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Labour Party Plc: The Truth Behind New Labour As A Party Of Business
Labour Party Plc: The Truth Behind New Labour As A Party Of Business
by David Osler
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Power, Corruption and Lies: The Genesis and First Term of Blairs New Labour, 29 April 2014
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Few people on the left who had even expended a cursory amount of effort following the developments of Blair, Mandelson, et al New Labour project in the years leading up to the 1997 General Election had particularly high hopes for constructive change, and they were pretty much correct. Bar a few policies, largely inherited from the pre-Blair era Party such as the minimum (becoming under Blair a minimal) wage and devolution for Wales and Scotland very little progressive was achieved. One aspect of the New Labour that surprised a much younger and less jaded me was the level of corruption and the extent of the brown-nosing of Business interests, often those of the most disreputable and dodgy sort. Those types whom the last semi-human leader of the Conservative party Edward Heath referred to as the "unacceptable face of Capitalism" in the early 1970's were being showered with honours and being elevated to positions on Quango's and put in places to influence government policy by a Labour Government at the turn of the millennium.

Award winning political blogger David Osler's "Labour Party PLC" covers this aspect of the Labour party in a great deal of detail, covering the period leading up to the 1997 election in detail as well as the entirety of New Labours first term. We have everything that was known at the time of publication (2002): Mandelson under the counter home loans from deeply disreputable Geoffrey Robinson (ironically the Governments Paymaster General) to the blind trusts that most senior new Labourites set up to advance their own interests rather than the party as a whole and funded by god knows who, and much else besides: Robert Maxwell, Rupert Murdoch and the story of Labours long standing media policy going awol, Michael Levy (elevated to a Lord under Blair) dubious fund-raising activities and his even more (given his commitment to Israel) dubious role as Blair's roving Middle East envoy, Mandelson (again) and the deeply dodgy Hinduja brothers, an encyclopaedic chapter on the secondments of Businessmen onto virtually every public body or policy review in the country, the scandal of PFI and much else besides.

This is an excellent reminder of New Labours provenance and how it behaved in Government from 1997-2001, and though Osler's prose is seldom racy he does give the reader a thorough, workmanlike account of the corrupt and essentially vacuous nature of New Labour. The only complaint I have is that the book was never updated to include the second and third terms, but still is an informative and comprehensive exploration of the lows that the Labour party fell to under the leadership of Tony Blair. Also included are two appendices listing (i) Corporate; and (ii) individual donations to the Labour Party that exceeded £5,000 in the period that Osler reviews.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 5, 2014 12:28 PM BST


A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (American Empire Project)
A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (American Empire Project)
by Professor Alfred W McCoy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.64

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A State of Depravity, 17 April 2014
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Alfred McCoy wrote this short history of the use of torture by the United States in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal that erupted in 2004, which along with various other scandals relating to the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, American prison camps in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Airbase and a number of other locations, dogged the US government for a number of years.

McCoy starts with a cursory account of Tortures lengthy pedigree in Europe and the West, before moving on to a detailed study of his period which runs from the end of the second world war to the date of publication (2006). During the Korean conflict (1950-53) there was much noise generated about the supposed effectiveness of the Communists at interrogation and "brain-washing" particular giving the performance of American prisoners. It was this sense of the Soviets/Communist states being ahead, a torture/brain washing gap if you like, that gave impetus for CIA backed research and experimentation into coercive interrogations. This became a major program despite the fact that the US authorities were well aware that Soviet/Communist interrogation techniques were crude.

There seems to have been no shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists willing to carry out experiments conducive to CIA aims (their heirs would eventually participate in assisting interrogators/torturers in Guantanamo Bay). Efforts were originally focussed on the use of drugs (mainly LSD and various "truth" serums) before psychological approaches took precedence, particularly after the Canadian Psychologist Dr Ewan Cameron's experiments relating to sensory deprivation appeared to yield promising results. Dr Cameron held his drug addled patients in conditions of extreme sensory deprivation, up to at least five weeks in one definite case, and perhaps up to a maximum of twelve weeks, causing grotesque long term psychological and physical damage. His perverse experiments were generously funded by the American Government via the CIA.

Dr Cameron's research, amongst others, coalesced into the so called Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation Handbook. This formed the basis of a 10 year training program for CIA operatives, and for forty years it was the basis of CIA practice, and overseas training programs, in a number of 3rd world countries. The main testing ground for US's new "interrogation" doctrines was Vietnam where the CIA run Phoenix program functioned with boundless impunity, going way beyond the Kubark manuals psychological torture. 20,000+ Vietnamese eventually died under its auspices, often brutally murdered after lengthy periods of horrific physical and psychological torture. From Vietnam this plague spread across the world to wherever the US felt its client regimes were under threat, particularly in Latin and Central America, where Project X (who thinks up these names?) ran from 1966-91. There was even a systematic mail order program posting out a variety of interrogation (psychological torture) manuals to members of the security forces and militaries of US client regimes.

