Book Review: Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama

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Even my cat, Pokey Jones, liked this book!

Once upon a time, in land called the south side of Chicago, lived a girl named Michelle Robinson. Instead of living in a huge castle, she lived in a modest house on a street called Euclid Avenue. And instead of having to deal with an evil stepmother, she had two loving parents and a protective older brother. Like a lot of girls, Michelle Robinson dreamed of adventures that would take her beyond her humble roots and finding her own Prince Charming. She did that and so much more, thus becoming the history-making first lady Michelle Obama, not only the first black first lady (not to mention one of the most educated and admired, and if I may dip my toes into the shallow end of the pool, one of the most stylish first ladies, in the history of the United States).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are so “unwoke” you might as well be in a coma, you are fully aware of Michelle Obama’s years of living in the White House – her “Let’s Move” campaign to alleviate childhood obesity, her work with second lady Dr. Jill Biden on veterans’ issues, her loving marriage to President Barack Obama, and her challenges of raising two children in the White House under the glare of the media. This is a very compelling part of Becoming, and Mrs. Obama is fully honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly she dealt with during the White House years.

However, most of Becoming focuses on Mrs. Obama’s life before her time as First Lady, and it is both extraordinary and ordinary, which I’m sure a lot of readers with relate to.

Mrs. Obama describes these years in rich detail that had me riveted. Her family was firm and loving, inspiring her to be a striver and excel in whatever she pursued. She writes about teachers who supported her from grade school through law school. She lovingly mentions the girlfriends who inspired her, and are still with her today (even if one standout friend is only with her in spirit). Mrs. Obama discusses the various mentors she was blessed with while navigating the difficulties in the workplace. And she’s brutally honest about these privileges and her gratitude seems truly sincere.

However, she also had to deal with the thorny issues of both racism and sexism, and plenty of naysayers who claimed she’d never make it. For instance, one person tried to convince Mrs. Obama that she wasn’t Ivy League material. Ha, she showed this person, didn’t she?

And yes, Mrs. Obama also dishes on a certain fellow named Barack Obama, from her initial meeting when she was his mentor to her twenty-five plus years of their marriage.

But just as Mrs. Obama is grateful for her blessings, she is also honest about the trials and tribulations she faced personally. Prince Charming was sometimes a bit of a challenge and often their marriage was less than ideal. Mrs. Obama also faced issues with having children, finally reverting to using fertility treatments and later giving birth to her cherished daughters Malia and Sasha. In other words, her life is at turn both typical and atypical, one that inspires and one that a lot of us can relate to.

Now, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama. However, as a book reviewer I realize I must be truthful of my assessment of Becoming. Not to be gross, but you can’t crap on a cone and expect me to call it ice cream. Thank goodness, Becoming is a sundae of a read and truly exceeded my expectation. It’s both down to earth and out of this world, one that takes a treasured place on my book shelf. I can’t recommend it enough.

Book Review: The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kedzior

When not being ignored by the two coasts, flyover country is being celebrated as where the “real Americans” live, usually by conservative pundits. And to these pundits, real Americans are defined as white and for the most part living in the suburbs or rural areas who define themselves as conservative Christians.

But not so fast, living in flyover country, I know we are a much more diverse bunch and so does Sarah Kedzior, which she sums up in her collection of essays The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America.

A reporter for Al Jazeera America and residing in St. Louis, Missouri, Kedzior’s essays focus on such thorny topics as race, income inequality, the friction among generations, education, foreign policy, the media, women’s issues and so much more.

Kedzior starts off The View from Flyover Country with an introduction rolling out what her collection of essays is all about, giving the reader a clear idea on what to expect among its six parts.

In Part One, Flyover Country, Kedzior defines flyover country and topics such as how expensive cities are killing creatives and hipster economics.

Part Two, Post-Employments, explains issues of survival, how workers are paying a steep price, zilch opportunities and how sometimes these issues make people do extreme things like lighting themselves on fire.

Race and religion define Part Three, where Kedzior writes about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder, Black Lives Matter, and what happened in Ferguson in the wake of Mike Brown being gunned down by police.

In Part Four Kedzior examines the broken promise of a higher education, and how school debt has crippled countless smart, hard-working and talented graduates. She also decries the deplorable pay of adjunct professors who work tirelessly to educate our students.

Part Five is a careful examination of our media and how gaining access seems to be only available to the well-connected elite (don’t I know it!) and the problem of fringe media in the Internet age.

Foreign policy makes up Part Six when it comes to gender, Edward Snowden, the situation in Iraq and basic human rights.

Finally, Kedzior sums things up with a standout essay on the importance of complaining. If people didn’t complain, women wouldn’t have the right to vote, black people would still be at the back of the bus, and gay people wouldn’t be able to marry those they love.

While reading The View Flyover Country, I marked several pages with post-it notes and wrote down some key quotes and passages in my well-worn notebook. Kedzior writes in a down-to-earth way with smarts and clarity. She truly cares about these issues and implores us to also care about them.

The View from Flyover Country is a treasure of a book and is ideal for both the college classroom and book discussion groups everywhere.

Book Review: The Common Good by Robert B. Reich

Considering I gave Robert B. Reich’s Saving Capitalism a rave review, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of the former secretary of Labor under President Clinton. So I am thrilled to give Reich’s latest book, The Common Good, another rave review.

