Book Review: Saving Capitalism-For the Many, Not the Few by Robert B. Reich

saving capitalism“We are the authors of our own fates. But…we are not the producers or directors of the larger dramas in which we find ourselves. Other forces are at work in determining not only what we able to earn but also what we are able to accomplish, as well as the strength of our voices and the efficacy of our ideals. Those who are rich and becoming even more so are neither smarter nor morally superior to anyone else. They, however, often luckier, and more privileged and more powerful. As such, their high worth does not necessarily reflect their worth as human beings.”—Robert B. Reich

I’ve been following economist Robert Reich’s career ever since he was President Clinton’s Secretary of Labor during Clinton’s first term. I’ve read several Mr. Reich’s books, follow him via his Facebook page, and his documentary “Inequality for All” is a must-see, and was the first film my church showed during this season’s film series thanks to my suggestion.

Reich is currently a lecturer at UC-Berkeley, and his course “Wealth and Poverty” is one of the most popular on campus. Much of this class is shown in the documentary “Inequality for All” and it these scenes that show why this class is so popular, displaying solid evidence done in an accessible way, and Reich’s good natured humor (much of it at his own expense).

As mentioned, I’ve also read several of Reich’s books, so I was only too excited to come across Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few. I knew I just had to add it to my home library. And though we’ve haven’t made it June, I can safely say Saving Capitalism is probably one of the most essential books of 2016, especially during one of the most contentious election years I think most of us have witnessed in our lifetimes.

Saving Capitalism is divided into three parts—the free market, work and worth, and countervailing power. The free market covers several topics including the five building blocks of the capitalism, freedom and power, and new concepts regarding property, monopoly, contracts, and bankruptcy.

Work and worth uncovers why the concept of meritocracy is basically a myth, why CEO pay has skyrocketed to huge proportions, the struggling middle class and their lack of bargaining power, the struggles (and rise) of the working poor who are not exactly who you think they are, and the rise of the non-working rich.

And countervailing power covers issues including the threats to capitalism, both the decline and the rise of countervailing power, overhauling corporations and how technology is taking over work once done by actual human beings.

One thing that struck me while reading the first part of Saving Capitalism, is how both business and the government are in bed together, which goes against the idea that government works against big business, not against it. And this alliance ends up throwing smaller businesses and individuals under the bus. Just how is this done? Well, mostly through the power of the dollar, which big businesses, and not to mention, the very wealthy have, and let’s face it, smaller businesses and most of us do not.

Lobbying also has access to government power and often curries favor for everything from military contracts, Wall Street, Big Pharma and corporate agriculture.

And while reading work and worth, I was struck by the idea of “meritocracy” and how it has become a myth in our modern age. Yes, we’d like to think that people who are truly talented, hard-working, well-educated and highly-skilled achieve deserved success. And when this truly happens, it’s a lovely site to behold. But, let’s face it, some of the most successful people don’t deserve their success at all, and we, as a nation are losing out. Reich’s examination of the decline of the middle-class, just what is behind immense CEO pay, the rise of the working poor (many of them educated, skilled, and talented), and the rise (and the power) of the non-working rich (oh, hi there, Walton family), will truly piss readers off. Furthermore, in this section, Reich’s discusses how all of this slowly unfurled starting nearly forty years ago through several carefully crafted methods.

In part three of Saving Capitalism—countervailing power— further describes exactly what got us here in the 21st century, which will piss you off, but also what we can do, and how we are not powerless as we think we are. Reich offers several solutions to the problems he explains in Saving Capitalism. Some of them include getting rid of Citizen’s United, reducing patent lengths, bringing back strong unions, taking a good look at excessive CEO pay and simply reigning in bad policies that got us in the mess we are in. One interesting idea, currently being looked into in Switzerland, is giving everyone a livable monthly stipend paid by tax payers. Yes, some people will sit on their butts, simply happy to get a stipend. But Reich believes most people will want to make more money and will feel more at ease seeking out employment and vocations that are truly fulfilling and will benefit society as a whole.

I do wish Reich would have focused on two factors that have played part in this bunkum. Firstly, I would have like to have read more about how lobbying influences our elected leaders to favor corporations, Wall Street and the very wealthy. I would have also liked to have read how the mainstream media, which is owned by only six corporations, kisses up to big business, the one percent and other powerful game players, and eschews the rest of us. Today, mainstream media seems to be more PR and marketing than actual journalism. But perhaps this can be further investigated in another book.

Ultimately, Saving Capitalism packs quite a powerful message, and one that is delivered in a down-to-earth way that educates, angers, empowers, and hopefully, inspires change and making America truly greater for all of us.

