The Deplorables, the Republicans, and the Media

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The Deplorables, The Republicans and the Media

I will eventually get to the “deplorables” but you must be patient while I make all the connections I need to make in order to make my points believable. Bear with me while I fill in the backstory. Even though it sounds overly familiar, follow along with it one more time. Recent events have their roots in the past, as is usually true with all human endeavors.

Strange Bedfellow Reprise

I once painted a word picture of a bed full of strange bedfellows with the hardworking average Americans on one side of the bed with their corporate bosses who either still employ them or who have abandoned them on the other side and as the pillow that separates these two normally adversarial groups is the Republican Party.

Nestled in with those hardworking average Americans are some right wing fringe groups of Americans, the militia folks who turned out to start a war over Cliven Bundy, and yes the haters, the misogynists, the xenophobes, the homophobes, the anti-Semitics, the racists, those who never accepted that the Confederacy lost the Civil War, and even perhaps downright fascists and neo-Nazis. I made it seem to be mystifying that these folks were in the same bed but it really isn’t all that surprising.

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Republican Media and the Strange Bedfellows

The ideological glue that holds these people so unnaturally together is what the GOP has been sending out over the radio waves (the radio!) in those Talk Radio shows of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and others for more than a decade. Republicans certainly knew their audience. They did not aim for Big Business, they colluded with Big Business. Their party was dwindling in influence and size. They needed voters. So the GOP through their media began saying the things that they knew would resonate with truckers on long distance trips, displaced workers tuning-in in garages or in their cars.

They began to say that America was being ruined, that America was being downgraded to a second-rate nation; that our leaders were knuckling under to China and at the mercy of Islamic terrorists. They took little or no responsibility for our factories relocating to the East. They took no responsibility for helping to pass laws that took away penalties, or at least did not levy penalties on companies who took their factories elsewhere where there was cheaper labor and lot of fresh consumers.

They blamed the Democrats for trade deals and high taxes and too many regulations, for being in cahoots with demanding labor unions, and for environmental regulations, although many of these measures had appealed to our officials on both sides of the aisle. They seduced their listeners by speaking back to them the things that they said when they gathered together. For the most part this was guy stuff, although now husbands have brought their wives along with them and many single women who lost employment have also joined the movement.

Once Fox News went on TV and said in living color, in a format that looked exactly like news (but wasn’t) what the Talk Radio people had been whispering in American ears in black and white, the GOP realized that they had hit on a formula that could well put them back in the White House. When they added in the Patriot talk, the veneration of the flag, and took to the airwaves as the sole protectors of our veterans American was theirs, at least the white, immigrated in the 19th century, bunch.

I watched them grow their influence and it did look like the waves of grain that symbolize the American heartland (another word they latched onto with everyone sending each other little hearts on Facebook.) They hypnotized America, they brainwashed America and they turned workers who had no work into pod people. They occupied their brains and promised them exactly what they wanted. They said they would get their jobs back and they made sure that everyone could own a gun just in case they could no longer trust their government.

That is how people who did not wear suits ended up in that bed with all the suits.

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How Republican Media called out to the Deplorables

The Republican Party has been using their own media to demonize Democrats. Media once tried to go for a balanced approach that sort of gave credence to the policies advocated by either side. The Republicans created a deliberately partisan media that spouted anti-Democrat messaging 24 hours a day. It is probably why the new idiom “24/7” was invented.

The GOP made the Democratic Party the party of immigrants so they could blame job loss on immigrants, especially immigrants who did not enter America through legal channels. They told workers who had to take jobs that paid far less than their old jobs that their tax dollars were being given to these illegal immigrants. Their tax dollars were being given to people who had never held a job or never would, and they painted those people’s skins as black. That is how they fed into and strengthened an image of the freeloading “other” that already existed.

Too bad the intelligence we have about terrorists is not as good as the intelligence the Republicans have about the American middle class. Of course the Republicans are the party that created the NSA with the Patriot Acts. When a black man became our President that was truly serendipity. Implying that he was not a true American, that he was not a Christian, that he belonged to a church that spewed hate about white folks in America – bonanza!

Are all of the white Americans who have been wooed and won by nonstop propaganda deplorable? I don’t think so. Are there deplorable individuals who climbed aboard the GOP train because the rhetoric resonated with their own narrow-minded beliefs? Absolutely. Are there quite of few of them? Sadly it seems that there might be. Do people who are not deplorable hold to some deplorable ideas? I would have to say that that is true.

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Is the tribalism that defines the American social landscape deplorable? Will it lead us to anything positive if we are at each other’s throats? Can you make a better future when people are so invested in their own mindset that they want to lash out at anyone who thinks differently? Will dividing America into tribes who defend their territory, separating us all with hate and bile, eventually produce an America that links arms and unites to produce a more peaceful world in which we all can live? How can dividing into separate camps ever lead to unity, tolerance, and the creative spirit we need to meet the challenges of our tiny planet hurtling through space.

The Republicans have exploited our differences and exaggerated our differences in order to gin up votes because they want, they desire, they must control all three branches of our government. They must truly believe that they can restore America to a former glory that has never really been lost. Although we may be in a down cycle right now and recent developments abroad have given us more competition we are still a great nation and a world leader.

The Republicans profess their policies in almost biblical tones. They are trained to repeat talking points, to talk over their opponents, to obliterate foes with data even if the data is made up. They must think that “trickle-down economics” and cutting taxes and getting rid of regulations on business and investment, privatizing everything and building our military while cutting the size of federal government, that all of these strategies are the Holy Grail to reproducing the America that used to be so powerful and so productive.

But the GOP did not trust the American people to understand how successful their policies might be because so many of us do not agree that these policies will improve America. They still had to use propaganda to win. If you have right on your side why would you create this whole matrix of mesmerizing mind games?

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Will Donald Trump and his band of Deplorables Make America Great Again?

Now the GOP is the party of Donald Trump who is the pied piper of the “deplorables”, regardless of how shocked the Republicans act about what Hillary said. In the future qualities like xenophobia, racism, and misogyny will not help us create the global society, which is evolving whether we like it or not. These feelings are backward and really don’t belong in a nation that espouses equality. They will only produce a more primitive American, not a futuristic America. The fact that these people have found a home in the Republican Party with Donald Trump at its helm is the best reason of all to elect Democrats in 2016. We need to fight these feelings in ourselves not give them free rein.

