Category: People

This Land is Their Land by Barbara Ehrenrich

book jacket title is this land is your land but then your is scratched out with bright red marker and replaced with theirThis Land is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation by Barbara Ehrenrich (2008)

One of my favorite essayists, I read this book before, but picked it up again to see how much that was true then is true now. Sardonic is the word used on the jacket copy to describe her tone and I would add wickedly funny for those of us with very dark senses of humor in dark times. Good jibes, or maybe the right word is “snarky” and that is what I aspire to when I write my reading posts. Sadly, must work much harder to get to her sharp, concise, and clever turns of phrases. As an example, here is a random clause from the chapter titled “Heating Bill from Hell(p. 26): “But no, it turns out, as usual, the flip side of misery is gluttony.

This is a comment while she discusses situations like the coincidental massive increase in heating bills after a hurricane. Turned out, they were not necessarily simply the result of extreme weather. She cites six oil company CEOs having combined salaries (2008-ish) of $33 BILLION.

Her pithy response: “Forget hurricanes; this is a greed storm.

Considering we have now reached the point where Republicans are not even pretending that government is for the HUMAN people. The neoliberals (DINOs) and the rest of the gang of thieves in Congress have been pushing “individual responsibility” like sheer willpower can actually make food magically appear on a table in an imaginary home. The U.S. government provides something like 50 BILLION dollars to multinational oil conglomerates in subsidies AND oil leases to drill on U.S. territory, WITHOUT MAKING A DISCOUNT PRICE AVAILABLE TO AMERICANS, or even a U.S. first requirement for our OWN oil.

She continues with, “What are the companies going to do with all the money?

But as we all know too well, all the rich people or corporations got their money by their own hard work and risking of their hard-earned (inherited) wealth. I’m sure they would all pass a lie detector test when asked, “Do you rely on government for any assistance to make your fortune?” “Of course not,” they would reply. Such is the nature of cognitive dissonance that is pervasive in our contemporary world in particular. They don’t consider the sweetheart deals for businesses built into the IRS tax code to be anything less than their rightful due. Maximizing tax deductions is legal and if the technique like carried-forward interest is immoral but legal, well that just makes taking the deduction good business. I looked up the whole boondoggle at one point, good enough to grasp it, but apparently no well enough to retain, repeat or retrieve the citation for the description.

The point she goes on to make is that of course the company is not going to spend one thin dime on anything for their employees or the community.

In fact, we no longer have any expectation that businesses will do ANYTHING voluntarily to pay workers a living wage or to “give back” to the community possibly. The concept is ludicrous.

The for-profit businesses pay property taxes, well theoretically, unless they have been gifted with tax “incentives” to locate there (like sports areas often are) and other fees for local services, like sewer and fire and police protection.

But since the sports arena gets a tax break just to be there, ALL the people in the community have to pay whether they want to or not (TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY). They have to pay even when they never go to any sports event, never want to go to a sports event, and can never afford to go to a sports event. Their tax dollars are paying for the share that the sports teams don’t have to even though the owners make millions and pay themselves millions and pay the athletes millions of dollars. The woman working two jobs to make her mortgage payment that includes property tax while earning a variable amount of $20,00 to $35,000 a year (gross pay) IS NOT ACTUALLY THE ONE who should be covering the sports arena costs or anything to do with it.

Instead, the businesses should be PAYING THE CITIES with trust funds for employees who have no job when there is nothing going on at the stadium. Or maybe pay HIGHER property tax because THEY HAVE THE MONEY so that low wage workers in their little homes don’t have to cover for millionaires.

THE FALSE SECURITY OF LABOR LAWS
There are many slick little tricks built into our labor and safety laws. One common one is the exemptions for “small businesses” with employees of 50 or less.”  You get a job, you think you have some kind of protection against discrimination or other abuse by management but gosh darn it, the law is not there to protect you because of an arbitrary number of employees as a floor before a labor law applies. Wrong and exploitive it may be, and illegal in a business with 51 employees, but legal such exemptions remain. Of course the bigger companies complain like stuck pigs that their “free” market is rigged by this gift to 50 and under companies. But their solution is NOT to eliminate the floor so all employees have the same rights. Their solution is to exempt themselves, essentially eliminate the worker protections.