The Common Good is a call to arms to anyone who cares about the state of our country and all of its citizens.

And when I mention a call to arms I don’t mean guns and ammunition. This book is a call for us to bring a sense of empathy, sensibility and basic human decency when it comes to politics, business, religion, education, media, activism, and our communities as a whole. And The Common Good is written in an enthusiastic and perceptive manner that will connect with a wide audience.

The Common Good is divided into three distinct parts:

1. What Is the Common Good?

2. What Happened to the Common Good?

3. Can the Common Good By Restored?

Part one is a primer on the common good. It starts out using the sheer awfulness of Martin Shrekeli and how he fully encompasses what is not the common good.

As part one moves on Reich explains both the common good most of us share and origins of the common good.

In part two Reich examines what exactly happened to our nation’s common good through a 3-prong dismantling of the common good’s structure. Believe me, it’s not pretty.

But before readers gnash their teeth in despair, Reich wraps things up with a manifesto on how we can restore the common good, which includes leadership we can trust, the use of honor and shame, resurrecting truth and finally but most importantly reviving civic education for all citizens starting in grade school and high school.

Some of ideas may be a bit difficult to implement and others will be quite simple. But all are vital.

The Common Good is written in an audience-friendly style that instructs and inspires and will hold your interest long after you are done reading it.  I can’t recommend it enough. The Common Good is both timely and timeless.

Book Review: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

I think one of the first reasons why I became a feminist is because of Gloria Steinem. To be honest, it wasn’t due to her tireless work on behalf of women’s rights, committed activism towards other causes, and her exceptional writing. It was because I thought she was so pretty with her long streaked hair, her mini-skirts and her trendy aviator sunglasses.

You’ll have to forgive me…I was around seven years old at the time.

Of course, I’m now a grown woman and my love and admiration for Steinem goes beyond her looks. She is so much more than a fashionable feminist (yes, we do exist). So I was overjoyed when my friend Nora gave me a copy of Steinem’s latest book My Life on the Road. I thoroughly adore Steinem’s past books like Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions and Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. And I’ve been reading Ms. Magazine since middle school. To this day my nickname for Steinem is “Cool Auntie.”

Living a life on the road as an activist, speaker and writer came naturally to Steinem. Her father was a traveling salesman so it’s in her DNA. As a young woman Steinem spent time studying in India. Her career as a journalist had her traveling all over interviewing and covering all kinds of topics whether it be going undercover as a Playboy Bunny or interviewing the likes of Cesar Chavez. Always an activist Steinem was drawn to feminism, acting tirelessly for the rights for women whether it be access to their reproductive rights or issues they may face in the workplace. She helped create Ms. Magazine and has been a dominating force of feminism for decades, not only inspiring women around her own age but also inspiring women young enough to be her daughters and granddaughters.

“Wandering Organizer” is just one way Steinem defines herself and to me this book proves just that. Her life on the road has influenced her in a multitude of ways, especially in the world of politics. She also admits how being a wandering organizer has influenced her physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And her travels makes for one hell of a read.

Steinem was at the 1963 March on Washington when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” She worked on the behalf of farm workers. She campaigned for Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.She was also a big supporter of Hillary Clinton in both 2008 and 2016.

She’s worked along with activists Florynce Kennedy, Dolores Heurta, and Wilma Mankiller. She admits her relationship with Betty Friedan was less than cordial. She joined forces with Generation X feminists like Amy Richards. And now millennial feminists are discovering Steinem and her work. Now in her 80s, Gloria is still traveling, writing and speaking.

Every essay is written in a down-to-earth, yet moving way. She is a powerful voice but one that never seems intimidating. She fully admits things weren’t always rosy on her travels. She dealt with a lot of backlash, especially from the radical right, but kept on fighting on the behalf of not just women, but society as a whole.

I found all her essays fascinating, turning each page as Steinem went on her amazing journey. Her life on the road would make for one hell of a movie. One chapter of My Life on The Road would make for one hell of the movie.

This novel is an impressive and mind blowing account of the people, places and things Steinem encountered on her travels. At times I felt like I needed an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of it all. I feel fortunate to have learned more about this brave and inspirational woman. As with Steinem’s other books My Life on the Road is a must-read for all feminists, one to be visited again and again.

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran

It’s probably not a secret that I’m a fan of British pop culture critic, author, feminist and all-around cool British bird Caitlin Moran. Ms. Moran began writing about pop music when she was still a teenager growing up in a struggling family that lived in a council house and later hosted a TV show. Later Moran proved her feminist street cred via her funny, soul-searching, thought-provoking columns on everything from her budding sexuality as a teenager to her challenges combing marriage, child rearing and writing. She also writes about serious issues that affect women (and the men who love them) with the same aplomb she writes about pop culture. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I picked up to of her earlier books Moranthology and How to Be a Woman. And her novel How to Build a Girl is a must read if you’ve ever been a teen-age girl (or, just human).

So when I found out Moran had released another book of essays, Moranifesto, I did a little jig in my leopard-spot flats and got myself a copy, which I can safely say is another feather in marvelous Ms. Moran’s chapeau! And it’s the perfect feminist elixir in a time of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief, #marketplacefeminism, Brexit, the sad loss of pop culture icons like Bowie, and a host of other issues that affect women across the big pond and women who live in your neighborhood.

