Book Review: Under the Affluence-Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America by Tim Wise

under the affluenceEvery once in while there comes a book that makes me want to shout from the roof tops, “Everybody, please read this book if you truly care about humanity and society!” Tim Wise’s book Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America, is one such book. And though it may sound melodramatic, I truly think Mr. Wise’s book is an excellent primer on exactly why our nation seems so skewed, confused and messed-up, especially during one of our most scary, yet important presidential election years ever.

Scholar, activist and writer, the aptly named Tim Wise, has focused on societal issues since college and one of his first jobs was working against former KKK grand wizard, David Duke’s presidential bid. Since then Wise has worked on behalf of many progressive causes and has written several books, Under the Affluence being his latest.

In 2016 Wise wonders why do we (as a nation and a society) shame the poor (and let’s face it, anyone who isn’t mega wealthy) while praising the super-rich? And what does that say about us and what impact is this having on society?

Wise calls this detestable movement “Scroogism,” and, yes, based on Ebenezer Scrooge from the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. And it is a theme that has shaped our thinking about the haves vs. the have-nots and have-lessers, much of it encouraged by big business, Wall Street, billionaires and millionaires, CEOs, the radical right political pundits, the current state of the GOP, conservative Christianity, mainstream media and often, ourselves. And yes, that includes the have-nots and have-lessers. And Wise offers evidence through nearly 40 pages of end notes to give gravitas to Under the Affluence.

Under the Affluence and its theme of Scroogism is divided into three well-researched, scholarly, yet audience friendly, maddening, heartbreaking and in the end, cautiously hopeful chapters. These chapters include:

  1. Pulling Apart-The State of Disunited America
  2. Resurrecting Scrooge-Rhetoric and Policy in a Culture of Cruelty
  3. Redeeming Scrooge-Fostering a Culture of CompassionIn Resurrecting Scrooge,

Wise carefully researches how in the 21st century the United States is a society that bashes the poor, blames victims, the unemployed and underemployed, embraces a serious lack of compassion and celebrates cruelty while putting the wealthy and the powerful on a pedestal. And Wise examines the origins of class and cruelty in the United States, the ideas of the Social Gospel and FDR’s New Deal, the myths and realities of the War on Poverty from its inception to Reaganism (and how liberals responded), and the concept how culture of cruelty affects who receives justice and who receives nothing at all except horrifically de-humanizing insults, both in rhetoric and reality. It is probably these two chapters that truly stirred my rage, and at times, I had to put Under the Affluence down and take a few deep breaths.But just as I was about to chuck Under the Affluence across the room and spend a week in the corner rocking back and forth, I read the final chapter, and felt a bit of hope. Perhaps, as nation things aren’t as bleak as they seem. In this chapter, Wise reminds us to look for possible roadblocks on the way of redemption. He also mentions that besides facts, use storytelling because behind every fact there is a very human face with a story that must be heard. He behooves us to create “a vision of a culture of a compassion” and how we can help communities to control their destiny.

Now, I am a realist. I know for the most part Under the Affluence is a book that preaches to the choir, especially in 2016. But maybe, just maybe, Under the Affluence will open minds, soften hearts and act an agent for, as Elvis Costello so aptly put it, “peace, love and understanding.” Under the Affluence is not only one of the most important books to come out in 2016; it is one of the most important books to come out in the 21st century.

Wise also takes a look at the world of the working poor and the non-working rich, the myth of meritocracy, horribly mean-spirited remarks, much of it coming from the radical right, including pundits and politicians, excessive CEO and big business pay, the devaluing of work that truly benefits all of society-nursing, teaching social work, protecting the public, improving our infrastructure, creating art, taking care of the elderly and disabled, and so on. And let’s not forget the very valuable work that doesn’t pay-parenting, eldercare, volunteering, etc.

In Pulling Apart, Wise takes a hardcore look at our current state of joblessness, wage stagnation, underemployment and how they affect us in this stage of “post-recession recovering” America. He investigates today’s realities and the long-term effects of income and wealth inequality. Wise contemplates who and what caused these problems and how race, class and economics are involved.

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.

 

Taking One for the Team: Ted, White and Blue-A Nugent Manifesto by Ted Nugent

ted-white-blue-coverI will either be dead or in jail if Obama is re-elected” – Ted Nugent

“Well, I’m waiting.” – Bookish Jen

To those of you who aren’t familiar with Ted Nugent, consider yourself lucky. But I’m going to fill you in. Once upon a time Ted Nugent was a supposed rock star with one notable hit that I can actually remember hearing on the radio, “Cat Scratch Fever.” Other songs amongst Teddy’s songbook include “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” “Stranglehold,” and “If You Can’t Lick ‘Em… Lick ‘Em.”

“Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” Stranglehold,” and “If You Can’t Lick ‘Em… Lick ‘Em?” you ask with a shudder. Yes, my lovely readers. Who says romance is dead?