Business is NEVER ABOUT YOU. It is always about PROFIT. More now than ever before and to the point that it is a faded memory of when that was not the case.

Furthermore, AT THE SAME TIME, these same people and their puppets declaim any GOVERNMENTAL responsibility to provide protections, regulations, recourse, and benefits to the employees. So they get to deny any obligation to people (employee or community) and then PAY LOBBYISTS to make sure that the politicians do not do anything that would break the crushing hold they have on the wage slaves that make their excessive profits and not giving a damn that people, their employees, are struggling to make ends meet.

Actually, they probably do care, but in a perverse way. If people are struggling to make ends meet, they are going to be docile, subservient, and CHEAP workers because unlike the immortal corporations, people have been enslaved to wage earning to live. The debt industry is keeping them there as well. And the high prices we pay for merchandise from the two or three manufacturers of Made in China goods is just another method of taking from the people.

We pay too much, for too little quality, made for cheap by other nations’ workers, with no actual choice other than one brand or another (maybe three), and we pay sales tax to fund city services but not enough to do the job and the corporations do not have to pay local sales tax, only their employees do. And the employees have to pay their property tax, the gas tax, the fees, the cost to park, the cost to ride the bus, the list is endless. Because they are HUMANS and they need these things to live, to earn a living, to support their families, and prepare for medical conditions, save for colleges, save for retirement, save for long term care, and there is not enough money to pay for all the city services that keep a community maintained well, safe, healthy, and so on.

People don’t have the money. THE BUSINESSES MAKING MILLIONS IN PROFITS have all the money with no conscience or legal obligation to pay for their employees health insurance, or day care, or parking, or maternity leave, or a living wage.

Or, as the author more eloquently (and more briefly) puts it:

Of course the oil companies could reach into their pockets to help people with fixed incomes, low incomes, and no incomes stay warn this winter. Not that the oil executives are totally unaware of those people’s plight. Questioned about it by a CNN reporter, one such executive kindly suggested that it was “the responsibility of government” to help the needy. And we thought all those CEOs hated “big government”! But he wasn’t offering to pay WINDFALL PROFIT TAXES to help the government  —  already strapped by war and tax cuts for the wealthy — in this mission of mercy. (p. 27)


WORKPLACE BULLIES
One of the worst things I have heard is that some employers now still are legally allowed to dictate when and often employees can use the bathroom. Well, that was an issue in 2008 that the author brings up as well.

It is common knowledge now that keeping “hydrated” is important. So many people are walking around with water bottles, it has become a very competitive industry, albeit one that is as corrupt and the next using carcinogens in their plastic. But if you keep hydrated, there are consequences, and of course, women suffer the consequence more often and with additional inconveniences like fertility that may require them to use the bathroom more than once every four hours exactly when such a pleasant break from the job is permitted.

Women have one less muscle in the bladder somewhere (I was told) and that makes it harder for us to “hold it” as long as men can. Be pregnant and squish that bladder for 9 months plus passing a 10 pound bowling nearby for 24 or 36 hours of “labor” and it is no wonder than most women need to use the bathroom more than some schedule obsessed little tyrant supervisor might prefer. When did this happen? Or maybe the question should be, why didn’t this “bullying” as she calls it, be made to stop.

book jacket showing a public toilet

I could go on with examples of what could be called “bullyless bullying,” in which no aberrant individual can be blamed. [Systemic/structural bullying]  There’s the matter of bathroom breaks, for example, which can be perilously infrequent , and not only for the elderly and the pregnant. The title of the one academic book on the issue tells it all: Void Where Prohibited: Rest Breaks and the Right to Urinate on Company Time.