Moranifesto is divided into four distinct parts:

  1. The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live
  2. The Feminisms
  3. The Future
  4. Epilogue

In The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live, Moran examines why her utter disdain for the late Margaret Thatcher to her despair over the death of David Bowie. She muses the hatred of her printer (always a letdown for writers on a strict deadline), famous people she has annoyed and taking a rather unpleasant ride through the streets of New York City. Her chapter on her love of bacon will resonate with anyone who thinks bacon is the food of the Gods. And I adored her essay on smells that remind us of childhood—our mother’s perfume, pencil shavings, calamine lotion, puppies, lilac trees—scents that make us a wee bit nostalgic for perceived simpler times when anything and everything seemed possible.

In Feminisms Moran pokes fun at her face, which she describes part potato, part thumb and asks why we have to make everything “sexy?” She implores us to find another word for rape, her support of Hillary Clinton, giving up high heels, the most sexist TV show called “Blachman,” the type of show I hope never makes our shores, and speaking of TV, spends a day with Lena Dunham on the set of “Girls.”

And in part three, Moran looks into her crystal ball to figure out the future. In this batch of musings she claims reading is fierce yet she thinks it’s okay if her children aren’t big readers. She validates the importance of libraries. She also gets serious discussing Syria and refugees. And when she muses about women who mess things up things for the rest of us you might find yourself nodding your head in agreement.

The fourth part of Moranifesto, the epilogue, is brief, yet probably the most important part of the book. The epilogue is a letter to Moran’s daughter Lizzie. In this letter, Moran is dead (yes, a wee bit morbid). Lizzie is about the turn 13 and Moran want to share some advice Lizzie might find useful. Moran tells Lizzie “try to be nice.” Niceness will always shine and bring people to you. Also, keep in mind that when you think you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown have a cup of tea and a biscuit (British term for cookie).

Other sage wisdom, choose friends in which you can be your true self and avoid trying to fix someone or avoid someone who thinks you need fixing. Though it may difficult in our shallow culture with its fixation on women’s outer shell, make peace with your body. Make people think you are amazing conversationalist by asking them questions; what they say might prove useful one day.

And probably the most powerful piece of Moran’s letter to Lizzie can be summed up in the following sentence.

“…life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLINGEXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES.”

True…so true.

Throughout Moranifesto, there are essays that really got under my skin, but I can’t really share why because they are way too personal; and at times, I need to keep certain experiences close to my vest. But to give you a sneak peak, these chapters include:

  1. The Rich are Blithe
  2. Poor People are Clever
  3. Two Things Men Need to Understand About Women
  4. How I Learned About Sex
  5. Let Us Find Another Find Another Word For Rape

And some other interesting chapters I think a lot of women will find fascinating include:

  1. The Real Equality Checklist
  2. What Really Gives Me Confidence
  3. All the Lists of My Life

So my lads and lasses, grab a cuppa (cup of tea), enjoy some fish and chips (or as we call it here in Wisconsin a Friday night fish fry with French fries), ring up your mates (call your besties), and keep calm and carry on (Netflix and chill). Caitlin Moran is back and better than ever!

P.S. Moran’s sister works at a perfume shop and she let Moran smell the fragrance David Bowie wore and Moran claimed it smelled of pineapple and platinum. Well, I know what pineapple smells like, but what about platinum? What does platinum smell like? I suppose it smells cool and metallic. But this Bowie were talking about. I bet it smells warm and ever ch, ch, ch, changing to whatever we desire. For me this would smell of a special amber oil in my possession, vanilla as I pour it into some cookie batter, a match after I blow it out, the lavender growing in a mug on my window sill, freshly made bread, the pages within a book, my mother’s chicken soup, and yes, bacon.

Book of Love: Meryl Streep

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I’ve been a fan of Meryl Streep since I was a young girl. And as a writer and a freelance journalist who has written about arts, culture and entertainment from all over the globe, I want to say her Golden Globe’s speech made me puff up with pride and gratitude. Here is  a transcript of Ms. Streep’s speech, h/t The New York Times:

Please sit down. Thank you. I love you all. You’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend. And I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year, so I have to read.

Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said: You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.

But who are we, and what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island; Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids in Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in London — no, in Ireland I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a girl in small-town Virginia.

Ryan Gosling, like all of the nicest people, is Canadian, and Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, and is here playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick them all out you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

They gave me three seconds to say this, so: An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that. Breathtaking, compassionate work.

But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose. O.K., go on with it.

O.K., this brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call him on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in the Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists, because we’re gonna need them going forward, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing: Once, when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something — you know we were gonna work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight.

As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art.

And here is Ms. Davis’s introduction for Ms. Streep:

She stares. That’s the first thing you notice about her. She tilts her head back with that sly suspicious smile, and she stares for a long time. And you think: Do I have something in my teeth? Or does she wanna kick my [expletive] — which is not gonna happen?

And then she’ll ask questions. “What’d you do last night, Viola?”

“Oh I cooked an apple pie.”

“Did you use Pippin apples?”

“Pippin apples, what the hell are Pippin apples? I used Granny Smith apples.”

“Oh. Did you make your own crust?”

