth century onward, unleashing a profound set of interrelated changes. Perhaps the greatest of these was the creation of the world market, whose existence can be summed up simply: no ships, no world market, because water links the continents of the globe.”

The first chapter looks at the sailor as a teller of yarns and shows how these stories of life, work and struggle influenced the development of political thought, drama, poetry, novels and philosophy. For example, the actions of sailors in Boston in 1747 gave the young Samuel Adams the revolutionary idea that all people were ‘by Nature on a Level; born with an equal Share of Freedom, and endow’d with Capacities nearly alike’.

The next six essays survey resistance at sea by sailors, indentured servants and enslaved Africans as mutineers, runaways and pirates from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth century.

A Spanish Civil War Scrapbook: Elizabeth Pearl Bickerstaffe's Newspaper Cuttings of the Wars in Spain and China from August 1937 to May 1939
A Spanish Civil War Scrapbook: Elizabeth Pearl Bickerstaffe's Newspaper Cuttings of the Wars in Spain and China from August 1937 to May 1939
by Jim Jump
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and enlightening colllection, very well produced, 14 July 2015
This remarkable publication is the Spanish civil war scrapbook kept by Pearl Bickerstaffe. It is edited by Jim Jump, secretary of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, with an introduction by Paul Preston, Professor of Spanish History at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and with a foreword by Rodney Bickerstaffe, Pearl’s son and a former general secretary of Unison.

Pearl Bickerstaffe was born in 1920, and during the years of 1937-39 she was a children’s nurse in south Yorkshire. She took these cuttings mostly from the Daily Worker, the newspaper produced by the Communist Party of Great Britain, but there also some from the News Chronicle, Tribune, the Daily Sketch, the Daily Telegraph, Picture Post and from Pearl’s local paper the Doncaster Gazette.

The collection includes many reports from the war in Spain, detailing the heroic struggles of the Spanish people and also recording many of the atrocities committed by the invading Nazi and Fascist forces. It also includes many reports of the actions of British workers, members of the International Brigade, engineers, miners, dockers and others in support of the Spanish Republic. For example, in January 1939 London engineers walked out of work and marched to Downing Street to demand arms for Spain.

The British and French governments adopted a policy of non-intervention which let Hitler and Mussolini continue their armed interventions. It was indeed ‘Murder – by British consent’ as the Daily Worker reported of an air raid on Barcelona in January 1938 which killed 300 civilians: “Franco’s blood guilt is shared by others. The bombers were new Italian Savoias. The peace policy of the gentlemen in Whitehall, of Chamberlain, Eden, the policy of ‘non-intervention’ did not stop them any more than it has stopped the shells which rain on Madrid, the bombs ‘made in Germany’ that shattered Guernica.
That is how ‘non-intervention’ works, that is the ‘peace’ policy of Messrs. Chamberlain and Eden, whose blood guilt is equal with Franco and Mussolini.”
The Soviet Union alone armed and backed the Spanish Republic against the massive interventions by Hitler and Mussolini. But, as Preston writes of George Orwell’s book Homage to Catalonia, this “memoir of his brief time in Spain has given much succour to those who wish to claim, whether from the far left or the far right, that the defeat of the Spanish Republic was somehow more the responsibility of Stalin than of Franco, Hitler, Mussolini or Neville Chamberlain.”

Blair Inc - The Man Behind the Mask
Blair Inc - The Man Behind the Mask
Price: £1.89

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine study of a man with much to hide, 13 July 2015
This well-researched book looks at Blair’s activities since he left office, principally money-making.

Beckett observes, “Blair’s interests have centred on the Tony Blair financial empire, the most impenetrable financial body that is legally possible in the United Kingdom. The structure of his companies makes it impossible to know who is paying him, or where the money goes, and ensures that no one can find out what he is worth.” A high level of secrecy usually means there is something to hide.

Beckett has managed to find out that in the two years to 31 March 2013, Blair’s management company had a turnover of £15 million and paid £653,000 tax. Blair is worth an estimated £90 million. The Blairs now own 36 properties.

Blair failed dismally in his role as Middle East peace envoy. One reason was he appointed as a consultant in his Office an Israeli Army intelligence official, who had worked directly for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Palestinian Authority rightly called Blair ‘useless, useless, useless’.

Beckett also notes that “Blair’s efforts, with the aid of Rashid, Allen and Symons, in opening Libya’s markets to foreign investors during the time of Gaddafi, has deprived the post-revolution government of the national assets needed to rebuild its infrastructure and create a peaceful country.” So Blair has contributed to causing the chaos in Libya as well as in Iraq.

Beckett reminds us that Blair’s friend and colleague Lord Mandelson said that the Labour party was ‘intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich’. Indeed, everything that Blair has ever done has served the interests of the capitalist class, of which he is now one of the richer members.

George Osborne: The Austerity Chancellor
George Osborne: The Austerity Chancellor
by Janan Ganesh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful study of Cameron's Chancellor, 9 July 2015
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Janan Ganesh is political columnist for the Financial Times. He has produced a useful study of Cameron’s Chancellor.

Osborne “privately describes himself as a ‘neo-conservative’ and supported Blair’s military activism, including the invasion of Iraq.” His strength is in tactics not strategy, campaigning not creating.

Ganesh looks at the economy the coalition government inherited. He claims that under Thatcher, “Decades of economic upheaval were giving way to consistent growth …” But in the real world, our GDP has grown more slowly since 1979 than in the previous decades. He claims, “the painful structural reforms of the 1980s had helped to make Britain a more dynamic and less class-based society.”

Ganesh notes, “Major’s ultimate service to his country, though, was rendered in Europe. He kept Britain out of the single currency, the continent’s most ruinous misadventure since the war …” William Hague called the single currency a ‘burning building with no exits’.

Osborne claims that government debt not the collapse of growth is the gravest threat to Britain. But Osborne has got it exactly wrong. So growth has collapsed and debt has grown. His policies benefit the beneficiaries of past growth, the stockholders, the asset-holders, at the expense of the future growth of the real economy.

As Heiner Flassbeck and Costas Lapavitsas have pointed out, “A lot of political energy has been devoted in the euro-zone over the last few years to the problem of stocks, be it bad loans, apparently unsustainable government debt or savings deposits. Much less political enthusiasm has been invested in turning around flows, namely income (growth), investment and consumption. This is exactly the wrong tactic. Because future stocks are the result of today’s flows, priority has to be given to today’s flows, even if this inflicts some pain on the holders of today’s stocks.”
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