In this chapter she discusses how RANK allows people to abusive their subordinates without guilt. And everyone is above someone. If you are the lowest of the low men on a totem pole, you still have your wife to go home to and beat up or the dog to kick. That is what having a higher rank means: you are entitled to do whatever you want to anyone different, smaller, weaker, “other” person or creature to you. She remarks that workplace hierarchies can be something other than abusive but I don’t think so. I don’t think she does either:

We may be carrying hierarchy–and it’s evil twin, “rankism“–to an unnecessary extreme in the workplace. . . . American employers [are] creating a workplace culture of “organizational totalitarianism” marked by “degradation, intimidation, and terror,” with the terror stemming from the CONSTANT THREAT OF BEING FIRED, LAID OFF, or “right sized” out of a job. The result, he [anthropologist Howard Stein] argues, is that, “is one sense, the spirits of tens of millions of American workers have been broken.”

Employers take note: one of the first casualties of an overly authoritarian workplace is creativity and its byproduct, innovation. You’re not going to venture a breakthrough idea if you know you’ll be IGNORED or you won’t get the CREDIT for it or for that matter, your bladder is bursting. Which is why the most dynamic enterprises of recent years have been the dot-coms and other hi-tech companies, where dress codes and punch-in times are often abandoned for a freewheeling, less hierarchical corporate culture.

Authoritarian workplaces can also be counterproductive when the fine points of hierarchy — that is, office “politics” — begin to take precedence over getting the job done. (p. 117)


This book of essays has sustained the passage of time so that everything she said about the country then (2008, so probably was written but not published before the crash) is still true, and even more so than then. In an early chapter, THAT SINKING FEELING,  she provides some stats about wealth inequality. As horrific as her numbers were then, it is well documented that inequality is much worse now. These stats are from a Paul Krugman article in the New York Times (book page 92):

. . . that those in the top 10 percent of the income distribution have been seeing gains of only [!!!!] about a percent a year, or a total of 34 percent between 1972 and 2001. In the same period, those in the top 1 percent of the income distribution saw a gain of 87 percent, and those in the top .01 percent registered a gain of 497 percent. That’s right, four hundred and ninety-seven percent. 

She also notes earlier on the page an Associated Press article stated that “the BOTTOM 25 percent suffered a DECLINE from a net worth in which their assets equaled their liabilities in 2001 to owing $1,400 more than their total assets in 2004.”

She concludes this chapter where I too will conclude, where she responds to the criticism of a New York Times columnist, David Books, that she has “an overly negative view of reality” and being out of touch with “the broader society.” Condescending little prick.

Brooks cheerily reports that “only19 percent of American males and 27 percent of females are in poverty — a percentage that is “probably much smaller than most progressive commentators would estimate.” If you average 19 and 27 percent, weighting for a 51 percent female population, you get an overall poverty rate of 23 percent. To my mind, a 23 percent poverty rate is totally outrageous, especially when compared to the federal government’s faux poverty rate of about 12 percent. So are falling incomes for the college-educated middle class and mounting plunder for the plutocrats at the top. Maybe I’ve been living in the “broader society” after all.

You and me both, sister.

 

 

 

 

Anti-intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstatder

book coverAnti-intellectualism in American Life (1964)

Maybe it is intrinsic to American core perception of egalitarianism that leads to this hatred of the smart people. On a Bell curve, anyone not in the middle is treated with contempt by those in the middle. People hare and fear “dummies” but their true venom is reserved for anyone smarter than themselves. So they actively work to bully, ridicule, and shame people who are smart and driven to get good grades, pursue extraordinary dreams.

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Stealing America by Dinesh D’Souza

book jacket with weird photo of Obama and HillaryStealing America: What my experience with criminal gangs taught me about Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Party by Dinesh D’Souza (2015)

Creative nonfiction with an emphasis on the creative part is how I would categorize this book.

Arrogance oozes from so many of the commentaries he makes that it is almost embarrassing. Although I do agree that his conviction and length of incarceration in a day half-way house was ridiculous and does smack of a targeted prosecution, the fact that he sees himself as so manly that nobody tried to steal his freaking Rolex even though he was surrounded by “murderers” and “gangbangers” is just one instance of his pridefulness. He seems to take pride in the apparent acceptance and even admiration of himself by this normally threatening group of people.

