The Wall

 

The wall. We all spend way too much time thinking about the wall. I wish we never heard about the wall. I hate the idea of the wall. I hate the cost of the wall. But what I hate most about the wall is that we are expected to build something this expensive that most of us do not want because of one old coot who can never admit that he might be wrong. He can lie about things we heard him say and tell us that he never said those things, but for some reason, he cannot employ the old switcheroo about building the wall. The meaningless mantra keeps repeating like a bad refrain, or a bad taco (if there is such a thing).

First of all the numbers of migrants seeking asylum is not big enough to warrant spending 5 billion dollars, which will easily turn into 30 or 40 billion dollars. We are a big country populated by only about 350 million people. Even if 300,000 people wanted to come in, as they did in a recent year, that is a tiny percentage of our overall population and we still have plenty of room for more people. Building a wall is overkill. It is a solution requiring no imagination or knowledge or creative thought. It’s using a sledgehammer on a tack.

We have immigration laws, but we also have a bottle neck at the border which creates chaos. We can’t process more than a few immigrants at a time. No one qualifies for instant asylum. There are courts and paperwork and waiting periods. Why isn’t there a bigger processing center at our southern border if people need such detailed processing. Instead our southern border looks very much like our northern border with Canada, but it doesn’t function like it. We don’t have caravans of anxious people presenting themselves at our border with Canada because Canada has a stable government and a healthy economy. People who come from South American countries are also our neighbors, but we treat them like invaders. Why? White supremacy? Racism? Our inability to sort true asylum seekers from criminals, or predict who will be criminalized once they are here?

The problem with a wall is that, although it is built to keep people out, it can also be used to keep people in. The Great Wall of China is so ancient that we can romanticize it. It’s a wonder of the ancient world built so wide that there is a road along the top. I’m guessing lots of poor people were enslaved to build that wall. It was designed to keep out the Mongol hordes or something, which I think it didn’t even do, but now it delineates a northern border in China that you can see from space. It has most likely been used to keep people from leaving China for longer than it was ever used to keep people out of China. Castle walls were built to keep out invaders but there are many stories of people who died of starvation while waiting out a siege inside a walled city or town. The very idea of a wall makes me claustrophobic, although not as much as it would have before there were airplanes, which laugh at walls.

Back to our old man, Trump, who knows that America needs to shore up Social Security. Here is a man so selfish that he wants to take health care away from people who need it because he supposedly believes that it should be turning over profits for private business. He is one businessman trying to make nice with other businessmen because he would like to be in their good graces, or something, I guess. Assigning motives to this man is not usually very difficult. You only have to look for what benefits he will get from a particular decision.

We all suspect he is putting the funds for the wall over the funds to save programs like the ACA that benefit the American people in order to wreak Republican vengeance on behalf of the GOP, who have screamed bloody murder about it ever since it was enacted (in a non-bipartisan way, because that was the only chance Obama had). We all also suspect he is doing this to stick it to Obama, because it rankles that he is admired by so many. But excuse me, doesn’t that just make we the people pawns in a ludicrous power game that one person seems to be playing all alone.

Politicians used to think twice before ending a program as successful as the Affordable Care Act, but Trump keeps taking it apart piece-by-piece and he is quite willing for us to see that we have no value in the grand scheme of things. This ability to focus like a laser on his own personal interests allows him to insist that we take 5 billion dollars that could be better spent to stop children and seniors from dropping off a humanitarian cliff and spend it to build a wall that will not solve our immigration problems.

As for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, they have constituents to answer to. They know what Democrats want them to do. They are not authorized by the people who elect them to say yes to money for a wall. I am proud of the way they have supported their constituents, which I see as all Democrats, and that they are not talking about compromise. There are times when compromise is the correct path, but with a egomaniacal president and a rabid, off-the-rails Republican party this is definitely not the time to deal. This is the time to form a really effective wall of our own; a wall of no. We cannot afford to compromise with a party that has the very worst set of policy ideas and has been stubbornly clinging to those same terrible policies for decades. If we come up against a reformed Republican Party that will be open to change the Democrats can find their flexibility once again. As for me I think, just as the wall is not worth building, the Republican party is not worth saving.

From a Google Image Search – The Berlin Wall – National Post

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver – Book

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver is not the first book by this author that I have read. I have enjoyed her writing since her first book, The Bean Trees, appeared in 1988. I have also read Pigs in Heaven, Prodigal Summer, Flight Behavior, and The Poisonwood Bible (although I think I read all these books before I joined goodreads.com).

Kingsolver is an environmentalist who likes to use fiction to call attention to the havoc human excesses wreak on nature. She does it subtly, but unmistakably in very readable novels, that reflect the changing zeitgeist of the 30 years she, and we, have lived through since she started writing.

Her inspiration for Unsheltered came when she learned of a woman scientist named Mary Treat and she was given access to her notes and correspondence. Dr. Treat was a woman ahead of her time, a wife who thrived when her husband left her. She was fascinated by the plants and insects that lived in the Pine Barrens that were near her home. She filled her living room with small jars that look like terraria, but each contained a tower-building spider (small variety of tarantula).

Mary Treat wrote letters to Charles Darwin, who had recently published his Origin of the Species, a book that seemed to refute God, and set the world on fire, and he wrote back. She wrote to Dr. Asa Gray and he also answered her letters. Mary Treat is real, and a truly interesting woman. Thatcher Greenwood is also real. When he married his wife Rose, her family owned the house next door to Mary Treat. Thatcher Greenwood was hired to teach science in a high school run by a man who believed Darwin to be an abomination. The house he is living in was poorly built and is falling apart, as is his life.

