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Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown
Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown
by Philip Mirowski
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.00

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Serious Analysis Gone To Waste, 21 Mar 2014
My feelings regarding Mirowski's "Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste" are decidedly mixed, on the one hand there is much fascinating information and analysis with regards to both Economists and the Financial Meltdown, on the other... well imagine Thomas Franks (of One Market Under God & Pity the Billionaire fame) mainlining a hefty load of hard-core academic jargon, and you have some idea of the style Mirowski writes in and the minor headache I developed from time to time while reading it.

Some of it is brilliant, Mirowski has read up on his Hayek and Friedman and the rest of the Mont Pelerin folks (spreading out to those with varying degrees of connections into what Mirowski terms the Neo-Liberal Thought Collective), and their thoughts and methods; his examination of the links between Macro Economists and the Federal Reserve and with Wall St throws much light on the reasons for the almost total lack of innovation in their responses to the Financial Meltdown. But even these insights have to be teased out from the heavy load of academic terminology that he has larded this book with.

This should have been (and perhaps will be if someone does a plain English translation) one of the best books written on the Financial Meltdown of 2007 onwards, and certainly the best one on Economists and the Meltdown, but instead Mirowski's raucous riff-a-rama of esoteric academic terminology means that he may as well have erected a 'Keep Out!' sign for the general reader, at least he would have saved himself receiving the one-star reviews which I in part sympathise with.


Children of Other Worlds: Exploitation in the Global Market
Children of Other Worlds: Exploitation in the Global Market
by Jeremy Seabrook
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.56

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Working Children in Victorian Britain and Late Twentieth Century Bangladesh, 16 Mar 2014
Jeremy Seabrook's "Children of Other Worlds: Exploitation in the Global Market" (2001) is an innovative look at poverty in the modern world. The innovation consists of a comparative element in the book, namely comparing the experience of children in 19th Britain with those in late 20th century Bangladesh. To paint a picture of the British experience Seabrook turns to the work of such writers as the Hammonds (The Rise Of Modern Industry), Henry Mayhew (London Labour and the London Poor) and E.P.Thompson (The Making of the English Working Class) amongst others, as well as government reports and the memoirs of those who lived through the period. For Bangladesh, Seabrook relies on his own observations from extensive visits made their during the 1990's. The similarities and contrasts between the two times and two places make for some thoughtful and interesting reading.

Child labour is obviously the central subject of this book, and Seabrook's observations on it go farther than the child labour bad, education good dichotomy that was the discourse of many well intentioned people in NGO's at the time the book was written, to looking at the whole phenomena at a variety of levels. Given Bangladesh's position in the Global economy, in no small measure a legacy of its past as a part of the British Empire (and a part that was brutally deindustrialised during the last half of the 18th century) it becomes unavoidable for families to survive by counting on their children's contributions to the household budget, or if they are apprenticed out (something that was common in Britain during the early 19th century) the child would, hopefully, be acquiring a useful trade, and at any rate would be getting food and board at no expense to the family. At the level of each individual child, while many have a aspirations to become educated, there is also a deal of pride that they are bringing in an income of sorts and helping their families to survive.

The book contains numerous accounts from the children themselves, Seabrook is an able and sensitive interviewer, and spends a deal of time with the children concerned at home, in the streets and at their places of work. The picture painted of existence in a poorly developed third world country is vivid, and the complexities of that existence are made crystal clear. The comparisons made with Britain are also very interesting, and also a stark warning to those who wish to blame child labour in Bangladesh on the peoples religion or race.

Definitely a book well worth reading, even though it doesn't provide all the answers to the child labour phenomena, it will at least provide a vivid, thoughtful and intelligent insight into the subject itself.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 10, 2014 12:21 AM BST


Confronting the Third World: United States Foreign Policy, 1945-1980.
Confronting the Third World: United States Foreign Policy, 1945-1980.
by Gabriel Kolko
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imperial America and the Third World, 14 Mar 2014
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In my opinion Gabriel Kolko is one of the finest writers of the post World War Two international scene, with his primary interest being the United States role within that period. His Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience is the premier work on the Vietnam War, at least as far as analysis of all the factors, and how they interacted over the period of American involvement goes. The book under review covers the United States interactions with the Third World in the period after World War Two.

