STEVE PIECZENIK TALKS: The September of 2012 Through The September of 2014
The international system is in flux: Europe is declining as Asia is rising; a post–Arab Spring Middle East continues to smolder; and “soft” power has been substituted for its “hard” variant across numerous other locales. With the rise in debates over America’s decline, questions abound about her role in the world, where should we look for answers?
An eBook compilation of a blog by an ex–Deputy Assistant Secretary of State would be as good a place as any—or so you would think. Yet serious readers are best to look beyond Steve Pieczenik Talks: The September of 2012 through the September of 2014. I say this less so because Pieczenik believes President Obama “lied” about killing Osama bin Laden, however, and more because the author’s writing is seriously wanting.
Describing Putin as a “humanitarian” will sit uneasy with readers who deem Russia’s actions in Ukraine illegitimate, to be sure, but this is sandwiched between legitimate, easy-to-read concerns surrounding, say, the (il)legality of drones and the regime in Riyadh. Despite the author’s efforts “to write more…punched-up,” though, Pieczenik’s amateurish punches fail to land the knockout blows a professional blogger such as Foreign Policy magazine’s Thomas Ricks provides.
Steve R. Pieczenik
Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in the Two Chinas
Here’s a travelogue by Troy Parfitt, a man who sets out to explore the twenty-two provinces of China, but discovers he doesn’t really like the places he visits. He abandons the venture after seventeen and returns to Taiwan, where he has lived and worked for some ten years. This sets up a most curious dissonance. Mostly, he’s written a road book as he travels among the mainland Chinese, spending only a day here and another day there, digging out nuggets of information about the places and their history, capturing moments of interaction, and offering insights. This makes the book impressionist in spirit (i.e., it’s not journalistic realism, nor is it genuinely autobiographical).
Why China Will Never Rule the World is highly editorialized. When you gather so much experience in such a short period of time, and the publisher imposes a physical constraint on how much will appear in print, you distill the mass into a heady spirit, the essence you hope will be intoxicating to your readers. The title says it all and, if it speaks to you, you will find the book enlightening and entertaining. Put simply, here’s a literate and intelligent human being, capable of wit and possessed of a good eye for description. Better still, the prose style is engaging. Yet this is what I imagine Marvin, the Paranoid Android might have written in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Not that either this author, or the original Marvin, is actually paranoid. Marvin’s just consistently downbeat and, depending on your point of view; that’s the strength or weakness of Why China Will Never Rule the World.
So if you want snapshots of potential tourist destinations for those interested in Chinese history, a river cruise to the Three Gorges Dam, or of life in Beijing (which he claims to like), interspersed with explanations of why Sun Yat-sen and Yuan Shikai were villains, why both Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong lost the civil war, and why Mao lost the peace, this is the book for you. As a postscript, Nanjing is the cleanest city and both the Terracotta Army and the Tsingtao Brewery are worth a visit.
This leaves the final third of the book in Taiwan. The contrast in tone is quite dramatic as we come to understand why he prefers residence on the island. Except, after mature reflection, he decides he’s had enough of the Chinese on both sides of the Straits and returns to Canada. This is writing as therapy, exorcising ghosts of the past and looking forward to life in the “old country.”
The Beltway Beast
According to a Gallup poll in October 2013, only 26% believe that two major parties adequately represent Americans, and 60% of Americans think a third party is needed. This book is designed to be a platform for the 74% of Americans who are yearning for an option outside of the two-party monopoly.
And so, Munir Moon succinctly states the purpose for his excellent, thoughtful book. There is a bit of a trend recently in books that look to re-invent the clearly flawed political systems in the Western democracies. (You may disagree with that statement, or at least the latter part of it, but do keep reading.) As I write this review, the number one best-seller in the UK is Russell Brand’s Revolution. Brand calls for a boycott of all established institutions, including a refusal to cast votes in elections contested among elite parties. So in many ways, both Moon and Brand are coming from the same place while heading in only slightly different directions.
Let’s get back to that flawed political system. Writing before the 2014 mid-term elections, Moon notes the following:
– Women represent 51% of the population but made up only 20% of the Senate and 18% of the House in 2013.
– African-Americans comprise 15% of the population, but there was only one black elected US senator in 2013, and only five African-Americans have been elected to the US Senate since this country was founded.