A parallel story 150 years after Darwin’s book was published, gives us a family of the Trump era, living in the second incarnation of Thatcher Greenwood’s house, which was rebuilt by a second someone, equally without regard for sound building principals. A twice-unlucky house. When Willa’s family inherits the house in New Jersey from her Aunt, it is at a time when the economy is changing for everyone. Willa, a writer, loves her solid career footing but then the magazine she writes for fails. If she stays in New Jersey she will have to accept freelance writing jobs. Iano, her husband, a professor of political science cannot find a path to tenure, and in middle age is still working as an adjunct.

Their son, Zeke, is left, tragically, with a baby son, who he leaves with Willa to try for a tech startup with his college roommate. He owes $110,000 in college loans which he must pay off. Tig, their daughter, is an enigma as a member of what seems to be a whole new generation. She is a dynamic, pint-sized activist with dreadlocks who lived in Cuba for a year and took part in the Occupy movement. Tig (short for Antigone) may have the best grasp on our new shifting social landscape.

The house is what ties the two eras together and the two “evolutionary” women, Mary Treat and Antigone Tavoularis (Tig). As the house falls down around the inhabitants some find it extremely unsettling and others find it strangely freeing.

Kingsolver is a queen of dialogue, which makes her novels flow easily along, in spite of how dense the content seems after the fact. It was interesting that she never mentioned the modern folks who still deny Darwin and the sneaky tactics they often employ to make it mandatory to teach “Creationism” in 21st century schools. She may not have wanted to focus on something more political than environmental. The literary device that has us skipping back and forth over 150 years in every other chapter makes the reader look forward to getting back to the story line that will be taken up in the next chapter.

We have wandered pretty far from nature and I wonder how many of us would feel comfortable without a home base. Is there a generational divide, or will that disappear as mature responsibilities must be met? Will we have to learn to respect nature and live in greater harmony, without many of the creature comforts that we have convinced ourselves prove that we are above other living things. Will we ever be able to overcome our sense of superiority and separateness which allows us to believe that our survival trumps (sorry) theirs? Will we ever learn to feel our organic connection to every living and nonliving thing on this planet?

Engaging our thoughts is a hallmark of a skilled author. I can’t decide if the separation in time is so large that this felt more like two stories that blinked on and off like lights or if the connections are powerful enough to unify the novel. However this is a relatively insignificant flaw which was not jarring enough to ruin my enjoyment of Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Unsheltered.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – KUOW

December 2018 Book List

It’s time for the December 2018 Book List. December is since people are looking backward to pick their best books of the past year, but that is not so true this year. With the holidays coming up there is a book on this list to interest almost every adult on your gift list. There is crime, fantasy, art, picture books (coffee table), mystery, music, romance, America’s foreign policy and our role in the world, Dungeons and Dragons, graphic novels, biographies and memoirs, books on feminism, books on racism, books on beauty. I love the idea of all these books, but of course I cannot read them all. My quick picks are followed by an asterisk but I may change my mind or get tantalized by some other title on this month’s list. Happy holidays, peace on earth, and I hope you get to read at least one great book this month.

Amazon

 

Literature and Fiction

North of the Dawn: A Novel by Nurrudin Farah

The Dakota Winters: A Novel by Tom Barbash

The Songbird by Marcia Willett

The Day the Sun Died by Yan Lianke, Carlos Rojas

Radiant Shimmering Light by Sarah Selecky

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

Once Upon a River: a Novel by Diane Setterfield

Trying by Emily Phillips

Milkman: A Novel by Anna Burns*

Mystery and Thriller

The Mansion: A Novel by Ezekiel Boone

Broken Ground (Karen Pirie) by Val McDermid

Watching You: A Novel by Lisa Jewell

Once Upon a River: A Novel by Diane Setterfield

Milkman: A Novel by Anna Burns

Pandemic by Robin Cook

The Kingdom of the Blind: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny

Before We Were Strangers by Brenda Novak

Biographies and Memoirs

Never Grow Up by Jackie Chan

My Thoughts Exactly by Lily Allen

King of the Dinosaur Hunters: The Life of John Bell Hatcher and the Discoveries that Shaped Paleontology by Lowell Dingus

Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love and Food by Ann Hood

All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson by Mark Griffin

The Warner Boys: Our Family’s Story of Autism and Hope by Curt Warner, Ava Warner with Dave Boling

Daniel Morgan: A Revolutionary Life by Albert Louis Zambone

The Annotated Memoirs of Ulysses S Grant by Ulysses S Grant, Elizabeth Somet

Bring It On Home: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin and Beyond-The Story of Rock’s Greatest Manager by Mark Blake

Nonfiction

The Atom: A Visual Tour (The MIT Press) by Jack Challoner

This Is Cuba: An American Journalist Under Castro’s Shadow by David Aristo

Theater of the World: The Maps that Made History by Thomas Reinerstsen Berg, Alison McCullough

Congo Stories: Battling Five Centuries of Exploitation and Greed by John Pendergast, Fidel Bafilemba, Sam Ilus (illustrator)

McSweeney’s Issue 54: The End of Trust by Dave Eggers, Julia Angwin, Madeline Ashby

Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History by Dr. Jeremy Brown

You Are a Badass Every Day by Jen Sincero

Unruly Waters: How Rains, Rivers, Coasts and Seas have Shaped Asia’s History by Sunil Amrith

Dear Los Angeles: the City in Diaries and Letters, 1542 to 2018 (Modern Library) by David Kipen

Science Fiction

Bright Light: Star Carrier: Book Eight by Ian Douglas

The Day the Sun Died by Yan Lianke and Carlos Rojas

Sword Heart by T. Kingfisher

The Frame-Up (The Golden Arrow Mysteries) by Meghan Scott Molin

Marked By Stars (Songs of the Amaranthine, Book 1) by Forthright

Blood and Bone: Chronicles of the One, Book 2 by Nora Roberts *

The Razor by J. Barton Mitchell

The Mortal Word (The Invisible Library Novel) by Genevieve Cogman

New York Times Book Review

 