Nowadays, Teddy Boy, is pretty much a nostalgia act for the Tea Party set. And he also fancies himself a political pundit who writes commentary for such publications like World Net Daily. He’s also written a few books, including Ted, White and Blue-The Nugent Manifesto, which was published just before President Obama was elected in 2008. Ted, White and Blue features Ted’s take on taxes, politics, immigration, education, healthcare, and his favorite topic, guns. And not surprisingly, Ted’s manifesto is delivered with all of the wit, wisdom and nuance of an AK47. But instead of writing a review I will showcase Ted’s selected photographs found within the confines of Ted, White and Blue, complete with Ted’s very own words, and my responses written with a poison Jen, responses more Dorothy Parker than Bonnie Parker. And keep in mind, as a country we are better off thinking red (I’m a redhead) than thinking Ted.

Three very black guys with a very dead lion, Sudan 1978
Three very black guys with a very dead lion, Sudan 1978

Black guy on the left, “Bitch, please.” Black guy on the right, “You are a white dude from Detroit. Shut up.” Lion in the middle, “This guy’s dick is in my ass! Help!”

 

Ma Deuce border security, Chesty Puller style.
Ma Deuce border security, Chesty Puller style.

Large cigar, huge gun between his legs. Clearly Ted is lacking something.

The spirit of Sitting Bull and Geronimo lives.
The spirit of Sitting Bull and Geronimo lives.

This is what you get when you Google, “Right wing performance art at Coachella.

I am the NRA.
I am the NRA.

Alternative to the National Rifle Association, the NRA. Nugent Runs Amok.

Free machine guns for all the children.
Free machine guns for all the children.

Sadly, the parents of Newton, Massachusetts who lost their beautiful children on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary will never get to put their arms around their deceased children. No parent should ever have to bury child, and never should a parent have to bury a child due to senseless gun violence.

A perfect American family.
A perfect American family.

No Ted, this is a perfect American family.

150406103626-obama-family-portrait-2015-large-169

 

 

 

Book Review: Again and Again by Ellen Bravo

again and againOver thirty years ago, when she was a student at Danforth University, Deborah Borenstein came back to her dorm room to find her roommate, Liddie Golmbach, being assaulted and raped by the campus dream boat, Will Quincy the III. But even though Deborah is a credible witness and Liddie’s injuries do not deny the facts, these two young ladies aren’t believed by campus authorities. And why would a rich, handsome and popular frat boy like Will have to rape someone? He can get sex from any girl on campus. Besides, everyone saw Liddie drinking with Will and flirting with him. She wanted it; she was asking for it. Liddie Golmbach is just a loser slut who should thank her lucky stars Will deigned to even talk to her.

At the time there was no term “date rape.” Rape was something that was done by shadowy strangers jumping out of alley ways at unsuspecting women (and even then these unsuspecting women might “asking for it” because they were drunk, wearing a short skirt or walking around in a dangerous neighborhood).

Fast forward to 2010, Deborah is at the helm of Breaking the Silence, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group for victims of rape and other sexual violence. She is married to a Democratic political consultant named Aaron, and together they are raising a daughter named Becca. Liddie is living a quiet life in Wisconsin with her husband and she has gained some success as a weaver and quilter.

And Will Quincy the III? He is running for a Senate seat as a pro-choice, pro-women’s rights Republican (yes, obviously Again and Again is a work of fiction). His opponent is a very conservative Democrat who is pro-life and not exactly a supporter of women’s rights.

Soon Deborah soon finds herself in a bit of a quandary. She is being hounded by a take-no-prisoners investigative journalist to spill the dirt on Will Quincy the III after rumors begin to surface about his collegiate past (Liddie, it turns out, wasn’t his only victim). And Aaron is slated to work on behalf of Will’s opponent (who as I explained, is not exactly a friend to women’s issues).

As for Liddie? She wants the past to be the past and is not exactly comfortable with re-living the horrible night. And her long-time friend, Deborah, understands and supports her much to Aaron’s chagrin. This causes problems in what seems like an ideal marriage between two equals.

Again and Again flips between the Deborah and Liddie’s collegiate past and the roadblocks they faced as they tried in vain to bring Will and his crime to justice, and to the modern day of this issue causing conflict in Deborah and Aaron’s marriage and their career aspirations, the PTSD Liddie still suffers from and how rape is now more or less understood as a truly detestable crime.

And this is where Again and Again stumbled a wee bit for me. Though I admired Deborah for her commitment to women’s causes and her friendship with Liddie, I found her to be a bit of a Mary Sue. Liddie, at times, seemed to be a mirror, shining brightly on Deborah’s qualities and not so much of a compelling character whose PTSD and the decades since her years at Danforth I desired to see more of a focus on her. And I also found myself not caring that much about Aaron or Becca.

As for Will, well, you can read the book to see what his reaction is to being outed as a serial rapist back during his college years and if he truly feels contrite or not.

However, I do want to commend Bravo for having the balls (or should I say ovaries) for taking on a subject-rape-where the victim is often put more on trial than the actual criminal. Again and Again is a book that would make a strong book club selection and one that will inspire much needed discussion about a crime that is still not understood.

