Monthly Archives: December 2015

2015: My Favorite Books

I read a lot of books this year; most were not released this year. What follows is my favorite books I’ve read that were released this year. I should point out that I almost never read novels; I prefer non-fiction. Though I do read all genres of non-fiction, I didn’t get to many other releases from this year that weren’t political science oriented. [I will include a link to a review of each book that I found insightful even if I don’t agree with ’em.]

ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror
By Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan. Simon & Schuster. [Review/NYT]

I defy anyone to read this book and to not come away more confused and conflicted about Syria/Iraq. I write that as a compliment: Weiss and Hassan paint a complex and gray picture that is like reality which is deeply gray. To understand the rise of ISIS you have to understand de-baathification, shia/sunni divide, prison radicalization, occupation, conspiracies, Middle East history, and human frailty and persuasion.  These two illuminate what is going on and it is bleak: ISIS will be with us for awhile; so will the fight against ISIS. I recommend this book to every American who wants to understand the world a little more.

Political Realism: How Hacks, Machines, Big Money, and Back-Room Deals Can Strengthen American Democracy
By Jonathan Rauch. Brookings Institution. [Review/the Wall Street Journal]

I have been looking for a book like this and I didn’t even know it. Astute and objective observers of contemporary politics in America are confronted with an ugly truth: the rise of amateurism and the complete annihilation of trust regarding the establishment. Rauch argues, forcefully and profoundly that this is bad for democracy by highlighting how politics actually work instead of how we, the populace, continue to think they work. I loved this short study.

Objective Troy: A Terrorist, A President, and the Rise of the Drone
By Scott Shane. Tim Duggan books. [Review/Lawfare]

This was my favorite read of the year because it is literally 100% exactly what I have been considering and thinking about and wanting to understand for the last couple of years. Dirty Wars came out and it was revelatory about the drone usage of Obama. Shane delineates just how the Obama administration legally considered using a drone strike against Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who flew to Yemen. This fascinating account of how an all-American boy like Awlaki became, effectively, the number 1 enemy of the state. I can’t imagine a more detailed and considered account of Awlaki, the rise of drones, and the inner workings of the Obama admin then this book.

Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted
By Ian Millhiser. Nation books. [Review/Slate]

I read this one early in the year to compliment my formal class i was taken regarding SCOTUS. This book was deeply depressing; historically focused; and elegantly written. I read this book rather quickly because it was full of information that was so gripping. The main thesis: SCOTUS has consistently and rather blatantly ruled against equality of people; and the worker/labor movement. The Court is deeply partisan, political, and although punctuated by eras of true progressivism, has been handing out constitutional interpretations that have been mostly aligned with the ruling elites of the time. A couple of words doesn’t do this book justice: read it to understand the fight that the American people have always had to engage in regarding everything from the minimum wage to housing and legal and safe abortion.

The Stronghold: How Republicans Captured Congress but Surrendered the White House
By Thomas Schaller. Yale University Press. [Review/PublishersWeekly]

This book was released in January and I read it after listening to a fascinating interview of Schaller by Sam Seder on The Majority Report. Schaller through analyzing electoral histroy, demographics, and interviewing political insiders and operatives, comes to the conclusion that the GOP has basically become a Congressional party, in general, and a House-centric party, in particular. By focus testing candidates to win in more conservative state races, this has crippled the GOPs chances of taking back the White House. The catch here, if you will, is that Schaller now sees this as intentional in some ways. A party that just wants to block and weaken government, doesn’t care if they don’t take back the White House; they want to block legislation and make things run even worse than they do. A revealing insight into, effectively, the only major political party in the world that denies climate change.

Trumpism is Global

In a previous blog post, I laid down some thoughts regarding the phenomenon of Trump and how I feel like you can look at it through the lens of identity politics. Well, today I was reading an excellent interview by Foreign Affairs with the French ambassador Gérard Araud and he expressed a similar understanding regarding Europe when he was asked about the far-right party in France known as Front National:

It’s the same thing as Trump. Of course, Trump has his personal genius, but it’s basically the same crisis. The lower middle class feels frightened by globalization, frightened for the future of its children, frightened for its moral and social values. They have the impression that the elite are cut off from them. So they want to try something new. So it’s the Front National in France, or the extreme right in the Netherlands, or Mr. Trump. It’s the same solution: building walls, closing borders. And it’s the same scapegoat: the immigrant. It’s sad.”

Identity politics needs a scapegoat; an Other. As countries become more and more unequal as the share of income gains and wealth goes to a smaller and smaller slither of people you will see un-channeled rage that, demagogues like Trump, exploit for their own good to the continued detriment of almost everyone.

2015: My Top Music

According to Spotify analytics I listened to what is the equivalent of 13 days worth of music this past year. All in all, all of my life I have loved music and I still take in albums almost daily; my genres of choice, again according to Spotify data, were chamber pop, hip hop, screamo, noise pop, and alternative metal.