 

Time for Single Payer Health Care

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It’s time for Single Payer Health Care. Obamacare has had some great moments. Many people who could never afford insurance now have it. People with preexisting conditions, once excluded from health insurance to assist them with their health expenses, now have coverage.

Obamacare has also been hard on some people in the middle class. You do not have to be in the upper middle class to be faced with these hardships. Retired couples are being faced with huge yearly fees for their health care and high deductibles and high copays.

Someone on my Facebook feed, someone who worked all her life, with a husband who worked all his life said that they have to pay $6000/ year and that this does not cover office visits and tests. This couple is not poor, but neither are they wealthy. Whatever they have was earned through hard work and smart financial management. So they have a house, not a McMansion, they have a camp, not exactly a Hamptons Beach house, and they have a small boat. They have grandchildren and a dog and they live modestly, not flamboyantly. This is just one story but I have heard it over and over again from family and friends.

Obama dealt fairly with the insurance companies as far as I can determine. He did not go for Single Payer Insurance. He got the health insurance companies to accept some compromises and he designed a plan that featured a private/public partnership. But insurance providers like Aetna and United Healthcare are no longer happy with the compromises they negotiated and they are backing out of the deal. They say that their stockholders are not pleased, or their profits are too low, or even that they are losing money. If the insurance companies back out Obamacare is basically dead it seems to me.

America accrued some important benefits from Obamacare that are not health related. Lots of people who work for private health insurance providers kept their jobs and I do mean lots of people. If the insurance companies vacate the deal that allows Obamacare to function then Obamacare will eventually go away and lots of Republicans will open champagne.

But there will be a backlash. All of those who were once uninsured and who have had pretty good insurance for a while will not, I think, quietly accept having it snatched away. Although the insurance companies may believe they can go back to their old ways of doing business I do not think that will fly. What other option will we have to try except a Single Payer Health Care Plan for which there is already a considerable drum beat? People who are paying giant fees for their insurance may be quite willing to pay higher taxes to allow the federal government to back such a plan, perhaps modeled on that in England or in Canada.

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Single payer may also be the only plan that will offer enough public leverage against the pharmaceutical companies to bring down the prices of the meds we use. And a single payer program will offer lots of jobs. Those who lose their jobs with private health insurers (and there will be many) will be most prepared to take the new jobs, although they might have to accept lower wages. Doctors, health professionals and hospitals, clinics, etc., already living with the lower wages offered through Medicare will find that their wages will be lower across the board. That could make for some pretty unhappy health care providers. Will they move to China? Probably not. Will the quality of our health care go down? That is a possibility. Some single payer systems seem to involve longer wait times.

There is plenty for both the insurance providers and the insured to think about here. A for profit health model seems unsuited to maintaining health or treating those whose health is challenged because the model is too focused on profits to do tasks that are basically humanitarian in nature at affordable rates. And yet the people who are somewhat overburdened right now in terms of paying more for health care than they should have to pay may not be willing both to pay higher taxes and get less quality through a Single Payer Health Care system.

Who’s More Racist?/Dems Broke Our Inner Cities?

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The Recent ‘Who’s More Racist’ Meme

Donald Trump, a man who is running to be President of the United States, can apparently say any racist thing he wants and still pretend to have the interests of those he maligns at heart. Our jaws are constantly dropping because nothing sticks to this guy. The media, cold one day, critical and willing to announce that this is a man who should never be our President turns around on the next day and conducts campaign business as usual. They interview him, play videos of his statements, broadcast round-tables full of media commentators from both major political persuasions and by doing so normalize his campaign once again, all of their hyperbolic complaints set aside to be revisited on another jaw-dropping day.

It is obvious that the press has no idea what to do in an unprecedented situation such as the election of 2016, although they have no trouble beating up on Hillary Clinton every day. I guess because she is not holding press conferences, where they can beat her up in front of a camera crew to be stored on video for all eternity, they are driven to destroy her in absentia. Hillary is being made famous by the Donald for making one tone deaf statement about African American young people in the 1990’s, which does sound bad and brings forth a wince when repeated in 2016, but is still only one statement no matter how many times it is repeated. Meanwhile Trump has hired a roster of advisors who don’t mind rubbing shoulders with White Supremacists or even members of the Ku Klux Klan, or who are prominent White Nationalists. And yet it seems we are supposed to be deciding who’s more racist?

His new campaign advisor has perhaps pointed out to Donald Trump that he cannot win the Presidential election unless he embraces at least one minority group. It looks like Americans of African Descent are the chosen ones because he just burned his bridges with Hispanics and probably Latinos also. Donald Trump, a man who knows next to nothing about history is now trying to rewrite American history for an electorate that also either knows and cares little about history, or has been entertained for the last decade by the twisted versions of American history as told by Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh.

The Discovery of the Bigoted Democrats of the 60’s by the Republican Right Wing

These same media right wing guys have been so excited since they learned about the Democratic Dixiecrats — a group of Democrats who were virulently anti-integration in the South both before and after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the President at the time was Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat). It delights these grown men to crow about all of the segregationists with their whiter than white skin and their thick Southern accents who were members of the Democratic Party during the Civil Rights Movement. It is proof, they craftily contend, that Democrats are racists. Except that the Democrats were so inhospitable to Strom Thurmond, et al that the Southern wing of the Democratic Party (those very Dixiecrats) eventually left the Democrats and joined the Republicans where they found a better fit, and the Republicans became the party of Southern accents and perpetual bitterness at their loss in the Civil War, kept alive by the Confederate flags flown throughout the South, and on many a Republican truck bumper.

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The Democrats Broke the Inner Cities (or Did They)?

Now Donald Trump has his people blaming Democrats for the fact that not much has changed in our inner cities. He is saying that 50 years of Democratic programs have done nothing to ameliorate poverty or to bring prosperity to Americans of African Descent. Sadly, in the absence of data, that does seem to be the case. There is some data available but Donald Trump is not a data miner. It is also true that Democratic programs have never been consistently funded and have been modified whenever Republicans had the votes. These programs have been under constant attack from the right who have made several very familiar arguments against such programs.

1) Giving people government support makes them dependent on that support and they will like the free money so much that they will never want to leave that support system or do anything to become self-supporting members of our society, so the very support government gives, turns people into the perpetually poor and dependent.