All factors fall under Kolko's purview, the outlook and doctrines of the U.S. itself, from concerns about access to raw materials, protecting U.S. investments, Cold War considerations (which often had little to do with Third world countries becoming allied with the U.S.S.R. at least until U.S. involvement became overtly hostile) and interactions with Britain, France, Belgium and Portugal: the colonial (eventually former colonial) powers.

In American planning, Africa is largely left to their Cold-War allies in Western Europeans, it being viewed as vital to bolstering their recovery from World War Two. Latin America is marked down as purely a U.S. area, and where American interests in terms of trade and investment are strongest. Asia is part shared with Japan, who (the U.S. decides) must have their raw materials needs met from the South-East Asian countries, who in turn must remain in the Capitalist World, or the pressures on Japan to seek accommodation with the Communist bloc would become intolerable. In the Middle East, the United States simply look to edge the British out (largely accomplished by the coup in Iran in 1953 and the Suez crisis of 1956) and maintain access to the regions oil resources.

The big problem from the United States point of view is that the countries concerned, especially after decolonization, had their own agendas with regard to development of their resources, industrial policies, and bringing a degree of socio-economic development to their own people after decades, or centuries, of servicing the colonial powers. When these developments didn't coincide (which given American aims they intrinsically couldn't) with American interests, or threw up the possibility of setting a "bad" example to others such as in Cuba (1959-), Guatemala (1945-53), Chile (1970-73), the Congo (1959/60), Indonesia (in the period leading up to 1965) and the Dominican Republic (also in the period leading up to 1965) then U.S. relations would become rapidly hostile, and everything from covert action, coups to military action would be on the agenda. Kolko includes concise accounts of U.S. hostilities with all the above mentioned countries, plus the countless others who have been on the receiving end up U.S. interventions.

Kolko's "Confronting the Third World: United States Foreign Policy 1945-1980", though now 25 years old, is still a classic overview of American involvement in the third world after World War Two. If the reader is looking for descriptions of military operations and battles, and colourful accounts of Presidents and Generals then they would be best looking elsewhere as Kolko's primary (but not exclusive) interest is in the factors, trends and developments whether economic, political, or socio-economic that underlay events, and the unforeseen manner in which American interventions caused them to develop. Despite this lack of supposed colour, a workmanlike prose style, and the condensing of thirty-five years of U.S. interactions with the entire Third World into little over 300 pages, I still found it a fascinating, occasionally exhilarating read. Kolko cuts through the subject with astonishing concision, with his characteristic systematic and erudite analysis, and a sharp nose for the key facts. It is a great shame that he has not updated the book to bring it forward to contemporary times.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 12, 2014 6:23 PM BST


Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea
Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea
by Mark Blyth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Austerity and its Myths, 14 Feb 2014
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Mark Blyth's "Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea" is an invaluable contribution to the debate on what direction policy should take post Credit-Crunch. In a civilised society, where ideas were debated on their merits and not on how useful they are to those with power and influence, it would minimally be a large part of the debate and in my opinion form the backdrop to a set of policies aimed at maintaining the welfare state, and bringing growth back to the economy.

Blyth includes the best short account of the credit crunch that I have read, and makes crystal clear where the sovereign debt came from: not over spending in the Public sector, but the costs of dealing with a massive private sector failure in the financial sector in terms of lost growth, bail-outs, and the rising welfare payments & tax shortfalls that accompany an economy which for the UK, in terms of GDP growth, has performed worse than it did during the Great Depression of 1929 onwards.

He looks at the theory behind the austerity idea and finds it to be somewhat threadbare, in short there is not much in the way of intellectual theory to back it up. It is more like a knee jerk reaction from central bankers (in particular the European Central Bank) and anti-state right wing politicians (among which one could include a substantial number of Labour politicians). What little theory there is, ie. the paper the Italian Alberto Alesina peddled at the ECOFIN meeting towards the end of the brief burst of Keynesian style expansion in 2008-09 is comprehensively debunked by Blyth for being decontextualized from actual political and economic events, and for setting time frames to produce results as favourable as possible for the pro-Austerity case. No matter, the media and the political right with their usual regard for facts, sang its praises to the sky!

As far as the "natural history" of Austerity goes, the record is miserable. Blyth makes the point that it only has a chance of working in a fairly narrow set of conditions, eg. one country does it in a context where neighbouring countries/trading partners economies are expanding, its not carried out in the middle of a recession, and its done gradually. None of these conditions apply, neither in the UK, the Eurozone (the main but by no means the main focus of Blyth's book) or the United States.

