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.

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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.

 

Book Review: A Night in With Audrey Hepburn by Lucy Holliday

A Night in With Audrey HepburnWhat girl, raised on fairy tales and classic movies, hasn’t dreamed of having her own fairy godmother? Jeepers, I’m a grown woman and I could use a fairy godmother. And I can’t think of a better fairy godmother than Audrey Hepburn. She would advise me on fashion, love, work and making our world a better place. And now that I think of it, Miss Hepburn did guide me on those things. I just wish I could have met her.

Fortunately, Libby Lomax is going to do just that—meet Audrey Hepburn. And not does she meet Audrey Hepburn; Libby meets her as one of the most iconic film roles ever—Holly Golightly, in the novel A Night in With Audrey Hepburn by British author Lucy Holliday.

To say struggling actress Libby Lomax is having a bad day is an understatement. After years being an extra on TV shows and movies, Libby finally gets her big break saying a smattering of lines in a science fiction TV series. While wearing her TV character’s alien costume, Libby accidentally lights herself on fire, singeing off some of her hair. And if this workplace faux pas isn’t humiliating enough, she lights her hair on fire in front of the shows bad boy star, Dillon O’Hara.

The powers that be sack Libby at once, and she goes home to her tiny apartment to shed a few tears and lick her wounds. While contemplating her sad state of affairs while sitting on an ugly couch given to her by her best bud Olly (more on him later) Libby pops in the classic movie Breakfast Tiffany featuring the wonderful Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly.

Well, guess how pops up next to Libby outfitted in her best Holly Golightly chic? Yes, Audrey Hepburn!

Is Libby going mad? Is she hallucinating?

Well, does it matter? The wonderful Audrey Hepburn is sitting right next our flummoxed heroine. So shouldn’t Libby converse with her and get some finely-honed insight on men, mothers and making a career?

Did I mention mother? Oh, yes, Libby’s mother, a stage mother to end all stage mothers and one who puts the P in pushy. Libby’s very own Mama Rose has been pushing both her daughters, Libby and Cass, to become huge stars. Whereas, Libby has her struggles and can barely get past the extra stage, high maintenance Cass is getting more parts and more success. This doesn’t do much for Libby’s self-esteem.

As for Libby’s father, the sperm donor? Well, he ran out ages ago, fancies himself as a notable writer, and ignores his daddy duties to Libby and Cass. Sadly, enough, Audrey’s own father ran out on her when she was very young.

To keep herself busy, Libby is making a necklace for her friend’s upcoming wedding. This particular necklace has been inspired by a beautiful necklace Audrey wears in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Audrey finds this necklace and is positively enchanted with Libby’s talent. Audrey also discovers Libby’s iPad, which she charmingly calls a “lovely padlet” (note to self, adopt the phrase “lovely padlet”). Audrey also discovers the Internet, most notably Twitter.

Before you can sing a bar from “Moon River” Audrey starts a Twitter account for Libby to showcase her jewelry making skills (unbeknownst to Libby). It isn’t long before Libby’s Twitter is gaining many followers. And many followers want to buy this talented lady’s work.

At first Libby is confused. Audrey let’s the honey-colored Cat out of the bag, and tells Libby she has set up the Twitter account and encourages her to embrace her skills and talents and start a career as a jewelry designer. Battered and bruised from her non-existent acting career, Libby is initially hesitant. But thanks to Audrey’s loving guidance, encouragement and savvy, Libby begins to believe in herself and treasure her talents.

She also learns to stand up for herself when it comes to her mother, sister, father and other jerk who might come in her path.

But wait? Am I missing something? A certain Dillon O’Hara, the A-list hottie Libby tried to flirt with to fire-fried results? Seems Dillon is actually quite smitten with Libby, which is quite a shock considering the gossip pages show mostly himsquiring models with pneumatic breasts. Will Libby and Dillon hook up? Well, that is a secret that I have up my Givenchy (okay, H & M) sleeve.