Enough with the data-analytics that appears to know me quite well (I welcome the flying-spaghetti Spotify overlord God) – here are my favorite albums of the year.

The Weeknd Beauty Behind the Madness
Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly (#GrammyOrRiot)
Kamasi  Washington The Epic

Wolf Alice My Love is Cool
Chvrches Every Open Eye
Purity Ring another eternity
Foals What Went Down
Scale the Summit V
Ibeyi Ibeyi
Miguel Wildheart

Alabama Shakes
Sound & Color
Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Laura Marling Short Movie

Earl Sweatshirt I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go OutsideBeirut No No No
Foxing Dealer
Speedy Ortiz Foil Deer
Julien Baker Sprained Ankles
Tame Impala Currents

My 2 favorite EPs:
Kelela Hallucinogen
Erykah Badu But You Cain’t Use My Phone

Most anticipated for 2016
Every Time I Die
Manchester Orchestra

Trump and Identity Politics

I argue that you can explain Trump’s rise through the lens of white identity politics, for one. It’s not what he is saying or even the individual himself; it’s that his base – white suburban disaffected ‘victims’ of globalization who are struggling – see themselves in him. It is projection against what they see as an elite harvard-educated political class who is waaaay too literate for their own good and who says things with nuance that they don’t understand. They want someone who is an outsider (like them) who isn’t P.C. (like them) and who thinks in black and white categories of good and evil; of up and down; of right and wrong (like they do.)

Imagine if you are a former factory worker employed during a time of rising incomes; pensions; good health care; and seeming security. Now imagine that this in fact was reality for millions upon millions of workers. Starting in the 1980s and continuing through the present day, tens of thousands of factories have been closed. In fact, over 42,000 factories have been closed JUST since 2001. Look at Trump through the lends of globalization.

If you are a laid off employee who is being pushed further and further down the income and skills ladder, who do you blame?

The political class (Yep; and they would be correct here).
Corporations and their need for maximizing profits (Yep).
Minorities and immigrants (Yep; well, ‘yep’ as in many Americans do blame these fellow under-served people; they would be wrong here however and are blaming the symptom and not the cause).

[Now there is truth to the claim that corporations are benefiting from illegal and even legal immigration by capitalizing on unskilled and/or people without franchise or much legal reprieve; this does hurt working class Americans of all color; however, the fault of this goes to the government.]

The perceived and real impacts of globalization are at work here. Basically anyone with ANY government experience at all is considered an “insider” to Trump’ supporters. Any candidate with prestigious degrees from schools they have only tangentially heard of? Too qualified and self-interested and disconnected from the needs of the working class and the shrinking middle class. This is why occasionally war hungry conservatives do in fact accept anti-war arguments. Why? Because it doesn’t matter what the person says; what matters is the answer to the internal question people are asking themselves: is this person like me? Do I see myself in this person? If the answer is yes, then we are open to their opinion even if it is not one we are, theoretically, likely to support. If we consider them the Other; then it doesn’t matter what they say.

Politics are identity politics. I am of the mind that identity politics of all types are disastrous for any future left movement because, to generalize, they are built on a foundation of separateness and focus heavily on the individual. But I can unpack that later. [I want to write a short book on that actually.]

However, the most dangerous type of identity politics is white identity politics. Why? Because white Americans had an investment in this system that, for a long time, worked for them. People who never had wealth or prosperity can sometimes not have that impetus of hope to fight for change. They don’t see a world that works for them because it largely never has. People who had a middle class life but now see it slipping away? Oh, man. These people are dangerous and angry and look for demagogues that border on fascism. They know what its like to have abundant leisure; income and wealth; and self-actualization.

This phenomenon is not going away anytime soon because it is a product of worsening economic inequality. Political Scientist Inglehart, in the recently released Jan/Feb 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs makes this point while discussing the lack of support for redistribution:

Globalization and deindustrialization undermined the strength of unions. And the information revolution helped establish a winner-take-all economy. Together these eroded the political base for redistributive policies.” [Link]

What will the Trump of 2020 or 2024 look like if whoever wins the 2016 election doesn’t address worsening inequality?


I’m reading the magisterial reporting that is ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (2015) by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan and one sentence – on page 195 – stopped me in my tracks:

Two churches that had been burned or confiscated by ISIS were also “liberated” by al-Nusra, which declared its intent to restore them for Christian use.

These twenty or so words encapsulate the difficulties, complexities, and humanity (and inhumanity) of Al-Sham and the greater Middle East. I encourage everyone to read this book; I particularly encourage those who know very little about the history and realities on the ground here because their eyes will be opened and hopefully have the effect of disabusing them of any simple notions of the players on the ground; the motives of the actors, and what have you.

So much grey.
Very little white.
A dark shade of black.