 

Advertisements

Book Review: In the Company of Legends by Joan Kramer and David Heeley

In the company of legendsStarting in 1980 and lasting until 2005, documentary filmmakers Joan Kramer and David Heeley focused their creative eye on the best and brightest of Hollywood’s golden age. Beginning with Fred Astaire and including documentaries on other film greats like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda, Kramer and Heeley’s documentaries (many shown on PBS) won countless awards. They also allowed viewers to see these movie stars as they really were beyond the calculated machinations of the old studio system.

Now Kramer and Heeley are sharing their notable filmmaking careers, the stars they covered and all the hard work that went into making these documentaries in their hugely entertaining and fascinating book In the Company of Legends.

Kramer and Heeley’s documentaries showcased these stars film legacies, often bringing on other stars to talk about their peers’ notable work. But these documentaries recognized so much more than a movie star’s career. They also covered the anecdotes, opinions, ideas, friendships and odd quirks that made these stars so much more interesting than the glossy veneer of the studios’ publicity machine. And finding the innate humanity behind these movie stars is probably why Kramer and Heeley’s documentaries were so successful and why In the Company of Legends is such a great read.

While reading In the Company of Legends I couldn’t help be reminded why I love classic movies and the stars that made these movies so legendary. What a body of work these amazing talents left the world.

I also really appreciated the sensitive and respectful nature of Kramer and Heeley’s treatment towards their subjects. They are reverent without debasing themselves and their subjects. They never slip into embarrassing and unprofessional squealing fandom. Kramer and Heeley are both fair and firm (not exactly easy considering some of their subjects could be a bit challenging).

While it was fun to take a walk down a celluloid memory lane, I also loved the various personal stories the authors share about the stars. These stories showed more personable and relatable aspects of the stars. Sure, Katharine Hepburn could be a bit prickly, but when someone accidentally dropped some raspberry sauce on her couch, she just turned over the couch cushion-no muss, no fuss. Jimmy Stewart at the time was frail and a bit insecure, but once he put his toupee on top of his head, he regained some confidence and reminded everyone why he was a true star. The regal Audrey Hepburn made couturier Hubert de Givenchy a household name, but loved to kick back in simple sweaters and trousers (and being Audrey Hepburn, made them effortlessly stylishly). And my mom, a long time fan of the late Paul Newman, will be thrilled to know he was a funny, down-to-earth man, and fully devoted to his wife, Joanne Woodward.

I also learned about the lifelong friendships these stars had with each other. Jimmy Stewart and his wife Gloria were friends with President Reagan and the first lady, Nancy Reagan. Judy Garland was close to President Kennedy and would sometimes sing her signature song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to him. The oddest and most surprising friendship had to be the one Katharine Hepburn had with Michael Jackson. And she wasn’t exactly thrilled with his vulgar stage moves, and let him know it! Does that surprise you?

Through the In the Company of Legends I also learned about legendary movie mogul Lew Wasserman of MCA/Universal, the controversial theater troupe The Group Theatre, which was accused of being rife with Communists, and character actor John Garfield who you probably best know from the movie “Gentleman’s Agreement.”

Inspired by Kramer and Heeley I will probably treat myself to a classic movie binge some upcoming week-end. And I’m thrilled my local library carries some of Kramer and Heely’s work. You know I’ll be checking them out soon.

As much as I enjoyed reading In the Company of Legends, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a loss. I know we will never go back to Hollywood’s golden age and the studio system, which is probably a topic for another book.  However, I do feel a sense of melancholy on how fame has been so cheapened in this day of insipid bloggers, reality show cretins and other assorted D-list celebrities. In the Company of Legends reminds the important of talent and hardwork that leads to lasting and deserving fame. One I hope our society can get back to. But nevertheless, thank Joan Kramer and David Heeley. In the Company of Legends is a book I will treasure and turn to again.

Reading to Reels: Handmade Nation

handmade-nation-dvd-lgSeveral years ago, my friend Kristine and I got to see the documentary of Handmade Nation at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I wrote a review of the book of the same name, now I have a review of the movie. Enjoy!

Handmade Nation is the brainchild of Faythe Levine, a local indie crafter, musician, entrepreneur and film maker. Levine, who has been involved in the DIY art, craft and design scene for years, wanted to find others who shared her passion. She traveled throughout the United States to interview talented, passionate, creative and inspiring men and women who shun the homogenized mass-produced for something handmade and personal.

Handmade Nation grabs you from the opening credits where stop-motion animation shows the creation of handmade embroidered graphics. And throughout the just over an hour-long film, we visit crafters in places like Austin, Chicago, New York, and yes, my hometown, Milwaukee. We meet them at their personal work places and at craft fairs. We meet them in galleries and in garages. Some of them make a living doing their crafts, and others work bread and butter jobs while selling their wares on places like Etsy.com.

