I purchased this book after listening to the author's interview on Democracy Now recently. Between what I heard there and the glowing endorsements fro...moreI purchased this book after listening to the author's interview on Democracy Now recently. Between what I heard there and the glowing endorsements from Noam Chomsky and Andrew Bacevich, both of whom I have immense respect for, I had incredibly high expectations for this book. Nothing could have prepared me for the utter holocaust of writing that is Aftermath. I only made it 25% of the way through before I was overwhelmed with intellectual pain and had to give up on it. I am a very patient and tenacious individual, and I almost never bail out on a book I start no matter how bad it is, but I simply could not read it.
Aftermath seems like it could have been written by a strobe light. It is a constant stream of moments, illuminated with far too much intensity, appearing in disjointed sequence that confuse and overwhelm the reader. It almost seems like he published his field notes from his time as a journalist in the middle east, with absolutely no editing whatsoever.
After a long and meandering introduction to the first part of the book about the descent of Iraq into sectarian violence, Rosen states that despite conventional wisdom that sectarian strife has a long history in Iraq and has always been there, the civil war that eventually occurred subsequent to the occupation was entirely the fault of the US. He then utterly fails to demonstrate that in any cohesive way. He strings together seemingly random incidences of violence between sects, with almost no mention of the US. The writing style organizes information into small to medium sized paragraphs, each dealing with some specific moment or event, which may or may not be at all related to the paragraphs before and after it, and which have no transition or flow. There is no sense of narrative whatsoever. There is very little analysis or commentary, just a mind dump of information. There seems to have been little thought into considering what information is relevant to what the author is trying to say at any given time (if the author even knows what he is trying to say at any given time), and there is vast amounts of superfluous text.
If the information is coherent and interesting, I don't mind a boring book at all. However, the presence of vast amounts of irrelevant information (describing people's mustaches, passing comments about his friends that are not important in relation to the event he is describing, and other such frivolous details) makes it a chore to get to the interesting information. Given the disjointed structure I mentioned earlier, it's difficult to keep interesting information in context. The author constantly skips around geographical areas and does not keep a clear chronology. He often includes large portions of people's speech without putting it in context. After reading a section about events and speech towards the end of the sectarian violence in Iraq, he suddenly, with no preface, included a long speech about Muslim unity and predictions that there will be no civil war. This is confusing, given the previous discussion of violence, but a page or so later, you realize that he was quoting something someone said years earlier, without making that clear.
With his tendency to skip around with no transition or flow, it's very difficult to pick out the occasional insight or interesting informative text and incorporate it into some kind of coherent thesis.
Beyond the content, the style of the book was eminently unreadable. His tone was dominated by plain, short, repetitive sentences like "We saw Muqtada Speak. He said ____. We got in the car and drove to Baghdad. There was an Iraqi Police Checkpoint. There had been a Sunni attack". There were occasional variations in syntax, but some paragraphs read like that for some time, and I found it exceptionally dry, on top of all the other problems I've described.
Frankly, I am quite shocked at the poor quality of this book. It makes me question whether anyone who endorsed it actually read it. I simply can't understand how Rosen, a well regarded journalist with excellent credentials, could write anything so atrocious. I purchased this book on kindle, and perhaps the kindle version is an unedited manuscript or something? I'm also rather incensed that the kindle version cost twice as much as normal kindle books. I don't mind paying extra for quality writing, but overcharging me for such drivel is insulting. After forcing myself to read 25% of this book, my brain felt dirty and violated. I rarely drink, but I found myself needing to cleanse my mind of this atrocity with copious quantities of toxic chemicals. (less)
A History of Modern Palestine is a thoroughly enlightening, in-depth, unbiased analysis of the land that is known now as Israel and the Occupied Terri...moreA History of Modern Palestine is a thoroughly enlightening, in-depth, unbiased analysis of the land that is known now as Israel and the Occupied Territories. It's important to note, before getting into the review, that in mainstream US and Israeli discourse, "unbiased" means falsely equivocating the behavior of two parties as if they share equal power and equal responsibility for the course of events in the region, which is simply not true. Pappe analyzes significant developments in the region in context, emphasizing the great chain of cause and effect that is often left out of discussions of the issue.