– There were only three Latino senators in 2013, all of them men.
– Sixty-seven percent of senators are millionaires.
– The average age of a senator is sixty-two years, while the median age in America is only thirty-seven.
– Seven of the top ten counties with the nation’s highest household incomes are located in the Washington Beltway.
I’d call that flawed. How about you? Furthermore, Moon brings this to our attention:
“Then there is the issue of overseas military bases that we maintain at a cost of about $102 billion annually, or about $1 trillion over 10 years. Germany alone has 227 US bases, which may have been justified during the Cold War, but why now?”
I cannot over-stress the quality of Moon’s research. To cite just one example, he takes apart Obamacare for being what it is: a giant transfer of capital from the public sector (that would be the American taxpayer) to the already wealthy insurance companies. Moon instead advocates for an idea called the Smart Patient Credit, which would empower consumers by giving them all price options and rewarding them for making the most economical choice. To be frank, I am still an advocate for the Single Payer system, however Moon must be applauded for at the very least provoking discussion.
This book needs to be not just read, not just shared, but acted upon immediately. The Beltway Beast is vital in these times.
Portraits from the Revolution: Interviews with the Protestors from Occupy Wall Street, 30 September – 8 October 2011
E pluribus unum: “out of many, one”. The motto carried by the eagle on the United States’ seal sums up remarkably the paradox –one would say the magic- that was at work during the two months the “99%” occupied the Zuccotti park, besieging Wall Street, and what this institution stands for –the vested interests of the “1%”. Rob Couteau in Portraits from the revolution provides us with a gallery of portraits of a few of the “occupants”, through a series of interviews in which we meet the “99%”.
This was maybe the only possible way by which one can hope to get an authentic feel of what was happening at that time: any attempts to theorize, to synthesize, to put a clear-cut label on this movement would have lost completely what made it so special, what made it a cornerstone for protest movements to come. There was no clearly defined goal, no theory or program; these people did not unite behind a message that was already spelled out. The only tie these people had was a shared condition as humans, as citizens of a world, and a shared grievance: we have lost sight of the full meaning of what it is to be human, of what it is to be citizens of the world. Their message is not an idea but an emotion, the sense that something is very wrong, and that there is a way of turning things around if only we could, as one of the “occupants” put it, “let go of fear”.
Who better than a poet -and Rob Couteau most certainly is- could embrace that emotion and understand what was at stake in park Zuccotti? Who better than a poet could “move” us, in both meanings of the word: bringing us emotion, and putting us in motion against the plethora of realities we condemn? The Occupy movement does not call for an interpretation, for a political analysis: it is a diamond in the rough that would lose all value should it be cut and polished. Each “occupant” we get a glimpse of through Rob Couteau’s interviews is like a facet of this diamond –each has a special shine. And yet each one is so like us. That is maybe the paradox, or the magic, of Couteau’s Portraits from the Revolution: it is a priori a piecemeal assemblage made up of bits and pieces, of fragments of this “revolution” –and yet one cannot shake off this strong sense that there is somehow an underlying unity: these people are us. That is maybe Couteau’s master stroke: his deep understanding of the problem lying at the heart of any society –of our society more than any other- : it takes a whole lot of work, and a whole lot of faith –and maybe a little bit of magic- to make “one” out of “many.”
The Annoyed Voter’s Guide to 2014 & 2015
The Annoyed Voter’s to 2014 & 2015 speaks for itself. One of a handful of voter guides available for American voters, Wilcox’s concise handbook goes beyond the essential electoral politics leading up to the 2016 presidential election by addressing the concern of many Americans who wonder “where this country is heading in the near-and-also-distant future.”
Political blogger (FairPayNow.org) Anthony Wilcox may consider himself “both a humble fellow citizen and a concerned American voter.” But Wilcox, who holds a M.A. in Political Science, has a way with words that are reminiscent of something one would hear on the Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert shows. Barring vulgarity, Wilcox is, in his own right, a pundit whose political analyses and predictions not only speak to older voters, but also to disheartened college students who have been waiting for their turn to make a difference in Washington, only to observe complete chaos among the nation’s leaders.