But one thing binds them, passion, and it is this passion that makes Handmade Nation so absorbing. In the film we meet a young woman who is setting up her wares the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago. We meet the guys behind Buy Olympia, a one-stop shopping website for independently made products. One crafter designs erotic hook rug patterns, and another creates embroidered pictures of objects like sushi and celebrities like Loretta Lynn. Seeing one crafter create glass beads and another create intricately cut paper cut-outs was riveting. I really admire both their artistry and devotion to their craft. I was thrilled to see JW and Melissa Buchanan from Little Friends of Printmaking. As Imentioned in my book review of Handmade Nation, the three of us toiled together at Discovery World. And Levine pulls a major coup in getting an interview with one of my she-roes, Debbie Stoller, the founder and editor-in-chief of Bust and the goddess behind the Stitch and Bitch books.

These crafters got into their work for a multitude of reasons. Many of them were put off by the mass-produced stuff they found at places like Wal-Mart. Some of them wanted to make a living out of something they loved to do. Many of them expressed interest in supporting fellow crafters and artisans. But so many of them do it because it’s so much fun. They can look at their work and say, “I created this. This is mine.” Crafting very empowering. For me personally, making my own soap is more about making something that will keep me clean. It’s about experimenting with scents and colors and making something uniquely my own. And when I cut my soap into smaller bars, and none of the sizes are perfectly uniform, it’s okay. Imperfection is part of the charm of crafting.

When Handmade Nation was over, Kristine and I could not stop talking about how inspiring it was. Every once in a while Kristine and I have “crafternoons” where we drink wine, watch a DVD, and yes, make crafts.

But I don’t think you have to be a crafter to get something out of Handmade Nation. I think anyone who appreciates artistry and creativity will like this charming documentary.

Book Review: Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft and Design by Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl

Handmade NationYears ago, if you would have asked me to go to a craft fair, I would have laughed. Why would I want to go to a craft fair? Weren’t craft fairs filled with crocheted toilet cozies and gingham-clad rag dolls made by blue-haired grannies? That wasn’t my scene. Well, my attitude changed when I attended my first Art vs. Craft Fair here in Milwaukee in 2006. I was overwhelmed by the multitude of interesting and creative crafts made by young men and women (some with blue hair). I was so impressed by the T-shirts, candles, jewelry, toys, journals, knitwear and assorted artistic items. I bought a few things, and talked to the crafters about their wares. Crafting to them wasn’t just a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon; it was a calling.

Art vs. Craft was the brain child of Milwaukee crafter, musician, documentary film maker and boutique owner, Faythe Levine. And along with Cortney Heimerl, Ms. Levine has written the book Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft and Design. In Handmade Nation, Levine and Heimerl interviewed various crafters throughout the United States and tells their stories in the crafters’ own words. The crafters make everything from jewelry to toys to clothing. Some of the crafters are able to support themselves through their work while others have regular day jobs and work on their projects in their spare time. In the essays, the crafters explain how they came to crafting and why they create. And they don’t just describe the nuts and bolts of crafting, they describe the philosophy behind their work. Many of the crafters profiled said they got into crafts not only for the creative aspect, but because its also an escape from the generic and mass-produced. There is more joy in purchasing something unique at a craft fair than the same-old thing at the mall.

Crafting is also a community, with many crafters talking about the support they receive from other crafters, sharing ideas and advice about all aspects of crafting. The crafters profiled aren’t just funky artistic types; they’re also business people, organizing craft fairs and setting up their own shops on Etsy.com. And I’m happy to say that I know two of the people profiled in Handmade Nation, JW and Melissa Buchanan from Little Friends of Printmaking. JW and Melissa have been designing art posters for years and they also teach how to create silk screen prints. I was fortunate to work with them at Milwaukee’s Discovery World where they ran the print lab and I was a copywriter. To see two such talented people profiled in Handmade Nation is quite a thrill.

Aesthetically, Handmade Nation is wonderfully designed. The photographs lovingly capture the crafters’ themselves, their work and their workspaces. The words give life to what each person profiled creates. I also liked the hand-drawn timeline of the DIY crafting scene. Not only is the timeline charmingly drawn, it’s also very informative. Even after I was finished with this book, I found myself looking through it again and again. Sure, I was jealous of the huge workspace some of the crafters had. It can be a bit toiling and trying to make my soap and other bath products in my tiny kitchen. But mostly I felt inspired to do more crafting, and not just making bath soap. Now I just have to get some of my crafting supplies more organized and figure out what I want to create. My brain is filled with possibilities.

Still, Handmade Nation left me wanting more. I wanted to learn more about the crafters and other crafters throughout the United States. And Handmade Nation isn’t just a book; it’s also a documentary. *

In the end, Handmade Nation is an excellent primer on the world of crafting and DIY projects, and an interesting read for both crafting veterans and crafting novices.

* I was fortunate to see this documentary when it was shown at the Milwaukee Art Museum a few years ago, and I will post a review of it shortly.