Pappe is an Israeli professor of history who offers a captivating attempt to unite both the Zionist and Palestinian nationalist narratives and reconcile them with what has actually happened. The writing is dense and academic, but highly readable. He occasionally goes off on tangents discussing various theories and models that professional historians use, applying them to the subject matter or examining how other historians have applied or misapplied them, but other than that, I found it highly accessible.
The book begins around 1850 in Ottoman Palestine, discussing the social structures of the people who lived there and setting the stage for the conflict that developed during the 20th century. The rise of Zionism in Europe is chronicled, and its ensuring slow migration of Jews to Palestine from the 1880s onward. Pappe examines how Palestinian social structure was initially affected by this immigration, as well as by integration with the European economy.
Significant time is devoted to the interwar period of the British Mandate, and how Zionism developed, centralized its civil and military institutions, and established goals for the future Jewish State during that time. Following the second world war, Pappe examines the UN establishent of Israel, including the ethnic cleansing, expulsion, and murder carried out by the Zionists against Palestinians in the months prior to the official birth of Israel in May of 1948.
The remainder of the book discusses the rise of Palestinian resistance and the increasingly brutal Israeli suppression, the 1967 war and subsequent occupation of the rest of ex-Mandate Palestine by the Israelis, the 1973 war, beginnings of the peace process in the 1970s, the Israeli invasions of Lebanon, the first Intifada, the rise of post Zionism in Israel, the Oslo accords, the rise of suicide terrorism, and the degeneration back into violence that has engulfed the region in the early 2000s. Throughout the history, Pappe often pauses to discuss what the Zionist or Palestinian mythology has to say about a given issue, comparing it to how the other side perceived events and to what actually happened.
If you are a die hard Zionist, you probably won’t like this book. I was raised Jewish and attended Hebrew night school for many years, and the Zionist narrative I was provided is starkly at odds with historical realities. I felt Pappe treated both sides fairly, pointing out shortcomings and never moralizing or judging. However, as I suggested at the beginning, there is no false equivocation. Israeli bloodshed and violence vastly exceeds Palestinian, and much of the Palestinian violence is a direct result of their economic, political, and military oppression and exploitation by a vastly more powerful Israeli society. He also documents the radicalization of Palestinian resistance, culminating in the rise of extremist movements like Hezbollah and Hamas, resulting from increasing Israeli oppression and failure to address the fundamental issues of the conflict. Throughout his treatment of the peace process, Pappe, documents how Israelis continued to undermine peace efforts with military intervention and illegal settlement expansion, slowly eroding the chances that a peaceful solution could occur.
Pappe also does not generalize each side. Much time is spent examining the various factions within Israeli and Palestinian society, investigating their origins, ideologies, and motivations. I was particularly struck with his dissection of the class structure of Israeli society and explanation of how poorly Arab jews and even Holocaust survivors were treated.
Final thoughts: excellent read for anyone who wants an open minded, comprehensive, and systemic analysis of the events that brought Israel and Palestine to their present impasse, and the obstacles that their societies must come to terms with if the conflict is to be resolved. (less)
This is a collection of some of Chomsky's most influential essays and articles, covering a wide range of topics from the role of intellectuals in the...moreThis is a collection of some of Chomsky's most influential essays and articles, covering a wide range of topics from the role of intellectuals in the US, US foreign policy, Israel/Palestine, Anarchism, social movements, and a sampling of his linguistics work. Chomsky is one of the most profound and insightful social critics of our time, and this is a decent overview of his work. (less)
This is the best single source of Chomsky's work I've come across. A triumph of editing, this book is made up of excerpts of talks Chomsky gave throug...moreThis is the best single source of Chomsky's work I've come across. A triumph of editing, this book is made up of excerpts of talks Chomsky gave throughout the 80s and 90s. Loosely organized by topic, the book is highly flowing and readable. It includes an encyclopedic reference section available online that is longer than the main text of the book. This is where I recommend anyone not familiar with Chomsky's work to begin; it's the most comprehensive and accessible compilation of his thoughts. Many of the discussions quoted within were in question and answer format. The audience participation is included in the text. Many of the audience questions are obvious questions anyone unfamiliar with the subject matter would have, and the opportunity to read Chomsky's detailed responses to a huge range of questions offers much deeper understanding than simply reading one of his books by yourself.