Nov. 11

Nonfiction

Frederick Douglas by David W. Blight

The Souls of Yellow Folk by Wesley Yang (essays)

Always Another Country: A Memoirs of Exile and Home by Sisonke Msimang

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol. 2 edited by Peter Steinberg and Karen Kubil

Heart by Sandup Janhar

Becoming by Michelle Obama

The Shortlist

Consent on Campus: A Manifesto by Donna Freitas

Equality for Women = Prosperity for all by Augusto Lopez-Claros and Bahiyyih Nakhjavani

Can We All Be Feminists?: Seventeen Writers on Intersectionality, Identity, and Way Forward for Feminism by June Eric-Udorie

Fiction

Gone So Long by Andre Dubus III

Fiction (women with cancer)

Craving by Esther Gerritson, trans. by Michele Huchinson

The Bus on Thursday by Shirley Barrett

Fiction (cont.)

The Novel of Ferrar by Giorgio Bassoni

Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return by Martin Riker

Night of Camp David: What Would Happen if the President of USA Went Stark-Raving Mad? By Fletcher Knebel (new reprint)

Nov. 18

Audiobooks

Accessory to War by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Parker: Selected Stories by Dorothy Parker read by Elaine Stritch

Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane: Words and Music by Patti Smith, read by the author

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, read by Richard Armitage

My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper, read by the author

Out of My Mind by Alan Arkin, read by the author

We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Dark Racial Divide by Carol Anderson and Tonya Bolden, read by Robin Miles

We Say #Never Again, edited by Melissa Falkowski and Eric Garner, read by Melissa Falkowski, Eric Garner and the Parkland student journalists

Fiction

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Letham

Scribe by Alyson Hagy

Love Songs for a Lost Continent by Anita Felicelli

Useful Phrases for Immigrants by May-Lee Chai

Destroy All Monsters by Jeff Jackson

Nonfiction

(5 Books About Being Jewish in America)

The Chosen Wars: How Judaism Became an American Religion by Steven R Weisman

The New American Judaism: How Jews Practice their Religion Today by Jack Wertheimer

The Jewish American Paradox: Embracing Choice in a Changing World by Robert Mnookin

God is in the Crowd: Twenty-First Century Judaism by Tal Keinan

Dear Zealots: Letters From a Divided Land (Essays)

General nonfiction

Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts

Best of Enemies by Gus Russo and Eric Dezenhall

Storm Lake by Art Cullen

Heavy by Kiese Laymon

The Red and the Blue by Steve Kornacki

Latinx: The New Force in American Politics and Culture by Ed Morales

The Shortlist (Americas’s Role in the World)

A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism by Jeffrey Sachs

Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower by Michael Beckley *

The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World by Robert Kagan *

Nov. 25

Nonfiction

Debussey: A Painter in Sound by Stephen Walsh

Fryderyk Chopin by Alan Walker

Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 by Max Hastings*

The Hell of Good Intentions by Stephen M. Walt *

Schumann: The Faces and the Masks by Judith Chernaik

There Will Be No Miracles Here by Casey Gerald

In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum

I Am Dynamite! A Life of Nietzsche by Sue Prideaux

Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming. Who You Are by John Kaag

A Graphic Tribute to Anne Sexton by Katie Fricas

Dec 2

Fiction

(Other worldly)

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells (fourth part of Murderbot Diaries) *

Ghostographs: An Album by Maria Romasco Moore

The Monster of Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (second in a series)

Heresy by Melissa Lenhardt

Romance

Consumed by J R Ward

High Risk by Brenna Aubrey

Beautiful Sinner by Sophie Jordan

Rafe by Rebekah Weatherspoon

General Fiction

An Almost Perfect Christmas by Ruth Reichl

Berlin by Jason Lutes (graphic novel)

The Waiter by Matias Faldbakhen

Jeeves and the King of Clubs by Ben Schott

The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey *

Crime novels

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Bryant and May: Hall of Mirrors by Christopher Fowler

The Shadows We Hide by Allen Eskens

Suitcase Charlie by John Guzlowski

More Fiction

The Last Poets by Christine Otten

Nonfiction

Hungover by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall

(3 Art Books)

Henry Taylor: The Only Portrait I Ever Painted of My Mama was Stolen by Sarah Lewis, Charles Gaines, Zadie Smith, and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansak

The Sweet Flypaper of Life by Ray De Carava and Langston Hughes

I Too Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100 by Will Haygood

Magnum China edited by Colin Pantall and Zheng Ziyu, add. Text by Jonathan Fenby (photos)

Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly by Joshua Rivkin

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History by Michael Witmer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer

Food on the Move: Dining on the Legendary Railway Journeys of the World edited by Sharon Hudgins (essays)

Publisher’s Weekly

 

Nov 9

Money in the Morgue by Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy (mystery)

Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters edited by David Kipen (NF)

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas (F)

Hearts of the Missing by Carol Potenza (mystery)

The Blood by E S Thomson (crime

Eighteen Below: A Fabian Risk Novel by Stefan Ahnhem, trans. from the Swedish by Rachel Wilson-Broyles (F)

King of the Road by R S Belcher (F)

My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren (F) (rom-com)

Deep War: The War with China and North Korea – The Nuclear Precipice by David Poyer (NF)

On Thomas Merton by Mary Gordon (Bio)

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys (NF)

Army of Empire: The Untold Story of the Indian Army in World War I by George Morton-Jack (NF)

The Kansas City Star Quilts Sampler: 60+ Blocks from 1928-1961 by Barbara Brackman (Art Picture Book)