One of the distinctions McCoy makes is that between psychological and physical torture. Clearly the psychological variety, though it doesn't leave physical marks, is - in terms of long term effects - at least as disastrous for its victims as physical torture. For those who doubt this, the testimony of a Philippine Priest, a high ranking navy officer and a student give a vivid and horrifying sense of what the reality of psychological torture is, and the long term nature of its effects.

McCoy goes on to makes a case for a lull in direct US use of torture between the end of the cold war and the start of the war on terror, though no doubt alumni of US interrogation training (especially the School of the Americas) still kept the light burning through those years. After September the 11th 2001, and with the CIA as the lead organisation in operations against Al-Qaeda and associates, incidents of torture of both types increased, culminating (at least in the public mind) with the events at Abu Ghraib. McCoy carefully makes clear that it was not a few bad apples, but orders from on high (The Whitehouse) set the scene for the depraved acts at Abu Ghraib, as well as the extraordinary rendition program, and all the rest of the sordid and grotesque acts carried out across the globe by American forces and their fellow travellers in a number of countries. The books final chapter "The Question of Torture" asks a number of questions regarding torture, and comes to the conclusion that it is generally ineffective, the circumstances in which its supporters make their strongest case (eg. Alan Dershowitz's ticking bomb) hasn't presented itself in the real world. Moreover even if the targets are limited to those identified as being important members of Al Qaeda (or the Vietcong in Vietnam, or the Bath party in Iraq) the practice will soon spread, and move from purely psychological to include physical torture. This is particularly true when the US sets against organisations that have a great deal of popular support and finds itself on the back foot. It is no coincidence that the most murderous campaign of interrogation and intelligence gathering occurred in Vietnam where the Viet Cong had a great deal of popular support.

In "A Question of Torture" Alfred McCoy has written a clear and concise history of the United States use of torture in the period from 1945-2006, how its doctrines developed, and spread via client regimes across the globe. It is a book that I'd strongly recommend to anyone who wishes to know how the leading self proclaimed Liberal Democracy behaves in reality. For UK readers I would also recommend Ian Cobains excellent Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture which performs the same role vis-à-vis Britain. Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, which cites this book, is also worth reading for its detailed account of the aforementioned Dr Cameron's experiments, as well as on its own merits.


The Global Gamble: Washington's Faustian Bid for World Dominance
The Global Gamble: Washington's Faustian Bid for World Dominance
by Peter Gowan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gowans Global Outlook, 3 April 2014
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Peter Gowan's 1999 publication "The Global Gamble" is a book of three parts. The first looks at American attempts to retain its global position, especially vis-à-vis Western Europe and Japan, in the period from the United States unilaterally ending the Bretton Woods era of stable currencies and a gold backed dollar in the early 1970's to the Asian financial crisis of 1998. This is followed by a forty odd page look at the Gulf War of 1990-91, and finishes with a collection of articles relating to developments in Eastern Europe during the post cold war era.

The first part is a concise, comprehensive and utterly brilliant look at how the Americans unilaterally ended the Bretton Woods regime (under real economic pressures not least caused by the war in Vietnam), and what came after it. Gowan terms the successor regime the Dollar Wall Street Regime (DWSR): the Dollar is the primary currency for trade, currencies are no longer pegged to the Dollar which was no longer pegged to gold, capital controls are gradually reduced (under American pressure), and financial capital flows relatively unhindered causing untold damage to economies, especially in the developing world. And when countries get into trouble up steps the so-called multilateral institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) to wreak further damage in forcing countries to further open their economies, deflate, and to privatise their assets at fire-sale prices. The ultimate example of this was the Asian Financial Crisis of 1998 which Gowan covers in some detail, as are those parts of the DWSR that function to keep Western Europe and the Far East (at the time of writing Japan and South Korea) in check. Overall this section is a sophisticated look at developments in the financial/monetary sphere from 1970-98 and is probably the best account of this period I have came across.

The second part "The Gulf War, Iraq and Western Liberalism" examines the Gulf War of 1990-91 in light of the precepts of Western Liberalism. Gowan cites many figures from within that canon, and finds that the self appointed Liberal Democracies of the west, led by the U.S. and the U.K. failed to meet the standards set by leading Liberal thinkers. In the second part of the article "Understanding Modern Iraq" Gowan's delivers a short though insightful look at the history of Iraq in tandem with a critique of Samar al-Khalil's (Kanan Makiya's pen name at the time this article was written) Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq where he shows up the shortcomings and limitations of al-Khalil's (Kanan Makiya) analysis and the liberal tradition in which it is rooted.