Understanding Power is a glimpse into the mind of one of the most brilliant, profound, and insightful social critics of our time. He touches on virtually every influential issue in US history, and readers are bound to walk away with a much deeper appreciation for how power functions in society, and how divergent American standard explanations of the world are from reality. (less)
This work presents an enlightening combination of two of the most principled, informed, and perceptive voices on the Israel/Palestine conlict: Israeli...moreThis work presents an enlightening combination of two of the most principled, informed, and perceptive voices on the Israel/Palestine conlict: Israeli historian Ilan Pappe and US linguist, dissident, and socal critic Noam Chomsky.
Gaza in Crises contains a series of relatively short but dense and informative essays and interviews by one or both authors. I find their insights to be highly complementary, as Chomsky generally speaks of the conflict after 1967, while Pappe has conducted extensive research into the events leading up to the 1948 war, relying on the declassified Israeli military archives as well as Palestinian witness accounts.
Gaza In Crisis is informative both to people relatively unfamiliar with the conflict and those with more knowledge. While sketching out a broad outline of major events between 1948 and the december 2008 Israel attack on Gaza, there are a few more focused essays presenting material I had no yet encountered in the author's other work. In particular, Pappe has an essay investigating 5 major trends in US politics and society that he identifies as most influential on US Israeli policy, which I found highly thought provoking.
Other essays deal with Nakba denialism, analysis of the one/binational and two state solutions, and the evolution of Israeli policy and brutality in Gaza.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking to better understand this complex issue.(less)
Beyond the Green Zone is a powerful, shocking, and meticulous account the US invasion of Iraq told from the perspective that has been largely neglecte...moreBeyond the Green Zone is a powerful, shocking, and meticulous account the US invasion of Iraq told from the perspective that has been largely neglected by US corporate media: its victims.
The US military, in the wake of Vietnam, considered the media to be a great threat to its ability to wage offensive wars of counterinsurgency and occupation. When the public is fully informed of the atrocities that quite naturally follow wars pitting modern armies against grass roots, popularly supported resistance movements, domestic outrage and anti-war sentiment quickly erodes the political foundation of the war. In the past 20 years, among the efforts to ensure what happened in Vietnam did not happen again, the Pentagon developed "embedding", a most pernicious assault on journalistic integrity, to ensure information about the war was restricted US political and military leaders perspective. Embedded journalists rely on the soldiers around them for their lives, causing them to form unprofessional relationships and abandon the responsibility of holding authorities to account that should define the profession of journalism in a functioning democracy. They see only what military authorities want them to see, and fail to independently examine assertions or cover perspectives from members of the society in which the military is operating.
That is why this Jamail and his work are so critically important. Working as a park ranger in Alaska, he was struck by the contrast between the way international news agencies in Britain, France, and the Arab world and the US corporate media were covering the lead up to the war. Assertions by the US government relating to the non-existent WMD, links between Saddam to Al-Qaeda/9-11, and other false claims were critically examined and debunked by foreign press, but taken on faith and passed as truth and trumpeted by the war cheerleading US media. Outraged that his country was being lied into a war and determined to help get the truth out, Jamail scraped some money and equipment together and set off to Iraq to independently report the consequences of the war.
Jamail spends his time in country visiting residential neighborhoods, rural farms, hospitals, and various cities around Iraq. He interviews countless locals, farmers, resistance leaders and fighters, and the occasional Iraqi authority or US soldier. Much of his reporting is from Baghdad, but some of the most powerful section of the book were trips he made to the city of Fallujah during the Marines' two attempts to destroy the resistance movement there, at massive cost to civilian life. The great risk he took to tell this suppressed truth is beyond admirable. Beyond the risk of random carbombings, kidnappings, and other daily Iraqi occurrences, unembedded journalists in Iraq were sometimes targets of US military detention and even assassination (see the killings of Al Jazeera journalists, documented elsewhere).