2) A strong central government is anti-American and will lead to authoritarianism or Communism; furthermore it is against the intentions of our forefathers as written in the US Constitution which gives more rights to the individual states than to the central government. This section of our Constitution is actually very brief and open to interpretation, so much so in fact, that our founding fathers wrote the Federalist papers to try to reach a consensus interpretation, which I believe they were unable to do.

Neither of these arguments represents more than a point of view. There is no proof that all people will see government assistance as a comfortable hammock in which to while away their lives or that having a very small federal government will insure our continuing freedom as a nation.

It does seem clear that societies without any support for those who are poor suffer more social chaos and economic inconvenience and health and hygiene challenges than those societies who do prop up their poorest citizens with at least minimal dietary and health initiatives, and that things improve even more when education, training, and work are offered also. We know these things because we have documented histories from societies that did not offer these thing to those who were at the bottom of the social and economic heap. (England, for example)

Do Republicans Have a Better Plan?
So when we have someone like Rudy Giuliani claiming that Democrats have failed Americans of African Descent for the past 50 years – after I get over my outrage at such a statement

[Would it have been better to have done nothing?

[Would tough love and state’s rights have produced better results?]

– it becomes important to look back over the past 50 years to see if Democrats really are the culprits who we should blame for the seeming stasis in our inner cities and if it is truly time to give Republicans a go.

However, I warn you, almost the only thing that the Republicans have to go on is that tricky time we already discussed when Civil Rights hung in the balance, when half of the Democratic Party (the Southern half) was a 60’s version of Dino’s or Democrats In Name Only, men so bigoted that the Democratic Party eventually could not contain them. It is the tale of those very Dixiecrats who eventually fled to the open arms of a Republican Party, a party which has obstructed social programs vehemently ever since (whenever they could get away with it and still get elected to public office) that is providing Donald Trump with his opportunity to “zap” Democrats.

Throughout the Obama years we have heard their spokesman, Paul Ryan, hailed by the party until recently as a truth teller, repeat the wisdom he gleaned from multiple readings of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand — that we are destroying the character of the poor by propping them up and that the poor are takers who will demand more and more from the middle class until they too join the ranks of the poor – the story of the takers and the makers. It has been a compelling story, but is it true?

It seems to me that we lose more as a society by not helping poorer citizens than we do by helping them. The jury is still out on determining what positive and negative effects the past 50 years of programs offered to the poorest Americans have had. If the same families whose grandparents were poor are still as poor as that previous generation, then why is that the case? Is it the failure of the programs, or the failure of the modifications to the programs, or some other factors altogether that are responsible for the lack of change, of growth? Whatever the reasons I do not believe that the Republicans have mentioned any approaches that will help inner city communities in any way.

My Conclusions

Neither party is blameless when it comes to the stubborn stasis in our inner cities and so when Donald blames this on the Democrats he is being disingenuous and the most obvious reason is because it is politically expedient to do so. He has no insider knowledge that will help us unravel this stubborn problem and the Republicans sink or swim approach is a way to deny any blame for the current state of affairs and wash their hands of dedicating any more tax dollars to improving the situation. At this juncture I would say that actually going into our cities and asking residents what they believe would help the most and what their particular needs are seems as if it would be a great start.

Some of the Information and Historical Evidence I Reviewed

In order to refresh my own memory about the history of this argument about which party is more racist and which party has “broken” our inner cities I researched a number of topics.  First I looked at the roots of welfare which are older than you might think. http://www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-in-action/bria-14-3-a-how-welfare-began-in-the-united-states.html

http://www.welfareinfo.org/history/

Welfare and Social Security programs began during the Great Depression with the New Deal of FDR and, says Wikipedia, ended when Bill Clinton (Democrat) faced with a majority Republican Congress passed the Welfare to Work bill in 1996. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Act

If is instructive to watch some of the video record saved on You Tube and elsewhere on the internet. When you hear the question “which party is more racist” and then you watch the evidence you are likely to be confused. Some of these men were saying racist things as members of the Democratic Party because they were from the South and they were vehemently opposed to integration. But this view was not typical of the Democratic Party overall. Lyndon B. Johnson, prime mover of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was also a Democrat. Eventually these immovable Southern men had to take their anger and hate and huffily leave the Democratic Party. When they did that they found their new home with the Republicans. So when you listen to Strom Thurmond and Bull Connor and George Wallace talk on these videos they are Democrats. But not for long.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strom_Thurmond

https://youtu.be/SG-clHmRqo0

https://youtu.be/DyI4UIT4ZFE

The Confederate Flag

https://youtu.be/VW27Nx-dm48

Bull Connor and Civil Rights

https://youtu.be/j9kT1yO4MGg

http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1091

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George Wallace

Segregation forever –

https://youtu.be/hLLDn7MjbF0

https://youtu.be/YgbNc-9Di7k

https://youtu.be/wLkCY0f73iE

And even the Republican hero President, Ronald Reagan, appears very different when seen from a more liberal point of view:

Bill Maher on Ronald Reagan

https://youtu.be/dKBwVrw0ROQ

RT.com on Ronald Reagan

https://youtu.be/-b1ePD_Hi_w

Rachel Maddow on Reaganomics and how it hollowed out the middle class

https://youtu.be/z5CCRI1vdwE

Black folks and Reagan

https://youtu.be/LzttQWEJeD0

Republicans may also try to convince you that the War on Drugs belongs to Democrats but the War on Drugs began in 1914 and has been a fairly consistent policy in the US since that time. It is true that Americans of color have been pursued and incarcerated at a much higher rate than white Americans or even than guilty Americans, but Democrats alone are hardly to blame in this regard.

War on Drugs

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_on_Drugs

Actually began in 1914 – A Democrat and a member of the House of
Representatives named Harrison proposed the first bill in Congress which passed

Nixon (Republican) used the name War on Drugs

Drug Czar appointed under George H W Bush and raised to cabinet level status by Bill Clinton

Drug free media campaign act of 1998

Sentencing disparities have been well documented

Nixon creates War on Drugs

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/nixon-aide-war-drugs-tool-target-black-people-article-1.2573832

Stop and frisk

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop-and-frisk_in_New_York_City

Lately we have also been made aware of how real estate practices like redlining (used by Donald Trump to avoid renting apartments to people of color) also made it difficult for some minority citizens to leave inner cities.