Austerity was also supposed to give the private sector the confidence to invest, on the basis that they knew public spending was being decreased and their future profits will thus not be highly taxed. But in the UK, according to even the Daily Torygraphs assistant editor Jeremy Warner: "UK corporates have cash sitting on their balance sheets of £754bn [2012 or 2 years into austerity], or around a half of annual GDP. These sums have doubled over the course of the past decade, with much of the growth having taken place during the financial crisis of the past four-and-a-half years." So much for that. Cameron/Clegg/Osborne now seem set on having another housing boom by insuring 15% of mortgages up to £600,000 thus reducing the deposits required from 20% to 5% of the house value. Doesn't seem particularly wise to me, or compatible with talk of rebalancing the economy, though not altogether different from Thatcher's policy of making consumer credit easier during the last bout of austerity during the early 1980's.

One alternative to Austerity which Blyth flags up, is to collect taxes. Richard Brooks (in his The Great Tax Robbery suggest that around £25bn could be raised not by introducing new taxes but in closing in on those who avoid taxes, and by closing loopholes with regard to existing taxes.

Overall this is an excellent book, that manages to be intellectually thorough as well as a well written, dryly witty, introduction to the arguments that is ideal for the general reader. Worth reading also on the subject (although their account of the credit crunch is confused and unsatisfactory) is Barry and Saville Kushner's Who Needs the Cuts?: Myths of the Economic Crisis which is particularly excellent on the media's handling of Austerity. On the tax side of the public finance equation Nicholas Shaxson's Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World is priceless, as is Richard Brooks book cited above.


Land Grabbing: Journeys in the New Colonialism
Land Grabbing: Journeys in the New Colonialism
by Stefano Liberti
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Short Introduction to the 21st Century Land Grab, 13 Feb 2014
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Stefano Liberti, foreign correspondent of Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, travels the world to look into the phenomena of foreign countries and companies of buying up massive amounts of land in Africa for the production of food and other cash crops.

Liberti starts in the Horn of Africa, with a visit to Ethiopia. The ruling party, the EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front) won the 2010 election with a percentage of the vote that would make Robert Mugabe blush (99.6%) though they manage to avoid the level of hostility that Mugabe's Zimbabwe routinely receive. Labour peer and the EU's high Representative Baroness Ashton describes the election as "an important moment for the democratic process"! Perhaps her previous role as Trade Representative, coupled with the fact that Ethiopia has opened its land up to foreign exploitation at bargain basement prices explains her somewhat curious statement? In fact Ethiopia is an authoritarian police state where dissent is ruthlessly cracked down on, secrecy reigns unhindered, where foreign capital is privileged at the expense of the Ethiopian peoples interests. No doubt after all the land deals GDP will rise as subsistence agriculturalists are deprived of their land, but those alienated from their land will count themselves lucky if they can earn two quid a week toiling for Saudi, Chinese, Dutch or Indian "investors".

Liberti follows the money back the way to Saudi Arabia, and attends a conference along with various African countries who pimp their land to the food poor Saudis: $1 a hectare in Mozambique, 50-70 cents retort the Ethiopians, only to be trumped by the Central African Republic who are giving theirs away for free. During his stay Liberti meets other Saudis with potentially less damaging solutions to the Saudis food problems, unfortunately they are not well connected to the patronage networks which criss-cross the Wests favourite fundamentalist kleptocracy.

Next stop is Geneva, Switzerland - the parasitical tax haven par excellence - also home to the FAO (The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation) where Liberti visits a conference whose ostensible subject is food security. There the business as usual tedium (ie. Businesses blowing their own trumpets) is relieved by the Four Farmers of the Apocalypse (receiving end): namely four Via Campesina activists who bluntly make clear what the land grab means for the worlds small farmers. Minimally (many deals are secret) 45 million hectares of farmland has vanished into the hands of a motley crew of Private Equity Firms, various Investors of all sorts, cash rich/food poor foreign governments. All this is clearly at the expense of indigenous farmers and the targeted countries food supplies. The process is pushed forward by the World Bank, and other ostensibly international institutions which frequently provide guarantees to reduce the risk of the so called investors. One institution that is not entirely in the hands of the "investors" is the UN as Liberti's interview with Special Rapporteur Olivier de Schutter makes clear while talking about the World Banks (voluntary) Responsible Investment in Agriculture (RAI) initiative:

"These principles assume that every government only has two options to choose from: to welcome an investor or not to welcome him. In actual fact, the real question, the real choice is: should we invest in small family farming, distributing land, building infrastructure, supplying storage facilities, or should we bank on large plantations? This question is crucial, but it is avoided, because it would imply agrarian reform and deny the government the advantage, immediate in the short term but potentially counterproductive in the long term, which comes from opening the market to big investors."