Jamail's accounts reveal the extent to which the US military establishment blatantly lied about the nature of the resistance movement, the scope of military operations, and the extent of civilian casualties. He frequently juxtaposes pictures and first hand accounts he documents with a dishonest military press release, which is uncritically accepted by the establishment media.
Overall, Jamail paints a horrendous, heart wrenching picture of the utter chaos and destruction that has been unleashed on 27 million innocent people, already suffering from decades of US sponsored genocidal sanctions and brutal US backed dictatorship. One of the elements most lacking in the US national discourse is empathy, and it's difficult not to be overwhelmed with anger and sadness at the Jamail's endless accounts of 8 hour gas lines, lack of electricity, lack of medical supplies, use of illegal cluster bombs and white phosphorous on civilians, intentional sniping of women and children, intentional firing upon ambulances, night raids, and the general sense of anxiety, uncertainty, and terror that pervades the lives of ordinary people throughout the country.
On top of the sheer horror and scale of the crimes perpetrated by the US in Iraq, Jamail touches on the obscene levels of corporate profiteering and corruption. Bechtel, despite receiving almost 3 billion in reconstruction money, failed to deliver the medical facilities, electricity, and clean water it promised. The US and Iraqi puppet authorities amended Iraqi law to permit foreign companies to invest in Iraq without local partnership, without hiring Iraqis, and to freely take any profits out of the country. What kind of reconstruction is structured to exclusively benefit foreign companies at the expense of the local population?
After reading this book, it's quite easy to understand why such a massive resistance movement developed in Iraq. I fail to understand how anyone in the US can act as if Iraqis should be happy to have our armies in their homeland, murdering innocent people with abandon. Human beings everywhere chafe and revolt under foreign occupation. Our ideology pretends that we are freedom incarnate, and constitutionally incapable of aggressive war and occupation, but that is preposterous. The US establishment's attempts to write these people off as terrorists are absurdly hypocritical, as this country was founded in exactly that kind of nationalistic grass roots resistance to foreign power.
The time period covered by Jamail's coverage in the country mainly ended before the sectarian conflict really developed to horrific proportions, and I would have liked to hear more about that, but I'm sure there are other sources for that.
Upon perusing other reviews, I noticed some people accusing him of 'bias' or questioning his journalism because it did not flow through an editor. I find these claims absurd. Given the extremely well documented failures of US corporate media, with their huge number of employees, editors, and resources, to do basic fact checking on the claims of the US government and military, and their willingness to spread the lies and propaganda that started this war, criticizing Jamail for not having the infrastructure they have is a weak argument. I hope these people hold the corporate media to the same level of skepticism and treat everything that comes out of such blatantly dishonest institutions as suspect. Many of the incidences Jamail documents have been investigated by international human rights organizations as well, whose accounts corroborate his. Furthermore, if even 10% of what he said was true, if only 10% of those women and children were brutally murdered, the US occupation of Iraq would still be an unconscionable travesty of justice that that can't be tolerated by a civilized world.
Jamail is an angry citizen holding his government to account by allowing the victims of a war to share their suppressed stories. The US military and their corporate media lapdogs have a well documented record of lying, murdering, committing war crimes, and advancing corporate interests above human interests. Who will you believe?(less)
The Limits of Power is a fascinating deconstruction of the ideology that drives US political and military institutions. Though short, it's a very dens...moreThe Limits of Power is a fascinating deconstruction of the ideology that drives US political and military institutions. Though short, it's a very dense read, with a lot of hard hitting information packed into a relatively small amount of text.
Bacevich challenges the US self image of a freedom and peace loving country, always possessed of benign intentions, which constantly finds itself involved in conflicts created by 'evil' figures intent on denying us the peace we seek. Observating the religious like fanaticism with which the concept of liberty is treated in public discourse, he argues that we have defined 'freedom' in terms of consumerism and capitalism, and our pursuit of this type of freedom forces us to rely on military power to maintain an empire from which we can draw the resources, credit, and labor necessary to pursue our brand of freedom. His central thesis is that the economic/cultural, political, and military crises resulting from this misguided pursuit will ultimately harm the country in the long term. The unsustainable policies we justify in pursuit of freedom are ultimately self defeating. Not only must Americans take a realistic look what what lifestyle can actually be sustained and abandon their imperial delusions, but we must also reexamine what liberty actually means.