Redlining

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redlining

 

 

September 2016 Book List

 

stack of books on the dark wood background. toning. selective focus on the middle book
from a Google image search

 

Book List

New York Times Book Review – Every Sunday the NYT’s reviewers write about the newest books on the market. Here are most of the titles discussed in August, 2016, more fiction than nonfiction.

 

How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything by Rosa Brooks (NF)

I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This by Nadja Spiegelman (Memoir)

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair Braverman  (NF)

Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney

Break in Case of Emergency by Jessica Winters

Conrad and Eleanor by Jane Rodgers

Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard

Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

The Unseen World by Liz Moore

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell

The Inseparables by Stuart Nadler

Southern Fiction

A Thousand Miles From Nowhere by John Gregory Brown

Nitro Mountain by Lee Clay Johnson

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Oprah’s Book Club)

We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley

Cousin Joseph by Jules Feiffer (Graphic Novel)

Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals by Jesse Armstrong

Max Gate by Damien Wilkins

Chance Developments by Alexander McCall Smith

Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe

Still Here by Lara Vapnyar

Dr, Knox by Peter Spiegelman

Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

God, Realigned: The Era of Reformation by Michael Massing (NF)

American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin (NF)

The Couple Next Door by Harlan Coben

Surrender, New York by Caleb Carr “addictive crime procedural”

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

The Senility of Vladimir P by Michael Honig

Losing It by Emma Rathbone

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

Powerhouse by James Andrew Miller (NF)

I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong (NF)

Scream by Tama Janowitz (NF)

Modernity and Its Discontents by Steven B. Smith (NF)

Against Everything by Mark Greif (NF)

Necessary Trouble by Sarah Jaffe (NF)

The Great Suppression by Zachery Roth(NF)

From Humans of New York to Obama’s Office: How a Principal Built a School by Nadia Lopez

Crime Fiction

Rise the Dark by Michael Koryta

Still Mine by Amy Stuart

Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey

The Wages of Desire by Stephen Kelly

From French

One Hundred Twenty-One Days by Michèle Audin

Constellation by Adrien Bosc

Abahn Sabana David by Marguerite Duras

Mon Ami Amèricaine by Michèle Halberstadt

 

Publisher’s Weekly – Book List

 

The Senility of Vladimir P by Michael Honig

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

The Chosen Ones by Steve Sem-Sandberg

American Heiress: The Wild Saga of The Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin (NF)

Still Here by Lara Vapnyar

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich (NF)

The Wages of Desire: An Inspector Lamb Mystery by Stephen Kelly

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

All at Sea: A Memoir by Decca Aitkenhead

The Golden Age by Joan London

A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto

Riverine: A Memoir From Anywhere But Here by Angela Palm (Memoir)

Damaged by Lisa Scottoline

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto

The One Man by Andrew Gross

Company Confessions: Secrets, Memoirs, and the CIA by Christopher Moran (NF)

Moo by Sharon Creech

The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro di Medici by Catherine Fletcher (NF)

A Shocking Assassination by Cora Harrison

The Nix: A Novel by Nathan Hill

IRL by Tommy Pico

Blood in the Water: the Attica Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson (NF)

 

 

Independent Booksellers – Book List

 

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

The Last Days of Nights by Graham Moore

A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George

First Comes Love by Emily Griffin

Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman

The Muse by Jessie Burton

The Singles Game by Lauren Weisberger

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood

 

Amazon

 

Best Books for August

Another Brooklyn: A Novel by Jacqueline Woodson

Behold the Dreamers: A Novel by Imbolo Mbue

I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This by Nadja Spiegelman (Memoir)

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

The Bright Edge of the World: A Novel by Eowyn Ivey

The Last Days Night: A Novel by Graham Moore

Good as Gone by Amy Gentry

Christodora: A Novel by Timothy Murphy

American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin

Literature and Fiction

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers

The Bright Edge of the World: A Novel by Eowyn Ivey

Bright, Precious Days: A Novel by Jay McInerney

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I Will Send Rain: A Novel by Rae Meadows

Another Brooklyn: A Novel by Jacqueline Woodson

Christodora: A Novel by Timothy Murphy

Carousel Court: A Novel by Joe McGinniss Jr.

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

The Gentleman: A Novel by Forrest Leo

The Dollhouse: A Novel by Fiona Davis

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

Mysteries and Thriller

A Time of Torment by John Connolly (Charlie Parker)

In the Barren Ground by Loreth Anne White

Damaged by Lisa Scottoline

The Couple Next Door: A Novel by Shari Lapena

Surrender, New York: A Novel by Caleb Carr

Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

Insidious (an FBI thriller) by Catherine Coulter

The Last Days of Night: A Novel by Graham Moore

Good as Gone by Amy Gentry

Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Hike: A Novel by Drew Magary

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth) by N K Jemisin

The Last Days of New Paris by Chine Mièville

Blood of the Earth (A Soulwood Novel) by Faith Hunter

Ghost Father by Mary Robinette

The Gentleman: A Novel by Forrest Leo

Invasive: A Novel by Chuck Wendig

The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins

Machinations by Hayley Stone

Zen 12 by Kerri Hawkins

 

 

The Red Line -Syria Then and Now

the red line big2

 

What I said then:

What is it with men? Do women draw “red lines”? I have never heard a woman draw such a line, a line in the sand, a line on the playground; a line which everyone understands means “cross this line and there are consequences”, physical consequences, unpleasant consequences (well maybe women do that with their offspring and their partners). Netanyahu drew a red line about nukes and Iran. This red line has not been crossed yet but Israel lives in the hood and is used to lobbing bombs at neighboring aggressors. Obama also drew a red line that implied America would punish Assad in Syria if he used chemical weapons against his own people. Is this a testosterone thing? But in the case of Assad, a totalitarian monster who will fight in the face of millions of refugees (his own people), and who will make them flee their own country; a little thing like a “red line” won’t stop a man like this. It acts like a red cape acts on a bull. But the red line has been drawn, the gauntlet has been laid down, and Assad has challenged Obama to a duel. Dueling has been illegal for a long, long time. A red line can be redrawn. That is one option. Just redraw the damn line. It doesn’t really matter if we look weak because we aren’t weak. It shows wisdom to be able to back down from a position when someone is baiting a trap, baiting a trap with dead children. How does a decent man beat a monster? He uses his brain, not his muscle.