Liberti moves on to a small conference of small to medium sized private investors. Here the account is less satisfactory, he never seems to penetrate through the thickets of sweet sounding care and concern that effortlessly stream from the participants.

Next stop - Chicago, location of the largest exchange in agricultural commodity futures in the world. As far as responsibility for the rising food prices that accompanied falling stock prices during the Credit Crunch they are quite clear: It wasn't us, nor was it the surge of speculative money into the market. Hardly plausible though the argument that the prices reflect real world developments is not without some merit. It's a short leap from Chicago to Newton, Ohio where Liberti meets the Iowa Corn Growers Association at the Indy 500 race ("The only race in the world that uses renewable fuel"). The corn grower are as happy as the proverbial pigs in . . . and no wonder, the ethanol fuel that 25% of their corn is converted into is heavily subsidised and the increase in demand has made them money by the bushel load. Not so happy is Lester Brown, director of the Earth Policy Institute:

"The transfer of corn to ethanol production is creating a problem on a world scale. This year in the American Midwest, a quarter of the 400 million tonnes of corn produced was set aside for fuel production as opposed to consumption. This has created an imbalance, given that stocks have diminished. Seven of the past eight years have registered a deficit in cereal production, and reserves worldwide have plummeted to their lowest level in the past thirty-four years. So prices have shot up. Over the last two years at the Chicago Board of Trade, corn has more than doubled in price. There is one main reason for this increase: the euphoria for ethanol that has struck producers in the Midwest, not least because of the generous subsidies provided by the federal government."

From Chicago Liberti heads south to Brazil. The main focus of his visit is on the two contrasting models of agriculture large scale corporate and indigenous/small scale farming. Liberti speaks to indigenous Indians: "Here, until the 1970s, it was all forest, there were trees, there were animals. It was another world. They've taken our world away"; large farmers: "there's all this talk about this [work on his plantation] being back-breaking work. Of course its backbreaking, but it's no worse than that of a miner going down into a mine to extract coal. Everybody has got their own economic potential: people earn according to their culture and what service they provide. Somebody has to work. Otherwise, if we all laze about in air-conditioned rooms, there'll be no more wheat, no more sugarcane, no nothing. It boils down to this: if we want the TV, the air conditioning, somebody's got to do the dirty work," though it's not to long before this farmer confesses that he would prefer to do without his dirty workers, "I have to take on a certain number to satisfy the agreement I made with the local government. But the land here is flat: all the harvesting and sowing could be done by machines."; the patron saint of Bio-fuels Roberto Rodrigues, "Lula" da Silva's agriculture minister who revived the ethanol industry and later on, in cahoots with Jeb Bush, promotes ethanol production in Central America where the implications for local farmers and peasants are even more disastrous than in Brazil; and finally Joao Pedro Stedile, spokesman for the movement of landless workers who views Bio-fuels as "another step towards driving small farmers from their land". The Brazilian chapter is the least satisfactory in the book. Liberti doesn't really seem to push hard with his questioning, in particular with the large farmer and the patron saint of Bio-Fuels Rodrigues, though the background information on the rise and fall of Brazils Bio-fuel industry was definitely of interest.

Liberti's last stop is Tanzania, where the tale would be familiar to say students of the settling of the American west, un-fulfilled agreements, false promises, playing village off against village in order to remove resistance to outside "investors" primarily concerned with growing crops for the European Bio-fuels industry, or in one case stripping the land of its primary forest, selling the hardwoods, and buggering off with the profits. He speaks with Abdallah Mkindi, one of the Directors of Envirocare, and NGO focusing on the environment and human rights that has been following the questions of foreign investment in agriculture, who has interesting insights into the crisis of agriculture prior to foreign investment as well as the attractions of large scale investment, primarily as a source of hard currency to the government. At the Ministry of Energy and Minerals, the vacuous Styden Rwebangila of the ministries Bio-fuels unit gives an idea of the total lack of resources that governments in targeted countries have for dealing with large well-resourced investors. Perhaps, giving the opportunities for government personnel getting their hands on hard currency, there is also a lack of will?