“No, I used store-bought crust. That’s what I did.”

“Then you didn’t make an apple pie, Viola.”

“Well that’s because I spent all my time making my collard greens. I make the best collard greens. I use smoked-turkey chicken broth and my own special sauce.”

Silence. I shut her down.

“Well, they don’t taste right unless you use ham hocks. If you don’t use ham hocks it doesn’t taste the same. So how’s the family?”

And as she continues to stare you realize that she sees you. And like a high-powered scanning machine she’s recording you. She is an observer and a thief. She waits to share what she has stolen on that sacred place, which is the screen. She makes the most heroic characters vulnerable, the most known familiar, the most despised relatable. Dame Streep. Her artistry reminds us of the impact of what it means to be an artist, which is to make us feel less alone. I can only imagine where you go, Meryl, when you disappear into a character. I imagine that you’re in them, patiently waiting, using yourself as a conduit, encouraging them, coaxing them to release all their mess, expose, to live. You are a muse. Your impact encouraged me to stay in the line.

Dame Streep, I see you. I see you. And you know all those rainy days we spent on the set of “Doubt”? Every day my husband would call me at night and say, “Did you tell her how much she means to you?”

And I said, “No, I can’t say anything, Julius, I’m just nervous. All I do is stare at her all the time.”

He said, “Well, you need to say something. You’ve been waiting all your life to work with this woman. Say something.”

I said, “Julius, I’ll do it tomorrow.”

“O.K. you better do it tomorrow because when I get there I’m going to say something!”

I haven’t said anything. But I’m gonna say it now. You make me proud to be an artist. You make me feel that what I have in me, my body, my face, my age, is enough. You encapsulate that great Émile Zola quote that if you ask me as an artist what I came into this world to do, I, an artist, would say, I came to live out loud.

Taking One for the Team: Right for a Reason-Life, Liberty, and a Crapload of Common Sense by Miriam Weaver and Amy Jo Clark

right-for-a-reason-life-liberty-and-a-crapload-of-common-sense-198x300Has this election season made you a nervous wreck? I know it has me at the end of my tether, and with my bad allergies, morbid depression, and chronic insomnia, I don’t know if I should make a plate of brownies, charge my smart phone, or buy a truckload of Xanax. Either way this election goes (I’m going to plug my nose and vote for Hillary Clinton), by this time next week we will have a new President-Elect.

Anyway, here is my latest installment of “Taking One for the Team,” Right for a Reason: Life, Liberty, and a Crapload of Commonsense by Miriam Weaver and Amy Jo Clark, two Indiana-based conservative pundits who go by the name of Chicks on the Right. The Chicks have a radio show on WIBC in Indianapolis, an occasional newspaper column for the IndyStar, their own website featuring their opinion pieces (under the pen names Mockarena for Weaver and Daisy Jo for Clark), links to other like-minded conservative websites and memes well-versed in the radical right mindset. Their social media has plenty of followers and they are often profiled and interviewed by more mainstream media outlets.

Not living in Indiana, I first became aware of the Chicks when they wrote a scathing screed for the IndyStar lambasting liberal feminists for wearing vagina costumes or thinking tax payers should pay for their birth control pills or being all-around entitled, whiny, crybaby harpies. They claimed they were the true feminists because even if their husbands left them for “younger models” they would just pick themselves up by their bra straps, soldier on, and not expect any type of safety net to bail them out. And for some odd reason, stiletto shoes were also involved in the world of Chicks-fried feminism.

Well, as one of those liberal feminists the Chicks love to hate. I can’t recall seeing anyone in a vagina costume, and I don’t exactly expect anyone to pay for my birth control; I just believe there should a safety net for people who are struggling and a woman’s reproductive issues are a very important component of health care. I hardly think this makes me a virulent shrew. And I have to remind the Chicks, even this libtard, feminazi in sensible sling backs, pays her fair share of taxes.

This opinion piece went viral, picked up by other media outlets including Bust, Jezebel, We are Libertarians, and Democratic Underground. My curiosity piqued, I decided to learn more about the Chicks. I found their website, which included a high-heeled shoe in the logo (because the ladies love their shoes, amirite?). The Chicks’ apparent goal is to give conservatism a “makeover” because when people think of conservatism they think of old, white, silver-haired, dour and boring men. Well, actually I think of skinny blonde women talking smack…and writing smack.

Which finally brings me to Right for a Reason…

In Right for the Reason, the Chicks go deep as a Jimmy Choo in-step when it comes to serious topics regarding capitalism, race, feminism, guns, abortion, political correctness and LGTBQ issues.

On the surface, Right for the Reason’s first chapter, Capitalism is a Good Thing, isn’t exactly something I disagree with. I am very grateful for living in a country where entrepreneurs of all kinds from my friends Laura and Myra making a living designing jewelry to domestic diva, Martha Stewart, can hone their skills, talents and expertise and become successful. But capitalism is not without its faults whether it’s the malfeasance found on Wall Street or CEOs making 400 times what the average worker and treated to a golden parachute worth millions even though they make decisions that sink a company and screw over employees, clients, consumers, shareholders and other invested interests.

