Wages of Rebellion

Wages of RebellionWages of Rebellion may be Chris Hedges’ best book.

I’ve read a lot of Hedges, too often with mixed feelings. I’ve always liked his politics, but I’ve been put off by his left-evangelical tone. He can be pretty shrill, which lessens his power to convince.

In this book, in a remarkable mixing of scholarship and observation, Hedges submerges much of the personal pain so evident in books like The World As It Is.

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The New Prophets of Capital

cover57380-mediumNicole Aschoff
Verso Books
2015

We live in a capitalist and free market world, and many of us struggle to keep our heads above the globalization waters. So when some-one, especially someone wildly successful, comes along to tell us how to stop clinging to the wreckage and swim safely to shore, we listen. After all, they made it, and now they’re telling us how to do it.

There’s just one problem. All of the solutions uncritically assume that the current economic and political system is a given: if not inevitable, it’s not going to change anytime soon. And that assumption condemns most of us to an unequal and inequitable existence. In a free-for-all market system of course there will be winners, but they always will be vastly outnumbered by the losers and the left behind.

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The Price of Paradise

Price of Paradise
David Dante Troutt
2014

 

The Price of Paradise is a closely-argued and carefully-documented accounting of the social segregation and inequality of services that are at the core of the ideal of “local control.”

Troutt argues that “economic collapse pulled back the curtain on the flawed ways we finance schools, public safety, and infrastructure repair, foreshadowing decades of limited services, unstable budgets, and grossly unequal communities.”

Troutt claims that these “flawed ways” are primarily a matter of a sense of place, a function of how defining the space in which one lives as a middle-class citizen dooms other, less fortunate citizens to reduced or absent opportunities for access to that middle class.

In other words, the very existence of middle-class towns and suburbs generates and perpetuates inequality: “Generations of inequitable localist policies have favored the places currently occupied by a fortunate few over those of the emerging majority. This distribution of public resources is unfair, unreasonable, and unsustainable.”

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Fighting Over the Founders

cover53134-mediumAndrew M. Schocket
January 2015

In Fighting Over the Founders: How We Remember the American Revolution, historian Andrew M. Schocket examines how much of contemporary American political discourse is expressed through the two fundamentally different ways that Americans portray the American Revolution.

Schocket writes that “anything written or spoken about the American Revolution inherently holds political and cultural implications.” This divide hinges on the answers one gives to two fundamental questions:

Is the United States a nation in decline from a golden past, a founding moment of perfection that we can only strive to emulate but are fated to miss the mark? Or did the flawed founders set a standard that they failed but that we are continuing to struggle to approach?

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Pay Any Price

James Risen
James Risen

2014

Pay Any Price, the title of James Risen’s new book documenting the excesses of the security state that the U.S. has become, has a number of significances, from the ironic to the outrageous.

The irony comes from the title’s origin. JFK’s inaugural address in 1961 is best known for his “ask not” challenge to America, but the speech also contained this passage: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

In Pay Any Price, Risen shows with disheartening detail that much of the price of securing the U.S. against the enemies who brought down the “twin towers” and ended the nation’s illusions of invulnerability has been “the survival and success of liberty.” In the years since 9/11, the U.S. has become a country where security trumps liberty.

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God vs. the Gavel

cover53072-smallMarci A. Hamilton
2014

You know why we haven’t had a religious civil war yet, like the rest of the world? Because we did not have extreme religious liberty until now.

 

At the start of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty, Professor Hamilton writes that she has produced this updated edition of her 2007 book because

we are at risk of a permanent shift that threatens to transform the United States from a thriving, diverse community of religious believers who share a marketplace and a public square into a collection of separate mini-theocracies, where we are more concerned about the religion of the person sitting next to us than the fact that they are a fellow American and where we need to know the religion of a Fortune 500 company’s owners to know what our health coverage will be.

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No Place to Hide

GreenwaldCOVER
Glenn Greenwald
2014

The first anniversary of Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia feels like a good day to review Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State , the bestselling account of breaking the NSA spying scandal.

Greenwald was Snowden’s primary partner (or co-conspirator, if you’re so inclined) in informing the world of the extent to which “the world’s greatest democracy,” as the U.S. so loves to describe itself, is gathering literally billions of pieces of information a day on all of its citizens, and on the leaders and citizens of most of the world’s other nations.

I won’t spend a lot of time on the debate over the legality, or the morality, of Snowden and Greenwald’s actions, other than to say that I enthusiastically endorse what they did.

Rather, this is a review of the book; and, as such, I am a lot more critical of the story as written than I am of the events it describes. Continue reading

On Dissent

cover32257-medium
Ronald K. Collins and David M. Skover

2013

What is dissent? What distinguishes it from disagreement? Can violence be part of legitimate dissent? Can groups dissent, or is true dissent always an individual act?

These are some of the key questions asked in Collins and Skover’s On Dissent: Its Meaning in America, an engrossing discussion that ably unpacks the contents of dissent — and the intents of those who engage in it, and of the powerful forces that are enjoined to tolerate it.

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Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials

9780679758860_p0_v1_s260x420Wendy Kaminer
1999

Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials is not a new book, but it’s just the kind of old book that this blog was designed to reintroduce.

Despite the passage of time, or perhaps because of it, Kaminer’s well-reasoned set of chapter-length essays engagingly illustrates her subtitle: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety.

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Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

13533740Jon Meacham
2012

It’s very difficult to write a biography of a political giant like Thomas Jefferson without writing as much about one’s own times as about the world of the title subject. How else can we understand the past, if not in terms of the present, and of our hopes for the future?

So assessments of Jefferson have changed with the times, even on the short scale of a few decades, or even just a few years. For Reaganites, Jefferson was a small-government hero. For social activists, his conflicted attitudes and behaviour regarding slavery diminished his other accomplishments. For Jon Meacham, Thomas Jefferson is a model of pragmatism informed by idealism. He is just the kind of politician that his country seems so to lack today.

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