I found Bacevich's arguments well documented, insightful, and eloquent. Without summarizing the entire book: he discusses the history of american expansionism and the myth of our 'liberating tradition'. He notes the rise of our economic prestige, reaching its apex after world war 2 when the US was the indisputably dominant economic producer on the planet, running huge trade surpluses and maintaining net creditor status. As consumerism intensified, however, our appetites outstripped our means, which has led to the point where we are the worlds largest debtor and run astronomic trade deficits - totally unsustainable. We keep this imbalance on life support through our military power to ensure uninterrupted access to credit, natural resources, and cheap labor. He chronicles the development of dysfunction in the institutions of our political and military systems which have propelled us along this foolhardy path.
He succinctly states "the tendency among civilian [political leadership] has been to confuse strategy with ideology... the tendency among military officers is to confuse strategy with operations' US institutional leadership is blind to the limitations of US military power to maintain our lifestyle. Civilian leaders fail to acknowledge reality. We have neither the financial resources nor the military manpower (nor do we have domestic popular support or funding for an increase in the size of the military)to maintain the level of warmarking and suppression of foreign populations necessary to accomplish our goals. Military leaders, during the 90s and subsequent to 9/11, thought that our technological superiority endowed us with a military advantage unknown in human history. Our misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have revealed the hubris and miscalculation of our military abilities. Grass roots movements opposing foreign intervention can bog down our entire military establishment using guerrilla tactics and home made explosives, and the more intensely we fight 'insurgents' with hard power, the more we alienate the local population, increasing the strength of the resistance.
I rated this book four stars mainly because I find his analysis of the underlying causes of these crises somewhat lacking. He places a lot of the blame on the American people, who he views as obsessed with material consumption and unwilling to reign in elected officials because a change in policy would mean an end to the consumption habits we enjoy so much. It seems somewhat reminiscent of corporations, accused of malfeasance, claiming that they were just responding to consumer demand. This is disingenuous in a system with such a pervasive propaganda/advertising system designed to turn citizens into consumers and create artificial demand. The general population definitely bears some responsibility for the actions of its government, but Bacevich does not acknowledge the role that corporations and powerful private interests play in forming the system. Money dominates the US politics, and though the US holds free elections, the two party, corporate controlled system ensures Americans will choose between candidates who differ superficially but advocate positions only in the narrow range of economic and foreign policies acceptable to the corporate elite. While our military interventionism supports the materialistic freedom he describes, he does not deeply examine the role of corporate profiteering and influence in either the formation of military policy or the rise of consumerism.
This is my first Chalmers Johnson book. While I thoroughly enjoyed and would award 5 stars for his cogent, well supported arguments and observations,...moreThis is my first Chalmers Johnson book. While I thoroughly enjoyed and would award 5 stars for his cogent, well supported arguments and observations, I did not enjoy the format.
Johnson deconstructs our military bureaucracy to reveal self defeating imperialism, profiteering, and profligate spending, among other trends he identifies as threatening to the well being of the US. He argues eloquently that no country in history has been able to remain democratic and economically provide for its civil society, while simultaneously maintaining a military empire abroad. He analyzes in depth the fiscal consequences of the US attempt to do so, and the resulting financial catastrophe that we are just beginning to see unravel. He demonstrated irrefutably how self defeating and unsustainable our present course is, and argues that we take the gentler path of voluntarily scaling back our empire rather than waiting for it to collapse under financial implosion and/or military defeat.
These are the common threads that run through the book, however, they are presented in a series of essays that originally appeared on a news/commentary website to which he contributes. While the essays are, in and of themselves, generally fantastic, they don't work cohesively very well as a book beyond the fact that the same basic themes are repeated. The repetition in numerous essays of the same statistics can get old. Also, despite the common themes, the topics do sometimes jump around abruptly, though the editors did try to arrange them in a logical way. I must not have read the description well enough to realize this was the case, so my expectations were colored by the fact that I thought I was buying an actual book, rather than a collection of short pieces.