What I say now:

Obama has been criticized again and again for not enforcing that red line. The Republicans have told America that the fact that we did not do something, some unknown ninja move, proves that Obama is weak and because he is our President it makes America look weak. It invites other nations to challenge us to see how wimpy we will be. But, realistically, short of war, what were Obama’s choices? Our soldiers were still traumatized by too many tours of duty in a row in Iraq. Americans had no taste for sending our guys into Syria to fight Assad. Assad’s government was and is backed by the power of Putin in Russia. Going to war with Assad could have been interpreted as an act of aggression against Russia, although I doubt that Putin wants an all-out war with America right now. Obama’s deal with Putin to make sure that Assad’s chemical weapons were destroyed was probably the best deal we could get at the time. Congress was busting Obama’s chops for being too involved in places like Egypt and Libya. He could not have pleased the GOP no matter what he decided to do. News sources are suggesting that not all of Assad’s chemical weapons were destroyed and that he may, in these late summer days of 2016 be using them again. I still like my suggestion from the days immediately after the red line was crossed.

loudspeakers

What I said then:

If you can remember back far enough to remember the movie Dangerous Liaisons then I think we could find a way to register our deep, deep disapproval without lobbing bombs at a leader who is just waiting to have us lob bombs at him. (What if all hell breaks loose?) If you remember, in the movie, an aging countess (Glenn Close) had learned to use men as pawns to give to herself the independence and the power to well live without a husband. She had affairs, as many as she wanted and she manipulated the guilt and the fear of exposure the men felt in such a way that when she ended the affair, they found they could not tell. She lived above gossip and although women knew she was not quite the thing, they had no proof and she was accepted by society. Until she fell in love.

She sent that young man (John Malkovitch) on his way too, but as the film opens we meet a woman who is now showing her age. She is still handsome, but not beautiful. When that young man she fell in love with comes back and implies that he is still interested, she plays her last and most dangerous game, which she loses, rather badly. She still thinks that she has kept her secrets and has enough social cachet to go on. When she appears at the opera and everyone boos her, her reaction is visceral and I’m sure that from that time forward her social isolation is complete.

Maybe we could all; in every city and town all around the world, play, over very large loudspeakers,  at a certain time, like midnight at the Prime Meridian on Monday, a sound track of people booing with all of the loudspeakers pointed in the direction of Syria. I wonder if the sound would carry all the way to Syria. Then everyone in the world could turn his/her back on Assad and send Assad into a social isolation that would put him out of commission for the rest of his life. Now that would be retribution and it would feel really fine. I don’t imagine words or even world-wide condemnation could affect someone like that. You know what; I don’t even think bombs will do it.

Syria4What I think now:

Obviously we are way past the days when social shunning will put even a dent in the entitled arrogant man with the heart of granite who leads Syria. Here is a man who lives in bubble of comfort and privilege and who will not abdicate power even though his “kingdom” has been reduced to rubble around him and his “subjects” have had to flee or die. Here is a man whose every little hair on his smarmy head is glued in place and whose wardrobe costs more than it would take to feed the starving children in the nation that is unlucky enough to be ruled by this egomaniac. But what will finally oust this guy from his palace? Will we declare war on Assad and let the repercussions in Russia fall where they may? What if this becomes World War III and this time Russia is not on our side? I don’t know anyone who really thinks that we shouldn’t tread carefully, harden our hearts against letting grief and empathy dictate policy.

What I said then:

I don’t really know what Obama should do on behalf of America anymore than it sounds like anyone else does, but this situation seems to call out for a creative and global strategy. People who do monstrous things often have very hard shells.

What I think now:

If some of you think you have the perfect answer publish it so we can all see it and consider it. If, as I believe is true, no one is sure about how to handle Syria beyond what we are already doing, then our only choices are to continue to give Syrian refugees room to catch their breath and raise their children and to continue the air assault on Syria, the one that is further complicated by the presence of ISIS.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

This article appeared in my blog at http://thebrissioniblog.blogspot.com/ on 8/30/2013. You can also find in the the archives on this site. It was called What is it with men?

 

The Bully vs. the Wonk: The Presidential Debates

 

Hillary and Donald3big

On September 26th Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will appear in the first debate that puts these two in the same venue on a stage together. There will be some rules and there will be moderators but I still think that this is a terrible idea. I am usually all in favor of debates. But I dread this one. I picture it as the bully vs. the wonk. It’s not that Hillary can’t handle herself in just about any situation. If you want to be the President of America you cannot back down from confrontation. And right now the toughest tickets are not people in foreign governments or countries. Foreign leaders try to be polite in their dealings even when they are saying no. These days some of the meanest suits are on people right here in our own country. Hillary is not afraid of these people. She thinks she can even win some of them over to consider compromises that will move our nation forward, and we wish she could do that, although most of us think she is in for the same realities that Obama has faced.

Hillary has taken stands on the issues that are important to Americans in 2016 and she would welcome a chance to stand up and make her points in a public way in front of all of America. But she is unlikely to get to do any such thing. She is much more likely to be the focus of Donald Trump’s degrading attentions and to be beaten over the head by his propaganda cudgels such as name-calling, lying smears, and patently untrue nonsense that nevertheless all have a way of leaving marks on his opponents. How many times will he call her “lyin’ Hillary” and bring up the totally bogus “racist” label he has decided to graffiti on her this time? How many times will he bring up the Clinton Foundation and the pay to play that never happened? Donald Trump has no filter. Apparently truth has fled the political arena for good.

Except that when Hillary discusses the issues she wants to pursue I feel that she is being honest about what she would like to do; that she has spent time and energy designing approaches to these issues. She wants to target the poor and the middle class and stop skewing our economy towards those who are already wealthy. Donald has given us little of substance on the issues except to assure us that whatever little or big thing it is that bothers us, he will fix it (bigly). It is difficult to know what Hillary intends to do to tackle issues in foreign affairs because she has not said what she will do in Afghanistan or in Iraq. She has mentioned a few plans such as a no fly zone to deal with the black hole of sadness, grief and outrage that defines Assad’s refusal to release Syria from his clutches. Donald, however, has offered to cut loose our allies in NATO and either nuke our enemies or give them nukes so they can erase each other from the face of the earth (along with untold numbers of us).