A King in Cobwebs by David Keck (Fantasy)

Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages by Gaston Dorren (NF)

Hunting Game by Helene Tursten, trans. from the Swedish by Paul Norlen (crime)

Nov 16

Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex—and the Truths They Reveal by Lux Alptraum (NF)

City of Broken Magic by Mirah Bolender (Fantasy)

The Houseguest by Amparo Davilia, trans. from the Spanish by Audrey Haris and Matthew Gleeson (Short stories)

I Am Young by M. Dean (Short stories)

All the Life We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy (F)

Ways to Hide in Winter by Sarah St. Vincent (F)

Your Place in the Universe: Understanding Our Big, Messy Existence by Paul M Sutter (NF)

Dec 3

The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash * (F)

Cold, Cold Heart by A J Cross (F)

 

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – The Economist

 

 

 

 

 

 

America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges – Book

Chris Hedge’s book America: The Farewell Tour begins with a chapter entitled “Decay”:

“I walked down a long service road into the remains of an abandoned lace factory. The road was pocked with holes filled with fetid water. There were saplings and weeds poking up from the cracks in the asphalt. Wooden crates, rusty machinery, broken glass, hulks of old filing cabinets and trash covered the grounds.”

His prose is personal and relatable. He is a well-respected journalist and does not ride a desk. He goes out to meet the world and provides plenty of anecdotal backup for the points he makes. He also recognizes that anecdotes need to be backed up by overviews that offer data collected by organizations who study these issues. Everything is footnoted and properly attributed as you would expect from someone who attended Colgate and Harvard (Divinity School). He has bona fides; he knows how to do research. Other chapters include: Heroin, Work, Sadism, Hate, Gambling, Freedom. However Hedges also had a thesis in mind when he began, and so the material in this book is not scientific in that sense. If you know what you want to find in advance it can affect what you observe.

The city that is home to the abandoned lace factory is Scranton, PA which leads into the challenges faced by the city leaders who find their city on the edge of bankruptcy. His point is that the lace factory  is emblematic, “is America”, as is the city of Scranton.

Chris Hedges tells us, in his tale of American decay, that he is a socialist. He quotes Karl Marx, a Communist. He says Karl Marx knew:

“that the reigning ideologies—think corporate capitalism with its belief in deindustrialization, deregulation, privatization of public assets, austerity, slashing of social service programs, and huge reductions in government spending—were created to serve the interests of the economic elites.”

However, he adds

“The acceleration of deindustrialization by the 1970’s created a crisis that forced the ruling class to devise a new political paradigm…This paradigm, trumpeted by a compliant media shifted its focus from the common good to race, crime, and law and order. It told those undergoing profound economic and political change that their suffering stemmed not from corporate greed, but from a threat to national integrity. The old consensus that buttressed the programs of the New Deal and the welfare state was attacked as enabling criminal black youth, welfare queens, and social parasites. The parasites were to blame. This opened the door to authoritarian populism.”

Hedges believes we are “witness-[ing] the denouement of capitalism”. He goes on to paint a pretty grim picture of America, a snapshot of our less than stellar moment in time here at the beginning of the 21stcentury. Addiction destroys individuals but it also is a symptom of rot in a culture. The kinds of work and the way work in America has changed has caused a decline in worker’s pride in their work, in their prosperity, and is turning us into corporate serfs. Lots of evidence is offered for these contentions.

Sadism is real, but, thankfully does not crop up often in my little world but Hedges goes to speak with the people who provide such experiences, and with other sex workers. This information is very graphic and I confess that I sometimes had to skip the details and seek out the conclusions Hedges arrived at. We need to understand the male domination in our culture and the abuse of women and if just reading about this aspect of American culture takes you to a dark place, you can imagine what it does to women (and exploited men) who feel this is the only way they can make a living. Hate and Gambling are further signs of the decay we see all around us in America. The chapter on Freedom begins with a discussion of incarceration as a tool of the capitalist elite to control populations with the most reason to resist or revolt. Also included is the Native American movement to block tar sand pipelines in South Dakota and the use of military might against people who were peacefully protesting.

I never read Chris Hedges before except for an old article in the Christian Science Monitorbecause I believed that our politics were very different but after reading this book I think we have more in common than not. However, I cannot blame problems on “isms”. The ways we organize economies are neither inherently good nor bad. Capitalism is not bad, but capitalists certainly can be. We have seen enough of unregulated capitalism to know that it gives full scope to the greediest, meanest impulses that reside in all of us very flawed humans.

Clearly though, the same weaknesses can be found in Communism and Socialism, because the defects are in us. We know that our natures are full of paradoxes. We all have a best self and a worst self and lots of degrees in between. We can rationalize that our worst behavior is beneficial with shocking ease. Communism, which lifted up those who had been oppressed, did solve the problems of inequality for a tiny minute (everyone was poor), except the Soviet Union got hung up on issues of purity and they began to purge anyone whose ideology was not pure enough. This is a trend we are finding in America right now, without the gulags (or, are our prisons our gulags).

This is where I differ from Mr. Hedges. I don’t think simply switching to socialism will magically save our democracy from decay and ruin. I do agree that what we have in America right now is nothing like the democracy/republic our forefathers foresaw.

“Our capitalist elites have used propaganda, money, and the marginalizing of their critics to erase the first three of philosopher John Locke’s elements of the perfect state: liberty, equality, and freedom.”…”Liberty and freedom in the corporate state mean the liberty and freedom of corporations and the rich to exploit and pillage without government interference or regulatory oversight.”

Hedges finds Republicans and Democrats equally guilty of turning America into a corporate state. I see the Democrats as more likely to feel some shame about this, and I also think that Democrats have not had many opportunities to introduce meaningful reforms because their power has been limited by a pretty successful Republican power grab. Hedges has some recommendations for strategies that we the people can employ to wrest back power from the corporations and the elite but he admits it will not be easy.