 

 

What Will It Take to Make A Woman President?-Conversations About Women, Leadership and Power by Marianne Schnall

womanpresbookAs many of my fellow citizens know, men have been running this pop stand we call the United States since 1776. I fully expect we’ll have a lady President in my life time and it won’t be when I’m an old lady dribbling into my Depends.

However, I can’t help but wonder, “Why haven’t we had a female President? Other countries have been led by women, including Great Britain, India, the Philippines, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, Chile, Germany, Liberia and Pakistan. What is taking the good old USA to get with the program?”

Marianne Schnall, writer and founder of the website Feminist.com, wonders this herself and now she’s asking other noteworthy people on why we haven’t had a woman President and what will it take to make this happen in her book, What Will It Take to Make A Woman President?-Conversations About Women, Leadership and Power.

Schnall’s quest started innocently enough. Shortly after President Obama was elected in 2008, Schnall’s then 10-year-old daughter asked, “Why haven’t we had a woman President?”

This simple inquiry put Schnall on a quest to find out why America has never had a woman President and she found some pretty big guns to ask them this very thought-provoking question.

Not surprisingly, many of the people Schnall interviews are women who have spent time in the political trenches. These people include Republicans like former US senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Olympia Snowe, GOP political strategist Ana Navarro, and the Governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin. On the Democratic side, we have current US Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill, former Speaker of the House and current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile.

Other notables interviewed by Schnall include feminists both young (Jessica Valenti) and not so young (Gloria Steinem). Journalists, broadcasters and writers include Soledad O’Brien, Pat Mitchell, Maya Angelou and Melissa Harris Perry. The world of business and academics is covered by Sheryl Sandberg, and Anita Hill. Celebs like Joy Behar, Kathy Najimy and Melissa Etheridge also give us their two cents worth.

And don’t worry; this book isn’t a total estrogen fest. Schnall also includes the men by interviewing Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom, and former member of the NFL and social activist Don McPherson.

Now just why haven’t we had a women president? Answers vary, but many agree that sexism still plays a major part every time women dip their toes into politics. Don’t agree with me? Well, people have actually questioned whether Hillary Clinton can be a grandmother and President at the same time. Seriously, did anybody ever question George H.W. Bush or Jimmy Carter if they could be grandfathers and President at the same time? ::Crickets chirping::

And let’s not forget that because of sexism women are often judged on their looks and their outfits, or are seen as too emotional who can’t handle the rough and tumble world of politics. Or if they can handle the rough and tumble world of politics they’re branded as cold, bitchy or bossy.

What else could be keeping a woman from becoming president? Until recently, there was a dearth of strong female political role models. Often women are not encouraged to get involved in politics, whether it’s running for office or running a campaign. Women sometimes don’t have access to the huge amount of money that men do (running for office ain’t cheap, kids). And speaking of kids, undoubtedly a majority of childcare falls on women and a lot of them may eschew politics until their children are grown.

Furthermore, our media can be brutal when covering female political candidates. The mainstream media may be considered liberal (it’s not), but it can be downright reactionary or irritatingly condescending. Years ago the New York Times did a piece on women in politics, specifically the chance of having a woman in the Oval Office. This piece was published in the Times’ “Style” section (as opposed to the news or opinion section) and was illustrated with a fancy pink purse emblazoned with the Presidential seal because we all know ladies love pink and purses!

However, at the same time we are dealing with sexism, lack of role models and political leaders, family challenges and the media, women also put up their own personal barriers. Some of us don’t believe we have what it takes to run for office. We still see power, leadership, self-promotion and ambition as unfeminine and unattractive. Hopefully, as more women gain access to higher positions in politics, business, academics, media and entertainment, these antiquated ideas will dissipate. Or as Senator Claire McCaskill puts it, “Women have to be taught that ambition is ladylike.”

We know the reasons why we haven’t had a lady President. Now what can we do about it?

Answers vary, but the interviewees offer several ideas on how to get women to run for office. They include women demanding more access, increasing our confidence and willingness to put ourselves on the line politically, and promoting women as ideal political candidates who can bring a fresh perspective to governing.

And just what are these fresh perspectives women can bring to governing? According to the interviewees women bring new perspectives and are willing to reach across the aisle to build consensus. Women are collaborative and acknowledge the importance of relationships. Now this may sound like stereotypes (I’ve worked with women who exhibited none of these traits), but don’t they sound like things desperately needed in the world of politics?

I enjoyed reading What Will It Take To Make a Woman President, and I appreciated everyone’s thoughts, ideas and opinions. I would have appreciated Schnall interviewing the average woman and man off the streets to get their input, but I also understand the importance of people who have actually been there and done that political-wise.

The year 2016 may seem a long time from now but it is a Presidential election year. And not surprisingly Hillary Clinton’s name is mentioned a lot as a potential candidate. But there are countless other women who can run for President. Is the United States ready for a President with lady parts asks What Will Take To Make a Woman President? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” And it’s only a question of when this will happen and what action steps we can take to make this a reality.