The Samaritan’s Dilemma: Should Government Help Your Neighbor? by Deborah Stone (c 2008)
The Republicans have spent decades undermining democracy, notably, explicitly stated by St. Ronnie Reagan in his 1981 Inaugural Address:
In this simple paragraph he begins the ruthless demonization of the government of the people that he swore to serve and damned the “liberals” for yes, despite the phrasing, being ignorant as well as being delusional. His views have proven long since to have been a disaster for the country by independent thinking Americans. This is a man who bragged about how little (if anything) he read and zeroed out library funding every year of his administration’s budget. Fortunately, Congress put funding back in, but the clear and present danger to democracy represented by defunding the single most powerful force for an informed citizenry, public libraries, represents who the truly ignorant person was when he made that statement.
The Economic Illusion: False choices between prosperity and social justice by Robert Kuttner (1984)
Robert Kuttner has become a favorite author because he really knows his stuff and is a very good writer making for an enjoyable read. He is also the author of Debtors’ Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility. This book had one of my favorite chapters ever, titled The Moral Economy of Debt [link to come later], basically pointing out the contradiction between the treatment of bankruptcy by individuals as a moral failure contrasted with the get out of jail free card by failed corporations (like Donald Trump’s 4 instances where he sheltered his personal wealth from the risk he took with his businesses).
In this book he makes the case that social justice does not preclude a dynamic economy. This book written a tad more academically than his later books, but is fascinating also because of the date it was published – 1984! [nod to Orwell fans out there since what he discusses is exactly true today] Here are some long quotes from the book.
Dissent and the Supreme Court: it’s role in the court’s history and the nation’s constitutional dialogue by Melvin I. Urofsky (2015)
Probably best to buy this book because it is over 400 pages and extremely detailed with almost every sentence containing information of significance to the discussions of cases that have been before the Court and will be again based on the numerous unconstitutional laws so many states have passed recently. I do not recall what I was reading or watching, but I was suddenly struck by a better understanding of racism in America. Though I am white, I have a heart and am empathetic and compassionate, but now that I am older I suppose, I more truly grasp how wretched and unreasonable and dreadful and pervasive explicit racism (then and, alas, now). Some people were fooled when it was briefly suppressed by being converted to more subtle or maybe secretive racism that we had for a little after the Civil Rights Movement. And obviously, this was not true. Voting rights are at risk for most people in light of recent Supreme Court decisions, Citizens’s United, but also the one (Shelby v. Holder recently where Clarence Thomas (and Scalia and the other Republican Justices) decided to gut the Act and said, sort of, racism doesn’t exist anymore and so federal review of states laws regarding voting rules was no longer necessary. We have now also seen that this was just another bad decision by these conservative men who want to suppress the vote. Witness the change of Arizona changes to their laws, which they were now allowed to do without Federal review by the Shelby ruling, to reduce the number of polling places from 300 to 60, resulting in 5 hour waiting in lines for many people, miles long queues, and the pretense that “provisional” ballots will even be counted.
Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion by Susan Jacoby (2016)
Really well written, all 465 pages. Jacoby is also the author of other books including The Age of American Unreason that is a good book too. So I thought I would just take a flip through this book to start and found the few photographs in it that illustrate all too well the problem of adherence to religious dogma. The first picture was of a terracotta statue “believed to represent the Alexandrian philosopher and mathematician Hypatia (c.350-415) who was literally torn to pieces by a Christian mob for the dual offense of being a female intellectual and expounding classical pagan philosophy as Christianity triumphed throughout the Roman Empire.” I had heard of her before, so was gratified to see her story mentioned.
In the preface, the author describes how the Constitution, once revered as a uniting force, has now become divisive along ideological lines. “People see in our governing document only what they wish to see. It is not a unifying force, as its authors had intended, but a wedge that widens the partisan divide.” A little bit later he makes the point that history cannot “be understood by treating the past as if it were the present. Much has happened since the founders’ time: national expansion on a shrinking planet, nuclear and biological warfare, Internet and broadcast technologies, and so on — more than two centuries of subsequent history. He gives a rather amusing anecdote to illustrate the changes.
Compare then and now. On October 15, 1789, President Washington set out from New York with only two aides and six servants to tour New England. In his diary, he chronicled the first day of the journey:
‘The road for the greater part, indeed the whole way, was very rough and stoney [sic], but the land strong, well covered with grass and a luxuriant crop of Indian corn intermixed with popions [pumpkins] which were ungathered in the fields. We met four droves of beef cattle for the New York market (about 30 in a drove) some of which were very fine — also a flock of sheep for the same place. We scarcely passes a farm house that did not abd. in geese.’
Washington was traveling through what is now THE BRONX, traversed by interstate highways and expressways, not stony roads, and home to some 1.4 million people packed tightly within apartments. If the country Washington observed was very different back then, so too was the manner in which he observed it, close up and literally on the ground, experiencing every stone in the road. He could meet his constituency directly, without intervention from an advance team, a press corps , or a small army of secret service agents. (p. xi, emphasis mine as anyone who has ever been to the Bronx will agree)