I learned of a new thing to me: Christian apologetics.  Still not entirely clear on this, but it doesn’t seem to bode well for an atheist to be safe in a country of them. He also takes great pride in his many debates against prominent atheists based on his Wikipedia page (one presumes he edits it).

The book is not worth the time to read.

book jacket on the Panopticon

No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald

book jacket no place to hideNo place to hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S, surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald (2014)
The author is the kind of investigative reporter I would like to be in my next life. That or Sinclair Lewis or other muckrakers who called out the bad things people will do if they think they can get away with it, and not have any remorse for their bad deeds. Kind of the attitude of if you didn’t want your house robbed, you should have (a) had better locks, (b) had a watch dog, (c) hired house sitter with a gun, (d) had bars on the windows, (e) insert any victim blaming you prefer here.

Somehow, it is always the individual failure and their trust that someone would simply not burgle or rob their house because stealing is wrong.

I don’t think Snowden is a “thief” who stole government information; warrantless wire tapping is theft of privacy, of the right to due process, of the belief that people are innocent until proven guilty. Whistleblowers are heroes. They are a serious threat to authority and therefore authority will crush whistleblowers whenever possible, whistleblower protection laws are illusory.

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Truth and Duty by Mary Mapes

book jacketTruth and Duty: The press, the president, and the privilege of power by Mary Mapes (2005)

I do not recall how I came to watch the movie “Truth” — maybe I saw the author on Book TV, or a promo on another video, but it was fascinating to understand what all the fuss was about back in 2004 about George W. Bush’s reserve duty in the early 70s. I remembered that at some point Dan Rather ending up retiring but I did not really understand that there was a relationship between his retirement and what I thought of as a minor kerfuffle about W’s service duty. Well, it was not so minor after all. And I am confident that over the next few decades, more truth will be revealed about both W’s failure to perform his duties as required.

In the appendix, she details official documents and describes of the Killian papers and others and how they were used to document the case presented on CBS news (60 Minutes) by Dan Rather. Mary Mapes was the “producer” a job I have no ideal what it actually means, but basically sounds like a lead researcher for news stories that gathers evidence and presents it to people like Dan Rather to deliver on TV or the radio. She had won Peadbody awards for breaking news like Abu Ghraib, and Strom Thurmond’s unacknowledged biracial daughter, reconciled and open now, but demonstrating the bizarre and hypocritical stance of the [now dead after 100 years; that’s what government healthcare can do for you!) old coot’s stand against desegregation.

Mary Mapes was fired for her role in the “Killian Papers” report, as was the woman senior  vice president for CBS primetime news programs (it’s always the women that get the most negative retaliation, another woman and a man were also fired.). If someone bothered — but I am sure not worth the effort — they could probably reconstruct where all W was during this time (theoretically working on a Republican’s campaign for senator in Alabama, but not necessarily doing duty in the Guard). One of the comments in official documents was that he hadn’t been “sighted” on the base where he was supposed to be. And why did he want to transfer to Alabama in the first place?

The president’s [premature] dramatic flight onto an aircraft carrier in May 2003 to announce the end of ‘major combat operations’  and declare ‘Mission Accomplished’ in the Iraq war was the ultimate marriage of his brief military background and modern political mythmaking. The president looked great [gag] in the flight suit addressing America and its forces. But when he was being paid to wear it, fly planes, and protect the country, that military outfit and the obligations it entailed apparently couldn’t compete with the CHANCE TO WORK ON A SENATE CAMPAIGN IN ALABAMA. (p. 138)

The fact that his daddy was “an up and coming politician with strong Republican ties and a big future. Then Congressman George H. W. Bush wrote a letter to his son’s commander at Moody, commending him and thanking him for the special care and attention shown his son.” (p. 64)

No one had a clue that it would be George W. who would become George the Second. It was supposed to be Jeb. The difference obviously was that Karl Rove met George and blew that plan out of the water.

