A well-researched, solidly argued case for limiting political spending and donations that’s slightly hampered by its...

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DEMOCRACY FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM

GETTING MONEY OUT OF POLITICS

A writer calls for a constitutional amendment to end the influence of money in American politics.

In this book, Karath (Overthrowing the Invisible Empire, 2017) looks not to the 2010 Citizens United case as the root of the problems with money in 21st-century politics but to the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo as the key factor in allowing unfettered involvement in elections by corporations and wealthy individuals. The author recounts a deeply researched history of recent debates over free speech and campaign finance reform and draws clear connections between political donations and beneficial treatment. The volume discusses a number of scandals and problems that can be linked to the influence of political donations, including Jack Abramoff’s lobbying, the vast power of David and Charles Koch, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and Meg Whitman’s candidacy for governor of California. After presenting a wealth of evidence, Karath then goes on to argue that political spending must be limited as well as contributions, and he presents a draft of a constitutional amendment that might ameliorate the situation. He also guides readers through the process of amending the Constitution. The backmatter includes a collection of statements from notable figures on the role of money in politics as well as a detailed list of source notes that include well-regarded experts in the field. Karath is a thoughtful writer and has done the research necessary to support his wide-ranging contentions. The arguments are generally persuasive, although readers will be left with the sense that advocates of campaign finance reform are generally outmatched by their opponents’ deep pockets. And while the author maintains his optimism toward the book’s goal of removing the influence of money, more cynical readers may find the proposed remedies unlikely to succeed. This is a work of advocacy, clear in the position taken in its pages. While major conservative donors like the Koch brothers (David Koch died recently) and “hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer” receive pointed attention, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and leaders are equally indicted as participants in and beneficiaries of the profit-driven aspects of politics. At times, the prose becomes too caught up in its own eloquence, delivering verbal thrusts or an excessive series of rhetorical questions (“Would the Kochs and other corporate titans, who spend billions of dollars manipulating government and politicians for profit, suddenly abide by the honor system? Would they voluntarily stay out of the public arena, leaving billions of dollars in potential profits on the table?”). But the bulk of Karath’s writing is strong, biting, and evocative, as in this passage about Filip Palda, a French Canadian economist, libertarian author, and disciple of Austrian economist Friedrich A. Hayek: “Leave it to a French-Canadian writer relying on arcane studies by an Austrian economist to explain American democracy to Americans.” This is not a book that will leave the audience feeling good about the state of politics in the United States. But readers will undoubtedly finish the work better informed about the nature of the problem and quite possibly will become motivated to join the author in pushing for fundamental changes to the political system.

A well-researched, solidly argued case for limiting political spending and donations that’s slightly hampered by its overambitious constitutional goal.

Pub Date: May 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-47079-5

Page Count: 398

Publisher: Thaddaeus Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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