And then then there is their take on Occupy Wall Street, which to the Chicks, pretty much was made up of dreadlocked hippies pooping in the streets while updating their Twitter feeds on their iPhones. Sure, there were quite a few members of Occupy Wall Street that fit that tired stereotype. But if one looked any further, you would also find knitting grandmas, blue collar types and suit-wearing professionals. They also found one ridiculous Occupy Wall Street manifesto that they use to sum up the entire movement. That’s like me saying all members of the Tea Party can’t spell, are total bigots and dress like Paul Revere. I wouldn’t because I’m pretty sure the Tea Party types have a variety of people in their ranks, too.

When it comes to the poor here in the United States, the Chicks compare the poor in a first world country versus those in a third world country. Well, of course there are differences! We talking about a first world country compared to third world countries, where there are vast differences in policies, infrastructure, education, and so on. But the Chicks never delve into those complex topics. Instead, the poor in America often own TVs, DVD players, stereos, kitchen and laundry amenities, and even cars! Well, a lot of the poor live in apartments where kitchens come fully equipped and there are laundry facilities. One can buy certain luxuries like a TV used or have they been given as gifts. And if someone doesn’t live in a place with reliable public transportation a car is a must to get to work, school and to run errands. Yes, a lot of poor people work and/or going to school. Not everyone who is poor is lazy, popping out babies, uneducated, not working, watching “Jerry Springer” and fully dependent on the taxpayer. And it seems to the Chicks the only people who pay taxes are themselves and their fellow conservatives.

As for corporate welfare? The Chicks briefly refer to corporate welfare was the bailouts, which mostly happened in 2008—when Bush was still President.

In this chapter, the Chicks bring up the idea of “mincome,” which apparently all of Canadian liberals played around with back in the 1970s and it was a huge failure because everybody became a lazy slug or something like that. I had heard of mincome so I did some investigating. Turns out mincome was something relegated to mostly Manitoba, and the only people who pulled back on working and earning a paycheck were teenagers and mothers with babies and very young children. Most citizens continued to work regular jobs while also receiving a decent minimum income from the government.

And just who were among these unwashed hippies who came up with the idea of mincome? Milton Friedman, yep, that Milton Friedman.

In America is Exceptional the Chicks go all neener, neener on liberals who have the audacity to point out America’s flaws, both past and present. And Weaver tells the tale of her father coming to America as an immigrant and having nothing but good things happening for him, not quite owning up to the privilege he already had in place—being white and highly educated. He certainly had it better than some immigrants coming from places like Mexico and Syria, or what my great-grandfather, Max, faced coming here as a poor orphan from Germany when he was still a teenager. Anyway, the vastly smarter and funnier, Jimmy Dore, sums up what’s great about America in the final chapter of his book, Your Country is Just Not That Into You.

Other subjects where Chicks have all the intellectual heft of a feather include the idea of hands up, not hand-outs. I guess you’re alright to get some help if you’re a single mom who identifies as a conservative. The rest of us can just die in a fire.

When it comes to the first amendment the Chicks bitch their right to free speech is being violated due to one set back on Facebook, not quite acknowledging they have a radio show, a newspaper column, an active social media presence and a book. If that’s called having one’s first amendment rights being trampled on, sign me up! They also call political correctness stupid with all the maturity of kindergartners in a sandbox, claim they don’t see color when it comes to the thorny topic of race, stomp their stiletto-shod feet for their right to own things that go Pew-Pew-Pew (to the uninitiated they are talking about guns, not Pepe le Pew). They think the war on women is a load of crap (yep, these two classy dames love to use the word crap), but throw plenty of insults when it comes to women they disagree with, often using hateful dialogue to disparage a more liberal women’s looks. They are proudly pro-life and are convinced that all clinics that provide abortion services resemble the horrors of Kermit Gosnell’s clinic; most clinics don’t resemble Gosnell’s clinic at all.

And if you happen to be gay? Well, quit being so obvious about with your same sex wedding announcements, gay pride parades and suing Christian bakers. Yea, like the heterosexuals have to hide their lifestyles and loving with abiding shame.

In the final chapter the Chicks offer their declaration on why it’s time for a conservative makeover. They claim it’s not cool to be a conservative, not mentioning conservative ideas and opinions can be found all over in print, televison and digital media. As I write this, one of the hottest pundits in right wing media is yet another skinny, blonde, Tomi Lahren. Heck, she’s so hot she’s allegedly dating a cast-off of The Bachlorette!

But just how do the Chicks plan to give conservatism a make-over. Well, according to the cover and the contents of Right for a Reason it has to do something with Christian Loubatins, clothes from the MILF Collection at Forever 41 and calling out Nancy Pelosi for using Botox. Actually, the Chicks call conservative makeover consist the following:

1) Discuss conservatism with young people
2) Stop being prudes (it’s okay to cuss)
3) Remember the 80/20 rule (it’s okay if other people agree with only 80% of the time)
4) Stop with the labeling (interesting, considering the Chicks have a pretty strict guideline for what makes a true conservative)

As for the GOP, among the things the Chicks suggest include being offensive (no problem there with Trump as a possible next president—shudder) rather than defensive, use limited government, the Constitution and personal freedom when it comes to messaging, empower women and minorities, use all media platforms, and fight fire with fire.