“All of the movements that opened up the democratic space in America—the abolitionists, the suffragists, the labor movement, the communists, the socialists, the anarchists, and the civil rights movement—developed a critical mass that forced the centers of power to respond. The platitudes about justice, equality, and democracy are just that. Only when ruling elites become worried about survival do they react. Appealing to the better nature of the powerful is useless. They don’t have one.”

I can agree with many of the progressive policies that Hedges supports although I do not call these programs socialist. The elites label these ideas as socialist to stigmatize them.

“…mechanisms that could ameliorate this crisis—affordable housing; well-paying jobs; safe, well-staffed, and well-funded schools and colleges that do not charge tuition; expanded mental health facilities; good public transportation; the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure; demilitarized police forces; universal government-funded health care; an end to predatory loans and practices of big banks; and a campaign to pay reparations to African Americans and end racial segregation.”

In a democracy we the people are meant to determine how our tax dollars are divvied up. If we want the federal government to manage utilities because it is fairer and more convenient and offers greater equality of access, then that is a democratic decision to use a socialist strategy for economic reasons. In other areas we might find that regulated capitalism works best, or it might make sense to make room for communal arrangements, or to even employ bartering if that suits the situation.

It is impossible to cover all that is in this book in a short commentary, but it is a deep dive into the maladies affecting America, which the Trump presidency did not cause, although the transparent looting of America by the Trump family and friends makes the direction we are headed much easier to predict. In America: The Farewell Tour, Chris Hedges focuses on capitalism as the real culprit in the decline of the quality most of us find in our lives in modern America and it is not just about money, but much, much more. This one is well worth reading and you should not let political prejudices stop you.

Lawlessness of Trump’s Immigration Actions

Clearly immigration actions under Donald Trump were going to make most of us cringe. We began with the wall that Mexico was going to pay for, for which (surprise, surprise) they refused to pay. Then some prototypes appeared along a section of the border which we were supposed to be inspired by, but they all looked alike and none of them looked like the “beautiful wall” that Trump extolled while campaigning. Since then we the people have pretty much been threatened with government shutdowns to extort payment for Trump’s wall on and off since the inauguration.

Early on, we had that overnight immigration ban cancelling the arrival of refugees who had completed our complex vetting process and sending the Resistance to airports with signs. Bans were signed into law and declared unacceptable almost in the same week. I.C.E. began arresting undocumented immigrants or refugees as they left work, or even while they were working. They began profiling passengers on trains and buses and asking to see ID’s. Asking we the people to show our papers is so “gestapo”, not at all what we have usually done in our democracy, besides being a violation of our civil rights.

Then we had immigrant children separated from their parents while seeking asylum at the border with Mexico. We had the image burned onto our brains of children in cages on mats with thin metallic space blankets for cold comfort. Some were as young as two years old. We were shocked (although I can’t think why) to learn that no one saved the names and contact information that could reconnect children and parents, probably because such reunions were not expected to ever take place. It is even more startling to conclude that 45 was not expecting we the people to express any negative reactions to child separation. He seemed to believe that all Americans either hate immigrants, or that we all fall for his fear-mongering.

Now we have a couple thousand young people who came to America unaccompanied by a parent living in air-conditioned tent barracks in Texas, living regimented lives and looking forward to what (being deported after talking to a judge) (lifetime imprisonment)? What must daily life be like for those children? Who could possibly think that things could get worse?

However things can always get worse and as soon as we saw the newest group of migrants walking from Honduras and Guatemala and saw the reactions of our President, we knew that there would be some kind of conflict at the border. He was never going to let those desperate travelers into America. He began the fear-mongering in earnest claiming ISIS fighters were hiding in the center of this chain of people, that people walking hundreds of miles with their children were actually gang members come to kill Americans in the streets, that they were “grabbers” who were not related to the children who seemed to be with them.

We heard his order to deploy American troops to the Mexican border, but we were told that because of posse comitatuslaws the troops could not use military tactics, because the states had the power in these matters. When some of the immigrants got angry and stormed the border, which was being barricaded by troops and border agents with riot gear, troops (because policing in any form cannot stand for insurrection or disobedience) had to escalate. So then we had the newest abomination of mothers and children running from tear gas lobbed into their midst by American soldiers. It is very fortunate that Tijuana has been forthcoming with housing and food for these people who came seeking a better life. But it doesn’t soften the fact that we tear-gassed babies.

There are pockets of people throughout the US who are opposed to immigration. Some are convinced that immigrants are taking jobs that should be filled by Americans. Others object to making our benefits available to people who are granted asylum or refugee status; benefits that are supposed to only be temporary until immigrants are self-sufficient. Some refugees have been so victimized in their country of origin that they may require disability supports for life. We are not feeling very flush ourselves these days, and with government threatening to cut our benefits, we are in no mood to share, even sometimes with our fellow Americans.

But don’t you sometimes feel a bit helpless to effect any change in Trump’s immigration ban and sometimes feel some pity for these parents and children seeking a better life? Doesn’t it strike you as un-American to lob tear gas at unarmed families even if they are being a bit demanding about being allowed into the country. They did walk an awfully long way and I doubt they had daily news flashes about what was waiting at the end of their journey. Doesn’t it make you start to thinks that there have to be better ways than this to make sure people only enter America legally. If we had a bit more flexibility we might not have to charge them with a crime for entering at an unprotected spot on the border when they can’t get in at a legal entry point. The use of force often escalates into the use of more force until mayhem occurs and guilt and regrets follow.

