Monday, August 12, 2019

Latest Books

So a quick word about the latest books I'm reading.

I've JUST finished Yanis Varoufakis's Adults in the Room: My battle with the European and American Deep Establishment.

On the cover is the opinion of one Paul Mason of The Guardian, to whit; "One of the greatest political memoirs of all time." I've read a few memoirs and more than a few biographies of historical figures and I have to say that Mr. Mason is probably right. Varoufakis is an economist who was the finance minister for the Syriza government of Greece that was elected in 2015 on a platform of rejecting the austerity policies forced on that country by the European Union following the financial crisis of 2008. Varoufakis details the sordid tale of duplicity, cowardice, oligarchic corruption, hypocrisy, of the EU's treatment of his government.

An interesting story could probably be told by the Syriza Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as to how he eventually succumbed to the pressures to capitulate to the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission (EC) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (referred to in Greece as "the Troika"). Was he deluded? Did he want to remain an "insider" who powerful people would associate with, as opposed to an "outsider" as Varoufakis was and desired to remain, who could speak the truth at the cost of not being listened to? Was he threatened physically?

The story of the book is way more complicated and detailed than I have the energy to summarize here, but I will say this: Throughout the book Varoufakis portrays himself as having always been right and anyone who disagreed with him as having been in the wrong. This might seem obviously self-serving, but the facts of the matter showed the myriad ways in which the forecasts of his opponents turned out to be nonsense and the ways in which the various claims of the parties involved turned out to be false.

And, the end result is that Varoufakis resigned rather than betray the principles that he campaigned on and the so-called "adults in the room" regarded him with contempt as they implemented policies that continued to fail and continued to hurt ordinary Greeks and for which Tsipras and Syriza suffered a massive electoral defeat in 2019.

The "liberal" (or as Varoufakis puts it) "illiberal" bureaucrats of the European Union seemed generally surprised by the rise of the fascist right-wing across Europe and, indeed, in the United States of Donald Trump and the right-wing led Brexit. This is the first time I've ever considered that the ruling classes are too stupid to see the dangers of fascism. I always thought that they KNEW their policies were fucking people over but that they DELIBERATELY chose to advance the political fortunes of fascists over leftists because fascists vent their spleens against powerless groups (immigrants/refugees/women/homosexuals/people poorer than they are) as opposed to leftists who correctly point to the oligarchs as the source of society's woes. But having immersed myself in the world of the EU bureaucracy and the political elite (via this memoir) it seems to me that these self-deluded cretins are too busy with their meetings and their ass-kissings, and their lack of empathy, and their GAWRDNOZEWUTELSE that they simply never had time to think about the rise of fascist shit-for-brains or to even notice said rise.

I'm also reading Operation Medusa: The Furious Battle that Saved Afghanistan From the Taliban by Canadian Major-General (ret'd) David Fraser and Brian Hanington.

The subject matter of this book takes place immediately after the events in a book I mentioned hereContact Charlie: The Canadian Army, the Taliban and the Battle That Saved Afghanistan. How about that 'eh? First we saved Afghanistan in May-August 2006 and then we saved it again in September! Surprisingly though, the Taliban continue to fight long after Afghanistan has been "saved" from them.

The lead commander in Contact Charlie is Lt.-Col. Ian Hope. In Operation Medusa, this larger operation is led by a Major-General.
One thing is interesting. At some point, the Governor of Kandahar (Asadullah Khalid) calls in two of  Fraser's subordinates to his office (Fraser was out of the country at the time), where they are confronted with three regional leaders who are widely known as having accommodations with the Taliban. Unnerved, they listen as Khalid says that the root of these men's disloyalty is their doubt in the resolve of the new NATO forces in Kandahar to stay and defeat the Taliban. The Canadians respond by telling Khalid that, actually, a major offensive is being planned against them. That the two Canadians on the spot felt entitled to reveal this crucial information without Fraser's prior approval strikes me as remarkable. As a result, the operation had to be stepped up before Fraser had decided the time was ripe.

The book is on a wider scale than Contact Charlie and we therefore read more general information about Afghanistan, the international politics of the war, and of the methods and appeals of the Taliban in Kandahar. Once again, one is struck by the technological superiority of NATO vs the Taliban and therefore, of the either suicidal bravery and commitment of the Taliban or their delusion and stupidity. And, again, I don't doubt the professionalism or the courage or the idealism of many within the Canadian Armed Forces, but in Afghanistan it appears to have been for naught. Books that avoid the elephant in the room of the unpopularity of the western-backed governments can only tell at most half of the story. If the government is corrupt, if it's police forces steal, rape and kill, if our development projects are cynical failures, if our airstrikes killed more people than the Taliban did, then any military victories we achieved were pointless or worse.

Lastly I'm reading A Rabble of Dead Money - The Great Crash and the Global Depression: 1929-1939 by Charles R. Morris.

He's a little bit too much of a pro-banker/financial markets guy but he gives a superb summary of the the development of the US economy up to the "Roaring Twenties" and of the financial crises created by the First World War and all sorts of stuff. As near as I can make out, Morris is saying that Wall Street wasn't excessively overpriced, but that once the downward trend began, "animal spirits" (I think I'm using Keynes's term correctly) and the limits of economic theory and the existing public sector apparatus combined to allow the economy to enter into a free-fall.

It's a very readable, informative book that the average person could follow.

So, those are the latest books I'm reading.

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