Overall I'd consider "Land Grabbing" to be an excellent, accessible and readable introduction to the subject, if you like a 5-star book, though Liberti's apparent interest in the girth of those he interviews and how well they fit into their clothing was of zero interest to this reader, and the publishers puff about it being in part a travel book hardly lives up to the contents of the book. I suspect that readers who have already followed the story, its origins as newspaper articles (albeit lengthy ones), likely to lack the systematic and comprehensive out-look to make it a necessary book.


The New Military Humanism: Lessons From Kosovo
The New Military Humanism: Lessons From Kosovo
by Noam Chomsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Military Humanism Shredded, 31 Jan 2014
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Unusually for Chomsky "Lessons from Kosovo" is tightly focussed on one particular conflict: the much lauded NATO intervention in Kosovo in spring 1999 that was carried out under the banner of being an almost historically unique "Humanitarian Intervention". In this short book Chomsky destroys the NATO case on every major point, and tears apart the rhetoric and rationale of Clinton, Blair, et al and their many media cheerleaders into shreds.

Rather than being an intervention to prevent ethnic cleansing it inaugurated it, as a simple look at the chronology would reveal as well as paying attention to what military figures such as US-NATO commanding General Wesley Clark said, and the pre-war diplomacy which culminated in the Rambouillet Agreement was almost certainly set up to be refused by the Serbs, indeed it was more than NATO achieved after three months of bombing as well as flouting the agreements that brought the bombing to an end.

Chomsky takes the reader on a brief tour through the rhetoric used during conflicts through the ages and finds that practically every resort to arms is carried out under the banner of lofty words about "principles and values" and proclamations regarding it's "humanitarian" nature. With regard to other conflicts occurring during the 1990's that were minimally as serious as that in Kosovo, Chomsky makes the point that a NATO member, Turkey, was carrying out far worse massacres, with generous access to US weaponry, with hardly peep from NATO, Clinton, Blair and their media fanclub. Likewise Colombia, not to mention the murderous sanctions being inflicted on Iraq primarily by the US & the UK that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

In short this is a book that is still well worth reading, a tightly focussed and devastating critique of the NATO intervention and its immediate aftermath. The reader who is interested in the conflicts that tore Yugoslavia apart during the 1990's would be well advised to look at Susan Woodward's Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution After the Cold War which is exhaustive on the causes of the conflict as well as its early years. With regard to some of the aforementioned media cheerleaders Verso's fine Counterblast series includes looks at Michael Ignatieff, Thomas Friedman and Bernard Henri Levy.


NHS SOS: How the NHS Was Betrayed - and How We Can Save It
NHS SOS: How the NHS Was Betrayed - and How We Can Save It
by Raymond Tallis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deforming the NHS, 18 Jan 2014
"NHS SOS: How the NHS was betrayed - and how we can save it" is a collection of writing on the Coalitions NHS deforms ably put together by Dr Jackie Davis and Prof Raymond Tallis to enlighten the general public on what the implications of the reforms are, a task that the mainstream media have unsurprisingly failed to accomplish.

After a short foreword from Ken Loach, and an introduction to the book and the issues covered by Raymond Tallis, we have John Lister's (see Health Policy Reform: Global Health Versus Private Profit) opening chapter "Breaking the Public Trust" which makes clear that the Coalition has absolutely no mandate for their "reforms" (it was in neither parties manifestos nor in the coalition agreement) and summarises the main thrust of them which is far from the GP led health service that has featured so prominently in public discourse.

Stewart Player (see The Plot Against the NHS & Confuse and Conceal) in "Ready for the Market" looks into how the NHS was re-engineered over many years to the stage where it could be essentially consumed by private sector interests. He is perhaps a little confusing though undoubtedly this reflects the ad hoc, underhand and opportunistic nature of the private sectors penetration of the NHS. In "Parliamentary Bombshell" Dr David Wrigley charts the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary progress of the Coalitions Health Bill, revealing the arrogance of power, and if anyone was in any doubt, the spineless supine-ness of Shirley Williams.