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Focus by Michael Gross

boo jacket man photographer taking picture of woman laying downFocus: The secret, sexy, sometimes sordid world of fashion photographers by Michael Gross (2016)

I spotted this book on the “new nonfiction” shelf at the library and debated whether I would want to read it or not. As a photographer and with an interest in sewing (show more actual pattern construction Project Runway!), I was curious what would be included, so since I could still physically manage to carry in my bag of books for the trip, I brought it home.

Alas, not worth the weight. The bibliography was pretty interesting though. However, the first thing that obviously put me off a bit was the cover, because as a feminist, the sexuality and dominance of the photo with the woman laying with eyes closed was, hmm, hate to say offensive because that’s not quite right; kind of like I felt the whole heroin chic phase was not best serving anything either. On the other hand, it does work to illustrate the titillation factor the author strove fore with the subtitle, so I suppose it is a good image for the book.

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C Street by Jeff Sharlet

illustration of congress with a cross atop dome portrayed in stained glass windowsC Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy by Jeff Sharlet, (author of the National Bestseller, The Family). (c 2010 hardback, I listened to it on cd).

I am finding it hard to write about books I have “read” by listening to them. I think, “oh yeah, I’ll have to mention that anecdote” but there is no way to bookmark it; best I could do would be to hop out of bed (defeating the purpose of “reading” until I fall asleep) or pull over the car to make a note of the disk and track number for replay later. Mainly I have gotten the hard copy when really motivated, but I will not be doing that for this book.

Not because the book is “bad” in any way per se, but as it happens, I got to about disc 4 or 5 (out of 8) and my heart was too crushed by the revelations about “The Family” and their infiltration and indoctrination of susceptible sheep politicians and other people. Though, that said, assuming it was not on the remaining disks, much more time could have been spent on naming names and elucidating the often hidden ties between the power brokers and manipulators in the background and less long descriptive text about that pathetic excuse for a human being, Mark Sanford, and his “heroic farmer” spiel to seduce first his wife, then his mistress. I mean, it beyond laughable and way too long. Cartoons have more depth of character than he does. And yet, two seemingly bright women were seduced by his role playing. In a theoretically enlightened women’s worldview, that is troubling. But I guess not for anyone who would let Mark Sanford touch them. Or Newt Gingrich (cheated on wife #2 with an intern and I think wife #1 with wife #2 — hard to keep it all straight), or Mitch McConnell (I’m sure the wealth of his wife’s family and interaction with the United States shipping ports had nothing to do with it, but in this case God is not in the equation).

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Turning Texas Blue by Mary Beth Rogers

 

book jacket with cowboy boot like flag colorsTurning Texas Blue: What will it take to break the GOP grip on America’s reddest state? by Mary Beth Rogers (2016)

Highly recommend reading this book

I was shocked and appalled when much admired Governor of Texas Ann Richards lost to George W. Bush. Reading Bush’s Brain (aka Karl Rove), I learned how his pernicious manipulations and lies accomplished W’s win. It turns out that Mary Beth Rogers ran the campaign that put Ann Richards in office for her first term as governor, so she knows Texan politics. This book is well written and really gives an inside view of the in the trenches kind of political action that goes on that we never hear about on the news — and that’s a real loss to creating an informed citizenry. I’m going to have to return to this book for my mega opus on Know Thy Enemy post I will eventually write because of the details of the connections of the people and lies and realities. Quick quote from pp. 164-165:

Republican congressman Louie Gohmert of East Texas, who can always be counted on to say something outrageous and often UNTRUE, reflects the tone too often used by public officials here. He claimed that President Obama’s immigration policies were “luring millions of diseased immigrant children” to the United States. And he urged Texas officials to “use whatever means’ possible, like TROOPS, SHIPS OF WAR, OR TAXES to ‘stop the invasion.’ “

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Dumb Money by Daniel Gross

book jacket with cartoon of dollar sign and cone dummies hatDumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation by Daniel Gross, (2009)
The author writes for Newsweek and other column on money and economic subjects. This is a slim (101 pages) volume that has a great deal of detail on aspects of the 2008 financial meltdown without too much talk about LIBOR and tranches.