In the third part Gowan turns to the area which he specialised in (not least as a founding editor of Labour Focus on Eastern Europe). The first of the four articles "The Theory and Practice of Neo-Liberalism for Eastern Europe" examines Eastern Europe's experience under western prescribed Shock Therapy whose key theoretician was Jeffrey Sachs (among the cheerleaders in the UK were Timothy Garton Ash and John Lloyd - both of whom are politely but firmly dealt with by Gowan). Of particular interest is how the E.U. and the U.S. essentially cut off the Eastern European economies from the Soviet Union/Russia and from each other, and how the Western Europeans re-engineered the Shock Therapy programs to their even greater advantage. The dire social and economic costs of this era were an absolute catastrophe for the region. In "Neo-Liberalism and Civil Society" some fun is had looking at Liberal concepts of civil society promoted by writers such as Timothy Garton Ash and Michael Ignatieff (see Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? (Counterblasts) for a thorough dissection of the Ignatieff phenomena). During the communist era these writers (and doubtlessly others of their ilk) promoted concepts of civil society that fell within the Liberal canon. During the Shock Therapy era when popular anger was building with regards to the costs of the disastrous economic policies being foisted on them, Garton Ash, Ignatieff et al were seriously cutting back on the Liberal dimension of their analysis in order to prevent the overturning of Shock Therapy Programs in Eastern Europe.

The third article, "The Post-Communist Parties in the East" focusses on the experience of the former Communist Parties in Poland, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria and how they changed into parties that claimed to be Social Democratic in the tradition of Western Europe and Scandinavia. Gowan delivers plenty of detail on the changing contexts within which each party developed (perhaps too much detail for some readers tastes) as well as how they met the challenges of being active in an era where Western European countries and International Institutions (such as the European Union, NATO, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the IMF and the World Bank) were with a great deal of success setting the parameters within which each countries Social, Economic and Political Development occurred. The final article "The Enlargement of NATO and the European Union" looks at the prospects for both organisations advancing into Eastern Europe, and how the Americans were particularly keen for NATO to expand in that direction so that they could keep a hand in regarding developments in Europe. It makes particularly interesting reading in light of recent developments in Ukraine.

This book shows a writer at the height of his powers, in the first part Gowan manages to make convincing sense of developments in the global economic sphere over the last third of the twentieth century in writing that, despite his position as an academic, is clear, concise and illuminates the subject like nothing else I've read: in short utterly brilliant. The lengthy article on the Iraq Crisis/War of 1990-91, and four articles on Eastern Europe, are all of a high quality and provide an invaluable insight into the events described. In totality this book is amongst the most impressive books on Global Political Economy I have ever read. I'd also recommend the only other book length writing of Gowan's before he died in 2009 A Calculus of Power: Grand Strategy in the 21st Century.


Inequality and the Global Economic Crisis
Inequality and the Global Economic Crisis
by Douglas Dowd
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.99

1.0 out of 5 stars A Sloppy, Strident And Shambolic Mess, 3 April 2014
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I found Douglas Dowd's Capitalism and Its Economics to be a fine left-wing/Marxist introduction to the field of economics including a number of prominent economists. His Against the Conventional Wisdom was an interesting book on the American economic scene of the 1990's and earlier. For some reason, Dowd's latest book "Inequality and the Global Economic Crisis" doesn't live up to the standard of those earlier books. It doesn't even live up to the title as very little of the book (up to the half way point which was as far as I could stomach) is directly about inequality and the economic crisis of 2007/8 and beyond, and what little there is appears to have been tacked on before printing rather than being an integral part of the text.

Dowd's writes in a register that's strident to the point of caricature, and which over simplifies historical experience where it doesn't get things outright wrong: for example Dowd states it's an "accepted estimate that. . . only about a fifth [of transported slaves] survived the months' long voyage."(p53) This is pluck it out of thin air sourcing of facts (and far from the only error). It is absolutely useless for a reader looking to become historically informed, and even if the reader wishes to follow Dowd's back to his sources they will find that he reference whole books, generally not even sourcing the chapter never mind the page.

In summary this is an extremely disappointing book, and if you are interested in equality in the current era two books well worth reading would be Wilkinson & Pickett's The Spirit Level and Stewart Lansley's The Cost of Inequality. With regards to Douglas Dowd's his Capitalism and Its Economics is definitely worth a read, whereas this book is definitely worth forgetting.


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: £19.99

10 of 10 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: £21.99

2 of 3 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

2 of 4 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

2 of 3 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

3 of 5 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.


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