Dr Jacky Davis and Dr Wrigley go on in "The Silence of the Lambs" to dissect the actions of those who are supposed to represent Consultants, Doctors and Nurses (the BMA and the Royal Colleges) and tells a story which at best paints them as naïve in their engagement with the Coalition, and at worst as complicit, undemocratic collaborators. Retired GP and former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Dr Charles West's "A Failure of Politics" reports from inside the Liberal Democrat camp, and makes crystal clear the manipulative, duplicitous and undemocratic nature of the parties parliamentary leadership. West also takes a look at conflicts of interests within parliament, noting that 70 MP's and 142 Peers have interests in the private health sector, probably a somewhat higher ratio than one would expect amongst voters, and perhaps indicative of who these MP's and Peers really represent - not the people but private interests.

Oliver Huitson, a co-editor of the British section of the OpenDemocracy website (& contributor to Public Service on the Brink) examines the lamentable record of the media's coverage of the Coalitions Health Bill. The focus is on the BBC's poor performance, including its practically non-existent coverage of the conflicts of interests of those Peers and MP's connected to the private health sector, and their endless regurgitation of Coalition slogans in lieu of informed analysis, not to mention labelling industry funded "think" tanks as independent! Even the Mail and Torygraph come out better (but not by much).

Prof Allyson Pollock (see NHS Plc: The Privatisation of Our Health Care) and David Price dissect the Coalitions Health Bill in "From Cradle to Grave" and make clear its implications: the destruction of the NHS, power devolved onto unaccountable private bodies who may ration treatments and choose patients at their pleasure. Those parts of the NHS that the private sector is not interested in (eg. Mental Health) are to be transferred to Local Authorities, the very same Local Authorities who have faced the biggest spending cuts under the Coalitions Austerity Regime (basically a feel-good name for an off the IMF shelf Structural Adjustment Program). Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis finish with an excellent guide to saving the NHS from destruction which includes many resources and contacts for those who wish to fight back against this miserable and mendacious Coalitions policies. This is a book that Id strongly recommend, in particular to those in England as the NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is thus far free from the most pernicious aspects of privatisation, though as a precautionary measure it is no doubt relavent in those countries too as doubtlessly once the private sector has their snouts well and truly in the NHS trough they will look to expand their operations over the borders.


Democracy Ltd: How Money and Donations have Corrupted British Politics
Democracy Ltd: How Money and Donations have Corrupted British Politics
by Bobby Friedman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.90

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Democracy: A Very Limited Look at Corruption, 17 Jan 2014
Any book entitled "Democracy Ltd: How Money and Donations Corrupted British Politics" sounds fairly promising to me, and it was with pretty high expectations that I sat myself down with a steaming cup of tea and began to read. It didn't start too badly with a look at Lloyd George era corruption, Harold Wilsons farewell honours list, and so on, but before long I began to find it fairly irritating. By the end I felt that the book was shallow, partial, uneven and as a work of serious analysis essentially worthless.

Friedman was a journalist/producer at the BBC, so it is no great surprise to find him claiming an equivalence between institutions/individuals when in fact their nature, and the degree of power they wield are massively different. The particular equivalence I have in mind is that which Friedman implies exists between Trade Unions on one side, and "high net worth" individuals and big business on the other. The idea that Trade Unionists had a significant degree of influence over the "New" Labour government of 1997-2010 is frankly laughable nonsense, the degree of power and influence they had was a miserable fraction of that exercised by big business (especially the financial sector) and "high net worth" individuals. For sure Trade Unions are not infallible, utopian institutions, but at least they represent millions of ordinary workers, and are a good deal more democratic in nature than the three main political parties, and light years ahead of Big Business and extremely wealthy individuals. To add insult to injury, the section critical of Trade Union funding of the Labour Party is buttressed with unchallenged quotes from Conservative MP and occasional Third Reich admirer Aidan Burley: his regard for Trade Unions is at a similar level to Hitler's.

Even discounting that issue, the "chronicle of a century in which the machinery of democracy has been corroded by money" (quote from blurb) is not much more than brief accounts of scandals that are pretty well known, and some pretty gaping holes (nothing much seems to happen during the 2nd and 3rd quarters of the century); many of those directly quoted are fundraisers and donors, and like our MP in Nazi regalia and unlike Trade Unionists, are treated fairly sympathetically; lacks of consistency of argument, for example at times being in compliance with the letter of the law is enough for Friedman, while at other points he bemoans the fact that the spirit of the law has been brazenly violated. There is also no conception of how Democracy might meaningfully function beyond the funding of political parties from general taxation.