Libby goes from strength to strength, but also faces some hurdles (including a truly mortifying moment at a high-end spa), which shows up on YouTube. Is this humiliation one she can survive and ultimately thrive?

Initially, A Night in With Audrey Hepburn started a bit slow, but soon it gained steam. Lucy Holliday writes with a down-to-earth, appealing, and warm voice. And you can tell she’s a big fan of Audrey Hepburn fan, which as a huge Audrey fan myself, I greatly appreciated.

What I also liked was a hint of mystery at the end. Though Libby is over the moon when it comes to Dillon, I detected a bit of a spark between her and Olly even though they are in the friendzone. Perhaps we’ll find out in the sequel to A Night in With Marilyn Monroe what happens with both of these fellows and how they relate to Libby. Yes. Lucy Holliday has a whole series of Libby Lomax bonding with the best of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and I hope they are just as fun to read as A Night in With Audrey Hepburn.

In Audrey Hepburn’s other classic film Sabrina, she states, “Paris is always a good idea.” I’d like to say “Audrey Hepburn is always a good idea.”

 

Reading to Reels: Desk Set (Special Libraries Week Post)

Librarians of all kinds aren’t just found in public libraries; they are also found in schools, universities, corporations and other organizations. This post is in honor of reference librarians-the human versions of Google. Enjoy!

Human beings being replaced by high tech is something many American workers worry about, and it’s not a recent phenomenon as Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn show us in the 1957 comedy Desk Set.

Desk Set takes place at the Federal Broadcasting Company, a fictional television network. Katharine Hepburn plays Bunny Watson, the head of FBC’s huge reference library. Bunny can recite facts faster than you can say, “Google it!” She and her brainy staff, played by Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill and Sue Randall, are kept quite busy with staffers calling up looking for the 411 on a multitude of topics, both the mundane and the serious.

However, there seems to be trouble on the horizon. The network is in talks to merge with another company, but at the moment it seems to be on the down low. FBC brings in an efficiency expert named Richard Sumner played by Spencer Tracy. Richard has also invented a computer system called EMERAC, an “electronic brain” that is supposed to help the workers with the merger. However, many of the workers think these computers will replace them, and they wonder when they’ll get fired.

Richard and Bunny soon meet when he comes into her department taking measurements for the computers. Richard begins to question Bunny, wondering if she can answer as quickly as a computer. One smart cookie, Bunny has no problem answering the questions and proves to quite the foil to Richard’s efficiency expertise.

Instead of being turned off by Bunny’s brains, Richard is actually quite charmed. And despite her hesitation, Bunny can’t help but be drawn towards Richard. She’s been with her boyfriend, Mike (Gig Young), for seven years with no promise of marriage in sight. Hey, Bunny isn’t getting any younger. Bunny and Richard spar and flirt the way only Hepburn and Tracy can.

Towards the end of the film, a giant computer is placed in Bunny’s department to help everyone field questions more efficiently. However, despite the “advanced” technology, the computer is no match for Bunny and her fearless staff. The computer has a near “meltdown” but Bunny and her crew proves to be up to the task. And another computer messes up and mistakenly fires everyone via pink slips placed in their paychecks.

Desk Set is the eighth film Hepburn and Tracy did together (their final film was Who’s Coming to Dinner?), and it’s effortlessly charming. Based on William Marchant’s play with a script by Phoebe and Harry Ephron (yep, the late Nora’s parents), Desk Set is directed with a light touch by Walter Lang. Sure, there are parts that look dated. I had to laugh when I saw the huge computer that took up half of Bunny’s department, and how the answers were spit out on old-school perforated paper.

But despite being made in 1957, Desk Set’s premise looks quite modern.These days, everyone seems to be addicted their tablets, smart phones Googling, Tweeting and updating their Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram pages. But there is truly no replacing our human brains and our need to connect with one another without the use of technology. Desk Set shows this in a fun and entertaining way.