Okay, the Chicks do have a point on certain things. I think they bring up interesting concepts when it comes to messaging. And they call out both Todd Akin and Todd Rokita for their positively boneheaded remarks, Rokita making condescending compliment regarding CNN’s Carol Costello’s looks and Akin’s opinions regarding rape. And though the Chicks are pro-life, they are also in favor of contraceptives and Plan B.

But ultimately, Right for a Reason is just a shrill and malicious, with writing on par with a middle school mean girl’s Twitter diatribes against various liberals, feminists, progressive activists, not to mention President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sandra Fluke, Beyoncé, Al Franken, Sheryl Sandberg, and Whoopi Goldberg. They offer no promise of hope and how to reach across the aisle to truly improve the state of the USA in the 21st century. Right for a Reason is also devoid of carefully honed research on issues that are crucial to us as citizens at one of the most critical times in country’s history. In the end, you aren’t left with the feeling conservatism doesn’t need a makeover; it needs a complete do-over, a total reboot, the kind of boot that can’t be found at any pricey shoe boutique.

Right for a Reason: Life, Liberty and a Crapload of Common Sense is right on one thing. It is a crapload.

 

Book Review: Losing Our Way-An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America by Bob Herbert

losingourway-075I’ve been a long-time fan of Bob Herbert. From 1993 to 2011 he was an opinion columnist for the New York Times, and when he left the paper I was heartbroken.

But lucky for me I read his book Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America and it is the perfect read this election year, very timely and a healing balm for me after reading Donald Trump’s truly loathsome Crippled America.

Losing Our Way is divided into carefully crafted chapters, written in with the wisdom, thoughtfulness and compassion that made me such a fan of Herbert’s to begin with. They include:

  • Falling Apart
  • Falling Apart II
  • Jobs and the Middle Class
  • War and Its Aftermath
  • Understanding the Costs of War
  • Poverty and Inequality
  • The Public Schools
  • Poverty and Public Education
  • War’s Madness Runs Deep
  • Hurricane Sandy and Other Disasters
  • Cashing In on Schools
  • Mistreating the Troops
  • Epilogue: Looking Ahead

In Losing Our Way, Herbert goes into great length discussing the various issues that plague our nation and how we got to this point. He does this by writing about four crucial elements that need fixing in our country. They include our falling apart infrastructure, our endless wars and the treatment of our troops and veterans, our education system and how it is not benefiting needs of our children, and how unemployment and under-employment is affecting working people of all kinds. Finally, he offers some ideas and opinions on how we, as a nation, can stop losing our way, and make America work for everyone.

Herbert begins Losing Our Way the crumbling of the I-35W Bridge in Minnesota back in 2007. Several people fell to their deaths, and one victim, Mercedes Gordon was almost one of them. She suffered a broken back and crushed legs, needing a great deal of medical intervention. Not surprisingly, the effects of her injuries plague her to this day. Sadly, the disintegration of the I-35W wasn’t an insolate incident, and expect more to come. Many of our bridges, streets, highways,  power generators, sewer systems and other public facilities were initially built generations ago and need a great deal of repair, but are being neglected instead. Our infrastructure is also threatened by “acts of God,” which Herbert explains in his chapter on Hurricane Sandy and Other Disasters.

The fate of our troops and our returning veterans is also painfully conveyed throughout Losing Our Way. The costs of war aren’t only in huge amounts of money that have gone into fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The costs also include our troops and civilians lost to the violence of war. And then there is the aftermath of serving America in our wars. Many of our war-weary veterans return with horrible injuries requiring continuous medical intervention and physical therapy. And then there are injuries that can’t be seen with the naked eye, most of them mental and emotional. Many of our veterans are dealing with PTSD, depression, and addiction. These stories are also brought to life by Herbert’s interviews with returning soldiers, and they will break your heart.

It’s no secret our public schools are in need of serious overhaul and improvement. However, instead of putting blame on the usual suspects-teachers, teacher unions, disinterested students and uncaring parents-Herbert focuses on some of the issues that plague students and their families like poverty, family strife, violence in the community, and how these conditions need to be attended to before students can work at a top notch level. Many teachers are absolutely treasures, but they are not miracle workers. Furthermore, thanks to concepts like “No Child Left Behind,” teachers are caught up in a web of “teaching to the test” instead of focusing on a student’s individual needs and making the classroom a truly engaging community where students love to learn and thrive.

But one aspect of modern education that truly made me angry while reading Losing Our Way is how big business and business leaders have made themselves “experts” on education and have tried to alter and dismantle the school system not realizing that education isn’t exactly the same as running a business. A couple of these people include Bill Gates and media executive Cathie Black. Bill Gates meant well, but his ideas fell flat. And Cathie Black was in way too over her head; she didn’t last very long and her condescending attitude towards teachers, students and parents were completely out of line and unprofessional.

And when it comes to the place of work and the state of the middle class, Herbert has his finger on the pulse of every American who has earned a paycheck. While working Jacks and Janes are dealing with unemployment and underemployment, stagnating wages, layoffs, outsourcing and other work woes, the 1% are getting huge bailouts, tax breaks and huge salaries that don’t reflect their actual output. Guess what, “trickle down” doesn’t work. Haven’t we learned this lesson by now?