In brief an extremely disappointing book, doubly so in that I'd been impressed with Oneworld's (a relatively new book publisher) out which includes Richard Brooks's The Great Tax Robbery: How Britain Became A Tax Haven For Fat Cats And Big Business, Linda McQuaig/Neil Brooks's The Trouble with Billionaires and Jacky Davis/Raymond Tallis's Nhs Sos and expecting "Democracy Ltd" to be of a similar calibre. One to avoid.


Vietnam: Anatomy of a War, 1940-1975
Vietnam: Anatomy of a War, 1940-1975
by Gabriel Kolko
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Total History of a Thirty Year War, 16 Jan 2014
Forget Stanley Karnow's Pulitzer prize winning Vietnam: A History, or Neil Sheehan's much celebrated A Bright Shining Lie, Canadian historian Gabriel Kolko's "Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience" is quite simply the best general history of the American war in Vietnam. As the title suggests this work is primarily a work of analysis, taking the reader from the Japanese occupation towards the end of World War 2 right through to the American defeat in 1975, it eschews the minutiae of specific battles or personalities for a total analysis of North Vietnam, South Vietnam and the United States including everything from the economic to the political, military capabilities and doctrine, quality of leadership, the structures of both societies and the international context within which the war was fought, as well as how all those factors interacted and changed over time.

The reader will leave this book with a pretty comprehensive understanding of the nature of the war that the Americans took over from the French in the mid 1950's and brutally prosecuted for over twenty years, and a considerable degree of respect and admiration for the quality of the North Vietnamese leadership, the North Vietnamese people as a whole and those who fought year after year in the southern half of the divided country against the unprecedented destructive power of the U.S. military allied with a corrupt, incompetent, bankrupt (morally and financially) South Vietnamese Government who couldn't exist without American backing. If the book has any faults it is in a degree of repetition, though to be fair that didn't become an issue until I re-read it for the third time.

The Phoenix edition of 2001 also includes a forty odd page postscript detailing developments in Vietnam after their victory in 1975, in which the normally sober minded Kolko brutally dissects the regimes market-"socialism" policy which he more or less regards as a massive betrayal of all the millions of Vietnamese who fought and died to liberate their country and build a decent and fair society.

I heartily recommend "Anatomy of a War" to anyone wishing to understand that war, and not only that war as the analytical methods that Kolko deploys so well here can be usefully applied to other conflicts.


ANATOMY OF A WAR
ANATOMY OF A WAR
by Gabriel Kolko
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Total History of a Thirty Year War, 16 Jan 2014
This review is from: ANATOMY OF A WAR (Paperback)
Forget Stanley Karnow's Pulitzer prize winning Vietnam: A History, or Neil Sheehan's much celebrated A Bright Shining Lie, Canadian historian Gabriel Kolko's "Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience" is quite simply the best general history of the American war in Vietnam. As the title suggests this work is primarily a work of analysis, taking the reader from the Japanese occupation towards the end of World War 2 right through to the American defeat in 1975, it eschews the minutiae of specific battles or personalities for a total analysis of North Vietnam, South Vietnam and the United States including everything from the economic to the political, military capabilities and doctrine, quality of leadership, the structures of both societies and the international context within which the war was fought, as well as how all those factors interacted and changed over time.

The reader will leave this book with a pretty comprehensive understanding of the nature of the war that the Americans took over from the French in the mid 1950's and brutally prosecuted for over twenty years, and a considerable degree of respect and admiration for the quality of the North Vietnamese leadership, the North Vietnamese people as a whole and those who fought year after year in the southern half of the divided country against the unprecedented destructive power of the U.S. military allied with a corrupt, incompetent, bankrupt (morally and financially) South Vietnamese Government who couldn't exist without American backing. If the book has any faults it is in a degree of repetition, though to be fair that didn't become an issue until I re-read it for the third time.

The Phoenix edition of 2001 also includes a forty odd page postscript detailing developments in Vietnam after their victory in 1975, in which the normally sober minded Kolko brutally dissects the regimes market-"socialism" policy which he more or less regards as a massive betrayal of all the millions of Vietnamese who fought and died to liberate their country and build a decent and fair society.

I heartily recommend "Anatomy of a War" to anyone wishing to understand that war, and not only that war as the analytical methods that Kolko deploys so well here can be usefully applied to other conflicts.


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