In summary: 5 stars for content, 1 star for selling a bunch of essays I could have read online as a book =)(less)
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is a meticulously documented account of the campaign of the Jewish colonists in Palestine to forcibly expel the Arab...moreThe Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is a meticulously documented account of the campaign of the Jewish colonists in Palestine to forcibly expel the Arab population from the land now known as Israel. This conflict is obviously a hugely controversial subject, with a great deal of misinformation, ideology, and vicious ad hominem rhetoric poisoning most online review forums or discussions I've come across. I approach whatever I read with skepticism, and what I most enjoyed about this book was how its exhaustive referencing.
I've read many smears against Pappe - ideologue, communist (as if that in and of itself invalidates his opinion?), 'revisionist' (a meaningless sloganeering term, really), and all manner of other horrible things. However, I've yet to read a single detractor who actually refuted (or even addressed, for that matter) the evidence compiled in his work. Ethnic Cleansing is full of references to Ben Gurion's own diary, declassified documents from Haganah/the IDF, accounts from British diplomats before they departed the region, reports from UN observers and the international red cross, testimony in Israeli courts, oral accounts from Israeli soldiers who participated in the cleansing, and oral testimonies from victims of the conflict. It's a mountain of evidence I've yet to see effectively refuted.
Pappe uses these diverse sources to illuminate with heart wrenching clarity the crimes that the nascent state of Israel committed in 1948, continuing to the present day. He documents the development of a plan by senior Zionist/Israeli leaders to sieze, by force, as much of the territory of Mandatory Palestine as possible, while ethnically cleansing as many of the resident Arabs as possible to ensure an ethnically Jewish state. This violent, organized campaign, which began in earnest in March of (1948), used military night raids, massacres of women, children, and military age males, concentration camps to detain military age males, demolition of Arab houses/villages, shelling of Arab neighborhoods, and other methods to quickly and efficiently depopulate hundreds of Arab villages. It was only after hundreds of thousands of Arabs had been forcibily evicted in this way that the neighboring Arab countries decided to intervene to prevent these atrocities. Following their military victory, the Israelis continued the campaign until about 800,000 people had been cleansed, clearing the land for Jewish settlement. Pappe documents the subsequent attempts to Judaize the land, erasing all traces of its prior residents. He also discusses the fact that this initial crime is excluded from the so called "peace process" by the Israelis and their US benefactors, and contends the issue can never be solved until this is addressed.
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to truly understand the roots of the conflict in this region and what must be addressed in order to solve it. (less)
Before I get into my review, I wanted to point out that for someone without a lot of financial knowledge, this could be a very difficult book to read....moreBefore I get into my review, I wanted to point out that for someone without a lot of financial knowledge, this could be a very difficult book to read. I have a college degree in accounting, did some graduate work in tax, and worked for one of the big four accounting firms for a year in their international tax consulting department. I quit working for them and left the field entirely after I realized in vague generalities what they were doing, which was one of the reasons I was so interested in this book. The international system Shaxson describes coincides perfectly with what I saw in the accounting firm I worked for, and some of the specific techniques he describes correspond exactly to the tax structures I used to see discussed in trainings and other meetings. Given that background, I found this book incredibly engrossing and informative, but if you have low financial literacy, you may have a tough time with it. However, it is incredibly well written, uses a minimum of jargon, and tries its hardest to break down complex tax and financial concepts into lay terms.
Treasure Islands does a really incredible job in shedding light on an arcane, complex international financial system that has evolved mainly over the past 100 years. Like most people, when I heard the term tax haven, I would think of a few rogue Caribbean islands who helped a few rich people and crime lords launder money or hide it from taxation. Shaxson turns that conception on its head. While the term tax haven sounds like it specifically refers to taxes, Shaxon defines it more broadly: "Tax havens can be loosely described as a jurisdiction that seeks to attract money by offering politically stable facilities to help people or business entities get around the laws, rules, and regulations of jurisdictions elsewhere."