Throughout Losing Our Way Herbert carefully explains how we got to this point, but in the end reminds us that not is all lost. We can, as a nation, find out way. And it relies on those of us in the 99% and goes beyond voting. WE need our voices heard, whether it is protesting, marching in the streets, working on causes that benefit all of us, getting in touch with our representatives and writing opinion pieces on everything from making taxes fairer to those of us who aren’t wealthy to how we treat our returning to veterans to how we can truly improve our schools. Change truly begins at the bottom, not the top. And I believe just by reading Herbert’s wonderfully written and thoroughly researched book, Losing Our Way, we can stir the sleeping giant that resides in all of us.

Losing Our Way is probably one of the most important books I have read this year. Heck, it’s probably one of the most important books I have read in my lifetime!

Taking One for the Team: Crippled America- How to Make America Great Again by Donald Trump

Crippled_America_-_How_to_Make_America_Great_AgainNow do you really think I could take one for the team without reviewing a book by the GOP’s presidential nominee Donald Trump? Of course not. Initially, I thought of reviewing Trump’s classic The Art of the Deal. But decided to check out Crippled America: How to Make Great Again because this idea of making America great again is Trump’s campaign slogan, and according to the bloviating Cheeto, only he is capable of making the good old US of A great again.

And boy, in Crippled America Trump never fails to remind you of this…

Now I’m not exactly naïve. I know damn well Donald did not write this book; he can barely handle writing a decent Tweet. Most likely he hired a ghost writer to write Crippled America basing this tome on Trump’s speeches, interviews, and yes, his Tweets.  Well, I can say one thing good thing about Trump; he’s keeping ghost writers in business. They can use the paycheck.

Okay, onto the book…

After a preface called “You Gotta Believe”, Crippled America is divided into 17 short chapters focusing on several key issues: 1) Winning Again 2) Our “Unbiased” Political Media (the quotes are in the text of the book) 3) Immigration: Good Walls Make Good Neighbors 4) Foreign Policy: Fighting for Peace 5) Education: A Failing Grade 6) The Energy Debate: A Lot of Hot Air 7) Healthcare is Making Us All Sick 8) It’s Still the Economy, Stupid 9) Nice Guys Can Finish First 10) Lucky to Be an American 11) The Right to Bear Arms 12) Our Infrastructure is Crumbling 13) Values 14) A New Game in Town 15) Teaching the Media Dollars and Sense 16) A Tax Code That Works 17) Making America Great Again

Now I have to give The Donald some credit. He is quite right on certain things that need attending to here is the good old USA, including our schools, our healthcare system, our infrastructure, our economy and our treatment of our returning veterans. However, these are mere talking points and he never gives us solid, key evidence of how he can solve this other than using the Trump Brand.

You might ask yourself, “Okay, Donald. Just what is crippling America?” And unless you’ve been taking a very long nap, what’s crippling America are the very things Donald has been spewing about ever since he threw his hat into the political ring last year. And pretty much what he says are the same things political pundits spew about on everything from FOX News to AM radio to various Sarah Palin’s word salads vented via her social media. They include:

President Obama, Hillary Clinton, most Democrats and other assorted liberals, Congress, Muslims, immigrants, unions, the media, public schools, science and scientists concerned with climate change, and big government (well, any form of government actually)

Not surprising President Obama isn’t Trump’s favorite person. After all, Trump was a total birther who doubted the validity of the President’s birth here in the United States even after Obama presented his long-form birth certificate. He pretty much hates Obama, blaming him for everything from our relations to foreign countries to our healthcare woes to our piss poor public schools.

Other conservative talking points Trump pukes up within the confines of Crippled America is the threat of China’s booming economy and American companies outsourcing jobs to China (like Apple) without taking responsibility for outsourcing many Trump-related products to China. He just says they are good practices for him because they help him save money.

His take on energy is pretty much the same as Sarah Palin’s, “drill baby, drill,” while dismissing various green technologies like solar panels and wind turbines. He is also a denier of climate change and doesn’t seem to give a rip about anything environmentally-sound.

His only solution when it comes to our troubled healthcare system is to completely repeal and dismantle the Affordable Care Act while not offering any valid concepts and ideas on how we can offer good healthcare options that serve the public’s best interests.

At blame for our educational systems is mostly teachers and teacher unions. He blames government interference for our troubled economy, and doesn’t even brooch the issues of Wall Street greed, big business malfeasance and stagnant wages hindering the average American’s spending power. He talks about religious freedom but only how it affects good Christians like himself. As for Muslims? Well, you don’t have to read Crippled America to know how feels about Muslims. And his take on immigration is pretty much “Mexicans suck. Close the borders.” He is a huge fan of the second amendment and brags about having guns and doesn’t even want to discuss the most benign arguments for gun control.

Now how would Trump solve these problems that cripple our Nation? Well, he doesn’t exactly offer any salient policy, thoughtful ideas and solid evidence other than the various buildings and golf courses he has built around the world as if that is the same thing as running the United States. Though he does offer some ideas on making our tax code simpler, you’ve probably heard or read of these ideas elsewhere. Trump hardly breaks new ground.

Trump’s ego is all over Crippled America. He brags about his business acumen, never bringing up the failures of Trump University, Trump Airlines, Trump Vodka and other Trump-related beverages, Trump magazine, Trump’s line at Macy’s, various casinos and not to mention, his bankruptcies. He also brags of his family values, which is rather rich coming from a man on his third marriage and a known adulterer.