Readin’, Writin’, and Rantin’: American Blogger-The Film

American-Blogger-Movie-Poster-e1397014900608You know, blogging has become so huge that I’m surprised nobody has made a documentary about it. Spend some time on the blogosphere and you’ll find men and women of all ages, races, ethnicities, and other assorted demographics, blogging about politics, current events, pop culture, family, technology, crafting, faith, entrepreneurship, fashion and activism. I’d really like to see someone make a documentary about the amazing diversity of the blogosphere.

Oh, wait someone has. However, after taking a gander at the above posted clip I just don’t think filmmaker Chris Wiegand is up to the task.

Chris Wiegand is a Dallas-based filmmaker and photographer. Together with his wife, Casey Leigh, they own an art studio called A Little Artsy. Casey Leigh blogs at a blog called The Wiegands where she mostly writes about her family and other assorted topics. In other words, she’s a mommy blogger. Nothing against mommy bloggers; they’re just not my blogging cup of tea. I’m sure a lot of people don’t give a shit about me blogging about books.

But I digress…

Chris decided there was something to this whole blogging business and decided to pack up his Airstream Trailer (Airstream Trailer, of course), and travel this great country of ours to interview various bloggers about their craft. But instead of interviewing a slew of diverse, interesting bloggers from a wide variety of backgrounds, Chris interviews a bunch of mostly young, white, good-looking, slender and apparently middle class women who blog about family, crafting, fashion, travel, etc. (okay, there does appear to be one minority). In other words, Chris interviews Casey Leigh’s blogging buddies and on-line besties.

Okay, American Blogger doesn’t exactly dig very deep into the diversity of the blogosphere. And for the most part that’s fine. What really makes me rant about American Blogger is how it takes itself…

…so damn fucking serious!

First there is the documentary’s movie poster featuring a silhouette of a woman looking downcast. Hmm, could she be navel-gazing? And what is up with Chris waving an American flag amongst a city skyline? I almost expected a bald eagle to be a part of the movie poster.

And then there is the “voice of God” narration.

“Beautifully filmed and artistically crafted, this documentary will remind you of the value of your voice and the power of sharing your story.”

Yes, blogging about, like you know, fashion, and like you know, travel, makes documenting the Arab Spring look like an indulgent day at the spa. These bloggers have the possibility to change the world. OMG! Change the world!!!!

And then one blogger claims, “If we’re keeping it private, why are experiencing it?”

Oh, I don’t know, Sweetums. Maybe you should experience it to just experience it. Egad, what a load of self-serving crap.

And that’s what kills me. The utter lack of self-awareness combined with a huge amount of self-absorption.

There is nothing wrong with Chris going around the country to interview his wife’s fellow mommy bloggers. There is nothing wrong with blogging about whatever you want to blog about. What really makes me roll my baby blues is when you act like you’re doing us a huge favor.

Yes, I’m a blogger. And I must admit it’s a nice boost to my self-esteem that my blog is gaining followers. I appreciate getting likes and comments on my posts. But at most, my blog is nothing more than an exercise in ego-stroking and a fun way to express my interest in one of my favorite past times-reading.

And yes, it’s pretty cool when someone wants to interview you about your blogging.

In other words-I have a confession to make.

A while back I used to write “American Idol” re-caps (shut up, don’t judge me). I posted my re-caps on our local Fox affiliate’s news website. A producer liked my re-caps and asked me if I’d be interested in being interviewed about my re-caps and American Idol. After some hemming and hawing I decided to be interviewed. I made sure I cleaned up Chez Bookish Jen and I replaced my usual re-capping uniform of yoga pants, t-shirt and messy ponytail with a cute outfit and brushed hair. The interview went quite well (all those years in high school forensics finally paid off), and my family and friends enjoyed seeing me on the news.

And then…nothing. My life didn’t monumentally change. And never once did I think I did something of great significance or I was altering the world. Shit. I don’t even watch American Idol anymore.

Once again, I digress.

Not surprisingly, the Internet has taken notice of American Blogger. And websites like Gawker, Jezebel, IndieWire, Babble and Get Off My Internets are all having their say on Chris Wiegand’s magnum opus. Sure, a lot of the comments are quite snarky, but quite a few offer some good constructive criticism.

And of course, someone made a parody of American Blogger. Am I horrible person because this made me laugh and laugh? I love this parody so much I want to take it behind the bleachers and get it pregnant. Thank you Neil Kramer!

 

Lady Wiegand is aware of the backlash and gives us her sage opinion. I hope you can get through her pretentious, vapid and “woe-is-me” word salad. You may need a stiff drink.

Now, as I mentioned. I’d be very open to watching a documentary on blogging. I don’t care if it’s a legitimate film or a “mockumentary.” Ken Burns and Christopher Guest? Call your agents!