Using that definition, Shaxson aggregates the international network of such jurisdictions under the label "the offshore system". In this book, he investigates the three main components of the offshore system, which may surprise you. While the small island states are integral fortifications of the offshore system, the main poles are actually the United States, London, and a grouping of states in continental Europe (mainly Luxembourg, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and the Netherlands). Considering that about one half of world trade passes through tax havens, they are integral to the current global system. Also, while terrorists and crime lords are significant users of the offshore system, the primary beneficiary and architect is the financial services industry. The bankers on Wall Street and in London have constructed a system to help them undermine democracy, drastically boost profits, destabilize the global markets, shape international regulation to their liking, and evade taxes, and this very same infrastructure enables the financing of international terrorism, corrupt third world rulers, and greatly facilitates the illegal drug trade. One key takeaway from the book is that all of these phenomena have their roots in the same underlying financial network, and none of them can be addressed without confronting the offshore system.
The main services that tax havens provides are secrecy, tax evasion, and freedom from unwanted regulation. A very important consequence of such a system is the creation of a race to the bottom in terms of regulatory environments. Shaxson examines this process both in the United States and internationally. While the US is an international tax haven (offering secrecy to foreign donors, allowing banks to accept proceeds from criminal activities as long as they were committed abroad, offering tax breaks to foreign investors), there is also a tax haven network at the state level. States such as South Dakota and Delaware, in an effort to attract corporations to incorporate in their states, abolished interest rate caps, giving birth to the credit card industry in the 80s. Delaware also has a long history of offering the most permissive rules of corporate governance, giving maximum power to corporate managers. Barack Obama criticized the Caymans, where he alleged that there was a building where 12,000 corporations supposedly had business offices. Well, there is an office building in Delaware with about 219,000.
Internationally, the offshore system allows banks to exercise this deregulatory leverage at the national level. The city of London, which has long maintained an extremely lax regulatory environment for fascinating historical reasons detailed in the book, began attracting massive amounts of business from US banks chafing under the Bretton Woods system of capital controls and Glass Steagall regulations separating commercial and investment banking. London had no such controls, so US banks were able to begin doing business there and use the threat to relocate to London to eventually force the US to deregulate in the late 90s and 2000s. As we know, this was a crucial development in setting the stage for the financial crisis of 2008. In addition, the unregulated markets that were based in London allowed banks to set up investment vehicles that were free of reserve requirements, allowing them to issue massive amounts of debt.
A final theme discussed in the book is the devastating effects of the offshore system on poor countries. For every one dollar of foreign aid that has flowed into developing countries over the past 30 or so years, TEN dollars have left the country and into the offshore system, building the portfolios and secret accounts of corrupt ruling elites. The offshore system creates a neocolonial dynamic where western countries back corrupt leaders and their allies, and provide the international financial infrastructure for these corrupt elites to steal their country's wealth and hide it abroad, free of tax. As pernicious as that is, the real consequence to that is that poor populations are saddled with the debt (the proceeds of which the rulers stole), which then of course requires the IMF to come in and radically undermine democracy by imposing harsh structual adjustment programs that mainly benefit rich investor countries and cause great pain to average people.
In summary, this book details the most important aspect of the global economy that you probably never knew existed. If you are interested in understanding poverty, inequality, development economics, international terrorism and the drug trade, and how corporations have amassed such great political power, you are missing a huge piece of the puzzle if you don't read Shaxson's epic work. (less)
Since this can be a contentious subject, I will begin this review by disclaiming my personal positions on the core issues of this book, so that my app...moreSince this can be a contentious subject, I will begin this review by disclaiming my personal positions on the core issues of this book, so that my appraisal may be interpreted in light of my bias. I am very passionate about diet, food, and ecology. My concerns regarding this subject matter are nutrition, ecological issues (in which I include agricultural economy, environmental consequences, and sustainability), social issues, and lastly morality. I have lived several years as a vegan, before negative personal experience and review of previously ignored evidence led me to believe it was not the nutritional and ecological panacea I had been led to believe it was. Similarly to the author, I now consume modest portions of traditionally raised animal products along with a whole foods plant based diet.
With that said, I found this book to be thought provoking in the extreme. More than anything else, my biggest takeaway was a deeper appreciation for the incredible complexity involved in the various sciences charged with evaluating the environmental limitations and effects on food production.