Many experts on immigration claim that immigrants do not take American jobs; rather they fill positions that Americans do not wish to fill. It is perhaps true that some immigrants do take desirable jobs and some do not, but since we are supposedly at full employment and, since there are many jobs that are unfilled, I think we can spare a few jobs for people who find the quality of life in the nation they are willing to leave unbearable.

I heard people interviewed at the border saying that they came to America seeking work. The optics would certainly improve if we stopped treating immigrants at the Mexican border as enemy combatants who must be tracked until they can come before a judge to decide their status. Instead immigrants could be issued a work visa and paired with an employer who will agree to sponsor them. It is demoralizing to we the people to experience this constant cruelty and conflict at a border we have shared with Mexico for several centuries. It is equally difficult to believe that the only method for keeping radicalized immigrants out of America is to keep all immigrants out of America. This is so clearly connected to white supremacy and nationalism that it brings us right back to the goose bumps that signal the “gestapo” tactics we hoped to never see again.

Photo credits: From Google Image Searches – MSNBC.com, New York Post, Washington Post

The Other Woman by Daniel Silva – Book

Gabriel Allon, our green-eyed agent for Israeli Intelligence has finally agreed to become the Chief of “the Office”. Gabriel is not in Israel though. He’s in Vienna, waiting to welcome a man, code name Heathcliff, who has been a Russian courier for years, now defecting to the West. This compromised Russian spy, real name Konstantin Kirov, is shot by an assassin on a motorcycle before he can get to the safe house where Gabriel and his team are waiting. Obviously Gabriel’s op was not as secret as he thought it was, but why?

It was my quest this summer to read all of the Gabriel Allon books that Daniel Silva has written (so far). The Other Woman (Bk. # 18) is Silva’s most recent book so my quest is done, but it is no longer summer; it is December. No matter, it is satisfying to reach a goal, and reading a number of good stories is a pretty painless path to pursue.

This particular Silva book takes us back to Moscow. Why? Some of the best classic spy thrillers were written during the Cold War between Russia and the West. When the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain fell, novels set in Russia lost their cachet. Many call these days at the beginning of the 21st century a new Cold War. Traditional spy craft is pertinent again (Moscow rules), although enhanced by cyber-warfare techniques. Silva’s books tend to follow hot spots of violence that threaten Israel (and its allies). This choice for his new plot perhaps reflects the heating-up of threats from a new Russia that is acting an awful lot like the old USSR.

It is fitting that an old spy, Kim Philby (real person) turns out to have fathered a new spy. Gabriel and his crew, while investigating how their Kirov op got blown, also manage to solve the mystery of Kim Philby’s offspring and prevent the successful installation of a mole at the head of MI6. Will Graham Seymour, current head of MI6 survive the scandal? Will Gabriel be able to save his once-close rapport with Seymour and British intelligence? The Other Woman by Daniel Silva is classic stuff, but it might make you wish that the bad old days did not seem to be returning.

Lead Poisoning Not Limited to Flint, Michigan

Recent reporting shows that lead poisoning is not limited to the city of Flint, Michigan, although that is certainly a particularly egregious example because it was something that did not have to happen and it did not happen before 1978, when the use of lead paint became illegal; it happened in the 21st century. Lead appeared in the water in Flint when government made a decision to switch the source of water piped into that city without having any testing to examine the quality of water from that new source. They put the poorest people in their community at risk to save money and we all know how that has worked out. I’m guessing they spent more, and will spend even more money for many years, than they ever saved.

Now we are finding high levels of lead in the blood streams of young children who live in public housing in older American cities where there is housing built before 1978. Assumptions were made that Housing authorities had remediated the lead paint in most city housing and therefore testing for flaking, peeling lead paint, or lead paint dust was only being done in properties where problems had appeared fairly recently.

After lead poisoning was found in Flint, children’s blood lead levels began to be taken more seriously in other cities. There is no legal level for lead in the blood. Even small amounts can affect brain development in toddlers and young children. If the paint chips are lying around children often enjoy crunching on them as they have a sweet flavor. I have a vague memory of actually ingesting such a chip sometime in my childhood. When a young girl in NYC was found to have blood lead levels that were much higher than the danger level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) testing on the two apartments (mother and grandmother) where she spent the most time (public housing apartments) tested high with a common test for lead paint. However, the city typically uses a different test which often gives false negatives, because remediation is costly and they like the results of their less reliable test better.

After Flint the federal government got stricter about testing for lead paint and NYC has complied under Mayor Da Blasio. “Once inspections for lead paint were resumed it was found in 80% of the 8,300 apartments tested. A new round of visual checks found peeling paint in 92%. If paint is peeling there is most likely lead present in the paint. For years the city had ignored the blood tests of children with high lead content. Had they paid attention these children would have served as a great early warning that the problem had not been remediated effectively.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/18/nyregion/nycha-lead-paint.html

Syracuse, NY, with a high level of poverty, has a similar unaddressed lead problem in public housing. Gabriela Knutson, writing in a publication at SU called Off Campus says,

“But what one doesn’t see on this morning is the way the area is one of the highest in the city of Syracuse for high blood lead levels in children. In the area surrounding Delaware Elementary School, as well as the areas to the west of it, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of children have a blood lead level higher than 5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL).

This number is the standard created by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) for the highest level of blood there can be in a child’s body before causing damage. In the City of Syracuse, an average of 11 percent of children exceed that number. Syracuse.com reports that 600 children were poisoned by lead paint in 2017.”