Crippled America is pretty much one big brag fest for Trump. As I mentioned offers no policies, ideas, evidence and careful research on how he would truly act if he was President. Furthermore, Crippled America is devoid of any endnotes or footnotes pointing out solid proof of what plagues America and why these issues plague America. If I handed in an essay in college written is such a flimsy manner I would have received a much deserved grade F.

You know, if Trump wasn’t running for the most important job in the world, I would just laugh over this book. But Trump is running for president and this chills me to my tailbone. The President of United States is not the same as being at the helm of a cheesy reality show. It is a job that requires wisdom, an open-mind to differences in race, gender, sexual identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation and differing ideas and opinions, diplomacy and empathy, the ability to see several sides to an issue, the aptitude to handle a crisis, excellent communication skills (especially listening), and other skills Donald just doesn’t seem to have or is willing to develop. Oh, being the President also requires a full understanding of the Constitution and its amendments, the Bill of Rights and how the three branches of government work. Wait, does Trump even know we have three branches of government?

When you think about, running for President is a job interview, the most important job interview I can imagine. Do you think you’d get a job if you spent your entire interview saying horrible things about women, Muslims, immigrants, your competition, or made fun of a disabled person?

I didn’t think so.

Trump sums up Crippled America, not with his tax returns, but with his so-called personal financials, and offers an “about the author” page that goes on for 17 pages. Yes, 17 pages. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount wasn’t 17 pages long.

In the end I can sum up Crippled America in 17 words: I survived reading Donald Trump’s Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again. No liquor was involved.

Book Review: We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement by Andi Zeisler

we were feminists onceI’ve always considered myself a feminist, ever since I was a little girl. I’ve seen feminism evolve over time, having most of my feminism honed by the third wave of feminism when my fellow Generation X-ers began to make their mark in the early 1990s. This was a time of Riot Grrrl, ‘zines, girls picking up instruments and kicking out the jams in bands like Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy and Bikini Kill. Young women read books like Backlash and The Beauty Myth, and realized when it came to feminism, we still had a lot of work to do. A new teen magazine called Sassy celebrated feminism and soon two other magazines, both which can be found at any major bookstore in 2016, emerged. One magazine named Bust and the other named Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture.

And that brings us to Andi Zeisler’s latest book We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. Zeisler is a founding member of Bitch. And boy (um, grrrrl) does she have a lot to say about the current state of feminism, and how it has evolved and devolved in the last twenty-odd years.

Yes, women today definitely have more rights than they had as little as a hundred years ago. We can vote, run for office, get an education, run a company, compete in a sport, get credit in our own names, make reproductive choices and so many other things our foremothers couldn’t even comprehend. But for all the rights feminism has gained, these hard won rights are being contested and chipped away on a daily basis, one being our access to proper reproductive health services. And still others scoff over our concerns regarding rape, sexual harassment, equal pay for equal work, and domestic violence. To make sure we don’t lose these rights we have a lot of nitty-gritty work to do, which includes everything from contacting our political representatives to raising funds for our favorite female-friendly causes.

And believe me, none of this is easy, fun or pretty. It’s a lot of hard work and can be very frustrating. So why worry about doing any of hard work of feminism when we can justify our feminist street cred by using market place feminism to become empowered women? And we become empowered not by voting or writing an op-ed in favor of feminism, but by purchasing the right yogurt, underpants or following celebrities via social media, many who seem to use feminism as a way to further publicize their “brand.”

We Were Feminists Once is divided into two wonderfully written and well-researched parts. Part One, The New Embrace, focuses on how feminism is seen through the lens of Hollywood, celebrity worship, the products we buy, and various forms of pop culture. Part Two, The Same Old Normal, revisits the waves of feminism and how all this market place empowerment is harming women in the long run even though it’s supposed to make feminism look fun and cool because apparently wearing a pair of panties with the word Feminist on them is more empowering than maintaining my access to birth control.

Still, Zeisler is quick to point out, marketplace feminism isn’t exactly something new. It’s been around since the advent of Madison Avenue and furthered sharpened by unfettered capitalism and neo-liberal thinking. Several decades ago market place feminism was expressed by Virginia Slim cigarettes telling us “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” and perfume ads for Charlie and Enjoli. Today we have Dove soap’s “Real Beauty” ad campaigns, Sheryl Sandberg’s admonishments to “Lean-In” and Beyoncé, Emma Watson and Lena Dunham’s embracing feminism as the thing all the cool girls are doing,. Yea, it’s great so many celebrities identify as feminists, but feminism goes much deeper than the fame, wealth and privilege these ladies all share. Feminism also encompasses the intricacies of race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation none of which market place feminism examines.

Zeisler writes in a way that is audience-friendly, but not dumbed down. She writes in a way that is never preachy but explains in depth the harm of market place feminism and how it impedes the actual hard work of feminism. Zeisler doesn’t offer any clear cut solutions but recognizing there is a problem is a first step, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who read this book and said, “I thought I was the only one bothered by market place feminism!”

In the end We Were Feminists Once fully exposes how marketplace feminism is nothing but “you go, girl” advertisements, a collection of hashtags and sound bites, celebrity worship, pop culture slim pickings and more power at the cash register than at the voting booth. Feminism, women and society as a whole deserve so much more.