You can tell the author has a sense of humor by the name of the first chapter title: WTF. The utter disregard for the average person for the banksters is revealed in a quote the author cites of the still not-ashamed-enough to keep his mouth shut, Henry [Hank] Paulson (“former Goldman Sachs CEO running the financial system, quickly shifted to a clueless groper in the dark”) and the pathetic excuse for a human Alan Greenspan (BTW, married to Andrea Mitchell, broadcaster). He is, however, an undeniably interesting man when you read his Wikipedia entry. For example, he attended Juilliard, no small feat to get in, and played in a band. Music and match do often go together. But I guess it was too hard to make a living, so he moved on to economics (NYU summa cum laude). A note in the Wiki entry is that he specifically asked that his 1977 PhD dissertation be removed from NYU after he became Chairman of the Fed. Barron’s supposedly got a copy of it anyway (should be PUBLIC, especially now retired) and

notes that it includes “a discussion of soaring housing prices and their effect on consumer spending; it even anticipates a bursting housing bubble”.[17]

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A Choice not an Echo by Phyllis Schlafly

book jacketA choice not an Echo (updated and expanded 50th anniversary edition) with forward by Ron Paul by Phyllis Schlafly (original  edition 1964, this edition 2014)

This woman proves the point that a single person can change the world. Alas, the implication is generally that the world can be changed for the better. Not so with Phyllis Schlafly who fucked a generation and more of women while living a life she wanted to denied the rest of us. And her big bogeymen, mixed sex bathrooms and women in combat and subject to the draft arrived anyway! Meanwhile we are still underpaid, undervalued, and fighting for personal autonomy and against forced birth. And she’s still alive (91), dammit. And still self-righteous. And still an evil horrible human being. But that doesn’t maker her wrong about everything. And I was shocked and a little horrified that this book contains many facts that everyone should know, although perhaps interpret them somewhat differently.

Yet it is funny because, unlike the deep and resounding hatred I hold for Henry Hyde (deceased 2007), Jesse Helms (deceased 2008), and the blessedly dead (2016) Antonin Scalia, somehow I seem to be acting in a sex discriminatory manner for not hating this woman as much as these men. Don’t get me wrong, I do hate her and what she did to stop the simple ERA and her absurd belief that women should stay home and have babies and be good Christian Madonnas serving and servicing their husbands regardless of abuse, adultery, or financial withholding. She is a smart Harvard-educated woman, a lawyer, and a mother of six. She remains a plague upon our nation continuing her involvement with Republicans “usually as a delegate, at every Republican National Convention since 1952” (back jacket copy).

Her heir apparent is the revolting Ann Coulter who did a back jacket blurb that will give me nightmares:

A Choice Not an Echo “changed the Republican Party forever. . . Without Schlafly, without that book, without Goldwater’s candidacy [and Hillary Clinton as a supporter], it is unlikely that RONALD REAGAN would ever have been elected president.”

Oh for a time machine! Of course the problem with that is you cannot tell if you would make matters worse (such as killing Hitler alternative histories, though with him never born, pretty sure the world would have been better off under any scenario). I try to picture a world without her effect, without Reagan, without Hyde and Helms, and especially without the legacy of Scalia (and Thomas and Alito and Mitch McConnell and all the other slime we are living with that are killing democracy and the rights of women. Toss in the rise of the un-Christian theocrats, the American caused rise of radical Islam (that is, the rise of murderous bullies and thugs in the name of religion, oh wait, that applies to the forced-birther Christians too!), and the state of perpetual war, the rule of the few, the theft of economic security and rise of the debtor slaves, oh the dominoes go everywhere and reach everyone. To my sorrow. The damage she has done really needs an in-depth historical review.

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