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January 13, 2012

A quick selection of some things I read this past week:

  • If you aren’t making Jacobin part of your daily diet of analysis and commentary, you’re missing out on some of the best writing around. Mike Beggs has been crafting lovely essays on political economy and marxism.  His latest, “Occupy Economics,” makes a crucial point that gets lost in the shuffle, in my opinion, all too often. Says Beggs: “If economics is more monolithic than most social scientists, it is less so than it seems from the outside. Radicals should think of it as terrain, not the enemy itself. Many of its strategic points favor the enemy, but parts of it are open for contest.  Occupying economics is about widening and shoring up the space in which radicals can survive, so as to develop analysis aimed at social movements. It is not about politicizing economics, because economics has always been politicized.”
  • While you’re at the Jacobin site, be sure to also read Seth Ackerman’s “The Strike and Its Enemies.”
  • False Economy published an excellent piece, “The Cruel Truth about US Workfare,” which features the even more excellent John Krinsky on the nonsense put out by the Rudy Giuliani administration and other neoliberal advocates on the supposed successes of workfare programs over the past decade and a half.   John’s one of the sharpest guys around, and his generous spirit and talent as a teacher is superseded only by his brilliant scholarship and commentary on public policy and social welfare programs.
  • In the New York Review of Books, Yasmine El Rashidi has a good roundup of the complicated politics driving Egypt’s triple-staged process of national elections.
  • Also at NYROB, be sure to check out Jeff Madrick’s latest on “How Austerity is Killing Europe.”
  • Bob Kaplan profiles John Mearsheimer in the latest issue of The Atlantic and does a surprisingly decent job of describing Mearsheimer’s offensive realism. I take issue, however, with Robert Merry’s description of Kaplan, at The National Interest, as a “muscular-minded realist.”  Merry is wrong on both counts. Kaplan–who I admire as a travel writer–is given way too much credit as an analyst of world affairs, and, as I argued a few years back in the Brooklyn Rail, is hardly a realist. That said, he’s done his homework for this latest piece and offers a balanced portrait of one of the most important academic theorists of international relations.
  • Over at The Nation, Linda Darling-Hammond — who would have been Secretary of Education instead of that insipid fraud Arne Duncan, had President Obama been truly serious about education reform — has an important piece on the congressional “redlining” of our nation’s school as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which is due to be reauthorized this year.
  • The Nation also ran an interview between Naomi Klein and Yotam Marom which is a must-read for those interested in the developing contours of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Among other observations, Marom argues that:

I think that within the broader movement, we do have different roles, and there is a particular role for Occupy Wall Street. I personally don’t want to have anything to do with people lobbying or running for office right now, nor do I want to focus all of my time winning small policy changes, and I don’t think that’s the role of Occupy Wall Street. But I sure as hell hope the people whose terrain that is do go and do it. I hope that they can recognize that what’s happening now is the creation of a climate where it’s possible for them to push left and win more. I’m not going to be happy with all the compromises those people have to make, and I don’t think we’re going to survive on reforms alone, but we need that too. If we want a real, meaningful social transformation, we need to win things along the way, because that’s how we provides people the foundations on top of which they can continue to struggle for the long haul, and it’s how we grow to become a critical mass that can ultimately make a fundamental break with this system.

And in the meantime, our role as Occupy Wall Street should be to dream bigger than that. I think it’s our job to look far ahead, to assert vision, to create alternatives and to intervene in the political and economic processes that govern people’s lives. We need to recognize that the institutions that govern our lives really do have power, but we don’t necessarily need to participate in them according to their rules. I think Occupy Wall Street’s role is to step in the way of those processes to prevent them from using that power, and to create openings for the alternatives we are trying to build. And then if politicians or others who consider themselves in solidarity with this movement want to go get on that, then they should use this moment to win the things that will help make us stronger in the long run, and they have a chance now to do that.

  • It’s worth checking out, too, the New Yorker‘s profile of Egyptian author, public intellectual and revolutionary Alaa Al Aswany.  Oh, and sharp eyes will notice a very rare typo in the body of the thing.  I’m pretty sure that this means an angel has just lost its wings…
  • An economic crisis wouldn’t be complete without a few words of wisdom from the Shock Doctor himself, Jeffrey Sachs, who swooped in to Nigeria from on high last week to advise the government on what has been a less-than-popular approach to dealing with a fiscal morassThe New York Times gave over some of its editorial space for Sachs to basically say, well, nothing much. According to Sachs, we should trust the government of Goodluck Jonathan basically because we just should, and offered the same tired, abhorrent argument that recovery would have to be a shared sacrifice. Yuck. Apparently it hasn’t occurred to the Grey Lady’s editors that they might want to solicit opinion on the subject to an actual Nigerian instead of to Sachs, whose portfolio of past endeavors isn’t exactly encouraging.  Compare, for instance, the Times‘ approach to that of the Christian Science Monitor–who got some thoughts from Chinua Achebe–or the BBC, which interviewed poet, playwright and Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka (h/t to the wonderful Diana Cassells for directing me to this last link).
  • And speaking of the Times, the paper’s public editor let loose with this depressing, and frankly weird piece asking, in effect, if the New York Times should challenge the veracity of baloney from politicians that masquerades as “fact” on the political trail.   “Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?” he asks.  Really?!?
  • I also finished two novels this past week: Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot is an enjoyable story of a love triangle between three recent college grads from Brown as they make their way through the uncertainties of post-graduate life in the mid-1980s.  Beyond being a fun read, the book will be of interest to those who have suffered through Jonathan Franzen’s recent fiction (Eugenides throws the thematic gauntlet down, yet again, at Frazen’s feet and takes a couple of subtle swipes in his direction and offers a character–Leonard–who bears a remarkable resemblance to David Foster Wallace despite the author’s denials to the contrary). Julian Barnes’ Man Booker Prize-winning The Sense of an Ending unfortunately doesn’t exhibit one, starting out wonderfully as a meditation on time and memory but suffocates near the end by its own needless plot twist that obscures an otherwise fine book.
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