If they could both be held to discussions of policy only, no slurs allowed then this debate might be a real eye-opener for America. Then instead of the bully vs. the wonk; it might be wonk v wonk.  However I am fairly certain that the debate will just devolve into watching the first female candidate with a chance to win a Presidential election bashed continuously, without much of a chance to respond, by a man who has already proven himself to be unfit for the office of the Presidency, in front of a cheering crowd looking for the death blow, thus proving that those Mad Max movies were right. We are the exact same primitive humans who relished watching mayhem at the Roman Coliseum several centuries ago. I will be more than happy to skip this debate which the media is so looking forward to it. I think I will avoid the bloodletting. Perhaps I will wait and catch the clips and commentaries that are sure to follow.

“In the Day” and Now/Black Power

black power

When I was just beginning my career as a teacher I was hired to work in a program that was designed to provide equal opportunity to the poor and minorities. The program in New York State was called SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge). Later the name of the program outside New York City was changed to EOC or Educational Opportunity Center.  It was intended to serve as a sort of prep school in New York State’s city centers, similar to the Educational Opportunity Programs on SUNY campuses, a program to boost the academic levels of poor and minority adults who had left school before graduating or who had been undereducated in inner city schools that tended to educate students to an eighth grade level (or less) and then lose them. The SEEK program began in 1965 and was a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement in American and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and of what were actually relatively few violent demonstrations in some densely populated African American communities where citizens were emboldened by recent events such as the Black Power movement to demand a share of the American dream.

So I began teaching as a very young person with my little BA degree in Secondary English in the SEEK program and I was hired by a tall, white bearded hippie to be part of this sort of harem of young (white) women who he hired to assist him in what was basically, at that time, a speed-reading program. Every student had a little speed reading machine and a paperback novel. We, the sort of TA’s, would test each student to determine their initial reading speed and we would stand in a line in the classroom and peel off as needed to assist students who were ready to adjust their speed upward. It was absurd, but I really needed a job. It went against everything I had learned about good teaching and was miles away from being a good college prep reading course, but it did give me time and perspective to think about what I would do differently when I became the department chair, which I eventually did.

For the first time in my life, at the very beginning of my career, I found myself in an environment where I as a white person was definitely in the minority. The SEEK program administrator was a graduate of the University of Michigan, a powerfully energetic and ambitious black man (at that time it was the choice of African Americans to be called “black”) who had pulled along with him into our small provincial city the cream of the crop of his young black buddies also from the University of Michigan. These men were educated, handsome, and very, very comfortable with each other. They were in their element. This is what they trained for and it was obvious that they wouldn’t be here long. These were guys (we called them “brothers”) who could be very funny. They could switch back and forth from professional language to street within a single sentence. They were very smart and they were on their way to much bigger careers. By 1973 most of these young “turks” had moved on.

It was intoxicating, as a young white women, to share time in this energetic and testosterone-enhanced world with these young men who were the first and most entitled generation of African American men to benefit from the whole sad and heroic Civil Rights Movement in which many of them had taken part. I could have fallen in love with any one of them with their giant afros and wonderful smiles, but that was not what we were all about and they had plans to marry educated sisters and live well. What we were was colleagues and we were establishing an alternative program which could funnel the poor and minorities up from the projects and into the middle class. I have carried the surprisingly vivid memories of those halcyon days with me during all of my life. And happily, although these young ambitious men did eventually leave our program and move up in the world, we were able to put together excellent preparatory courses and to send hundreds of people to college who would probably not have continued their education at all. We were able to give them the skills they needed to do well in their college studies and this, in turn, built their confidence in their ability to succeed.

It is no longer the sixties, but recent events have made it clear that we are still working out our national shortcomings in the Civil Rights arena. When George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager taking an evening walk with his cell phone to a convenient store, the wounds that remain on the American psyche reopened and we were taken back to the sixties again. In fact there was a direct connection; it was the 50th anniversary of a day when Representative John Lewis from Georgia had been the Chairman of SNCC and one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights movement. He helped plan the March on Washington in August of 1963 which was the occasion of MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech”. Fifty years later here he is on national television reacting to the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial and sadly confronting the fact that the work of winning equality for African Americans is not done.

In fact television that week after that hotly contested verdict was chock full of more African American men and women, with their intelligent, cogent, and very professional discussions of the emotions being experienced by African Americans and the historical context for these feelings. They were able to contain what was probably some significant anger and discuss the ramifications of the trial decision and to explain to the rest of America their problem with “Stand Your Ground” laws and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. When John Lewis spoke out we were reminded of the cosmic irony that this trial occurred on the anniversary of the Martin Luther King speech that almost every American knows by heart. The IRS hearings brought that wonderful Rep.Elijah Cummings of Maryland to my attention with his commonsense ability to bring the soaring fiction of DarryI Issa back to earth. And I also have to mention The Grio in this mix because I was watching MSNBC much of the time and they have hired Joy-Ann Reid as an adjunct to their staff. She has great connections in the African American community and she expresses herself clearly and powerfully. She is a real asset, as is her colleague Melissa Harris-Perry who has her own show on MSNBC. What can beat two intelligent women who also happen to be African American who can offer their sophisticated perceptions on politics in these wacky political times we are living through since 2008.

So for a moment I was back in those faculty/staff meetings at the old SEEK program with all those glowing African American men, just ready to step off into their very distinguished futures. If was good to see all those intelligent, highly educated black people who may even have benefitted from the programs that were developed in the 60’s to diversify the American middle class. It felt a bit like old home week. Too bad it took one alleged scandal and one very sad event to hear from all these erudite black voices. Hopefully they will be consulted over other issues as we have seen on a few of the Sunday shows.

This is still the view from the cheap seats.

This article first appeared on my blog at  http://thebrissioniblog.blogspot.com/ on 8/7/2013

The Republican Scandal Extravaganza

scandalbig2

 

So here we are, right in the direct path of the Republican scandal extravaganza, which we have known was coming. They were just waiting until fall, but they couldn’t quite wait because when the FBI released that last batch of approximately 15,000 emails it was a sign. This is it! They signaled the Trump campaign, which just in a nick of time is headed by the formidable Kellyanne Conway. Let’s make this an all-out effort to fatally damage Hillary Clinton, they telegraphed. And the Republicans have plenty of help with all of the members of the press piling on too. There are plenty of ratings to be made folks. There has to be something really damning in those emails. There just has to be. That charity cannot just exist for humanitarian reasons. The Clintons are too greedy for that. Let’s impeach those humanitarian emailers before they even get into the White House this time.