Given how broad this field is, Fairlie naturally must limit the scope of the book. Nutritional factors and the morality of animal eating are completely excluded from consideration in this work. Meat is purely focused on an analysis of how much of what type of food can be produced on how much land under what conditions. Also, as noted in the book, each chapter consists of a stand alone essay, so the overall work feels a little disjointed. I didn't find that to be much of a negative.
Despite the author's status as an enlightened carnivore, I found this book to be highly free of bias and polemics. He gives equal space to proponents of veganism and omnivorism, permaculture and industrialized agriculture. All arguments are critically examined using rigorous scientific, statistical, and historical evidence. Furthermore, extensive portions of the book are devoted to analyzing common scientific data, exploring the presumptions and ideological biases that formed potentially unreliable conclusions. One of the first chapters includes a detailed investigation into various productions methods for livestock and plant matter, and what actual yields of each under different conditions really are. Later in the book, this information is used to analyze the food producing capacities of four different models: chemical vegan, chemical livestock, permaculture vegan, and permaculture livestock. I found these sections especially interesting, as most mainstream vegan literature does not include technical analyses of what vegan agriculture actually looks like. When the advantages and disadvantages are weighed, some critical problems arise.
However, again due to the limited scope of the book, the author chose to apply much of his analysis to the unique circmstances of the United Kingdom. While the principles are interesting and informative, it's hard to know how much different his conclusions would be in other locales. Another limitation is that Fairlie assumes that the fossil fuel age will end in the near decades without a new infrastructure based on renewable, zero carbon energy. While the prospects for the future energy economy are varied and beyond the scope of the book, it's worth noting that much of his analysis presumes that there will be no new easily accessible mass source of energy. However, his explanation of the difficulties in properly managing the nitrogen and phosphate cycle and the maintenance of soil fertility, which as he and others argue is vastly harmed by urbanization and chemical agriculture, highlight extremely important issues that must be addressed in the development of a sustainable food system.
Overall, the book succeeds most where it is deconstructing conventional wisdom surrounding the role of livestock. The vegan establishment ubiquitously decries the caloric inefficiency, the extreme use of water, and the contribution to climate change associated with livestock production. These are often cited as reasons to abolish animal agriculture. Fairlie conducts a meticulous investigation into those claims, and the nuanced truth he uncovers suggests that they are fallacious. The 10:1 ratio of animal feed to meat often cited turns out to be a very limited snapshot of the marginal efficiency of grain fed animals in a concentrated industrial operation. Even in that setting, given that most of the animals' weight comes from grass prior to the CAFO, the ratio drops considerably. There are a number of considerations that can affect it, but it seems 3-4:1 is a more reasonable assessment. Similarly, the water usage statistics tend to come either from a calculation of all of the rainwater that fell on grass that animals ate, or an extrapolation of one specific region in a desert climate where pasture land needed to be irrigated. Since the former does not represent water that was available to humans for alternative use, and the latter represents about 1% of overall production, the water use claims are irrelevant to general livestock production. Finally the greenhouse gas contribution claimed by opponents (18%, according to a UN report) was based on a highly subjective calculation that was designed to promote intensive CAFO operations by allocating emissions from deforestation (which are not recurring emissions, and based off a year with vastly higher rates than current trends) arbitrarily to pastured live stock. A more realistic analysis results in livestock production contributing far less green house gases.
Fairlie advocates a return to decentralized, rural based agricultural systems where animals (what he calls default livestock use) are integrated with the land, serving as a source of fertility and a way of converting non arable pasture land (in the case of cows) and food waste (in the case of pigs and chickens) into a source of human sustenance. This would require that advanced industrial economies eat about 50% of the meat that they currently consume, but Fairlie convincingly argues in favor of the role of default livestock production in a sustainable food economy.
As the pressures of population growth and the costs of technological development continue to pose a threat to human civilization, the debate on how to balance the needs of human food requirements and ecological carrying capacity is increasingly critical. This book is a meticulously researched, well documented, and informative investigation of the various problems and potential solutions, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who eats and cares what the world their grandchildren will live in looks like. (less)