You can find almost the same number in any older rust belt city in America including Buffalo and Rochester, also in New York State.

https://www.thenewshouse.com/off-campus/child-lead-paint-poisoning-in-syracuses-impoverished-neighborhoods/

Conclusions:

Besides this very serious problem of peeling and flaking lead paint, public housing is often in dire condition and landlords are often able to show that fixing problems like rat infestations and insect infestations and decaying structural elements would be prohibitively expensive (cut into their profits) and would also just reoccur because of the problems poverty causes the tenants of these properties. Standards are lowered. Year after year properties in decline are rented for far too high a monthly rent, subsidized by all of us, and only problems that cannot be covered up by cheap, quick fixes are addressed. Often even the more in-depth projects do not renovate the property as a whole, but only the most unacceptable aspects of the property.

These problems cost all of us lots of money in terms of children who are left with learning disabilities and who must be given support for the rest of their lives and in terms of the mental toll living in substandard conditions takes on parents and children, a toll which weighs down an entire city. If the Democrats we send to Washington don’t attempt to fix this I doubt that anyone will. It is a maze and deciding who bears the financial responsibility for projects that end substandard housing subsidized by HUD once and for all is problematic when some housing paid for publicly is owned privately. Even when the housing is publicly owned deciding who pays for what, what must be torn down and replaced, what can be brought up to code, and then how we will keep it all in good repair is impossible unless we also address the poverty that will most likely recreate the conditions that plague public housing.

Money, of course, is at the root of all the problems of cities – the flight of the middle class to the suburbs, the flight of industry, the low tax base. We can’t just throw money at the poorest sectors of our cities either. Solid planning must create a plan that is realistic and doable. Such designs also cost money. As a priority though, it seems we need to focus on lead paint and lead poisoning in public housing once again and keep that focus until the problem is really solved, not swept under many a government carpet in many a cash-strapped city.

More sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/12/nyregion/new-york-today-understanding-the-risks-of-lead-paint.html

https://www.consumerreports.org/lead/lead-paint-still-poses-a-safety-risk/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/millions-of-older-homes-still-have-lead-paint-on-the-walls-make-sure-yours-is-safe/2016/10/31/4e8f7f04-8437-11e6-92c2-14b64f3d453f_story.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/nyregion/nycha-settlement-court-ruling.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/26/nyregion/inside-public-housing-fix.html

https://www.syracuse.com/politics/index.ssf/2018/10/what_will_dana_balter_john_katko_do_about_lead_poisoning_in_syracuse_children.html

https://www.syracuse.com/health/index.ssf/2016/06/lead.html

 

Goliath and David: Verizon Fios and Chewy.com

I had two business dealings in two days, one with a big corporation, a Goliath so to speak; the other with a much smaller internet company, a sort of David if you will allow an analogy that is both Biblical, and a recent pop culture TV title, used on the Survivor series. The Goliath in this scenario is the multimillion dollar business, Verizon Fios; the far smaller business, the David, is an internet company that supplies pet owners with food and supplies in the mail, Chewy.com.

I spoke to Verizon Fios a number of times because when my last two year contract ended my costs went up, a lot. Probably many of you agree with me when I say that there is very little to watch on television these days if you opt to stay with a cable provider. If you are a sport’s fan, cable TV may be indispensable. But I generally like figure skating, the Olympics and the Super Bowl and that is about it for sports.

Movies and news are my favorite choices. Movies are disappearing behind various paywalls. On cable the same movies repeat again and again, and they are movies I love, but I don’t want to watch them constantly. I have an Amazon Fire Stick but everything is not licensed to Amazon. When I counted I actually found that I was only watching 19 channels out of the huge number of channels that are advertised (but which no one can access without paying enormous fees). I wanted to negotiate my monthly fees downward. I was given a few options. I finally settled on a package that cost $160 a month (still too much). I agreed to sign a two year contract which took $5 a month off the price and or earned me a Nest doorbell, I can’t remember which.

I usually paid my bill on the ninth of the month so when they took their payment on the fourth I got a bit nervous. I called Fios and finally worked my way through the automated labyrinth to speak to an actual person by which time I was a bit snippy I’m sorry to say. I explained that it upsets my budget if they just take out a payment on any old day they want. I must know what day the money will disappear from my bank account and it needs to stay the same every month, unless someone lets me know ahead of time. This, however, turned out to be the rudest agent I have ever spoken with and he was no help at all. He was mean. I received an email in the next week that told me they would take my next payment on the 30thof the month. Since I had already made a payment in this month (on the fourth) I had to call back and quit autopay. I do not want to make two payments in one month. Apparently, when I was finally connected, this time with a young lady, I made mistakes in describing the details of my “plan”. She actually laughed at me.

After these two upsetting experiences with customer service, I decided to leave Verizon Fios and go to Spectrum, although that prospect did not excite me either. They are almost as expensive and I am sure they will work their way up. But at least they were polite and connections were made very efficiently.

Then I had to cancel my plan with Verizon and I knew they would give me a penalty for vacating a two year contract. I was hoping they would waive the penalty fee but I was informed that the charge will be $305. Yikes! Spectrum advertises that they will pay the penalty fee to Fios for me. We’ll see. There is probably some kind of trick to it that I don’t know about yet. I asked the agent at Fios, who this time was very nice, to see if Fios will waive the fee but I am guessing the answer will be no. So great big Goliath company, totally impersonal and bound by rules agents can’t break without permission, and permission is rarely given.

This is my sweetie cat, named Gomez by the children she originally belonged to (who were probably watching The Adams Family). I recently had to put her to sleep for reasons I will not describe in detail as it would embarrass Mz Mezzie, as I called her, if she happened to be looking down on us and if she could read. Mz Mezzie had lived with a family in a rental where she was illegal and for a number of years she had spent most of her time outside. Even when she came to me she spent most of her day on the back porch, never wandering from the yard. She was not used to using a litter box but I would not make her stay outside if she wanted to come in. Her long hair made her unhappy with the usual kitty litter which is small and got stuck in her toes. I used a litter called Yesterday’s News (newspaper pellets) which she came to accept for a while.