The press is in a frenzy. The AP got in on the act. They checked Hillary’s State Department calendar and she had meetings with lots of people who gave to the Clinton Foundation. Never mind that there are only so many nations on the planet and that almost all of them meet from time to time with the State Department. We smell nefarious favors being doled out by the millions. The Clinton Foundation takes money from nations with terrible records on human rights. OMG! Who needs to salve their conscience more than an authoritarian nation, and who doesn’t like to have help with their nation’s poorest citizens. If a nation will not contribute doesn’t that brand them as villainous?

How does a skeevy guy like Donald Trump get to pass judgment, with the whole power of a major political party behind him, on anyone? Here is someone who we know scammed others for profits which lined his own pockets. Now he gets to go on TV and act holier-than-thou? That’s just wrong. And if the Republican Party and Donald Trump (under the watchful eye of Ms. Conway) manage to tarnish Hillary beyond electability only Donald Trump will be left, assuming we are still not ready to elect someone from the Libertarian Party or the Green Party. The Republicans are great strategists and have planned this well and timed it right to do maximum damage very close to the November election. Doesn’t it bother anyone that it reeks of mudslinging politics? I do not buy that the Clinton Foundation did anything illegal. I trust, and I am using that word deliberately, that they were busy setting up programs that helped people around the world lift themselves up and feel pride at their accomplishments.

American Economy/Bring Back Our Jobs

jobs back 2 big

Don’t Ask For What You Want, Because You Might Get It

For the past eight years and longer Republicans have pined for “smaller” government and have promised that if we use a “trickle-down” approach to the American economy, cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and endure a few years of austerity the economy will come roaring back. Republicans have held the economy in place for both Obama terms and I don’t think anyone is experiencing a roaring economic upturn. Job growth has been slow and steady, economic growth has been somewhat stagnant. Along comes Donald Trump who promises that he will bring back our jobs that America lost by bringing back the corporations that offered us those jobs.

But what I see whenever I hear this nonsense for the umpteenth time is Republican double-speak covering over the America we will actually have to become in order to bring back those jobs that everyone seems to mourn the loss of. What I see is the possibility of much lower salaries, non-existent or powerless labor unions, a lower standard of living, and employees who work whatever hours the corporations require with few, if any benefits. The corporations will demand much more control over their “own affairs” which will entail drastic deregulation, which Republicans also favor.

The GOP believes (or pretends to believe) that unfettering capitalism will bring an astounding renewal of our economy like the first great flowering of industry at the turn of the 20th century. The Tea Party folks who demand, out of some kind of misplaced nostalgia, that those jobs must be returned to America are not really facing the facts that the old reality can never be reproduced and the new reality may not match their expectations.

What we might get is some kind of “bizarro” America that I (and others) call the Corporate States of America and it answers the demands of an alliance of some pretty strange bedfellows. The Tea Party (which includes truckers, displaced workers, farmers, and rural-garage talk-show lovers), and Big Business have a lot in common these days (sort of in the same way that buffalo and wolves have a lot in common). The Republican Party is the body pillow between the corporations (Big Business) on one side of this big bed and the conspiracy theory lovers (The Tea Party) on the other side. Donald Trump is snuggled up in there somewhere (you decide where). These three groups have one main thing that puts them together in that very small sector at the center of a Venn diagram of that bed. They all want a federal government that is smaller in three ways:

  1. Lower taxes or no taxes
  2. Fewer services or no services
  3. Fewer rules or no rules

This unholy marriage has been arranged by right wing media and the Tea Party and it could be sanctified through a sweep by the Republican Party in the 2014 midterms (done) and the 2016 Presidential election (on its way). Then we could find ourselves living in the Corporate States of America. Perhaps we will pledge allegiance to and sing that new anthem of unfettered Capitalism “from sea to fracking sea”. I’m guessing that most of us will hold a permanent role in the poorly paid worker class that will finally allow America to once again be the number one manufacturer in the world. The only problem is that we will no longer be America. That’s one of my most nightmarish visions for a “bizarro” America that we could belong to in the near future.

jobs back big

Don’t Wish for What You Don’t Want, Because You Might Get It

Actually, keeping that creepy bed in mind you really need to think about whether or not we want our corporations to come back at all. They cannot realistically make the move unless we drastically reduce the standard of living in America. And while you may think bucks are a bit thin on the ground right now, our economy would have to go much lower before these companies will come “home”. Here are some of the wages employees make in China, Southeast Asia, and Mexico:

China

Since 2001, the United States has lost 2.8 million manufacturing jobs to China — that despite U.S. factory workers being far more productive.

Partly, it can be explained by China’s cheaper workers: The average hourly wage for Chinese manufacturing workers is less than a tenth that of their average U.S. counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It being about twice as cheap to live in China, those lower Chinese wages go further. But Chinese factory workers also tend to work longer hours, making them more appealing to some employers

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/08/average-cost-factory-worker_n_1327413.html

Southeast Asia

Comparative Wages in Selected Countries
July 29, 2016

 