Wilcox’s approach is a bit different from a lot of analysts who look to 2010 “as a sign of things to come for Democrats in 2014.” And although he doesn’t disagree with their results, Wilcox chooses to focus on 2006 (the final midterm before the end of George W. Bush’s Presidency) and 1998 (during Bill Clinton’s administration). Wilcox sees these years as “true equivalents to 2014. As he states, “after six years in power, even popular Presidents have faded often into becoming ‘just another one of those guys…'” But added to the national mood that seems to be going against President Obama and his Party, Wilcox doesn’t anticipate districts shifting over to the Democrats anytime soon.
While covering a detailed alphabetical 2014 state-by-state election analysis, Wilcox saves the most critical state, Illinois, for last. Not that political corruption isn’t existent elsewhere in the U. S. of A., Illinois is known for being a hotbed for dirty business – thus its nickname, The Windy City. This segues nicely into gubernatorial races and mayoral and municipal elections in a handful of states and cities, respectively. His predictions, unsurprisingly, do not paint a stunning picture for those rooting for the Democrats. Nonetheless, Wilcox keeps his narrative flowing by including his list of potential presidential candidates and possible contenders for both parties. Indeed, an interesting mix of both men and women!
Wilcox winds down his guidebook by taking a stark look at the issues that have been and will continue to affect the American people. Current issues include same-sex marriage, Edward Snowden and national privacy, income inequality, gun control, Ferguson and other race relations, the recent immigration trends, global warming, campaign finance reform, and voter suppression. Older issues that just keep evolving year after year include foreign policy, religion and violence – particularly with Islam (which is ironic since most Muslims are peaceful people), marijuana legalization (which seems to have been going on forever), and a real oldie – one that would make Susan B. Anthony turn in her grave – women and minorities in American politics.
In closing, Wilcox includes open letters to both the Democratic and Republican parties. He not only reminds them of their incredible and invaluable history in this country, but also challenges them (especially to John Boehner) to take a good look at their present images and turn their lack of effectiveness back into a strong and vital operational component that supports the American people. Most importantly, Wilcox suggests to voter readers that while the world is constantly changing, they need to do more than just show up at the polls every few years. He includes a slew of activities to keep them from becoming cynical and dropping out of the voting arena altogether.
A great resource, The Annoyed Voter’s Guide to 2014 & 2015 can offer positive direction and a bit of hope for young and seasoned voters during these trying times.
The Devil Inside the Beltway: The Shocking Expose of the US Government’s Surveillance and Overreach Into Cybersecurity, Medicine and Small Business
In 2008, Michael Daugherty, CEO of LabMD, a private Atlanta-based cancer detection facility, received a call from Tiversa, a Pittsburgh-based data security firm, stating that they had obtained a 1,718-page patient health information file belonging to LabMD through a peer-2-peer (P2P) network. Tiversa wasn’t about to divulge any further information about its acquisition until LabMD bought into their unsolicited lawyer-fee services. Daugherty had no idea that his polite refusal to Tiversa’s assistance would lead to an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and thereby thrusting him into a nightmarish four-year journey Inside the Beltway – “an idiom used to characterize matters that seem to be important primarily to U.S. federal government officials, its contractors, lobbyists, and the corporate media who cover them, as opposed to the interests and priorities of the general U.S. population.” (Edited from Wikipedia).
Written with a “Jon Stewart flair” minus the colorful metaphors, Daugherty’s satirical humor isn’t simply for the sake of satire. He narrates a story that could easily be mistaken for conspiracy theory. If it wasn’t for the copious amounts of well-documented information directly connected with the ridiculously superfluous process that he had to undergo with the FTC, as well as the company’s development funds that were drained to cover traveling expenses, court costs, and the myriad of lawyers hired in an effort to, as Daugherty puts it, “make them (the FTC) go away,” Daugherty could quickly be labeled a nut case.
The Devil Inside the Beltway is not limited to Daugherty’s harrowing story. It is replete with enough factual information about the FTC that would make our Founding Fathers voluntarily turn in their graves just to hide their utter shame over a system they painstakingly sculpted that has gone awry. As of January 29, 2014, Daugherty announced on his blog (http:michaeljdaugherty.com/) that “the debilitating effects of the FTC investigative practices and litigation have forced him to wind down operations” at LabMd. His story, which has “transcended” his own personal troubles and now turned him into a whistleblower, is not over. “What started with a phone call from Pennsylvania has turned into a call for action.” We will have to see what form that action takes.