This litter was so heavy that I had difficulty getting it in the house. That’s when the clerk at the pet store told me about Chewy.com. This was helpful because Chewy delivered to my house. We added another expensive litter that smelled like grass to help my little outdoor kitty. When I had to put her down last week I had just received a shipment of that expensive grassy-scented litter. I let Chewy.com know that my pet was no longer with me, because I did not want to keep receiving pet-related emails. They told me that they would credit the last bag of litter I purchased back to my account and they did it, that very day. Today I looked out the window and saw a van in my driveway. I watched the driver walk to my back door with a package. I was amazed to find that what he had for me was a floral arrangement from the people at Chewy.com with a sympathy note. Now that’s my kind of business.

I want everyone to boycott Verizon Fios and buy their pet products from Chewy.com. Of course I am not the boss of anyone but this would offer each of these companies, the Goliath and the David,  what each deserves. Thank you Chewy.com.

The Black Widow by Daniel Silva – Book

The Black Widow (Bk. #16) by Daniel Silva opens with the violent death of another venerable Jewish person intent on preventing a reoccurrence of the atrocities of Hitler’s Germany. Hannah Weinberg created the Isaac Weinberg center for the Study of Anti-Semitism in France (fictional) at the end of Silva’s novel, The Messenger  (Bk. #6) She also owns a (fictitious) van Gogh painting, Marguerite Gachet at Her Dressing Table, used to call attention to real events in French history – Jeudi Noir and the Paris Roundup of 1942.

Who is responsible for this bombing and assassination that kills Hannah and other prominent invitees to a conference at the center in Paris? Why are so many Jews leaving France to go to Israel in the midst of Palestinian rocket launches into Israel?

This particular book seemed to touch on issues that are not settled territory for me, perhaps because it brings us to a time that is more contemporary than previous books in the Allon series. For one thing I cannot help having some sympathy for Palestinians, although I think their militant approach to what they see as Israeli imperialism made it impossible to take a diplomatic stance that could have led to shared ownership and peace, instead of eliciting a corresponding violence in the Jewish people. Having just learned of the annihilation of 6 million Jews in Europe, the Jewish people found themselves homeless until they were granted a toehold in Israel, and the lesson they had learned, that they could not afford to trust any nation, had just been driven home so tragically. They were more than ready to defend their new nation.

The second part of this particular Gabriel Allon op was about Syria, and refugees, and ISIS, and the radicalization of Arabic people displaced by war (and others). ISIS appears to promise the vulnerable and dispossessed a new nation – a caliphate – a chance to restore pride and offer them a return to their homeland. (There is no place like home.) There is no instant fix to the whole issue of how Muslims and Christians can learn to live in closer proximity than we did before the Iraq war; it requires an investment of time and tolerance. I cannot help but feel sorrow for people who were forced to empty out their country because of Bashar al Assad’s unwillingness to be humane. But I also find myself fearful at the idea of a regimented caliphate that exhibits a violent missionary zeal. Fighting terrorism seems an appropriate action for nations to undertake.

Does it trivialize the rise of ISIS to put it at the center of a thriller. Perhaps, a little. But it also allows readers who don’t pay much attention to news to get some insight into the genesis of ISIS, its history, its rationale, and its modus operandi. This time Gabriel turns a secretary/administrative assistant into The Black Widow who can join ISIS and perhaps track down the identity and location of Saladin, the illusive man directing recent terrorists activities in Europe and hoping to do so in America.

We know Gabriel does not have a problem using females in spy ops and we also know they often end up in great physical peril, as does Gabriel. How does his black widow fare? The issues I encountered with The Black Widow were personal, so see what feelings this interesting thriller, full of all your favorite Silva characters, engenders in you. I did like the perspectives it gave on the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS.

Onerous Fundraising Duties

The onerous fundraising duties faced by our people in Congress are a real factor in limiting the amount of policy work they can accomplish and the quality of the legislation that comes out of committees. While I am opposed to the floods of special interest money unleashed by the Citizens United v FEC decision that turned our elections into money wars, elections always have been expensive. But the term in the House for elected Representatives is only two years and then they must run again. This makes it necessary to constantly build the war chest for the next election. Because of this money merry-go-round we are not getting full value in terms of thoughtful legislation from our Representatives or even our Senators (who serve for six years).

I have been following the bills and House Resolutions that move through the House of Representatives daily when the House is in session and there is so much that is trivial in this daily work product. It is sometimes difficult to separate the trivial from the more consequential because all votes are given the same sort of weight. Clearly a bill to name a post office takes less time to execute than a budget matter or a bill like the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (which took less time than usual because the opposition party had no power in the 115th Congress). Perhaps if our representatives in both houses of Congress were relieved of some fundraising duties they would have time to pass bills that actually address the needs of the American people.

The people who represent us in Congress have staff people and interns who probably send out all those emails and letters to constituents that arrive daily in our mailboxes, both digital and real. Even so, they have to oversee their reelection campaigns, they have to call big donors and fundraising is time-consuming and often requires a personal touch in terms of events that must be attended and speeches that must be made and hands that must be shaken. Obviously we cannot relieve members of Congress of all of these more hands-on duties. However the Democratic Party can try to find ways to trim the amount of time spent on fundraising by those who are serving in Congress and people who are not in office but are party leaders can take on more of the fundraising. It’s a trade-off. If you want more in terms of quality legislation or policy then some of the tedious repetitive chores must be taken over by others or terms of House Representatives must be for longer than two years (hard to do because it calls for a Constitutional amendment).

John Oliver does a great job of telling us the details of Congressional fundraising although his analogies are often hair-raisingly “blue” (he is on HBO, nothing is forbidden).

https://www.newsweek.com/john-oliver-last-week-tonight-congressional-fundraising-443675

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search