Country/City Daily Minimum Wages Monthly Wage Exchange Rate
Per US$1*
In Country Currency In US$ In Country Currency In US$
Bangladesh (Taka) 176.67 b/ 2.21 5,300.00 1/ 66.42 79.7982
Myanmar (Kyat) 3,600.00 a/ 2.99 108,000.00 2/ 89.63 1,204.9700
Mongolia (Tugrik) 6,400.00 a/ 3.11 192,000.00 3/ 93.20 2,060.0000
Lao PDR (Kip) 30,000.00 a/ 3.65 900,000.00
4/
109.38 8,228.3900
Pakistan
(Rupee)
333.33-400.00
a/
3.16-3.79 10,000.00-12,000.00
5/
94.86-113.83 105.4230
Cambodia
(Cambodian Riel)
18,666.67
a/
4.67 560,000.00
6/
140.00 4,000.0000
Vietnam
(Dong)
80,000.00 – 116,666.67
a/
3.55- 5.18 2,400,000.00 -3,500,000.00
7/
106.54-155.37 22,527.5000
Indonesia
(Rupiah)
36,666.67 – 103,333.33
a/
2.80- 7.88 1,100,000.00 -3,100,000.00
8/
83.93-236.53 13,106.2000
Philippines/XI-A(Peso)  317..00
9/
6.72 9,510.00
b/
201.56 47.1823
Philippines/VII
(Peso)
295.00- 353.00
10/
6.25-7.48 8,850.00 -10,590.00
b/
187.57- 224.45 47.1823
Philippines/III
(Peso)
313.00- 357.00
11/
6.63-7.71 9,390.00 -10,920.00
b/
200.42- 233.07 47.1823
Malaysia
(Ringgit)
26.67 -30.00
12/
6.57- 7.39 800.00 -900.00 199.02-231.44 4.0614
Philippines/IV-A(Peso)  267.00-362.50
13/
6.04-8.02 8,010.00 -10,875.00
b/
181.21-240.66 47.1823
Thailand/Bangkok
(Baht)
300.00
14/
8.59 9,000.00
b/
257.61 34.9369
China
(Yuan Renminbi)
27.67 – 60.27
a/
4.15 -9.11 830.00 -1,820.00
15/
124.61-273.24 6.6607
Philippines/NCR (Peso) 444.00-481.00
16/
9.62-10.41 13,320.00-14,430.00
b/
288.67-312.19 47.1823
Taiwan
(Taiwan Dollar)
920.00
17/
28.77 27,600.00
b/
863.19 31.9745
Hongkong
($HK)
260.00
a/
33.52 7,800.00
18/
1,005.61 7.7565
South Korea
(Won)
44,640.00
19/
39.57 1,339,200.00
b/
1,187.20 1,128.0300
Japan
(Japan Yen)
5,424.00 – 7,280.00
20/
51.69-69.37 162,720.00 – 218,400.00
b/
1,550.56-2,081.13 104.9430
New Zealand
(New Zealand Dollar)
94.40 – 118.00
21/
66.91-83.64 2,832.00 – 3,540.00
b/
2,007.37-2,509.21 1.4108
Australia
(Australian Dollar)
138.32
a/
103.96 4,149.60
22/
3,118.83 1.3305

 

http://www.nwpc.dole.gov.ph/pages/statistics/stat_comparative.html

Mexico

Manufacturing average income – in pesos $551 per month, $353 in dollars

http://www.worldsalaries.org/mexico.shtml

http://www.businessinsider.com/mexicans-get-paid-less-for-their-work-than-any-other-developed-country-2015-7

Overall list

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minimum_wages_by_country

Clearly if the cost of living in America stayed where it is now these wages would never support individuals or families. If the cost of things fell dramatically in order to match up with the wages what would America look like then? Would it look like the 1950’s when my father was able to barely support 10 people with $10,000/year? The wages we are talking about don’t even get us the 50’s back. Would we look like a more medieval culture with the very poor essentially in serfdom to the very rich? Are you sure you want your jobs back?

We haven’t even talked about the pollution our beloved factories left behind, both the stuff they told us about and the hidden wastes they never remembered to mention. We could have the smog that hung over our cities although I doubt that is something any of us have missed. There are valid things that we really do miss without our factories and the corporations they made things for, but I am starting to picture a viable future economy, however slowly it is emerging, without them. When Donald Trump promises to bring back our jobs, obviously that does not sound quite as positive to me as it does to some of you.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

(This article appears on my website https://www.thearmchairobserver.com/ in a more rudimentary form. Look in the archives dated 4/17/2014.)

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters – Book

Underground Airlines

Ben H. Winters captured my heart and broke it when he wrote The Last Policeman trilogy. I’m not sure how he did that but in my review of World of Trouble I put it down to the magic of good writing. Mr. Winters writes science-fiction with an apocalyptic edge. His newest offering, Underground Airlines, is in the same vein. One of the best reasons to write science fiction is that it allows you to include lots of social commentary without being pedantic. Instead you get to exercise your most flighty imaginings and then ground them in our present day human dilemmas.

Winters imagines that America never actually fought the Civil War to free the slaves. He proposes a parallel America where a compromise ended the war before it began. In this compromise, four US states were allowed to keep their slaves and to continue to use them in a variety of industries. These industries conduct their business in secure compounds surrounded with electrified fences and guards and security cameras. In the North, above and around these four Southern states, there are many free black folks, who are not as free as you would like them to be (sound familiar?). Since Northern officials assume that any one of them could be a runaway from a Southern business plantation they are subject to random stops. Their paperwork must be in order and with them at all times. Many free folks live in the poorest parts of the largest cities in areas that are all known by the same name, Freedman Towns. In these days many years after the compromise was made law the only thriving economies are the Four Slave States.

Jim Dirkson (not his real name), a black man who was once a slave, has been caught and turned into a bounty hunter. A chip implanted by the US Marshals insures that he can be forced to catch runaway slaves and return them to the “plantations” that own them. He has learned to appreciate the small pleasures that come with his very limited freedom and to tuck away the nagging of his conscience, which makes sense considering that he has no choice at all about what he must do. He is in Indianapolis on an ordinary case to catch a runaway named Jackdaw. However, on closer examination of Jackdaw’s file the case appears to be anything but ordinary. Martha, a young white woman with a mixed race child has her own reasons for joining Jim to solve the mystery of Jackdaw.

This may be a parallel America experiencing a divergent future; the fact is, though, that this slave-holding America, sadly, has much in common with our version of America which has supposedly chosen to abolish slavery and in which all men (and women) should be equal. We know that we have doled out freedom to Americans of African Descent quite grudgingly. Winters hits us with an alternate reality that (almost) might as well be our actual reality. Will any amount of excoriation and guilt teach us to look for ways to tackle the issues in our inner cities that function as race and poverty traps? Will we finally find ways to get people the things they need to live productive lives which promise a comfortable future? You won’t find the answer in Underground Airlines, but you will find that an exaggeration of our actual social conditions might get you thinking.

What was different about the escape of Jackdaw? Why was his folder so different from the others that Jim had been assigned? Where is Jackdaw now? What are the Southern States up to now? Ben H. Winters doesn’t forget to pursue his case once again, just as his Last Policeman did not give up even in the face of apocalypse. This novel did not quite break my heart the way the trilogy did, although eventually the fictional outcome could possibly be just as awful. Perhaps it is because the conditions in the America we already occupy have done the deed already. Still, I must say that I really connect with the stories that Mr. Winters has to tell.